After completing the scuba diving courses at Havelock Island, I had one spare day in Port Blair before my return flight. I planned to take a day tour to Ross Island and North Bay from Marine Park Jetty in Port Blair. But when I reached there a day before, to book the advance ticket, I found that the jetty as well as access to those islands are not permitted on Wednesday, my spare day in Port Blair.
Then, I decided to spend that day at Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park in Wandoor. Wandoor is a small village with beautiful sea beaches along the crystal clear blue water of the sea, and a good destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Where is Wandoor? It is about 30 kms from Port Blair. A small village with very few shops to cater the visitors, Wandoor is the gateway to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park.
How to Reach? It is connected to Port Blair with a very scenic, well-paved road. State-owned STS buses as well as the private public buses are available at frequent intervals from Aberdeen Market Bus Stand (at every 30 minutes, normally). They take about 1.5 hours to reach Wandoor and fare is about Rs. 15 per person. In Port Blair, the buses don’t have the bus number/route number, but they have a sign-board on the front stating their destinations.
The road journey to Wandoor is very scenic. The route after Garacharma is surrounded by lush green trees of coconuts and mangrooves. There are many agricultural research farms of ICAR, situated between the villages of Dhani Khari and Sippighat along this route. The natural beauty along the road was so tempting, that I wanted to leave the bus near the Sippighat only. However, I went to Wandoor and while returning back, left the bus after passing Dhani Khari and walk for 3-4 kms on that scenic stretch.
Wandoor Beach is located approx. 1 km after the marine park office. These buses goes upto the parking stand near the beach, so, if you wish to leave the buses at marine park office, you can leave there, else you can go directly to the beach, 1 km after the park entrance.
Where to Stay at Wandoor? Generally, it is only a day trip from Port Blair. You can return back to Port Blair in the evening. Last bus from Wandoor to Port Blair departs around 06.30 PM.
There are couple of high-end resorts available near Wandoor Beach. For budget accommodation, you can explore the small market of Wandoor near the park entrance.
Wandoor Beach: It is a nice and ideal beach to spend few quiet hours, away from the city of Port Blair. The beach is long enough with a giant uprooted tree in the middle, creating a very beautiful scene. The scenic beauty, vastness of the ocean and beautiful islands looks very charming from the beach. The sea water looks absolute blue from the beach and overall, its a beautiful sight.
But, the sea condition near the beach isn’t so great. It is full of rocks on one side and lot of algae on another side. It doesn’t look like an ideal place for swimming. However, there are changing rooms available on the beach, if you go for the swimming. Moreover, there are many sign-boards warning about the frequent sightings of the crocodiles in that area. When I spoke to some local students, they informed that if sighting of the crocodiles were not so frequent, they would have been swimming in the water rather than sitting on a bench. Also, the rocks and algae in the ocean make it more difficult to access the threat. If you plan to swim there, just beware and exercise utmost caution.
Apart from swimming, Wandoor is also an ideal place to just sit and relax. Some wooden benches are there along the beach. Just sit and enjoy the beauty of nature. Food and coconut water, known as Daabh (Rs.20 per coconut) is also available near the beach.
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park: It basically includes a group of islands around Wandoor, designated as a national park to protect the flora and fauna of that area including the marine life and coral reefs. The park area is dotted with crystal clear blue water, sandy beaches and mangroove forests. Rich marine life consists of variety of coral reefs, colourful fishes, shells, starfishes, turtles, salt-water crocodiles etc.
How to Visit the Park? A boat ride is required from the park jetty to nearby islands. There are about 15 different islands, but most of the tourists go on a day trip to Jolly Buoy Island and Red Skin Island. To avoid the heavy tourist rush, generally 5 boats are permitted to operate from the jetty on a single day, subject to availability of boats / weather conditions. These boats normally depart at 08.30 AM, 09.00 AM , 09.30 AM, 10.00 AM and 10.30 AM.
The park remains closed on Monday.
Permit Requirements: Since it is a national park, you need an entry permit to visit it. These permits are available at the office counter near the jetty. The cost of the permit is Rs. 50 per person. You can get it after submitting a form plus a copy of photo identity proof. Each camera requires additional permit of Rs. 25.
To avoid the congestion, only 150 permits are issued each day, but depending on the season this number may go up. However, it is not a must visit destination among the tourists, so unless you have a bad luck, the permit is always manageable right after reaching there.
Boat Costs: After getting the permit, next thing is to get on the boats. Boats are available from the jetty and mainly run by the private operators, who have valid approval from the forest department. The boat ride cost you about Rs. 300 per person for Red Skin Island and Rs. 650 per person from Jolly Buoy Island. These prices also include a 10-15 mins. glass boat ride near the island to enjoy the coral reefs from the glass bottom of the boat. If you need a glass boat for longer duration, you can hire a separate boat after paying additional charges. Separate packages are also there for the snorkeling as well as the diving.
Note: Jolly Buoy Island remains accessible from December to May only. When the trip to Jolly Buoy is not available, the visitors normally go to Red Skin Island. So, basically in a year, only one island is accessible at a time.
Environmental Concerns: This national park is a highly fragile environmental zone. Jolly Buoy and Red Skin Islands are no men’s zone. Night stay is not permitted on Jolly Buoy and Red Skin Island. There is no commercial establishment on these islands. You have to carry your own food and water. Plastic materials are strictly no-no on these islands. To avoid all the plastic wastes, the park authorities have two kind of arrangements:
1. You have to declare all plastic materials at the time of entry and deposit Rs.100 against each material. After return back, show them the materials again and get the deposit back.
2. You can get a water bottle and a jute bag, after the deposit of Rs.100 for each. After returning them, you can get your deposit back.
Moreover, its our moral duty to keep those pristine beaches neat and clean.
and a setback for me!
After reaching at the marine park office, I came across a sign-board stating:
Due to frequent sighting of crocodile in tourism zone of Red Skin, the tourism activity is stopped from 22/10/2014 till further order.
and it was 22/10/2014 on the day of my visit, so I couldn’t go anywhere in the park. 🙁
It was only about 0100 PM by then. There was no point to return back so early to Port Blair. Then, I moved to Chidiya Tapu to spend the evening there.