We wanted to try out a specific restaurant for dinner, but apparently the driver stayed far away and I could sense he wasn’t too happy about having to wait. Anyway, we had more than an hour to kill before dinner, and the driver was at his wit’s end as we knocked down his suggestions one by one. No, we didn’t want to see the light and sound show at the Cellular jail. We actually ended up at Mahatma Gandhi park, for children, and laughed at ourselves and the Patton Tank we found, over a good walk. We then asked the driver to drop us at Marine Park, and go home. He asked us about our dinner plans at that particular restaurant, and we said we’d dropped that.
The Marine park has a wonderful promenade, and allows long walks on pathways that extend into the water. It reminded me of Marine Drive in Cochin. I am fascinated by night lights, especially by the sea shore. Not the dazzling kind, but the ones that make themselves a background, as though each light tells a story. And it was here that Port Blair would offer me the second glimpse of itself (after Corbyn) that I would take away with me. I saw old couples taking their evening walk, younger couples putting the cozy nooks offered to good use, tourists taking pedaled boat rides in the water complex, young executives catching up in small groups, after a long day at work. Like locals everywhere, I wondered if they could ever look at their town the way I looked at it – in a tourist kind of way, though I have read that the economy is supported a lot by tourism. But Port Blair, except for the airport, and the ferry, didn’t seem to go overboard on it. Its a little town, like any other Indian town, made special because of its history, and its unique place away from the mainland. Not a choice it made.
We dined at ‘The New Lighthouse’. This one also offered a spectacular view. The fish this time was awesome, though the rest of the dinner was unremarkable. On the way back, I clicked some things that continue to puzzle me
An uneventful, yet peaceful last night on Andaman.
The next morning, we finally went to Mandalay, the place I’d wanted to dine at. It was only 2 km from our hotel, but it was difficult to get transportation back from there, and that meant the driver had to wait, something which put him off the previous night, but which he was okay with in the morning. Hearty breakfast, including a mushroom omelet made by someone who knows how to do it, and the splendid view the web had promised me. Slightly expensive, but worth a visit. By a sub conscious association, I kept humming the very catchy ‘The Road to Mandalay’.
We quickly proceeded to the Cellular Jail. It opens at 9 and there weren’t many visitors when we reached – 10.00. We took the services of a guide, who did a good job of taking us around the place and explaining things we might have missed otherwise. The art gallery was a good starter, but I was thrilled with the Netaji photo gallery. I went into a click frenzy, and it continued until we left the place. The effects of the cellular jail, in addition to the history lessons, are the automatic sighs and the lumps in the throat as you see the cells, the gallows, the central tower. One can only imagine – from the pictures and other exhibits, the travails of the prisoners. All for the freedom we take for granted now. But still, my heartfelt gratitude. You didn’t have to, and yet you chose to. Thank you.
The guide told us that at the counter, we hadn’t been given a ticket in spite of asking, which meant that the official could pocket the money. We picked up the luggage from the hotel and quickly left for the airport, only to be told that the flight was delayed by half an hour. The airport was chaotic, with people representing quite a few communities. Bengalis, Punjabis, Tamilians, Gujaratis, Mallus like us. I wondered if it was always like this. Perhaps the limited means of transportation to the islands meant that everyone would have to use the airport, and on days like this, it would be a mini Cellular Jail, for an hour or so, which left everyone free to swear loudly in respective languages at the flight’s delay, to make separate queues in which one was first, to shove each other off queues that were finally formed, to litter the airport and make it a gigantic trash bin. To revel in hard earned freedom.
As I look back, I have much to remember – the lazing around on Vinnie’s beach, the snorkeling trip, the beautiful uninhabited Wilson Island, the aimless walking around in Port Blair, Corbyn’s Cove, and all those thoughts about progress and where the collective will of its humankind would take these islands.
until next time, endaman
PS: The last vacation, when I described Leh, several people mailed me for an itinerary. I am writing a short recommended one below, in case you’re interested.
Day 0: Reach Chennai from wherever you are (or Calcutta, though check when the flights are)
Day 1: Catch the 10:15 KF flight to Port Blair. You’ll land at about 12.30. KF feeds you, but if you feel hungry, you have time for a quick snack before the ferry at 2.00. The tickets are difficult to get the same day (until they have the promised online system) so you should organise it before. In spite of the small goof up, I’d highly recommend Vinnie’s for stay at Havelock and their Meet and Greet service.
Day 2: Snorkel at Elephant’s beach, Dive (rates at Vinnie‘s site) and off to Radhanagar in the afternoon. Go right till the end to the small lagoon for a good sunset view. Visit Red Snapper, its quite close by. Roads could be dark, get a torch.
Day 3: Wilson Island definitely. Off to Port Blair in the afternoon, preferably by the 12.30 ferry. That’ll give you enough time to catch the Cellular Jail the same evening. (entry allowed till 4 pm) City King Palace is quite a decent place. Fish Dinner at Lighthouse/ Mandalay.
Day 4: Ross Island, and leave by the 12.50 flight.
PPS: D has named her Orkut album “Between the devil and the deep blue sea’.