Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ross & Smith island – The most beautiful place in Andaman

31 December 2014

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We had to return back to Rangat that day but not before visiting the most beautiful place in Andaman, the Ross & Smith Island. Little did we know that it would be an amazing experience.

Travel to Ross & Smith Island starts from Aerial Bay which is about 8 km from Diglipur. The Islands are in control of Forest Department requiring tourists to get a permit. The process is bit elaborate but due to less number of tourists it does not get complicated.

We were given a speed boat; the journey would take about 20-30 minutes. It turned out to be the most scary boat trip in my life. Within minutes of leaving Aerial Bay we encountered huge waves. The boat jumped on each wave knocking us out of our seats. I grabbed by daughter to ensure that she is not thrown out by turbulence. We had seen such scenes in TV but now we were experiencing it. We were completely drenched within seconds as waters splashed across us. I asked the boatman whether this was common. He replied that it was not so in normal days. The waves seemed to quite rough that day. Not an answer I wanted to hear. It was nothing short of roller coaster ride. We were wearing life jackets but I doubted whether we can survive those waves in the case of boat collapse.

Any pain has to end at some point of time. As we neared the Island the waves softened a bit. We were now able to look at the beauty of the surroundings.

Ross is a small Island which is connected to the relatively big Smith Island by a narrow strip of sand bridge. That makes the Island unique and beautiful. If not disturbed by waves I could have taken amazing photos the two Islands connected together.

We had about 2-2.5 hours in the Island. The Island has changing rooms, toilet and resting places.  Life guards are on duty. Coconuts are taken freshly from trees and sold!!

You can see the most bizarre board here. The permit letter from Forest department allows tourists to only Smith Island. All facilities are in Smith Island. A separate permit is needed for Ross Island. At the middle of the sand strip is the board on entry permit. A guy was posted to ensure that the rules were followed. But he could not stand the heat for a long time and people roamed freely between islands.

Chaya and Tanu relaxing on a swing!! The place is so serene and beautiful.

A good place demands a family photograph.

In our Andaman trip, it was Ross & Smith Island that was most beautiful. While I rate Jolly Buoy as the best place for Snorkeling, Ross & Smith Island stands on the top for its beauty. The strip makes it unique.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A day in Diglipur

30 December 2014

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There was a small goof up in my Andaman plan. I was not aware that the main attraction of Diglipur, “Ross and Smith” island was closed on Tuesday.  No, the Island is not closed but the boats that transport people do not ply on Tuesdays. In Andaman most of the tourist places are closed on Mondays and I had planned my trip accordingly. So when I reached Diglipur Monday late afternoon it was disappointing to hear the news!! The plan had to be changed a little.

The owner of “Pristine Beach Resort”, Alex (not our driver!!) told me the list of places to visit in Diglipur. I was bit overwhelmed by the list. Some of the places are:
·         Ross and Smith island
·         Mud volcano
·         Saddle peak, highest in Andaman
·         Albert cave
·         Kalpong power project, the only hydro power station in Andaman
·         Ramnagar beach
·         Craggy island

We choose to visit Mud volcano in spite of less interesting experience in Baratang Island. It was about 20 km further north from Diglipur. Alex who was visiting it for the first time had to ask for directions at couple of places. The drive seemed to be a long one as the road turned from asphalt into mud and slush. Finally the road ended at the fringe of a forest with a forest department board. We had to trek in the forest to reach volcanoes.

The first volcano seemed to be a repeat of Baratang experience. But there were more volcanoes ahead. My daughter seemed to be disinterested in volcanoes and started cribbing about the walk. But then we encountered some ‘good’ volcanoes. At one place it was required to make a long jump over one of the volcano. My daughter got struck while jumping resulting in muddy shoes and legs. She hated volcanoes!!

The experience of Diglipur volcanoes was but much better than Baratang. There were many volcanoes and also some of them were big. My daughter would have enjoyed better had she not got struck in its mud. She was relieved only after washing her legs in a pond near the forest entrance.

Though Albert caves looked interesting we dropped as it required some trekking and my daughter was not ready for it.

Behind the resort was Kalipur beach, a mangrove beach. For me it was a refreshing experience to spend two evenings in that beach. First evening my family accompanied me.

Second day it was a dog that joined me!! Dogs have this strange phenomenon of accompanying strangers. He tried to get catch some marine life unsuccessfully. He got bored with his failures and decided to return back.

The trees in the beach gave a new perspective. The island nearby seemed to be ‘just’ reachable!!

The saddle peak seen from the beach. The weather was cloudy throughout the day and hence I did not think about climbing it. It would take about 4-6 hours for climb up and down.

