We had travelled the whole of Andaman Trunk Road (343 km), from North to South. Though we can still not say that we have seen it all but we can definitely claim that we have seen a lot of Andaman in the past few days.
It had been a hurricane trip from the word ‘go’, but that is how we usually travel. Ours is almost never leisure, we do that at home.
We sat by the sea at Oceanus Resort and enjoyed a beautiful sundown show at the horizon. We made plans for our next trip, which we thought would be big – Summer of 2020 in London / Scotland – instead what materialized was my first novella – E3PO talks love, as we could not step out, for a while even from home, due to ‘You know Who!’
We hired Sanju again for our last day trip around the south tip of Andamans. The southern-most beach – Wandoor Beach of the mainland was off-limits. I had plans of a leisurely bath on our last day but it so turned out that the crocodiles had got a sniff and taste of human flesh and were frequenting the spot, making prohibition of entering the pristine waters, mandatory.
The azure water was glistening in the mid day sun like a multitude of diamonds thrown around. We posed for a few shots, had coconuts as we longingly looked at the waters beckoning us.
A short drive away is the Marine Interpretation center Wandoor with a plethora of beautifully decorated marine life on display along with narratives, beside the gate of the Jetty where one can board a launch to go to Jolly-Buoy island. It needs prior booking and we had not done it. So that again has to wait for the next visit, I gather it is a must do.
We had nothing to do till lunch and we didn’t want to get back to the hotel. Sanju suggested another museum called Kalepani Museum – having figured out our interest in old and rusty things. This is a private collection but quite vast. It is a 3 storey building, all floors loaded up with artifacts and documents relating to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, its aboriginal people, its beginning as a British colonial prison, the suffering, the Japanese invasion, the agony and finally the freedom and settlement of mainland people from Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Chennai, Burma and few other places on this beautiful island.
The gentleman who owns the museum has an intriguing history. His ancestors were among the people freed from prisons and were offered assistance to start a new life on the island if they would marry someone among the other freed prisoner. Men and women who had been imprisoned in the cellular jail were almost certain of not being accepted into their old social lives. Many even if unwillingly chose to start anew.
We had a sumptuous lunch after the tiring but enlightening 3 floors of museum walk and headed to Chidiya Tapu beach. Yet another place that needs extensive discovery but since people are not allowed past sundown, we hardly had time for only a quick sweep. Birds were heard but not seen.
I let go of my desire to visit the last curio shop on the island on our last day as the road back to the resort was through Munda Pahar – hilly and without any street lights.
We had a morning flight back to Bangalore, so checkout early in the morning, yes with Sanju to the airport. The resort packed breakfast for us which we would have later after check-in at the airport lounge. We had tea at a stall on the way and I asked Sanju, who had now been with us for almost 10 days, who’s next? He said a party from Kolkata a large one has just confirmed their visit and he’ll be onto the bookings for hotel etc shortly. Generally people take all inclusive packages which work out much cheaper. Sanju – 9474257620
We stood there at the gate, unloaded. Goodbyes done. As we rolled our luggage trolley through the gate and stepped into the airport lounge, I looked back – Sanju was still standing there looking at us. I waived and he waived back, then walked off and got into his car. All through our travels, there have been numerous people who have touched our lives, who have made us wiser and made us realise the true meaning of “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam”.
It was time to move on from Baratang and we started early. This day would be called an ‘inCar day’ in the history of our travels, as we literally drove all day to reach Diglipur after dusk.
The road henceforth was extremely rough for a sedan to handle and that slowed us down immensely. The path was lined with tall trees, many of them the famous ‘Padouk’ indigenous to Andamans. The journey is fascinating for the romantic and dusty for the pragmatic. We drove for about an hour and reached another channel. Here there was another jetty for crossing over along with the car.
A bridge is under construction and will soon be usable. It will decrease the time taken for the cross over and save a lot of diesel that these ferries use, and thus facilitate the reduction in pollution too.
Once on the otherside we thought we’ll wiz past the villages and towns but it was not to be. The road was all dug up, heavy machinery was being used and we experienced work in progress for a better ATR in days to come.
We stopped at Rangat for a short break.
