Port Blair

When we were planning our honeymoon and I thought we wouldn’t be able to go outside India, we had thought of going to Andaman islands. But later, Rishi surprised me with a trip to the Maldives for our honeymoon. He still wanted to go to Andaman since he had researched about it, so he later decided to go on a family trip there.

Day 1 – 4 January 2022

We had an early morning flight so we left our house at 2am. We had our flight to Port Blair via Chennai. By the time we reached Port Blair, we were tired & sleep-deprived.

When we reached Port Blair, there was a line to show vaccine certificates at the airport. All of us had the certificate from Cowin except for Rishi who had a Vaccine Certificate from the Netherlands. His certificate was not accepted and they asked for an RT-PCR test. We had not read about this specific policy of Andaman as everywhere else in India the vaccine certificate had been enough. Since we had not done the RT-PCR test before coming to Andaman, he was taken to the test centre while the rest of us went to the hotel.

Papaji had booked his Bank of India holiday home which had quite spacious rooms. While we settled in our rooms, Rishi arrived from the test centre. We took some rest before going for lunch and sightseeing.

We went to Cellular Jail in the evening. The Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī (lit. ’Black Water’), was a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. The prison was used by the British government to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. Many notable freedom fighters, including Diwan Singh Kalepani, Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, Yogendra Shukla, Batukeshwar Dutt, Babarao Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand, Shadan Chandra Chatterjee and Sohan Singh, Hare Krishna Konar, Shiv Verma, and Sudhanshu Dasgupta were imprisoned here during the struggle for India’s independence. Today, the complex serves as a national memorial monument. The building had seven wings, at the centre of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates. Each of the seven wings had three stories upon completion. There were no dormitories and a total of 696 cells. Each cell was 4.5 by 2.7 metres (14.8 ft × 8.9 ft) in size with a ventilator located at a height of 3 metres (9.8 ft). The name, “cellular jail”, derived from the solitary cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. Also, the spokes were so designed such that the face of a cell in a spoke saw the back of cells in another spoke. This way, communication between prisoners was impossible. They were all in solitary confinement. The locks of the prison cells were designed in such a way that the inmate would never be able to reach the latch of the lock. We took a guide who told us about the history and architecture of the jail in detail.

Rishi had also booked tickets for the Light & Sound Show in Cellular Jail. The history of the Andaman Islands and the Cellular jail is depicted vibrantly through a Sound & Light Show every evening in the premises of Cellular Jail. It was a serene experience. Rishi had missed a few calls from some unknown number during the show. We didn’t think about it much at the time.

We then went to Veer Savarkar Park which is situated in front of the cellular jail. It hosts many freedom fighters’ statues along with Savarkar. We stayed there for 15-20 minutes.

Finally, we went for dinner in Anju Coco Resto which is a famous restaurant in Port Blair. Rishi talked to one of the agents and booked a trip to Baratang Caves for our 5th day.

Day 2 – 5 January 2022

We woke up at 4am as we had a ferry to Havelock Islands. We had planned to stay at Havelock for 2 days and then go to Neil Islands on the 3rd day before returning back to Port Blair. We reached the docks by 6am and joined the queue for the private ferries. We were soon called to the front of the line to make a separate queue for Makruzz. They started checking our vaccine certificate and again Rishi was called aside as he had a foreign vaccine certificate. They asked if he had done RT-PCR upon arrival and asked for his phone number. They immediately were able to check from a list that was provided to them which had Rishi’s name for Covid positive. We also realised the phone call that Rishi had missed during the Light & Sound Show was to inform about his Covid positive result. Initially, they told us that the rest of us were free to board the ferry without Rishi. While we were thinking about what to do, they discussed among themselves and decided that all of us could not board the ferry. So we returned to our hotel rooms which were booked for 4 days. Since we didn’t know what to do next, we decided to get some sleep as we got up very early for the ferry.

After we woke up, we went to Ananda Restaurant for brunch. While we were having lunch, we decided that since Rishi had a positive result, it would be responsible of us if he didn’t travel much at least to closed places. Mummyji also wanted to take some rest, so Rishi & Mummyji went back to the hotel while Nupur, Papaji & I decided to visit some museums.

We went to Chatham Government Saw Mill, which was established in 1883 and is Asia’s largest and oldest sawmill. It is situated on the Chatham Islands and is connected to Port Blair by a 100-meter long bridge. Its upkeep and maintenance are taken care of by the Forest Department here. Though not a treat to the ears, taking a look inside the mill and following the journey of wood- from being brought in on boats, sorted, cut and stored in warehouses to being transformed into final wooden planks and sent to various destinations- is an interesting experience. The bomb pit here, though not much to see, tells another not-so-industrious story of the darker days that the sawmill has seen. In 1942, during World War II, the mill fell victim to British bombs. A pit was thus created which is now filled with water. The Forest Museum maintained by the Forest Department is a helpful guide to the curious soul. It also has on display wood carvings made of padauk wood, wooden furniture and other woodwork showpieces like balancing dolls and saltwater crocodiles. We hired a guide who explained to us all about the history and working of the mill in detail.

