Last time we met, we had just taken off from Chennai. You didn’t read the prequel? I suggest you do that to get the context. Won’t take more than 3 mins, I actually clocked it. It’s right here <— Click! 😛
We entered the flight happily as we had checked into the window seats. Sadly, mine – 14F – was right over the wing! Bah! The screens in front of our seats showed where we were in our 1200 km flight over the Bay of Bengal. Soon after breakfast, we began our descent towards Port Blair and saw the rising sun. There was sea all around with no land in sight and the sky was filled with magnificent red and pink. We got lower and lower and only when we were really close to the water, some islands came into view and we headed for the biggest one in sight. As we touched down at Port Blair, my heart raced thinking that, for the first time in my life, I was on a group of islands with nothing but vast sea all around me for thousands of miles!
Our taxis took us to the circuit house where we were to stay for a couple of days. Along the way, I was gripped with excitement – I had this feeling that we had come to a different world and I almost expected to see something other than regular vehicles on the roads. My bubble popped as I realised that we were still on planet earth and very much in India. However, the roads were maintained very well. I was amused to see the number plates on the vehicles with registration “AN” – first time I ever saw one. The circuit house was along the coast and overlooked the Ross Island. It was a very beautiful sight with sparkling blue water dotted with boats and the island in the background! We learnt that there was a good mix of people from all over the mainland settled here in the islands – majority were from Bengal and Tamil Nadu. After a sumptuous breakfast of chhole and ‘palak puri’, dahi vada and bread halwa, we headed for the Cellular Jail.
The Cellular Jail – or more popular as Kaala Paani – was a terrifying complex. It was well maintained with a nice courtyard and lawns but thinking of the history and the torture that the inmates were put through, anyone would cringe. As we entered, there was a hall with photos and exhibits depicting the making of the prison, the list of prisoners and the story behind this place. We proceeded to the cells which were locked with very innovative locks – would be impossible to pick it open from within.
We explored the entire prison and clicked 100’s of pics – we had 3 DSLRs in the group and 11 people, in other words, multiple combinations of solo pics, profile pics, group pics and double pics, or in other words still, a free session on “how-to-improve-your-patience” for the photographers 😛
We saw lights inside all the cells and guessed they were for the light and sound show.
So we put that on our list of things-to-do as well. On our way out, we met some friends from college who were also on a trip to Andaman – after having explored most of Kerala and the south during the two years of college, there is a very high chance that most of the college ends up in Andaman or Lakshadweep.
We collected our tickets to Jolly Buoy Island for the next day – we’d heard that it was one of the MUST DO places in Andaman. There was an incident of a boat capsizing near one of these islands in the week before we arrived. So the tourism department made it compulsory to collect tickets in advance so that boats and ferries don’t travel beyond their maximum capacity.
We then proceeded to Carbin’s Cove Beach which was on the edge of this island. The drive along Marine Drive to the beach was truly breath-taking – smooth roads curving along the coast, clear waters on the left and a gentle breeze in the hair.The beach was beautiful with a lot of coral washed ashore. We relived our childhood when we used to collects shells on the beach, but this time we picked out the most beautiful and intricate corals. We walked along the shore till the end of the beach where we found some nice photo spots.
On the way back, we had some tea and proceeded to the Cellular Jail again for the light and sound show.
We arrived quite early and decided to wait in the park opposite to the jail entrance. We whiled away time drinking loads of ginger tea (some 15 cups) and cleaned out the vendor’s stock of dal vadas (got no count of them). The other vendors gaped in wonder as this guy went back home, totally sold out, within an hour. The light and sound show began with patriotic songs and took us through the story of the prison – the plight of the prisoners, the hunger strikes, how the prisoners were made to run mills and grind oil from coconuts, David Barry the jailer and Savarkar.
We walked back from the prison to a restaurant – Light View Restaurant. As usual, we didn’t compromise on food – ordering everything fancy on the menu. After fighting it out for the tandoori chicken and stuffing ourselves with food, we decided to take a walk back to our guest house. The roads were very well lit and there were hardly any cases of crimes.
We walked along the Marine Drive, clicked some photographs on the empty roads and enjoyed the calm and silence.
It felt surreal as a deadly tsunami had struck here a few years ago. We were told that the tsunami had washed away the roads we were walking on and the water had brought in boats and trees and whatever came in the way. The administration on the island had done a great job of getting things back in order and maintaining it beautifully. We ended the eventful day with dumb charades!
Early next morning, we left for Wandoor – the place from where we had to catch our boat to Jolly Buoy Island. This island was closed for many months after the tsunami. Even now, it is still open only for 6 months in a year – when the sea is calm. The other six months, tourists are taken to Red Skin Island. We had breakfast – puri bhaji and paratha – from a Bengali hotel in Wandoor near the jetty. Plastic was not allowed and we had to get rid of our water bottles. Instead, they were renting out Milton water bottles – the type we used to carry to school.
The area had a huge group of islands – most of them preserved as is (without human intervention) – and the place was classified as a marine national park. We got into our ferry, suited up (with life-jackets, of course) and started for Jolly Buoy. The water was a very clear blue and we could see the fish cruising in the water below. The islands we passed had really tall trees and thick vegetation.
As we reached Jolly Buoy, we saw that it was an island right at the edge of the vast ocean.
We had to get off our ferry into a glass-bottomed boat to reach the island. The water here was clearer than any I had ever seen. The corals at the sea-bed were clearly visible and we saw entire schools of clown fish (in common tongue – Nemo) swimming through the corals. The boatman took us close to the shore where we got down into the beach. He kept trying to convince us to take an extra ride on the glass boat for a nominal rate (not so nominal actually). We preferred to play around in the water. After all, you never ever get to see such clear water, especially in a beach! This place could be called paradise – the white sand of the beach, the islands surrounding ours, the beautiful clear water with corals in the bottom, the sea with multiple shades of blue as the depth changed and the clouds moved above, the warm sun and the cool breeze.
It couldn’t get more picturesque than this! We all smeared on sunscreen and jumped in. We swam around in the water, played a bit of catch and repeatedly got foxed by the salty water – the clarity of the water made me think it was a swimming pool again and again and I kept burning my eyes as I went underwater! It was undoubtedly the most beautiful place I had ever been to!
We took the ferry back and came to Aberdeen Jetty (the one in Port Blair). The last boat to Ross Island was fully booked and we couldn’t make it. A bit disappointed at having missed that boat, we went for lunch at a hotel called Ananda. The food was pretty good and we were all ravenous after having spent the whole morning in the salty sea water. In the evening, we decided to explore the local Aberdeen market. Once again we met some friends from college, had dinner at Ananda (we discovered that the Paneer Kulcha there was super awesome!) and returned to our rooms!
Part One of our trip had been amazing. But we had some exciting plans for the rest of the week as we were heading to the other islands in the Andamans. I see that my nine and a half minutes have just run out.