Posted by: glenswatman | April 3, 2011

20110311=20 INDIA Tamil Nadu, Andaman Islands

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FRIDAY 11 MARCH – Spend a nice relaxing day recovering from our city visit yesterday. Steve’s attempt to watch the cricket on TV are foiled when we have a power cut, although they run generators it doesn’t operate the satellite. Fewer people arrive for the weekend scared off by the thought of a tsunami hitting here again following the earthquake in Japan. If it was going to do it would have happened by now. Indians love noise and the few cars that do arrive make their presence known with really irritating music when they reverse, the kind of thing you find in the musical cards – in fact one of them was playing Jingle Bells.

SATURDAY 12 MARCH – At the pool we meet a couple from Jersey who have just returned from the Andaman Islands so we gather info. They tell us how the biggest increase in tourists in India is from the Russians although this area is heavy on French speaking people. After our huge buffet breakfasts we really don’t feel like anything more than an evening snack. Think we are drinking so much water we don’t have room for food.

SUNDAY 13 MARCH – The weather is unseasonably hot at the moment, around 37C by day and only down to 23C at night and it doesn’t get that low until around 4am. Even sitting by the pool is very hot so we sit on the loungers in the grassy area by the beach where we get a nice breeze and also manage to get a bit sunburnt even in the shade.

MONDAY 14 MARCH – We both get up early and make the most of it with another walk around the rock carvings visiting the few around the back that we missed previously.

TUESDAY 15 MARCH – During breakfast I get cramps in my stomach and race back to the room. I spend the rest of the day and night there having spasms but not being able to go to the loo, thank goodness this didn’t happen on a travelling day.

WEDNESDAY 16 MARCH – Our last day here. Jenny at reception has offered us a further reduction on room price bringing it down to Rs 1100 (£16.50) night. In the evening we do a last bit of shopping, Steve buys some new swimming shorts as the elastic has finally failed in his old trusty pair. Our last meal at Moonrakers where Steve says the calamari spaghetti bolognaises is excellent.

THURSDAY 17 MARCH – We retrace our steps from last week but improve on the journey by taking the train from Tambaram to the airport. Baggage storage for 3 bags, 24-hours is Rs200 (£3). Arrive at the stadium and quickly collect our E-tickets for the match. There are another English couple collecting their tickets, Ron & Rachel from Suffolk and we decide to take a walk together down to the beach. This is the area with some very interesting memorials and statues and rather pleasant. We stop for lunch on the way back to Chidambaram Stadium. Our Rs 1000 (£15) tickets gets us into a free seating area in a main stand 3 sections wide and as early arrivals Steve gets to pick seats round about mid wicket. There are plenty of stalls selling reasonably priced food and drinks plus free drinking water. I check out the ladies toilets and find they are hybrids like a western toilet but when you lift the seat up there are food pedestals. The stand slowly fills up and the match between England and W. Indies commences at 2.30pm. I am really not interested in cricket and do not understand it at all but it has its moments. Especially towards the end when England suddenly turn almost certain failure into a win by getting the last 3 wickets in the nick of time. They win by 18 runs. The trains are running late so we take one back to the airport, bargain fare of Rs 8 (12p) for an almost 1-hour journey. It is about 11.30pm when we get there and then have to hang around. The two toilets I check out are absolutely disgusting and look like they haven’t been cleaned for months. Fortunately once we get through check in things improve, comparatively speaking! It’s interesting that there are many Indians at the airport but not one man is wearing a dhoti or lunghi – maybe men in skirts don’t fly. Our Kingfisher airline flight 4.45is ready to board and people almost form a queue. It’s a different story on the plane, everyone has boarded at once so it is chaos as people block the isles but obviously Kingfisher is not like the European airlines aiming for a quick turn around and after about ½ hour everyone is seated. Interestingly the flight attendants come along and pick out all Europeans to sit at the emergency exit seats where we are happy to have the leg room.

