Posted by: Kappa | April 3, 2008

Happy’s Jolly Boys and their Andaman Trip 2007 – Part 3

This is Part Three of Happy Singh’s account of his trip, along with other PGP09-ers, to the Andaman Islands, in early 2007. This is shortly before the PGP09 convocation.

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

As the dawn broke, I actually felt grateful that we had been delayed. The scene was breathtaking, with grey clouds parting, the trees around still draped in the haze, large patches of black soil inundated with sea water, reflecting back the few sun rays that had navigated their way down. Some of those scenes were pretty unnerving too, like the “Palm graveyard” which had tall palm trees with only their stumps remaining. Tsunami, someone suggested; cultivation practice, another. Whatever it was, would have given even Slobodan Milosevic goose-bumps. And with these thoughts, I dozed off.

  Baratanga Trail – awesome botanical diversity.

The honk that almost woke me up must have been pretty loud or the silence of the jungle must have been very eerie, as the loud chirping of the large number of birds that started flying around in a flutter on hearing the bus horn got me up with a start. We had reached the first check-post. Wait ensued as the trucks lined up behind us. Traffic beyond this point was permitted only in convoys, twice in the morning and all the buses had left at the previous hour mark. Some instructions: do not to try to get too friendly with locals or approach the tribals, an armed police or forest guard escort (and that too a garrulous Surd! I have actually started believing the fable about Neil Armstrong finding a Sher-e-Punjab dhaba as he stepped out of the ‘Eagle’).

One the way ahead, someone asked, “is jungle mein sher hain?” (are there tigers in this forest?) and our man replied “is sher se magar sab darte hain” (everyone’s scared of the tiger in me) Phew! Enough to quickly end me back to sleep once again. The next time when I woke up, the bus was shaking like an earthquake had hit us! To add to that, it was empty. But before any thoughts of jumping out of the window could materialize i heard KP’s signature laughter. The guys couldn’t be so mean as to leave me in the bus as they laughed outside. A sad truth dawned as I was told that we had had another flat and the shaking was merely due to the change of tires. Hardly amusing, but something kept KP and Munnabhai going as they stepped in with Solu sporting a sheepish grin. While everyone had got out, and Solu was trying to take pics of the beautiful red flowers glimmering in the golden rays of the early morning sun, trying to outshine the leaves freshly washed by a shower last night on those tall trees, a police patrol had turned up. The inspector, a true blue Bong, started shouting at Solu about “Naanga Chhobis” (Nude pics/ Nagna Chhavi) and flaunting Section XYZ of Article ABC, but shut up on seeing our garrulous ‘Sher’ coordinating traffic by waving flags. Bheegi Billi would have been an apt word then.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and we reached the other check-post, moved onto a barge with the bus, (in Andaman, the GT road that runs from North to South, island to island includes quite a lot of waterways traveled on boats etc along with miles of paved tar) traveled to a local island for some refreshment and proceeded to the mud volcano. Even Geoffrey Boycott’s mom could have made better mud pools than that! It was a mud volcano all right, but nothing like the volcanoes one expects, having seen the archetypal image on all those Nat-Geo shows. The crater had anyways been sealed off and even had we tried to reach it, the hot mud and occasional sprinkles of steamy water would have denied any access. So much had happened early in the day and was it all to end in this? We signed off our names there (with an IIMK thrown in between) amid much fanfare, knowing that the next lot of mud, as it accumulates over the next 24 hours, would completely hide it. The refreshing ‘Nariyal-Pani’ made the trek back on those dusty tracks to where we had left our bush taxis bearable.

Naam mitti mein mila diye!

Our next leg, however, was to be lot more fun. We were finally traveling to the limestone caves in flat bed long motorboats. One step in it and you knew it was bound to capsize, even the slightest movement of any of the passengers was enough to set the boat in an oscillating motion with a very low damping coefficient (yeah, I still know my engineering basics!) and add to that an elderly couple (with the gentleman more fidgety than the missus and throwing out excuses like “I am more worried about you”), a rather newbie boatsman, the surf left by the boat right in front of us, and we knew we would be tasting salty water pretty soon. But the journey was truly worth it! Mangrove forests greeted us as we pulled a little clear of the main land and as we moved along the long coastline, we could see that there was a mini world of sorts within these untouched “primitive” forms of life, where nature liked to take some time out to play a little, walk a while and refresh itself. The sunrays that could reach the water surface danced with the dark shadows nearby. On very few occasions in life, you feel that Time has come to a standstill, everything around is frozen and your senses have gone numb. It was one such epiphany for me. Goosebumps. Aammaazziinngg!

