Historical tryst with Port Blair
I was unaware of the real beauty of this jewel in our own backyard, so to speak. No amount of research and trip planning prepared me for the first glimpse of the green-blue waters and emerald islands when I peeked out of the air plane window. I was amazed at the riot of colors below us and was as excited as the 2 little brats accompanying me.
Yes, with that amazing shot still fresh in the camera of our eyes, we landed in the quaint little airport of Port Blair, Veer Savarkar International Airport, raring to go and see more.
A quick transfer to the hotel, followed by lunch and we were ready to take on the heat. Must do things in Port Blair
1) Cellular Jail
Our first stop was the famous Cellular Jail, which was converted into National Memorial monument in 1969. This prison, also known as Kala Paani (black waters) was used by the British to exile political prisoners during the struggle for India’s Independence. You can’t help the rush of patriotism, the sacrifice of many weigh heavy upon your heart as the guide (highly recommended) narrates stories of torture, hardships, bravery and hope.
What fascinated (and disturbed) me at the same time was the brains behind the architecture of this jail.
The central building was a watch tower for guards and had a huge bell. From this intersection emerges 7 wings, like spokes of a wheel. Each wing had 3 stories. There were no dormitories and each cell was 14.8 ft × 8.9 ft in size with a ventilator located at a height of 9.8 ft. The face of the cell in a spoke opened to the wall of the other spoke preventing any communication, thus designed for solitary confinement.
Veer Savarkar’s cell is a must visit.
From the top of the jail, one can see the Govind Ballabh Pant Government Hospital which has been set up in the premises of the Cellular Jail in 1963. It is a 500-bed hospital serving the local population. It’s a very efficient hospital with visiting doctors from major cities. Hopefully, you never have to use this tip – in case of any medical emergency this is an excellent option and they do not charge you for the treatment, as one of my traveling friends found out.
In the courtyard is a Banyan tree, which apparently has been witness to the events in the jail. It is also the narrator of the Light and Sound show, which is a must see.
Timings for Cellular Jail
9 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm to 5 pm
Open on all days except Monday and national holidays
Light and Sound show timings: 6 pm (Hindi), 7:15 pm (English)
2) Anthropological Museum
The next day after breakfast, we set out to visit the Anthropological Museum. This is a must visit , if you are keen to know about the life of the original inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar islands – Jarawas, Sentinelese, Great Andamanese, Onges and the two Mongoloid Tribes of Nicobar – Nicobarese and Shompens. The museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the different tribes, the original inhabitants of the Andaman islands. It gives you a glimpse of the lifestyle, culture and daily use items of the tribes, during their early days.
You will get to see the skills of the tribes in innovatively using available natural resources to create objects of daily use like torch, umbrella, jewelery. Their skill in ship building, for use in transport and fishing, is also at display.
What was interesting is the fact that there were many refugees and skilled labor, that was brought into the Andamans at some point. They make up the current set of tribal demographics in the archipelago and also explains the other languages spoken here – Bengali, Malayalam.
The complete tour of this museum should take about 2 hours, at a leisurely pace.
Timing: 8:30AM – 1.00PM, 1.30PM – 4.30PM
3) Ross Island
Next on the cards was the much awaited trip to Ross Island. This island is controlled by the Indian Navy and was on my must visit places while in Port Blair. All it takes is a 10 minutes ferry ride from the Aberdeen Jetty (near the Water Sports Complex).
From a distance, it really looks like an uninhabited island with thick forest. It is hard to believe that at one point this was the key establishment of British power, housing everything that the British officers needed – Government house (bungalow), barracks, bakery, ballroom, tennis court, swimming pool, water treatment plant, church, hospital etc.
The first thing that catches your eye is the Japanese Bunker. During the Second World War, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were captured by the Japanese from 1942 through 1945. The Japanese army landed in Port Blair on 23rd March, 1942 and occupied the island quite easily. They fortified the island by pulling down existing buildings for raw material and building several bunkers along the water front. The Japanese built 13 bunkers all around the island out of which 4 bunkers can still be seen. These symbolize the apprehension of the Japanese against attack during WW-II.
The island is replete with many coconut trees, deer and peacocks. The kids had a great time interacting (or seemingly so) with the deer but the peacock remained elusive.
The beaches along the island were neat and there are benches to sit by and gaze into the ocean and the horizon.
Given the dilapidated conditions of most buildings, Ross island is considered one of the haunted abandoned places. (http://www.placesyoullsee.com/35-scary-and-haunted-abandoned-places/)
Timings: Timing to visit this place is from 8:30 in the morning to 16:30. [Closed on Wednesdays]
4) Corbyn’s Cove Beach
The next stop was to Corbyn’s Cove Beach , a wisp of land, nestled between coconut palms. The drive to the beach was stunning with the view of the Marina Park and the clear blue waters of the ocean visible through the drive.
Going by the crowd in the evening, the Sherlock in me decided that this was a popular one. Understandably so, given the distance from Port Blair , a mere 8 kms from the city center.
Quite a few options for entertainment available here.
- Water Sports – Zip across the ocean on a motor boat or water scooter
- Relax on the benches and enjoy the view of the ocean and the sunset
- alternate between getting into the water and frolick on sand (kids favorite anytime !)
- Enjoy a refreshing drink of coconut water from the shops lines up at the beach, buy some shell jewelery and watch the kids have a great time (guess who chose this option ;))
Well my excuse ? I had heard so much about my next destination ! Havelock, here I come 🙂
Some general helpful information
Port Blair is the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It has great connectivity from Kolkatta and Chennai (though I have recently seen hoarding of direct flights from Bangalore).
Weather : The best time to visit is October to May. The average temperature in summer would be around 30 degree C (and not very humid) and in winter would be 26 degree C. Catch the Island Tourism festival if you visit in the month of December and January
Hotel : Sea Shell hotel in Port Blair is a great place to stay. I am particular about cleanliness and I found the rooms and the hotel very neat. The staff was very cordial and the view of the ocean from the restaurant was spectacular.
Transport : I normally prefer visiting a place at my pace and on my terms but with Andaman I booked through MakeMyTrip and I was not disappointed. All travel and transport were taken care of. I noticed that there were enough autos / taxis available to take you around, if you are on your own.