This triangular shaped island is the southernmost inhabited island of Ritchie’s Archipelago. Situated 40 km north east of Port Blair, it is just a 2 hour ride by ferry from Port Blair and Havelock Island. This island is very fertile and is covered with tropical forests, paddy fields and banana plantations.
It is a source of fresh fruits and vegetables for Port Blair. Barely 19 sq. km in area and 5 km at its widest, Neil has a flat terrain which makes it ideal for visitors to cycle around. The island has just five villages and all its 3 beaches-Laxamanpur, Bharatpur and Sitapur are connected.
Bharatpur beach is very close to the jetty. If you book the afternoon ferry for return, it gives you ample time to sit near the jetty, relax and enjoy the surroundings. You can also shop at the stalls selling local craftwork along the beach or take a ride in glass bottom boats to see the corals and fish. Additionally, you can go snorkeling or diving but that is possible only during high tide.
Laxmanpur beach is about 2 km from the jetty. It is a wide rocky beach with a gradual gradient. One gets to see coral formation, sea urchins, star fish and sea cucumbers. The Sunset point here is the most sought after by tourists. Viewing the setting sun here is an unforgettable experience.
Its fiery red hue against the backdrop of the azure skies and its reflection in the water is something that even the best cameras cannot do justice to. If in a four wheeler, you’ll have to leave the car and walk along a meandering path through the forest for half a km to reach this place. At the beach there are stalls selling refreshments, local craftwork and trinkets made out of shells that were thrown up by the waves.
The rock bridge which the locals sometimes refer to as the coral bridge is an interesting sight. Several meters high, the structure forms a kind of archway. There are natural markings near the base which indicate previously high sea levels. This place can only be visited at low tide and you’ll get to see a lot of crabs in the rock pools here.
Neil is mostly famous for the amazing rossogollahs and chamcham sweets the locals sell. These sweets, made the true Bengali way are rich and unbelievably delicious; you absolutely must have them! They are available quite easily in the bazaar and also by the jetty. Often, a lot of people can be seen carrying back huge parcels to Port Blair.
There are shops that rent out 2 wheelers or bicycles for reasonable rates. However, there are also fixed rate sightseeing taxis available at AC and non-AC fares per day, which can be found at the jetty.
These fares usually include pickup from the jetty, drop and wait at the major sightseeing points, drop at a hotel and pickup from there to be dropped back at the jetty. While these are convenient options, it is recommended that anyone with an adventurer’s heart should simply hire a two wheeler and explore the place leisurely.
There is a regular government ferry service that connects Neil to Havelock and Port Blair. Most travelers prefer going to Havelock for a couple of days before taking a ferry to Neil; the idea is to spend a day at Neil before returning to Port Blair.
The Neil-Port Blair route is often lucky for tourists as dolphins and turtles have been spotted many times here. The details of the ferry services can be obtained from the government website and the ticket counters.
Neil Island is less frequented and less commercialized than Havelock. This gives it a different charm altogether, leaving a lot to be explored. Do gorge on those scrumptious Bengali sweets; you can always burn it off by swimming, snorkelling, or by getting out to explore on a bicycle!
Sir Hugh Rose Island (Chhota Neil)
It’s a tiny island located at the southernmost tip of Neil Island. Also called the “Chhota Neil”, it is a turtle nesting ground and therefore, a protected Wildlife Sanctuary. For a day trip, special permission is to be taken from the Forest Department at Neil. No night trips are allowed, keeping in mind the fragility and importance of the ecosystem.