Go there from Rajiv Gandhi Water Sport Jetty by boat 90 Rupies return last boat back at 4.30 pm. The former headquarter of the British was destroyed by a earthquake 1941, today with completely overgrown buildings some only still standing by the obergrowth
The next morning finds us in a private speedboat to Ross Island, half an hour away. This was earlier the ‘Paris of the East’, so well-maintained and so well-laid out was the place. However, after an earthquake, the place was abandoned in favour of Port Blair. It now lies in ruins with nature reclaiming its lost land, save for a few buildings which house naval facilities. You take the Ross Trail up. To your left is the Chief Commissioner’s bungalow, to your right is the Ross Pond and straight ahead to the top is the Presbyterian Church. From there you turn right and come down to the Cemetery. Thereafter, you continue towards the edge of the island until you come to a Japanese bunker. On the way you will see a few more buildings in utter ruins and an equally ruined bore well.
The Japanese bunker is a marvel in planning and strength. There must have been a huge gun to attack enemy ships below. A labyrinth structure is in place to ward off any enemy attack. A sudden heavy shower put paid to any further exploration of this once splendorous place.
The next spot was the North Bay Island but the squall had made the sea choppy. We, therefore, merely skirted this island and carried on to Viper Island, a distance of 30 minutes by the speedboat. This is the place where the gallows still stand, the gallows that ended the life of Sher Ali who had killed Lord Mayo in 1872. The gallows stand on a lonely hilltop inside a red brick-walled building. The huge beam from where the rope hung is still in good shape despite the vagaries of nature, true to its padauk character. This is yet another spot which all Indian citizens should pay homage to for the ultimate sacrifice paid by those fearless freedom fighters. We finally got off at Chatham Island, paid off the speedboat and returned to Port Blair by vehicle in time for a late lunch.
The evening was a relaxed one with a stroll along the lighted Marine Bay. This place resembles the Queen’s Necklace of Mumbai in miniature. At certain spots, it is delightful to stand and get thoroughly soaked by the shower of water as the might ocean breaks against the stoic shore.
The next day, go to Wandoor Jetty and from there to Jolly Buoy Island. The road from Port Blair to Wandoor is undulating, full of greenery and a pleasant drive. At times, the terrain gets hilly as you encounter windy roads like those in a hill station. The greenery is a visual treat for the weary eyes of a city dweller. On either side of the road you will see the trapped waters of the tsunami of 2004. Owing to these salty ocean waters, no cultivation is now possible here. The drive from Port Blair to the Wandoor jetty is about 40 minutes.
At Wandoor jetty you are transferred to a smaller boat to take you to a larger one. We were taken to the ‘Wind Rider’, which has a capacity of approximately 100 passengers. A lot of time was wasted being ferried from the Wandoor jetty to the smaller boat and from there to a larger ship. If the length of the jetty could be increased, one could hop in directly to the larger ship, thereby being able to spend more times at Jolly Buoy. At Jolly Buoy also, you will be transferred from the ship to a smaller boat which will take you to the beach (TIP: Line up as soon as you see the Jolly Buoy Island to exit from the rear of the ship). A smaller boat takes barely 20 (twenty) passengers at a time. The ship ride is about 40 minutes.
Once you are at Jolly Buoy, you can snorkel or watch the beautiful corals from a glass-bottomed boat. As you will have less than 2 hours, you are hurried along and cannot full enjoy the beauty of this island but the visit is truly worth it. One would have liked to explore the dense vegetation and the beach a bit more but the ship hoots and you are bundled back. (TIP: Carry you lunch and water along as there are no cafeteria on Jolly Buoy. Also, no plastic is allowed. Your bags are checked at the Wandoor jetty for plastic bags).
Once you are back at Wandoor jetty, you could visit the Wandoor beach which is next door. The recommendation is, don’t. After the pristine Radhanagar beach and the equally pure Jolly Buoy beach, this one is a non-starter. Rather, carry on to Chariya Tapu to view the iridescent sunset. The distance is 13 kms and should not take you more than a half hour. On the way, you will cross Birch Gunj Military Station as well as Burma Nalla. A few Japanese bunkers can still be seen at Burma Nalla. At Chariya Tapu, there is a small Biological Zoo as well as Mundapahar beach. There are talks of building a ropeway here. From Mundapahar beach back to Port Blair should take about 45 minutes.
