A dream undreamed it was, that struck me as a reality, and was still hard to sink in. Out of the blue was the announcement from my father one fine day, of flight tickets to the Andamans. It is a place we all have grown up having heard of since childhood, thanks to our Geography lessons. History classes made us grim and filled us with pride over the memories of the thousands of freedom fighters who had sacrificed their lives in the deathly cells of the infamous Central Jail. The islands thus, had remained for me an exotic locale far beyond my aspirations (at least immediate ones, till the time I was financially dependent upon my parents!) and I had never even given a thought of visiting it ever.
The summer of 2010 had quite different plans for me, contrary to the yearly visits to my native place Kerala. The Andamans proved to be the most beautiful vacation place for my parents and me. The breath-taking waters, the lushest of greenery, the most serene sunsets…wish it..and you have it all.
The first thing that strikes you when you land at this alluring island, that is if you reach by flight, is the panoramic view just from the airport. Nestled cosily surrounded by verdant hills, your holiday will start with the drive from the airport itself.
The first week of April is not exactly the best time to visit these islands of the Bay of Bengal. Since the entire time has to be spent outdoors from morning till evening, the sun does take its toll upon health in every way; but it is the azure waters, merging with the same hued spotless sky and the spotless sands that provide the zeal and exhilaration that enables one to enjoy to the fullest.
While in most travels, the mode of journey is at times the most draining part; scouting from one place to another in these islands is a sheer pleasure. Port Blair, which is the capital city where most tourists dock for the entire stay, is an absolute delight compared to other cities. This one is much cleaner, quieter and well-administered in terms of traffic and layout of streets. Boulevards along many roads provide a relief for pedestrians, as does the breadth and cleanliness of the pavements, which put those of the cities of the country’s mainland to shame. Travel from one island to another is the most exciting, which is solely through boats or catamarans.
Ross Island, which was the first destination, was a journey into the past, where the ravages of time have been preserved untarnished with a museum-like tranquillity. An island where human habitation is not allowed due to its decrepit condition, the authorities have done well in preventing human interference, thereby enabling the preservation of the ruins, with only time being allowed to leave its marks of wonder. The over-grown tree-roots which now creep all over what once used to be an official building, a roofless church reached through a tall flight of stairs – almost every building, or rather the remains of them, are barely visible and seem to peer out through the massive roots of trees, making them look tightly gripped under the tentacles of some giant octopus.
Tourism activities come to the fore at North Bay Island, which is the hub for snorkelling, scuba diving and coral-watching. The most remarkable feature is the ride on the glass-bottommed boat through which tourists can view the beauteous colourful coral clusters without having to get into water. The boat-guides gave everyone ample time here to relax and refresh after the hot and sweaty expedition at Ross Island. I spent my time cooling my heels in the transparent waters and collecting corals for my friends back home.
The next stop was a rather grim affair. Images of blood and hanging bodies were conjured up, what Viper Island is known for. Cautioned by the boat-guides, it is an island that is technically not in the Government’s official list of tourist places. A vehement emotional appeal by the boatmen as a place every visitor must stop at, to pay homage in the memory of those Indian freedom fighters who were executed, rubs off on the tourists as well, who are moved to pay them a little extra. The place harbours the infamous gallows where the iron beam still stands as a ghastly reminder of the Colonial history.
A new dawn is dedicated to the island with one of the best beaches in Asia – Havelock Island. Quite befittingly, an entire day is set aside for it. Easily the most relaxing location in the entire trip, the pristine waters and sands are a sight to behold, way before you actually reach the beach. Once you are in the waters, there is no feeling short of pure bliss! As I stood knee-deep in the turquoise aquatic heaven, it was the first time I ever felt envious of those who know to swim. While the same water-activities of snorkelling, scuba-diving and coral-watching are available here as well, the stand-out feature is the elephant ride. Oh you’ve had an elephant ride before, you say? Well, perhaps not one with the elephant swimming through waters!
The last day was a hectic one, with trips to the Naval Museum, Anthropological Museum, Fisheries Museum and the Central Jail. Though the light and sound show at the Central Jail turned out a little bland below expectations, the walk through the whole place was mesmerising nonetheless, bringing back the chills which I had only tried to imagine in my history lessons back in school. A visit to this jail is inevitable in every visitor’s itinerary.
However, the more memorable experiences were in the trip to Wandoor, to be more precise, the journey towards it. A winding car-ride over hill-tops was made awe-inspiring by the driver who is a survivor of the 2004 Tsunami. The heart takes a flutter and the pupils dilate as one listens to his eye-witness account of the devastation. He is hence, perfectly able to show us the still remaining signs of the calamity, in the form of the uprooted trees by the coast, and a natural lake that has formed from the Tsunami waters that were unable to flow back into the sea. The feeling is similar to how I felt while at Ross Island – an attempt to picture and piece together history through its vestiges.
A trip replete with the by-gone, yet in every way essential to our present, that makes us rethink all that we take for granted in our daily lives. There is no way any traveller to the Andaman and Nicobar will not fall in love with it. Known for its crime-free and pollution-free living atmosphere, apt for a retiree, my parents’ even wished the same for themselves. As for me, it certainly is the perfect island I wouldn’t mind getting stranded in.