Andamans

Andamanned – Part 4 – Prison Diary

Part 1, 2, 3

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.

patton

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

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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’.

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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.

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UftSlljuLu8

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.

Resources: Vinnie’s (including Diving rates),  Wiki including Citi King Palace, Havelock Wiki

PPS:  D has named her Orkut album “Between the devil and the deep blue sea’.

Andamanned – Part 3 – Blair wich

Part 1 and Part 2

We caught the return ferry at 3 pm, and this time, we got the non a/c seats. Arrgh, and as if that wasn’t enough, there were some noisy seat related quarrels, which thankfully didn’t involve us, so it was like watching a serial you couldn’t avoid. At about 4.30 the boat docked, and I wondered if this was some fast boat. I decided to check before getting out, only to be told that this was Neil Island and Port Blair was another one and a half hours away!! After fretting inside the boiler accommodation for 2.5 hours, we discovered the freedom on the deck (the sun had set by then).

The Port Blair view was fantastic, with the roaming beam from the light house and the glittering lights from the coast. We landed at only about 7 and were taken to the Citi King Palace hotel. The surroundings scared us, but the room was good enough, and the owner, extremely helpful. He had already got us tickets for our trip the next day, and arranged a taxi for our use. We had dinner at The Lighthouse Residency, another place which we had read a lot about, and turned out to be only about a 10 mins walk away from our hotel. Slightly disappointing food, but the place did offer a spectacular view.

The next day’s main trip was supposed to be to an island called Jolly Buoy, but we discovered that it has been closed after the tsunami, and our tickets were for Red Skin island.  We had breakfast at Ananda, who also packed us a biriyani lunch. Plastic is banned there, and we were checked for plastic (they are replaced with jute bags) The boat names seemed to indicate a subtle tussle between the internet giants. I allowed myself a smile, it was let through.

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After Havelock, Red Skin’s attractions – the glass bottomed boat and snorkeling was quite a come down. D beat me hands down in terms of expectations. While I had imagined a fiber glass boat, D had dreamt about a submarine like thing which would be completely under water, the reality was this.

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Later, we also realized we hadn’t brought a towel, so I was forced to do a Salman in the water as my spare tee was kept as a towel. No, no packs, hell, remember we even forgot to pack a damn towel. Bloody double whammy- glass bottom and topless!!

We got back by around 2 and did a little trip to Wandoor, where D bagged her second naariyal paani, and we discovered more topless entities, and their roots.

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We went back to the hotel, and thanks to the ickiness induced by the salt water + heat combination, were forced to take a bath. We rested a bit and left for Corbyn’s cove at 4. Corbyn is about 20 mins from town, and is unfortunately an example of the extent to which we can dirty a nice beach. But strangely,  despite that, I felt very peaceful there. It could’ve been many things. The time, it was about 5 by the time we left – sunset time. It could’ve been the large (in terms of numbers, cheapos) Indian families, floating in the water almost fully dressed, and busy clicking away with their analog cameras. I’m not being condescending, mind you, it had a nostalgic effect.

I was suddenly reminded that just like the beaches at Havelock, my days on Andaman were numbered. I also realized that I was unconsciously comparing this trip to Leh, and this beach to the ones at Havelock, and even comparing the pictures I’d been taking so far. I was also looking at Ross Island across the water, and ruing that I chose Jolly Buoy over Ross Island, even though we had a decent time there. The families I mentioned earlier were enjoying the moment completely, they probably weren’t even going to Havelock, and would know about the pictures they’d taken only after they were developed. I had read about Japanese bunkers at Corbyn’s cove, but even if they were, they’d been turned into waste bins!!

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On our way back to town, I could see sides of the road being dug up, and I wondered how long it would be before the Jap bunkers on the roadside would be removed! For the second time in the trip, I wondered about progress.

To be Continued…..