The next day, visit the Cellular Jail. If you are an Indian citizen, it is a homage to be paid to all those valiant freedom fighters who cared nothing about their personal safety or their lives as they battled the might of the British Empire with their bare hands and pure idealism. The construction of the jail itself and the inhuman torture inflicted on the inmates are so devilishly planned that you are left wondering if these are the same race of people who devised the game of cricket.
Each block of the seven radiating blocks, consisting of three floors, face the back of the next block so that an inmate never saw his compatriot except at work. Each cell is only 13 feet by 7 feet with a heavy iron door, the handle of which is such that when locked, the prisoner can never attempt to unlock it. This was solitary confinement at its most brutal. Each block needed only three sentries for guarding the three floors as the sentry could stand at the hub and watch the entire wing radiating out. With three more sentries maintaining a watch from the roof as well as working the large bell whenever there was an execution, a total of 24 sentries were enough to guard all the inmates. There are a total of 663 cells. Therefore the name, Cellular Jail.
After you buy your ticket, you can view the photographs of the martyrs and a brief history of their activity. This could take you 30-40 minutes. As you enter the premises of the jail, you are told that there are four witnesses to the sufferings of the inmates, viz., the tree on your left, the watch tower straight ahead of you on top, the eternal sun and the silent moon. The flogging block stands straight ahead of you, the gallows and the place for the last rites are to your right and the work shed is in the middle. The museum to your right as you enter the block, may be kept for your viewing on your return. The museum contains the types of punishment clothes the inmates were forced to wear as well as the different types of iron fetters that were put on them as punishment as they worked. (TIP: Take an authorised guide from near the booking counter. He will tell you a lot more than what the pamphlets and books on tourism contain. He will not charge you more than Rs. 150/-). The light and sound show in the evening is a must of course. (TIP: Go a bit early and occupy the very last row of seats. Not only is the light effects better from that vantage place but also the roof of the VIP enclosure just behind you will protect you).
Your next stop could be the Zonal Anthropological Museum, which contains the history of the inhabitants of the island. It houses a shop from where you could pick out VCDs on the island and on the Cellular Jail as well as some books, pamphlets and curios.
Early next morning, we tried to catch the sunrise from the hotel beach but the clouds played spoilsport. Anyway, after a sumptuous breakfast, dressed in shorts and slippers and carrying swimming trunks, we proceeded to Elephant Island. We took a speedboat to this island from the nearby jetty. Along the way you pass a lighthouse as well as a large tree the roots of which form a unique pattern against the cliff.
We thought we were early but the beach already had its fair share of early risers. It’s a quiet enough place with its distinctive white sand. We saw some fantastic corals from a glass-bottomed boat. Some of the large driftwoods are so appealing that you wonder what Nature intended them to mean. Further along the beach, you get to discover some unique pieces of seashells. (TIP: Take your lunch and plenty of water. There’s no food stall here on Elephant Beach).
From there itself, visited Radhanagar Beach (Beach No. 7), rated as one of the best beaches in Asia by ‘Time Magazine’. This beach is truly unspoilt as yet. This is a long stretch of land with no shacks and only white sand. Towards the left, you walk waist-deep in the water to reach the adjoining beach. To the right, the beach goes on and on. This is paradise on earth. The setting sun provides a perfect backdrop for some fantastic photos. (TIP: The sun sets early in this part of the world. At 4 pm its bright and warm; by 4.30, its dusk and by 5 pm, it gets pitch dark. This is December last week and January-first week experience). A discreet cafeteria (ground floor kitchen; first floor restaurant) serves tea and snacks.
The two hours’ flight from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, to the Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair is hardly the time to doze off or fall asleep. The view from the aircraft window is a magnificent one with the clouds below you and the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal further down. The scene below resembles a cotton field in full bloom against a blue background. It is difficult resisting the urge to snap a few quick photos of the heavenly canvas outside.
On landing, we made our way through the usual tumult and cacophony, collected our baggage and caught the nearest vehicle to take us to the jetty from where ships leave for Havelock Island. The distance between the airport and the jetty is hardly thirty minutes.
