Fernweh… the first time I came across the term I immediately fell in love with it. The power of words is often underestimated, a commodity used less, not enough or maybe more than required. Every word carries a certain amount of accountability with it.. and consecutively each word holds within itself a magnitude of power. I believe its crucial each person finds their “word”, I believe mine is “fernweh”. The longing and painful desire to be some place I don’t know yet, to experience some thing I never have before.. and there are very few places that ignite the core of this storm within me. One such please was Andaman Islands, a magical land furiously challenging the Indian ocean everyday and sustaining in the only way it knows how- through persistence. And then, one day.. I was there.
My trip to Andaman Islands was full of surprises, and experiences that have still not evacuated that space of longing in my head. It has been a month since a got back to my beloved busy city of Traffic and speed, lights and WiFi , and yet A see myself seeking the stars that i seemingly left behind in the Andamans. The islands have the tendency to land you in an existential crisis, coherently making the concept of keeping up with Time a challenge. Vacuum drives philosophy, and since I’am already one to philosophize more than necessary, in Andaman my imagination caught FIRE!
A number of people asked me why I was heading to Andaman for 6 full days. I usually forget to sleep or shop and almost never turn to the usual touristy activities when I’m out to explore a new place..For me its all about seeing all that the place possibly has to offer and attaining a level pf peace within myself where I can confidently and without any excuses convince myself that I didn’t visit, i existed.. like I belonged there.
6 days on the island convinced me that no amount of time will ever be enough to watch the infinite stars, dive into the open ocean, trek through mushy forests and indulge into emerald blues at the end of every route, no matter where it leads. Andaman Islands is a lone ranger, standing tall and proud in the middle of a vast, angry ocean.
My trip included visits to Port Blair- the capital, Ross Island, Neil Island and Havelock! Lying at the North- Western edge of the Island, Port Blair comes with its fair share of tourism-centric day to day activities. a small almost unreal toy town, the city is predominantly inclusive of the navy base with their holdings and base camps occupying a major part of the town. Port Blair is a small town mainly centered around the water sports complex where most of the tourist activities take place. This is where the main jetty is from where one can embark on a ferry to jet off to one one of the neighboring islands- Ross Island or North Bay Island and more. A number of things that one must not miss when in Port Blair include the following.
A visit to the Cellular Jail
Port Blair is home to the stoic Kala Pani jail, famous for unspeakable horrors and ironically standing in the midst of the most beautiful expanse of golden blue one would ever have the luxury of laying eyes on.
“Hello Prisoner. Welcome to the cellular jail. We tame lions here. Do you see these walls? Do you know why they are so low? Because no one can ever escape from here. And Now, Look at me. Over here, I Am God.- David Barry (Jailer)
Almost spearheading this topic is the Cellular jail. The prison that has stood testimony to a monstrous past has endured its own set challenges to sustain and exist. Subjected to massive destruction when bombed by retreating Japanese forces and consecutively hit by major natural disasters which reduced the once towering structure from 7 to 3 wings as of 2016.
The jail was famous for its status of an exile prison where notorious criminals and gradually relevant freedom fighters were sent in order to live out their last days.
Walking past the cells of Vir Vinayak Savarkar, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Nani Gopal Mukherjee, Nand Kumar, Putin Das and more and hearing of the atrocities they endured all in the name of freedom for their country was a moving experience. How many of us in today’s times would be able to commit to a cause like they did, How many would actually be as selfless as them in this time where everyone is driven by greed, ambition and money. A change in perspective is sometimes necessary, and a trip down memory lane in a place which speaks volumes can do wonders. the top tower offers spectacular views of the open sea and neighboring smaller islands while the government has sent up a huge hospital in place of the fallen wings of the jail, destroyed during the Japanese war bombings and in honor of the comrades who lost their lives there.
However, what was supposed to stand as a structure of unspeakable torture instead became a beacon of silent resilience and ultimate courage as the batch of “revolutionary freedom fighters” came, saw and conquered.
