One random weekend, Pilla, Mehta & I were chatting on our group and we realized that we’d never gone on a trip together. So we started planning for the weekend of 15th August. Potential destinations – anywhere in the southern half of India qualified as the three of us were sitting in Cochin, Hyderabad and Bangalore. After much debate, we zeroed in on Ooty, Pondicherry and Kodaikanal. And then, we went to Sri Lanka! Continue reading Backpacking in Lanka
This story starts with a video I saw on Facebook.
Last time we met, we were exploring Havelock Island and had just finished our much awaited scuba dive. This time, we’ll be going through some of the lesser known islands and wrapping up our adventure of the Andamans. Continue reading Neil, Long and Ross – Part Three of “A Tale of Six Islands”
Last time we met, we had completed part one of our journey – Port Blair and Jolly Buoy islands. We continue our journey here to explore our next island in the Andamans – Havelock. I couldn’t club any other island with this one as this island tells an interesting tale of its own.
We left early morning to catch our ferry to Havelock Island – one of the most famous islands here.
We entered the port to see huge boats waiting to sail out to different islands. The inside of the boat was quite stuffy with round glass windows (all locked) and life jackets placed in the racks above. The inside was air-conditioned but it wasn’t too comfortable as the boat was jam packed. We explored the boat and went outside to the deck. There were stairs leading up to an upper deck. The weather was pleasant and the sun not too harsh, so we climbed up. The view was amazing.
It was the first time I was travelling on such a huge boat and it was amazing how fast the thing was moving – cutting across the waves. The water was clear as ever and it turned a deeper shade of blue as we entered the deep sea. We soon left land behind and there was nothing but sea on all four sides.
The feel of the moment is something that is difficult to be put into words. Absolute tranquility interrupted only by the sound of the engine of the boat and the waves hitting it. Complete solitude leaving aside the crew and people below. The sun peeked out with its warm rays while the salty wind blew across our faces.The occasional spray as the boat jumped in and out of the waves. Water everywhere – as far as the eye could see.
As we stood there in silence taking in the beauty of the ride, something cut across the water. Just then someone shouted – flying fish! True enough, there were scores of flying fish all around our boat. The little things would jump high in the air and follow the contour of the waves, making sure not to touch the water, and finally dive right back into the sea. It was a truly amazing sight – reminded me of the movie – Life of Pi. I tried hard to click a few pics but sadly, it didn’t work out – they were too quick. After a few attempts, I gave up on it and thought it would be better to enjoy the moment.
We thought we’d push our luck a bit more and ask the captain if we could get onto the front deck. Nam took the lead and soon enough we were all lounging on the front deck.
The captain’s room had a windshield with wipers on. On a nice and sunny day, there was no need to have the wipers running. Or was there? The thing is – Boats move in and out of the deep sea waves – like in and out of “phase” with them (pardon my ECEness). And the moment it goes “out of phase”, the front of the boat falls straight into a trough and water splashes all over (we got sprayed many times!) The wind blew hard and overall it was an amazing feeling!
We docked at the Havelock port, which was at a considerable height and we disembarked the boat from the upper deck itself. We took taxis to our hotel – Dolphin Resort.
It was a beautiful place with cottages all along the Vijaynagar beach (numbered here as Beach #5). A cottage with full glass windows overlooking this beach – absolute bliss! There was a boat tethered a bit into the water – looked like a tourist attraction. Some people waded into the water and climbed on to the boat while some others went to book our slots for the most awaited part of the trip – scuba diving. We got a really good deal at Andaman Bubbles (one of the many scuba diving guys in Havelock). After completing the formalities (which included a statement that they won’t be responsible if we drowned :P), we returned to a shock at our resort. The sea was nowhere to be seen! The water had receded by a long distance and the boat that was floating in waist-deep water was grounded. My first thought was – tsunami! Bah – sometimes I just over-react! 😛
The beach was beautiful with a lot of trees and on many of them were hammocks.
But then, we had a bunch of really young guys in our group – Papa, Mr. Apple and Guru (Guru was called so as he had a much disciplined disciple in Jetha). So we ended up climbing up the trees, doing somersaults on the beach and of course, clicking away. We then decided to have a swim in the sea. It was afternoon but the sun was forgiving. However, the only problem was that there was no water. The sea bed which had just come up was slushy with many holes, seaweed and giant black leeches.
Treacherous ground indeed. We walked and walked in the slush till we reached deeper water. Just being here was an amazing feeling – standing out in the sea after the walk through the treacherous beach and with various shades of blue water all around, knowing that this very spot would be flooded with several feet of water in a few hours.
We returned and took taxis to the Radhanagar beach (Beach #7). This beach is widely considered as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We bought Frisbees on the way. It was indeed a marvelous beach! There were 3 yachts anchored in the water (this was in really deep water and the water didn’t recede that much in the afternoons) and the sun was beginning to set. This beach was more like the beaches we see in Kerala – with the waves rolling into the sand.
