ANDAMAN – Swaraj Dweep (Havelock Island)

All aboard the Makruzz !

Makruzz Booking | Ferry/Cruise From Port Blair to Havelock, Neil Island to  Port Blair |

We felt we were on a plane than on a ferry service (1150 rupees per ticket). It took us 2 hours to get to Havelock Island, or Swaraj Dweep as it is now called, from Port Blair (where we had a great time exploring the Cellular Jail and Ross Island. You can read all about it here)

With so much to eat (at the café) and so many people and things to observe, we enjoyed every minute of the ride.

We took a cab from the port to Barefoot resort. This place is far away from the din of the crowd; It is clean. The staff is polite. The beach is gorgeous!

After we checked in, we were served coconut water in coconut itself! We were requested to take off our footwear and walk around barefoot inside the lobby and the restaurant. (As the name suggests) . The world-famous Radhanagar Beach is just a short walk through a jungle of gigantic trees from this resort.

The trees were so majestic they looked like gods themselves had come down to meditate or to view the splendor of radhanagar. We were awestruck as the ‘curtain’ drew and the first glance of the beach was before us.

I felt so grateful for the blessing of being there amidst such serene beauty. I spent a lot of time in reflection.

Food was great at barefoot. We got complimentary breakfast but for other meals we had to pay a lot, so we explored eateries outside the premises and ate at the resort only when we didn’t have another option.

‘I’m living my dream’ I kept thinking as Chrystal (maybe it was her stage name) sang jazzy music and serenaded the visitors in the lobby at night. It felt so peaceful.

We saw a million stars in the sky when Prasad and I decided to take a walk by the ocean at night!

Time moved at its own sweet pace here.

We got into a motorboat one day and drove to the Elephant beach. The price we paid (around 5k) included snorkeling. But it wasn’t such a great experience. First we had to wait too long for our turn. And when it did come, we were taken in pairs and were told that if we wanted to explore further, to go deep-sea diving, we had to pay 1000 rupees per person or 2000 rupees per couple. What a big scam it all was! First of all they weren’t upfront about what options we had and how much everything costed. And later kept adding one charge after another. So please do your research and demand to be given all the details before you go. The place and the experience of looking at coral reefs is not to be missed though!

Be prepared to find yourself surrounded by honeymooners on this beach! At one point I felt like I’d throw up if I saw any more red bangles and coochie-cooing!

The next day we covered the distance to the Elephant beach on foot instead of taking a longer route on boat (We didn’t know it was at a walkable distance! See… Do your research before you go!). First we took a cab to a point on the road to the jetty. Then we trekked a hilly but not difficult terrain full of hard rocks and dry leaves. Accompanied by the calls of parrots and pigeons and the whirr of motorboats we made our way to the sandy beach. It was prickly hot. We played in the water and munched on fresh fruits and other snacks available at the stalls nearby. We wanted to give snorkeling another try after last time’s disappointment.

We wanted to go further into the ocean. So we paid 4k for the 5 of us.

It was a jungle in the depths of the ocean. Madhav was too small to accompany us. First my in-laws went and came back and they couldn’t stop talking about the experience. Then Medha, Prasad and I went together with atleast 3 guides. They strapped jackets , tubes and masks on us and took us floating. We spotted pink and blue parrot fish, sea urchins, zebrafish, starfish and clownfish under the turquoise water. Colorful corals with clamshells breathing in and out were the next to make an appearance. I tried stretching my hands to feel the aquatic animals whooshing past and to set my feet on the cool smoothness of rocks underneath but I couldn’t move a muscle.

I had the best time!

We were sunburnt from spending all our days on Elephant Beach.

As we made our way back from havelock Island (it looked and felt more havelock than a swaraj dweep to me for some reason) on Makruzz I didn’t feel too sad to leave. I’d had my fill of the island.

I was looking forward to the last 2 days of our vacation.

To be continued…

ANDAMAN- Cellular Jail & Ross Island

This post (& the next few) will be about a memorable trip we took 2 years ago. Thanks to copious amounts of notes I took in my journal, I’m able to recollect those memories and write them here. Prices, rules and the availability of hotels and services mentioned might have changed in these 2 years.

