Published: March 21st 2012March 12th 2012
PORT BLAIR, SOUTH ANDAMAN ISLAND, ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS. Monday 12 March, 2012.
Today we woke up and thought we had died and gone to hell. What a DUMP! Our 'hell' was the Andaman and Nicobar Island groups far out in the Bay of Bengal. They are part of India but this archipelago of 300 ish coral islands is very remote, lying closer to Myanmar, Thailand and Sumatra than to India.
The peoples of the Andamans and Nicobars are quite distinct from those on the Indian mainland. Until the 17th century they were populated almost exclusively by several distinct tribes having different characteristics, traditions and languages. Since the 17th century they have been colonized by newcomers from both sides of the Bay of Bengal and by the British. As a result, the aboriginal tribes, some of the oldest peoples in the world, have been pushed to the brink of extinction. In an attempt to preserve these tribes the Nicobar Islands are out of bounds to non-Indians. The Nicobar Islands were the closest landfall to the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 and some 30,000 islanders died in the disaster.
We had docked
at Port Blair an ex-penal colony and the capital of the Andaman Group, located on the Island of South Andaman. We walked down the gangway to the dock and crossed to the gates where we were met by a sea of very pushy taxi and tuk tuk drivers. They were asking $30 US one way to go to the town which was only two miles away from the port. We decided to walk. We pushed our way through the sea of faces and started up the hill. After we had gone about 400 metres a tuk tuk stopped and offered to take us to town for $2 US. This seemed a better deal and, as it was very hot, we climbed aboard. Our driver was called Anan.
We had packed our snorkelling gear and hoped to be able to get a chance to swim on some of the reefs off the Andaman Islands. The best snorkelling was, according to the Rough Guide, on an island some 30 kilometers away called Havelock Island. It can be reached by a fast ferry taking 90 minutes each way - too far in one day. M therefore asked Anan how much it would
Nevil with No Swimming Sign
What an appropriate T Shirt!
cost to go to a more local beach with good snorkelling. We agreed a price and he drove on through the town of Port Blair towards a beach. As we chatted to Anan it soon became obvious that he did not know what snorkelling was and had only understood the word 'beach'. M tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to pull over.
D consulted the Rough Guide and found that the best snorkelling was in a place called Wandoor 30 km south-west of Port Blair. Wandoor is in the Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park and has a beach with excellent snorkelling. The marine park comprises 15 islets and has one of the richest coral reefs in the region. We thought this sounded great so agreed a day price with Anan to take us there so we could snorkel, then on to visit a rubber plantation and back to the ship.
After leaving Port Blair we passed the airport and bounced our way in the tuk tuk through lush vegetation and small villages. There was litter absolutely everywhere - even right out in the sticks. 30 km in a tuk tuk is not the most comfortable experience
- in fact the only way we can describe it is bone shaking. It was fun though, provided you didn't need to relieve yourself (as M found out on the way back!).
We arrived at the National Park entrance and Anan paid for the ticket. We bounced passed serveral little bays crammed with brightly coloured fishing boats until we arrived at the beach. This is where our day went seriously downhill. There was a lone policeman sat astride a two-wheeler (motorcycle to us). By the way a tuk tuk is a three-wheeler and (you guessed it) an ordinary saloon car is a four-wheeler. Not very imaginative, but it turns out how many wheels your vehicle has is a status symbol in India. Wonder what they call an ox-cart (four hoofer?). Anyway - back to the story. The policeman on the two wheeler was sitting underneath a very large and prominent sign clearly stating 'NO SWIMMING - SALT WATER CROCODILES IN THE AREA'. We couldn't believe it. Anan consulted the policeman who confirmed that there was to be no swimming.
The long white beach was beautiful and littered with dry, twisted trunks of trees that had been torn up
and dumped on the shore by the cyclones (It was also litted with litter!). It is fringed not with palm trees but by dense forest so we decided to make the best of it and go for a walk. We had gone about 10 metres when Anan pointed to a small beachside bar. We went in and had a bottle of Kingfisher (Indian Beer) each and bought one for Anan too. We drank straight from the bottle as we had been warned about the health hazards on the Island. Anan told us that this beach was affected by the Tsunami in 2004 and that 88 people had perished here.
As we sat on the trunk of a fallen tree looking longingly out to the coral reefs and drinking our Kingfisher a tour group from the Discovery arrived. They were all clutching the ship's green pool towels and obviously were expecting to be able to swim. Two of them were our table mates Irene and Dave. We sat and lamented about the blasted crocodile(s). After he had finished his beer, Anan again went over to speak to the policeman. He came back grinning from ear to ear and proclaimed "You
can swim!" and then after a pause "At your own Risk!". We declined as we didn't fancy our chances against a Salty - they can move at 30 mph on land! As M was mingling with the group from the ship she came across a guy wearing a rather appropriate Tee Shirt. He had been to Darwin and was wearing his "been there got the tee shirt" purchase. It was emblazoned with a picture of a Salty Croc with its mouth open showing rows of big teeth. M jokingly asked if he had had a premonition about today's tour? She then took a picture of Nevil (that was his name) standing underneath the 'No Swimming' sign.
After the aborted snorkelling we jumped back in the Tuk Tuk and bounced our way up the hillside to the Montgluton Rubber Plantation. Here we were shown round by a pleasant enough youth aged 19. He showed us the latex dripping into the cups. The cups fill up every two hours and need to be collected regularly. We saw the latex drying on the racks (smell was dreadful) and the latex sap in containers covered in flies. We then walked around the plantation
and were shown clove trees, nutmeg and many other spices. Back to the Tuk Tuk and then to the ship via an ATM and a rather nice statue of Indian hero Ghandi. Not a place we feel a need to go back to.
There are more photos below