I have been living in Chennai for quite a while now. My dad works for Ordnance Factory, a government organization in India serving under the Ministry of Defense. He got transferred from Shahjahanpur, UP.
From the day we landed here, as a family we have been dreaming of going to Andaman’s, the great Indian picturesque Island. On 19th May, 2018 we reached our destination. One of the major events happening this day was Meghan Markle’s wedding, now the Duchess of Sussex.
Excited, I told my colleagues, “Hey guys! Guess what sudden, surprise plan…”. Raviteja one of my best friends in office and a colleague asked,”Hey Lady! What’s up? Whats the plan?”. “You won’t believe this, I am going to Andamans next month.” “Hey that’s great! Your upcoming b’day treat.. Is it?” , asked Madesh, another colleague. My B’day was about to come in June, 17th. “Haha! May be..”, I told him chuckling. “Girl! You’re serious.. Wow! Please take me with you!”, Raviteja said in wonder and awe. He looked as if he was genuinely happy for me. “Sorry, Raviteja… It’s a family trip.”, I said. He smiled and said,”Hey! I am happy for you! You go gurl… Take pictures there.”.
After preparing for nearly a month, completing my office work by doing overtime and taking time out to go to the parlor, and researching about Andamans, I finally felt sassy enough to go to my dreamy Island trip. It was a four day trip, which we had to plan carefully. We took the help of traveltriangle.com to help us find an agent to plan our holiday trip for four days.
On May, 18th we woke up at 02:30 am to board our flights scheduled at 05:00 am. On the way there were scenic views of crossing oceans and entering into the wilderness of Indian Islands. It was a sight to behold. Even though everybody was still sleepy, the passengers in the flight couldn’t keep there excitement to see the Islands from 20,000 feet! It was indeed a surreal experience and we had a great time landing into the untouched territory of our Indian Islands.
We met our driver on the airport arranged by our holiday planner. We were a bit surprised to see that on the islands most people spoke Hindi. There is a reason behind this. During the British period many freedom fighters and politicians were dumped on this island to suppress the efforts of India getting independence from their atrocities. Most of these freedom fighters were from the northern and eastern parts of India, who finally settled there too. We learned about the history of the islands on our visit to Cellular Jail in Portblair. Later, post independence, the illegal immigration from Bangladesh happened during 1971 and people settled in Andaman Islands. There is also a significant community of Tamilians on these islands.
We rested for sometime in our rooms, had our first breakfast and then went on the roads of Port Blair, the capital of Andamans. Our first stop was Corbin Cave Beach. While we were travelling, we noticed that Port Blair was not a very large city and that tourist spots were quite near. We started at 2pm for the beach and reached around 02:25 pm. We stayed till 03:30 pm enjoying the calm and clean view of the beach. It had a beautiful natural shore line and appeared to be taking the form of a parabola. It gave us our first glimpse of the beauty of this wonderful island. The beach had sunbathing seats. We made our parents sit and relax on them instead of jumping like wild teens. My sister and I found some stray dogs a little away from the tourist spot. The beach had relaxing vibes and so we decided to just stroll along the coastline. The texture of sand was unexpectedly soft and smooth. That made me squish them in my palms. We saw children making their own little sand mountains and their families fondling with them too like kids. We called our parents to join us in seeing the whole beach. My sister casually rolled on the soft sand of the beach to take some good photos of our parents. And we threw sand balls at each other.
For the first time we saw the porous looking rocks, similar to the ones we buy in markets for bathing and cleaning dead cells of feet. So it was surprising to see the naturally porous rocks. Later on our trip we realized it’s a part of the coral environment of the islands. They were simply nutrition deposits for sea life. We spent a good time in nature’s lap away from the city’s busy life and experienced nature up close a little better.
