Is it Worth Going to Baratang Island in Andaman?
Baratang Island, 110 kilometers from Port Blair, is located between North and Middle Andaman. It is endowed with natural wonders and is a popular tourist destination for visitors to the Andaman Islands. The vast untamed landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, dense mangrove creeks, and geological wonders of the Baratang islands attract nature lovers and photographers. The main draws of the relatively unknown Baratang Island are:
1. Limestone Caves
The most impressive attraction on Baratang Island is, without a doubt, the Limestone caves. Formed by the compression of deposits over millions of years, Limestone Caves at Baratang Islands are one of the largest and deepest caves discovered by mankind. The cave is rumored to have surfaced from the bottom of the sea after an earthquake. The massive sedimentary formations within the dark, damp caves are a sight to behold. They form when water containing dissolved carbon dioxide seeps into rock crevices and joints. The caves are constantly changing in shape and size. Although Baratang Island has numerous limestone caves, only one is easily accessible.
2. Mud Volcanoes
Mud Volcano erupted for the first time in 2003 in Baratang. They are formed by gases and liquids emitted by decaying organic matter underground. The gushing mud hardens the ground above. As more oozes and spills out, it expands to form a small mud fountain. This is referred to as a Mud Volcano. The mid-ocean eruptive activity has resulted in the formation of numerous craters on the Baratang Island.
3. Parrot Islands
It’s a small uninhabited island near the Baratang jetty that’s turned into a natural habitat for the region’s parrots. Thousands of parrots and parakeets return to their nests here before sunset. It’s incredible to see groups and groups of parrots soaring together in the crimson sky.
4. Mangrove Creeks
The island is nestled between vast mangrove swamps. As you approach the island, you can enjoy the gorgeous views of the lush woodlands. The mangroves leading to the limestone caves resemble a beautiful tunnel, and the short boat journey through the canopy of mangrove trees is a memorable experience.
5. Jarawa Tribe
You will pass through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve on your way to Baratang. The Jarawa tribes are one of the earliest human races still in existence. They have been cut off from human evolution and are yet a long way from modern civilization. Despite the fact that the reserve is densely forested, you might catch a glimpse of Jarawa Tribe members. Any interaction with them (including taking photographs) is strictly prohibited.
How to reach Baratang Island?
Getting to Baratang Island is a journey in itself. Even though the distance from Port Blair is only about 110 kilometers, you need to use multiple modes of transport, face frustrating protocols, and drive through dense tribal communities to reach the Limestone Caves. Let’s have a look at how to get to Baratang island.
- From your hotel, take a bus or taxi to Nilambur Jetty. It is advisable to take a cab because the taxi driver will accompany & assist you throughout the day, including the return journey. You’d have to pay between 5000 and 7000 rupees for the taxi.
- Start early in the morning, about 4 a.m., and make your way to the Ferarganj Check Point. There you will have to wait in the queue to have your COVID vaccination checked and to obtain the required permits. This process requires roughly one hour to complete. After that, it would take you another hour to reach Jirkatang Check Post, from where the convoy will commence. It is mandatory to join an army convoy to Baratang because you will be passing through a restricted region. There are four such convoys going both ways, and it is advisable to join the first convoy if you wish to return the same day.
- At 6:30 a.m., the first convoy departs. (Before organizing your day, please double-check the convoy schedule). It travels through tribal regions, but no one is permitted to stop, overtake, or take photographs. The convoy journey from Jirkatang to Nilambur Jetty takes over an hour.
- To go to Baratang Island, you must board a large ferry from Nilambur jetty. The ferry ride is an ordeal. It transports buses, vehicles, scooters, and passengers, without giving any preference given to humans. The fifteen-minute cruise will take you to the Oralkatcha Jetty, which is located on Baratang Island.
- Look for a private speed boat to transport you to the other side of the island (Nayadera Jetty), where the Limestone Caves are located. You will arrive at the Nayadera Jetty after a 30-minute sail across the turquoise sea and picturesque mangroves. Once you disembark from the boat, a guide will lead you on a 1-kilometer hike through the tropical forest to one of the Limestone Caves. After exploring the small caves, you must begin your return journey in the same manner as you came. Travel to the mainland on the big vessel and wait for the convoy to leave for Port Blair. By the time you come back, it would be around 5 pm.
- If you have the time and energy, you can visit the Mud Volcano. The journey from Nilambur Jetty to Jarawa Creek is only 7 kilometers long. From there, it’s a 200-300-meter walk to the Mud Volcano. Keep in mind that the convoy follows a strict schedule and that you must keep track of time. Otherwise, you might get stranded for the night.
Is it worth going to Baratang Island in Andamans?
I recently visited Baratang Island and felt that the excursion was not worth the time and effort. Many of my fellow passengers shared similar thoughts. Here are some of the reasons why I don’t recommend a trip to Baratang.
- The journey was far too long and exhausting. We traveled for approximately 12 hours to explore a small cave. The cave is interesting and worth seeing, but it is not unique or spectacular enough to warrant such a long travel. We had hardly spent 15 minutes in the Limestone Cave before it was time to leave.
- There aren’t many more things to do in Baratang. Parrot Island can only be visited if you stay the night. Mud Volcanoes are not visually pleasing because they are usually just a pile of dried or bubbling mud pools. The boat ride through the mangroves is lovely, but it is far too short. That only leaves the Limestone Caves.
- You might catch a glimpse of one or two Jarawa tribe members, but the ones you do see appear to be quite civilized. They are dressed in modern apparel and appear to be at ease with the outside world. You’re probably going to be disappointed if you’re expecting to see reclusive tribal humans.
- The wait times were extremely inconvenient and tiring. You can’t leave without a convoy, and there are only four convoys per day. This means you’ll be waiting for extended periods of time in hot, sunny weather.
- The facilities along the way were extremely basic. Even though the toilets were pay-per-use, they were dirty and unhygienic. The waiting room was overcrowded and had no cooling system. There were a few eateries, but they all had very limited food options
- The worst part of the trip was the short time you had to spend on the ferry. If you’re lucky and arrive early enough, you might be able to find some space in the ferry’s crowded interiors. Otherwise, you’ll have to stand in between vehicles in the blistering sun and be pushed repeatedly.
- The heat of April made the trip particularly grueling. I’m sure it’d be nicer between October and February. Baratang, however, has a tropical climate. As a result, it will always be quite hot and humid.
I understand that the islands are extremely remote and underdeveloped, and we should be grateful for whatever facilities we still have. Sadly, most of us are now spoiled, and it is difficult for us to adapt to such conditions. I wouldn’t recommend visiting Baratang Island unless you are a truly enthusiastic and adventurous traveler, or if you have never seen a limestone cave in your life. I’ve given an overview. Now, the ball is in your court. If you wish to visit the island, be prepared. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and keep your expectations low – you’ll have a more rewarding experience this way.