“Tan lines fade but memories last forever.”
Imagine a tiny tropical island that is no larger than 5 sq miles in area , sparsely populated , no internet connectivity whatsoever, surrounded by white sand beaches , beautiful turquoise waters and rich coral reefs – that’s Neil Island. Definitely sounds like every tourist’s paradise right? Yet, just 20 mins after landing at Neil Island, we were sitting clueless, angry and tired with all our luggage by the side of the only crossroad junction on the entire island.
After having disembarked at Neil Kendra, the only jetty on the island, we had made our way halfway to the hotel that we had booked online via goibibo.com when we called the hotel contact number to get the exact location. To the dismay of everyone, the manager said there is no such booking in our name and that he hadn’t received any sort of intimation from goibibo either. Couple of hours and plenty of calls later, the hotelier gave in to accommodate us at another hotel. It was not as good as the one we had booked but since we were tired and it was just for a day, we took what we got.
Laxmanpur Beach: The tiff with the hotelier had cost us some precious hours and it was almost time for sun down, so we took an auto-rickshaw to the sunset beach(Laxmanpur beach). Auto-rickshaws are the only form of transport available for tourists on the island. The beautiful white sand was expected but the seabed came as a surprise. After entering the water, I could not feel any sand beneath my feet. All I could feel was stones and corals – a prickly situation indeed. Luckily, the water was extremely clear, so I could see what you are stepping on. Tiny fishes swim in the coral waters and I could see starfish hiding beneath the pebbles.
The beach is on the triangular edge on the west side of the island. To view the sunset, I had to cross the island’s tip on to the other side. Our bad luck for the day continued as the sky was not clear on the western front and had plenty of cloud cover. However, we did manage to get some good seafood by the beach. The guy took our order for dinner as well and delivered it to our hotel room that night. Lobsters are a must try.
Sitapur Beach: “I might have missed the sunrise too.”, I thought to myself as we made a short trip of 15 mins by auto to the sunrise beach. It was already 6am when we left the hotel. When we reached, we were in for a pleasant surprise. Lady Luck had finally smiled upon us in Neil Island- the sun was yet to rise. The skies were clear and we sat down till the sun showed up. The sunrise called for some fun photos to be clicked. We strolled the beach afterwards and indulged in some beach combing too.
Natural Bridge: A 5 min ride from our hotel got us to the Natural Bridge. The actual location of the bridge requires a walk of about 500 meters. We hired a guide upon persistence for 300 bucks but at the end of his tour we felt it was worth it. The tide was low and we had to walk across a muddy patch of land and the guide said that this part would be under the ocean surface during the latter parts of the day. The Natural Bridge formation looked spectacular and the lack of tourists in the early hours of the day meant that we could get some good pictures.
The guide went on to show us different sea creatures in the shallow tides – mud-skippers, sea cucumbers, plenty of starfish, sea urchins and different types of live corals and told about their growth rate. He told us particularly to stay away from the sea urchins as they can land a painful sting. We saw the sea anemone -the nest of the Clown-fish but sadly, no one was home. We witnessed other interesting creatures like the fire-worms and various sponges including one that was the sea version of the touch-me-not plant. It was fascinating to see all these creatures up close. However, it worries me to think how easily all this could be destroyed with increase in irresponsible tourists as there is no official protection to the place.
Bharatpur Beach: This is a classic picturesque beach with white sand and extremely clear azure waters. The low tide during the day forms a tiny island of white sand about 100 meters from the beach. We just relaxed in the shade enjoying the view. There are quite a few options for water-sports. Tender coconuts were huge and just one filled our tummies. Plenty of stalls were put up selling souvenirs, pearls and some toys.
With absolutely no data services and telecom services also being limited only to a couple of providers, its ideal for those who want to take a couple of days being disconnected from the outside world. The strikingly beautiful beaches and spectacular Natural Bridge and its surrounding reef are definitely worth a visit.