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The Nicobar islands include 22 islands of various sizes, the largest being Great Nicobar. The total land area of the chain is 1841 km². The highest point on the Nicobars is Mount Thullier at 642 m. The population of the islands was 42,026 in 2001, roughly 65% indigenous Nicobarese and 35% migrants from India and Sri Lanka.
The Nicobars are located southeast of the Indian subcontinent, separated by the Bay of Bengal. They are separated from the Andaman Islands to the north by the 150 km wide Ten Degree Channel and are 189 km from the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the southeast. The Andaman and Nicobar islands separate the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea. Until the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Indira Point, south of Great Nicobar, was the southernmost point in India.
The islands cluster into three groups. The northern group includes Car Nicobar (127 km²) and uninhabited Batti Malv (2 km²). The central group includes Chowra (8 km²), Teressa (101 km²), Poahat (13.3 km²), Katchal (174 km²), Camorta (188 km²), Nancowry (67 km²), and Trinket (86 km²); the Isle of Man and Tillangchong (17 km²) are uninhabited. Tillangchong is a wildlife sanctuary. The southern group includes Great Nicobar (1045 km²), Little Nicobar (157 km²), Kondul (4 km²) and Pulomilo (1 km²); the islets of Meroe, Trak, Treis, Menchal, Cubra, Pigeon, and Megapod are uninhabited. Megapod is a wildlife sanctuary.
Administratively the Islands are part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a Union Territory of India. The capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands territory is Port Blair on South Andaman. The Union Territory is divided into two districts, Andaman and Nicobar. The Indian Government presently forbids non-Indians from visiting the Nicobar Islands.
The Nicobar Islands are part of a great island arc created by the collision of the Indo-Australian Plate with Eurasia. The collision lifted the Himalaya and most of the Indonesian islands, and created a long arc of highlands and islands, which includes the Arakan Yoma range of Myanmar, the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and the islands off the west coast of Sumatra, including the Banyak Islands and Mentawai Islands.
The climate is warm and tropical, with temperatures ranging from 22 to 30° C. Rainfall is heavy due to annual monsoons and measures around 3000 to 3800 mm each year. The vegetation of the Nicobars is typically divided into the coastal mangrove forests and the interior evergreen and deciduous Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. Additionally, several islands contain extensive interior grasslands, though these are thought to result from human intervention.
As a result of lower sea levels during the ice ages, the Andaman Islands were linked to the Southeast Asian mainland, but it is not believed that the Nicobar islands ever had a land bridge to the continent. Lower sea levels did link the islands to one another: Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar were linked to each other, and Nancowry, Chaura, Katchall, Trinka, Camorta, and the nearby smaller islands were linked to one another as well.
The Nicobar islands are believed to have been inhabited for thousands of years. Six indigenous Mon-Khmer languages are spoken on the islands, which are part of the Austroasiatic language family, which includes Mon, Khmer and Vietnamese languages of Southeast Asia, and the Munda languages of India. A primitive tribe living at the southern tip of Great Nicobar called the Shompen may be of Mongoloid origin.
On 26 December 2004 the coast of the Nicobar Islands was devastated by a 10-15 m high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. At least 6000 people (possibly a conservative estimate) were believed to have been killed on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the disaster. Reports put the death toll on Katchal Island alone at 4,600. Several islands were heavily damaged with initial reports of islands broken in two or three pieces and coral reefs moved above water. Teressa Island was said to have been split into two pieces and Trinkat Island into three pieces. Some estimates said that the islands were moved as much as 100 feet (30 m) by the earthquake. Indira Point was reported beneath sea level and its lightstation and crew missing. Surveyors were dispatched as initial reports were considered unreliable.
More than two months after the disaster, no contact had been made with seven bands totalling about 150 of the 389 total Shompen.
- "Death toll on Andaman and Nicobar rises to more than 3000" - December 27, 2004 article
- Post-tsunami satellite photos from India's National Remote Sensing Agency (Alternate Link)
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