Tuesday

India rediscovered: The untouched Andamans









A person gets used to being alone but break it just for a day and you have to get used to it again, all over from the beginning ~ R Bach

Isolated, untouched and far from the madding crowd…the beaches is where we spent our max time, clearly looking to escape the world- couldn’t have asked for a better haven. Beach view villas, sun shimmering off the waters, coconut trees swaying in the breeze. An eternal love affair with nature, where harmony was alive in larger than life size.

Laid back, not partying (other than  some few spontaneous one’s we chanced upon) Andaman n Nicobars are a world class eco friendly destination. Spread across 500 some islands dotted like a pearl neckpiece in the Bay of Bengal, showing off hilly green topography, crystal clear water and silvery sand beaches. Our flight reached us to Port Blair a cosmopolitan harbor town, where, we snorkeled and spotted coral reefs of Wandoor. The magic of nature is so alive and dancing in this part of the world, that it lures you, to come discover it more.   

It rained through the first half of our trip, but the rest of the days we had glorious sunshine from 530am onwards. I don’t have the faintest clue why people say one must not watch the sun setting, ever, but here, in Andaman if you miss it, it’s like missing natures sublime miracle. 

The sun sets red and heavy, in a perfect blazing circle, dropping in slo-mo into the waters, the sky colours are so indescribable and spectacular! Glorious nature. And once the pyrotechnics get over, the stars came out one by one, the sky becomes diamond crusted shimmer. Such a must visit destination for the weary soul to bond with nature, once again.

I generally try to keep my distance from the usual touristy locales to avoid the hustling. So, true to form, our sea fare was pre booked and we didn't see no jostle to buy our tickets to make our way to Havelock from Port Blair. The boat ride had options of   air conditioned push back seats or sitting in the open deck allowing the sea breeze to embrace us completely. The waters of Bay of Bengal are a deep deep indigo, a color one seldom associates with ocean waters and India.   Infact the waters very often turned turquoise as we moved closer to the islands. Our appetite for the beach and the swimming ahead certainly whetted, if the weather Gods didn’t play temperamental...

Once at Havelock we made our way to Beach 5 ( by some quirky Brit identification system, all beaches in this part are numbered!) – and that was the beginning of an idyllic travel through Gods nature. Picture postcard perfect locales. The waters stayed low (mostly), one could walk in quite a bit, crystal clear, allowed you to gaze right upto your feet below. It was heavenly to swim in such calm waters. We treaded water, lazed and gazed around at the coconut, palm fringed beach - wondrous experience.

One of those sun filled mornings, I put myself to some use, saw the first light creeping in the sky, everything looked ethereal n silent. Not a soul stirred in sight. The beach, the sands, the waterline at the horizon everything had a washed up look. I sat there with my notebook and my camera on one such washed up rock allowing the water to lap at my feet gently, didn’t take a single picture, didn’t write a single word. It all happened inside the mind and heart and soul. I have no words to describe the sheer magic of that moment. Tinged copper water, bathed every part of the isle golden, can never forget it. There onwards dawned peace with myself, totally calm, without any war inside my head.

Beach#7 has been described by many as 1 of the most beautiful beaches on earth, there is no doubt on that, it takes your breath away. We walked on soft white sand along side the mangroves, found a spot in the shade of the palms to sit down for the day with loungers and sun deck chairs some distance away, if we wanted to be among the other guests on the beach. And all we did often was sit in quiet and take it all in. Just be. The water here has many shades- the white of the surf, its green at the shallow end, turquoise a lil further up and majestic indigo at the deep end. Never seen such colours before in nature. Beach 7 (Coral Island) is dotted with mangroves (some call them the jungles) providing sylvan surroundings for the adventurous traveler to spot the deer, peacock and many variety of exotic birds.   

Breakfast was always late and more often than not on the beach, nursing a fragile head, but that never stopped us from washing down bottomless brunches, with bunkam banter, countless sangria pitchers... 2012 reflected many promises

Days merged into each other, with better time spent on the sands and water. Evenings spent at a local pub with an eclectic crowd of varying nationalities. We had hired a bike, were free to move about at our own pace  and free will, through country roads tarred and non tarred. The landscape was dotted with thatched roof homes, cattle in the front yard, fields of green smelling of soil n grains in the sun with rains having washed it the previous night. The hay for the cattle pitched up like a mound, small ponds with water lilies, locals on mopeds n bicylces traversing long journeys. Clich├ę it may seem, but all these clich├ęs came alive for me  - lost in a different forever 

One day I ventured into the high seas with the local fishermen in their country boat fitted with a diesel engine. Barring the fumes from the engine which are not quite conducive to existence, and the boat feeling like a paper boat on the waters rocking and lurching roughly, it was some experience; when the engine was cut off, and the boat swayed gently in the deep waters, while they threw their fishing nets to capture the days catch.

 A word on the threatened tribes of Andaman, the Jarawa.  These tribes migrated from Africa and today we have several hundred thousand Indian settlers living on the islands. The principal threat to the Jarawa’s existence comes from encroachment onto their land, which was sparked by the building of a highway through their forest in the 1970s. The road brings settlers, poachers and loggers into the heart of their land.

This encroachment risks exposing the Jarawa to diseases to which they have no immunity, and creating a dependency on outsiders. Poachers steal the game the Jarawa rely on, and there are reports of sexual exploitation of Jarawa women. Unfortunately Tourism is also a threat to the Jarawa, with tour operators driving tourists along the road through the reserve every day in the hope of ‘spotting’ members of the tribe. Despite prohibitions, tourists often stop to make contact with the Jarawa. When will India learn its lessons? These are an integral parts of our DNA, we need to safeguard and protect such tribes, and not use them for exhibiting merely because the tourists have the muscle power of money.

A word of caution to all those who depend hugely on their connectivity. The islands are not very conducive to mobile phone connectivity. The network always played havoc no matter which auto roaming operator one chose, so for calls the best and most reliable solution would be the STD booth or the hotel phones. 

My ask ... soak it in, when at Andaman, but, allow it to remain, untouched for generations to know the magic of nature here.