Andaman and Nicobar are a spectacular group of tropical islands in the Bay of Bengal. With about 86% of the land area covered by forest, A&N is surprisingly known only for its beaches and marine life. Islands are fascinating places and so is the ecosystem. For thousands of years, the forests here have grown undisturbed until the past hundred years where rampant logging and increased settlements have caused damage. Nevertheless, the forests of Andaman are still pretty amazing and old growth for most parts. Many of the species found here are endemic and I can only assume Nicobar is just as spectacular as well. Here are some photos of my experience wandering in the forests of Andaman. It is safe to say I was wowed and how!
The forests of Andaman are primarily tropical rainforest which constantly reminded me of Western Ghats closer to home. The canopy was just as green as the dense forest floor. The greenery was soothing and at times overwhelming. It was easy to get claustrophobic as you can see here. If we had to shoot Jurassic Park in India, this could be a prime location, the forest looked pre-historic.
The forest extends all the way till the beach as you can see here. With zero light pollution, we could see stars clearly as expected with any wild place. The tide was slowly rising and after few minutes, the water was just a meter away from the forest. There are hardly any palm fringed beaches, instead dense forests stretch towards the sea. At many places, the water meets the forest and there isn't a beach to walk along during high tide. Seen here is a Mahua tree among others.Image taken at Niel Island, Ritchie's Archipelago.
Sunset brought out the colors of forest alive. I walked few meters away from the beach and I found this path which almost looked paradisaical. Birds were chirping and the eerie silence was occasionally interrupted by a screeching insect. The sun sets very early in the Andaman islands and I ran back to the shore before it turned dark. Later we drove back on a scooty on this path to reach our resort.Image taken close to sunset point, south of Niel Island, Ritchie's Archipelago.
There are no rivers in Andaman except for one small Kalpong River in North Andaman. There are several streams and crocodile infested creeks running across the islands though. This being a tropical forest, the water isn't refreshing cool like a glacial stream however it tastes refreshingly fresh. On my way to Saddle Peak, this was the only major stream we crossed where I could fill my water bottle. Few more meters ahead, the fresh water stream opens into the ocean.
During the 2004 earthquake, the pressure of the water actually tilted some of the islands, letting salt-water flow into the tree roots. That’s why you see eerie-looking stretches of dead forest along some seashores and flooded areas. These trees were dead and really huge along the shoreline. I saw similar dead and uprooted trees across Little Andaman and Long Island.
Looking at the tall trees everywhere, it is easy to see the reason why there were upto 4 timber factories of the islands of Andaman. Mahua, Gurjan, the termite resistant Padauk and other such trees constitute the 200+ varieties of timber found in these islands. Logging has been banned to protect the ecosystem of Andaman & Nicobar and the timber factories have been closed since. Image was taken at Niel Island, Ritchie'e Archipelago, Andman
This is what you see from the coast of Long Island. During high tide, water rises till the forest leaving no beach to walk along and the forest looks so dense that one might not want to enter forcing him/her to walk in the crocodile infested waters. The forests of Niel Island were relatively well cleared owing to its small size and abundant population. Long Island was much bigger with just about 1500 people living and forests here looked dangerously wild and creepy with huge trees and a lot of creepers and shrubs covering every inch of forest floor available.Image was taken on the way to Lallaji Bay, Long Island, Middle Andaman
Like I said earlier, several streams run through the forest to meet the ocean in the end. Seen here is one such stream surrounded by lush greenery. During low tide, the water is barely ankle deep and easy to cross but by high tide i.e late mornings and late evening, the water level rises to waist deep or chest deep making it difficult to cross. Also increasing the chance encounter with the salt water crocodile thriving in these waters. Image taken along the beach of Kalipur, North Andaman.
Little Andaman is a huge island between Andaman and the Nicobar group. Flat leveled, the dense forest was the prime target for severe logging and thousands of people from mainland and other islands have now settled in this island affecting the forest. A large area of the island is under the control of red oil palm plantation. However, the greenery of the island still remains. I saw the biggest creeks in this island, like the one seen in this image. There have been several cases of people getting killed by saltwater crocodiles and every creek has a signboard warning people to stay away.Image taken close to Butler Bay, Little Andaman.
Creepy looking climbers and branches hang from the many trees on my way to Lamiya Bay. Between the pristine stretches of forests, several settlers have illegally set up small villages and cleared the forest illegally to use the land for cultivation. I am told towards North Andaman, the forests are evergreen and characterized by wood climbers. This must be it.Image taken at Lamiya Bay, Kalipur, North Andaman.
As we travel towards North Andaman, the mangrove forests increase in density like anything. Traveling by the ferry from Long Island towards Erratta, we passed by several such entire islands of just mangroves, really tall and dense mangroves that could provide protection against waves in case of a tsunami. Later when we arrived at the jetty at Errata, it was surrounded by dense mangroves and a prime crocodile area with sign boards declaring the same everywhere. The total area of mangrove vegetation in Andamans is around 966 Sq.kms.
Seen here is the Padanus fruit. A visit to the Anthropological Museum in Port Blair informs me that this fruit is eaten by tribes of Nicobar. In Niel Island, when I inquired the locals brushed it off saying it is some inedible fruit. Image taken on the shore of Niel Island, Ritchie's Archipelago.
Seen here is my guide Indro, standing in front of the very huge trees of the evergreen rainforest. I've barely seen any tree tops once I reached North Andaman. The trees were all very tall, the buttress spread wide. This is still one of the smaller ones that I have photographed.
This is the view through the foliage along the road in Little Andaman, at the far end one can the blue greens of the sea. It was in rare cases that I could see through the dense greenery to get an ocean view. Most of the times, it was just trees and such.
A Tall Gurjan tree stands in the middle of the fields of an illegal settlement at Lamiya Bay. The thick wood is used to make furniture and is one of the several timber species found on the island. My guide, Indro standing next to the tree can give you a perspective of how huge the trees were.
Seen here is a Ficus Tree claiming all that is left of this British Building. The forests of Andaman and so alive and so aggressive, nothing can remain forever, the forests will take back all that belongs to it, sooner or later. And here ends my journey with the Forests of Andaman.