Posted by: glenswatman | April 3, 2011

20110321-31 INDIA, Andaman Islands

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MONDAY 21 MARCH – At Powerful Café on the main road we eat a healthy breakfast. Fruit salad – coconut, mango, papaya and banana at Rs 40 (60p), homemade curd Rs 10 (15p) and mango juice Rs 20 (30p). By the time we get back to the room my stomach is griping so we spend the day near the room and use the time to make our Rajasthan plan. Late afternoon risk a walk to the beach and bump into Paul Tuthill from Dublin (saw him at Port Blair) and his girlfriend Emma from Sweden. He is an amazing character who has visited over 100 countries and cycled through central Africa. Order a snack in our room for evening meal, chips followed by rice pudding. The chips arrive and we ask about the rice pudding and the man says it is coming later. We ask when and he says tomorrow morning.

TUESDAY 22 MARCH – Walking to the junction in the village we catch the 9.30am bus to beach and village 7 (Rs6, 9p). Radha Nagar Beach has been voted the best beach in Asia but our high expectations are not met. In fact we would not even put it in our top 10. It is quite attractive with the jungle forest coming down to the back of the beach and easy to get into the water to swim but again at high tide there is almost no beach. Not quite the picture perfect image we had of a tropical beach with palm trees, in fact we think our beach number 5 is more attractive. We walk beyond this beach to the “lagoon” where we find people filming a movie. A couple of years ago this area was used for a movie starring Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts and Emma Watson based on the book “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. Today the cast are all Indians. Further on we reach another beach with no sand and eventually run out of track but it’s been a pleasant walk through the jungle and we have seen some pretty blue birds. On the main beach we settle down on a small patch of dry sand but within minutes it starts to rain. I put a plastic bag over the things we want to keep dry and we carry on alternatively sun and shower bathing. Pause for lunch in the village before catching the 1.30pm bus back via village number 6 down a very narrow gravel road. The scenery is interesting with most homes drying palm fruit for the oil. One mad boards the bus with small cloth bags holding bottles. As we slowly pass houses he leans out of the window gap (there are no windows) and drops them onto posts outside the houses. Whilst you can hire scooters and bicycles on the island we would not consider it after our bus trip. The driver just ploughs ahead forcing everything else off the road. After our evening fish meal at Powerful restaurant Steve has the trots but these seem to be minor problems directly relating to a meal rather than full blown Delhi belly.

WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH – We walk north back to the port at village number 1. En route we check out accommodation and find the same story, either very basic bamboo huts or concrete bungalows for Rs3000 (£45) and up. Village 1 turns out to be a very small, dirty village with just a few shops and eating shacks. Small boats are being loaded with bananas for the mainland whilst others are delivering fish. The ticket office opens late, the computer is down and finally we hear we can only buy tickets 2 days in advance. Get back in time to enjoy an hour on the beach with space to lie down on the sand (although it is wet and hard) and enough water to swim. Walk to the German Bakery for lunch where we get a reasonable pizza. A stroll back along the beach completes our exercise for the day. We begin to feel like we are in a show home. Cross Bill is full but people want to see the rooms to go on a waiting list. There is definitely a market in India for mid level accommodation to cater to older back packers, families and the younger ones who have a little more to spend.

THURSDAY 24 MARCH – We take our breakfast at Powerful but Steve returns with stomach cramp. We had few stomach problems on the mainland but nothing but trouble since arriving in the Andaman’s. Not sure whether it is the food or hygiene. After morning on the beach we walk to the village for lunch. I buy a plastic air bed, the kind they sell for £1 in England, for Rs200 (£3), for lying on the beach. Although there are Internet cafes there is no Internet at the moment. Many signs in India are miss spelt but the one at Neha Variety Store has to be a record challenge, jwellery, crockary, stationory, fery ticket, bike ranted, bycycle ranted, snorkuning and air tickting,! In the afternoon we get a short downpour with thunder and lightning so no chance to christen my air bed. We get heavier rain after dark.

FRIDAY 25 MARCH – We return to the port to buy our onward tickets, only to find their computer is down again and they can only issue tickets for same day sailing. At least we find out what time the ferry leaves on Sunday. At Cross Bill we move to the front room with a better view through the palms to the beach and no one opposite. This leaves us free to observe the property next to us where 2 women spend most of the day walking up and down collecting water to do the washing. We can’t understand why they don’t take the washing to the water source or in fact put buckets under the roof to catch the rainwater as it is now pouring down. So much for our tropical island paradise, we have rain, no beach at high tide, no swimming at low tide, no beach side cottage and everything is expensive. At this stage we figure this will be our last trip to India so we will make the most of it to fit in all the major highlights in the north.