We started slowing down and I snapped out of my daydream, a wooden platform was visible. This must be it. But then we suddenly picked up speed and went ahead and round a corner, and into the mysterious world, navigating through a small inlet of water. Then another corner and a little distance and we passed underneath a wooden bridge a la Venice and into the docking area. The bridge actually led to the wooden platform we had seen earlier. The locals, on those rare occasions when they went out, took a ride on the regular ferry from the outer platform. This was another tribal village with some sort of cultivation, cattle and goats grazing, the smell of dung smeared houses, kids playing games, and dirt trails for roads. The limestone caves were beautiful, surprisingly cool, a little tricky, as they were dark and had stalactites and stalagmites all over the place. Where the two structures met to form pillars, the guide likened them to popular deities from the mythology. It was a little rushed, but a unique experience. In probably a different country, this would have been like a national monument, well preserved, with proper research done, with lots of placards, tourists hustling in and hustling out, perhaps littering the surroundings, robbing the whole place of its mystique. Lord bless those simple tribals and those old trees that with hanging roots and branches all intertwined, shielding the calcium carbonate from the vagaries of the weather. The rest of the day was spent discussing the might of nature and the delight of Hawaldar Mesra’s cooking.

Had Gabbar asked Holi kab hai in Port Blair, people would have given him a blank stare. It was as if the town had simply forgotten to wake up to the celebration of Prahlad’s feat. Or was it? As we set forth in our taxi to catch a jetty to Jolly Buoy Islands, I got my answer. Apparently most people had locked themselves in the houses to avoid pestering by the stray elements who threw water balloons at us. I love Maruti Suzuki :). As we were checking in, we were stopped by the guard who informed us that polythene bags had to be deposited at the ticket counter as a step to keeping the islands clean. We had to check in our poly-bags and get the number of items we were carrying registered, by paying a deposit for each of them which was to be refunded after we had come back with the stuff.

A rather cramped-for-space journey along with the elderly couple from the day before, and we reached the JB islands. The boat docked a little away from the main land mass at one of the several buoys. Even to this day, I like propagating the theory that the islands got their name from the smile like shape of the curve the line joining the buoys formed. In truth, I never really cared to find out what the curve looked like. The island was soooo beautiful. We began in a glass bottom boat which took us round so that we could see the corals. The corals were the reason why bigger boats had to dock at the buoys. I would have loved the whole thing a hell lot had my a@# not been on fire by the frying-pan-like seats of the boat.

Well, we reached the island, uninhabited, un-spoillt, unmoved. We decided to cool off (and we needed that!) with a swim. I was marveling at the many different hues of water, (hues that even my prospective employer would be hard pressed to duplicate :D) when there was this sudden and abrupt thing. Flop! I had stepped into water without realizing it! Chemistry taught us that water was a colorless liquid, and ignoring it was a grave mistake on my part but none of us had ever imagined, that water could be so clear that unless you took a close look, you would actually think that there was nothing there! Man, I had to pinch myself to believe this. The fact that unlike sea water this was very calm with hardly a ripple forming, gave me some solace. WooHoo! In the couple of aqueous splendor that followed, Munnabhai got slammed and superflexed, Sudgho got splashed with so much water that he would have thought standing underneath a dam would be easier and KP and I had our swimmer egos battered and bruised trying to swim against the currents. The currents that changed rapidly even in a small stretch, brought about a stark difference in water temperature, and also filter-fed the sponges and probably also caused the water to look like a continuum traversing from blue to green with every shade possible (best enjoyed when submersed neck deep in water).

Snorkelling was a part of the package and we saw all varities, shapes, colours, and sizes of corals with an occasional glimpse of a starfish or other constituents of oceanic life. There was also an old man who had come with us on our ferry and offered to collect every bit of disposable material that the tourists could have left behind. Too bad he hinted at a tip of Rs 10. We would have tipped lot more otherwise. After all, we were a bunch of really jolly boys at the Jolly Buoy. The day ended with a trip to the cellular jail museum which was closed (damn the lazy buggers) and ultimately followed by a gourmandizing extravaganza which included devouring volcano prawns at our now-favorite bar-cum-restaurant.

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Responses

  1. errata – it was actually the “sher of the jungle” who had turned into a flag waving bheegi billi and not the inspector. BTW, we did spot a few Jarwas on our way back but deliberately ommitted that part to maintain some semblance of decency 😉

  2. Please read that as “in the couple of hours of aquous splendour…”


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