By the time it was 1pm we our stomachs was grumbling but there was nothing that looked good to eat as we passed occasional small villages. Finally Sanju stopped at a road side eatery that served hot meals. Whether it was the hunger or the taste of my native food (it was typically Bengal food) the meal felt soul satisfying.
Sanju did not pay head to my demands for tea until we reached Diglipur, which was wise, as even without stopping much we had lost the sun even before we made it to the resort through a lightless narrow street.
The resort was a happening place, the delightful lighting and a bountiful restaurant cheered us after the long drive. The driver’s quarters were full as the resort was bustling with guests. Thankfully Sanju had a friend whom he could call upon and he had a gala time too.
The major attraction for me was the turtle nesting shores; that Diglipur is famous for, and this resort called ‘Pristine’ is almost at a stone’s throw from such a shore.
Thus after dinner, that by the way was sumptuous, we walked towards the shore with a whole lot of other guests. It was dark. It was cool. The pathway was through the trees shrouding the moonlight. The only light came from mobiles or torches. We just walked on almost blindly and then we heard her, a gentle continuous splash – the sea. We could also smell the sea and then finally through an opening we emerged onto the beach. Dark it was and mysterious; we were all standing or sitting awaiting an arrival. It felt miraculous. But the miracle didn’t happen; mommy turtle did a no show.
Next morning we visited the beach again after breakfast and having packed up – we were to start our return journey – all the way till Rangat.
We stopped over to see the twin islands of Ross and Smith, the visit will have to wait until next time. Further down we stopped momentarily at the aerial bay which is a picture perfect vista and then again at the main market area of Diglipur to buy some refreshments for the road.
We had lunch at the same eatery where we had stopped for lunch while going to Diglipur. The food was once again lickalicious. Am not much of a meal person but in Andaman I just loved them.
Dhanninala was our next stop where we reached just in time for a good stroll before dusk. It is a mangrove nature walk, but on a much bigger scale than that we walked in Baratang. The different varieties of mangroves where categorically named for easy identification.
The walk or the bridge on which one has to walk, goes all the way over to the beach. But there is a catch; though the mangrove swamp ends and the sands start, the waters are still way ahead. Tall trees with acrobatic branches and bushy leaves great us. It is nothing short of a jungle, only bereft of any wild animals and made into a picnic spot. Once out of the maze of the trees one finally reaches out in the open and the sea beckons with open arms.
We didn’t have much time to hit the waters as the sun was about to set.
Rangat, we reached after sun down. The hotel was on the ATR but a little further down from the main town. The grounds were promising but the bathroom was a setback. We had plans of staying here for two nights but I immediately cancelled the second night and rescheduled our onward journey for the next morning. The owner of the place was prompt in settling the account, a very generous move, I would say.
We had to go to the town for dinner. This time Sanju thought he had got my pulse and took us to a Bengali dinner joint, but I didn’t like it at all. However it was edible and cheap. We got some buns and refreshments packed for the next morning.
Rangat and its beaches will also have to wait for the next trip. We drove off quite early as we had to cross both the channels one to reach Baratang and the other to move out of it and go past through the Jarawa territory before the last gate closed at 3pm and have lunch at Baratang before that if possible. Happy that we managed all.
When we had lunch at the dhaba at Baratang the first day we reached there, it felt good. I spoke to the lady of the house and dhaba and liked her instantly. The second day felt even better, very much at home. The third and the last day, felt sad. The dabha seemed to me like a rock on a beach, wave after wave of tourists and commuters splash on it and move on. The lady had come afloat from afar, the main lands of Punjab and had got rooted to this little island she calls home. She seemed so content and happy but I would be too scared to get stuck up to a place.
Through the gate we went into the Jarawa territory one more time and saw a lot of the tribe’s people. Photography is prohibited but there is indeed nothing to photograph a Jarwa person per say, as much has been documented about them through photos and videos, also city girls now cover lesser body parts than they do – though the territory has lots of plants and birds that are gorgeous photo material.
We refreshed ourselves at Jirkatang where the Jarawa reserve officially ends.
