How to buy ship tickets on Andaman Islands, India
When you travel around Andaman and Nicobar islands, taking ships and ferries is inevitable. Unfortunately, the Indian bureaucracy combined with tragic management, turn buying tickets for state ships into a little hell.
Fortunately, there are two private companies, that do not suffer from bureaucracy and want to do business. Makruzz and Green Ocean. Tickets can be purchased online or at their offices in Port Blair, Havelock and Neil. There two disadvantages of private carriers. First is the cost. The ticket price is 4 times higher than the cost of the state carrier. Second, the private company provides transportation for only two most developed islands: Havelock and Neil. If you want to travel cheaply or visit one of the dozens of islands, you need to stay on government ships' deck.
How to buy a ticket for a state ship
First, to buy tickets, you will need your Andaman permit, the RAP (restricted area permit). Theoretically, the clerk at ticket counter needs just name and number of the permit, but usually he/she wants to see the document in original. This is the first of the pitfalls. Since the permission you will receive only upon arrival to the Andaman Islands, you can not ask someone to buy tickets for you.
(August 2018: There are news of RAP regime being cancelled - soon you will not need those RAPs)
The second pitfall is the management of the shipping company. It would be logical for the shipping schedule to be known in advance for the entire season or, at least for a month ahead. But we are in India, and India is different. Indians can plan the ships schedule for maximum two weeks ahead and tickets are issued only 4 days in advance. Therefore, on Monday you can buy tickets for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and on Thursday you can buy tickets for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. This means that any advance planning is impossible.
You will likely find yourself in a situation, where you buy a ticket in one direction to an island, but will not know when you will return back and whether there will be tickets for your return. Welcome to India. But despite all this complications, we always got to the place we needed and back, but always, it required, planning, fight and stress. We spent 5 weeks on the archipelago, so luckily, we had time, and our plans were flexible.
Of course, there is always the opportunity to buy a ticket right before boarding a ship, if they are not yet sold out.
Where to buy tickets for government ship in Andaman Islands
Directorate of shipping services.
In Port Blair, there are two ways to buy tickets. One option is to buy tickets at the port. The exact name of Directorate of shipping services, Ticket Counter is located in Phoenix Bay Jetty. The waiting room is air-conditioned and there are 6 windows selling tickets. Take the form from the woman sitting at the counter, fill your name, sex, age, country, where you want to go, and when. Then wait in the queue and file your completed application at the ticket window. If there are available seats on your desired ship, you will get your ticket within a minute or two. In one of the windows you can even pay with a credit card. I suppose that you can pay only by Indian credit cards, payment by foreign cards on the Andaman Islands, does not work. There are separate windows for the women and men. The queue for women is usually shorter, so let your female group members buy the tickets. From 6 windows 3 sell tickets for a ship heading north, and 3 windows sell tickets to the south.
There is another opportunity to buy tickets. This is a novelty, introduced right when were on the Andaman Islands. India offers its citizens a very well thought out thing: CSC - Common Service Centers, (Hindi: सर्व सेवा केंद्र). CSC is a window with a person and a computer that accepts requests, provides all public services and information for citizens. You can arrange 50 to 70 different things in one window. You can get various forms, possibly apply for a passport, driver's license, electoral card, get information and confirmations that are related to medicine records, excerpts from public schools, various social benefits, etc. In fact, the provision State services in digital form in one place. Excellent. Well, and most recently, you can buy tickets here on the ship. Theoretically amazing, in reality complete failure.
One of these CSC windows is located just next to Dutta Residency, where we stayed. First time we tried it was shut down because there was no electricity, second time the electricity was there, but the Internet did not work and the system was not functioning for the third time. Rats were running there all the time 🙂 Welcome to Indian reality. Nevertheless, I recommend trying. There are 16 such windows in Port Blair, just ask for nearest CSC.
Tickets for Havelock are a scarce commodity. It is logical that in a place where goods in high demand are sold at very low prices, these goods become difficult to obtain and black market will appear. Local travel agencies or most hotel managers can arrange those tickets for you. How? There is a small "lady's ticket mafia".
A few ladies will be standing at the gate to the port, already at 5 or 6 am, so that they are the first at the ticket counter, when it opens at 9 am. Their colleagues constantly collect orders from travel companies around the city and pass them on to those ladies, that are standing in line in front of the window. This service costs from 150 to 200 rupees, but we also heard about 500 rupee fees, I think it was because tickets went thru large number of intermediary hands. If you do not want to get up at 4 am, but want to be sure that you get a ticket for Havelock, this is also an option. We used this option and it works. Probably want to ask why the ladies? The answer is simple, the queue for women is shorter 🙂
How to buy tickets outside the capital
On the big islands there are computers and booking system, on small islands they will simply write your ticket by hand. The difference is that where there is electricity, connection to the Internet and a computer, you can buy tickets 3-4 days in advance. Tickets issued manually can be purchased only one day in advance or just before you leave.
The most problematic is, of course, Havelock Island. demand for return tickets logically equals demand for tickets to Havelock. Therefore, either on Monday or on Thursday, wake up very early and wait in line, or use the speculators service with tickets, or spend more money on private transportation. We used private transport.
It was funny with tickets from Little Andaman. For this we have a short separate story. (Being Prepared)