Andamanned – Part 2 – Nagaron ke beach main

My sarcasm regarding the airport welcome, it seemed, wasn’t totally lost on the resort staff, as two people waited on/for us at Havelock. In about 20 mins, we were at Island Vinnie’s, on beach #5 (alias Vijay Nagar beach). On the way we passed Beach #3 (alias Govind Nagar, which also serves as a market place for Havelock). Havelock, I’d say is Goa without the overdose of tourism. Coincidentally, I was reading Michener’s ’Chesapeake’, and was at the part where the coming of the white man destroyed the paradise the Indians had. Later, when I would remark (sometimes) on the lack of options in Havelock (compared to Goa), I’d also wonder about ’progress’, and how its positives and negatives are such a subjective thing, as is the answer to the question ’where to draw the line’ when it comes to change and progress.

Meanwhile, though the watch claimed 5.30 pm IST, it was already dark. Obviously nature cares two hoots  about IST, not unlike the Indian nature. My body, however, seemed to understand the new time very well. I was famished, and we had an early dinner at the newly opened ‘Full Moon café’ at Vinnie’s.

full moon cafe

Though some of the menu items had still not made their debut in the kitchen, there were enough options. And it felt almost like home, because Vinnie played ‘The Prestige’ by popular vote. Dinner watching a movie. We disappeared towards the middle of the movie. No one applauded, thankfully. D wanted to get up in time for the sunrise. She was told that it was at 4.45 AM. The early bird might get the worm, but on my sleep I was firm. All vacation days are like Sundays, I get to see the sun at a time of my choosing. Hmmph. She did get some awesome snaps though.

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We’d planned a snorkeling trip at Elephant Beach, so my snoring stopped at about 6.30 (!!) and we set out at 7.30. We got there to find out that the Navy guys wanted to do some shooting there, with real guns, so snorkeling was not allowed on that day. I remembered the Army guys playing spoilsport in Leh. I wanted to argue with them that they had a vast sea and many uninhabited islands to do target practice, and that I had my own shooting plans, but the gun silenced me. Talk about Navy Blues, thankfully, our resort staff took us to a nearby place which they said was equally good. Unfortunately, though, D betrayed her fishy star sign. She gulped before we got into the water, during the time we were underwater, and after we got back into the boat, when we were given samosas. No, actually, underwater, she behaved like the South African cricket team. She choked, but thankfully only after we did a fair bit of snorkeling.

We got back in about four hours and spent an hour on the resort beach, where you could go a long distance into the water and would still be only waist deep in water. We had read about the Red Snapper restaurant and decided to go there for lunch. Its five minutes away from Vinnie’s and worth a visit. The Goan fish curry and the full Bluefin Trevally with Chinese sauce are highly recommended.

red snapper

We got back and I napped (my default mode during vacations) a bit before going to the famous beach #7 (alias Radha Nagar), about 9km from Vinnie’s. I think the hype set stellar expectations, and I found it to be less impressive than say, Palolem, in Goa.  Forget Goa, the beach at the resort was way better, I thought. But I managed to film “A Snail’s pace” there, and D managed to get the naariyal paani, which had been eluding her all this while. At just Rs.10. We had hired an auto for the entire trip,  and the journey, especially the return, on winding roads, with glimpses of the village life, gave me quite a sense of peace. At a price, of course, Rs. 500, for the to and fro journey, and a wait of an hour and a half.

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyvkAUOtzbU

When Vinnie got to know our travails, starting from the ferry fiasco, he offered to knock 50% off from the ‘Meet and Greet’ package, and give us a complimentary trip the next day to see the mangroves. We accepted the latter and enjoyed it, more thanks to David who took us to Wilson Island, an amazing little place.

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We had a largely forgettable lunch at Seashells, and finally, it was time to say goodbye to our little hut.

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To be continued….