Our next stop for the day was the Cellular Jail. British rule was atrocious for the native people of India. There was a small museum explaining the role of freedom fighters and Indian politicians who stayed in the jail and the inhuman treatment that they went through for our motherland. The cell had lower boundary walls and was made in the form of a clock dial so that no two blocks of prisoners could interact with each other. Each cell had minimum light and a very small window for air. They were hardly given hygienic food and water, and were instructed to do hard physical work that was designed to break them. The light and sound show of Cellular Jail gave us chills and we matured in those moments and paid our respects to our courageous freedom fighters. The show gave us a peek into the lives and struggles of freedom fighters and why the great Indian Andamans were once called, Kalapani – black waters!
Overall, the first day was quite eventful. On the way we saw the posh area of Port Blair, the South Point and Corbin Cove beach.
We started the day from our hotels with a very North Indian breakfast and my favorite, Chole-Bhature and delicious Poha. It was a pretty cool morning and we got up late. We were scheduled to start by 8 am for Ross and North Bay Islands, but fortunately or unfortunately (depends on your perspective) we were too cozy on our comfy soft beds in our hotel rooms, after last day’s waking up at 02:30 am to catch our flights for this dreamland from Chennai. Also the day was special as it was our parent’s marriage anniversary. We planned this trip around their special day.
It felt easier as we saw how well planned our first day was with our holiday planners. We started second day at 09:00 am and reached Jangli Ghat Terminal by 09:15 am. From there we boarded our luxury private cruise that took us to our first destination of the day, Ross Island. This island used to be the capital of Andaman and Nicobar in the British period of cruelty. We saw the remains of administrative building and houses of important delegates during that time. In current times the Ross Island welcomes you with the waving Indian flag representing the control of Government of India. The old British ruins make this place look haunted and mysterious at first glance; but as you enter into the wilderness you would find birds and animals living over there. We saw a wild peacock, some beautiful deer and a few seasonal birds visiting us at this place and chirping around us. A noticeable feature of this place were the huge curved coconut trees defying gravity with their shape. I took a picture to remember this feature of Ross island.
At around 11:40am, our ship called to take us to our next most beautiful destination, the North Bay Island group. This island is the same island that you see on a current Rs. 20/- Indian note (launched in 2017). This island is also famously known as Coral Island, for it has one of the most amazing underwater coral reefs, one of the few in the world. On our way, we saw our ship sailing through the bluish green water.
An unfortunate event happened. On the way we saw two middle aged ladies throwing plastic water bottles in the sea. Alas! I was appalled by their attitude. As a tourist, one would like to relax and see the islands, do some water sports and visit the same water where these two hopeless ladies threw their trash and inspired their kids to litter as well. At first sight I was shocked to witness such insensibilities towards the environment. Her silly act increased my frustration and prompted me to take an action. I was helped by a caretaker of our boat to announce that the trash should be thrown in the bin of the boat and in no way outside in the waters. Another lady was throwing the chips packet of her son into the sea. I caught the packet while it was flowing away into the sea. Unfortunate but the lesson one can take is that people like them – highly lazy, careless and unorganized – should be reminded by people around not to litter the environment. They will come and go, but their trash will remain there, god forbid, forever.
As we reached the North Bay and got mesmerized with its beauty, an announcement in the boat informed us that the water sports are available in this part of Andaman waters! Mom and dad went to India’s first sub-marine to see the corals through what is called a fiber glass boat. My sister and I went ahead with our dream plan of Scuba diving.
It was one of the most majestic, surreal and beautiful moments of experiencing the under-waters. Diving down 10 meters and feeling complete void, the sudden feeling that hit me was that I was doing it all alone in this deep sea (accompanied by the trainer though) and that the deep silence that surrounds you makes you feel enlightened in that moment. Experiences like these tells us how important it is to take care of yourself as one is experiencing all the world through the perceptions of one’s body. A caution is that in this surreal moment, if you even slightly doubt your abilities, you will mess up. And I did, unfortunately. The feeling of depth and orientation takes over you, if like me its your first time in the blue ocean. I was scared of breathing inside water. But with practice mastered it (oxygen cylinder). It was a deeply touching and personal experience for me. The best part of all of this was that I recorded myself with my new GoPro camera that I bought for this purpose.
