The Andaman Island Tour itinerary was fixed, but the adventure was awaited. Andaman here we come. The day began early our GoAir flight was on schedule 04:45 am from Mumbai (BOM) via Chennai to Port Blair. Except for five passengers including us remain seated in the plane. Rest all the passengers alighted at Chennai. And guess what the plane was full again with a new group of passengers. Hmmm, lots of people I must say. Seemed to be like the 07:40 local train in Mumbai all seats occupied. Is fourth seat ka option not available? The cabin crew remain the same grumpy face non-smiling. However, the GoAir crew put the biggest smile on exit Welcome to Andamans Island.
Located in Bay of Bengal, Coordinates: 12°30′N 92°45′E Coordinates: 12°30′N 92°45′E, Andaman contains a total of 572 islands. Major islands are North Andaman Island, Little Andaman, Middle Andaman Island, South Andaman Island. Covering the total area of 6,408 sq. km. The highest point on Andaman Island 732 meters or 2,402 feet. The highest point is known as Saddle Peak. The state animal is called Dugong
The clearance at the airport was very swift, clean and easy. I must say I met our friend at the airport. His smile all thru our trip was warm and superb. Rajkumar was a charioteer for all our travel in Port Blair for our Andaman Island Tour. Happy go lucky guy every ready to go and the best being he was always on time. Yes, did pester him to show me a new place in Port Blair take to a new museum, a boat ride, speed boating, street photography, ever ready with his white Mahindra Verito. Without Rajkumar, our Port Blair trip of Andaman would have been different. Thank you, Rajkumar.
Vacation time had begun as we left the shores of Mumbai and taking an early flight into Port Blair and we had already started being lazy. Had a quick breakfast and off the sleep. The afternoon started early, we visited the Cellular Jail. The first sight of this structure will send a chill down your spine. Each stone each brick is built by prisoners and our freedom fighters that were sent during the British Raj for revolting. These may be stone and brick to some. But actually these motor blocks have thousands and thousands of stories. About vengeance, sacrifices, struggle, resistance and strength. You can hire Local guides who are available for charge Rs 200 per tour
Niraj Vaidya, our guide at Cellular Jail promised us some action on a vacation at Andaman Island.
Niraj: "Sir 45 mins hai, Right?"
We: Please do your best
Niraj: Sir Camera fees is Rs 25.00 to be paid at the entry counter.
Niraj: Hi Mera Naam Niraj Vaidya hai, I am your tour guide for Cellular Jail today
The next 90 minutes was the shortest time on planet earth. The history of the Cellular Jail shared by Niraj made us all proud of being Indians. About Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose coming for a day on the Island to the Telegram, not the messaging apps about request the prisoners to give up the fast unto death for better treatment of the inmates.
As the unrest grew all and number of those been sent to Island kept increasing. Soon Viper Island, Navy Bay, Phoenix Bay etc was insufficient. Hence, it was decided to build a special complex to keep everyone in self contained, self dependent. The building work of the Cellular Jail started in 1896 AD and was completed in 1906 AD. The exceptionality about this building the way it was constructed.
A central tower connected to each of the seven buildings. Seems to be a giant starfish like structure. Each Building had 3 storied structure. Each floor had cells. However, no dormitory. One person per cell. 13'5 X 7' X 12' feet in size. The degree of torcher to our freedom fighter can be understood by the designing of the cellular jail. The front iron gate faced the back wall of the opposite wing.
Surprising was the ventilation in each of the cells, which was 9 feet high. Enough care was taken and considered as the normal India height was around 6' feet. Hence, the person in the cell cannot even peep out. Life as a prisoner was beyond imagination. It is said that legendary Veer Savarkar was brought here his elder brother Ganesh Savarkar was already there. However, was unaware about his brother for over a year.
The original plan was 7 arms of a giant octopus. However, 4 of these building was destroyed during the Second World War and an earthquake that struck the Island. The area is now cleared and has a local hospital. All resident of Andaman Island just pays a very subsidies rate for any treatment at this hospital. Once on top we can view North Bay Island. If the skies are clear and you are luck it is said that we can also see Havelock Island.
In the main garden lawn there an oil mill. This is that place where everyone dreads to go. Prisoners were forced to make oil. To increase the punishment, the quantity of oil required was always increased unreasonably. The guide tries to explain the life of a convict at Cellular Jail. The food they eat, the clothes and different types of punishments that were given. To counter retaliate, the inmates restored to hunger strikes.
The last cell on the 2nd floor was where our legendary "Veer Savarkar" was. It feels nostalgic taking even a photograph or even while I write this today. I am coming back to Andaman this experience is still to sink in me. Efforts are made to restore the room makes us believe Veer Savarkar was with us in the room. Could not thank our freedom fighters who laid their lives so that we could live in Free India.
Earlier the British refuse to budge. But increase the level of punishment to our freedom fighters. The first hunger strike lasted for approx. 46 days. The British soldier started to forcefully feed everyone. This resulted in deaths. At last the British government was forced to given up and the hunger strike was called off.
Cellular Jail witnesses a second Hunger strike this time it lasted 35 days.
This time everybody was worried that included Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Fazlul Haque, Bhulabhai Desai and others sent telegrams requesting the suspend the strike. As a result of the national leader intervening the second hunger strike was called off.
