Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a union territory of India, consisting of two island groups. They lie south of Burma, between the Andaman Sea on the east and the Bay of Bengal on the west. The islands stretch generally north-south for about 490 miles (790 km).
The Andamans have a total area of 2,500 square miles (6,475 km2). Five of the largest islands—Baratang, Rutland, and North, Middle, and South Andaman—lie close together and are known as the Great Andamans. Another main island, Little Andaman, is separated from the cluster by the waters of Duncan Passage. There are also some 200 smaller islands in the Andaman group. The Nicobars, with a total area of 635 square miles (1,645 km2), are separated from the Andamans by Ten Degree Channel. Two large islands, Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar, and 16 smaller islands make up the group.
The rolling hills of the Andaman and Nicobar islands are the weathered crests of partly submerged mountains. The maximum elevation above sea level is 2,402 feet (732 m), on North Andaman. Tropical rain forests are widespread, and mangrove swamps fringe much of the coasts. The islands have a hot, humid climate. The mean annual temperature is 85º F. (29º C.). Rainfall measures as much as 138 inches (3,500 mm) annually; most of it falls during the southwest, or summer, monsoon (May to October).
Cultivated areas on the Andamans are used for growing rice, coffee, coconuts, and rubber trees. Timber is also a major product. Coconuts are the chief product of the Nicobars. Port Blair on South Andaman, with a population of about 26,000, is the territory's largest town; it is also the administrative center.
Both island groups were settled many centuries ago by primitive immigrants from Indochina: the Nicobars by people of Mongoloid ancestry and the Andamans by Negrito pygmies. There was little contact with the outside world until the mid-19th century, when the British took control of the islands. Until India became independent (1947), the Andamans were used as a penal colony. The Japanese held both island groups during World War II. Since 1951 the government of India has resettled peasant farmers from the mainland on the Andamans in an effort to develop agriculture. A major tsunami in 2004 caused a great loss of life and extensive damage to coastal areas.
In 1991 the population of the union territory was 280,661.