Paradise in the sea - Andaman

 

 Andaman – The beautiful and stunning islands in Bay of Bengal. Indians can feel proud that such a paradise islands are a part of India. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are the integral part of the mountains running from Myanmar to Indonesia. We have been planning for Bali trip, as my kids wanted to get certified in PADI scuba diving. The accommodation and other things are reasonable but as it was a short time, the flight tickets were very expensive. So, we were thinking of other location and suddenly Andaman came into picture. That is because it hosts the world’s 7th most beautiful beach.

         We booked out flight tickets immediately. As it is mom and kids trip I made sure there is not much layover time between the flights. We got our tickets in Indigo flight. This is a direct flight to Port Blaire with stop over at Chennai. The waiting time was 30 minutes. The return tickets were also booked with the same airlines. But this time we were flying over to KolKata and had a layover of 1 hr 15 mins.

         After booking tickets we booked our hotels. We booked for 3 nights in Hotel Sentinel in Port Blaire. Then we took the help of an agent to provide package for all sightseeing, transport and accommodation at Havelock. (Havelock is a picturesque island and has the world’s 7th best beach.) This has worked out better as I can concentrate on kids and holiday instead of worrying about what to do next, how to go about it. I gave a rough plan to my agent, and they suggested some improvements and we finalized the plan before our journey. This relieved my tension as I was travelling with a teenage daughter and a 9 yrs. old son.

May 23rd 2018 – Our flight was at 6.30 A.M. We had to report at least 2 hours early to check in. The airport is 1 hr drive from our home. So, we got up by 2.30 a.m, kids were in full enthusiasm so they got ready very fast, then we set out for our dream holiday. The check in at the airport was smooth. The flight was on time. For the first part of the journey till Chennai we got a seat at the rear of the flight. For the other part we got the front seats. The journey was smooth with a good entertainment from a small boy who was shooting questions at a speed that his father could not match answering. But, the fathers answers were very funny and made everyone around laugh. After 45 mins we reached Chennai. We shifted to the front seats and waited patiently for the passengers to board the plane.

                Passengers of all ages boarded the flight. From 1 yr old passenger to 70 yrs old one. From small groups of people to a big group of people. People were speaking in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada. The kids who boarded the flight were much excited and were running from one seat to another. The announcement came for the flight take off. Zoom we are on the way to Andaman. Soon the land disappeared and we could see only the blue sea and ships sailing. The weather was beautiful and clear.

              As we neared Port Blaire we could see the beautiful green islands from our window. Though we were not able to identify the islands, they were beautiful. The sea was from blue to Azure green. The beaches had white sand and we could clearly see the waves lashing the beaches. Soon we were in Veer Savarkar International airport. We had to do immigration as my son is a US citizen. The process was quite simple. There are few areas that are restricted to the foreigners and they need clearance to enter those areas.

           The travel agent has sent us driver’s number who will be picking us from the airport. The driver was holding the ply card with my name. The driver came with his vehicle we loaded our luggage in to the car and we are on the way to the hotel. It was drizzling and port Blaire looked beautiful with a lot of greenery. The roads were very good with a foot path marked throughout. There was less traffic on the road. The place resembled Kerala a lot, but unlike Kerala the place is little cold and not much humidity. The hotel was just 15 mins drive from the airport. It is located little away from the main road.

         We checked in at the hotel, and dropped our bags and jumped on to the bed. The time was 11 a.m. The driver has asked us to be ready by 2 p.m. He said we will be visiting the Cellular Jail. Luckily the hotel TV was not working, so we lay down for a while, freshened up and went for a lunch in the restaurant located in the hotel. The hotel is a 3 star  standard had a swimming pool, a small garden, lot of colorful fishes in the aquarium. The rooms were neat with good ventilation. From the balcony we get the view of the pool and the bar near the pool.

        The restaurant is neatly decorated with a front view of the hotel. From the restaurant we could see people playing cricket. It is all green, green everywhere. The weather was cloudy and pleasant. Exactly @ 2 the driver gave us a call to come down. The one thing I have observed here is that the drivers are very punctual. We came down and got into the car. The drive was very smooth with up a hill and down a hill drive. In about 15  min we are near the gates of Cellular Jail. The name itself brings goose bumps on my body. This is the place where the known and unknown freedom fighters were imprisoned and punished for involving in the freedom struggle. When we reached the place, there was hardly any crowd at the gates. We bought the ticket and went inside. The driver has asked us to come back by 4 o clock. We entered in to Cellular jail and my voice almost chocked as in my wildest dreams also I did not dream that I will be one day standing at this most revered place, a place of worship to all Indians who owe their freedom / independence to these brave men who came from all over the country. Through the selfless sacrifice of these men we are today living in this independent country.

            After we enter the gate, there are two big rooms on either side of the main entrance. The two rooms houses the museum, there are details about the place, people who were convicted here, their agonies, how they were made to work like mules, clothes which the in-mated used to wear, locks, chains used to prevent them to escape from the jail.

             It is good to take out some time and read at least few of the boards. This will make us realized how the freedom fighters have struggled to get us free. After seeing the museum we came out to a wide open place. In front of us are the three storied buildings with small cells. Towards the right there are chairs arranged in rows. This is the place where light and sound show will happens in the evening. To the left there are two flames burning, one is the ‘Swatantra jyothi and the other is the centennial celebrations. Towards the far left is the memorial built to honor the brave heroes who were imprisoned here. It is advisable to take a guide to know about the place. We formed a group of 20 people and hired a guide.

            Initially the jail was built to hold the convicts; thief’s and was later used to exile the political prisoners who were a part of the freedom struggle. Most of them were the freedom fighters that made bombs or plans to kill British officers. Few of the famous inmates of the jail are Mohinder Singh, Batukeshwar Dutt, Veer Savarkar, Surendranath Bose.

