Tag Archives: Cellular Jail

Netaji Trail: The Bose particle

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On the 120th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY undertake a transcontinental journey in the footsteps of one of India’s most daring freedom fighters

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He travelled from Calcutta to Peshawar as an insurance agent called Mohammed Ziauddin. As Khan Mohammed Ziauddin Khan, a mute tribal Pathan, he travelled on foot and by mule to Kabul. In the guise of a radio telegraphist and an Italian count Orlando Mazzotta, he reached Germany, met Hitler and eventually took a submarine halfway around the world to Japan to raise an army in the hope of liberating India from the yoke of British rule. There are many heroes who fought for India’s independence, but few as enigmatic as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. We retrace his incredible journey from Kolkata to Kabul, Berlin to Burma and across the Far East – Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and North East India to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands…

As a young radical returning from Cambridge to Calcutta, Bose quit the Indian Civil Service in 1921 and rose to the post of president of the Indian National Congress by 1938. In 1939, he showed up on a stretcher and despite being unwell, defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Differences with Gandhiji on his revolutionary ideals led to Bose being ousted from the Congress. After a hunger strike led to his release from prison, he was put under house arrest by the British.

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With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bose saw it as an opportune moment to wrest freedom from the British. Indian support to the colonial cause during World War I in the hope of getting independence had yielded nothing, except Jallianwala Bagh and the Rowlatt Act. The time had come for more direct action and Bose could go to any length to see India free – even shake hands with the devil if he had to. He believed in the maxim, ‘An enemy of an enemy is a friend of mine’ and sought help of the Axis powers Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to oust the British.

Accompanied by his nephew Sisir, Bose escaped British surveillance on 19 January 1941 in a car that is now on display at his home in Kolkata’s Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani. Run as a memorial and research center, Netaji Bhavan also houses relics of Bose’s footprints. He crossed the Indian subcontinent from east to west, reaching Peshawar and Kabul. British presence in the area made him travel under disguise as he finally reached Germany on April 1941, where the leadership seemed sympathetic to the cause of India’s independence. In November 1941, with German funds, a Free India Centre was set up in Berlin, and soon Bose was broadcasting every night on Free India Radio.

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A 3,000-strong Free India Legion, comprising Indians captured by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, was formed to aid in a possible future German land offensive of India. Few know that the title ‘Netaji’ was given to Bose in Germany by Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion in 1942. The title was used by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin, before it gained popularity in India. Meanwhile, the Japanese occupied Singapore and by January 1942, Rangoon was the next to fall. On 23 March 1942, Japanese troops landed in Port Blair and captured it without firing a single shot. By spring, changing German priorities and Japanese victories in the Far East made Bose think of moving to southeast Asia. Bose met Hitler only once in late May 1942 and the Fuhrer arranged for Bose to be transported by submarine.

On 8 February 1943, Netaji boarded the German submarine U-180 from Kiel and travelled around the Cape of Good Hope to the southeast of Madagascar, where he was transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29. This was the only civilian transfer between two submarines of two different navies during World War II. Bose finally disembarked at Sabang in Japanese-held Sumatra in May 1943. If the term ‘Netaji’ was coined in Germany, equally surprising is the fact that the Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japan! Japanese major and chief of intelligence Iwaichi Fujiwara met Pritam Singh Dhillon, president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League, and recruited Mohan Singh, a captured British Indian army captain to raise an army that would fight alongside the Japanese.

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It had the blessings of Rash Behari Bose, head of the Indian Independence League. The first army was formed in December 1941 and the name INA was mutually chosen in January 1942. In February, from a total of 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore, about 30,000 joined the INA, of which nearly 7,000 later fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign and at Kohima and Imphal.

However, disagreements led to the first INA being disbanded by December 1942. Mohan Singh believed that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a pawn and propaganda tool. He was taken into custody and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp. However, with the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943, the idea of an independence army was revived. In May, Bose travelled via Penang and Saigon to Tokyo, where he attended the Diet, met reporters and gave speeches addressing overseas Indians that were broadcast on Tokyo Radio. By July, Bose was in Singapore and it was with equal excitement that we arrived there on the INA trail.

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As we drove past Dhobie Ghaut, the guide pointed out Cathay Cinema (earlier, the Greater East Asia Theatre), where the India Independence League’s Assembly of Representatives met on a drizzly morning of 4th July. To a resounding applause, Rash Behari Bose handed over the reins of the organization to Subhas Chandra Bose. Over the next few days, soldiers of the INA lined up in the padang (ground) opposite the Singapore Municipal Office for inspection and new recruits eagerly joined the ranks.

With Japanese support, Bose revamped the Indian National Army (INA), composed of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army captured in the Battle of Singapore. Bose received massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia as many Indian civilians from Malaya and Singapore enlisted. Those who could not, made financial contributions. The INA also had a separate women’s unit – the first of its kind in Asia. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment was headed by Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan, a doctor from Chennai.

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The India Heritage Centre in Little India has a small section dedicated to the Indian freedom movement. A bust of Subhash Chandra Bose stands in front of a wallpaper made of INA postage stamps. The INA troops were under the aegis of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) formed in October 1943, which had its own currency, postage stamps, court and civil code, and was recognized by nine Axis states. An INA uniform was on display while letters, cheque donations and photographs lined the wall. A magazine cover showed Captain Lakshmi in military attire.

The Provisional Government, presided by Supreme commander Bose, was formed in the Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 30th December 1943 Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free Indian territory for the first time at Ross Island. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were renamed Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). As head of the government, Bose stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial commemorating his visit was erected near present day Netaji stadium in Port Blair.