SATURDAY 26 MARCH – It is only drizzling when we get up but like the other people at Cross Bill we decide to eat at their restaurant rather than walk out and risk getting caught in a downpour. In typical Indian style the food takes forever to come and our drinks first arrive with sugar even though every time we ask for no sugar. It’s a stormy day but we do manage a walk out for lunch before the afternoon downpour. It doesn’t help when Steve watches the England cricket team get slaughtered by Sri Lanka.

SUNDAY 27 MARCH – Arriving at the port I now know to make my way forward to form a “ladies queue”. Unusually here they insist on serving one lady followed by one man – very logical. Rs195 (£3) buy us a ticket to Neil Island for the ferry due to leave anytime from 10am onwards. We get away around 10.30am and soon after it starts to rain. The storm brews and the boat starts to bounce over the waves. Just over an hour later we arrive at Neil jetty and it is pouring down. After the obligatory registering of our permissions we are very happy to have a man approach us with a sign saying “Tango Beach Resort, Welcome Mr Stephen Trevor”. He puts us in a rickshaw for the ride via the “village” and out to the resort. They are very welcoming and insist we have a drink before looking at the rooms. The first rooms they show us have nice views to the beach but are either dark huts or dark and grim concrete rooms for Rs1200. The next row up doesn’t have the sea view but the rooms look OK. The rooms are better but the available side ones have Indian squat toilets, Rs600. The front 4 have Western loos but are fully booked for the next 2 days, Rs800. We talk through our options and at the point where we say we could catch the afternoon ferry and move on to Port Blair the owner suddenly chips in. One of the front Rs800 rooms will be available at 3pm today! We suspect they were trying to force us into the inferior or more expensive rooms. There’s a nice restaurant overlooking the beach so we enjoy lunch before moving in. We chat to Jim and his girlfriend from England and gather more info about Rajasthan. As usually the room has the standard concrete mattress but everything else is fine. Late afternoon it stops raining and we walk along the beach and around the point. The beach is littered with fallen trees and broken coral making it very interesting. Return through the next resort of Pearl Park where their rooms are not so nice and more expensive. There’s quite a good sunset view from the beach with the clouds turning the sky red. We meet Canadians Jeanette and Doug who join us for an evening meal and interesting chat. They are in a bamboo hut and we are surprised when they tell us they are paying Rs1500 a night.
Rs800 (£12) basic concrete room, non A/C

MONDAY 28 MARCH – We are woken around 5am when our Indian neighbours pack up to leave. It’s unbelievable the amount of noise they manage to make shouting at each other. Tango owner tells us this is why he tries to keep his European guests together on the bottom row but we will put up with the noise in order to have the nicer and cheaper room. The Tango staff is all very friendly and helpful, our room gets cleaned without us asking and when we request a washing line it is put up within minutes. Walking up the road we find a bicycle rental place, Rs50 (75p) per day. Head off cycling along the narrow lanes through banana and mango plantations. All roads fan out from the village and all are littered with dead toads and pot holes. On the southwest coast we walk the last stretch to visit the natural bridge. Luckily it is low tide so we can walk out the point to look at it. There’s a stall where we parked our bikes and we can’t resist the chilled fresh mango juice at Rs15 (22p) nor a chunk of jack fruit for Rs10 (15p). Return through the village to head east towards beach 4. We are impressed by the island solar power station with 720 solar panels feeding 120 800ah batteries. Opposite a school the lads are playing cricket on the football pitch with a couple of cows looking like extra fielders. There’s a track by the school leading down to the beach where we wander spot huge oysters on the rocks but don’t have the tools to remove them. It is low tide so we are able to cycle back along the beach to the jetty. The Police station has a sign on the wall telling you that Police stands for Polite, Obedient, Loyal, Intelligent, Courageous, Efficient. We think it should read Pathetic, Obnoxious, Lousy, Inefficient, Corrupt, and Egoistic! Only joking we haven’t had that much to do with them. I find that I am feeling every bump on the road, and there are many, and it is getting harder to pedal. I’ve got a completely flat tyre but manage to make it back to the bike rental place. The guy gives me another bike but we are so knackered that we head back to Tango just stopping for lunch en route. In the afternoon it is very pleasant swinging in the hammocks behind the beach and reading a book before moving up to our patio. After the afternoon ferry arrives all hell breaks loose. A truck delivers half of India and we cannot possibly imagine where they are all going to stay but cringe at the thought of being surrounded by noisy neighbours. There are over 50 of them and they even have their own cook. It turns out many are staying at another place.

