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….