It took 2 hours of flying over Bay of Bengal to get to Andaman from Hyderabad. We got out of the tiny Port Blair Airport to a stinking hot climate in March, which is not the right time to travel there maybe, but that’s the time we get to travel due to holidays at school. Anyways, nothing bothers me as much when I’m traveling!

We stayed at Comfort inn, located quite close to the airport. The rooms were luxurious and comfortable. Food was pretty good but the service was sluggish.

On our first day we visited the cellular jail built by the British to hold Indian Political activists and Freedom fighters in prison.

I think rickshaws are the best way to get around in the city of Port Blair. We had booked our slots for the light and sound show beforehand, but we didn’t have tickets to explore the place which has a museum inside. The ticket counter had closed for the day. Thankfully, the guard still let us in.

Model of the jail
Inside one of the cells

I can’t express how it felt to see the huge expanse of the building that formed the jail. Just a sweeping glance of the dark cells as I entered the premises ran a chill down my spine. I could feel my eyes getting ready to burst into tears any moment. Kaalapani, as this episode in history is called, because it is surrounded by water on all sides, where no prisoner could escape alive and where some of our renowned freedom fighters were brutally tortured by the British. (Please read this brilliant article to know better) was an eye-opener.

The light and sound show at night presented the struggle, the humiliation, the despair the inmates went through during their solitary confinement in such a barbaric place. What all our forefathers (and foremothers) had to go through for us to be able to live in relative comfort now! I hope we don’t take our lives for granted!

Stories of Veer Savarkar , Mahavir Singh and riots like Mopla, Lahore and so many others that I learnt about as we walked inside the museum, stories that, I’m sure we didn’t come across in our history books (or even if they did, were not dwelt upon much), simply brought goosebumps and so much anger. I felt so achingly patriotic at that moment. This is something no Indian should miss visiting.

The next day we went to visit the Ross Island. A motorboat called Aryanrider, drove us from Aberdeen Dock to Ross Island for 2100 rupees. It wasn’t 10 yet but it was sweltering hot. After a short ride, we were on the island, called ” Paris of the East”. The British who tortured Indians to their bones on Port Blair went home to Ross Island for a luxurious life. They had everything to keep them entertained – swimming pool, bakery, clubhouse, tennis courts, a ballroom, church etc. The Island is now mostly deserted. It bore most of the brunt of Mother nature’s rage during Tsunami and protected Port Blair and other places from being hit. Only the tentacles-like roots of Ficus trees seem to be holding the crumbling remains of this once-glittery ‘paradise’.

Roots holding the building from falling apart

Even though it was quite a shock to find it at such close proximity to the cellular jail, the place reminded me of simple, sultry summer days of my childhood. The ocean surrounding the island was so tempting, it would have been nice to take a dip in it to escape the heat!

To be continued….

Dear New Mama,

Do you feel like you aren’t getting a moment’s rest? No time to take a shower, to eat something without being interrupted by a sudden wailing? And sleep? What’s that?? How was life before a baby (or a twister more like) rolled out and took complete control of it?! you may wonder.

Many have gone through this before and many still do. But when you are in the thick of it all, it is hard not to assume you are all alone in this. It is nice and necessary to connect with other mamas.

https://www.inc.com/

Motherhood is something nothing can prepare you for. When everyone asked me to get all the sleep I could before a new baby arrived, I found it funny! I thought I would be different, my baby would be different. Thank God I believed it, I enjoyed my first pregnancy in all that ignorance! I hope you enjoyed every bit of that baby inside you, the flutterings in your belly, the relief of listening to the lubdubs of a tiny heart beating, the excitement of the arrival of a new being into your life. It is all too precious!

Now that your baby is here, get all the help you can. You don’t have to do it all. You’re hanging in there, trying not to lose your mind. That’s more than enough. You don’t have to have a clean house, 3 different meals a day. You don’t have to be the perfect wife, the fun mama to your older child. These roles will be waiting for you whenever you are ready.

I know it is annoying when someone gives you advice (without your asking) or tells you to do something differently. It is hard to let it be. But know in your heart that it all comes from a place of love and concern for you.

Take time for yourself… go for a stroll, do some stretches, take a long shower, go for a drive. Spend time with that amazing person (you!) even for a few minutes.