Now that’s an experience that’s going to stay with me and I was so happy to do this while I still had the frivolous, fun-loving flappers of the twenties. It made me realize that there are two worlds at least on this planet, land environment and underwater: the most beautiful, mysterious and untouched. Around 70% of the Earth is covered by oceans. We have explored about 5% of the ocean. There’s a lot more to be discovered. Its our planet’s mega museum. It was astonishing to see coral reefs, the spine of oceans! And to experience the sight of clown fishs’ symbiotic relationship with the reef, that I read only in biology books. It made me respect even the tinniest fish!
Andaman made me realize how important it is to be independent and resourceful. Most importantly that you can do both while having fun. One just needs a balanced mind and sorted out priorities. Life underwater for us is hard but if we flow with the situation, analyze the conditions, learn the basics and mimic the behavior of local flora & fauna who are familiar with this local habitat, one can learn how to survive better. A calm, still and peaceful mind is very handy in such situations.
On day 3, we ended up visiting Neil Island. It was a small 7km x 4km island. An island with the most beautiful sand and sea waters that I had ever seen. There are three beaches in Neil namely – Lakshmanpur, Bharatpur and Sitapur . (Oddly kept godly names, I felt. But a talk by Sadhguru made me realize that this is our culture to remind us of gods in subtle ways.) There is no internet on the island, so I called my friend and colleague Ray to help us do the research about Neil island as it was a sudden plan. He was kind enough to help, and through his research, we came to know that Bharatpur beach is famous over in Neil, so we planned not to spend much time at other beaches. From the port we met our then new driver Bobby, whose forefathers came to the island during FOC in 1971 from Bangladesh. These Bangladeshi gypsies stayed in the shelter of the Indian government. They encroached land, build their houses and later the government regularized it. My dad, inquisitive by nature, asked him how he felt about his stay at the island while most of the people live in polluted cities. Our driver Bobby was very social so he replied that he sometimes misses the city charm as there are no theaters, internet or malls, but is overall happy living in one of the most amazing islands in the world. A place like heaven with blessed climate and a no-pollution zone. While we were getting to know him and about the island life we reached our first destination for the day in around 25 minutes. We entered through a narrow way to the Lakshmanpur beach. The moment we were dropped off, we were awestruck by the mysteriously narrow entrance to the heavenly lit beach.
It felt like we were dreaming for a while – the amazingly clear waters, white soft sand and larger than life trees all across the shore with no market and tourist. We were all alone. We spent our quality short time relaxing, clicking pictures and headed for Bharatpur beach. It was a short distance away. The port of Neil Island is built over this beach. We were quite surprised to see the shallow waters of Bharatpur beach extending long away into the ocean. We tried swimming, floating, and playing in the shallow waters.
Next we had plans to board the jetty and headed from Neil Island to Havelock. Havelock has one of the world’s top ten beaches, known as Radhanagar beach. It takes around one hour to reach Havelock from Neil Island by cruise. We were quite tired after reaching our destination, so we had some coconut-water on the way and then went ahead to check-in to the cottage we booked. The cottage was artistic and it took us a while to see how beautiful its location and surroundings were. In the evening after a quick nap, we finally managed to get time and energy to visit this world’s top ten chic place. It was as expected a dreamy, clean, beautiful, long shore beach.
We spent our family time talking about the beauty of Andaman’s. We cherished every moment spent there in the lap of one of the finest places on earth. We clicked pictures and made memories. It is here that I bought souvenirs for my office colleagues in Chennai. Thus, the hectic and mesmerizing day ended on a good note.
Last Day, Day 4:
The previous night was spent well in our cottage house, Radha Krishna resort at Havelock. The view outside our room on the first floor was so beautiful and scenic. Also, we had had a great dinner time and we went for a night walk towards a private beach which was in a nearby resort. We didn’t really know that it was a private beach. It happened that I wanted an ice-cream after dinner, so I insisted to my dad to just walk and see if we there were any nearby shops selling tasty ice-creams/ luscious desserts. That’s when we saw this dessert restaurant. We finished and my dad went ahead to clear the bill. Being the active person he always is, he started having small talk with the chef about this private beach. He mentioned that the beach is open at all times and that we could visit it right away.
