Deep within the Andaman Islands – among the most remote places on Earth – you’ll find an oasis of luxury in the form of Jalakara. The newly opened boutique hotel, co-owned by London expats Mark Hill and Atalanta Weller, is located on the paradisiacal Havelock Island, where tropical jungles run almost straight up to the white sand beaches.
One of the loveliest hotels in the Andaman Islands, the magical setting is only part of Jalakara’s appeal: within the seven-room hotel, guests will discover contemporary design, an infinity pool, a delicious culinary programme, activities ranging from yoga classes to stargazing sessions, and a supreme air of relaxation. To learn more about this splendid venue, read on for our interview with Mark Hill. He gives us tips on his Andaman musts – and tells us why the best massages happen in the middle of the jungle.
Greaves: First, tell us: how did you come to open a boutique hotel in the Andaman Islands?
Mark Hill: ‘Back in 2007, I had just sold my London restaurant business and was looking for the next step: ideally, somewhere that was the polar opposite to modern metropolitan living, and somewhere where I could build the hotel of my dreams. At that point, I only knew one person who had visited the Andaman Islands. He gave me the following advice: “Do yourself a favour – just go. It’s paradise!” I went, he was right, and the rest is history.’
For many travellers, the Andaman Islands are still quite unknown. What would you say are the islands’ top draws?
‘The Andamans have a unique combination of clean, crystal-clear sea, gorgeous white sand beaches, and a stunningly lush rainforest interior that runs right down to the beach. The diving is amazing, and the local people – and other tourists – are friendly and welcoming.’
Your location is pretty paradisiacal – what are some of the natural highlights in the immediate vicinity of Jalakara? And what’s worth venturing to slightly farther afield?
‘Jalakara nestles into the side of a hill and backs onto rainforest. This beautifully tropical location gives us amazing, far-reaching views over the jungle, and our gardens are alive with rare tropical birds and butterflies. It is definitely worth chartering a boat and spending the day exploring the archipelago of uninhabited islands and virgin beaches in the region – a true day in paradise!’
How have hotels in the Andaman Islands – and the overall hospitality scene – evolved in the last few years?
‘The hospitality scene has definitely changed in the nine years I’ve been coming to the Andamans. We are definitely better connected by air and sea than before. This has made more services and products available, and we can certainly offer significantly more comfort to guests – whilst retaining the magic of a frontier destination.’
What are some of the exciting activities, both on the hotel grounds and beyond, that guests at Jalakara have to look forward to?
‘The unpolluted Andaman sea is the main attraction of the islands. Whether you like fishing for tuna, snorkelling around the coral reefs, or scuba diving, the water teems with aquatic life. On land, a trek through the rainforest at sunrise for the dawn chorus is not to be missed. At Jalakara, life revolves around our Ozone infinity pool and lively lounge bar – think Bowers & Wilkins speakers, a groaning shelf of bar games, discreet staff and a great list of cocktails (I also run a gin company in London!). It’s a perfect setting for sundowners and lively nights.’
Tell us more about the design ethos that underlies Jalakara.
‘My objective was to create a contemporary, design-led, tropical hideaway that was true to its location and was at the same time friendly, welcoming and fun. We worked alongside the inspirational architect Ajith Andagere. Jalakara was built using very traditional Indian construction techniques, with the assistance of master craftsman from across the country, and natural materials ranging from wood, bamboo, stone, and clay to copper and pigmented, hand polished plaster. I am really pleased with how our vision has been realised.’
What is the cuisine of the Andaman Islands like, and how is it reflected in Jalakara’s culinary programme?
‘The Andaman Islands were mainly populated by Bengali settlers in the 1960s. As such, the prevalent cuisine on the islands is actually North Indian, but using the abundant seafood and tropical vegetables as substitutes for some of the more traditional ingredients. We make use of the ultra-fresh seafood and the bounty of tropical ingredients available to us, and our kitchen takes its cues from Thai and Vietnamese recipes as much as it does from South Indian cuisine.’
What are some of Jalakara’s most luxurious creature comforts? What makes it a standout among the hotels in the Andaman Islands?
‘Jalakara is all about the senses and relaxation. We believe luxury in the most remote of locations makes it all the more unexpected and spoiling. We have gorgeous cotton sheets, goose-feather toppers, down pillows, and giant, thick, pocket-sprung mattresses, all designed for the perfect night’s sleep. Our toiletries are handmade in the Himalayas using 100% natural ingredients. And our spa is particularly memorable, as it’s where you can receive an expert massage alongside the soothing soundtrack of the jungle.’