A tale of the Andamans (Part un – The Jalakara of Havelock)

A visit to the Andamans was on my radar for a very long time but for some reason or the other I kept on letting it pass as an underscore. As an unsung hero in stealth it persisted though and when I finally got there and stepped on its land; I couldn’t blink, it was too arduous to miss a beat anymore. It was a paradise in the flesh!

With flights from virtually every city now into its capital, the Andamans is now more accessible than ever. The point of entry to the archipelago is Port Blair – while it does have a very distinctive colonial character, a stay there functions best as a transit stop so as to cater to the ferry schedules to the many islands of the archipelago.

For our onward journey into Port Blair, we had an early morning flight in and this allowed us to be in time for an afternoon ferry to Havelock. A couple of hours in a ferry got us to a place surrounded with shimmering turquoise blue waters with a gorgeous backdrop of a thick rainforest, light houses, secluded coves with white sand beaches. Enchanted, we got off the ferry and then got in a car for a transfer a to our hotel from the terminal. After a drive of ten minutes, we were in the middle of a thick green forest. This may seem absurd, but our hotel was not in a place that was surrounded by the typical azure waters of the island but rather in a place that was surrounded by palm trees. As ironical as this may sound, it was perhaps the best possible choice we could have made when it comes to hotels here. We had checked in a dreamy wonder that was “The Jalakara”. An incredibly beautiful and peaceful abode nestled amid palm trees, complemented superlatively with exalting architecture and aesthetics.

The lobby or the lounge as they called it was a seating area by a deck that was embedded with an infinity pool. Everything overlooked the beautiful rain forest. On the far side of the deck were reclining chairs. Come evening you could sit here with a drink and watch a perfect sunset (perhaps the best sunset on the island), while listening to an underscore of birdsong. Did I mention the mixologist – by far the best I have come across! His play on locally sourced island herbs in his cocktails…out of this world!

Next comes the room – a flight of stairs from the pool through the step gardens took us to the residential wing that essentially houses seven exclusive rooms, each with a distinctive theme. Here there was corridor with an open kitchen and a huge community table; all the rooms were spread around this common area.

Adjacent to the community area was a lily pond and at its edge, was our room. Open the door and wow! The best part of it all was that next to our bed were stairs leading to a small area with a couple of beds for the kids – kids having their own space! so well conceptualised, just brilliant.

A walk down the stairs from the room got you to a gallery with the dining area overlooking the lounge pool and the forest beyond. The essence of community living is so well ingrained in fabric of this place; it is so well balanced and every-time you were in the common areas, it would most naturally end up in great conversations with the fellow travellers. Not to mention staff, who’d always be ready with an entertaining tale or two.

The lengths these guys went to be hospitable was just unfathomable. They knew and took care of virtually everything while we were there, seamlessly. On check-in, we were provided with a cell phone which had all their numbers. No matter in what corner of the island you were at, you had to just call for assistance and it would be all taken care of with a smile.

When it comes to zeroing in on a temporary accommodation, most naturally, our inclination would be to go for a more “known” name in the trade; so many unknowns at play and a safer bet, especially when travelling with kids, is always preferred. But in so many ways and I don’t know what influenced it more – was it their supreme emphasis on the eco sustainability or was it the community aspect, or was it their sheer friendliness or the undying guest centric ethic of the folks; I am unable to pick one but what I am certain about is that our stay at Jalakara marks a paradigm shift in how we view boutique hotels.

In my opinion, Jalakara is at an apogee of its class and I don’t think any one can really “check out” of this place; it will be with us forever!

To be continued…

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