Andamanned – Part 1 – The Chennai conditioning

I could say “No man is an island, yet Andaman is” or I could say “No man is an island, nor is Andaman, it is a group of islands”. Bwahaha. Forgive me, all that time in the water must’ve diluted the brevity of this twit. Either that, or the brewed stuff that was also consumed occasionally. Really cheap stuff, that’s apparently made in AP – light Gult stuff that won’t make you feel guilty.

As per the status message across platforms,  I was off to Havelock, away from keys, I wouldn’t get bored, though I wouldn’t be surfing, because I’d be watching surf, and waves (of the non-Google kind). Ironically, the first notable event was meeting a fellow Twitterer. 6AM finds me groggy, if awake, flight or no flight. Anyway, since my display picture across networks is an initial, I’m usually saddled with the responsibility of initiating conversations with people I recognise. I remembered this person because of his awesome puns (like this gem), so it was good fun to suddenly turn and ask him ‘Are you Partha?’, and to see him looking at me curiously. If he wasn’t Partha, I was prepared to give the 6AM excuse. But he handled it pretty well when I introduced myself as the handle he knows on Twitter. So, at the high altitudes where birds usually tweet each other, two Twitterers ended up having a normal chat. It turned out that he was off to AP, and as his profile states, he is into ‘consumer research to help sell beer’. Beery eyed and bleary eyed, we landed in Chennai.

Chennai usually gives me a warm welcome, okay, that’s an understatement, it’s a bloody hot one. So its kind of insulting to insinuate that Chennai gave me a cold, but my sinuses are proof that the Chennai airport, which seemed to be making a desperate attempt to get rid of the ‘bloody hot’ (no, that doesn’t make it anti Channel V)  tag, was on freezer mode, almost did. Every time I found a relatively warm corner, it did a Sub Zero (from Mortal Kombat) move on me.  It didn’t help that our flight was delayed. On the board, the time never changed to the new time. From an earlier adventure, I had my doubts and I finally asked the KF Help Desk what time the flight was expected.

“You can go for the security check, sir”, she said, “the flight will take off in less than half an hour”

“So, why don’t you change the status on that board”

“If there is a delay, we don’t change it, sir”

It was only about 9.45 (during vacations, sleep-wake patterns are deferred by about 2.30 hours), so I didn’t trust myself to have heard correctly. Anyway, it was a welcome break from the real time status updates on Twitter and FB. So, we made the flight, and though we didn’t expect a meal on the flight, we actually got breakfast. The only disclaimer is that when they announced ‘alpaahar’, they really meant it literally. After they served the meal, I thought I’d ask the air hostess for the main course, but D played spoilsport again. Oh, okay, I couldn’t be mean to anyone who gives me a chocolate mousse anyway. 😀

Andaman didn’t quite hit it off with us in the beginning. I was quite worried. After our sulk with Goa, we’d planned Andaman last year, but that’s when D reacted violently to the idea. I was afraid if there was some jinx involved. There was a driver from our resort at Havelock, he was holding a placard that displayed the resort name, the snag was that he was looking for a single foreigner, and I failed on both counts. Obviously D was partly to blame. After all the passengers had left, we were left looking at each other, and he finally took us to the ferry. Mis-communication, we were told, but fortunately, we didn’t miss the ferry to Havelock, they had tickets. There are only 2-3 that ply daily, and even boats worked like a well oiled machinery only when palms were greased. The rishwat ka rishta with the mainland, I was touched. Apparently, getting tickets was a real pain, and that was what had prevented Havelock from becoming like Goa.

I, India

The boat had a a/c and non a/c options (within the latter, there were even a couple of 7 seater rooms, with what seemed like lounge chairs). We couldn’t see outside from the a/c section (which was at a lower level) but realized its worth only on the return trip. Moreover, we could move around the deck with no restrictions. A vast ocean, dark, angry, choppy, an awesome contrast to the equally vast, light blue, calm sky. The journey takes two and a half hours, and somewhere in between, D wondered if she should try these instructions on me.

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To be continued……