The gal had already been to Havelock Island in India’s Andaman Islands but that was before the unique Taj Exotica opened. Now that this luxury resort is up and running, it was time to go back, and see why, for instance, international Munich-based travellers had already discovered it. (‘We stayed three nights, four would have been better and seven even better’, said my neighbour.) This is indeed a unique property, designed and overseen during construction stage, by co-owner Pramod Ranjan. He based the 150 sq m villas on traditional houses of the local Jarawa people – eventually there will be 75 villas on the 20-hectare site, running alongside the island’s most beautiful beach, Radhanagar, named for Lord Krishna’s wife.
The only way to get to Havelock at the moment is by hour-long ferry from the Islands’ capital, Port Blair. On arrival at Havelock, hundreds of fellow travellers quickly disperse to backpackers’ and beach-lovers’ hostels. The Taj 4×4 winds through local villages and after half an hour you arrive at the property’s main gate, in my case to be met by GM Abnash Kumar, an epitomal boy-scout character who has, with Pramod Ranjan made this resort a reality. At an arrival pavilion, we all listened as some of the 150 staff sang a song they have composed for all guests.
If you want to know what they sing, here are the words:
‘We welcome all of you today, As you step into our paradise, Taj is a place to rejoice. Our land was small and unknown, Now we are known to all; Here you can see waves, beach and enjoy experiences of a boundless nature, Once you are here to experience, you will be mesmerized and fall in love with this place‘. Last time here, I found no connectivity, full stop, this visit I was able to sit outside on my terrace writing, oh so creatively in this gorgeous environment. Trees, by the way, have been left in situ: they are named (the tallest are white chuglam, or Andamans Ash, reaching 100 to 160 ft). Two trees, by the way, go right up through the ground floor Technogym, emerging above at the side of the outdoor pool.
This is one of the main memories of this amazing hotel. The infinity pool is a staggering 50 metres in length. Swim up and down looking up and out at elephant rope trees, Indian butter trees and other living statues, and look out, too, at the gorgeous white-sand beach, which come particularly to life at the sunset hour. My German neighbours, by the way, seemed to spend their too-few days in and around the pool, on the beach, taking nature walks and dining. Even in my short stay, I loved my dining experiences. Lunch was pool-side. Dinner was at The Settlers, a ten-seat single-table chef-interactive restaurant honoring dishes brought by immigrants to the Islands. As preamble, we were shown some of today’s harvest from the resort’s own organic garden. Tonight, our menu is inscribed on brown paper rolled in elaborate silver filigree knife holders set at each place, next to bespoke ceramic or glass plates. I sit looking through to the working kitchen: to my left is a wall entirely fashioned of sculpted mangrove wood. I nibble on divine pumpkin crisps, or chips to Americans, and deep-fried baby sardines. This will be a memorable dinner.
Abnash Kumar, who already had a food background, spent six months eating up and down the East Coast of the USA to identify what today’s foodies might want. If they want one-off wine dinners, he can do it here, but, any night at The Settlers, you might well start with Jacob’s Creek Pinot Sparkling and possible go on to Jacob’s Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. The gym is 24/7, but after so many exhilarating experiences, I do not wait until sunrise. Breakfast, a buffet, was also a delight, especially as I sat outside on an upper terrace looking out at the sea. I am told, by the way, that the first guest checking in here, on Valentine’s Day 2018, was so impressed that now, back at his Los Angeles base, he has already made his fourth return reservation, for a month over this Easter. This is indeed a unique luxury hotel, and the highlight is its people: jack-of-all-trades Soumaya, for instance, is a young man who is equally at home singing in welcome, driving a buggy, confidently dealing with travel queries. No wonder people want to come back to this authentic natural retreat. TO FEEL EVEN MORE AT HOME AT THIS UNIQUE RESORT, SEE SOME VIDEOS BELOW