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We followed the Bose trail past World War II bunkers dotting the island to Cellular Jail. When Netaji visited the infamous prison, he was welcomed by Admiral Ishikawa, who deliberately kept him away from incarcerated Indians and stories of Japanese torture. Like Singapore, the three year Japanese occupation of the Andamans was a dark chapter in history with innocent islanders tortured mercilessly on charges of espionage, often executed or imprisoned. Like the Changi prison, the Cellular Jail too bears testimony to the bravery of those fighting for freedom.

In early 1944, the INA marched through Kohima Pass and the national flag was hoisted in the Indian mainland for the first time at Moirang in Manipur on April 6, 1944. Kohima was strategically located on the lone road connecting the British supply depot at Dimapur (40 miles northwest) to Imphal (80 miles south). As part of Japan’s Operation U-Go, three columns aimed to cut off the Kohima–Imphal Road and surround Kohima. Between April and June 1944, Kohima witnessed the bloodiest and grittiest fighting seen in World War II.

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The Battle for Kohima was fought in two phases: the 13-day siege from 4 April and clearing Japanese forces from mid-April to 22 June to reopen the Kohima–Imphal road. Both sides suffered high casualties. Grenades were lobbed at point blank range across the tennis court in ‘unending snowball fights’ as soldiers dug holes to burrow or tunnel forward using plates, mugs, bayonets or anything they could lay their hands on. The carefully tended tombstones in the grassy clearing with pretty flower beds seemed a far cry from the bloodbath of WWII. The original Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) Bungalow was destroyed in the fighting and the historic tennis court could be distinguished only by the white concrete lines denoting the boundaries.

The 161st Indian Infantry Brigade’s stand at Kohima blunted the Japanese attack. With the opening of the Dimapur-Kohima road, the 2nd Division and troops from XXXIII Corps supported the counterattack in early May. General Sato, Commander of the 31st Division, ordered Japanese withdrawal, signaling the biggest Japanese defeat in history. British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 110 on 22 June, formally ending the siege.

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The fierce hand-to-hand combat in the Battle of Kohima was a defining moment in the Burma Campaign and halted Japan’s foray into India. Near the entrance of Kohima War Memorial, the Kohima Epitaph bears the immortal words: “When you go home, tell them of us and say; For your tomorrow, we gave our today”.

Despite the reverses on the battlefield, Bose travelled across Penang, Rangoon and Saigon, mobilizing support among Indian expatriates to fight the British Raj. He had great drive and charisma and he coined popular Indian slogans such as ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Chalo Dilli’ and ‘Give me blood and I shall give you freedom’, which he said in a motivational speech at a rally in Burma on 4 July 1944.

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By 1945, almost half the Japanese forces and the INA contingent were killed. A vast number of INA troops were captured, defected or fell into British hands during the Burma campaign by March end. By the time Rangoon fell in May 1945, the INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula and disintegrated although some activities continued until Singapore was recaptured by the British. On 8 July, in Singapore’s Esplanade Park, Bose laid the foundation stone for a hastily-built memorial dedicated to the unknown fallen soldiers of the Indian National Army. On it were inscribed the proud motto of the INA – Etihaad (Unity), Etmad (Faith), Kurbani (Sacrifice).

Instead of surrendering with his forces or with the Japanese, Bose chose to escape to Manchuria in the Soviet Union, which he felt was turning anti-British. Taking off from Taihoku airport at Formosa in Taiwan, his overloaded plane crashed and he died from third degree burns in a military hospital nearby on 18 August, 1945. However, Bose was known for his miraculous escapes and dramatic appearances in the past. From eluding house arrest in Calcutta and his escape to Afghanistan and Europe under various aliases to his submarine journey from Germany to Singapore; his past exploits fuelled the myth of his future return.

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To the Japanese, he was no less than an Indian samurai. Some believed he had become a sanyasi (holy man) called Gumnami Baba. According to various stories, he was seen as a recluse in the Naga hills or on an abandoned island, was a member of a Mongolian trade delegation in Peking, was hibernating in Russia or in a gulag (prison) and was spotted in the Chinese Army. Most believed he was preparing for his final march on Delhi and would reveal himself when the time was right. There were several Bose sightings, one even claiming he met Bose “in a third-class compartment of the Bombay Express on a Thursday.”

Though INA’s military achievements were limited and the British Raj was never seriously threatened by it, the psychological impact was immense. Indian troops fought on both sides at the Battle for Kohima –Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas and Gurkhas under the Allied forces versus soldiers of Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj. Had the eastern offensive through Burma and North East by Japan been coordinated with the German advance through Egypt, Iran and Iraq, a war on two frontiers would have stretched the British forces. A Japanese-INA victory and unfurling of the Indian flag could have prompted the Indian sepoy to switch loyalties. Even in defeat, the INA managed to ignite a revolt within the British Indian army.

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Several former personnel of the British Indian Army, captured fighting in INA ranks or working in support of the INA’s subversive activities, were court-martialed. The British charged 300 INA officers with treason and the first joint trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon took place at Red Fort in Delhi. All three were sentenced to deportation for life. The INA trials led to huge public outcry and became a rallying point. It was the last major campaign where the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together. Immense public pressure, widespread opposition and demonstrations eventually led to the release of all three defendants. Besides the protests of non-cooperation and non-violence, there was a spate of mutinies as support within the British Indian Army wavered. During the trials, mutiny broke out across the Royal Indian Navy from Karachi to Bombay and Vizag to Calcutta. In Madras and Pune, British garrisons faced revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army as NCOs started ignoring orders from British superiors. Another mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946.

