The Andaman Islands form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India, to the west, and Myanmar, to the north and east. Most are part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory of India, while a small number in the north of the archipelago, including the Coco Islands, belong to Myanmar.
The Andaman Islands are home to the Sentinelese people, who have had no contact with any other people.
The name of the Andaman Islands is ancient. A theory that became prevalent in the late 19th century is that it derives from Andoman, a form of Hanuman, the Sanskrit name of the Indian God. Another Italian traveller, Niccolò de' Conti (c. 1440), mentioned the islands and said that the name means "Island of Gold".
The Andaman islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and isolation studies suggests that the islands may have been inhabited as early as the Middle Paleolithic. The indigenous Andamanese people appear to have lived on the islands in substantial isolation from that time until the 18th century CE.
The Andamans are theorised to be a key stepping stone in a great coastal migration of humans from Africa via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Oceania.
The Andaman Archipelago is an oceanic continuation of the Burmese Arakan Yoma range in the North and of the Indonesian Archipelago in the South. It has 325 islands which cover an area of 6,408 km2 (2,474 sq mi), with the Andaman Sea to the east between the islands and the coast of Burma. North Andaman Island is 285 kilometres (177 mi) south of Burma, although a few smaller Burmese islands are closer, including the three Coco Islands.
The Ten Degree Channel separates the Andamans from the Nicobar Islands to the south. The highest point is located in North Andaman Island (Saddle Peak at 732 m (2,402 ft))
The subsoil of the Andaman islands consists essentially of Late Jurassic to Early Eocene ophiolites and sedimentary rocks (argillaceous and algal limestones), deformed by numerous deep faults and thrusts with ultramafic igneous intrusions. There are at least 11 mud volcanoes on the islands.
The climate is typical of tropical islands of similar latitude. It is always warm, but with sea-breezes. Rainfall is irregular, usually dry during the north-east, and very wet during the south-west, monsoons.
The Middle Andamans harbour mostly moist deciduous forests. North Andamans is characterised by the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers. The natural vegetation of the Andamans is tropical forest, with mangroves on the coast. The rainforests are similar in composition to those of the west coast of Burma. Most of the forests are evergreen, but there are areas of deciduous forest on North Andaman, Middle Andaman, Baratang and parts of South Andaman Island. The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids.
The Andaman forests are largely unspoiled, despite logging and the demands of the fast-growing population driven by immigration from the Indian mainland. There are protected areas on Little Andaman, Narcondam, North Andaman and South Andaman, but these are mainly aimed at preserving the coast and the marine wildlife rather than the rainforests. Threats to wildlife come from introduced species including rats, dogs, cats and the elephants of Interview Island and North Andaman.
Interview Island (the largest wildlife sanctuary in the territory) in Middle Andaman holds a population of feral elephants, which were brought in for forest work by a timber company and released when the company went bankrupt. This population has been subject to research studies.
Port Blair is the chief community on the islands, and the administrative centre of the Union Territory. The Andaman Islands form a single administrative district within the Union Territory, the Andaman district (the Nicobar Islands were separated and established as the new Nicobar district in 1974).
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