Saturday, June 1, 2013

Andaman: Of Island hopping, underwater adventures and different shades of the sea - II

..continued from Part I

Havelock Island 

The next day we presented ourselves at the jetty at the earliest only to see a long queue of impatient folks waiting for the 8 am ferry to Havelock. The few policemen (and women) who were trying to control the crowd very often stopped to chit chat with the Islanders in the queue. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, evident in the way they were enquiring about family matters and kids’ studies, the kind of closeness in societies one doesn’t see in cities anymore with people caught up in their own busy worlds.

If there was any true test for Indian-ness of people there, the mad rush to get onto the ferry was it. Those who were patiently waiting in the queue till then turned into a mad frenzy once the ship arrived. After doing something similar to what one does to get onto a Virar fast from Dadar, and a small controversy with the captain throwing out people who were literally pushing the others out, later, we finally got in.

The rest of the 30 minutes journey was pretty uneventful except for the beautiful sea around us and the plan in my head to think of ways to move and settle down here.
Havelock is the most popular tourist destination amongst the islands of Andaman and after the peaceful stay at Neil Island, this felt like getting back to the city.

After dropping off our bags at a resort, we rushed to the famous Radhanagar Beach. Radhanagar Beach, which was once voted as ‘The most beautiful beach in Asia’ (in the year 2005 and still riding on that wave), is a quick 20 minutes ride from the area where most resorts are located at.

Radhanagar Beach
I fell in love with the beach the minute we got there. We could see the beach extending till both ends of the island, with the mangroves outlining the land and the sea trying to reclaim it. Wherever you looked, the sea seemed to don a different shade of blue. Soon after we jumped into the sea, dark clouds came threatening along. The minute it started raining almost everyone started running to the little bamboo huts for shelter, but hey, we were already drenched and proceeded to stay in the sea with much glee.

The next day we woke up, all excited to go Scuba diving. We had pre-booked with the well-acclaimed Barefoot group for this and by ten we presented our nervous selves to the instructors. After getting into the wetsuit and a quick boat ride later, there we were in the sea being given instructions. Now, I am an avid and confident (at times a bit too much) swimmer, but suddenly it hit me that we were going underwater and panic attack followed. I remember mumbling to my instructor about not being able to make myself do it and then I saw that the rest of the folks in our party were calm as cucumbers, all set for the dive. Sudden change to I-have-to-do-this-or-never-live-this-down happened, and a few minutes later we were swimming into the open sea to look at the best place to dive. Once we went under the water, I was slightly hyperventilating (surprise! surprise!).

 However, as soon as I saw the school of bright yellow fishes swim by, a feeling of wonder overpowered every other sense of mine. Orange colored urchins, red and blue corals, the beautiful sea anemones and the fishes, the bright beautiful fishes - it is such a fascinating world, it suddenly becomes real how wide and diverse underwater life is!

We set off to Kalapathar beach the next morning. The ride to the beach has tall, thick and very green trees of the tropical rainforest on one side and the blue waters suddenly jumping at us at every other turn. Kalapathar is a pretty small stretch of bright blue waters and due to the fact that it is crocodile infested, we did not get into the sea. We sat there for some time, just looking at the beautiful sea, thoughts wandering.

The beautiful Kalapathar Beach
One of the things we were looking forward to most was the seaplane journey back to Port Blair. Now, for the past two to three days, the weather had been pretty rough with the skies pouring down every now and then. We had gone to the seaplane office to inquire the day before and we were told that the seaplane to Havelock had been cancelled for the past two days and when they said it was still uncertain if they will fly tomorrow, in my mind I saw an enraged Poseidon.

Much to our surprise, the weather that morning was fine and the trip was on. So we “checked in” at the cutest little airport which was more of a bamboo hut (mind you, our luggages were thoroughly checked with utmost seriousness), with the 4 other passengers who were from Havelock. A shy smile and a chocolate offering to the kids with them later, they asked us about our vacation and if we were having a good time. The father, who had been born and lived his whole life in Havelock, spoke to us about how it was one of the hidden gems of the Andamans until recently, when tourism suddenly boomed. He mentioned that his house was along the shorelines and it used to be similar to what the farther ends of Radhanagar beach is currently, lined with mangroves earlier and then the tsunami struck when the sea reclaimed a lot of their property. For him, ferries and seaplanes getting cancelled seemed like a regular ordeal.

We took a two minutes boat ride to a floating platform in the midst of the sea where we excitedly waited for the seaplane to show up. The minute we could see if from far, there followed a lot of excited finger-pointing and cries from us, which was the matter of much amusement for the Islanders. The plane landed on the sea and we pretty much hopped on. It seated nine people including the pilot and co-pilot, and with butterflies in our stomach we took off from the sea. We watched as we went higher and higher, the sea embracing the island from all sides, little white patches wherever the waves hit the rocks and them outlining Havelock Island and the other many small Islands we flew over. We saw the ferry in the middle of the sea, slowly making its way to Port Blair. This is one of my favorite memories of the whole trip. Of course, the Islander kids slept through the whole journey!

View from the seaplane that took my breath away
Flying over another Island, view from the Seaplane

We landed in Port Blair and made our way back to our hotel, dropped off our bags and wandered around the Island since we had already spent two days covering most of it earlier. The next day’s plan was to visit Ross Island, Coral Island and Viper Island. Ross Island’s proximity to Port Blair made it a smart choice of place to stay for the British guards of the Cellular Jail, and the remains of their settlements can still be seen. Ross Island which by virtue of acting as a cover from the sea on one side to Port Blair, we were told was one of the major reasons why Port Blair was not heavily hit during the Tsunami of 2007. Ross Island took most of the brunt of the Tsunami and a lot of the settlements were destroyed during this period.The sea was still very rough and all the trips to the various islands were cancelled. In fact, we heard that not only the seaplane, but the ferry itself from Havelock to Port Blair was cancelled due to rough seas leading to many people being trapped there. I remember thinking, we have the best technology to travel on land, sea and air but when nature wants us to stay where we are, we stay where we are. It just goes to show how our lives are decided by the different shades of the moody sea.

The ten days spent on the various Islands have been an eye opening experience for me. I went expecting a relaxing beach vacation, but came back with so much more. The sea has always been a favorite of mine, but being on a small island, watching the sunrise on one end and getting to the other end just in time for sunset, now that is the kind of experiences that makes Travelling what it is.


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