We were in Havelock now, one of the biggest, for me the liveliest of all the islands in Andamans. We woke up in the morning, went to the beach of our resort and saw the sunrise. That day, my heart was brimmed with joy and excitement and a bit of fear as it was my first time going for a Scuba Dive. We reached Ocean Dive Center (SH4, Havelock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands 744211), where they gave us a consent letter to be signed, it was as if we were signing up for our life. Then they gave us our wet suit to change.
We stood on the deck in our wet suits, with oxygen cylinder strapped to our back and two respirators, one to breathe through, the other spare-dangling at our side. At first, they took us to the shallow and gave us training before we went deep into the sea. They told us how to equalize our body pressure, what to do if water enters inside our mask and various signs to communicate with our guide. It shot up my stress even more while they were teaching us the techniques. Then, after an hour, we hopped on the boat to go to the middle of the sea.
The anxiety was increasing. The sea has many secrets, so many stories yet to tell and here we were to explore. As a kid, I used to get amused when I used to switch on my television and see the wonders of the aquatic world. The guide made us sit on the edge of the boat and pushed us back, we did a somersault and went inside the sea. My guide reduced the buoyancy of the suit and gradually we went down. So far, down in the ocean, the sunlight was a soft diffused glow. At a certain point, there were huge corals, to which the sunlight was alien. Shoals of fishes were moving across us. That place from the ordinary world above was the Ethiopia of my dreams. As we went deeper the pressure gradually caused my ears to pump up and it did hurt a little initially, but the training they gave to equalize paid off well. Down there my senses were altered; the sounds were soothing and the light gentle. It was truly a three-dimensional world; I was as free as a bird in the sky, I could also swoop down towards the sandy bed below. Down there I was free to turn and move as I wished, the ties of the gravity faded to nothing.
There were fishes of different kinds and colors, shapes and sizes. They were moving with us with no fear as if they thought us to be a part of them. There is something about getting so far from this world deep into the sea that I find my self, a place far away from the noise and bustling of the city. A place where we find peace among the blue-emerald colored water and the harmonizing life that exist in it. The deeper we went, the curiouser I got. The temperature reduced as we went deeper and so did the light. There in the watery depths, I got so involved with surroundings that I almost forgot the stress of my upcoming examinations. It took me a while to get into my senses that I was floating against the ties of the gravity. Everywhere it was festooned with sea vegetations like seaweed, kelp, and anemones. All these, with coral that rose like Gothic architecture, were entrancing.
We saw barracudas circling around us, good corals, parrot fish, clown fish, cleaner fish, and big shoals of fusiliers which entertained us on our way, we also saw Whitebanded Shrimps, Peacock Mantis, Giant Moray, and Manta Ray. In the great depths, I saw myself as I really am, just another living organism in the vastness of the world. Perhaps that’s why I love this expanse of briny blue so much. Here in the watery depths, I can forget myself and the stress of my life. Here I was insignificant in the crowd of the aquatic life. The fluidity of life far below the waves brought a sense of freedom and levity.
As we got back to the diving school, the land, the usual world, I sighed as I wanted to go back again and hide from reality. We were all tired, my mom and my sister decided to go for a mother-daughter date and spoil themselves with some spa. My father decided to go back and rest. Me, being me, the usual wanderer, the gypsy soul i am, decided to walk all the way to Havelock main town all by myself, that too on foot. I was clicking pictures of the palms on the roadside and the mountains which were covered with thick vegetations. I was really enthralled on seeing the liveliness around me. Tourists were enjoying themselves going to places, cycling and biking around. There were little shops selling street foods and fried fishes.
In the afternoon, we went to Anju’s Resto Cafe which was just about five hundred meters from our resort. We saw a lot of people hiring bicycles just outside the cafe, we also decided to hire it for a day (for those who are curious to know the hiring rates, it was only hundred rupees for 24 hours and for scooter it was four hundred for 24 hours). In the evening, we took our bicycles and headed towards the town. Our evening started with tasty gol-gappas and some fresh fruit juice. We then went to a little fast food shop and had fried fishes with hot tea. By the time we reached our room, it was dark and almost time for dinner. So we decided to go back to Anju’s Resto Cafe and had tasty sizzlers and their very famous salad.
The best part about the trip was that none of our internet data was working. Initially, it was quite tough for us, but it had a good side too. It helped us give more time to each other and also discuss our program, rather than spending more time on smartphones all by ourselves and straining our eyes. There were a few instances where we had to use the internet urgently for some reasons. We managed to find a cyber cafe not too far from our resort where we had our work done.
We woke up early in the morning at around five and took our bicycles to head to Kala Pathar beach. It was about 5-6 km away from our resort. The morning weather was pleasant. Humans are the fastest land enduring mammals and so when we combine them with a bicycle we get a truly astonishing way to travel and have fun. The wind was fresh, the sun was bright, the fragrance cleaner than the fresh laundry. In a few minutes, our bikes were moving down the road like they have motors, our legs moving up and down almost without effort over the flat ground. As we head over, we leaned forward on the pedals pushing down with our body weight. On the way, we could spot a few huts of fishermen and after a stretch of cycling, we entered the thick forest.
