Andaman and Nicobar Islands: An Intriguing History

The history of Andaman and Nicobar islands has been a matter of many debates, with very little documented data available. The earliest known archaeological evidence, which has been documented, goes back to odd 2,200 years, although other data have unique indications. Genetic data and other cultural data that is available indicates that the actual indigenous Andamanese people where isolated from other populations some 30,000 years ago, which is also known as the Middle Paleolithic age.

The Earliest Known History

Long before Indians discovered these islands, it was the Malays who used to visit them frequently. The Malays have been known to visit here largely looking to enslave its inhabitants. The Malays are also responsible for the existence of the name Andamans. They primarily called the place as Handuman, after Hanuman.

The Nicobar Islands are believed to have been inhabited by a number of indigenous tribes from over thousands of years. There have been signs which show that Rajendra Cholan tried to win over the island and control them in order to put himself in a position where his kingdom became the naval super power. The Cholas too had captured the Nicobar Islands at some point and we know this because a mention of the same has been made at the Tanjore Temple (also known as Brihadeeshwara Temple).

About 1,000 years ago the Chinese were aware of the existence of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and called it by the name of ‘Yeng – t – omag’. Ptolemy, the 2nd century Roman geographer, too had placed this group of islands on the very first map that was ever drawn. He named them as ‘Angdaman Islands’ (or islands of good fortune). In the 6th century a Buddhist monk I’T Sing called these islands ‘Lo – jen – kuo’ (or the land of the naked). The islands have also found a mention by two Arab travellers back in the 8th century who knew it as ‘Lakhabalus’ or ‘Najabulus’ (also meaning the land of the naked). The famous traveller Marco Polo also knew about these islands and he called them as ‘Angamanian’.

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European Settlers

There have been several European settlers who tried to capture these islands. The very attempt for the same was made by the Dutch so much so that the Dutch East India Company went on to claim the Nicobar Islands and also ended up renaming the island as ‘New Denmark’. Another European country to stake its claim here was Austria. Although English are possibly the most famous settlers, they were the last one to come in here. These islands continued to remain under their control until 1950 when the Indian Government claimed it.

The Cellular Jail (or Kaala Paani as it is popularly known as) was constructed by the British to accommodate the ‘hardened criminals’ (the freedom fighters). These freedom fighters were tortured here and several were left to die.

The Four Periods

The history of the islands can be broadly classified broadly into 4 periods

  1. The seclusion period
  2. British regime
  3. Japanese regime
  4. Post – independence period

Although the history of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands can be traced back to several thousands of years, the modern history only began in 1789 when the then Governor General of India ordered to carry out a survey of the islands in order to figure out if they were suitable enough for human settlement. Hence a topo – cum – hydrographic survey was conducted which revealed that it was indeed suitable for humans to settle down.

Soon after the survey, the very first settlement arrived on the island at Port Blair (which was known as Port Cornwallis) in the year 1790 at the Chatham Island. They brought in criminals from the mainland of India. However they soon had to shift to North Andaman which they did in 1792. This was largely due to the high mortality rate that occurred due to malaria and also the frequent attacks that they had to face by the aborigines. However by 1796, they left the island due to the natural calamities.

Although much isn’t known about the activities of the Portuguese in these islands, what we do know is that the Christian missionaries began preaching the islanders after entering in the 17th century. A Portuguese influence is also seen in the Nicobarese language which possesses some Portuguese words.

The Dutch came here in the year 1756 and stayed put until 1787. The Dutch Government tried to build a colony in the region of Nancowry, albeit unsuccessfully, and in the year 1869 handed over the islands of Nicobar to the British.

It was only after the First War of Independence back in 1857 that the British tried to set up a penal code at Port Blair where for the first time, an initial lot comprising of 200 freedom fighters landed here. By 1858, the British has for the second time established their colony in the island. It was during this colonisation that the British officials as well as soldiers settled here in large groups.

The convicts from Burma and India were sent over by the British to these islands thereby separating those Indians who fought against the British to achieve freedom. These prisoners were chained and forced to work in the forests, any protest from them resulted in their death.

The very first prison and also Hangman’s noose were set up at an island known as the Viper Island. The number of cells in this prison was insufficient and this prompted the British to construct the Cellular Jail which was large enough to accommodate about 600 prisoners at one time.

During World War II, these islands were abandoned by the British and taken over by the Japanese with whom remained for 4 years post which it was taken over again by the British and at the time of independence was handed over to India.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose inside the Cellular Jail in Port Blair. Netaji arrived in Port Blair on December 29, 1943.

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Andaman and Nicobar Islands: General Information

There is very little documented evidence as when the first humans came to settle down in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The first evidence is known to belong to the 2nd century, when Greek astronomer Ptolemy noted the presence of humans. Again in the 17th century, renowned traveller Chinese monk Xuan Zang mentioned about the islands.