TUESDAY 29 MARCH – As predicted we are woken early with noise. We’re both pretty tired so spend the morning swinging in the beach hammocks. Jeanette has leant me the book “Three cups of tea” and I need to finish it by tomorrow. It is an excellent true life account of climber Greg Mortonson who has been building schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan and a great read. In the evening we sit with Doug and Jeanette and they buy a bottle of wine to share. It is an Indian brand Zinzi and tastes like a cheap rough red but costs Rs550 (£8.25). The bottle says it is blended specially for the Indian palette.

WEDNESDAY 30 MARCH – The usual noisy neighbours wake us up and Steve is so mad he goes out and finds their door open so asks them to be quieter and they apologise and quieten down for a few minutes. At the ferry port we watch the early ferry being loaded with goods in large wicker baskets that necessitate 3 men to haul them onto the head and shoulders of one man who then walks them up the plank. The 8.30am ferry goes directly to Port Blair and we buy our ticket on board. It’s quite a nice feeling arriving back there and having a room booked at Aashiaana, just up the hill from the port. We are on the top floor with a breezy balcony. After freshening up we decide to walk up the hill and over to the waterfront promenade but must miss a turning and end up walking up and down many hilly roads. We do pass a huge tank surrounded by lines of washing and see many men stood in the water doing laundry. It seems to be all sheets and towels. Eventually reach the waterfront and the main area which has been turned into a marine park with kid’s rides, swimming pool and boat hire. In one spot we see the arches of a fence covered in small pairs of knickers put out to dry. Above the waterfront is the famous Cellular Jail, Rs10 (15p) where many freedom fighter prisoners were detained, treated badly and often tortured to death by the barbaric British. It is designed as a single lookout tower with 7 cell blocks radiating out from it enabling easy surveillance. All the rooms are individual cells and each block faces the back of the next one so that the prisoners could not see anyone else. At Annapurna we enjoy and excellent lunch with a British style curry. Wander back to our accommodation through Aberdeen Bazaar bustling with small shops.
PORT BLAIR 1, AASIAANA GUEST HOUSE – Rs650 (£9.75) Non A/C room, TV, balcony

THURSDAY 31 MARCH – Steve has arranged for us to have breakfast in our room at 8am and a rickshaw to take us to the jetty at 8.45am. At 8.30am we have no food and find that it has been given to the room next door, even though there is only 1 person in it. They quickly produce another lot but we find our own rickshaw. At Marine Jetty we buy tickets for a 3 island tour package Rs400 (£6). Leaving at 9.30am it only takes a few minutes to reach Ross Island. This was a British administrative headquarters complete with dozens of Victorian military and private buildings. Fondly known as the “Paris of the East” it was wiped out in 1941 after a double whammy of an earthquake and Japanese invasion. Today there are many ruins taken over by huge fig trees and it reminds us of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We amble around and find the bakery, swimming pool, officer’s mess, Government mansion, church, hospital, cemetery, Japanese bunkers with interesting tunnels plus numerous other buildings. Deer and peacocks roam around totally oblivious of the visitors. We are the only Europeans on board and the guide makes a point of coming to us and explaining things. It takes almost an hour to get to Viper Island and en route we get a great view of the naval floating dry dock. It is an amazing structure which can be floated at different levels, lowered into the water for a boat to sail in and then raised to create a dry dock. During the crossing lunch or rice and a few veggies and a bottle or water are served. Viper Island was a penal colony but with a 20 minute stop we only have time to walk up to the impressive building that held the gallows. There are good views from the top, too good as we look down directly into an abandoned toilet to see one of the men off the boat squatting down for a poo. Arriving at North Bay we are amused by the glass bottom boat part of the tour. There is no jetty so our boat anchors and small glass bottom boats ferry us to the beach pausing for a couple of minutes over the coral, ruined during the Tsunami but there are a few fish. The snorkelling experience is even funnier. Stalls are renting out swimwear so the Indians change into T-shirts and pyjama style pants and the ladies don swimming caps. They are put into life belts joined 3 together and then the guide pulls them over the coral for them to snorkel. We opt for just borrowing the snorkel set and swimming out but it takes some time for the guide to understand that we are confident enough to do it this way. The boat arrives back around 5pm. We stop at a busy street food stall and buy a plate of egg fried noodles, 2 fish and potato cakes and 2 samosas all for Rs 50 (75p).


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