Andaman was literally beckoning us after the Tsunami tragedy, well in Nov 2005 we decided to take trip from Mumbai. We booked tickets in advance luckily and got a cheap package from Jet Airlines. The central govt. too withdrew freeze on LTC travel and were encouraging employees to visit andaman for aiding recovery of tourism post Tsunami in Dec 2004. Hotel and other accomodation naturally had dropped their rates. Now plenty of airlines provide an excellent LTC package with accommodation and boarding. Air India was however charging full fares to recover from their losses i presume, and bookings were not available in their flights.
It was real bad luck news that in chennai it was pouring cats and dogs, we were supposed to stay at my friends place in Chennai. We called him and told him that we won't make it to his place since we have to catch earlier morning flight to Port Blair. Indian Airlines offered us free dinner at Mumbai airport, and it took off around 12.15 am and landed at 2 am at chennai. We looked around for accomodation at airport, luckily we got the same by paying RS 600/- incl. tip. It is worth rather spending to and fro charges to city and hotel accomodation which would have costed more than Rs 1000/- for 5 hours. Luckily this intitutive decision paid off since there was no incoming vehicles plying to airport due to heavy downpour in chennai.
We had arranged booking at YMCA, Port Blair, for a double AC which costed us Rs 450/- per day. The room was small but it had attached bathroom. The manager was very friendly, and he invited us to attend a function next day too. Our friends Austin and his family were very friendly. They became acquainted because they are mumbaites, and from our hometown.
Mr Austin dropped us to the light and sound show at the Cellular Jail. It is a revelation of sorts for historical minded persons. The show details the struggle, torture and in human quality of food served at the prisons. Once the prisoners decided to protest and followed Gandhigiri and went on a fast for 36 days, when Gandhiji sent a request to put an end to the strike. Thereafter the quality of life improved for the tadipaar prisoners. The Cellular jail would have been demolished but for the spirited fight back by the ex freedom fighters, it stands as a National monument. Here the first Independent India flag was hoisted by Netaji, when the Japanese occupied the Isle. The sound and light show is presented by Amitabh bachchan in his usual baritone voice along with other presenters. There are two shows which should not be missed at any cost by visitors to the Isle, it will impart the true knowledge of the struggle for Indian independence.
Post Tsunami Tales :
We had the fortune of listening to Shine ( worked in YMCA ) who literally hung on to the tree top and was saved from Tsunami tidal waves. Nicobar isle were almost wiped out, the Indian Navy did a tremendous rescue operation despite loosing their own kith and kin. Kudos. This prompted us to visit the Tsunami village, which was really endearing, but a fantastic re-habitation program was envisaged, and people have forgotton to a large extent their tragedy of loosing their near and dear ones. The financial loss to Shine and his family was tremendous, because they were into business of video library and selling the sets at a decent profit. All their valuables were washed away literally in the tidal wave. He narrated how the tribals were forewarned and they vanished to the hilltops. Once the tidal waves vanished there was huge cache of tuna, king fish which were literally hunted by the tribals for their future consumption. The local villagers were amazed by this desperate hunting, later they realized this was their only food for survival. The jewellery were stripped from the dead for future security of the tribals.
We were treated to a lovely lunch by Shine’s mother at their house. It was a wonderful experience to have lunch at a refugee camp, but the love with which she served was really endearing. We never imagined that we would experience first hand the Tsunami victims travails. We gave some donation to Shine’s mother in reciprocation and wished them speedy recovery from the tragedy.
Shine accompanied us to Chidiyatapu on mount Harriet, It is a lovely spot, swarming with birds and bird lovers can almost spend a day over here snapping pictures to glory. The mount Harriet, is also embossed on the Indian currency notes. We had booked an auto, which was economical to move up and down from Port Blair. He charged us 150 rupees for a round trip to Chidyatapu.
We booked our tickets to visit BARREN ISLE, a live volcano after the Tsunami. Weekly only 2 trips are made, so it is advisable to book your seat on the ship for a night journey. They charge 150 each for seating and cabin is charged at 250 per pax.
Sea food is the speciality of andaman, but availability after Tsunami has become rarity. One can find plenty of Bengali food and south Indian Tamil nadu food. There a number of mess, and low cost food joints along with luxury food joints. There is no scarcity of vegetarian joints on Aberdeen Bazaar road, which is the main road in Port Blair Town. A chinese restaurant in Delhi Darbar too is a great place to have one's lunch or dinner.
Next day we decided to explore the Limestone caves of Baratang and mud volcanoes. As soon as one lands in baratang, one notices the mangroves, which largely have helped to reduce destruction of Tsunami of this area. It is a lesson for mankind to preserve Mangroves which can act as a barrier against lashing tidal waves. The boat ride to limestone caves are ultimate adventure. It veers into a narrow creek and sways in a winding trail and reaches the jetty, from where one has to walk across nearly 2 km but worth its effort. The cave was filled with slush which can put off any visitor so one has to remove shoes and socks to discover the wonder of nature. We visited nearly 1/2 km into the cave along with the jetty guide, who had a torch. The limestone caves are a revealation of nature's beauty. Next we reached the Bus stop, from there Mud volcanoes can be visited by JEEP, along with a guide. Once again one has to walk half a Km to witness the beauty of mudvolcanoes which are bubbling all over. Enroute back to Port blair we got to see the naked Jarwah tribes. People are not advised to feed them any normal foodstuff. One can give them fruits and vegetables which is good for their health. They cannot digest baked or fried items. Photography of Naked tribes are prohibited, one has to remember though. Permits are required to visit this secluded place which is protected,
Local sight seeing places are Corbyn beach, Acquarium, Gandhi Park, Arts Museum. One should not miss the sound and light show at cellur jail, it is worth waiting and watching. Other Isle visits to Ross Island which is also known as Paris of the East is a beauty, but destoryed due to earthquake of 1942. The viper islant is another revealation in terms of the gallows and jails. Coral Isle too is a part of the trip one can undertake. All the notorious and tough criminals were housed here. Veer Sarvarkar was hanged in this place. ( Veer Sarvakar was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment on case of sedition, and was transported to cellular jail on July 4, 1911 thanks to Srinath Vashista for correction ) Later, women freedom fighters were separately housed. There is a famous Timber factory known as Sathnam. ( Chatam ) Andaman is generally known for nil crimes in the ISLE because nobody can escape from here.
Share auto is common mode of transport along with buses; Sun rises quite early at 5 am. Long distance travel can be undertaken early morning and return to base same day can be practiced. Some tourists who prefer beaches can stay put a Havelock Island. It is better to carry a good digital camera with maximum zoom, to get hold of nice pictures of beauty of nature and beaches. If one plans a trip it has to be at least for 5 days otherwise one is bound to miss out after going such a distance. It is actually like traveling to Far East country.
The strategic importance of Andaman isle is tremendous for India. The bio-diversity in marine life in the form of corals is in plenty. But alas one cannot treasure it. It is prohibited and penalties can be huge. We had collected a brain shaped coral which was a beauty, alas we had to leave behind @ YMCA. Explore Andaman isle because it emboldens the spirit of human survival. The amazing recovery from Tsunami despite lives lost is a real lesson to be learnt. People have learnt to live with nature's fury and the tribals who are protected by the Indian govt have handled the Tsunami tragedy with aplomb. Mangroves to a large extent have protected the isle from massive erosion and destruction.
Link on Tsunami Rehab by Srinath Vashishta http://zillion2ndinnings.blogspot.com/2010/01/post-tsunami-revival-of-iaf-station-at.html