There was music everywhere in the forest, the music of nature. The birds were chirping, cicadas and crickets were buzzing and whistling in the woods. The birds were calling to one another in the beautiful way they do, the songs coming from different trees along the road. If their music were visible, it would be petals falling like rain from every shade of the spring flowers, kaleidoscope for the soul. Chirps from the tree top gently pushed the sluggishness from my mind, my thoughts began to dance to the melody.
There were danger signs along the road of crocodiles inhabiting in that area, which creeped us out. With a kiss of fresh air, I felt my wheels meet the road, legs on automatic, mind free to wonder. On the way with steady sunlight warmth and wind too cool, my eyes were bathed in the passing scene, able to see the rich natural hues of the bright open sky. As we moved out of the forest we could see bright open skies and on one side of the road, there was the boundless Indian ocean with different shades of blue reflecting the glory of the morning sun. It was the indication that we were nearing the beach. We started peddling faster with the excitement of reaching our destination. Within a few minutes we were there by the gate of Kala Pathar clicking pictures of our self proclaimed victory. We refreshed our mindS with coconut water. We sat there by the beach forgetting all the stress and just being in the moment.
We cycled a kilometer or so along the beach on the golden sand with waves gradually moving to and fro as if it was racing with me. We stayed there for almost an hour and decided to move back to our resort. After having our breakfast, it was time for us to check out from our resort, we decided to spend the afternoon at Radhanagar beach before boarding the cruise for Port Blair.
What’s the use of going to a beach and not getting a sun bask?. Our lifestyle in the cities has become so hectic that nobody gets time to get the benefits of the sun, especially students like me who gets up before the sun rises and comes back home only after the sun sets. It’s not only the students but also corporate workers whose life revolves only around six by six cubicles and mostly straining their eyes on the computers. We made use of the time and were all set for the sun basking. We oiled ourselves up and laid under the blazing sun. Our skin that was paled at home, almost translucent, was now honeyed brown. Against it, our black hair gave us a Mediterranean look rather than gothic. Our skin became a soft shade of brown right through the olive oil on our skin. The soft sky above, warm sand underfoot and the clouds caressed with the reflected light. The lacy waves were a drumbeat that echoed my heart, the breeze blew the tension right out of my bones and all the while, there was the birds’ arc above, masters of the salty updrafts, that made the day even better.
After having our lunch at a treetop restaurant at the beach, it was time for us to leave for the harbor to take our cruise back to Port Blair. I really miss the Havelock and wish to come back again. We reached Port Blair at around 7 O’clock and got checked in to our hotel for the night.
It was a lazy morning for all of us, the last day here in the beautiful islands. Woke up at around eight and got ready. The only thing which was left for us to do was to visit the cellular jail and do some souvenir shopping. We reached cellular jail first. The Cellular Jail is one of the murkiest chapters in the history of the colonial rule in India. Although the prison complex itself was constructed between 1896 and 1906, the British had been using the Andaman islands as a prison since the days in the immediate aftermath of the first war of independence.
Shortly after the rebellion was crushed, the British sent thousands to the gallows, hung them up from trees, or tied them to cannons and blew them up. Those who survived were exiled for life to the Andamans to sever their connections with their families and their country. 200 mutineers were transported to the islands under the custody of the jailer David Barry and Major James Pattison Walker, a military doctor who had been the warden of the prison at Agra. Another 733 from Karachi arrived in April 1868. More prisoners arrived from India and Burma as the settlement grew. Anyone who belonged to the Mughal royal family, or who had sent a petition to Bahadur Shah Zafar during the Rebellion was liable to be deported to the islands.
The construction of the prison started in 1896 and was completed in 1906. The original building was a puce-colored brick building. The bricks used to build the building were brought from Burma, known today as Myanmar.
The central tower with a conical roof, the building had seven wings, at the center of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep a watch on the inmates. The wings radiated from the tower in straight lines, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise the alarm in any eventuality.
Each of the seven wings had three stories upon completion. There were no dormitories and a total of 698 cells. Each cell was 4.5 meters x 2.7 meters or 15×8 feet in size with a ventilator located at a height of three meters. The name, “cellular jail”, derived from the solitary cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. They were all in solitary confinement.
The Empire of Japan invaded the Andaman islands in 1942 and drove the British out. The Cellular Jail then became home to British prisoners. During this period, Subhash Chandra Bose also visited the islands. Two out of the seven wings of the Jail were demolished during the Japanese regime. In 1945, the British resumed control by the end of World War II.
Prisoner cell of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Got the opportunity to meet relatives of a prisoner
It was now time for us to leave. Now even if many months have passed by, the memory of Andamans have registered in my head with all the fun I had there. For as of now whenever I have frazzled thoughts in my head, I close my eyes and all I can see is the sunny white sand beaches, so calm and pleasant that I dive right in, in the turquoise ocean, hence getting rid of all my hesitation and skeptic thoughts, I open my eyes and find myself in the real world, for now at peace, and all my worries at halt for sometime.
Until next time…