There were several factors that guided British prime minister Clement Attlee to relinquish the Raj in India, but the most important reason was the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army – the very foundation of the British Empire in India. The RIN Mutiny made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj. When Singapore was recaptured in 1945, Lord Mountbatten, Head of Southeast Asia Command, ordered the INA War Memorial to be blown to bits. It was partly an act of vengeance for the pain the allies suffered in Imphal and Burma as well as an attempt to stamp out proof of INA’s existence. After the war, fearing mass revolts and uprisings across its empire, the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting the epic tale of the INA. In 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the National Heritage Board of Singapore marked the spot of the original INA memorial as one of the eleven World War II historic site markers.

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As we walked down Esplanade Park in Singapore, we struggled to find vestiges of the INA Memorial. The Cenotaph of the British Indian Army stood tall in honour of ‘Our Glorious Dead’ of the two World Wars. Further down, a Chinese memorial commemorated Singapore war hero and resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng. Yet, there was no sign of INA – just a few stone slabs with peepholes. Often relegated as a footnote in history and denied the importance in the story of India’s freedom movement, was a memorial too much to ask? A local passing by noticed our perplexed look and kindly explained, “There was a signboard, but they’ve recently removed it for renovation.” We breathed a sigh of relief. Mountbatten may have demolished the original memorial, but the spirit of Bose and the INA live on…

Back home in India, the stories surrounding Netaji had always been shadowed by mystery and controversy for decades. Imagine, it was only on 14th October 2015 that the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would declassify the famous ‘Netaji Papers’. Two months later, the whole country watched the broadcast of the event when the first lot of 33 declassified files were handed over by the PMO’s office to the National Archives of India. It was an emotional moment for several members of Netaji’s family and his admirers as the gesture promised to fill the many gaps and loopholes in tracing the legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose. Subsequently, 150 declassified files of the 250 files are now in public domain. Time and again, Netaji has reminded us how he would remain a statesman the world cannot ignore or bury in the dusty pages of history.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the special issue on Bose in the international biannual journal Re:Markings. 

 

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Andamans: Walking down the Isle

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With secluded beaches, stunning sunsets and dazzling marine life, the Andaman Islands are a great place for couples, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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A pair of Powder Blue Tang circled each other giddily before disappearing into a rocky crevice. Green Staghorn corals bore a velvety sheen as if marine antelopes were rutting on the seabed. The underwater realm of gently swaying ferns, sea fans, iridescent fish and strange marine forms was painted in colours we had never seen before – so dazzling, they were permanently seared in our brains. In a matter of hours we had gone from dropping a week’s supply of fish food in our aquarium in Bangalore at dawn to snorkeling in the Andaman Sea by late afternoon. As we discovered a new world, hand in hand, it was a lot like being in a giant aquarium ourselves…

After flying over the seemingly endless Indian Ocean, the first sight of lush green islands from the air brought us to the edge of our seats. The moment we got off at Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair, we inhaled the tropical air and a tempestuous sea breeze tousled our hair with wild abandon in rousing welcome. Andamans was going to be great, we felt and trooped off with the enthusiasm of explorers on the verge of a discovery. A short drive to the hotel and a quick change later, we were on a boat to North Bay, the closest dive site around town. Local boat operators offer a 3-island boat tour including Ross and Viper Islands. At North Bay, tourists are transferred onto smaller glass bottom boats through which they peer at the shaky distorted seabed and squeal in delight. But we were happier snorkeling. North Bay, with its seven coral sites, was merely an appetizer for the main course that lay ahead…

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The best prospects were at the diving hub of Havelock, but we had a few days to explore the mainland. After our introductory session at North Bay, we were off to Ross, the smallest of the 572 islands in the Andaman & Nicobar group. It was hard to imagine that this little blip of a 0.8 sq km island with crumbling edifices choked by roots and vines was once a buzzing hub of colonial high life. The ruins of a bakery, church, bungalows and boiler rooms once echoed with laughter and animated chatter. At its peak, Ross was dubbed as ‘Paris of the East’ because of its grand soirees.

Ironically, just a mile away, Indian freedom fighters languished in one of the most notorious prisons in Indian history. In a searing dichotomy, the Andamans had experienced so much pain and suffering – torn between British colonial rule and Japanese occupation to being battered by the tsunami in 2004 – yet it showered on every visitor so much joy and peace, like a soothing balm over frayed nerves. We walked to the far side of Ross to the forlorn Ferrar Beach lined with rocks and overhanging trees.

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Partially under the army’s command, the island was dotted with World War II bunkers. Chugging to a dramatic shot of the setting sun, the boat docked at Viper Island where the red gallows at the summit was the site of several grisly hangings. The surviving wooden beam served as a chilling reminder. Many people had perished here, including Sher Khan who stabbed Indian Viceroy Lord Mayo in 1872. It was dark by the time we got back to base.

There’s a lot to do around town and a couple can spend more than a couple of days exploring Port Blair and its getaways. With its lazy undulations and tropical air, it is often described as India’s only warm hill station. We checked out the marine museums, relived the sadness and heroism trapped inside Cellular Jail, witnessed the poignant Sound and Light Show, gawked at North Bay’s palm fringed lighthouse captured on the reverse of a Rs.20 note, browsed for shell, coconut and driftwood souvenirs around Aberdeen Bazaar, drove south for a sunset at Chidiya Tapu and enjoyed a nature trail to Kala Patthar at Mount Harriet National Park beyond Hope Town.

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A great escape from the bustle of the capital, the quiet hilltop hideaway had a lovely old Forest Rest House with watchtowers and gun mounts scattered on the hillside. We were honoured to meet the Andaman Blue Nawab, a haughty butterfly that fed on only one species of plant and chose to starve to death if it wasn’t available! Thankfully, we weren’t as fussy and happily chomped on the wide choice of fish and seafood, sipping cold beer at Marina Park and the town’s only beach, Corbyn’s Cove.