We then went to Samudrika Marine Museum which is a museum designed to create awareness on various aspects of the oceanic environment. It has loads of information about the Andaman islands, their history, the native settlers and sea life species. The museum is run by the Indian Navy. As soon as we entered the museum, Nupur got a call from Mummyji saying that the hospital people took Rishi to the quarantine centre. After that, we just went around the rooms with our minds stuck on what to do next. We were done with the museum in 15-20 minutes and we immediately took an auto to our hotel.

As soon as we reached the hotel, I called Rishi to know what was happening. He told me that they would be keeping him for 5 days and would do an RT-PCR test. If the test would be negative, he was free to leave otherwise he would have to stay for another 5 days till the tests don’t turn negative. This would mean that he would not be able to return with us as the 5th day was the day we had our return flights booked. Someone from the quarantine centre came to collect his belongings which we packed immediately after his call. We were also given a course of Azithral and Zinc along with Paracetamol & Cetrizine in case any of us fell sick.

My room also had some electricity problems. Since we had a covid patient in our rooms, they did not want to change our rooms. So we decided to check out from the current hotel & move to a new hotel near the quarantine centre the next day.

Day 3 – 6 January 2022

Rishi booked Hotel Nisha for us in the morning and we checked out of our old rooms. We checked in to our new rooms and took some rest. We asked the reception guy (Akbar) about places to visit in Port Blair. He suggested going to some beach. We also enquired about booking a trip to Ross Islands for the next day and he gave us his contact for the same.

We started from our room at 2pm and went for a quick lunch near the public bus station. We only ordered fried rice as it was the fastest dish they could serve. After lunch, we walked to the bus station and boarded an AC tourist bus which crossed a lot of tourist points on the way. Most of the journey was along the sea, so we enjoyed the ride.

The bus stopped at Corbyn Cove beach for 10 minutes and we got down and clicked a few pictures. This is the closest beach to Port Blair, a mere 8 km from the City centre.

After a long journey, we finally reached our destination Mundapahad Beach in Chidiyatapu for sunset. This Southernmost tip of Port Blair about 25 km from the city, is most recommended for Sunset viewing. During evenings, many birds flock to this area, hence the name Chidiya Tapu. There were lots of broken tree trunks with beautifully tangled roots where we could climb & click pictures. We took our beach hats with us but it was not very sunny so we kept them in one of the trees and finally forgot to pick them up while returning.

On the way back, I got a call from Rishi saying that he might get discharged that day. He didn’t specify the details immediately but later told us what had happened. The Covid cases were on the rise, so the Andaman government wanted the quarantine centres to discharge asymptomatic patients so that there would be room for more serious patients. Since Rishi was asymptomatic, he had the option. Initially, they wanted them to self-quarantine in a hotel for two weeks at their own expense. But no one wanted to get discharged that way, as it meant they would be stuck in Andaman for longer. If they were not discharged this way, they would be tested after 2 more days and had a chance that they could get a negative result and would then be able to return home quickly. So, Rishi and others talked to the doctors and they agreed to do a Rapid Antigen test for them and discharge them accordingly. Thankfully, Rishi’s test came negative and he was allowed to leave, but there was a 9pm lockdown imposed in Andaman from that day. So, he had to stay at the centre for the night.

Day 4 – 7 January 2022

Since we knew that Rishi could also join us, we talked to the agent and booked 5 tickets instead of 4 for the Ross Islands trip. Rishi booked a different hotel that accepted discharge certificates. Aashiyaanaa Residency Inn was a 2-minute walk from our hotel.

We went to Aberdeen Jetty to get our ferry ride for the trip. There we met our agent, got our tickets and we were also informed about the water sports activities available at North Bay Islands. We then boarded our ferry and started our trip for the day.

Our first stop was North Bay Islands which offers a variety of water sports and adventure activities. The beach is home to the lighthouse which features on the back of the Rs. 20 note. We booked a Dolphin Glass Bottom Boat ride for the family and Scuba Diving for Nupur. The Dolphin Glass Bottom Boat trip took us to explore the seas, flying through the waves and letting us watch the sea through a transparent bottom, making the experience wonderful and enjoyable for everyone. For Scuba Diving, Nupur was taken for a 15 min training before going to deep waters. The waters near the North Bay are easily mixed, therefore, the visibility can be a little affected during bad weather. Nupur and I had brought our change of clothes in a carry bag and I brought my mini makeup bag with me in case I got wet. We had also brought Rishi’s Go-Pro but we forgot the straps, so ultimately Nupur couldn’t use it during her Scuba Diving. After both our activities were done, we proceeded to our next destination.

