When Andaman Islands were in its nascent state; while the aboriginal tribes were figuring out what to wear for the upcoming carnival: skimpy Bamboo leaves or longish Palm leaves, I wanted to visit Andaman!
Thanks to The Gerry Martin Project finally my dream materialized. My joy knew no bounds except for the financial bounds.
I used one of my thinking poses: placed my chin between my index finger and thumb and gently rubbed my jaw. It worked! Fifty five watts CFL bulb shone over my head in a thought bubble. I went up to my sisters and tenderly walked them down the memory lane although they hated walking. I said “remember how I borrowed money from you guys and bought nice little presents for your birthdays.” Promptly one of my sisters interjected, “remember once you borrowed Rs 25 from me and bought me a Rs 20 pen?” In my defense I said, “but it was Reynolds Jetter Pen” and brushed her comment off since she’s too young to realize the value of a gift. And I continued cajoling both of them until their eyes were moist with tears not because they felt happy, because they felt much cheated.
Yes, I robbed my sisters off their savings! Mu ha ha ha.. Of course I’m considerate. I left some pittance for their survival in my absence.
Bangalore to Chennai:
Eight hours of train journey.
It was my 1st visit to Chennai. I sat in the auto rickshaw mentally checking off Chennai from my “cities visited in India ” list. I kept my ear-to-ear grin in place despite being scandalized by the auto rickshaw’s meter. A white cloth covered the meter, as if it was a window in Raj Ram Mohan Rai’s era and going to be thrown into the husband’s funeral pyre.
First question I faced in Chennai was “do you speak Tamil?” Perhaps, it was written all over my face that I needed a lot of advise from people I knew, I will know and I may never know after the first meeting.” The altruist driver passed a message through my friend accompanying me that “if I don’t know Tamil, I’m a WASTE fellow.” Of course, this was not the first time someone condescended or felt insignificant, but it still hurt.
I stayed at my not so sane colleague’s place (not so sane because he dared to host me). And the treatment I got there: if Jaya Lalitha witnessed the scene, she would’ve cried like a baby and cursed her fate for not being me. I felt like a princess of Nile minus milk bath. I almost dropped the plan of visiting Andaman and settled in Chennai.
Chennai to Andaman:
It took us longer to board the flight than to reach Andaman. In essence, it took us two hours.
For a minute I thought the pilot played a bad joke. The weather was no different from Chennai and people looked the same. No tribes in sight what so ever. That’s when my rusted general knowledge from school came into play. Andaman and Nicobar islands are in India, a Union Territory , Capital is Port Blair. Yay!
After a 45min drive through the lush green fields glistening under the intense sun and some other interesting miscellaneous stuff we reached ANET. At ANET a bevy of beauty ushered us into the dinning area and helped us with some elixir of life also known as Tang. At least that’s how I felt.
Cottage at ANET (Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team)
First Day:Walk in the mangroves was as good as walk in the clouds. Wading in the mangroves sinking knee-deep and I-thanks to my height-almost neck-deep into the muck was a unique experience. That’s when I learnt my premier valuable lesson: wearing full-length pants on these Islands was an unpardonable crime. Ignoring the popular quote never fight an unarmed man, Mangroves is a perfect place to get back at your foes.
Walk in the Mangroves!!!
Here it was, we first laid our eyes on the ubiquitous Hermit Crabs in different sizes, shells and shapes doing all sorts of interesting activities together with Mud Skippers.
Washed off all the muck we gathered on ourselves in the name of looking for a Guitar-fish. We did see the Guitar-fish that belonged to the popular Ray family
Scuba diving was a feat in itself for me, for one I didn’t know swimming, like that was not enough I had seasickness. I was such a troublemaker. If my diving instructor were anything like my Hindi teacher in school, she would take a wooden ruler and hit me on my knuckles 10 times on each hand. Thank heavens she was more like Mother Teresa, kind, caring, understanding and some other nice things.
I was nervous until I dived into the sea and then I got a little taste of heaven. The world beneath the sea is a fairy land. You have to see it to believe it. It was veritably bustling with different forms of life and colors I didn’t know existed. The view of sunrays penetrating through the water all the way till the seabed is breathtaking. I haven’t seen anything this beautiful in my entire life!!!
As soon as I got out of the sea, into the boat and a minute later I threw up on my instructor’s head, who was still in the sea. I prepared myself to make cute faces and ask for forgiveness but I didn’t have to, because she didn’t mind it, remember Mother Teresa? To me Scuba diving is as glamorous as it sounds.