Keep half a day aside for Wandoor Marine National Park, an hour’s drive west of town. The 280 sq km park spread over a cluster of 15 islands is the best dive site near Port Blair. Take a boat to Jolly Buoy, Red Skin or Mahuadera to explore its rich marine life that includes four turtle species – Green Sea turtle, Leatherback turtle, Olive Ridley turtle and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. We saw everything from large leatherbacks and giant clams to little Anthias and Fusiliers darting around.

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From Port Blair the Great Andaman Trunk Road darts north to Baratang with its limestone caves and mud volcanoes blubbing like a thick curry on slow boil. For something more mesmeric, a 45 min boat ride from Havelock to Barren Island, gives the adventurous a chance to see India’s only active volcano as it spews ash and dust. The northbound road from Baratang, broken up by ferry crossings and straits, continues further to Mayabunder and Diglipur. But our tryst with the mainland was over as we were taking the swanky Makruzz to Havelock Island.

We stood on the deck, hypnotized by the wake left by the twin hulled luxury catamaran before returning to our plush seats to enjoy the cruise at 24 nautical miles an hour. The jetty was abuzz with fishing boats unloading bananas and fish while little crafts ferried adventure buffs to remote dive sites in Ritchie’s Archipelago. We caught a cab to the Government-run Dolphin Resort that had a superb location and view, before upgrading ourselves to the luxurious yet eco-friendly Barefoot Resort at Radhanagar (Beach No.7).

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Tucked away on the island’s western side, the beach ranked among the best in Asia and we could see why. The wide shallow crescent was ringed with tall Andaman Bullet Wood trees on the seashore as a handful of tourists enjoyed sunbathing, leisurely walks or watched the sun go down. All the nightlife was on the eastern side at Govindnagar (Beach No.3) where most of the beachside restaurants, cafes, resorts and dive shops were located. Understandably, Havelock was fast becoming a honeymooner’s paradise.

The next morning we took a boat past the Lighthouse to Hathi Tapu or Elephant Beach where trees uprooted during the devastating cyclone provided a striking backdrop. Boats bobbed by the edge as tourists in inflatable tubes waddled around the corals, led by their snorkeling instructors. Like the tiny polyps that secreted these vast colonies of coral, the feathery white sand too had a fascinating origin.

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The multi-coloured Bumphead Parrotfish break off chunks of coral and rocky substrates by ramming its head against it, resulting in a flat bump on the forehead. It grinds the coral rock, feeds on it and excretes fine sand which over thousands of years has shaped some of the most sublime sandy beaches in the world. One Parrotfish can produce up to 90 kg of sand each year. The Blue Streaked Cleaner Wrasse or ‘Doctor Wrasse’ nibble off wound tissue and parasites from larger fish, giving them a manicure, pedicure and facial in the bargain. We were suitably inspired to follow suit and pampered ourselves with relaxing detox and rejuvenation programs in the evening.

On a whim, we took off to Neil Island nearby, an hour’s ride by boat. For those who might find high profile Havelock too touristy, unobtrusive Neil is the perfect answer. We disembarked at the stunningly blue jetty, checked into a beach shack and sampled the day’s catch at a garden café. Neil Island gave us a glimpse of how the Andamans would have been before being discovered by tourism. We explored the caves at Sitapur (Beach No.5) to the south and took a guided Coral Walk during low tide at Laxmanpur (Beach No.2). By the edge of the sea mirrored in pools of saline water was a natural rock bridge – ironically, it was ‘Howrah Bridge’ to the island’s Bengali settlers rehabilitated after the Bangladesh War. We drifted in warm currents and swam with the prospect of seeing dugongs amid grassy shallows and secretly wished that the lone boat that would take us back to Port Blair would forget to arrive…

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NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Air: Located in the Bay of Bengal about 1000 km from India’s east coast, the Andamans is connected by regular flights from Chennai and Kolkata (2 hrs) to Port Blair, the capital.

By Sea: Shipping Corporation of India operates Passenger ships between Port Blair and Vizag (56 hrs), Chennai (60 hrs) and Kolkata (66 hrs).

Getting Around: There are regular ferries from Port Blair to Havelock (4 hrs), besides Neil and Rangat. Makruzz covers the 45 km distance in 90 min. Local cabs are available in all tourism zones.

What to do Together Checklist
Snorkeling or deep sea diving at Wandoor or Ritchie’s Archipelago
Candle-lit gourmet dinner by the surf at Havelock
Long romantic beach walk at Radhanagar or Neil Island
Shopping for souvenirs at Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair
Bird & butterfly nature trail to Kala Patthar
Enjoy a sunset at Chidiya Tapu or Mount Harriet
Rejuvenative massage and spa treatment for couples

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What to Eat 

Port Blair has several eating out options like Corbyn’s Delight and Mandalay, though New Lighthouse Restaurant close to the water park and museum is a good no-frills eatery. Singhotel’s Pink Fly Lounge Bar is a trendy nightspot. Havelock is dotted with resorts that run charming cafes and restaurants like Island Vinnie’s Full Moon, The Wild Orchid’s Red Snapper or Emerald Gecko’s Blackbeard’s Bistro besides little shacks like Anju Coco that serve anything from pizzas and pancakes to great seafood. Barefoot Bar & Brasserie overlooking the jetty is a good vantage point while Barefoot’s Dakshin restaurant close by serves great South Indian.