On that special night we saw the waters of Bay of Bengal again along with a clear starry night. It was one of the most relaxing memories of Andamans. We knew that tomorrow was going to be our last day and there we were seeing a clear starry night to remember this moment, that’s going to be motivating us as we get busy with our day-to-day lives in the city.
We got a plan at night from our agent to start from resort by 8am to 8:30am for Elephant beach. The beach at peak times gives a restriction on the time tourists spend, to control overcrowding. We were given a timeline of 3 hours to spend at the place.
It was pretty natural to not think about organisation of trip as our holiday planners took care of all the responsibilities from booking tickets for our water sports activities to managing the cruise all the way. Since the resort was so scenic and we had a great stay, before leaving the resort we planned to take a family picture before we leave for breakfast and finally leaving the resort on a good note.
As we reached the place by car, we got down to collect the water sports tickets arranged by our planners. Later we came to know that the beach is 10 minutes away from that shore. As such we were provided with a speed boat named Sea Squid to go ahead from this point to Elephant beach. It was a nice speedy ride, as the cool winds brushed across our faces. On the way we saw the beauty of Andamans visible at every corner of this place. One can see lots of smaller islands welcoming you on the way. We started from the shore at 8:45am and reached by 9am.
Over there we were provided lockers to keep our stuff and our boatman Mr Naresh showed us the way for snorkeling activity. This was a complimentary snorkeling activity offered on buying tickets to Elephant beach. The guide told us that they would take us in shallow waters to show the reefs. He pointed towards a yellow mark in the sea waters and told us that if we pay Rs. 800 per person then they could show us all the reefs till that point which was approximately 10m deep (equal to scuba diving) and that we would be provided with free video and photography. It sounded quite a deal to us. We weren’t sure if we would take that option so we told them that we will think about it after we complete our sea walking activity. Sea walking was an underwater dream for our parents since they didn’t really experience the waters. Sea walking was their first chance on the island to go gliding deep down and feel the sea life up close and personal.
To do the activity we were taken on the speedy jetty again and dropped on a small ship that was floating still at a point. This ship was supposed to provide us the sea walking services. Everything was going pretty well except one when I was informed that I couldn’t take my GoPro camera underwater even if I paid for it. They said we would have to pay for videos that would be taken by their underwater cameras. My issue was definitely not the cost but the fact that there weird rules didn’t allow me to get my camera on board! We got the photos that were complimentary with the sea walk and opted out of paying extra for videos. We didn’t really get the photos of our choice as the same guy with limited camera memory was taking pictures for many groups. It was not a very good experience due to conversation rifts though overall, we were happy as we had done all the water activities available at Andamans as a family in four days, which is quite a short period to experience Andamans. We came back to the port from Elephant beach at 1 pm to catch our cruise that was brought forward from 4pm to 2pm as the evening cruise had been cancelled.
We rushed a bit, had a quick lunch and headed with memories on the cruise. It was a government cruise and was not as luxurious as the private ones. It gave a feeling as if we were troops of war. The cruise took us to Port Blair where we checked into the same hotel. At night we were provided with a complimentary dinner and we sorted our photos before sleeping to catch our morning flight to Chennai.
Next morning we landed in Chennai at 10am. It was our holiday to relax and settle in our normal city lives after a great vacation without internet. We unexpectedly took an Internet Sabbath and we realized that we must practice this in our normal lives. Sometimes it’s important to feel disconnected in order to feel connected to nature. It was one of those special journeys that once taken has incremental impact on one’s life that it has the power to completely change our priorities and course of life. Small breaks like these keeps us creative and help us understand ourselves and the world around us a little better every time. May be one day I will be able to do an astral projection by being in sync with nature!