A long day – Baratang, Limestone cave, Jarava reserve and a mud volcano

28 December 2014

Previous posts:
Trip to Andaman islands
Corbyn’s cove beach in Port Blair
Cellular Jail
Ross island
North Bay
Jolly Buoy at Wandoor
Chidiya tapu

North Andaman had always caught my imagination whenever I thought about Andaman. The reason may be its relative isolation compared to the touristy spots around Port Blair. So for me a trip to Andaman would be incomplete if its Northern part was not seen. If you start looking outside Port Blair and Havelock, the sheer travel opportunities in Andaman would surface. Initially I made a list of places to see in Andaman. That would require couple of months!! So, I had to squeeze my plan and drop some places. But North Andaman which was closer to my heart was kept in the plan.

Diglipur, the northernmost town in Andaman is at a distance of 300+ km from Port Blair which can be reached in a day. But that requires nonstop travel. That is not a fun and hence we decided to do it in two days with lot of detours in between.

Our travel
Our long trip to North Andaman started at 6:30AM. Alex, our driver wanted to start at 3:30 in the morning but I convinced him that was not necessary. Our destination of the day was Rangat in Middle Andaman. Few hurdles had to be crossed to reach Rangat. One was the Jarawa reserve where vehicles were allowed only at certain period of time. Then there were two water crossings which I shall explain later in this post.

After travelling for an hour from Port Blair, we reached the entrance of Jarawa reserve. Jarawa tribes live in this area and the “Andaman grand trunk” road cuts right through the heart of their forest. There are only few hundred Jarawa in the jungle.  While Jarawa’s resist other people, Government does not want people to get in contact with them for the fear of spreading diseases and corrupting them. So, there is a system of convey that passes through their areas. Vehicles are allowed in four slots each day in the convoy. Vehicles cannot stop or nor people allowed to take photos of Jarawa (if they are found). Police vehicles in the convoy try to enforce these rules.

Vehicles waiting at the entrance
When we arrived vehicles had already piled up. Still an hour to go for convoy opening, we decided to have our breakfast at one of the eatery serving Idli, Vada and Dosa. For a South Indian, it is always a great feeling to taste those foods in the morning!!

I felt the number of people coming for this place was unusually high. Lot of them I understand was interested in seeing Jarawas. Tribal tourism!! Very few of them would travel further to North Andaman.

Anyway, the convoy opened and we started moving. The progress was slow as the vehicles go in line. The 47 km travelled in convoy was amazing. The forests were pure and uncontaminated. No human habitation was seen and completely silent. I cannot not think of a forest in India where we can travel 47 km without the trace of human civilization.

The 47 km journey came to an end in front of the water body separating South Andaman with Baratang Island. Government which has taken all the trouble to make a road in Jarawa territory could not find a way to construct a bridge here. The vehicles and people have to be moved to the other side by ferry. This is a painful system that cause delays as the ferries can never match the speed of the vehicles moving on a bridge. But this system has naturally restricted the access to Middle and North Andaman.

Ferry at Baratang
A ferry was about to leave when we arrived. Alex had to wait for his turn to cross with the vehicle to the other side. In the meantime we crossed to the other side. We had to see limestone caves. I had assumed that the caves would be next to the road!! I was wrong as the cave was accessible via boats.

The system here is complex. A normal person would take some time to understand it. But travel agent makes it simpler!! Our driver had already talked with other drivers and made a group of 8 people. Each boat would at least need 8 people. When we reached Baratang side a person was already ready with the list. A permit had to be prepared for cave and he was ready with all receipts. I just showed my original Id and quickly we were whisked to the speed boat!!

Speed boats to Limestone cave
The speed boat travelled in the water body formed between South Andaman and Baratang Island. The sky suddenly turned black and it started raining heavily. It was so sudden and all people in the boat were caught off guarded. I always carry a cover for my backpack. That was secured immediately. I had a raincoat which I used to cover myself and my daughter. My wife who was sitting opposite to us did not have that luxury. She got completely drenched in no time. The boatman did put a cover on the boat but it was too late.

Ready to rain!!

After rain
The rains stopped within few minutes. I now started looking around the beauty of the surroundings. The mangrove forests were simply amazing. No words can describe that feeling. The boat entered into the narrow water body formed in those mangrove forests to drop us for limestone cave. Here another surprise awaited us. I expected the cave to appear next to the boat stop but instead we were welcomed by a board mentioning the distance of 1.5 km. We had to walk further.

travelling inside mangrove forest

My wife and daughter did not like it. Their imagination Andaman with clear and blue beaches did not fit into the activities of that day. When we have travelled thousands of kilometers, 1.5 km should not matter at all!! Anyway, we walked and reached the limestone cave.

The cave was a narrow cave that may be about 30 meters long. The guide explained the cave in a clear fashion. He linked all formations with various gods and animals.

This looks like a Shiva linga.

And there is one with a shape of tiger's jaw.

Another Shiva linga!!

There are also ones with strange formations.

I had seen many limestone caves before. But the experience we have each time is different. My wife also agreed. My daughter was still not very happy about walking. There were few people selling lime juice on the way. We stopped and relaxed for some time with lime juice.

Mangrove forest
When we came back to Baratang Jetty, we saw Alex waiting for us. I meant that our vehicle had crossed into Baratang.

I am tired of writing. Remaining part in the next post!!

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