             The structure was built in a star shape with a central tower to watch the inmates. There were 6 buildings, all of them 3 stories and a total  of 693 cells. There is a kitchen, Kolhu – the oil grinding,   a gallows, restrooms. The buildings are planned in such a way that none of the buildings face each other.  The back side of a building faces the front side of the other building. There is a lot of open space between the buildings. The open places was where the inmates assembled to have their food . There are in total 6 buildings, 2 each on a diagonal line. But in an earth quake 3 of the buildings were destroyed and now a hospital is built at that place. Remaining 3 buildings are in good shape.

        The guide first told us the history of the place. Andaman, got it name from Hanuman the Hindu God. While going to Lanka in search of Sita, Hanuman flew over these islands. Hence ‘Hanuman’  slowly became Andaman. Our trip to the jail started with a trip to Kolhu – the oil grinding place. Oil grinding is the hardest work assigned to the jail inmates and had caused the death of some, insanity for few and resulted in hunger strike. Now this place is built as a cabin, but in original there was no roof. When we step inside the place, we can see the models of how this place used to be in the olden days. The inmates were assigned the job of breaking the coconuts, crushing them to get the oil. Oil is collected in a vessel and it is measured. Each person had to work whole day to make at least 15 Lbs of oil. One of the remarks in the museum says that in the villages usually buffaloes were used to do this work and after the hard days of work they can make only 6 lbs of oil. Now we can imagine how hard the in mates were forced to work. If the in mates do not reach their target they were beaten with a whip on their back. After all this hard work they were given rice and dhal for lunch and dinner. The rice had a lot of insects and the dhal is more of water and less of dhal. Brave people what a struggle it must have been for them. With all these severe conditions in mates hardly used to survive for long. So, this place is also call ‘Kala Pani’. Kala means Black , black resembling death. There is no escape from this place. The place is surrounded with sea and dense forests. If at all someone escapes in to the forest, then the tribal people living in the forest used to catch them and killed them for the iron chains. For the tribal people this iron was very important.

              Towards a corner in this, there is a chair called the Jailor chair. The Jailor used to sit on this chair and supervised the inmates. The famous jailor among them and who was the cruelest was David Barry. He used to ill-treat the inmates, meted out the cruelest of the punishments. He always used to tell the in mates that if you can make bombs with these hands, you can also crush coconuts for more oil. The political prisoners were yoked to the handle of the mill and they had to move around. The in mates in the jail were not allowed to stay in the same cell for long, they were moved to different cells every month so that the inmates will not get together to revolt against the authorities. There are four cells near to this Kolhu. The in mates who failed to reached the target were given punishment and were secluded in these cells. The agony of being away from home, living in seclusion, horrible food broke many inmates and made them insane.

            Next we visited the Gallows. This is a small place where death sentence by hanging were carried out. There are three ropes and at a time three people can be hanged. The ropes had an iron ring inside. This metal will help to bring out easy death to the punished. The convicts had to kneel down and the rope is tied around their neck. Then there is a lever at the left side. When the lever is pulled the wooden doors below opened up and the person is hanged till death. There is a small room below these wooden doors , the dead bodies are brought down and are carried to the open place here from. There is a small altar near to Kohlu, where the dead bodies were given a ceremonial bath. Depending on the religion and customs of the dead person a priest was brought in to perform the last rituals. The dead bodies were given a last bath using fresh water. The jail authorities were kind enough for this gesture. The dead were treated with respect and were given a dignified farewell. The guide has told us the reason for the gallows located in the open place was to in fuse fear among the in mates. None of them could think of revolt against authorities.

             Later, we walked through the corridors of building, some hundreds of freedom fighters would have walked here and it is a privilege to us to walk in their steps. The cells were very small with only a small window for ventilation. The windows had a slopping roof. In this way the in mates cannot get to see anything outside. These cells had driven few of the in mates mad because they could not see sun light. The doors of the cell were huge and very strong. The latch to the door is also very huge and these cells were locked in the night. It would had been such a lonely life for the in mates.

          We walked up the stairs and reached the watch tower. This place is connected to the buildings through a wooden plank. In the night these planked were removed and the buildings and the watch tower was separated. This was done for the safety of the soldiers. There were no official records available for all the inmates of this jail. Names of only 5000 people were available. The name, place and the term of the few of in mates was engraved on the marble here. We can see that there were people from Bengal, Punjab, Assam, AP and from all the states in India. Such a unity among the people even in those days. From the watch tower we can see ROSS island. This is the place where British officers with their families used to live. After their days work British officers used to leave for Ross island. They had a lavish lifestyle in that island

              At the end of the tour we visited Veer Savarkar’s cell. Veer Savarkar was confined in an isolated cell. He served the longest term here. The cell is towards the end on the 3rd floor of the building. A photo of the Savarkar and a small board with his name, date of birth and date of death was placed in the room. After seeing the cell we came down, there is a small museum here with the photographs of the place in the yester years. Thinking about the great sacrifice and the bravery of the in mates we walked out of the jail.

         Just opposite to the jail there is a small park and there are statues of few brave people. These were those brave freedom fighters who have started hunger strike in the jail. They were forced fed through nose and later due to complications on food reaching the lungs, they had died.