Our next destination was Ross Islands which offered us spectacular nature and remains of an ancient era. Named after Captain Daniel Ross, the Ross Island is now renamed as the “Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose Dweep” by prime minister Narendra Modi in 2018. This Island was first occupied in 1782 and a sanatorium was built there, and then again in 1857 by the British who used it as an Administrative Headquarters for 85 years. During this time, a lot of important government offices were made by the British on this penal settlement, which was later abandoned after an earthquake in 1941. The ruins of these old buildings made by Indian prisoners are still present at Ross, textured by thick roots of peepal and serie trees. Magnificent man-caves, the old church and the grim history associated with this place gives out a unique vibe that can’t be found anywhere else in Andaman. The sanctuary is located in the middle of the island and is filled with deer and peacocks, protected under the Andaman administration. We booked an e-rickshaw for the trip as we didn’t have much time there. We saw lots of ruins on the way. In the end, we had an option to go down to see a small lighthouse and statue. Since we had saved our energy by taking the e-rickshaw, we decided to visit the place. On returning we saw lots of deers and peacocks.

After returning to Aberdeen Jetty, we booked two autos and went to a restaurant for lunch. There we realised that our carry bag which contained the Go-Pro, our clothes & my makeup bag with Silver Kiya was missing. We thought we forgot it in the auto because we all remembered that we had it when we came out of the ferry. We did not remember the auto number, so after lunch, we went to the police station to write a missing report for our bag in case the auto guy returns it. I had a hunch and wanted to check the Jetty, so after finishing our report we went back to the Jetty and found that our bag was lying on the ground where we had picked the auto. After getting our precious belonging, we called the rest of the family and went back to the Police Station to cancel our report.

We then went back to our rooms to rest. Rishi was tired so he slept. Nupur and I watched Netflix shows. We finally saw that it was 8pm and immediately started calling Rishi. But he did not pick up the call as I remembered afterwards that he keeps his phone on silent. So we went to Rishi’s hotel and asked the Reception guy to knock on his door and wake him up. By the time he came out and we walked to the nearest restaurant, it was already 8:20pm. They said that since 9pm is the lockdown, their last order is taken before 8pm. So we went back and ate chips and snacks we had brought from home.

Day 5 – 8 January 2022

Since we had not cancelled our trip to Baratang Caves, we called the agent and let him know about our pick location change and we continued with our original trip. We got ready by 4am and sat in our car for our trip. The distance of Baratang from Port Blair can be 120kms approximately. And it takes 3 to 3.5 hours to cover this distance each way.

After reaching the Jirkatang check post, we stopped and had breakfast at one of the roadside shops. From there when we proceeded further to cross the check post, the vehicles were allowed to go in a group of 7-10 vehicles at a time. A couple of security personnel boarded the front and back vehicles (with rifles) for the safety of both travellers and the Jarawa Tribes. We passed through the Jarawa Tribe Reserve, the driver asked us to not take any pictures as it is a punishable offence in the reserve area. I slept through most of the car ride.

After passing through the tribal reserve we reached Nilambur Jetty. We were then transferred to a vehicle ferry. These ferries could accommodate buses, trucks, cars & bikes and the passengers too, to cross the waters between Nilambur Jetty at Middle Strait and Baratang. We then sat on a speed boat to reach the caves. On the way, we admired the scenic coastline covered with mangrove forests and passed through mangrove-covered canals making the ride more exciting.

After reaching the island, we had to walk for a few km to reach the caves. On the way, we saw farming fields and cows and found out something interesting about the residents. Ranchiwalas Island is another name for Baratang Island. Towards the close of the nineteenth century, the city of Ranchi experienced political upheaval. Many locals sought refuge by converting to Christianity with the help of the missionaries there. The British, realizing the future prospects of the forests of Andaman and Nicobar islands, sent the converts to Baratang Island to cultivate crops. The labourers from Ranchi settled there and made new lives for themselves.

We finally reached the Limestone Caves. Many naturally occurring sedimentary limestone formations can be seen hanging or rising from the ground. It was a pretty small cave as a lot of the area was blocked for tourists. Since I had already been to a Limestone cave in Meghalaya, I found it a little underwhelming given the efforts we went through to reach the place.

After we visited the caves, we returned back by speed boat and had lunch at a restaurant. The place was very crowded and had limited food options. After lunch, we returned back to Nilambur Jetty where we had to wait for an hour as we would be returning in groups again for crossing the Jarawa Reserve. While waiting, we realised that we had again forgotten to pick up our carry bag which this time at least did not contain any valuables. We asked our driver to contact the restaurant. The restaurant guy had already sent our carry bag with some tourists returning on the next ferry. So we basically lost the same carry bag twice but were lucky to find it both times.

By the time we reached our hotel, we were very tired so we took some rest. But this time we had learned our lesson and we came out for dinner at 7pm and walked to the nearby 4-star hotel for our last dinner. SeaShell Hotel & Resort had excellent food and ambience.

Day 6 – 9 January 2022

We ate the complimentary breakfast and checked out of our hotel by 10am. We were just thankful that we were able to leave Port Blair together. It was not the best trip, but definitely the most eventful trip of my life.

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