My long cherished dream of visiting Andaman & Nicobar Islands came true when together with close family friends we decided to herald my husband’s 60th birthday at Port Blair. July is not the best of times to visit Port Blair because of the rains but as the Hindi song goes Jahan chaar yaar mil jayein wahin raat ho gulzaar… (in this case teen yaar) we went ahead with our plan.
Between the time we booked our tickets through an agency called Travel Triangle and actually boarded the flight, we kept getting conflicting comments from all sides. The last caller from another agency said there were chances of our having to forego a trip to Havelock due to inclement weather. But what can dampen the spirit of die-hard wizened men and women who were hell bent on a ‘destination birthday’.
We settled for Destiny Holidays and they went ahead with making our bookings.
So off we went to Port Blair on the designated day excited like little children and a prayer on our lips for good weather (just like people who are about to turn 60 should do). Of course the prayers got vigorous every time there was turbulence during the flight. The turbulence of the mind and the flight over, we landed at Port Blair and were met by Durga, our driver on duty who took us to Sinclair Bayview Port Blair, lovely property with rooms overlooking the brilliant blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. The ever smiling Eswar, our contact from Destiny Holidays (which had done our bookings here) gave us our day’s itinerary.
Our first stop of the day was the Samudrika Naval Marine Museum that houses a variety of fish and corals. A quiet and beautifully maintained place, it gave an insight into not just marine life but also the history, geographical information and about the people (the various tribes) of Andaman. Sitting in the lobby area, one can watch a beautiful film on Andaman & Nicobar Islands helmed by veteran actor Tom Alter.
Our next halt was the Cellular Jail. All my growing up years I had read and heard about Kala Paani. Images from all the patriotic Hindi films I had watched in childhood flashed before my eyes. I actually walked into the complex expecting to see a dark and dingy place echoing with anguished cries of all the people who were housed there for years. But what we walked into was a bright, sunlit courtyard with an occasional dark cloud crossing over. Originally the building had seven wings at the centre of which was a tower with a large bell manned by guards. Each wing had three stories and each solitary cell was about 15 feet by about 9 feet with a single window at a height of over 9 feet. The wings were built like the spokes of a bicycle and the front of one wing overlooked the back of the other so there was no way a prisoner could communicate with another. Out of the seven only three remain. The rest have been turned into a hospital and government offices. The cell in which Veer Savarkar (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar) was housed has his rough blanket, a bowl, his heavy bed, etc to show how the inmates lived. His cell overlooked the hanging yard.
Walking through the cells and the hanging yard actually gave goose pimples at the thought of being confined inside a place from where there is no escape. Later in the evening we sat through a sound and light show which had voice overs by veteran actors late Manohar Singh, Tom Alter and late Om Puri.
The next morning we left for Havelock Island. I went with some trepidation for I have a fear of water. The ferry ride was smooth and by the time we finished breakfast the ride was over and we were at the Island. That was not so bad, I thought.
At Havelock we checked into Havelock Island Beach Resort, another resort on the beach but our rooms were not sea facing here. A quiet place, the island does not offer much for sightseeing except for the beaches – Radha Nagar, Elephant and Kaala Patthar beaches. The added attraction here is water sports, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Much to the chagrin of the men, there are no liquor shops in Havelock. Liquor is banned here. You can’t even bring liquor into Havelock. Some of the hotels that have a license sell it for exorbitant rates. Something our guys found out at a high cost – a bottle of Black Label for Rs 8000. But then what is a holiday without liquor, right?
Radha Nagar Beach is all white sand and blue water. It is so beautiful and clean that we ended up just walking on the beach with the water swirling at our ankles. Elephant Beach was closed. Kaala Patthar beach was also quiet and clean. And then came snorkeling. My fear of water and also the fact that I did not know swimming was weighing on my mind. But everyone was game so I also gave in and I am glad for it. Watching marine life at such close quarters was an out of the world experience. We came back feeling overwhelmed. We were wondering if it was so beautiful near the shore how much more amazing it would be a little more into the sea.
Did I say earlier that our ferry ride to Havelock was not so bad? Well, our return journey to Port Blair put paid to that thought. The sea was choppy (for us) but officials in the ferry said it was calm sea and the choppiness was because we were riding against the wind. Our stomachs revolted and it was almost as though we were on a roller coaster ride. We were partly to blame for the uneasiness – we had stuffed ourselves before getting on to the ferry. Moral of the story: Never get into a ferry on a full stomach. Otherwise you will be holding a bag to your mouth while everyone else enjoys the ride!
I don’t know if I have ever loved land as much as I did that day when after about two hours we stepped on solid surface. If my stomach was not on revolt mode I may have embarrassed myself and all else by kissing the ground!
Tonight was also celebration night. It was my husband’s birthday. The reason why we were here.
Throughout our trip we were a little disappointed by the food we ate at the hotel, a restaurant, etc. Considering it is a coastal area we were expecting to come across some amazing fish. Or maybe we didn’t go to the right places to eat. The one thing that we enjoyed to the hilt was puchkas (golgappas). It was totally different. The roadside in Port Blair is littered with these puchka sellers and they have designated areas and times. They sit in shifts. There is a morning guy and then there is the evening one. Unlike the puchka (read: golgappa) sellers in Delhi who serve at break neck speed, the ones here serve at a languid pace. And you can choose to have a puchka without the paani (water). In which case a dash of salt is added to it.
Five days later when we were sitting at the airport for our return flight we looked at each other and laughed – rain did not play spoilsport. Thank God!