‘M.V. Macruzz’ is one of the ships that takes you across. It travels at a speed of 22 knots and covers the 29.5 nautical miles between Port Blair and Havelock Island in about 90 minutes. This ship was commissioned on 07/10/2009 and carries a total number of 280 passengers - 8 seats in the Royal Class (fare is Rs. 1,100/-), 64 seats in the Deluxe Class (fare is Rs. 850/-) and 208 in the Premium Class (fare is Rs. 750/-). The fares are as of December, 2010. (TIP - The best seats for a clear view is row 17, ‘M’ &’N’. While booking, request for these seats). Once on Havelock Island, we went straight to ‘The Wild Orchid’ and fell onto our beds totally exhausted by the long trip.
After almost a century of ruling the islands of Andaman and Nicobar from this tiny 'island citadel' the settlers were shaken by a massive earthquake on 26 June 1941. The majestic buildings damaged by the tremor were a sign of events to follow. There was also imminent danger to the British settled here from the advance of the Japanese forces during World War II. Thus they started withdrawing to the mainland and by 1942 Ross Island was almost deserted.
In May 1942 the Japanese forces occupied the islands, and under their control Ross was given a more military look, with bunkers and small military installations being constructed, mainly out of material extracted from the demolition of already existing structures. The Japanese control lasted for almost 3 years until the British regained it after the end of the war.
This is the graveyard of the British people stationed on Ross during it's heyday. Much like the graveyard in Calcutta, there are a large number of grave inscriptions showing the deaths of very young men and women, and often children too, including a baby who only lived for 22 hours. Despite there being no malarial mosquitos here, the climate was still not all that healthy for Europeans at that time.
The Andaman Islands were hit quite badly by the Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. According to the BBC news website, the entire landscape of the archepelago was substantially altered, with new land masses appearing to the north, and mangroves and coral reefs collapsing and disappearing in the south-east.
In this photo, you can just see how the sea wall has collapsed on to the beach. It's not the best evidence of the damage, but little was obvious when we visited (Mar 2009).
The Chief Commissioners Bungalow was described in 1923, in a letter from the then Chief Commissioner, Col Ferror, thus:
"The house is very attractive - down stairs a large hall, my office and miscellaneous godowns. A fine staircase with a wooden gallery all around the top and upstairs a very fine ballroom, drawing room and most spacious verandas forming rooms in themselves some 7 or 8 bed rooms. The whole thing in wood, brown teak panelling or some 10 feet and above that colour-washed much good furniture, but much also very bad wooden floors with rugs and mats strewn about it."
This rather glamorous looking staircase down to the main path is today all that remains.
While wondering around Ross Island, we saw lots of deer, most of which were shy and skittish, but there were a few lying in the sun near the entrance who were quite happy to be petted! We also caught glimpses of peacocks, but never close enough to photograph!
"The Presbyterian church was a Protestant church built of stone, and the windows and frames made of Burma teak. The glass panes behind the altar were made of beautifully etched stained glass from Italy. The quality of the wood was so good that it survived the vagaries of weather for over a hundred years. A small structure south of the church was built to accommodate the parsonage."
From a sign next to the church. The church's roof is now missing, and the banyan trees have enveloped much of the rest of the structure.
As you proceed down the paths that lead you further into the once thriving settlement, you come to this club building, the Subordinate's Club, which is where the junior British officers used to gather of an evening. The second storey is all but gone now, and I could only wonder about the activities here when this tiny island was known as the 'Paris of the East'.
As this sign, at the Power House on Ross Island, shows, Nature has dual roles here - Protector and Destroyer. You can see the truth of this wherever you roam on Ross, plants forcing their way through buildings, tearing them apart, and in other places, trees supporting the remains of other buildings, and protecting them from the elements under their canopies. As you can see in the second photo, the Power House is almost entirely held up by the entwined aerial roots of these trees.
The Port Blair Anthopological Museum houses a decent collection of material culture and photographs of the tribal inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are reconstructions of the various types of buildings used, weapons, clothing and jewellry, and even an entire canoe from Little Andaman. There are lots of informative notices, and several maps showing the distribution of the tribes... and which tribes are still in existance. It's possibly a little old-fashioned in terms of presentation, but still well worth a look. It also has quite a nice little shop.
The museum is open from 09:00 to 12:00 hrs and 13:00 to 16:00 hrs except on Mondays and public holidays. Entry was 10 INR in 2009