And waves mean only one thing – jump right into the water. I preferred to stay dry on this occasion – clicking pics as I explored the beach. The sunset was beautiful – we clicked a lot of the classic “eat-the-sun” and “hold-the-sun” pics (can’t waste sunsets, can we? :P). On our way back, we bumped into yet another group from our college – they had enrolled in the same place as us for scuba diving.
Next morning, we woke up with jitters – it was scuba day. We walked to Andaman Bubbles where our pick-up truck waited for us. Yes, a pick-up truck. We got loaded on it like cattle and held on for dear life as we were taken to the fitting area. We all changed into our black scuba costumes and got back on the truck.
The anticipation was building with every second and it could be seen on everyone’s face. The dive had been arranged at a beach near the port where we landed. After a quick training exercise, where we were taught the basics of breathing underwater, we proceeded underwater. The equipment was heavy and the fins attached to the feet made it difficult to move the legs. Each of us got one diving companion each who would guide us and be with us at all times. The surprising part here was that you don’t need to know even an ounce of swimming. All you need to do is remain calm, not panic and keep breathing. That’s it! It was a beautiful experience.
It was almost noon by the time we came out. We rented scooters to explore the island. We first had lunch at Anju Coco – bumped into 2 more groups from our college (different ones). We decided to go snorkelling at the Elephant beach. We reached there at about 3.15pm and found out that the beach was closed – it only remained open till 3pm. Slightly disappointed (not much though – snorkelling couldn’t beat scuba), we decided to go to Radhanagar again.
After all, it wouldn’t hurt to visit the most beautiful beach in the Andamans one more time. This time I plunged into the water as well. It was a wonderful evening which ended with a long scooty ride in the dark and curvy roads of Havelock. Most people were quite tired after the exhilarating day. Few of us went out to Charcoal restaurant for dinner and we called it a day. We spent some time walking along the beach in our resort while the sea gently lapped at the sands.
Next morning, we decided to go to the Kaala Patthar Beach for the sunrise. It was a tall ask to wake up early after having slept late.
But again, 6 of us took out our scooters and rode to it. It was a beautiful ride – the roads were narrow but it was a scenic ride in the cool morning. We didn’t really spot any black rocks there, but arrived just in time for the sunrise. We lazily sat on the beach as the sun rose and soon, it was time for our boat.
We hastily packed up and rushed to the dock – we survived a petrol outage scare thanks to Guru’s resourcefulness. We rushed into our boats and soon set off toward our next island – Neil.
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.
Travelling on trains always makes me nostalgic. It’s like that reset button. Brings back perspective into life. Today I’m travelling from Chennai to Bangalore. I’ve been to Chennai Central a lot of times. The first time I was here was at the age of 10, travelling from Patna to Alleppey. I think it was Patna to Howrah, Howrah to Chennai and then Chennai to Alleppey. Knowing the delays in trains from the east and north, we’d kept a gap of around 15 hrs between trains as a buffer and still missed our train from Chennai! I remember it was the time of the Sabarimala season and our train was full of black clad, bare footed swamis. I’ve been to Sabarimala twice and it’s an amazing experience. Continue reading Trains and Nostalgia
We wake up early the next day. The hangover of the snow experience is still there and it is something which I will never be able to forget.
This day was to be spent exploring Manali with its temples and monasteries and of course the “Maaaal Road” (read Shimla to understand what Maaaal Road is 😛 ). We first go to Vashishta Muni temple. The temple is a wooden structure with a slate roof.
There is a hot spring gushing out near the temple which has been converted to a public bath. The water was pretty hot indeed. However I was hoping to see more of an open hot water spring. But there is no “pool” as such. There are pipes which carry the water out of the mountain. Not entirely “natural”! 😛
The best thing about the road to Shimla is that the climb is not a painful experience. Travelling to the hills in India may not always be pleasant – going from Kozhikode to Wayanad in Kerala can be the most nauseous drive, thanks to the myriad hairpin bends and the crazy buses. Given that Shimla was more than 3 times higher in altitude than Wayanad, at 2400m, I kept my poly-bags ready. Our driver, Kalyan Singh was a Himachali through and through and the most talkative person I’ve seen. That’s what keeps him going without getting bored or sleepy – alertness is something which is really required in such treacherous terrain or the vehicle may casually slip down the slope (we saw quite a few such vehicles during the trip). This guy was a good planner and had packed these polybags before we left Delhi, as Himachal was a plastic free state. He knew the roads and mountains really well – something I relate to – remembering routes and places.
So let’s come back to the present. Continue reading The Summer Capital of British India
Done with Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, we move on to the next part of our trip – Himachal. I was quite excited as this was one state I’d always looked forward to visiting. This too was part of an organized tour by Panicker’s Travels. We bid adieu to the India Gate which we’re passing by for the umpteenth time. Delhi had been good to us – the summer heat hadn’t set in yet. Continue reading From the Capital to the Majestic Himalayas