This string of 300 islands lies in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. The islands are ethnically not a part of India for until quite recently they were only inhabited by indigenous people. These islands are often called the "perfect tropical paradise". The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were constituted into a Union Territory in November 1956. The Islands are in two groups: the Andamans and the Nicobar, with a ten degree channel separating the two. They stretch over 500 miles of water in the Bay of Bengal. Geographically, they are situated between the 6th and 14th parallel of north, latitude and between 92 degree and 94 degree of east longitude.
Although the Andaman Islands, large and small, number about 239, the bulk consists of three closely connected large islands., North, Middle and South Andamans which with other two Islands, Baratang and Rut-Land, almost form one landmass known as the Great Andamans. In the Nicobars, there are 19 islands of which 13 are inhabited by about 12,000 aboriginal tribesmen. Most of them live on Car Nicobar, the northern most of the archipelago. Half of the total area is covered by the Great Nicobar which is almost uninhabited. Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is 120 miles from Cape Negrais in Burma, 780 from Calcutta and 749 from Madras.
The Islands possess a number of harbours, notably Port Blair in the south, Elphinstone and Bonington in the middle and Port Cornwallis in the north. The Nicobar- Islands are situated to the South of the Andamans. There is a fine landlocked harbour between the Islands of Kamotra and Nancowry known as Nancowry Harbour. Coconut is the main item trade and the
major item in their diet. And they have been cultivating coconut for as long as any one can remember.
The existence of these islands was first reported in the 9th century by Arab merchants, who sailed past them, on their way to the straits of Sumatra. The first Western visitor was Marco Polo, who called it `the land of the head - hunters'. The islands were annexed by the Marathas in the late 17th century. In the early 18th century, the islands were the base of Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre, whose navy frequently captured British, Dutch and Portugese merchant ships. Angre remained undefeated by the combined British / Portuguese naval task force, right up to his death in 1729. The Nicobar Islands were annexed by Britain in 1869 and were joined with the Andaman Islands to form a single administrative unit in 1872. Japanese forces occupied the islands from 1942 until the end of World War in 1945, and control of the territory was transferred to India when it gained independence from Britain in 1947.