FRIDAY 18 MARCH – We land in Port Blair on the Andaman Islands around 6.45am absolutely knackered after being up for over 24-hours. Non Indians have to fill in application permits to stay on the islands. We’d booked at Aashiaanaa Rest Home but yesterday afternoon received a text to say that due to bad weather the ferry was not leaving so guests were staying on and no room available. Owner Shadab has sent a rickshaw to take us to a comparable place in the town about 4km away. Although we are tired out we are not prepared to accept the damp grotty room we are shown but 3 hotels later we settle for the almost new Suriya Lodge at Rs800 (£12), with “Indian” clean modern rooms (surface cleaned bathrooms with grubby tiles and dirty door, dirty marks on the room walls) TV and near the town centre, the main cons are the noise and the hard bed. The rickshaw driver tries to rip us off by asking for Rs250 but after speaking to Shadab he drops to Rs150 (£2.25). After paying for the room we ask for the towels, soap and toilet paper. We receive 1 towel, are asked to pay for soap and told no toilet paper even though they previously told us they provided them all. We demand a second towel, as we both need to wash our hair, and are given a damp dirty used one. Rejecting this they say they have no more towels! Eventually as I refuse to give in they send someone out who buys a sort of cross between a tea towel and a table cloth for us to use. By now it is 8am and we try to sleep. Around 11am we set out to explore and head towards the port to book our onward ferry ticket. This turns into a game as they say they want photocopies of the permit, our passport and India visa but their photocopier is broken. By the time we have founds a Xerox place the port is closed for lunch. Check out Aashiaanaa Rest Home and the very friendly family owner who now have space due to 6 Indians cancelling at late notice – guess this just isn’t our day. We book in for when we return to Port Blair in 2 weeks time. Enjoy a nice lunch at Adi Bengal Hotel where a small tandoori fish fillet is a steal at Rs25 (37p). Finally get through the ferry booking procedure paying Rs 195 (£3) for a seat on tomorrows 11.30am to Havelock Island. According to whom you ask it could take 1 ½ hour, 2 hours or 2 ½ hours. One of the things we have finally learnt is not to ask a question to which they can simply answer yes as they invariably will. However if you say something like “can I have 2 tickets for tomorrow please” they look at your blankly and shake their heads with a smart jerk to one side – earlier we thought this was no but now know this means yes. After walking around Port Blair we conclude that it is cleaner than the mainland, the canals less smelly, the traffic junctions more organised with Police stood in central boxes. It is a hill town backed by jungle and very humid. Ready for our beach stop Steve negotiates for a rope hammock. Expecting them to say Rs300 and to get it for Rs200 we are surprised the man asks Rs150 and takes Rs110 (£1.65). It is only mid afternoon but we are ready to go back to bed. It starts to get dark here around 5.30pm and within 15 minutes it totally dark.
SURIYA LODGE, Rs800 (£12) Non A/C room with TV

SATURDAY 19 MARCH – It’s an early morning wake up, daylight is around 5am. Consideration is not in the Indian vocabulary so people talk loudly and even shout and bang about. The constant sound of people clearing out their throats is gross. Our ferry tickets tell us we will be boarding at 9.30am so head to the port immediately after breakfast. The “departure shed” is filthy but at least provides shade. The ferry arrives just after 11am and we board the “Wendoor”. It is a small boat with a salon area seating about 90 people. Talking to others we find out that today the boat circuit is via Neil Island first. We plan to visit Neil next but haven’t got out heads together enough to reverse our plan at short notice. Consequently it is almost 4-hours later that we arrive on Havelock. Again we have to go through a paperwork farce so they can register our details and permission. On the island villages are numbered from 1 to 7 clockwise and beaches accordingly. Tomorrow we are booked at “Cross Bill” on Beach 5 so take a rickshaw to that area to try to find accommodation nearby for tonight. The alternatives are really bleak – damp, sparse, smelly beach huts with concrete mattresses for Rs800 (£12) and up. We’ve checked out almost everything south and worked back to Cross Bill where we dismiss the rickshaw driver in favour of walking north. By the time we get to Saurav Hotel just north of village 3 it is starting to rain so we accept their price of Rs1100 (£16.50) for a half clean basic room with fan and TV. Walk back to the village for an evening meal at “Welcome” then browse around. One shop is selling brightly coloured paint power and we learn that it is colour festival tomorrow and they will throw it over people.
Rs1100 (£16.50) Non A/C room with TV

SUNDAY 20 MARCH – As usual we are woken very early with people shouting and banging about in the restaurant below. Take a walk down to beach 2 where accommodation is grim shed style huts. There was a full moon last night and high tide completely covers the beach. We take a rickshaw to our new place to avoid being painted walking through the village. We know the price is Rs30 (45p), knock the driver down from Rs40 and confirm he has change for Rs50. On arrival he snatches the Rs50 from us and makes to drive off. Steve grabs it back and asks for the change and he says “don’t have”. Steve makes as to walk off with our Rs50 and suddenly Rs20 appears out of his pocket. A small amount of money but really annoying. The people at “Cross Bill” are lovely and we have breakfast whilst our room is being cleaned. Funnily enough the menu is identical to the one at Saurav Hotel. They ask where we stayed last night and say we were ripped off and should have paid Rs500 or Rs600. Here there are 4 bungalows on one side and 5 facing, all leading towards the beach. Our room is simple but modern and Indian clean. I get a load of washing done and use the soapy water to clean the bathroom door and tiles. We set out to explore beach 5 heading south. Now the tide is going down it looks really attractive. At Barefoot Dive centre we get caught with the paint powder. They are very kind and allow us to remove anything we don’t want to get paint on and then proceed to rub red powder into our hair, faces and arms. The people who do this are themselves covered in rainbow colours and look really funny. Luckily we can go straight into the water to wash it off before it stains. The water is like a warm bath and just beautiful. We check out a few other accommodation options but the only one we like is Dolphin. Fully booked it is government run but has rooms from Rs1000 – Rs2000 behind a lawn leading to the beach. Once we have walked a couple of km’s we head in to the main road for the return and stop off for lunch at Wild Orchid. I just about make it back before my upset stomach kicks in. Playing safe we just go across the road for an evening snack at Garden Restaurant, where we sit at a low table with fairly lights and music playing, very romantic. It is so quiet overnight at Cross Bill we think we have gone deaf.
Rs1500 (£22) Modern individual bungalow, Non A/C, TV


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