Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rainfall, Active Volcano, Tours & Flights in Andaman


Dear friends! Here’s wishing you all a very “HAPPY DIWALI”, the annual Hindu festival of lights celebrated throughout India with peerless religious fervor by the followers of all religions, alike, making a strong statement of matchless communal harmony & integration throughout the globe.

I’m back to Port Blair from Car Nicobar where I’m currently Coordinating the implementation of Child Led Disaster Risk Reduction (CLDRR) Project under the aegis of the NGO - West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA). The project is supported by the world renowned NGO – Save the Children – BRB for the community of Car Nicobar that was the worst affected by the tsunami of 26th December, 2004. I’d elaborate on the project later.

As of now, since it’s raining cats and dogs in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and a low pressure area has been created in the Bay of Bengal, here, let me present to you an interesting account on rains in these Islands.

Rain as companion

As detailed in my earlier posts, these Islands receive an inordinate amount of rainfall thanks to the “very green, thick, majestic, humid, dark, warm and wet” Tropical Rain Forests. Sometimes during the incessant torrential rainfall, the runway at the Veer Savarkar airport in Port Blair goes under water and the flights are turned back.

A couple of months ago, when the hurricane Nargis had stormed through the Islands across to Myanmar, the waters came into the terminal building, and stayed like an uninvited guest long enough to destroy most equipment like baggage scanners. Maybe it is an illusion but as you get off the plane and look at the runway it almost appears like a boomerang, with both ends raised.

Water logging due to Hurricane Nargis at Humphreygunj, South Andaman

Back in the Seventies, flights coming in from Calcutta used to stop over at Rangoon (Myanmar), as those days only small planes like Dakota, Viscount etc. with a seating capacity of 10–16 passengers only used to operate between the Islands and the mainland India.

More recently, till 2004, there were only four flights a day. That was before the Tsunami. Under its weight, the local economy lay crushed. To revive it, public sector workers were encouraged to visit Port Blair on LTC (Leave Travel Concession). From two lakh tourists they burgeoned to seven lakh in 2006. Never had the locals seen so many tourists visiting the islands.

The airport began to receive 13 flights a day.

Home boarding began at Rupees 1,000 a day; hotels added rooms; people took loans to buy Maruti Omnis to run as taxis. The one small dam, the Dhanikhari, could not supply so much water. Vegetables began to cost more: Rupees 80 a kilo for cabbage, beans, beetroot, all of which came from Chennai and Kolkata. From a holiday paradise it became a nightmare.

The LTC holiday-makers came with their entire families and often with no more than Rs 1,000 in their wallets. If the weather turned & their flights got cancelled they were done for. When they had nowhere to go and no flights that day to take them home, they sometimes found shelter in the airport. The Tour operators tried to make hay while the sun shone, buying tickets in bulk at cut rates, which were charged to the companies at full cost. “But everybody was happy - the tour operator, the LTC traveler, and the hotelier… Last year apparently, the government scrapped the LTC to Port Blair. The Paradise regained.”

A spectacular sea beach at Neil Island

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands take up about a fourth of India’s 6,500 km coastline and 30 per cent of India’s Exclusive Economic Zone falls in these waters. Yet, only 32 out of the 572 islands are inhabited, since habitability depends upon availability of potable water. “Which is again odd, considering that it rains out here about nine months of the year, sometimes incessantly for days at a stretch. You wake to the sound of rain falling, go about your business with the rain falling and when you sleep the last sound you hear is the rain falling. It becomes a constant companion, almost like tinnitus. You get used to it.”

Since these Islands bear the full brunt of both the North East and South West monsoon, only October, November, February and March are relatively rain-free. And although this region is far removed from the consciousness of the mainlanders, just south of Nicobar lies the Six Degree Channel, connecting to the Malacca Straits where piracy abounds. It is through here that the heavy traffic passes, about a 100 ships a day, oil tankers, cargo vessels, pleasure boats and the like connecting the East to the West. Our Coast Guard people here are thus reasonably busy. Every other day there is a distress call: man overboard, engine failure, leakage, and ship adrift …


The volcano in Barren Island was showing signs of restiveness a couple of years ago. It is India’s only active volcano, erupting fitfully. During times like this, a boat does a night cruise around Barren Island and anchors off it so you get to see the fireworks.

The local Coast Guard chief hopped on to a Dornier aircraft in the night and took some pictures of the glowing mouth. He showed me those pictures and I saw them with a sense of wonder. That was the closest I have ever got to a spouting volcano. Some 135 km away,” said a beaming V. Sudershan, who was on a tour here.