Where to Stay

Peerless Sarovar Portico
Port Blair’s only beach resort overlooking Corbyn’s Cove
Ph 03192-229311 http://www.sarovarhotels.com

Fortune Resort Bay Island
One of the most luxurious hotels in Port Blair, atop Marine Hill
Ph 03192 234101 http://www.fortunehotels.in

Barefoot at Havelock
Havelock’s swankiest resort blending luxury and eco-friendly charm overlooking Radhanagar Beach
Ph 044 42316376, 9840238042 http://www.barefoot-andaman.com

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Contact
For tourism info
Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Directorate of Information, Publicity & Tourism, Port Blair
Ph 03192-238473, 232694 E-mail ipt@and.nic.in http://www.tourism.andaman.nic.in

For Mt Harriet & Wandoor National Parks
Chief Wildlife Warden P.O. Haddo, Port Blair 744 102
Ph 03192-233321 Email cwlw@andaman.tc.nic.in

For Diving
Barefoot Scuba
Ph 044 24341001, 9566088560
Email: dive@barefootindia.com http://www.diveandamans.com

Dive India
Ph 03192 214247, 8001122205
Email: info@diveindia.com http://www.diveindia.com

Andaman Bubbles
Ph 03192 282140, 9531892216
Email: andamanbubbles@gmail.com http://www.andamanbubbles.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Discover India magazine.

Tryst with Destiny: Indian Freedom Trail

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As part of an Independence Day Special, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY retrace the journey of India’s freedom struggle, profiling some key and lesser known historic sites they’ve visited across the country

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Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Allegedly used as a pitstop by Lord Hanuman on his aerial flight to Lanka (hence the name), the Andamans played an important part in the Indian struggle for independence. The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny prompted the British to choose the remote Andamans as a penal settlement. Thousands of Indian revolutionaries were sentenced to ‘Saza-e-Kala Pani’ and made to toil night and day under extreme conditions for 10 years to build a seven-pronged prison. Nearly 30 million bricks, made from crushed corals sourced from Dundus Point were used. Each wing had three storeys for solitary confinement in 693 individual cells, thereby giving its name – Cellular Jail. When the siren blared from the central watchtower it indicated that three martyrs had been hanged. The photo displays, sculpted models, relics and Sound & Light show offer a vivid portrayal of the suffering and sacrifice of the patriots. Ross, at 0.8 sq km, the smallest island in the Andamans served as the British headquarters. When Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, visited Ross Island in 1872, he went to Mount Harriet, the highest point in South Andamans to enjoy the sunset. When he reached Hope town jetty for the ferry back to Ross, he was ambushed and assassinated by Sher Ali Khan, who was later hanged at Viper Island.

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During World War II, after occupying Singapore and Rangoon, Japanese troops landed at Port Blair on 23 March 1942 and captured it without firing a shot. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Supreme commander of the Provisional Govt of Azad Hind, had allied with the Japanese to oust the British. On 30th December 1943, Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free India for the very first time. Andaman and Nicobar were renamed as Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). Netaji stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial near Netaji Stadium at Port Blair commemorates his visit. However, the Japanese atrocities at Cellular Jail and the island were kept hidden from him. Over 700 innocent people were taken in 3 big boats and thrown overboard near Havelock Island in the dead of the night. In a similar incident, 300 islanders were killed at Tarmugli Islands off Wandoor. Just off the road to Wandoor, lies a dark gloomy park on a small hillock at Humphreyganj. On 30th January 1944, 44 innocent people detained at Cellular Jail on false spy charges, were brought here and brutally murdered. Today, the trench where they were buried is marked by a memorial… Ironically, while India’s freedom fighters perished in prison, some of the islands were named after British heroes of the mutiny like Havelock, Neil, William Peel, Outram and John & Henry Lawrence.

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Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Madurai was an important landmark in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Surprisingly, he made five visits to the city. On his second visit to Madurai in 1921, disturbed by the plight of poor farmers, Gandhiji shed his long coat and donned his trademark loincloth. In 1934 he refused to step inside the Madurai Meenakshi Temple when his escort was not allowed inside because he was a harijan. This triggered the ‘Temple Entry Movement’ for untouchables. Only after Vaidyanath Iyer opened the doors of the temple to everybody in 1939, did Gandhiji enter the shrine in 1946! During the renovation of the temple, a mural artist was so inspired by this event, that he painted an image of Mahatma Gandhi on the temple walls. The Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai, set in the beautiful Tamukkum Summer Palace of Nayaka queen Rani Mangammal is one of the seven museums in the country dedicated to the Mahatma. It showcases Gandhiji’s life through rare photos, quotes, murals and letters. The Hall of Relics and Replicas contains 14 original artefacts used by Mahatma Gandhi including a shawl, spectacles, yarn and the bloodstained cloth worn by him when he was assassinated.

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Vellore Fort, Tamil Nadu
Few people are aware that the first mass rebellion against British rule took place at Vellore Fort, 50 years before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Independence! Though it lasted just for a day the 1806 Vellore Mutiny wreaked immense havoc and damage on the British. The cause of this revolt was a change in the Sepoy dress code in November 1805. Incited by the decision of the British to disallow Hindus from wearing tilaks on their foreheads and the demand for Muslims to shave their beard and trim their moustache, Indian soldiers stormed the bastion and killed nearly 200 British troopers in a day-long attack that rewrote history. Tragically, they were subdued by reinforcements from Arcot and nearly 700 Indian soldiers were gunned down. However, this wasn’t the first challenge the British faced in Tamil Nadu. Veerapandiya Kattabomman, an 18th century Poleygar chieftain fought against the British alongside the brave Marudu brothers. Treason led to his execution on 16 October 1799 at Kayatharu on NH7, near Tirunelveli. Today, a memorial has been erected at the site. The historic Vellore Fort is a 16th Century citadel that served as the erstwhile headquarters of the Late Vijayanagara Empire. The fort was built in 1566 by Chinna Bommi Nayak and Thimma Reddy Nayak, subordinates to Sadasiva Raya of Vijayanagara. As a result of the struggle for power among the squabbling Raya families, the fort suffered gradual decline and witnessed the brutal royal genocide of Vijayanagar king Sriranga Raya’s kith and kin. Soon the Deccan Sultans swept in to take control followed by the Marathas, the Nawabs of Arcot and the British.

