And so the gal sailed, to an exotic collection of islands, India‘s Andamans & Nicobars, 571 in total, covering 750 sq km of the Andaman Sea. They are governed, in commendably efficient style, by Lt Gen (Retd) A.K. Singh PVSM, SVSM, SM, VSM. This is one instantly admirable gentleman, who manages all those islands, plus Pondicherry, on the mainland of India. In 2013, three days after he started here on the islands the Indian press was praising him for instant checking, and repair, of potholes in roads in Port Blair, the A&N capital. He works tirelessly, making sure telephone connections out of action for a year or more are repaired, overnight. He works long hours, often cycles home, and is somehow doing a PhD, writing about the role of the military in the 21st century. Where, you may ask, do luxury hotels fit into all this?
Well, General Singh says that while the more-southerly Nicobar islands are closed to tourism, to protect their indigenous Nicobarese and Onges people, some of the Andamans are natural tourism destinations, with history and nature – see the header photo of Corbyn Bay, above. Havelock Island, 24 miles east of Port Blair, already has back-to-back resorts down its sandy east coast, renowned for some of the world’s best scuba diving, plus snorkelling. Havelock will have an additional resort, a luxury assortment of detached villas designed by Pramod Ranjan, and all those who are addicts of what Ranjan has done at Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg, will flock here. Yes, General Singh wants to internationalise, and upgrade, the A&N appeal.
Over tea at what is effectively Government House, Raj Niwas, I was instantly reminded of the islands‘ history. Colonial elements flooded in. Trays were brought by a liveried footman. There were little popovers, with delicious chutneys, and hefty tuna sandwiches, crusts removed, small pancakes and slices of chocolate cake. The china had the Raj Niwas crest on it (on the cups, the crest faces the beholder, not the drinker). As I left the residence, I wondered if those calling unannounced every Tuesday, when this is open-house for all constituents, receive such amazing hospitality. A spic and pan soldier, khaki beret down to puttees, saluted.
General Singh says no matter awaiting his attention is left more than 24 hours, and whoever he passes it on to is given a time frame with clear objectives. His thoughts and hopes for luxury hotels in the Andamans are in the hands of Ankita Mishra Bundela, whose official title is MD Andaman & Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd ANIIDCO, and she, in turn, appointed me a lovely minder in the form of Dr Rashida Iqbal. Time to see some sights…