         It was 4 P.M by the time we came out of the place. Then we went to Corvey’s cove beach. This is the only beach in Port Blaire. The drive was very beautiful; we had to drive down hill. All the way the sea was at one end and parks, houses and dense forests to the other side. The weather was cloudy. Our driver dropped us at the beach and said that we have to be back by 6.30. The beach was beautiful but it is little small. There are a lot of water activities going on in the beach. We can directly pay the money and take part in the activities. We chose Jet skiing. They were charging Rs 1200 per person to take us to snake sanctuary and back. It will take approximately 8 – 10 mins. The driver will control the scooter and if we want to driver then while coming back we can take controls. There is one more option here, pay  rs 600 and take 2 trips around the marked circle. This will take 6 mins approximately to take two rounds. Both of my kids wanted to do full stretch, so I had to pay Rs 1200 per each kid. They wore safety jacket and zoom they went and zoom they came back. There was a big smile on their faces and they said sea water lashes into their faces and that some of the water went into their mouth. My son washed his mouth and was ready for his 2nd ride. This time he said he will take care of the full control of the bike. Lot of kids and adults were enjoying these rides. This is when the fondness of the heart comes out as a big smile. After jet skiing we went for a speed boat ride. They charged us Rs600 per person. The ride is   till snake sanctuary and then back. There will be a small stop at the snake sanctuary to take photos. It was a good ride, but somehow I felt our boat was moving slow and that the other ones are zooming fast. It might just be my feeling. The sea was beautiful with black color, it was cloudy and a cool breeze was soothing us. The sky and the sea looked the same except that the water was moving. We took some pics here and we are back. This ride was very satisfying. Then we spent some time playing on the beach. We did the regular ones like writing on the sand and protecting it from the waves.  Jumping when the waves came and just sitting in the water.  I guess I can spend hours just looking at sea. We were hungry and looked around for food stall. There was a stall with nice pakodas.  we bought a few of them and had them. The pakodas were very crispy and tasty. Then we went back to our car, my son was dripping in water and we did not have a towel or an extra pair of clothes. We put a foot mat on the seat, so that the seat did not get wet. He was constantly complaining that he cannot come to light and sound show in that wet clothes. My daughters slippers were also broken, so we asked the driver to take us to market so that we can buy slippers. He took us to Aberdeen Bazar which is on the way to Cellular jail. We hopped out of the vehicle, walked into the bazar looking for rubber slippers. We found one shop selling the rubber slippers. We bought a pair of slippers for Rs140. Then right across the shop there was a guy selling t-shirt and shorts. I bought a t-shirt and a short for my son, so that he can change and be comfortable in Light and sound show. Then we went back to the vehicle. The driver was telling that traffic police has come and had asked him to show his license, since he has parked the vehicle in the ‘No Parking’ area. I have seen that the traffic police is very strict about traffic rule. The drivers here are scared to go wrong way. But, one good thing is there are designated parking slots near the bazar, near the cellular jail and almost near all the major attractions. Andaman is a tourist friendly place as tourism is their major source of income.

                                We reached the cellular jail for the Light and Sound show. Here also they were very organized. There are ‘tourist police’ everywhere. They made sure no vehicle is parked near no parking area and all the tourists are in line to enter for the Light and sound show. Our agent has pre booked the ticket, so we stood in the line. In 10 mins we were allowed to go inside. It is a different feeling to see the jail in the night. Our show was in Hindi and it was good. There were hardly any people in the audience who don’t walk away  with misty eyes. Such is the valor and sacrifice of the freedom fighters who were imprisoned here. Thinking and thanking the freedom fighters we came back to the hotel by 8 p.m.

May 24th – Today the driver has asked us to be ready by 8.30 A.M. We will be visiting Ross Island and then go to North Bay for some water activities. We had a good night sleep, woke up by  7 a.m, got ready and went for breakfast. The breakfast is complimentary, and there were nice idly with sambar, Uttapam, poori with chole, bread , butter. I always made sure I had a heavy breakfast. In this way I never felt like snacking before late lunch. By 8.50 we reached Rajiv Gandhi water sports complex. This is the place to catch a boat to Ross Island or to North Bay. Our boat tickets to Ross Island were already booked by the agent. We were just given a receipt and the boat name. We had to write our name phone number in the sheet they had provided. Later a person from sea links ( a company that conducts water activities)  has come to explain the water activities. They had snorkeling, scuba diving and sea walk. They charged Rs 600 for snorkeling and Rs 3500 each for scuba diving and sea walk. The best thing here is, for scuba diving there will be 15 min training given in water before we were taken down to see corals. If we were not confortable then they will charge 500 and will refund the remaining rs3000. Where as in Havelock, there will not be any refund for the money once you get in to water. The dolphin ride was cancelled for that day. We took 3 tickets for sea walk, we wanted to do scuba diving also, but they said it will be difficult to do both the things on the same day. We preferred sea walk.

                We went to the jetty to get in to the boat. There will be an announcement of the name of the boat boarding, so we have to pay attention to the name announced. The police here made sure that the passengers list was given to them, all the people in the boat were wearing life jackets. The police were so strict that without passengers list they were not allowing the boat to sail. One more example to show that this place cares for the safety of the tourists. We boarded our boat ‘Horizon’. There were 7 people in our boat. The boat driver has to talk to control room and give them the details of number of passengers, gender of the passengers. Only then they will be allowed to move. The weather was cloudy and the sea was quite. Our boat zoomed into the sea towards the Ross Island.

        Ross islands was a capital of British settlement and is named after the British marine surveyor Sir Donald Ross. Ross island is at the mouth of the Port Blair harbor and is 800 miles away from Aberdeen jetty. In March 1789, a well marine surveyor Lt.Archibald Blair sailed into this majestic harbor known to sailors as Andaman islands oblivious that he had unfolded a strange new chapter in the history of the British Raj, a tragedy that came to be known as ‘Kalapani’.

       Ross Island is stacked with all modern facilities and is called the ‘Paris of the East’. British officers who worked in Port Blair lived in Ross Island. They had built a luxurious town on the small island. The convicts in the cellular jail were used to clear the place and build the buildings. There was a swimming pool, water purifier system, club house, store, church, bakery and huge mansions in this place. Now, we can only see the ruins in this place. Due to the strategic importance , the islands were handed over to the Indian Navy. Ross Island has taken most of fury of the tsunami that has occurred in the year 2004. Ross Island has protected the entire city from the tsunami effect.  

