Visit Mayabunder - Middle Andaman Island, India - The Andaman Odyssey
Mayabunder is located at the northernmost corner of the Middle Andaman Island. It is the administrative quarters of the North and Middle Andaman District. During the British occupation of the Andaman Islands, Myanmar residents were brought to Mayabunder for labour work. They chose to stay in India after Independence, and hence this town has a small concentration of Karen community. Blessed with semi-evergreen and deciduous forests, the coastal areas of Mayabunder are enriched with mangrove creeks, stony coral reefs and seaweeds. Though the town has very few sightseeing places that attracts tourists, we specifically fell in love with its rawness, its down-to-earth people, and its greenery.
Where is Mayabunder?
From Port Blair, Mayabunder lies at a distance of around 230 kilometres by road or around 75 nautical miles by sea. From an unnamed junction on the bumpy Andaman Trunk Road, you’ll see a narrow road curving towards right. This will take you to Mayabunder nestled in the upper Middle Andaman Islands.
How to reach Mayabunder?
There are two ways to reach Mayabunder: via road, and sea.
It takes around 10 hours to reach Mayabunder from Port Blair via road. Either book a bus (government or private) or hire a private car.
As discussed in our previous blogs on North and Middle Andaman, you will have to take to the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) to reach Mayabunder via roadways. The route is as follows:
Port Blair – Jirkatang – Jarawa Tribal Reserve – Baratang – Kadamtala – Rangat – Nimbudera – Mayabunder
You may or may not halt for a night in one of the towns in between. It is possible to reach Mayabunder in a single day from Port Blair; however, be ready for a tiring journey. This is because of bad road conditions and lots of waiting time in between when you will have to cross two creeks on the way on a government ferry. To complete the journey in a single day, start as early as 4 or 5 AM from Port Blair.
The government buses to Mayabunder run from the Central bus station at Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair. The private buses have several pick-up points from the Port Blair town, so enquire beforehand from the bus service operator you book with and select the one nearest to your hotel. Advance bookings are highly recommended in both cases.
It takes around 8 hours to reach Mayabunder from Port Blair via a ferry.
Only government ferries operate from Port Blair to Mayabunder (and back). The ferry runs only once a week. The bookings open only 1 or 2 days before the departure, and tickets are issued from the STAR ticket counters in Port Blair. The return tickets need to be booked from Mayabunder itself.
If the ‘once a week’ ferry timing doesn’t suit you, take a ferry either to Rangat or Diglipur that sail at higher frequencies than the ones to Mayabunder, and then catch a government bus from there to reach Mayabunder.
What is the best time to visit Mayabunder?
The best time to visit Mayabunder is from October to March. The weather is pleasant during these months and is ideal for sightseeing. It starts becoming hot in Mayabunder from March and April. May to June is the peak summer season, whereas the monsoon begins by the end of June. Visiting Mayabunder 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 Mayabunder, which passes through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, closes down intermittently in monsoon due to tree falls. Even the government ferries connecting Port Blair to Mayabunder and the two creeks in between stop operating due to flooding, high tidal waves, and rough sea conditions.
What are the places to visit in Mayabunder?
1. Karmatang Beach
Karmatang Beach lies 12 kilometres away from the centre of Mayabunder. It is connected by good roads, hence can be easily reached by car or autos. It is one of the most picturesque beaches of the Middle Andaman Islands. The Forest Department has developed and maintained the entire shoreline into an eco-friendly spot by installing changing rooms, toilets, bamboo tree houses, wooden seating area, short nature trails, and playgrounds.
There is plenty of shade underneath big trees at Karmatang beach where you can rest after a strenuous swim in the sea. Several hammocks are also hung in between coconut trees. The beach is super clean and well-maintained; hence you can even plan a small picnic here. To be frank, we were pleasantly surprised to see the upkeep of facilities at Karmatang beach.
Karmatang beach is perfect for swimming as the beach is flat and the sand is soft and less grainy. The beach is also a turtle nesting ground, and if you visit between December to March, you might be able to see Olive Ridley or the Andaman green turtles laying eggs or hatching in large numbers.
2. Webi Village
In 1924, when the Andaman administration was under British rule, the Britishers invited people to come and settle in the Middle Andaman Islands in return providing work opportunities (clearing forests, working in timber factories, and cultivating agricultural lands). The Karen community in Burma (Myanmar) saw this as a great opportunity and about 63 families landed in Mayabunder in a span of two years. In Mayabunder, the Karen founded Webi village (meaning: the hidden village).