The trials and tribulations endured by the inmates, the lives sacrificed, the brutalities endured under Jailer David Barry are all on display and in the winds that echo from one cell to another. If visiting the jail, make sure you complement the visit with the light and sound show which takes place every evening at 6 Pm and 7 Pm respectively.
A visit to Corbyn’s Cove
Away from the hustle bustle of the small town of Port Blair, on the non-tourist end lies a serene, small beach called Corbyn’s cove. A relatively peaceful evening would include a gorgeous view of the sky, sea and “snake island”- smallest island of Andaman in the distance. The beach is usually dominated by locals playing football and families enjoying a stroll along the clear waters. The beaches in Andaman are lush with stalls selling coconut water, fruits and instantly cooked foods in returnable containers. The beach is gorgeous and good for a few hours of respite but it is the drive to the cove that truly steals the show. The drive is immensely stunning and all the way by the sea. The road is a thin route sandwiched between the mountain and the sea and provides spectacular views of the coastline until one reached the beach.
The Water Sports Complex
The sports complex is located right by the jetty and is home to all water sports activities possible in Port Blair. The Sports activities take place in the neighboring North Bay Island and include Snorkeling, Scuba Diving and Sea Walking. When driving past the highs and lows of the city, don’t forget to watch out for the massive swimming pool located on top of a bridge at the water sports complex, visible to the naked eye against the sharp backdrop of the open sea itself.
I would highly recommend sea-walking at the Water sports complex in Port Blair, which would take place at the North Bay Coral island. However, I would advise Scuba diving to be done only in Havelock. Its pristine gorgeous reefs remain unmatched and truly divine.
A day’s trip from Port Blair, Ross Island is probably my number 1 rated destination in and around Port Blair. Ross Island has a solitary history, one could even call it dark and tumultuous.
I may not be necessarily talking about the war bombing or the earthquake that devastated any hint of infrastructure or potential life on the small Island. The British sepoys loved this little Island and used it to build clubs and halls and even the Viceroy’s bungalow which stood at the very top of it providing spectacular views of the open Indian ocean.
However, they underestimated the proximity of the little mass of land to the open ocean and this became more prominent than ever when the Ross Island was directly hit by the Tsunami, holding off the force and bearing the brunt of the impact thus saving the entire city of Port Blair which lies directly behind it. The Ross Island was devastated and what remains today are creepy and dark hollows where once life thrived.
The area is completely desolated except the navy camps which is mainly uninhabited. the Island is home to hoards of deer, peacocks and other wildlife. It is however, prohibited to stay here after 5 PM. The island has the remains of a cathedral in the center, a cemetary with the graves of women and children who died of Malaria when the island was hit by an epidemic and the famous grave of 22 year old Lawrence.
Rumor and folklore has it that the cries of the women and children can still be heard at night. I may not be a believer but the thrills that chill down my spine when visiting a place that may have some multi dimensional planes are hard to ignore. The front face of the island is evidence of remarkable town planning by the Britishers and its sole satisfying to see the deathly remains of a once upon a time swimming pool lying by the open sea, the water loading house and the hospital all standing in despair and in remembrance of their prime glory.
The entire time in Andaman, we stayed with the TSG group of hotels and consecutively landed in the TSG emerald and TSG grand resorts of Port Blair. The service was immaculate and the locations absolutely strategic. The first day in Port Blair we were caught in a torrential rain storm and what happened as a result of that goes down in memory as one of the best travel experiences I have had.. We walked through the entire land of Ross Island in the rain, crusading through the wind and not letting the pouring torrents dampen our spirits of adventure in any way possible! Thus we walked through the alleys and dungeons of Ross and came out absolute champions. The icing on the cake being a stunning rewarding view of the Indian ocean from the Navy High point.
Next we moved on to Havelock. Sweet Havelock where dreams come true, where magic resides and where my I left my heart. But before that, a few snippets from my explorations in Port Blair..