     It took 20 mins to reach Ross Island. The boat person has asked us to come back in an hour. The people in the boat made a huge cry, they wanted more time. So the boat person has extended more 45 mins. Ross Island is maintained by Indian Navy, and they charge you Rs 30 person as an entry ticket. As soon as you enter the Ross Island you can see bunkers built by the Japanese during the Second World War. The place is full of trees, cool breeze, the sound of waves and chirping of the birds. All the buildings are in ruins, the climbers have grown over the remaining walls. The buildings are built from bricks, you can see the swimming pool, Fateh Ali store and water purifier. Then when we walked up a little there was a club house. This place is also in complete ruins. It is mentioned that there was a wooden dance floor, but we cannot see any floor or roof. Only the walls remains. Then we walked further we saw a church almost on the top. Then when we walk down, there were steps that takes us to a beautiful beach. This place is very quiet and pleasant the only sound we can hear is that of the waves. We stayed there for few minutes to enjoy the beauty and also to catch our breath. We will not realized but the climb from the swimming pool to the church is very steep. We did not walked down to the beach as our boat driver has informed us that beach is not open to public. But few adventures people have gone down and had enjoyed in the beach water. We walked back and took another root to see the bakery. This building looks good, but we were not allowed to enter inside the building. Later we came back to the entrance. It took us 45 mins to go round the island. There are battery operated cars to take people around the island, but I suggest walking. In this way you can explore the things at your own pace. There were boards at every point giving the details of the place.

                   There is a small cottage built near the entrance to sit and enjoy the view. Here you can see few deer roaming around. We sat down on a bench and the view of the sea and North Bay Island is very beautiful. As a bonus we were able to see navy helicopter landing and taking off. It looked like they were training the pilot. The pilot was practicing to turn left, right, landing and taking off.

             It was time for us to report back to our boat. The boat person was also waiting for us. Now, the weather is very clear and the sun is out in all its glory. The water is sparkling due to the sun’s rays. We have started feeling hot and we were seating, as if we had bath. We started moving towards North Bay Islands. This is the place famous for water activities like scuba diving, sea walk, snorkeling, coral submarine, coral seeing. North Bay has an important lank mark – a light house. You can see this picture on an old Indian 20 rupee note. The journey to North Bay was 20 mins. From far you can see a lot of people wearing black gear and floating on the sea water. They were doing either scuba diving or snorkeling. The time was 11 A.m. by the time we reached North Bay. The driver has asked us to be back by 2 p.m. As soon as we got down we saw a boat with glass bottom. This boat will take you 2 – 3 km towards the sea and we can see corals from the glass bottom sitting comfortably in the boat. As my daughter sprained her back and was not in a position to go for sea walk we thought this will be a good experience to her. We got in to the boat. The boat person charged rs600 per person. After few mins in to the ride we could see colorful fishes swimming across. The boat person showed us the corals and their names. The only name I remembered is brain coral. It is folded like our brain and resembles the brain. The corals are of different colors and we can see colorful fishes moving around these corals. The ride was for 45 mins and it is worth the money. After coming back we were supposed to go for sea walk. There is no one to tell us where to go what to do. There was a lot of chaos , we waited and waited, after 30 minutes a person came and has asked us to be ready by 12.30. We told him we are all ready for sea walk. He said there are many people waiting for a sea walk and that we have to wait. Few people have cancelled the tickets as they had to board ‘Island explorer’. The good thing here is cancellation can be done anytime. They will refund your full amount. There was hardly any place to sit, there were temporary thatched huts and you will not get anything to eat or drink except for coconut water. So, it is advisable to carry food and water from your hotel. Even in Ross Island you will not get anything to eat.