After India gained Independence in 1947, the migrated people of the Karen community chose to stay back in the country and were granted Citizenship. Today, about 2500 Karens live in Mayabunder. They have adapted to some new initiatives to tap into the region’s tourism potential, but have still tried to keep their ancient traditions and culture alive. They speak the Karen language, use traditional methods to catch fish, grow their own food, live in bamboo and mud houses with thatched roofs, and earn a living through agriculture and by selling eco-friendly handicrafts.
A walk through Webi village and some chit chat with the friendly locals will give you an insight into their rich culture and history of their settlement in the Andamans. You can also stay with a Karen family in their traditional house converted into a homestay named Koh Hee Homestay. John and Doris are excellent hosts and will take you on guided walks, tell you interesting stories about Karen community and the Webi village, and treat you to mouth-watering traditional Karen food.
3. Andaman Karen Crafts
Andaman Karen Crafts or AKC is a small crafts centre where the local Karen women from Webi village make hand-crafted traditional Karen arts. This centre has been set up to support livelihood of local Karen community, preserve their culture and to provide women empowerment. They weave baskets, clothes, and are also involved in carpentry. They sell the final products at the centre as well as to other retailers. The products include purses, sling bags, hand bags, traditional Karen clothes, fishing nets, and bamboo baskets.
4. German Jetty
German jetty is the former harbour (ferry point) of Mayabunder which was built during the Second World War by a German engineer. Hence the name! You can find it in a rather dilapidated condition today very close to the APWD Guest House. However, you can still enjoy a quiet time here as there’s seldom anyone who visits this place. Covered with huge rocks towards the shore, the jetty area gives a spectacular view of the open sea.
On the ground floor of the Andaman Karen Craft Centre is a small restaurant that serves authentic Karen dishes to the visiting guests. Surrounding the bamboo building is a nursery where they grow organic produce for their kitchen, as well as nurture and sell flowering plants.
5. Anmol Driftwood Museum
Anmol museum houses a collection of woodwork sculpted using driftwood by a private entrepreneur. Driftwood is basically log of wood that gets washed on to the shore by waves, and winds. The sculptor/ owner, Mr. Shanmugam, himself takes you around the museum and explains his vision while sculpting the particular piece of art. The design of some of the art pieces is incredible and a 15-minute quick visit to the museum is recommended.
6. Nearby islands
Mayabunder is surrounded by lesser-known islands mainly Avis Island, Interview Island, and Austin X Island. These are located about 20–30-minute boat ride away from Mayabunder jetty and are seldom visited by tourists. None of these tiny islands have accommodation options, and hence you can only visit them as a day trip. Special permission has to be procured to visit the islands that you can procure from the Forest Department Office in Mayabunder. We didn’t have time to visit any of these, hence can’t provide you with much detailed information.
How many nights should one stay in Mayabunder?
All the sightseeing places or the places to visit in Mayabunder can be covered at ease if you stay for 1 night in the town. You require 1 full day to visit everything, so plan out accordingly.
Where to stay in Mayabunder?
The Andaman PWD Guest House, run and managed by the Andaman Tourism Board is the most reliable option to stay in Mayabunder. There are a few other lodges and guest houses scattered across the town, but we can’t vouch for their reliability. Regardless, to have an authentic and immersive experience, the best place to stay in Mayabunder is the Koh Hee Homestay in Webi village, which is 8 kilometres away from the centre of Mayabunder.
Koh Hee Homestay is a traditional Karen home surrounded by paddy fields and a seasonal freshwater stream flowing just behind. The host (John, Doris and family) live on the ground floor, while the first floor has 3 rooms and an open-shelf library for the guests. The washroom is common and is located on the ground floor, however it is always very clean. It has also been recognised as the best homestay by Outlook Responsible Tourism. They also have a nursery where they grow Karen traditional medicinal plants and native fruits. John took us to his nursery and showed us so many plants, vegetables, fruits and patiently informed us about their medicinal uses. He is very passionate about preserving his roots and is always happy to educate guests about these.
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We hope that this guide to Mayabunder helps you in planning your trip. Get in touch with us in the comments section below should you have any questions.