The morning wake-up call was from Rajkumar at 07:59 am. It was one of the chirpiest good morning heard. We got dressed quickly. After a quick breakfast, we left to take the ferry to Havelock Island. A slow smooth sailing for us off around 1 and 50 minutes. It is said during season time October to May there is a ferry available that can cover the same distance in one hour. Overheard some saying that there is helicopter service available to transfer the sick to Port Blair at subsidised rates.
Our guide was super cool here. He happened to a local priest at the one and only Jumma mosque in Havelock Island. From the jetty, we drove to heaven "The Wild Orchid" An awesome place to be on Havelock Island. I must say if you gonna be in Havelock The Wild Orchid is the only place you want to be. Cosy rooms close to the beach. Super awesome people. Just outside The Wild Orchid is this famous restaurant "The Fat Martin" good music awesome and some cool people that come here to hang out. For us, The Fat Martin was home away from home. We could just be there and enjoy. The starters would start at 18:00 followed by dinner at 20:00.
Kala Pathar beach and Radhe Nagar beach can be accessed from Havelock Island. Radhe Nagar beach was voted as the 7th best beach in Asia a few year ago. A must visit for all. Clear water, clean beach, beautiful sand. It was lovely. After a dip in the water we had coconut water from one the many local stalls. The best thing at Radhe Nagar beach was there were clean toilets available.
As we were on tight schedule and Ever ready to explore we started our day early. 07:00 am we reported to be the first batch of people to go Scuba diving. A short drive from The Wild Orchid and we were at the dive station. Scuba diving is taken very seriously here. Every instructor has completed his professional diving course from PADI. The equipment is checked before we could use it. We all were given our dive suits.
A short 15 minutes training was provided to everyone. About how to use the equipment and what to expect and how will it function. We were also informed about the safety measures. Things like we may experience a slight headache. How to release water from our ears, nose and mouth. Seems scary, but important. We did not know swimming so each one of us had a personalised diver instructor with us. Also, we got our underwater photo and video FREE. This short 30 minutes’ experience was awesome. It only increased my hunger to come back again and again. Yes, will complete the certificate course in diving too.
Back from our dive we had breakfast and left for Elephant Island. As it was OFF season the usual boat ride was closed. Elephant Island is the best place for snorkelling. So we drive for about 45 minutes and start trekking. It had rained the last night so yes the route was tricky. This is the part Jenny did not like. With a round orange lifebuoy, I lay with my head down and the snorkelling mask I saw beyond imagination. The various forms and colours of Corals was amazing. But all good thing come to an end. Andaman Island Tour highlights are the watersports.
As we had already finished the list of events for the day so what next. We sort the assistance of Ashraf Hotel Incharge at The Wild Orchid soul. He was super helpful and promptly arranged for a fishing activity. This was a new experience for all of us. Late in the afternoon Ashraf accompanied us to the beach and handed us to one of the local fisherman named Mohan. A little shy in the beginning. But had a very strong personality.
Our lesson in fishing was not any corporate style. No books no manuals, no GPS to follow. But more about how to learn from the master. Mohan was often called as 'mama'. So we all started referring to him as mama. In India, my mother’s brother is also called mama. So once the level of hierarchy was broken mama was our new friend.
Mama waited patiently to hear the loads of question that we had for him. Everything under the sun and mama had his reasons and answers. Explained the difference between game fishing and line fishing, and the best time to fish with reason, types of local fishes, who can fish and where and when. Sunset fishing, early morning fishing. What is more important is that we had to observe and learn from the master.
As our time progressed we learn how to wait patiently and feel the slightest pull of the bait to pull up our catch. The start was different thou. As we had never been fishing our bait used to get eaten and we would not come to know of it. Slowly we understood after learning from half eaten fishes to catching a fish alive. For all those people hear this out.
If the fish that hooked was small, we decided to let it go. A second chance. Not everyone gets another chance. Soon we were rewarded with a few large size fishes. We came back to The Wild Orchid, as handed over our catch to the kitchen chef. Our chef was eager to know what kind of preparation is preferred. We gave him the choice to cook what he thinks is the best.
Trust me the dinner was Funtablous (Fun + Marvellous). Three large fishes cooked in 3 different styles. Mouth watering amazing. This time the chef at The Wild Orchid Beat Fat Martin. On a long night, the kitchen staff provided me with an endless supply of tea. Also, happen to speak to staff about life on an Island and more. It’s just gives a different perspective to life.
With new found memories, we left Havelock Island via ferry. And meet the local priest at the jetty who bid farewell to us. Post lunch there was lots to do.
As I write this today only be enlighten about a Chatham Island similar name is also 697 km from New Zealand. However, we have not been there. But to the one in the Bay of Bengal. Let’s tell you about our visit here. Raj Kumar again drove us to Chatham Island. A short 10 minute drive MK International hotel. We buy our tickets to the Government Sawmill on the Island. Once inside we take a guide along to show us the place recommended. The guide showed us one of the Japanese bunkers that was built on the island and reminded us how the Island was bombed during the Second World War.
In the Chatham sawmill has a small museum. Worth a visit. Photography was allowed. Slowly we walked thru different sections in the sawmill learning how the logs of wood are brought and how the logs of wood are processed, graded and stacked as per the quality to be sold. In this sawmill, we were also lucky to see the initial first log cutting machine that was imported during the British raj.
Our guide informed that the machine is no longer used as the spare parts are not available. This piece of equipment is over 125 years old. With the tour concluded we treated ourselves with the biggest lobster available in town, with some awesome tandoori chicken. Yes, halal meat is available at Port Blair.