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Pazhassi Raja’s Tomb, Wayanad
This is the story of how the tiny district of Wayanad in Kerala influenced one of the world’s most famous wars, The Battle of Waterloo. Under the treaty of Srirangapatnam, when Tipu Sultan ceded Malabar to the British, Pazhassi Raja of Kottayam (a small village 70 km from Mananthavady) was among the first to revolt against the British. Persecuted, he took refuge in the dense jungles of Wayanad and organized local tribals into an irregular army, launching a long period of guerrilla warfare against the British. In a famous incident, an entire division of 360 soldiers of the British army camping at Panamaram was slaughtered. News of his courageous exploits spread like wild fire, earning him the title Keralasimham or the Lion of Kerala and he soon garnered support from far and wide.

For nine years, he managed to elude the British by constantly moving and hiding in the caves at Pulpally. In a bid to capture him, the British launched a two pronged attack. Young Lord Wellesley camped with his contingent at Mysore while TS Baber, the Collector of the Madras Presidency called in the British army from Thalassery and studied his guerilla tactics. When they caught Pazhassi Raja’s two generals, the Britishers amputated their limbs and hanged them as a warning to locals. Eventually, someone betrayed Pazhassi Raja who chose to end his life by swallowing his diamond ring rather than being caught alive by the British; bringing the rebellion to an abrupt end. Impressed by his bravery, TS Baber carried the king’s body in his own palanquin as a mark of respect. Pazhassi Raja’s tomb is located in Mananthavady.  It is said that Lord Wellesley learnt the rules of guerilla warfare while pursuing Pazhassi Raja in the hills and jungles, which the Duke of Wellington later employed in the historic Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon.

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Phillaur Fort, Punjab 
Located on the banks of the Sutlej, Phillaur is the site of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s historic fort when Lahore used to be the capital of undivided Punjab. On account of its strategic location, it was first developed as a serai for trading and military purposes by Sher Shah Suri around 1540. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan later revived it, using it as a Dak ghar (Postal Center) and Military camp. After the Amritsar treaty of 1809 with the British East India Company, Phillaur became a border post of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Lahore Empire. With help from an Italian architect, the serai was converted into a fort. Presently called Maharaja Ranjit Singh Fort, it houses a Police Training Academy (PTA). The Fingerprint Bureau set up in 1892 is one of the oldest of its kind. The Museum retraces India’s freedom struggle in Punjab and the history of Punjab Police with panels on the Anglo-Sikh Wars, 1928 Lahore Conspiracy case and major battles. Vintage guns, artillery, swords, tools of burglary and theft are also displayed! The highlights include the sword of Lord Lytton, the pen used in Lahore Court to sign the death warrant of Bhagat Singh and the finger imprints of Udham Singh, who shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer in 1940 at Caxton Hall in London. O’Dwyer was the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Interestingly, the popular hymn ‘Om Jai Jagdish Hare’ was composed in Phillaur in the 1870s by local litterateur Shardha Ram Phillauri. 

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Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
On the evening of April 13, 1919, the people of Amritsar gathered for a peaceful protest against the Rowlatt Act in Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden near Harmandir Sahib. It was Baisakhi festival and a Sunday, so nearly 15,000 to 20,000 people had assembled (including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, women, senior citizens and children). When news of the protest reached Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, he arrived with 65 Gurkha and 25 Baluchi soldiers, an hour after the meeting began. The British were already paranoid after the Lahore conspiracy trials, the possible influence of the Russian revolution on India and the Third Anglo-Afghan War, so Dyer was convinced that a major insurrection was on. Dyer ordered fifty riflemen to open fire on the gathering. For the next ten minutes they kept firing till the ammunition ran dry. Nearly 1,650 rounds were fired and 1,302 men, women and children were killed. The narrow lane had a single entry and exit that was blocked by huge armoured vehicles, forcing many to jump into a well in the compound and perish. The site was acquired by the nation through public subscription on 1st August, 1920 at the cost of Rs.5.65 lakh and a Flame of Liberty Memorial erected. The Martyr’s Well from where 120 bodies were recovered and the wall riddled with 36 bullet marks serve as a chilling reminder of this heinous incident.

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Khonoma, Nagaland
The British first came into contact with the fierce Nagas in 1832, when Capt. Jenkins and Pemberton ventured into Angami territory for a strategic road survey between Assam and Manipur. In the years to follow the British met with stiff resistance from the Nagas everywhere. After the British adopted a policy of non-intervention in 1851, the Nagas launched 22 raids against the British, who finally attacked the Angami stronghold of Khonoma. Captain John Butler described Semoma Fort, a stone bastion, as ‘the strongest in the North East’. Each time the fort was destroyed; it rose phoenix-like, defiantly rebuilt to endure the next attack. In 1879, the killing of British political agent GH Damant resulted in the Battle of Khonoma, the last organized Naga resistance against the British. After booby-trapping the area the Nagas escaped to the mountains. The British eventually settled for a peace treaty, ending half a century of fighting and acknowledged their autonomy. The Nagas earned profound respect from the British and their evolution from a ‘savage race of head-hunters’ to the ‘cradle of civilization’ was swift.