The beach was also rich in ‘small life’. The tadpoles jumping on a rock.

The most interesting creates were the ones inside seashells. They looked like empty shells. Sit without making sound or movements and then they slowly open up!!

This guy is hiding!!

Kalipur beach is also a turtle nesting place. They come at late night and lay eggs. I was unlucky in that aspect. On the first night I was lazy to get up in the night when turtles had appeared. On second night, I waited till 1AM in the night turtles did not show up. I could not contain my sleep any longer and headed back to resort.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beaches of Rangat and our journey to Diglipur

29 December 2014

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After a night’s stay in Rangat we were ready to head further north. As the restaurant in hotel was not opened, Alex took us to “Aroma restaurant” which had some good idlies.

We were planning to go on boat from Rangat to Havelock during return journey instead of going to Port Blair by road and then taking boat to Havelock. So we went to the ticket issuing place and booked tickets for the same. With boat tickets secured, we were all set to go to Diglipur.

The road to Diglipur after Rangat passes next to the sea for few kilometers providing some good vista points. Obviously there are also some good beaches on the way.

The first one we encountered was Amkunj beach. From a view point, the beach can be seen in full.

It is not a sand beach and the roughness gives a new perspective.

Forest department has constructed log sofas and swings. At that point of time we were the only people in the beach.

A few km away was Moricedera beach, situated next to the highway.

It was rockier and getting into the water was difficult.

A view point is constructed around a huge rock. That is an amazing place.

Views from the place were also spectacular.

Dhaninallah was the last beach in this section. Unlike the other beaches, this was situated little away from the main road. We had to walk through the mangrove forest for a kilometer to reach the beach.

A closer look at the mangrove forest.

The root of a huge tree in mangrove forest.

After the mangrove forest the beach opened up. It was a long sandy beach.

Forest department had made nice arrangements in the beach for tourists. It was amazing to note that in the peak season of Christmas we were the only tourists in all these beaches!!

That was the beaches in Rangat.

Mayabunder was a big town on the way. But it was away from the main road and hence we did not visit it. At Panighat near Mayabunder the panighat creek separates Middle Andaman from North. Here is the longest bridge in Andaman. Called as “Austin Bridge”, this was constructed in 2002.

It was 2PM when we reached Diglipur. We were very hungry and went into a restaurant in the center of the town. Food was not good and we vowed never to eat again in that place. Diglipur has better restaurants.

Our place of stay was “Pristine beach resort” at Kalipur which was about 18km from Diglipur. There are only two decent places of stay in Diglipur. One is “Pristine beach resort” run by private and Government owned Turtle resort. Both are opposite to each other. Government accommodation is cheaper but booking process is complex.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baratang to Rangat

28 December 2014

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We had our lunch at a small restaurant near Baratang Jetty. It was 2PM and we had some distance to cover to reach Rangat. Before heading to Rangat, we had one more place to cover in Baratang. Mud Volcano!

The site of mud valcano in Baratang
Mud volcanoes are not true volcanoes as they do not produce lava. They emit mud like substance and gases. In India mud volcanoes are present only in Baratang Island and North Andaman. This should not be confused with the actual volcano present in Andaman. That is situated in Barren Island, far away from the main islands of Andaman.

Ferry leaving to the other side of the Jetty

From parking lot we had to walk for about 5-10 minutes to reach mud volcano. It was disappointing to say the least. Contrary to our expectation it was a site filled with mud and slush. We did not spend much time there. This was the only place in Andaman that did not leave up to our expectation.

Waiting for the Ferry
There was another bottleneck waiting before reaching Rangat. It was the ferry to cross over to Middle Andaman. The ferry had just left when we reached Jetty. We had to wait for the ferry to return back. That took almost an hour as the ferry waited on the other side for more vehicles. Meanwhile on our side the vehicles had already piled up. All of them parked in a queue in a nice disciplined way. A Government vehicle with a Babu guy broke the role. No one expected them to be disciplined. 

Finally arrived!!

Here I witnessed a great phenomenon. I had heard that the sea was not standstill but continuously moves in the form of currents. It was clearly visible at Baratang. The sea was flowing like a river which I never expected!!

Another phenomenon was the rainbow. Rain continuously played hide and seek game that side and so was the sun. The result was a beautiful rainbow. 

The ferry took nearly an hour to return back. The currents and rainbow had kept me busy for most of the time. The journey after Jetty was mostly through forests.  It took little more than an hour to reach Rangat. The hotel I booked at Rangat “Priya International” was a newly built but a decent hotel. I did not see any other good places to stay in Rangat.

Vehicles in the Ferry

Sunday, February 08, 2015

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

28 December 2014

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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!!