Visit Baratang Island, Middle Andaman Island, India - The Andaman Odyssey
Baratang Island is one of the Middle Andaman Islands. It is often part of travel agent's itinerary if a traveller spends adequate time in Andamans. It is usually offered as a day trip from Port Blair while most other tourists who spend less than a week in Andamans completely miss visiting Baratang Island. In case you are one of those who are planning to explore Andamans beyond the usual trio of Havelock, Neil and Port Blair, this might be the easy one to include. But note that reaching and exploring Baratang Island isn't a piece of cake. There are points to keep in mind and things you must know before travelling to Baratang Island. This article will highlight everything about Baratang Island, so stay tuned!
What is the best time to visit Baratang Island?
The best time to visit Baratang Island is from October to March. The weather is pleasant during these months and is ideal for sightseeing. Also, since visiting key places of interest in Baratang Island requires you to be out in the sun, even October and March could seem hot to many travellers.
It starts becoming hotter from March and April. May to June is the peak summertime, whereas the monsoon may start from the end of June. Visiting Baratang Island is not recommended in the peak monsoon months from July to September because of incessant rainfall and strong weather winds.
The Andaman Trunk Road to Baratang, which passes through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, closes down intermittently in monsoon due to tree falls. Even the ferries stop operating due to high tidal waves and rough sea conditions.
How to reach Baratang Island?
To reach anywhere in Andamans, you have to start your journey from Port Blair. Baratang Island is located approximately 100 kilometres north of Port Blair. Note that Baratang is the southernmost part of middle Andaman Island, and hence you will also have to cross the creek (actually a thin portion of the sea). Here is how you can reach Baratang island -
Reaching Baratang via road:
Port Blair (part of South Andaman Island) is connected with the North and Middle Andaman Islands by the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR). This road passes through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, where all the vehicles queue at the starting point, i.e. Jirkatang Check Post, and the entire convoy is preceded and succeeded by Forest Department vans. Hence the route is:
Port Blair – Jirkatang Check Post – Jarawa Tribal Reserve – Middle Strait Jetty - Oralkatcha Jetty - Baratang Island
Jirkatang Check Post is located about 42 kilometres away from Port Blair, and it takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to reach there from the capital town. The check post opens only at specified times of the day – (6 AM to 6:30 AM; 9 AM to 9:30 AM; 12 PM to 12:30PM; and 3 PM to 3:30 PM). Hence, you will have to reach Jirkatang before these slots. If you are on a day trip to Baratang, you should reach Jirkatang in the very first time window (i.e. 6 AM to 6:30 AM), so that you have a good time to explore the island and return back in the last time window (i.e. 3 PM to 3:30 PM convoy).
We started at 4:30 AM in the morning in a private cab to the Jirkatang Check Post. As we approached the check post, we saw a long (read: more than a few kilometres) queue of vehicles that had already lined up before us. We were asked to fill out a couple of forms at the check post and submit a copy of our photo ID proofs that our driver helped us with. There are a few shops lined up at Jirkatang, which are open as early as 5 AM, serving breakfast and snacks to the waiting queue of passengers. You can plan on having a basic breakfast here.
The forest administrative staff at Jirkatang advised us against stopping our vehicle or clicking any photos or videos while driving through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve. As the clock struck 6 AM, we resumed our journey with a forest van leading the route. We did happen to spot a few people from Jarawa tribes on the way, but as instructed, we didn't stop or click. Another hour of journey on the ATR (Andaman Truck Road) took us to Middle Strait Jetty, where the tribal reserve ends. At Middle Strait Jetty, you would find several vehicles parked, waiting for their turn to get on a ferry. There are also public toilets here.
We boarded a government ferry along with our vehicle (yes, the ferry transfers all types of vehicles) to cross the Middle Strait. After another 15 minutes of sailing, we finally reached Oralkatcha Jetty, part of Baratang Island. Wasn't that easy, was it? It took us almost 4 hours, with lots of wait in between, to get to Baratang Island.
