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Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 16:44 GMT
Millennium rush for Andaman Islands

Rushing to catch the first rays of the millennium on Andaman Islands

By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Hundreds of travellers in India have been trying to book places on ships bound for the Andaman Islands, said to be one of the first places in the world to welcome the new millennium.

Into 2000
The Andaman Islands are one of the hottest tourist destinations in India and travel companies are cashing in by charging exorbitant rates.

A spokesman for the Shipping Corporation of India told the BBC nearly 1,000 Bengali tourists have made travel plans. While some hold confirmed bookings, others have been put on waiting lists.

He said at least one extra service would have to be provided between Calcutta and Port Blair, the capital of the Andamans, to accommodate the rush of travellers.

Andaman's beaches are a big draw
Although a number of Bengali tourists visit the Andamans in the winter - because the summer monsoon increases the risk of cyclones and rough seas - the large number of people wanting to travel there this year is unprecedented, the spokesman said.

Tourist representatives say that hotels in Port Blair are all over-booked.

Millennium dawn

Port Blair hotels are fully booked
The enthusiasm is based on research provided by astronomers of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which has said that if the millennium starts at 0000 GMT, the first sunrise will be at the small islands of Katchall in the Andamans at 0600 Indian time.

The Indian Government's tourism office in Calcutta says that it is arranging to increase the number of voyages between Port Blair and the Katchall islands - a distance of 230 nautical miles.

On board will be Bengali and foreign tourists, as well as representatives of the Geological Survey of India.

Pricey trip

Travel companies organising a round trip from Calcutta to the Andamans are charging more than $1,000 in return for seeing what they describe as the first rays of the millennium.

Some of these companies have been criticised by the Indian Government for failing to provide enough ships to operate between Calcutta and the Andamans.

Meanwhile some Indian astronomers have challenged the Royal Greenwich Observatory on where the first rays of the millennium will be seen.

They argue it is in fact in the remote state of Arunachal Pradesh - in the far north-east of India - which borders China and Burma.

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