‘The ho­tel seems sus­pended be­tween two worlds’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

ight. Right. No, right – not left!” I yelled.

Too late. Mum – who has the up­per body strength of a ham­ster – and I let the man­groves swal­low our boat. The soft crunch of branches prick­led against the si­lence. We stopped. Then swiv­elled our arms and twisted our brains, try­ing to re­mem­ber how to row the oars back­wards. Even­tu­ally we made it out of the mo­rass of twigs and glided on, deeper into the wa­tery dark­ness.

We were kayak­ing at night in the An­damans – a paint spat­ter of pris­tine is­lands in the mid­dle of the Bay of Ben­gal. To my right was Sir Wil­liam Peel Is­land, just one of the An­damans’ many un­in­hab­ited atolls, ev­ery inch of soil gob­bled by waxy-leafed creep­ers and mahua trees. To my left was an­other land mass os­ten­ta­tiously braided with man­grove trees.

A splosh. “What was that? Are you sure there aren’t salt­wa­ter croc­o­diles?” I rasped.

“I’ve never seen any my­self,” Ali, the leader of our group of six, boomed back from his own kayak. To dis­tract me, he pointed his torch at the stars, trac­ing Orion. It was as if the sky had been sprin­kled with fairy dust. Per­haps in com­pe­ti­tion, the wa­ter daz­zled back with its own phos­pho­res­cence; stick­ing my oar into the deep was like set­ting off a thou­sand sparklers be­neath the sur­face.

The An­damans ar­chi­pel­ago has some­thing of the Mal­dives about it, but with more to of­fer for the in­trepid trav­eller – best suited to those who crave ad­ven­ture in un­touched back­wa­ters, as well as the feel­ing of flour-soft sand be­tween their toes. And with the ar­rival of a game-chang­ing re­sort by the Taj ho­tel group ear­lier this year – the des­ti­na­tion’s first world-class lux­ury ho­tel – it looks set to be on the travel radar like never be­fore.

For trav­ellers with stamina for long jour­neys and a reclu­sive im­pulse, the An­damans cer­tainly de­liver. Get­ting to Have­lock Is­land, where the new ho­tel is lo­cated, en­tailed a two-hour flight from Chen­nai fol­lowed by a two-hour ferry ride, but from my first glimpse of the Taj Ex­ot­ica Re­sort and Spa, An­damans, I knew it had been worth the trip. The main out­fit – a stark ob­long build­ing of slat­ted palmyra wood – has some­thing of the eco-space­port about it. This is ap­pro­pri­ate given that the ho­tel seems sus­pended be­tween two worlds – both on the beach and in the thick of the jun­gle – pok­ing from behind a spikytrunked cur­tain of silk cot­ton trees.

The new Taj ho­tel is lo­cated in the rel­a­tively un­de­vel­oped west of the is­land (the north is where the bulk of de­vel­op­ment re­mains) and it seems de­ter­mined to keep the sur­round­ing hin­ter­lands as far as pos­si­ble in­tact with a sus­tain­able ap­proach. Some of the re­sort’s wa­ter is col­lected from rain, and it has in­stalled an on-site bio­gas out­fit, which is non-pol­lut­ing and emits zero green­house gases. Cru­cially, the ho­tel is plant­ing in­dige­nous flora and fruit trees to com­bat the alarm­ing trend of de­for­esta­tion else­where in the An­damans. The re­sort it­self uses sus­tain­able plan­ta­tion woods (whereby, when a tree is cut down, an­other is planted to re­place it). Guests are al­ready sip­ping on their pool­side drinks with bam­boo straws, and feast­ing on veg­eta­bles grown in the ho­tel’s gar­den.

There is a pris­tine per­fec­tion­ism to Taj Ex­ot­ica; min­i­mal­ist fur­nish­ings made from co­conut wood are up­hol­stered with smart can­vas colours and sooth­ing greys. Floor-to-ceil­ing glass walls let the sun­light surge in. And the lobby is foren­si­cally sym­met­ri­cal, down to the dec­o­ra­tive pots con­tain­ing three

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.