It’s a unique experience when you realize you’ve discovered perfection.  Seconds after crossing through the tropical forest abutting the beach and dipping our toes in the poster-board white sand, Shanna and I looked at each other with all-knowing eyes.  We instantly knew that we had just stepped onto the most beautiful beach in the world.

The Andaman Islands have been on my travel radar-screen for several years; I’ve long heard stories of their remoteness and untouched underwater treasures.  Their location in the middle of the Bay of Bengal – east of India, south of Burma and west of Thailand – has kept tourists away thus far.  The only real influx of people onto the islands was during the early 20th century, when the British capitalized on the islands’ remoteness by establishing prisons here to house Indian revolutionaries during the British colonial period.
Shanna and I had no intention of visiting the islands on this trip.  In fact, it wasn’t until I thumbed to the back of my India guidebook that I realized that the islands were a part of India and accessible by airplane from a nearby city.  Luckily, tickets were available, and we were on our way.

After landing in the capital city of Port Blair, we quickly made our way to the jetty where we caught a 2 1/2 hour ferry to Havelock Island, one of the only islands in the Andaman archipelago with any tourist facilities at all.  Upon reaching shore, we caught a taxi for a 20 minute ride to our beachside cottage at Beach No. 7. (Unimaginatively named, the beaches share the same number as the nearest village.) Soon thereafter, we made our way to the beach and stumbled upon paradise.

What makes the perfect beach?  A combination of crystal-clear water with countless tints of turquoise depending on the positioning of the sun in the sky; impossibly white sand free of rocks, flotsam and, of course, litter; waves that rise to a level to produce ample sound as they crash near the beach, but not so violent as to incite occasional fear for one’s safety; a slant to the ground that enables you to walk down a gentle, smooth slope to the ocean and quickly immerse yourself in the ocean waves; a backdrop that includes a towering tropical forest instead of t-shirt shops and high-rise hotels; a complete absence of boats, jet skis or planes dragging signs advertising $5.99 seafood buffets or 2-for-1 drink specials; a water temperature that is refreshingly cool, allowing you to swim comfortably for hours on end without feeling hot or cold; virtually no other beachcombers and zero beach salesmen harassing you with offers of massages, Rolex watches, sarongs, ganja or any other item that they think you’d be interested in; active marine life on the beach, including hermit crabs and seashells with their inhabitants still alive and on the move; and a westward position providing sunsets that quiet all voices. Yes, Beach No. 7 was all of these things and more.
After standing in disbelief at the beach on which we were going to spend the next 4 days, we went to dinner at our hotel.  As we placed our order, someone from the hotel notified us that a leatherback turtle was on the beach laying her eggs–an event that biologists wait lifetimes to witness.  Without hesitation, we grabbed our flashlight and headed back to the beach.  It was completely dark other than the faint light of the millions of stars overhead as we walked down the beach searching for the ancient creature.  After a few minutes, we came upon the giant turtle–clearly exhausted after climbing up the beach and digging a hole in the sand in which to lay her eggs, which should hatch into mini-turtles in a month’s time.
Slowly, the eggs were laid and the process of burying the eggs began.  With alternate strokes of her rear flippers, the sand was professionally shifted to fill the hole.  Once complete, she began the seemingly endless process of turning her giant frame back toward the ocean and then crawling the 100 feet back to the cool waters of the Bay of Bengal.  On several occasions, I wanted to lend her a hand, but my years of viewing the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have taught me otherwise.  When the turtle finally reached the water and swam out of view, Shanna and I both knew that we’d experienced something that could not be bought.

It was hard to imagine any other experience that could make our stay better than it already was, but it came after a long boat ride to an isolated island off the coast of Havelock Island.  Shortly after deflating our BCDs (Buoyancy Control Devices) and descending 45 feet under the sea, we were rewarded with coral so colorful it would make a clown blush.  Unlike many places where I’ve dived, the coral was full of life – no signs of clumsy divers or uncaring fishermen destroying the reef.  The many reefs were supported by a seemingly endless variety and number of fish and other aquatic creatures.  After witnessing such a display of life under the sea, I came away from the dive site feeling small and insignificant.

When we boarded the ferry to leave the islands, I was struck with great disappointment that our time here was finished, but also a sense of pride as a traveler for finding an unblemished paradise.  Havelock Island is nature at it finest.

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