Government and private buses run early morning from Port Blair to Baratang Island. You can opt to travel in them if you are on a budget. However, given all the vehicles reach Middle Strait Jetty around similar times, we observed they allowed private cars to take the ferry first while buses and trucks waited. You can also catch any bus plying to Rangat, Mayabunder or Diglipur; they will all pass through Baratang Island.
Note that Jarawas is one of the indigenous tribes of Andamans that have been cut off from human evolution and still live like men used to live fa ew thousand years ago. There have been cases in the past where they attack the vehicles. Hence the forest department takes utmost care to ensure we do not intervene in their lives (hence no photography) and do not harm us (hence a convoy). An opportunity to spot Jarawas is one good reason to take the road to the Middle and North Andamans. We did see Jarawas a couple of times on our way. While some of them wanted a lift, there was a father-child duo where the child seemed like trying to use a bow and arrow and attack. Not sure if he was having fun. We, of course, didn't click any photographs as per prohibited rules.
Reaching Baratang via sea:
Makruzz, the private cruise player in the Andaman Islands, operates daily ships from Haddo Jetty near Chatham in Port Blair to Nilambur Jetty in Baratang and vice versa. The sea journey from Port Blair to Baratang Island takes about 2-2.5 hours, and the tickets can be booked online or purchased offline from Makruzz's office in Port Blair. You can check the timings of the cruise to Baratang Island on their official website. Government ferries do not yet operate to Baratang Island, so the only way to reach the island via sea is by sailing with Makruzz.
What are the places to visit in Baratang Island?
1. Limestone caves and a ride through mangroves
As soon as you get down at Baratang Island, you will have to form a group of about 10 people (which is relatively easy owing to all the crowd from the convoy that reaches together). One of you will have to fill out a form and purchase a boat ticket to the limestone caves. Once the payment is made, you are assigned a boatsman who hands you a life jacket and helps you onboard the boat.
An hour boat ride in the Middle Strait will take you to the mangrove plantations. From there, your boat goes in a narrow strip of the sea under low branches right into the mangrove clearing. You alight your boat here and walk on a wooden platform and uneven trail for a kilometre to reach the Baratang limestone caves. The boatman doubles up as your guide here and leads the way. You walk through thick mangrove plantations that clear up into a flat trail surrounded by green fields.
Baratang limestone cave is a geological wonder with layers of shiny stalagmites and stalactites. The caves are completely dark inside. However, the guide carries a torch, and even your mobile phone torches will help light up the structures. The guide throws light on various limestone formations that have attained different shapes, like a swan, a tiger, and several idols. These are all formed naturally over a period of time. You will be given about an hour to explore the caves and return to your boat for the return journey. On our way back to the boat, we relished delicious lemon water made by the local inhabitants of Baratang Island.
2. Mud volcano
Baratang Island is amongst the very few places in the world where you can find active mud volcanos. These are a rare natural wonder. From the main jetty in Baratang, you will find jeeps that take you to the Baratang mud volcano site. These are shared jeeps, and the entire payment gets divided amongst all the passengers interested in exploring the mud volcano. You reach the location after a 15-20-minute-long bumpy ride. From here, climbing about 100 steps takes you to the mud volcano site.
Note that if you start from Port Blair and plan to reach Diglipur on the same evening, you can easily do the limestone caves. But adding mud volcanoes might be too ambitious. Also, most of the mud volcanos are dead, and there are a few calm ones. Basically, a mud volcano is formed by gases and liquids excreted by the earth's interior. It isn't like an actual lava volcano, but it spews out liquid clay, and you can see occasional mud bubbles.
It will take you an hour in entirety to visit the Baratang mud volcano and return back. So, if you have time in hand, visit this natural wonder; otherwise, it can be skipped.
3. Baludera Beach
Baludera beach is very close to the Baratang mud volcano site. So, if you get a chance to visit the mud volcano, do stop by to check out the beach. Very few tourists end up seeing the Baludera beach; hence you will almost always find it deserted. The beach is clean, shallow, and ideal for swimming. You will find a beautiful mangrove plantation on one end and dead tree trunks on the other end of the Baludera beach, which gives it a stunning look.