                     We waited for our turn; in the mean time we saw people doing snorkeling and scuba diving. The best advantage Andaman has is that the coral reef starts from very near to shore. We can just walk in and go underwater, no need of any boat to take us to coral reef. Suddenly the person called out our names and said that the boat is ready to take us for a sea walk. We were all excited. There were 10 of us including adults and kids. The boat took us to an anchored big boat, here we showed our tickets and the person marked our number with a marker on our wrist. Later, we were asked to go to the first level for a briefing. The master told us tips to be followed during the sea walk. These tips came in very handy for us, so it is better to pay attention. After the briefing master has asked us if any of us had BP, diabetics and a list of diseases. People with any of the disease in the list were not allowed for the sea walk. He said the pressure will be very high below the sea and that it will be a risky situation. At this juncture we understood how important the health is to have fun in water sports. After the briefing they have again asked us to wait. This was the most painful thing waiting, waiting. My son is getting irritated and started troubling me with the question when will we get our turn. Sitting there I have imagined what if I have a disease and may be I am not aware of it, what if my ears block, will I be able to do this with my son. I thought of all the negative things possible. Then again our names were called out, the guard informed that we will be going in the next round. Again we thought we have to wait, but luck has it one of the boy went down and came up. He was afraid and did not want to go back, even after his mother’s assurance he didn’t wanted to go back. Then, one other lady came up, she said her ears were paining. This is how myself and son got to go. The guard again instructed us to leave the ladder as soon as they place the helmet. There will be a diver next to us and he will take us down. I got on to the ladder and left my hands as soon as they placed helmet on my head. The diver gracefully took me down the water, after going few meters down my ears were blocked, I could not see anything around. But I believed in my diver and just went down. It was only for a few minutes then everything was fine. Finally we reached sea bed. The diver asked me if everything was fine. I have replied that I was fine. I couldn’t believe that I was standing on a sea bed. There were 4 more people who came before us. It was difficult to balance as water pushes you up. I was swaying front and back. Keeping head straight is most important. The photographer was taking the pictures and colorful fishes were moving around us. Suddenly, I was delighted to see my son. It was such a huge relief, all the time I was bothered about him. He came and caught my hand. They took 10 mins for the photo session. Then we caught each other’s hands and formed a line. The divers took positions on both the ends and started walking slowly towards the reef. It was little difficult to walk under water. The coral reef was colorful and there were a lot of fishes moving around. Sometimes they will come and bit you, it feels like ticking. After 10 mins they took us to little further and showed us the pearl shell. The diver asked us to touch it. In the water it is a mirage effect, the things are little further than what we actually see. The diver slowly pull my hand asked to touch the pearl shell. I put my finger inside the shell and the shell closed suddenly. I could feel the hard shell on my finger. Later we saw the brain coral and other ones. The knowledge of the coral boat ride came handy. Then we were brought near to the ladder. The diver asked us to open the palm and give us fish food. I can feel fishes rushing and biting my hand. Then one by one we were all pulled up through the ladder. Ooooh we are back on the ladder and the guards removed the helmet. It was a wonderful feeling and my son was in all smiles. The walk lasted for a total of 20 mins. Immediately they said the boat was ready to take us back. We got into the boat, took our photos cd and were all set to go back. We went back, changed our clothes, dried ourselves, had coconut water. It is already 2 p.m. After waiting for 20 min our boat arrived. We got into the boat with wonderful memories. As the boat started moving it started to rain. We are in the middle of the way, on the sea and it was raining. Occasionally a tide came and hit the boat and salt water is splashed on our face. Due to rain and these tide for few minutes we were not able to open our eyes. Then it has stopped raining, we reached jetty, got down and settled in a wayside hotel for lunch. In the mean time we call up the sea link person and informed of the cancellation of one person for sea walk. The person came promptly asked for our sea walk photo cd, checked the number of persons written on the cd and gave us back the money. Cooool. After lunch we went back to the hotel, had a fresh water bath and relaxed for some time. It has started to rain outside. So, we planned to have dinner in the hotel itself. The most challenging part is to dry the wet clothes. We requested the hotel staff and dried them in our front balcony. After the dinner we went back to sleep as tomorrow will be a long day for us. The best part of our vacation is I haven’t allowed the kids to switch on the TV. In this way they were able to have good sleep and were active throughout the day.

May 25th Today we will be visiting Baratang limestone caves. They were located some 150 kms from Port Blaire. We have to travel by road to reach the forest gate, then again one and half hour drive through reserve forest and reach the jetty. Then cross the waters in a ferry, then get into the speed boat to reach the caves. My son was excited to see the Jarawa tribal people. We got up at 2.30 a.m. got ready by 3.30 a.m. We have asked for an early breakfast, so they have packed up our breakfast and handed it to us. By 3.50 a.m we were on our way to Baratang. It has rained last night and the roads were still wet. We passed through one by one sleepy villages. One the way we saw a lot of Shiva, Mariamma, Lakshmi and Ganesh temples(Hindu Temples). The road was bad some times and was ok some times. The lucky thing in Andaman’s is the sun rises by 4.30 a.m. So, with in an hour of our journey, the sun was up and in the morning light we could see the beauty of mountains covered in the mist, the tall trees and the greenery on the both sides of the road. We could feel that we are travelling up hill, then a plain journey and then the downhill, again it is the same thing. We were spellbound by the beauty of the place. After travelling for @ 2 hrs we reached the forest gate. We were awe struck that there were already 30 vehicles before us. Just wondering when these people must have started their journey to reach so early. Here we have to show our id proofs and get permission to enter the forest. My driver took care of that part while we sat in the vehicle and opened our breakfast. The hotel people have packed sandwiches, juice and a banana. After breakfast we wanted to use the rest room. Near to the forest gate there is a paid toilet. So, myself and my son went there paid rs10 and used the toilet. There was a long queue waiting to use the toilets. I have observed that there were 4 government bus near the gate, when enquired we were told that they are the regular service buses to the villages beyond the forest. I could read the name of the place as Diglipur. An armed police guard got into these buses and the forest guards allowed the vehicles to move. Before opening the gates the forest police made an announcement not to stop in the forest, not to take photos of the tribal, not to open the windows and not to feed them with any food. Slowly the vehicles started moving into the forest. After travelling a few kms, we came across a forest guard; he was guarding a tribal who has come out for his daily work. We could not see the tribal person. After 30 more minutes we saw another guard and my son saw a tribal person drawing something on the tree bark. Later like a cow boy movie we saw 3 tribal youth dressed up in a well-fitting shirt and pant walking on the road. When they passed by our car we were able to see their faces. They had applied white paint on their face, wore red beads band on their head. Their eyes were big and were bright and beautiful. They had a curly black hair. They looked very handsome. This made the passengers in the car to sit upright and watch for more. In the meantime the traffic from the opposite side has also started coming, they were travelling from Diglipur to Port Blaire. After travelling for one hour we reached the jetty. Here we have to take the ferry to cross over, this is the first time I am seeing cars, buses, lorries, milk vans transported through ferry.  We got on the ferry, the ticket for each person is rs10, it moved from one shore to the other shore. It was a good 10 min journey. Then, we got down from the ferry and waited to get into the speed boat. We were made into a group of 10 people and were asked to wear life jackets. By this time we have mastered the art of wearing the life jackets securely. Here also the police were checking the boat name and the list of the passengers. They were allowing the boats one by one. We got into the boat and started speeding towards Lime stone caves. It is a good experience to travel through mangrove creeks. We can see how strong the Mangrove roots are and how they anchor the plant strongly in the water.

