Imagine a view of turquoise blue seas along a golden sandy beach, and the two of you frolicking in the blue waters at heart’s content. You then head to view an awesome sunset against the backdrop of the natural rock bridge. Yes, I am talking about Neil Island, now known as Shaheed Dweep, Andamans. We had visited Neil Island much before it was renamed as Shaheed Dweep. We have always known Andaman as a perfect honeymoon destination, but we did not know that we will fall in love with Neil Island. Initially, we had decided on making a day visit here. However, we then changed the plan and decided to stay over for a night. In fact, after spending some time here, we extended our stay for two more days! You might wonder what was our itinerary for almost 3 days. After all, isn’t it a small island? Are there enough things to do in Neil Island for so long?
Well, it is true that Neil Island, an Andaman island is a small place. The island covers an area of less than 20 kilometers and stretches across only 5 kilometers in terms of length. It is quite possible to do a day trip here from Havelock Island, see all the major beaches, and get back to Havelock. But once we were at Neil Island, we simply decided to stay back and enjoy the island at our own pace due to its sheer beauty.
Reaching Neil Island
Neil Island is located in Ritchie’s archipelago and can be easily reached from Port Blair. The entry point to the island is via the Bharatpur jetty. A number of public ships and cruises plying from Port Blair are the only way to get here.
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Things to do at Neil Island
Neil Island can spring a surprise on family travellers, honeymooners and backpackers alike with its offerings. The Island comprises of 5 villages, with a population of approximately 3000 people. It has an old-world charm, with only a couple of ATMs and weak internet and mobile connectivity.
This is a complete contrast to the flamboyant Havelock. While Neil is calm, serene, and still tucked away in time, Havelock is the bustling tourist spot offering a luxurious holiday. Though just a few kilometres from each other, Havelock and Neil are almost opposite in character. Neil is a somnolent gem of the Andamans where time has also decided to take a break. So here is a list of things to do at Shaheed Dweep or Neil Island.
Visit the tranquil beaches of Neil Island
Neil Island boasts of some gorgeous and secluded beaches. They are named after the characters from Ramayana – Ramnagar, Bharatpur, Sitapur and Laxmanpur. Even if you are here for a day, go beach hopping at these.
The primary attraction is definitely the Bharatpur beach or Beach No. 4. A pristine beach bordered by a few trees, followed by a clear blue sea that is kissed by the blue skies. It is the perfect place for swimming and lazing around. You can also go for scuba diving and snorkeling here. For those of you who do not want to venture into the seas, a glass-bottom boat ride will show you spectacular marine life. The coral reefs are alive and we could view the most colourful fishes swimming in and out of them. In fact, we lost count of the varieties of fishes we saw!
Another popular beach is the Laxmanpur beach or Beach No.1. The sunset here is quite captivating. In fact, in the evening, the place is abuzz with people coming to view the sunset from here. And if you visit early in the morning, you will find the whole place to yourself. Just imagine the two of you by yourselves, vast stretches of silver sands and blue waters ahead of you.
Just near the beach, we met an old shopkeeper and his wife. He was very happy to talk to us and tell us his tales of struggle. He thought us to be honeymooners and even asked us if we had come availing one of the Andaman honeymoon packages. We had such a great time talking to each other that he invited us again the next day. And we happily came back again to some great conversation over chai and chips.
The third beach on your beach hopping list should be the Sitapur Beach. The lesser known beach of Neil Island, it is the perfect place for watching the sunrise. Very few people visit this beach and we were the only one when we went there in the morning. Sitapur Beach is lined by trees and there are huge rocks jutting out of the sea. This place was damaged by the 2004 tsunami and still bears its marks. We walked leisurely over the soft sand with the water rippling at our feet. Nothing can be as beautiful and tranquil than watching the sun rise slowly covering the sky, as well as our lives, with light! Sitapur beach is my personal favourite.
Make a trip to the Natural Bridge or Bridge No 2
The natural rock bridge is another wonder on this little island. Located near Laxmanpur village, the locals call it the Howrah Bridge. During the low tide, the sea retreats back and the coral reefs reveal their wondrous self; marine life at your footsteps (literally).
So we decided to walk over the slippery rocks and view the marine wonders at leisure! Vivid colour fishes darted about in the rocky pools. The starfishes lazily extended their tentacles. There are sea anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, molluscs and many other marine species that call this sea their home. Equally captivating were the corals!
You must note that there are two natural bridges here. To reach the second one, you have to walk cautiously over the rocks. You can reach here only during the low tide. So we recommend you visit here twice. Should you want to climb the second bridge, be mindful of the numerous sea snakes and crabs lurking around. The snakes hide themselves very cleverly in the rocky holes. While we were climbing the bridge, I almost came in contact with a snake! It looked like a green rock.
Indulge in water sports
Neil Island is a great place for water sports such as jet ski, banana boat ride, sea walking, glass boat rides and more. As the sea is quite clear and calm, scuba diving and snorkelling will also make for a great experience at the Island. You will find scuba diving operators at the Bharatpur Beach. They would take you away from the shore and once you are inside the sea, you can go diving with professional assistance. In fact, scuba diving is a must do activity at Neil Island. The corals are beautiful and the colourful marine life is simply fascinating. You can also do snorkelling, should you want to be closer to the shore.
Explore the island on a bicycle or motorbike
Once you are at Shaheed Dweep, rent a two-wheeler and explore the island. Since the island is quite small, you can travel across the length and breadth of the island in a day. When we had we rode our way through the island, we met several locals. A little boy stopped us and asked “Will you have mangoes?” My curiosity got the better of me and I said yes. He then ran to his garden, plucked mangoes from the trees, and gave them to us. Having freshly-plucked mangoes was a priceless experience. We were also invited to go fishing by the villagers! Such are the locals of Neil Island; they are happy to meet new people.
Places to stay at Neil Island
Neil Island is a backpackers’ paradise with hotels and homestays having a homely atmosphere. It also has luxury hotels suited for honeymooning couples. We stayed at The Cocon Hut Resorts. It had a garden which eventually led to the sea through the mangrove creeks.
Most of the resorts are located adjoining the beaches. Whatever be the type of accommodations, the best part of Neil Island is perhaps its laidback atmosphere. In fact, it is also one of the best honeymoon destinations in India. If you search for the term ‘honeymoon packages India’, you will see that it is a much coveted destination, with several packages on offer.
Places to eat at Neil Island
There are several beach-side shacks, especially on the Bharatpur Beach, where you can dig into some sumptuous fare. Alternatively, you can head to restaurants within the hotels and resorts.
You can expect to find a variety of seafood when dining out in Neil Island. Most of the dishes are prepared in a home-made style and delicious. However, be prepared for long preparation time, especially if you are eating at the shacks.
During our stay, we used to have our meals at the Mega Restaurant near Bharatpur beach. It is a small restaurant run by a local lady. We would order for our lunch in the morning itself and the dinner order during lunch time. The owner, referred by all as Sadhana Di, treated us to Bengali recipes with a host of seafood delicacies such as crab, prawns and sea fishes.
Here are a few pictures of Neil Island – see how romantic the place is!