After scuba diving, enroute to my cottage something I’ll never forget happened.
Rohin who was a volunteer at ANET walked past us.
Rohin: “Nice shots?”
Me: Confused, I looked down at my pink polka-dotted shorts and thought, “this is the first time someone complimented my shorts.” Batting my eyelashes I said “Thank you!”
This happened because my camera was dangling across my neck while I was wearing shorts. And I couldn’t tell where Rohin was looking: camera or shorts. Sometimes subtle nuances in pronunciation make for good embarrassing moments. After this incident I resolved never to wear shorts and shots at the same time. I became the laughing-stock for next 4 days. It was easily one of my most embarrassing moments.
My group mates were like the jaunty Squirrels playing in the tree while I was like a Sloth stuck in the middle of nowhere, can’t run, can’t hide types. My entire future flashed in front of me in the few minutes spent up in the air. Hanging 20 ft above the ground and several feet below the treetop I realized muscle power is as essential as memory power or in corporate environment manpower. That’s when I made a list of things I’m going to do to improve my muscle power as soon as I’m back in Bangalore. Some of them are: gulp protein drink every day, exercise at least once in a fortnight, bully sisters a little less, cut down on shopping, save money, speak the truth always and listen to parents once in a while.
Tree climbing was a grueling yet a thrilling activity.
We went on a super cool trek after the super heated tree climbing. It was an unusual and a very enchanting terrain. It was something along the lines of Narnia terrain. We trekked in the rain and through the thorny bushes, played in the waterfall, used the tree roots to climb down the trail, played in the sea and lunched on the beach in the rain. Here it was I learnt my second valuable lesson, never wear shorts while trekking through the thorny bushes. Ouch! The pain was so immense that I didn’t mind howling like a wolf.
Moonwalk-not the Michael Jackson one
Donning the hat of Sherlock Holmes minus the pipe and the coat we gaily set about our beach walk under the full moon against the boisterous high tides. Our goal was to find the mysterious and handsome looking Sea Kraits. To our pleasant surprise Yellow lipped Sea Kraits speckled the beach by the dozen, as if they were frogs on a rainy day having a ball. I may forget to look at myself in the mirror one day but this sight, I’ll never forget in the years to come. It was a divine experience and I still see them in my dreams.
For the first time I was high without being influence by any kind of spirits.
Camping in the jungle
After a two-hour amusing boat ride out of which one hour thirty minutes were spent dozing we reached the campsite. It felt like I was frivolous Paris HILTON on my private beach. Barring the roguish sand flies the beach was absolutely an unadulterated paradise, pristine & breathtaking. We spent the night by the bonfire under the starlit sky sharing the best of “ant and elephant” jokes and singing in French while waiting for the dinner to arrive from the nearest tribal village. Rohin, Varun volunteers at ANET and Anita who works at ANET slogged their butts off helping the villagers prepare dinner for us. When they arrived at the campsite they not only brought dinner for us but also a bucket full of rice beer. Not even in my wildest dream have I ever thought that I will sleep in a mosquito net by the beach side in the middle of a forest.
Here it was I learnt my third and the most valuable lesson. Always wear mosquito repellent while on the beaches in Andamans. Had I paid heed to the well-wishers. I would have saved almost three months pain of scratching and nursing the sand fly bites. Moral of the story, it is ok to forget you wallet at home but not the mosquito repellent. Sand flies will arrest you like the Lilliputs arrested Gulliver.
Fifth day was solely dedicated to breaking the fast at the village and a five-hour pleasant trek snacking on oranges and biscuits with a few “nurse the leech bite” breaks.
I’m falling short of words and sleep to express the amount of fun we had during this entire trip. All I can say is, it was one of the best trips of my life.
King Cobra Juvenile - 1
Yellow Lipped Sea Kraits - 10
Dog Faced Water Snakes - 6
Green Bronze back Tree Snakes – 3
Andaman Pit Viper - 1
Andaman Monitor Lizard - 1 dead
Brown Shrike, Black Capped King Fisher, Collared King Fisher, White Breasted King Fisher, Stork Billed King Fisher, White-bellied Sea Eagle, River Terns, Grey Wagtails, Green Pigeons, Night Jar, Whistling teal, Ashy Woodswallows, Andaman Crake, Andaman Coucal, Long Tailed Parakeet, Red Breasted Parakeet, Black Napped Oriole.