         Luckily, the weather was cloudy and cool, the speed boats just danced on the water. After a good 30 mins we reached the place. We got down from the boat and walked on the wooden bridge. On the both sides of the bridge there were the mangrove creek. Walking on the wooden bridge was very comfortable, and there were few rest point to stop and rest. There is a check post and after that we have to walk on the sand. We walked through narrow passes, walked up the steeps formed by the tree roots, walked down the steps, walked on the wooden bridges. The trekking was good, but we were sweeting a lot. I was just wondering how to climb up these steep steps while returning back. At last we reached the plain area. Here we have small shops selling lime juice. We ordered for 3 sweet lime juice and had to pay rupees 30. Then again we have to walk 200 meters to reach the caves. It is very dark inside the caves, there were a lot of people inside the cave and there was a chaos. We forced our way inside and our guide showed us some interesting patterns in the caves. We saw inverted lotus bud, truck of an elephant, trees and other things. In the middle of the cave there is a wide opening on the top to let light and air in. We were inside the caves for 15 mins and started moving back. To my relief the return walk is not through those steep steps. Instead it was a walk on the plain ground. We reached the wooden bridge and walked towards jetty to catch our boat. Suddenly it has started to rain, we had to run back to the rest place for shelter. We were not carrying any umbrella. A few of the people had umbrellas and few had rain coats. After 10 mins the rain has stopped and people have started getting in to the boats. There was a lot of confusion the boat men were arguing over who came first, who came next. The passengers were also pushing each other to get in to boats. The way was very narrow and a small fault can be dangerous. We got in to the boat and were on the back journey. We had not carried any food and were feeling hungry. In 30 mins we reached the place. We got out of the boat and boarded the ferry again. We had some time in between and we purchased a pack of biscuits. After getting down from the ferry we got in to our car and started our journey to Port Blaire. Again the forest looked  beautiful and the journey was smooth. Suddenly, our driver pointed towards a cylinder lorry. The 5 tribal people we saw in the morning were sitting on the top of the bus. My son sitting in the front seat was excited to see so many of the tribal people. In the morning he said he wanted to see at least 10 tribal and looks like his wish is getting fulfilled. After driving for 30 mins we saw tribal women with a child sitting on a stone and eating a bun given by some passerby. The driver showed us the houses of the tribal which were on the higher elevation. The govt had built thatched houses for them. With all these excitement we reached the forest gate. The time was 12.30 p.m and we were hungry. So, went into a hotel and ordered for plain Dosa. There were not many options here. Veg thali, non veg thali or Dosa were only available. We pounced on the Dosa and it tasted very good. After lunch we walked up to a handicraft show room to collect a souvenir. There were well crafted art pieces in wood, shell. We bought a tribal face carved in a sea shell and also ear rings made of pearl shell. The prices were reasonable. Then again we started   our journey. It was raining heavily and we had to go really slow. We reached Port Blaire at 5 p.m. We went to our hotel, had a bath with warm water and then had to go to hotel restaurant for dinner. It was still raining heavily outside. After the event full day we went to bed with good memories.

May 26th: Today we will be travelling to Havelock, the beautiful island with the world’s 7th most beautiful beach. Our agent has booked our tickets in a private ferry ‘Green Ocean’. The ferry leaves at 12.30 p.m, We had all the time in the morning, we got up late, got ready leisurely, had our breakfast and then we were ready. The driver came at 10.30 a.m and dropped us at Haddo, jetty. The gates to the jetty were closed and when we asked the security, he said we cannot take the car inside and that we have to stand in the Queue to get inside. We took the luggage from the car and stood up in the line. After 5 mins the gates were opened. After you cross the gates there are push carts available to take the luggage inside. After putting the luggage in the cart and pushing the luggage, we realized that the carts wheels were not in a good condition and they were not moving. Again we took our luggage from the cart then pulled it along to the security. The surface of the road is not smooth, so it was difficult to pull the luggage. We showed our tickets and id proofs to the security at the main gate and went inside. The whole set up here is similar to an airport. There is a waiting lounge and then again we have to go for security check and then enter the boarding hall. Our entire luggage is screened before we entered the boarding hall. There were not many passengers in the hall. We took few good seats available and were watching a movie. After 20 mins the check in counter for Green ocean ferry was opened. We showed our tickets and they checked the ticket and had put a stamp. It was a strange feeling sitting and waiting, we are used to waiting halls in airport, bus stations and railway station, this is the first time we are in the sea station. From the window I can see the cruise, but was not sure if that was the one we had to board. Slowly, people started coming and as the time passed, it was crowded and then over crowded. There was a boarding announcement and suddenly people started rushing. We waited for few minutes for the queues to be shortened and then we passed through the boarding gate. Loooo. A mighty ship was waiting for us. We had to leave our luggage and then enter the cruise. There are three type of tickets in the cruise, the Deluxe, the Luxury and the Royal class. We had luxury tickets. We entered the cruise, sat in our seats. The cruise was almost full and every one kid, adults and old people are all exited. Everyone is moving around and taking photos. With great difficulty the cruise members made the passengers to sit as the cruise was about to start. With a typical big horn the cruise has started. As they do in flights, the crew demonstrated safety measures to be followed.  Passengers sat for some time and then everyone started moving around the cruise. They have started to a play Hindi movie and a few of them stayed back to enjoy the movie. Luxury class is on the same level as the sea, the deluxe class is below the deck and the Royal class is a small cabin and it is above the deck. There is a small canteen here selling Somasa’s, biscuits and other snack items. The prices are little expensive here. I stayed on the deck and was able to see the cruise racing through the sea. Occasionally I saw a flying fish, is that a flying fish, I have asked about it many times and asked my son, he came, saw and said it indeed was a flying fish. The sea is very calm and the cruise is just cruising on it. The sky was cloudy, and we had small drizzling every now and then. After 1 hr in to cruise the dance floor is opened on the upper deck. Good hindi songs were playing and people were dancing and were having good time. I spent most of the time on the deck looking at the sea. Every minute the water color looked different and such a majestic. No matter how much advancement we make in technology, we are still no equal to the elegance and majesty of nature. The total journey time was 3 hrs. We were able to see Elephant beach with sea plane, sofa ride and other rides anchored on the beach. The elephant beach is very near to Havelock and a lot of water activities are done here.

