Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A peep into the Emerald Islands

After a little bit of contemplation, I had decided to head to the Andaman Islands for my honeymoon.

Day 1 – Port Blair:

Port Blair was our ‘base’ for the initial part of our journey. Port Blair has nothing to write home about as a tourist location. You get very good rates for hotels, and the food is very nice – pretty much like the rest of India, but it isn’t a significant tourist spot. The Carbyns Cove beach is very ordinary. The Cellular Jail has a great background to it, and the Lights & Sounds show was ‘different’, if not amazing. Other tourist infrastructure in Port Blair is truly lagging compared to western standards.

What I really hated about Port Blair is the crowd, which is the point of differentiation between Indian tourist locations and elsewhere. People keep staring at you, and since there are a lot of people in Port Blair, privacy is literally non-extant. And of course, you have that leany-meany bunch of youth in their striped greenish yellow jeans that hang all over the place intruding into everything they see. I hated this bit.

Day 2 – Ross Island, Viper Island and North Bay:

Ross Island was awesome. An erstwhile penal colony, it’s an amazing smallish little island full of coconut trees and nice little beaches.

Viper Island was boring. A yet another Tsunami stuck island with an official population census of one man. An inspiring speech from the tourist guide did nothing to spirit up the sun-burnt sweaty existence.

North Bay has an amazing little beach and beautiful corals. And you are supposed to do snorkeling there. But wait a minute. Where should one change ones clothes? People do it behind trees and run-down huts. If the Government is serious about tourism and it’s revenue potential, why can’t build some decent changing rooms with shower etc – and charge money for using them?

Day 3 & 4 – Havelock Islands

Havelock (92 sq. km) was finally THE place for tourism in Andaman. Almost totally isolated and underdeveloped, it has very fine white sands and amazing emerald beaches, and - hold your breath - very, very less people. Radhanagar beach in Havelock was just amazing in its size and beauty. And there were hardly 10 tourists, mostly foreigners. Havelock is the place in Andaman. You get neat villas with private beaches to stay overnight for charges Rs. 1000 to Rs. 4000.

The Elephant Beach in Havelock is even more splendid due to the corals. Inaccessible by road, you have to take a private jetty to the beach, which costs Rs. 1500. Reach the place, and all you have is the beach. The cost also gets you a guide and snorkeling gear. It was my first snorkeling experience. Watching the hundred-colored corals and thousands of amazing fishes moving among them, in their own natural ambience, was straight out of the National Geographic. I could go there a thousand times again. Corals were beyond beautiful. It made Havelock picture perfect.

Day 5 – Jarawa tribes, and the Baratang Islands

Sometimes, you have to admit that the things you get to see in India are truly not possible elsewhere. Baratang island is a 100 miles away from Port Blair. You get to move through tribal reserve forests in convoys flanked by police. We got a chance to look at the Jarawa tribes. 4 feet tall, pitch black, with spears, harpoons, axes, dancing with sticks holding dead pigs, they are the truly tribal. They don’t like mingling with “us” the developed humans. Past encounters have left many humans dead.

Jarawas live in the jungle, eat jungle food and haven’t seen civilization. You are not supposed to talk to them (because you can’t), offer them food (because cooked food is not good for their health), communicate (you may end up sounding hostile) or photograph (they could bow-arrow you!). They are arguably humans, but they haven’t developed the immunity to human diseases since they’ve never interacted with humans. You get the idea. If you want to understand how humans lived 2000 years ago, come down here.

The rest of the trip was taking a boat through Amazon-type Mangrove forests supposedly containing crocodiles, and watching stalactites, stalagmites and live mud volcanoes. The Rs. 10,000 we spent for Day 5 was worth every bit, more so for seeing the Jarawas.

All said, the weather (scorching sun belting 32 degrees in mugging humidity) was a killer, Port Blair and its crowds were spoilers, but Havelock and Baratang more than suppressed the negatives.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Checkout the 'OUT campaign'

Audacious, to say the least.