Since we cut our stay short in Rangat by a day, we had no booking for this night and requested Sanju to take us somewhere decent. He took us to hotel Atlanta which was slightly up the hill on the road towards the cellular jail. It had just started operating a few days back and was not completely equipped with a kitchen but since it is a stone’s throw from the waterfront and Aberdeen Bazar area, food was not an issue at all.
We checked in freshened up and went out. We, as in I and Rajib, Anoushrayan doused himself in his kindle and we let him be. We took a stride into the ‘waterfront’ as it is called. It has a nicely decorated park facing the waters where the residents and tourists of Port Blair can catch a breeze with refreshments. We took a stroll on the wide road beside the park which was closed to traffic and open to children for skating and cycling.
Anoushrayan came out for dinner, food as I have mentioned earlier is his second love. We went to a slightly upmarket place at the waterfront and saw huge lobsters on offer, but having satiated our desire earlier on the trip in Havelock we settled for something more common place. Though not the best of the seats or arrangements were in place at the semi open air joint, it was crowded to the brim and people had queued up. Apparently the place is a big favourite.
The next morning, 30th of dec 2019 we checked out of hotel Atlanta, had breakfast in the same restaurant where we had had our first breakfast in Port Blair on the 21st of dec 2019 after touchdown, and went off to see the fisheries museum. Sanju was with us again as the deal with him was for 6 days – 25th to 30th dec 2019.
The fisheries museum has a huge collection of specimen from around the islands and is an interesting place to enhance one’s knowledge of the marine life, we spent a great deal of time exploring the marine life and learning many unknown facts.
Thereafter we went to the Samudrika museum, the last on our list of museums to visit in Port Blair. This one is more of a conglomeration of marine and culture and history of Andaman. A delightful little place complete with rest rooms, a souvenir shop and a selfie point!
Our next destination was Oceaneas Resort at the fag end of Port Blair near a place called Chidiya Tapu. We bid farewell to the town center of Port Blair, went past the airport driving on the ATR, the same that took us to the north of Andamans – Diglipur; but this time we went south.
By lunch we had checked in to our final destination. The resort is a blissful place atop a small hillock overlooking the sea. It is a huge piece of land with cottages sprinkled in amidst coconut and loads of other trees. The sprawling grounds are a delight and the sit-out by the sea side is pure ecstasy. It is a place where a tired soul could check in to rejuvenate.
The only spoiler being the food, though not bad it was the only place in whole of Andaman which was not to our taste, of all the places we visited and dined at, whether roadside or upmarket.
Stay tuned for a little note on our last day on the island…
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.
Aalu paratha is one of my favourite dishes and to my excessive pleasure whether in Kashmir (had the unforgettable experience of having them on a shikara) or in Andaman I had the fortune to savour them; it almost always comes as a complimentary breakfast. Following the tradition, breakfast was on the house in shelter hotel at Port Blair too.
Happily fed, to the ‘North’ we headed. This was to be an interesting journey. Andaman is a conglomeration of islands. South Andaman is one big mass with a few small islands scattered around, like Ross and NorthBay that I had earlier mentioned. Baratang can be considered to be the last considerably big island in South Andaman.
To reach Baratang, one has to cross the much romanticised ‘Jarwa’ territory. Imagine a dense forest, tall trees that can be seen in tropical rain forests – reaching the sky, shrubs overburdened with wildly fragrant flowers, a slightly hilly terrain sloping down to the shores of the pristine waters. That is where they live, the Jarwa tribe.
From the city of Port Blair one needs to go past the airport towards further south and then take almost an u-turn to go northward on the Andaman Trunk Road, which runs from the north to the south and is the only arterial road for commerce and commuters. Earlier when the ATR was not completed or those times when the reserve was off limits for common use people and goods used to travel by small launches and boats to Mayabunder Jetty from Chatham or Port Blair Jetty.
As we left the city behind, the landscape started changing. First came a few houses amidst fields and then the road started getting lined by woods. The road condition was pathetic and Sanju was driving very slowly to avoid damage to the car and rolls in our stomachs. Anoushrayan and I are motion sensitive creatures.
