Dubbed 'The land of the head-hunters' by Marco Polo, who was the first Western visitor to this chain of 572 islands, islets and rocks, now commonly referred to as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They were annexed by the British as part of India in the 19th Century and then used to dump Indian convicts sentenced to life imprisonment. Geographic isolation, heavily restricted travel, mysterious Stone Age culture and totally uncharted waters characterise this zone. Geographically more 'Indo' than India, the Andaman's have been on many surfers' 'travel wish list' but the first surf trip to this area, organised by surf photographer John Callahan, only took place in 1998. Whilst foreign tourists are permitted to visit the Andaman Islands, the Nicobars are only accessible to Indians. The Ten Degree Channel separates the two chains and the surrounding waters quickly plummet to 3km (2mi). The bulk of the 239 Andaman Islands are known as the North, Middle, and South Andaman, which along with Baratang and Rut-Land forms one land mass known as the Great Andaman's. With only 36 inhabited islands, this region is a mass of dense forests with endless varieties of exotic flowers and birds. Thick, tropical forests cloak the hilly terrain and the meandering, sandy beaches are fringed with coconut palms, swaying to the rhythm of the monsoon. South Andaman is by far the most densely populated island, especially around its capital city, Port Blair (80,000). The islands have a fragile ecosystem and in order to preserve the tranquillity and protect the diverse and unique array of flora and fauna, there are 96 sanctuaries and 9 national parks.