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Moplah Rebellion, Malabar
Malabar, the northern tract of Kerala, was the site of a bloody rebellion by the Muslim Mapila community against the British and oppressive Hindu landlords. Perinthalmanna, 3 km from Angadipuram in Malappuram, was the nerve center of the Moplah revolts of 1896 and 1921. The 1921 rebellion began as a reaction against a heavy-handed crackdown on the Khilafat Movement by the British authorities in the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks of Malabar. Even the sacred shrine of Angadipuram was not left untouched and was used as a protective abode by rioters. Open fights broke out in the courtyard during which the temple suffered extensive damages, which were duly repaired. Adjoining the Valiya (Big) Juma Masjid in Ponnani is a mausoleum of the Malappuram martyrs whose deeds have been immortalized in Moplah ballads.

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Sidho Kanhu Smarak, Jharkhand
The Sidho Kanhu Santhali Sanskritik Kendra at Massanjore perform an old Santhal ballad about their folk heroes. As the Mayurakshi flows silently behind, girls sway in their green saris, the mandhar (tribal drum) taps a primal beat and Santhal boys dance with ghungroos tied to their feet. The song recounts the tale of  the brave Sidho Kanhu, who had been imprisoned by the British for rebelling against the unjust tax imposed on tribal forest land. As their brothers Chand and Bhairon wistfully watched from afar, astride their horses, Sidho and Kanhu were hanged from a banyan tree at Bhognadih near Baghdaha More. The song goes on to say that there was so much sadness, even the horse had cried… Another enigmatic folk figure was the brave Birsa Munda, who fought for tribal rights against the British. He was captured through treachery on 3 February 1900 and died mysteriously in Ranchi Jail on 9 June 1900. He was only 25 years old. Ranchi airport is named after him while his birth anniversary, 15 November, is celebrated every year at Samadhi Sthal, Kokar in Ranchi.

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The Ridge, Delhi
The last outcrop of the Aravalli Hills rising 60 ft. above the city of Delhi, the Ridge was where the British pitched camp just 1200 yards from the city walls during the siege of Delhi from June to September 1857. Flagstaff Tower was the first rallying point for the Europeans when the mutiny reached Delhi. The Mutiny Memorial, an ornate 110 feet Gothic edifice, was erected in 1863 after the mutiny at the site of Hodgson’s battery. The red sandstone octagonal structure was built in memory of the soldiers of the Delhi Field Force, who were killed in action or died of wounds between 30th May and 20th September, 1857. The names of the British soldiers can be found etched on marble slabs around its base, which also bear a passing mention of the native soldiers who fought on behalf of the British.

Delhi is littered with sites linked to the 1857 Mutiny. At the Red Fort, mutineers had crowned Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India. Humayun’s tomb was where Captain Hodgson arrested Bahadur Shah who was hiding with his three sons and a grandson, and they were subsequently beheaded. Badli-ki-Serai on G.T. Road was the site of a battle fought on 8th June 1857 between the sepoys and the Gordon Highlanders, to whom a memorial exists in Azadpur Sabzi Mandi. Kashmiri Gate was where the British made a final assault on Delhi on 14th September 1857. Brigadier General John Nicholson’s grave lies in the Kashmiri Gate cemetery. St James Church nearby was built by the legendary James Skinner in 1836 who once lay wounded on the battlefield and vowed that he’d build a church for the British, if he survived. The church was badly damaged during the 1857 Mutiny, its dome was pitted with holes as it served as targets for firing practice by sepoys. The structure was later repaired by the British and restored to its former glory.

Barrackpore, West Bengal
Located on the eastern bank of the Ganges about 15 miles from Calcutta, Barrackpore was the site of a military barrack set up in 1772, making it the first cantonment of the British East India Company. However, not one, but two rebellions took place against the British at Barrackpore. The 1824 rebellion was led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary of the 47th Bengal Native Infantry. Being upper caste Hindus, they refused to board boats for Burma in the First Anglo-Burmese War as crossing the seas would pollute their religious beliefs. The British decimated the rebels with an artillery barrage. Later, rumours that the British had greased the Enfield cartridges with lard (which had to be bitten off) ignited the first spark during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. Muslims suspected the grease to be pork fat while Hindus assumed it originated from beef. Mangal Pandey attacked his British commander and was subsequently court-martialled and executed, while punitive measures were taken against other rebel sepoys.

Andaman & Nicobar: Twin Fantasies of Exotica

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The boat bobbed gently on the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. As we soaked up the sun on the deck, the guide announced, “You can enjoy snorkeling at North Bay, see the ruins of Ross Island where we have lunch, head to Viper Island and finally return to Port Blair where…” Suddenly a belligerent male voice cut him mid-sentence, “What is this? Don’t you cover Nicobar also?” For a few endless seconds there was only silence, before the whole boat rocked with belly-shaking laughter. The guide broke the news gently. “Sir, Andaman and Nicobar is a chain of 572 islands that stretch across 800 km! Car Nicobar, the northern-most point and headquarters of the Nicobar group is 270 km from Port Blair and takes errr… 16 hours by sea.” Mr. Loudmouth’s righteous indignation vapourised instantly to utter bewilderment; his mouth opened and closed wordlessly like a goldfish, as he computed the numbers.

To the uninitiated, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are twin fantasies of exotica, as inseparable as Laurel & Hardy, Ernst & Young or Yin & Yang. Two peas in a pod, albeit at opposite ends. Cut off from the mainland for centuries, these islands have been home to tribes untouched by modern civilization. The story of how a harmless harbour for ships in distress transformed into a notorious penal settlement under the British, a Japanese-occupied territory during World War II to eventually become a tourist paradise is as magical as a tropical butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Today, Andaman & Nicobar has finally taken wing as a dream destination in the minds of domestic and international travellers alike. 