4. Parrot Island
Parrot Island is another attraction very close to Baratang Island that we skipped visiting due to lack of time. Parrot Island is a must-visit in the evening when it is said that a flock of thousands of parrots descend back to their home. We can only wonder how incredible that sight would be – a must-visit for bird lovers and photography enthusiasts. Parrot Island is also known for watching the magical sunset. The boats generally leave for the island at 4 PM. So, if you plan to visit Parrot Island, make your night stay arrangements in Baratang, as the last convoy for Port Blair closes at 3:30 PM.
Note: There are no accommodation options on Parrot Island. It is an uninhabited island.
5. Guitar Island
Well, honestly, we don't know much about Guitar Island except that it's shaped like a guitar when looked at from a bird's eye view. It is amongst the very rarely visited islands of India. Guitar Island can be visited as a day trip from Baratang Island. The Guitar Island beach is tagged as a nature reserve due to its rich coral life, mangroves, and rainforest. We have heard that you can easily snorkel at the beach and spot colourful marine life inside the sea.
How many nights should one stay in Baratang Island?
As we mentioned earlier, Baratang Island is generally visited as a day trip from Port Blair, or explored on the way to the other Middle and North Andaman Islands (Rangat, Mayabunder and Diglipur). There are very few basic accommodation options to stay in Baratang Island. Since the number of places to visit in Baratang Island can be covered in a day, we recommend returning back to Port Blair or staying further in Rangat if need be.
Things to keep in mind when visiting Baratang Island, Middle Andaman:
- Our mobile phones did not catch any signal in Baratang Island when we visited in early 2020. In fact, you will lose all network connectivity (Airtel, Vodafone) from the Jirkatang checkpoint. BSNL may work in some areas but do not be very hopeful
- No mobile signals mean no internet/ data connectivity. The hotel you book in Baratang Island or Rangat will most likely not have a wi-fi connection. The area is totally cut off from the rest of the world
- Few inhabitants reside in Baratang Island, and the homestay concept has not yet penetrated this region. You would find very basic and limited options even in terms of hotels. That is one of the reasons why people prefer to explore it as a day trip
- You will find a few restaurants (more of small eateries or dhabas) at the Baratang Jetty that serve local cuisine. There are no restaurants or eateries at the sightseeing spots. The maximum you can get at the places to visit are road side hawkers selling lemon water, coconut water, and cucumbers. It's always advisable to carry some light snacks with you
- We recommend that you visit Baratang Island as a day trip from Port Blair or explore it on your way to other parts of North / Middle Andaman (Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur). However, if you wish to stay, a few decent accommodation options have come up over the years, like Dew Dale Resort and Coral Creek Resort. It's advisable to call the hotel directly for booking purposes rather than booking online
- The sightseeing places in Baratang Island involve quite a lot of walking. Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes instead of heels and sandals. And do not forget to carry drinking water
- As with any coastal area, the weather in Baratang Island remains tropical, meaning hot and humid. The boats that take you to the limestone caves or the nearby islands are open from the top. Hence, you must wear breathable clothes, preferably light and loose cotton. You may also wish to carry your umbrella or ponchos just in case
- When you visit tropical areas, it's needless to say that you carry and keep applying sunscreen to save yourself from getting tanned
- Since you will be spending a lot of time near water bodies, in rainforests, and amongst mangroves, it's essential that you stay protected from mosquitoes and other insects. Carry and apply a mosquito repellent especially if you plan to stay overnight
- There are no ATMs in Baratang Island, so carry sufficient cash with you
- Baratang Island lacks well equipped medical facilities or pharmacies; hence carry all the basic as well as prescribed medications with you
- Since Baratang Island is not a typical tourist destination, people are not well versed in the English language. Most people know Hindi, and there shouldn't be a problem to converse with them
We hope this article helps you understand Baratang Island better and assists you in planning your trip. If you have any questions, please drop them in the comment section below.