There are places in India well-known for their beaches—Kerala and Goa spring to mind. But far off the coast, in the Andaman Sea much nearer to Thailand than mainland India, lies one of the country’s best-kept secrets: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Far removed from the rest of India, while still retaining the feel and culture of the sub-continent, this group of over 500 islands (only 38 permanently inhabited) jut out of the ocean in emerald-green forest mountains with pristine beaches, stunning coral reefs and active volcanoes. The capital is Port Blair on the main South Andaman island, but from there it is a two-hour ferry ride to laid-back and lovely Havelock Island—home of the eco-hideaway Barefoot at Havelock. This is where you really want to get to; because let’s face it, if you’ve come all this way to get away, you might as well do it right.
With about 100 square kilometers, Havelock has been inhabited by Bengali settlers since the 1950s. The ferries come into Village Number 1 on the north side of the island (all towns are numbered on Havelock). Villages 3 and 5 offer a number of restaurants, shopping from vendor stalls to nice boutiques, motorbike rentals and internet cafes.
The Barefoot at Havelock resort, on the other hand, is located on the far south end of the island, about 20 minutes from these villages. But as mentioned, if you’re coming to an eco island getaway, this is the place to be. At Barefoot, you aren’t on a beach that is dotted by resort after next-door resort. In fact, you are on pristine beach number 7, rated as the best beach in Asia. A taxi or tuk-tuk can easily be taken when you want to go into town, or rent a motorbike, or set up an Andaman Holiday Package.
Swimming Elephants and Coral Reefs
Barefoot is home to a celebrity: Rajan, the swimming elephant. Rajan is a 64-year-old prior logging elephant who is now cared for by the top-notch resort staff and enjoyed by guests, who can bathe and feed him (we did this on Thanksgiving Day in the US!), accompany him on a jungle hike and even go swimming with him.
Venture out and you can kayak through mangrove creeks, snorkel or dive the reefs; boat trips to nearby Ross and Inglis Islands are big draws. The pristine and unmapped waters of the Andaman Islands are one of the last frontiers for scuba diving (best from November to May). Corals abound with colourful reef fish, sea turtles, barracuda, tuna, sting rays and the occasional dugong. The Barefoot Scuba folks (he first and only PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Resort in the Andaman Islands) come every evening around 6 pm, where you can make reservations for the following day.
Yoga and Ayurvedic Treatments
Iyengar yoga is available year-round (check in the off season). Morning lessons and longer courses run in a hilltop pavilion overlooking the cottages and cove, and you can also sign up for private or group sessions with Rajendran, who runs the yoga and ayurveda programs. He is also a knowledgeable birding and wildlife guide, and typically leads the programs with Rajan.
Ayurvedic treatments, great for both relaxation and healing, are available in a bamboo and thatch pavilion looking onto the forest and lily pond, and are one of the highlights of a stay here. And if you fancy doing nothing, you can relax in a hammock or in the privacy of your cottage, admiring surreal forests and incredible sunsets. There are mats and towels provided for your short walk to the beach.
Thatched Cottages and Safari-style Tents
The 19 elegantly designed wood and thatch cottages and villas, along with six brand-new tented cottages, are hidden among seven acres of grounds and connected by winding pathways. Their hardwood walls and conical thatch roofs made of environmentally sensitive local materials, and blend into the tropical foliage. You get basic comforts (modern plumbing with hot water, and air conditioning or ceiling fans), a restaurant/bar and an exhilarating closeness to nature.
The Barefoot philosophy means a minimal environmental footprint; accommodations were built from regenerable materials like bamboo, wood and palm leaves. The resort harvests its own rainwater and only draws minimal water from a natural spring that emerges on the premises, so as not to deprive the neighbouring village. Kitchen and shower wastewater is filtered to be used to water the grounds. About 70% of staff are from Havelock island, and almost all are from the Andamans.
Barefoot at Havelock is the perfect destination for those seeking an unpretentious hideaway on one of the world’s last undeveloped tropical islands.
For more information: http://www.barefootindia.com/