Located in the Bay of Bengal, this group (Andaman and Nicobar islands) of 572 islands lies 193 km away from Cape Negrais in Myanmar, 1255 km from Calcutta, and 1190 km from Chennai. The two important groups of islets are Ritchie's Archipelago and Labyrinth Islands. The Nicobar Islands are located to the south of the Andamans, 121 km from the Little Andaman Island. Of the total 572 islands, only 36 islands are inhabited.
The canopied rain forests of the islands harbour 3,000 species of plants including mangroves, epiphytes (130 ferns, 100 orchids), palms, woody climbers, timbers (teak, mahogany, Andaman paduk) and a wide variety of tropical fruits. Marine fauna is diverse including a wide variety of tropical fish and coral. Considering the diversity and uniqueness of fauna and flora and the fragile nature of the eco-system here, 96 sanctuaries spread over 466.218 sq km and nine National Parks spread over 1153.938 sq km have been notified on these islands.
Best Time to Visit: The islands have a tropical climate. There is medium to heavy rain during the monsoon, in the months from May to mid September and November to mid December. There is no extreme climate except rains and tropical storms in late summer often cause heavy damage. Tourists visit the islands from October to May.
Little is known historically about Andaman and Nicobar, a cluster of around 572 islands of which less than 50 are populated, stretching from the southern tip of Burma all the way down south till Sumatra in Indonesia. It is believed that Marco Polo was among the first from the West to set foot on one of the islands. Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha admiral had his base on the island in the early 18th century. From there, he attacked passing Portuguese, Dutch and English merchant vessels on their way to or from their various Asian colonies. In 1713, his navy even succeeded in capturing the yacht of the British Governor of Bombay. Despite many efforts by the British and later a joint military force of British and Portuguese naval forces, Kanhoji Angre was never defeated. He died in 1729.
The British established their first colony in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1789, which was abandoned in 1796. The British finally annexed the islands in the 19th century adding them to their empire. They turned it into a penal colony for Indian freedom fighters. The construction of the infamous Cellular Jail was completed in 1908. Hundreds of anti-British Indians were tortured to death or simply executed here. With the Second World War, Japanese troops occupied the islands and the local tribes initiated guerrilla activities to drive them out. When India achieved independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union.
The indigenous tribes are distinguished in two groups: the Onge, Sentinelese, Jarawa and Andamanese of Negroid descent living on the Andaman Islands and the Shompen and Nicobarese of Mongoloid descent living in the Nicobar Islands. Most of the tribes are on the verge of extinction. This sad destiny will most likely hit the Andamanese tribe first since their number is as low as thirty. The Sentinelese is the least studied tribe still living in isolation on the North Sentinel Island. Their number is estimated at 250. Outsiders attempting to make contact with them are driven away with bows and arrows. They continue to maintain a unique lifestyle living in harmony with nature just as they have done for thousands of years.
Forests are the green expanses over the golden rocks of the islands. The reserve forest areas cover 86% of the territory and the forest cover is over 92%. Fifty percent of the forest cover is set aside as Tribal Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, which cannot be violated. Luxuriant mangroves, perhaps the richest in the world make up approx II.5% of the entire region. More than 150 plant and animals species are widely found. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is rich in corals, varieties of colored fishes, sea turtles etc., besides other marine life. It is a birdwatchers paradise - more than 271 varieties of birds inhabit the peaceful landscape, out of which 39 are common in nature. Megapode, Swiftlet, Hornbill and Nicobar Pigeon are some of the specialties of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Four of the five species of sea turtles including the “Giant Leatherback” are found here and the wild salties (salt water crocodiles). It also has shoals of sharks, mantas and whales. Ever since Jacques Cousteau showed his film Andaman Islands: Invisible Islands to the world, scuba divers
from all over have thronged the place to catch a glimpse of the amazing marine life.