Intoxicating in its remoteness : But the Andaman Islands and their communities are not insulated from change.

The whole Andaman experience is cool. And wild. This is a special place : remote, beautiful, rugged, mysterious. It's a piece of Southeast Asia that belongs to India and it's not easy to get there, but it's worth it.

A trip to these islands offers pristine nature, Indian culture, a glimpse of fascinating communities and some of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the full name of this territory, are several hundred bushy islands in the Indian Ocean almost a thousand miles east of India's mainland.

Under British rule, the territory was used as a penal colony. In the past decade, tourism has taken off, and the islands are now becoming known as a diving mecca and relaxation spot.

Accommodations on the main islands range from luxury hotels and eco-resorts to rattan-walled beach shacks. If you explore the outer islands, and there are about 30 open to tourists, you might even see some members of the Jarawa, one of the least touched cultures in the world.

The Jarawa live deep in the forest, and though their communities are strictly protected - Indian law prohibits even photographing them - I once saw a hunting party as I was driving down a jungle road.

They carried bows and arrows and freshly slaughtered wild boars slung across their backs. I stared at them. The moment lasted maybe two seconds. I'll never forget it.

But the islands are changing fast. A much bigger, international airport is being built in Port Blair, the administrative capital, and hotels, restaurants and dive shops are popping up everywhere.

It's about to get much easier to visit, and even the hermit crabs are paying the price. One sunny morning as I walked along the beach, I saw a large hermit crab scuttling across the sand, without a shell.

''Look at that poor guy,'' said Me. Vazifdar. ''He's naked. The tourists have taken so many shells home, these big guys don't have any.''

I heard a similar note while having lunch [using a banana leaf as a plate] during a visit with one of the original families who were brought from  mainland India decades ago to farm rice and bananas.

''When I was old enough to understand my surroundings, all I could see was forests, all around,'' said my host Paresh Sikdar, who is in his late 50s and has lived in the Andamans his entire life.

''But so many trees are getting cut down. It's changing the weather. I'm worried.''

The World Students Society thanks author Jeffrey Gettleman.


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