You must’ve put your career, your everything on hold for this baby. Have faith in yourself and these words that it will be waiting for you to get back when you’re ready. If not, you’ll figure something out. A job that doesn’t respect a mother and raising kids is not worth keeping.

And you will eventually get to this other side where we’re waiting, rooting for you. Your baby won’t remain that cute, colicky munchkin forever. It will grow up and you will too. As you fret and fear and lose yourself in the muddle of mommyhood, take time to breathe, to resurface, to look around and cherish what you already have…

Love,

Your friend and sister.

How to get kids to read (more)

As a child I was surrounded by books. When there was nothing else to do, my sister and I naturally gravitated towards books. We did not have many children’s books though. We read whatever we could get our hands on. Our parents weren’t worried about what we were reading. We were library members and often visited bookstores- a very uncommon thing in India in the 90s.

I clearly remember picking up a Sidney Sheldon book to read, for the first time. Nowadays people might find it terrible that a child be allowed to read an adult book, but I turned out Ok, well, almost! So I believe any reading is good reading. The picture of a friend who would read the newspaper covering the fried snacks we munched on, comes to mind! 🙂 I encourage my kids to read all kinds of age-appropriate literature.

For kids ages 10 and 7, my kids read considerably more, They just enjoy inhaling the smell of a book, the anticipation of the arrival of a new book, the experience of doing nothing but immersing oneself in a good book and telling us all about it!

So how do you get them to this stage? Here are a few things that have helped me along this reading journey-

  • Start early – This is a no-brainer, but many fail to do so in this day and age. They ask, here in India especially, ‘Oh what’s the use? The child is not even listening or understanding.’, but they do. I observed my daughter trying to imitate my facial expressions as I read to her as a baby. I let my kids play with the books, and sometimes even chew on them! Be prepared to read the same book over and over again!
  • Read to your child – no matter how old they are. For a while I was ashamed that I was still reading to my kids when they were supposed to be reading by themselves. Oh what the heck! They loved to hear all the different character voices I made and I enjoyed snuggling with them on the bed and reading to them. But when I listened to podcasts like “Read- aloud Revival” I felt assured that I wasn’t hindering my kids’ progress. Most of the times, kids simply skim through the pages to get to the end of a story. They need to hear how a word sounds or comprehend the deeper meaning of a character’s speech and thoughts. By reading aloud you are taking their reading to a higher level.
  • Keep trying new books and genres – I’m always observing my kids and talking to them about what their current interests are. When I found out that my daughter enjoyed cooking and eating, I bought her the “All Four Stars” book and when I realized that my son preferred humor instead of action in the Avengers series I bought him, I ordered the “Wayside school” and the “Weird School series”. It is frustrating when a book doesn’t end up piquing the interest of my kids. But I suck it up and try to put a different book in their hands.
  • Read books yourself – Model the behavior you wish your kids to emulate. This applies not just for developing reading skills.
  • Cut down Digital Distraction – We have a rule in our household- No TV until we have finished all our school work and chores and only during and after dinner. Getting bored and doing nothing is permitted but reaching out for digital devices to entertain is not!
  • Carry a book wherever you go – so that there’s no chance you get bored on a long drive or a boring party! Sometimes I carry my kindle so that I can read aloud and all of us are happy! My sister’s mother-in-law keeps a stash of books ( along with some toys, which she changes often) in her car to keep her grandkids busy on their outings. I thought it was a brilliant idea!
  • E-books are perfectly alright – I used to be a purist about paperbacks once upon a time, but now I buy whichever is cheaper and easily available.
  • Talk about the books you’re reading– kids love to talk about what they do or read. Showing interest and really listening to them as they enthusiastically enumerate every. Single. detail will help build their love for reading.
  • Don’t compare your children’s reading level with someone else’s- My daughter reads faster than me but she might be reading slower or fewer books than her friend. It is all ok. Reading , like any developmental phase, happens at different paces for every individual.
  • Take a chill pill- you are not a bad parent if your child doesn’t like reading yet, nor is there something wrong with them. The problem could simply be not finding the right book to read. My teenage cousin wasn’t a big reader, but I like to think that I changed that by giving her the twilight series. Now she reads more than I do!

Ultimately, it is all about gifting the joy of reading to your child. Rest assured that they will reach out for a good book to escape when things aren’t ok and enjoy when life’s good.

Manasa