The beaches of Neil and Havelock islands are fringed with coral reefs. They damp wave action close to beaches, and moderate rip tides. Swimming is fairly safe. Elsewhere, such as in Wandoor beach, I saw nets to mark out areas which are safe for swimming. Wandoor also had a couple of lifeguards watching the swimmers.
The main swimming beach in Neil Island is Bharatpur beach: a long and shallow beach which opens out into coral reefs. This is a busy beach, with swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and boating. I saw a few lifeguards walking up and down the beach. It was low tide, and people were walking really far out in the shallow beach. It did not seem like lifeguards would be able to keep watch on such a scattered crowd. When I asked a snorkelling instructor about this, he said that all the instructors also keep a watch.
At other beaches the number of people was very small. The beautiful Sitapur beach is rocky, and there seemed to be only one natural pool where you can swim. There was a lifeguard’s shack, with a tyre tube hanging on a pole. As you can see from the photo, it is possible to keep an eye on the whole beach from there.
I did not look for a lifeguard on Lakshmanpur beach. This fills up at sunset with visitors out to take photos of the setting sun. I could see lots of families with children in the shallows, standing in ankle deep water with cameras. There were no swimmers. One child splashed out up to his neck, and was hauled back by his grandfather. Family groups are good for safety.
The rest of the family arrived a little before noon on Christmas day. I asked Shakti what we could do for half a day, and he offered to drive us all to Wandoor beach. This is right across the island on the west coast, about an hour and a half’s drive away. I’d read that glass bottomed boats left for Jolly Buoy island from here. Senthil said that it is a nice place for a swim.
It is. There is a part surrounded by a net where it is safe to swim. The beach is not very long, but it wasn’t very crowded either. In my mind our holiday was divided into two parts: the first part was birding, and it was over. The second part was swimming and it was beginning. My nieces are good swimmers, but they stayed in waist deep water until I splashed one of them. Then they went for a long swim.
The water is neck deep at the furthest point of the net. There are some life guards on the beach, but they don’t have much to do, since most people stick to waist deep water. My nieces swam along the net, and the two of them made up about half the number of people who were swimming so far out. The life guards declared the beach closed a little before sunset. We found only one changing room with a shower, so we left the shower for later.
There were a few shops with tea and snacks. We sat there with the munchies and hot tea watching the sun go down. It was a nice beginning to the second part of our holiday.
The Family noticed that Senthil’s family had planned a nice surprise for him. His extended family had come to Wandoor with his wife and three year old daughter. We waited until his daughter left with her mother and uncles before driving back. We’d been thinking of the beach as a place for tourists. We’d completely forgotten that people who live in Port Blair would also go to the same beaches.