The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are two separate groups of islands in the Indian Ocean. They are classified as a Union Territory of India and cover a combined area of about 6500 square kilometres. The capital city, Port Blair, is on the Andaman Islands and it is from here that the area is managed and administrated.
These islands have been occupied by indigenous tribes for millennia. These people were hunter-gatherers and lived off the natural produce of the land on which they resided. The ocean was no doubt a rich source of fresh seafood, and goods were exchanged by a barter system. These ones stuck to their tribes, developing unique cultures and languages with little or no outside influence.
In 1789, British settlers established their homes, farms and mission stations on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, they only lasted here for seven years before abandoning the islands and their people until 1858, when they set up a colony for exiled prisoners, far away from their friends and family. Prisoners hailed from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the Central and United Provinces. Most of these prisoners had been incarcerated for their efforts to achieve political independence. England maintained this dominant position until Japan invaded the islands in the Second World War. However, in 1945, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were again occupied by Indian and British troops. India achieved full independence from British rule in 1947, and these islands became a joint Union Territory in 1950.
This group of islands is made up of 572 individual entities (the vast majority of which are in the Andaman group). 38 of the islands are permanently occupied by residents. Both of the island groups are characterised by their stunning tropical rainforests of different kinds. There are approximately 200 plants that originate on these islands, and a total of 2200 species of vegetation have been recorded. The forests in the South Andaman area are littered with dense ferns and breath-taking orchids, while those in the north have woody climbers and evergreen trees. Nicobar’s forests are found in the central and southern islands only, while those towards the north have vast grasslands.
These different habitats are the homes to many different species of wildlife and birds. Not only are terrestrial and avian animals available for nature enthusiasts to watch, but there are a number of marine species that surround the islands in their natural beauty.
Most of the local residents on the islands speak Bengali or Hindi and quite a few are able to converse in English. Most residents are either of the Hindu or Muslim faiths.
Rice is the main crop that forms part of the important agricultural industry in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Other important crops include coconuts, Areca nuts, pulses, vegetables, oilseeds, mangoes, oranges, papayas, pineapples, spices, rubber, and red oil. Other important industries include hand-made crafts, the production of soft drinks and the manufacture of PVC conduit pipes and fittings.
Tourism is an important source of income for these islands, as visitors delight in their pristine serenity and the wealth of their history and culture. Because each tribe or group has established their own customs, beliefs, dialects and values, the societies each present a completely unique identity and the customs that accompany it. The festivals are always a highlight for locals and tourists alike. Some of these are restricted to certain religious groups, while others are celebrated by everyone. Must-see festivals include the Island Tourism Festival, Subhash Mela, Vivekanada Mela and Block Mela.
Other tourist attractions in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands include:
• The Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
• The Cellular Jail
• The Chatham Saw Mill
• The Forest Museum
• Marina Park (an exciting water sports complex)
• The Fisheries Museum