In this surreal world, turtles nest on virgin beaches, jungles teem with rare flora and fauna, geographical wonders like coral reefs, sand bars, rock bridges and mud volcanoes leave you awestruck while sting rays, sea moths and rabbit fish inhabit the deep. Snorkeling and scuba diving are perhaps the most intimate ways to discover this hidden realm that explodes with fascinating marine life. North Bay, the closest snorkeling site from Port Blair, gave us our first glimpse of the coral reef. While glass-bottomed boats offered the tame pleasure of window seats on flights, snorkeling was more like skydiving. We hovered over schools of multi-hued fish shimmying in underwater gardens of coral. 

In sharp contrast, the historic ruins at Ross and Viper stood still, ravaged by time, calamity and war. The choking grasp of overgrown vines had squeezed the life out of the barracks, boiler rooms, churches and bungalows of the erstwhile headquarters of the British. During World War II, after occupying Singapore and Rangoon, Japanese troops landed at Port Blair on 23 March 1942 and captured it without firing a shot. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had allied with the Japanese to oust the British and it was at Ross, a tiny island of 0.8 sq km, the smallest in the Andamans, where bells of freedom tolled for the world’s seventh largest country. On 30th December 1943, Netaji, Supreme commander of the Provisional Govt of Azad Hind, hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free India for the very first time and renamed Andaman and Nicobar as Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). Netaji stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial near Netaji Stadium at Port Blair commemorates his visit. 

However, much before WWII, the Andamans marked an important milestone in India’s road to freedom. The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny prompted the British to develop the Andamans as a penal settlement and its most recognizable symbol was the Cellular Jail. The photo displays, sculpted models, relics and son et lumiere offered a vivid portrayal of the past. It was hard to imagine hundreds of Indian revolutionaries toiling night and day under extreme conditions for 10 years to build a seven-pronged prison. 

Nearly 30 million bricks, handmade from crushed corals sourced from Dundus Point were used. Each wing had three storeys for solitary confinement in individual cells, hence the name Cellular Jail. When the siren blared from the central watchtower, it announced that three martyrs had been hanged. We climbed the tower for an unhindered view of the sea and gazed at ships passing by. The red and white stripes of the lighthouse at North Bay broke the dense green cover that stretched till Mount Harriet, our next stop.

Lilting birdsong mingled with the scrunch of shoes on the nature trail from Mount Harriet to Kala Patthar and Madhuban. One of the richest areas of biodiversity, Mount Harriet National Park was home to spectacular butterflies like the Andaman Blue Nawab. True to its name, the fussy butterfly feeds on only one species of plant; if unavailable, it chooses to starve to death! Back at the Forest Rest House, we sipped tea at the machaan and watched the sun dip into the sea and the lights of Port Blair twinkle at night. After trawling the museums, shopping for shell handicrafts at Aberdeen Bazaar, sunsets at Chidiya Tapu, lazing on the beach at Corbyn’s Cove and snorkeling at Wandoor Marine National Park, we headed for the most popular hangout in the Andamans, Havelock. 

Aboard the swanky Makruzz, the 55 km journey was a breeze. Slicing through endless blue waters at 24 nautical miles, the luxury catamaran left a foamy wake as flying fish scurried for cover. Soon, we docked at Havelock. After some gourmet seafood at B3 overlooking the jetty we set off to Beach No.7 or Radhanagar. One look at the white crescent-shaped beach fringed by groves of Andaman Bullet-wood and we knew why TIME voted it as Asia’s best beach. 

The Barefoot Beachside Jungle Resort was the fanciest address in town, rated amongst the top 30 eco-resorts in the world. The island brimmed with resorts, restaurants and scores of dive sites nearby; those who had their fill, moved to the quieter charms of Neil Island. 

From Radhanagar we trekked to Elephant Beach or Hathi Tapu, Havelock’s most popular dive site. The dense thicket opened into a Dali-esque painting – crystal clear waters lapped gently against massive upturned trees strewn on a narrow beach strip. As we gushed in delight, our guide remarked wryly ‘You should have seen it before the tsunami!’ It was hard to imagine how the mood of the sea had shifted from this Zen-like calm to the destructive fury of 2004. Nicobar, being closer to the epicenter, bore the brunt.

Unlike the Andamans, tourism in Nicobar was restricted due to its strategic importance as a defense base. Foreigners were not allowed and domestic tourists needed special permits, granted only in exceptional cases. Nicobar’s remote location beyond the treacherous 10 Degree Channel, a 400-fathom deep waterway, only added to its mystique. Its geographic isolation had allowed endemic species to grow to gargantuan proportions. Here, intrepid Giant Robber Crabs climb up coconut trees to crack open nuts with their claws. The empty shells of Giant Clams, the world’s largest living molluscs, serve as water troughs for pigs reared by Nicobarese. Over a third of Andaman’s 246 species of birds are endemics, including the iridescent Nicobar Pigeon and Megapode (literally ‘bigfoot’, a scrub fowl that laid outsized eggs). India’s largest snake, the Regal Python is also found here. 

To a generation that grew up learning ‘Kanyakumari is the southernmost tip of India’, it was a revelation that Indira Point in Greater Nicobar was the rightful owner of the tag. Poring over a map on the ferry back to Port Blair, we realized we had merely skimmed the surface. One could only wonder what other secrets lay trapped within these stunning emerald isles… 

Contact

For tourism related info & acco
Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Directorate of Information, Publicity & Tourism, Port Blair
Ph 03192-238473, 232694 E-mail ipt@and.nic.in Web www.tourism.andaman.nic.in

For visiting Mt Harriet & Wandoor National Parks
Chief Wildlife Warden
P.O. Haddo, Port Blair 744 102
Ph 03192-233321 E-mail cwlw@andaman.tc.nic.in

For special permits to visit Nicobar & other tribal areas (Indians only)
Deputy Commissioner
Andaman District, Port Blair 744101
Ph 03192-233089 E-mail dcand@and.nic.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June, 2011 issue of Quest magazine for Spenta Publications.