For a mainlander it is an experience of a different kind, especially if one is a first time visitor like me. Of course, with water filling three fourth of the Earth we all are living on one island or the other, but ours is a huge one, and the more inland we live, it does give a sense of safety – at least from tsunamis.
Getting on with Baratang, one can do a couple of things. We chose to begin with visiting the parrot islands. You can’t actually step on the island but sit in the boat and wait for the chirpy parakeets to fly back home after dusk.
The setting is surreal. Imagine water all around you, tiny lush green islands floating here and there. The coastline of the island of Baratang is visible at a distance on one side and on the other the hills of the middle strait – the Jarwa territory come flowing down to touch the waters. Any moment poisoned arrows could come flying. The golden sun which was already melting would shortly give way to a glistening darkness full of stars. The breeze is strong and chill. The wide ocean beckons from where the channel meets it, far to fathom and yet near if one goes with the flow.
All of a sudden a shrill cacophony hits your ear. You raise your head to trace the direction of the sound and spot them flying towards you. A flock, then another, and another and another – they are of varied sizes: Small parrots, big parrots, long tailed, short and stout. If you have seen Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’ you would be scared. Even if you have not, you would be thrilled.
The moment, the surroundings –anything could have happened, had we been in a novel, an author could do a thousand things with a setup like this.
The parrot island is named so as the parrots have made it their home. Every evening they come back to this island. They have decorated the island with their beaks and the tree tops look perfectly manicured. This distinctive feature has turned it into a tourist spot.
By the time we started our journey back through the channel, it was completely dark. We sped through the waters under a star lit sky and came back to the Jetty. Pricey it was, but a boat ride I’ll remember and delight in all my life.
Dew Dale – our abode, tucked in the little village by the road can be perfectly cast as a haunted resort. Of the 12 cottages, only two were occupied at the time we stayed there, one ours and the other by an Englishman.
At dinner we got talking to the manager and chef, young chaps with promising careers. The food was excellent both in taste and quality, at par with star rated hotels. The resort is usually occupied by corporate guests and government officials.
To go to north Andaman, one has to pass through Baratang, as the ATR continues across the channels. Thus Baratang has a lot of passing traffic but hardly any stay on and hence the dearth of hotels. The tourists prefer to visit Baratang on a day trip from Port Blair.
We had stayed on, as we usually do. So the day we reached Baratang, we visited Parrot Islands in the evening. Next day we started early as was advised to visit the Limestone caves. This is the journey I had been really really looking forward to. It is majorly a motor boat ride and a bit of trek.
This time we went in the opposite direction to that of the parrot islands and towards the Jetty on the middle strait. We went past the Jetty and further down… or up? Well that depends on one’s point of view. The motor boat was gliding at a tremendous speed cutting the waters. After a while we slowed down and headed towards the bank lined with mangroves. We got into a channel which was quite narrow and the boat waded for a while. The mangroves could be seen closely now.
We were asked to de-board at a small jetty. A guide took us on a short trek through a narrow mud path lined with tall trees.
The trek has a few ups and downs and a sturdy foot gear is recommended. First we reached a small village. The villagers were selling fresh lemonade under make shift tents. After a few more steps we saw hoardings describing the Limestone caves. There were restrooms too.
Going further we reached the natural wonders. A very narrow one way path goes on to the end of the caves laced with stalactites and stalagmites forming beautiful patterns inspiring vivid imaginations.
The place was so crowded that it is difficult to find a footing. Batch after batch of people following their guides were either in the process of going in or out. The caves are on a level ground so one doesn’t need to go down into a cavern or anything like that. In other words it is not scary at all.
On the way back we stopped at the village, had lemonade, clicked some pictures and then went back to the small jetty where we had de-boarded, but instead of going into a boat we were directed towards a walkway on a series of bridges, it is called –‘mangrove walk’.
The winding bridges took us through the mangroves jungle which was indeed a delight. The light was low for photography. Occasionally crocodiles can be spotted but we didn’t spot any. The walkway ended in another Jetty from where we got into our boats again for a return journey.
One has to wear a life jacket while on these boats mandatorily and given the speed at which they move, I would definitely support the rule though it is immensely uncomfortable. Once on shore, we headed for an eatery next to the Jetty. The food was simple yet tasty.
Mud volcano is another natural wonder that this island has on offer. We took a detour from the ATR this time and moved towards the interior of the island in order to reach them. A few steps up a hillock adorned by well nourished gardens on both sides makes for a serene landscape. It is in sharp contrast to the baron top where numerous mud mounds are created and the mud is bubbling and boiling and gushing out of the mouths of these tiny volcanoes.
No sooner had we finished marvelling at this earthly wonder we found some wonderfully coloured feathered friends unique to Andaman vying for our attention. In our whole trip this was the only place where we saw some spectacular avian life. Most other places we saw their pictures or at best heard them.
After another delicious lunch at the dhaba we returned to our cottage in Dew Dale. Evening was spend playing Monopoly with ‘chay’ and ‘pakoda’(snacks).
Next morning we woke up early got freshened up and were all set to head north… again… yes further north! Stay tuned for our journey to the Northern most town of Andaman – Diglipur.