Salty Sea Dogs
Trip Start Jul 2003
50Trip End May 2005
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Where I stayed
After blowing the movie earnings on a 1st class cabin (and therefore avoiding the Israel v India ticket brawl in Madras) we prepared for the voyage. It should be pointed out that 1st class means only four to a pan, and nobody washing plates in the shower. Our cabin colleagues were cabin-fever Catherine and yahtzee Sven; through their Swedish pals we toured the sweaty bunk class in the bowels of the ship (very carefully without touching anything) 'Titanic' style, with chai and cards replacing the Guinness and dancing. A cycle of thali eating, book reading and flying fish dodging continued for three days until we finally arrived in the middle of the Bay of Bengal on the solid rocky outcrop of Port Blair. And our cure for a 62 hour boat ride? To get back on one for a further 16 hours of course, this time on an open rusty deck bound for Diglipur in the north
On arrival, I think we frightened the shopkeeper by ordering 12 bottles of beer and a bottle of whisky. We then spent a few days of seclusion before discovering a Cornish couple, Ben and Amy, washed ashore on the castaway beach of Kalipur Bay. Joining a wedding party to Kalighat during the Bengali 'Festival of Colour' was a poor plan and, paint splattered, we were filled with tea in someone's house for a few hours before catching a truck on the bone-shaking ride to Mayabunder (picking up Ben and Amy on the way). The disheartening deforestation and displacement of indigenous tribes since Bangladesh partition was seen in its full destructive splendour (just to explain that, thousands of Indian families were settled in the Andamans in the causing irreversible damage to the local ecology and destroying local tribes; we think there was a political aim to this, as the militarily important Andamans can now never vote for independence from India).
Stocking up on a box of fruit and veg we took a small Burmese boat to the beautiful white sands of Avis Island. We were offered a sneaky night-boat to Burma, with the slight catch that we "would be arrested on arrival". Instead, we lazed away a few days in our hut, entertained by coconut dodging and the daily barracuda catching and barbecuing by the Japanese, and kept company by a couple of goats, whilst perfecting our curry and rice twice a day.
Finally deserting our developing farm we returned to the mainland and caught a bus + rickshaw to the deserted jetty of Ranghat. Due to the India v Pakistan cricket, the 12pm ferry finally became the 4pm ferry through the beautiful fish eagle filled mangrove swamps to Long Island. Another small boat finally took us to the unbelievably picturesque Marg's Bay Island.
Setting up our tent on the jungle edge of the powder white sand, 'Swiss Family Robinson' was far more useful than the 'SAS Survival Guide' as we built our camp starting with a suitably deep pit latrine (we knew those years in the Scouts and Guides would pay off). The daily half hour magical walk to the 'sweet water' was wonderful, with the ground becoming damper and cooler in the shade before arriving at the fairytale old well, somehow reminiscent of some part of Lord of the Rings. We could have lived in this place forever, but knew that somehow we must leave the bath-temperature crystal clear waters and paradise beach (sorry, got a bit carried away there, but as you may imagine this place was great).
Our next stop, Havelock Island, was very pleasant but we knew nothing would be the same after Marg's Bay. It was excellent to experience the benefits of fridges, electricity and some great local cooking in the Amazon Resort, and to meet some more entertaining characters such as frecklesome Natasha and hhappy hhippy Dutch Martin. To quote Martin (and not at the Amazon I should point out) 'I ordered toast, 2 fried eggs and a black coffee; I got 16 slices of burnt bread, then nothing, and then two enormous plates of fried rice'. The snorkeling among the coral reefs off Elephant Beach was amazing.
Our month permit almost up, we slowly chugged our way back on another rusty crate to Port Blair, picking up sunstroke and roast potato effects on the way. The British built Cellular Jail was no doubt run by several characters who exacted the law as they saw fit, but was not as 'horrendous' as the literature made out, at least not more so than any other British jail of
the same period. It is hardly the Chateau D'If. With displays somewhat factually lacking, it is a classic example of a Victorian jail in what must have been a fairly desolate outpost for several prominent political and criminal prisoners, although Emma pointed out that several 'rooms' actually had sea views (over the workhouse, flogging posts and gallows).
Ross Island, the British administrative headquarters 10 minutes off Port Blair, was an amazing experience. Where elegantly dressed (and no doubt heavily sweating) English ladies and gentlemen once strolled from the Governor's House, down past tennis courts, bakery and club to the swimming pool nature has almost entirely reclaimed. With each building now
overwhelmed with a spider's web of trees and vines, the church is striking with its tower engulfed by one huge tree which bursts out of the top.
Next stop, mainland India and Calcutta:
A wonderful old colonial city, seriously over-populated, and a must for anyone looking for remains of the British Raj. Will reminisced seeing old photographs of ships crowding this very harbour, full of jute and Dundonians, bound for the Scottish sea port of Dundee. Hand powered rickshaws shuffle through beautiful old warehouse lined streets, past the Victoria Memorial, St Paul's Cathedral and St John's Church with its descriptive tombs to many murdered in the 1857 mutiny. Remember the Black Hole of Calcutta? If you've ever read any Indian history then this is the place to visit. And the Bengalis really know how to cook!
Governor Will and Lady Emma