                       The cruise was anchored, and as usual people were in a hurry to get down. Our luggage was removed from the luggage cabin and was placed on the shore. We picked up the luggage and walked out. Our travel agent was waiting for us; we got in to the car and went to our hotel. It was 4 p.m by the time we reached the hotel. The hotel is just 5 mins from the jetty. It is a small hotel with all log cabins. We were given deluxe room on the first floor. The room was like a log cabin, it is quite big in my standards and it had a balcony. The bath room was also big and had a shower. Our balcony was facing the road and coconut grove beside the road. We were asked to get ready in 20 mins and we will be visiting Kalapather Beach. This beach is famous for its picturesque location, and is a good place to take photographs. I was not very keen to get into the beach, so I did not carry extra pair of clothes, but both of my kids were excited and changed into swim wear. The Kalapather beach is 15 mins drive from the hotel. The driver informed us that the beach will be closed by 5 p.m. So hurriedly we ran into the beach. This place looked like it is taken from a perfect picture painted by an artist. The sand is white, the water is azure green and the weather is perfect. There are change rooms available on the beach. They will charge you rs10 to use the rooms. My kids were jumping in the water and I just stood there looking at the waves and listening to the sound of the waves. There was a huge dried tree bark on the beach and this made the right place for the photographs. After jumping and running on the beach, the guards came and said that the beach is closed. We are no longer allowed to enter into the water, but we can stand on the beach. A couple spread a mat on the beach and just saw down looking at the sea in deep thoughts. We took few photographs and returned back to the hotel. There are few shops on the beach who were selling the handicrafts made of shells, wood.

                     We had a hot bath after reaching our room and dried our clothes in the balcony. Balcony is a blessing at these places. Around 6 o clock the hotel people called and said we have to order our dinner well in advance. So, we looked into the menu and ordered few veg items. But I have heard that in Havelock the sea food is really good, they have crabs, lobsters on their menu. We switched on the TV and watched the hindi movie Neeraja. At 7.30 p.m the hotel staff has informed us that our dinner is ready. We went for the dinner came back and had a good sleep.

May 27th:  Our schedule for the day is that we will be going for scuba diving @ 9.30 a.m and then visiting the jewel of the beaches ‘Radhanagar Beach’. We got ready by 8 a.m, had our breakfast. The breakfast is complimentary and had Paratas , upma, bread, coffee and tea. We were very excited and were talking about all if’s and but’s in scuba diving. The institute ‘Sea Links’ is very close to our hotel, just 3 mins drive. We reached the place and the guys at the reception gave us form to fill out. Along with the details of the person, the form had a long list of medical conditions and we will not be eligible for diving if we have ‘Yes’ to any one of them. We filled up the forms paid the money. We choose ‘Fun scuba diving’, it is  Rs 3500 per person. The money is non-refundable if we want to back out. After collection the forms from us, they gave us the scuba diving outfit and also provided a locker to keep our stuff. It is good to carry a towel, soap when coming for scuba diving. We changed into the outfit and were ready. We were given the names of the diver who will take us to diving. It is one to one diving training. The diving spot is just at the back of the institute. A person from the institute accompanied us.to the beach. Here we saw a lot of people getting prepared for the scuba diving and few doing snorkeling. The coral reef is very near to the shore, so there is no need of a boat to drop us at the diving spot. After completing the formalities, we waited for our diver. The crowd here is less than that in North Bay. After waiting for 15 mins our diver came and took us into the water. First they taught us on the signals to be used.as we cannot talk under water. They made us to practice the signals, then they gave us a mask for the eyes and nose. First, when I saw my kids with the mask I was little scared as their face has become red and they were gasping for breath. Slowly, they taught us how to breathe with mouth. Initially it was difficult, but slowly we got used to breathing from mouth. Then they showed us the equipment and told us how to use it. My initial feeling was that we will have a small mask to the nose and we have to breathe through it. But in real there are two small rubber pads which we have to keep in the mouth and hold tightly with jaws. There is a small breather from where the oxygen is taken in and breathed out. We slowly started practicing breathing through mouth, then our trainer asked us to kneel and breath under water. After initial few minutes we felt comfortable, it was easier to breath under water than outside the water. Then slowly we lied on our back and floated, later we moved the legs as if we were cycling and moved towards the sea. Slowly we have to turn on our belly and loooo… we are under the water. We could see the coral reef and colorful fishes passing by. My daughter was also besides me but I couldn’t see my son. There is a photographer under water who will take our photos. To be frank, this photo session is longer than moving around in the water. We need not swim or move our hand or legs. The diver who is with us catches our back belt and will move us along.

                         While taking the snaps I was able to see the colorful corals, some are blue, and some are yellow, some in brown and some in white. There was little water in my mask, there will be a button that will help to remove this water. Then we saw an eel hiding in the sand, beautiful fishes with white and yellow stripes. There fishes were quite large. Then slowly we moved around and slowly my jacket was inflated and I came above the water. I was very happy to see the sky and my son lying on his back near me. It was a great relief as all the while I was worried about my son. We spent 28 minutes inside the water and we have gone 12 meters deep. Slowly we moved towards the shore, removed our jackets and walked away with a life worth of memories. A little later my daughter also joined us, she was taken a little more deeper into the water. We thanked our diver and sharing our experiences we walked towards the institute. Here we had a shower and changed into our regular clothes and walked towards our hotel.