We reached a place called Jirkatang which is where all the vehicles line up who need to go North. There is a gate here operated by the government officials. It opens four times throughout the day – 6.30am, 9.30am, 12.30 afternoon and at 15.00 hrs. An escort vehicle leads the way and all the vehicles must follow it all through the Jarwa Reserve till the Jetty where one needs to cross over on a ferry to the island of Baratang.
There is a beautiful south Indian style temple at Jirkatang on an elevation beside the road. The roadside is also lined up with Tea stalls which have a range of snacks to cater to the passengers. Toilets/washrooms are present for our convenience. A small curio shop has an interesting collection priced reasonably.
We got the 9.30am gate. For a first timer it is nothing less than an adventure, passing through a land inhabited by the dreaded Jarwa tribe. We envisioned them as an aboriginal race that hunt with bow and arrows and are fiercely hostile towards civilization.
The first 5kms are buffer zone and actually have a few settlements, mostly village homes that have been there for many decades. We were given strict instructions to not take photographs all through the reserve, it is a punishable act to the extent that we could be jailed and fined. On top of it the driver would lose his license for 10 years. The windows were to be kept rolled up.
The reserve is indeed a serene terrain to traverse through. We were going in a convoy and then it seemed to slow down. Sanju said in a hushed voice, “See see Jarwa.” We started peeping but could not see any one for some time. Then we saw a guy in sunglasses, wearing a green shirt and khaki trousers walking down the road towards our car in style. His facial structure and skin colour were the only things that made him look any different from an average Indian. He had Negroid features and a very shiny black skin.
As we moved on we saw many more Jarwas sitting by the road side, mostly women and children. Most of the adults were clothed with a very few exceptions. They were accompanied by a man from the our world. We came to know that the government has tried to post personnel along the whole length of the road that cuts through the reserve to prevent any possible contact with the Jarwas.
Many indigenous tribes have perished from coming in touch with us as their body is not immune to a couple of diseases that we can spread. Also ‘civilized’ people have the unique tendency to exploit the trusting and somewhat naive people.
Our journey through the reserve was peaceful and pleasant and also quick – the road being well maintained. We reached the jetty where a channel separates the island of Baratang from the mainland of South Andaman. The cars and buses need to queue up and buy a ticket. We got out of the car as Sanju lined it up and then went off to get the tickets.
The channel is quite wide and the flow is fast. As we were waiting at a sit out we saw the birds diving for fishes which were a plenty.
After a short while we saw a big launch coming afloat and positioning it in such a way that its rear aligns with the slope of the jetty. The launch had a huge belly where the cars and a bus rolled in. The people then percolated in – the scene was akin to salt trickling in a jar filled with pebbles. The ride was short but exciting. At the jetty on the Baratang side, the salts, I mean the people went out first then the vehicles. The whole affair is very well organised by personnel on both sides.
Food was at the top of our minds with the stomach growling. Sanju took us to a nice joint, one of its kind in Baratang. It was a bustling place with two front rooms of a two storey house converted into dining halls complete with sitting arrangements – a batch of people were eating and another batch waiting at the porch beside the road. This was a north Indian household with origins from Delhi, who had made Baratang their home decades ago. As I went to the washroom that was a clean affair at the back of the house accessible by a passage by the side of the dining hall, I got talking to the lady of the house. She got married more than 25 years ago and settled amongst these transparent people – as she calls them, on this small island amidst the pristine waters.
Her husband takes care of the front-desk while she runs the kitchen. Almost all the people who visit Baratang either for a day trip or as passerby to further north dine here and there is hardly anybody who stops over for a night and thus there aren’t very many places to put up for the night.
We quickly got our seats and the plates were laid. The menu was fixed as the footfall was too high to cater to different choices for an optimal task force. Rice ‘daal’ vegetable curries and ‘papadum’ kept coming in a sequence. One could ask for as much as the stomach would agree with, but I went beyond my capacity as it was delicious to say the least – All this for just a 120INR per plate.
We went off to check in to Dew Dale Resorts, half an hour’s drive owning to the precariously bad road condition. Dew Dale, tucked in a village by the roadside with its aesthetically designed huts to match the ambiance complete with all the modern amenities is worth an experience by itself.
Join me as we go on to explore Baratang and beyond… So long…