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 In modern history, it was on December 1755 that Danish East India Company arrived on the islands of Nicobar, and in January the following year, the Nicobar Islands were converted into a Danish colony. Soon after, Austrians arrived for brief time, but Andaman and Nicobar Islands had change in its rights, after the islands were sold to Britain in 1868, following which the British made it a part of the British India. The British colony established here came to have the much known and infamous Cellular Jail.

For a very long time, the islands of Andaman and Nicobar had a very bad reputation of being a penal colony. During the long period of freedom fight in India, many known freedom fighters were sent to the Cellular Jail for punishment, which was then known as the dreaded “KaalaPani”. Even today, the cells of the jail can give jitters to anyone who is remotely aware of the freedom fight in India.

In recent times, there has been a drastic change and it is now one of the most visited destinations in India. The beaches here are exotic and these places have played a very big role in pulling the tourists here.

History

Arab merchants have reported the presence of these islands back in the 9th century while they sailed past the islands while on their way towards Sumatra. The very first western visitor to the place seems to be Marco Polo who called this place ‘the land of head hunters’ because of the hostile tribes that lived here. The islands had been annexed by Marathas and remained under its control until the death of the Maratha admiral Angre post which they were taken over by the British. The Japanese forces captured the islands from the British back in 1942 and it continued to remain with them until 1945. The control of this territory was handed over to India when it gained independence in 1947.

Geography

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are located in the Bay of Bengal. This group of islands, islets and rocks are spread over an area of about 8,249 sq. km. The capital of the islands is Port Blair which is considered to be every tourist’s paradise. It is also the largest city in the entire island.

Climate

The islands have a tropical type of climate and they experience moderate temperature all through the year. However the humidity of the island can go top being as high as 80% however the sea breeze which constantly blows in from the sea maintains the temperature and cools the island down. This breeze is also helpful in maintaining the temperature of the island in the range of 23 degree Celsius and 31 degree Celsius.

Unlike most of the Indian mainland, the islands experience monsoon twice in a year. The weather is very pleasant while it isn’t raining but when it rains it practically pours with an occasional storm. While tourists throng the islands in summers the rains make them stay away since the water and adventure sports that the island is famous for shut down for the rains.

Reaching Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Although the islands are secluded since they are situated in the Bay of Bengal, it isn’t very hard to reach the place. The islands can be reached from the Indian mainland either by air or by sea. There are regular flights which take tourists from Kolkata and Chennai to the capital Port Blair. Few major airlines operate on this route.

There are also ships which take you from the mainland to Port Blair. There are about 3 or maybe 4 ships which leave from Kolkata and Chennai every month. A ship is also available from Vishakhapatnam every month. It does take longer to travel by water than by air.

The ships and flights will only take you to Port Blair and if you would like to go someplace else then you will have to make use of the local transport.

Shopping

Andaman is more of a holiday destination which is great top relax and unwind and maybe seek out a few sports which will get your adrenaline pumping. However the Aberdeen Market in port Blair is a great place to shop in. It is great to look for some popular artefacts like shell jewellery, jewellery made out of mother of pearl, lamp shades made using coconut shell, bamboo cane craft, palm mats and many more. You will find several stores here selling these artefacts in the most famous shopping destination in all of Andaman and Nicobar Island.

Some of the other shopping centres include Junglighat, Delanipur, Prem Nagar and Goalghar. All of these centres are located only 3 or 4 kms away from the Aberdeen Bazaar.

Accommodation

The islands of Andaman and Nicobar see a large influx of tourists every year but the island is more than prepared to accommodate all of these tourists. Irrespective of the kind of budget you are on while visiting the islands, you will find very comfortable place to stay in.

The islands have everything from luxury hotels to budget hotels. There are hotels, lodges, resorts, government lodges and many other types of accommodations that are available all across the Andamans which will allow you to stay comfortably all through your vacation. Most of these places are quite famous for the food that they serve as well.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands have grown as a tourist destination and provides all the comforts that are needed to have a comfortable vacation. There are white sandy beaches and turquoise waters which seem to be straight out of a picture postcard. So plan a vacation to the islands and enjoy your stay there.

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Andaman Various water sports

You begin your day with a glorious panorama of the sunrise, and waits for a perfect day full of excitement and dangerous undertaking. A variety of water sports such as sport fishing, diving, snorkeling allows you to adopt the clean waters of the Bay of Bengal. While enjoying water sports, you can see the colorful corals, fish and marine life. In adding, you may experience a ride to the wildlife of the area, under the superintendence of the safeguard. Visit to Andaman Holidays may also include a visit to the Anthropological Museum, forest museum, cottage industries emporium, Cellular Jail, Corbyn Cove Beach, fisheries and Science Center and the mini zoo. Tourists can benefit from shopping in the local markets with craft materials and beautifully designed.

Each bit of your travel experience becomes very fun because the place has many surprises to offer to its visitors. The pristine beaches of the Andaman Islands, with many coconut trees surprised and gives you an amazing vacation that you will cherish for a lifetime. Young people can enjoy water sports and make the most of it. Andaman Tourism offers visitors a great vacation with beach visits. The place is popular for its beauty and uniqueness and tourists around the world can enjoy beach visits with friends and family.

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