                     Our travel agent was waiting for us in the hotel, he asked us to get ready in 45 mins to go to RadhaNagar beach. We said we are ready and can start right now. We jumped into the waiting car and off we went for the beach. I read many good things about the beach. It is the worlds 7th best beach according to Time Magazine, many blogs that I have read also said that the beach is clean, the water is clear. The beach is about 10.5 Kms from our hotel. The ride was smooth and after travelling for half distance, we saw a board that says trekking route to elephant beach (1.5 kms). From here we can actually walk to Elephant Beach. When we asked our driver for details, he said no one takes this route. The weather was cloudy, it is drizzling slightly. We reached the beach in 10 mins. The driver dropped us and said he will be back # 3.30 p.m. We slowly walked towards the beach. The place is quite clean and there were shops to one side of the road selling handicrafts, t-shirts, fruits e.t.c. There are 3 – 4 hotels with a lot of sea food items on the menu. Vegetarians need not worry, these hotels also serve veg food. An arch welcomed the visitors to the beach. As we walked towards the beach, we felt like we were entering into some picture q location in some foreign country. The beach is so neat and beautiful. My kids just left me and ran into the water. They were already in their swim suits. I pleaded with them to wait so that I can change into swim wear. But nothing heeded them to come back. I told them to be careful and I went in search of change rooms. We need to walk for 5 mins to reach the change rooms. I was charged Rs10 to use the facility. There was a big q waiting to change their clothes. Looks like for a world famous beach we have to have few more change rooms. Just 5 rooms will not be sufficient for the crowd that is drawn to these beaches. After waiting patiently for 20 mins, I got a chance to change. I walked fast thinking about my kids. I put my backpack in the locker facility located at the beach. Then I also ran to join my kids. By this time they were enthusiastically jumping and chasing the waves.

              The weather is still cloudy and we are enjoying the waves and the green sea.  Suddenly, it has started raining and the height and the force of the waves has increased. Few people ran to take shelter from rain. But few adventurous people like us stayed on the beach and continued with jumping, falling on the waves. After 10 mins of rain, the sun came out and the water sparked like diamonds. The waves became little calm, few more people joined us in the fun and quite a few of them played kabadi .  For 3 hrs we played on the beach. Never realized how the time flew. Dragging last 5 mins to 1 hour it is time for us to leave and the kids were feeling hungry. We went back, changed into dry clothes and went in search of a good restaurant. There is one restaurant on the beach itself. It is on the first floor, quite elevated and gives a beautiful view of the beach, but they were serving only buffet here. So, we came out of the beach and went into street side hotel. There were quite a lot of people there waiting for their order to come. We settled in a corner table and my younger one went on and on with his experience on the beach. I choose vegetarian thali and my kids ordered from menu, but most of the items mentioned on the menu were not available. So, they settled for chapatti and curry. We had to wait long to get our order. Once the order came we were disappointed with the quality of food, the taste is ok, but all the curries were watery. After the lunch we went out in search of our car and driver. Our driver and car is not to be seen. We didn’t have the driver’s number to call him. We spent time buying some souvenirs. Surprising, though it is a tourist place, the items sold were not sky rocketed. The prices were very reasonable and the quality is good. The ear rings and neck chains made from pearl shell were very good. After completing shopping we went out to look for the car. Still there is no trace of our car and driver. Then we found a vehicle that belonged to our hotel. We went up to the driver and told him our car number and asked if he can find out when our car will be come. The driver spoke to our driver and said our driver is struck with a customer and offered to drop us at the hotel. So nice of him, that is the respect and value they give to tourists. Half way through we met our driver and moved into the car and reached hotel. My son kept on saying that time just flew in Havelock. We couldn’t believe that we had already completed two nights in Havelock. After reaching hotel we had a bath with warm water. We ordered our dinner as we have to inform them at least 1 hr before, we settled to watch the final of IPL between SRH and CSK.

                        We received a call from reception that our dinner is ready. We went down to have our dinner. It was raining and the place was damp. After dinner we came back and then went off to sleep.

May 28th: Today our last day in Havelock. According to the plan we have to vacate the hotel by 8 a.m, then keep our luggage in the car and go to visit Elephant beach have lunch in the beach, from there we have to catch the cruise back to Port Blaire. The cruise leaves @ 3.30 p.m and we have to report at least 1 hr before.  Our hotel had a policy that no matter at what time you check-in, the check-out time is 8 a.m.

             When we woke up in the morning the weather was sunny and we were happy to see sun after a long time. But in 10 mins everything changed. It became cloudy and started raining heavily. It was windy also. If the weather is windy then the boat between Havelock and elephant beach doesn’t ply. Now, we lost all the hope to visit elephant beach. We requested hotel manager to allow us to stay till 11 a.m. He has agreed for the request and we stayed backed in the hotel waiting for the rain to stop. After 1 hr the rain has stopped, so we thought we will go around the place. There were rented 2 wheelers available. They charge you rs 500 per day and you can have it for a day. None of us know how to drive 2 wheeler so we caught an auto and went to the market place. The driver charged us rs50. We reached the market place, there were few shops here, to be precise 10 shops small and big. One of it is a Kashmiri handicrafts shop. We went into the shop to check the items. We wanted something to our family members back home. Though this shop is small, there were a lot of things stocked from handicraft elephants, boat to shawls, hand bags to kurtha’s. The shop keeper said that the foreigners visit the place during Oct to Nov month and he will have good sales during those months. We picked up a good shawl, a cloth handbag, a very elegant woolen poncho. Then we just strolled around the place and walked up and down the street. There is a good footpath on both the sides of the road; this road leads to Kalapather beach. We walked for some


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