The Barren Island Volcano in a dormant stage

But Barren Island, max three kilometers at its widest, is not entirely barren. There are bats and birds and crabs. But its most interesting denizen is the feral goat. Nobody knows how it got there but local lore has it that the goat was dropped off by a ship in the eighteenth century. Many stories of evolution surround these goats. One version says their necks are longer than those of normal goats for over the years they have sought sustenance from branches of a few trees, which persist on the island despite all that lava and ash. “All that stretching had a Lamarckian effect on their necks. But the bigger mystery was - how did they survive without any known fresh water source? It was speculated that they drank sea water, a feat unparalleled in the goat world. At last, sometime ago a scientific expedition discovered a couple of cold streams on Barren island.”

Sea cucumbers’ lure

With so many uninhabited islands covered thickly with trees, it is a temptation to timber poachers and divers looking for a bit of the coral reefs. Some look for sea cucumbers, a slug like creature that lives on the sea bottom and among corals in the shallow waters. It is considered a delicacy in East Asian markets and fetches high prices in restaurants. The Chinese cherish them for medicinal value. Like tiger penis, sea cucumbers are thought to be very aphrodisiacal.

So they are consumed in great quantities in many forms, from soups to powders.

But local authorities say that the malarial forests and prevalence of brain fever deters sea poachers or sea pirates from setting up base in one or the other of the innumerable uninhabited islands.”

Courtesy: V Sudershan; Express

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Andaman & Nicobar - A Major Port...


Andaman & Nicobar May Get a Major Port

Ministry also mulling a shipping co. in Andaman with SCI having stake in it.

Under the Central jurisdiction, the port can access budgetary grants. It can be developed as a transshipment port such as Colombo.


MV Swarajdweep - One of the biggest ships plying between the Islands & Mainland India.

The Shipping Ministry is considering a move to set up a port in Andaman under the Major Ports Act, which will allow the port at the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to be funded from the Centre.

The Ministry is also exploring the possibility of setting up a shipping company at Andaman in which the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) will have a stake. The shipping company will acquire and operate ships.

Under the Central jurisdiction, the port can access budgetary grants. It can be developed as a transshipment port such as Colombo in Sri Lanka, where majority of cargo is transshipped.

Nods awaited:

Nods from the Island Development Authority (IDA) headed by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Planning Commission are required to execute the proposal. The proposal is at a fairly nascent stage, as of now.

According to Mr. Manoranjan Bhakta, Member of Parliament, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, “This has been our long-pending demand. The Andamans enjoy a location advantage for accessing South-East Asia. The Centre can develop this as a gateway for foreign trade.”

Currently, the major ports are Kolkata, Haldia, Paradip, Vishakhapattanam, Chennai, Tuticorin, Cochin, New Mangalore, Marmagao, Jawaharlal Nehru port, Ennore and Kandla.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have 23 ports, according to the Indian Ports Association data — Port Blair, Mus (Car Nicobar), Havelock, Mayabunder, Diglipur, Rangat, Hut Bay, Katchal, Campbell Bay, Neil Island, Dugong Creek, Nancowry, Chowra, Teressa, Kondul, Pillow Millow, East Island, Cinque Island, Jolly Bouy Island, Tillongchong, Castle Bay and South Bay. According to the Government data, ports at Pondicherry (now – Puducherry), Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep together handled 1.6 million tonnes of cargo in 2006-07.

Incidentally, a high-powered committee set up by the Government a few years ago had recommended developing Port Blair as a cruise tourism destination.

Port Management:

The shipping activities at A&N Islands are managed by the Port Management Board, which is under the A&N Administration. So, the income from shipping operations accrues to the consolidated fund. “If a major port were to be set up, it would help to have a coordinated development of port as a transshipment hub given the geographical advantage,” Mr. Mohammed Jadwet, President, Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

The administration has a fleet of 70-80 odd vessels—mostly passenger, some passenger-cum-cargo and some pure cargo,” said Mr. Jadwet. He also said that given the administration’s fleet size, “corporatisation” of shipping operations would help access better technical knowledge. About 5-6 of these vessels that offer services between the mainland and the Islands, are managed by SCI and the administration pays management fee to the SCI.

There are five private companies that offer cargo services between mainland and the Islands, namely - GATI, Transport Corporation of India (TCI), EHL (Ellon Hinengo Ltd.), MAK & ITT Shipping,” he said.

Then there are some 20-25 companies that offer inter-island services with 50-100 ton vessels.

Currently, Shipping Corporation of India offers regular passenger services to Port Blair from Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapattanam and back. There are three to four sailings every month from Kolkata and Chennai to Port Blair and vice-versa, according to the official website of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There is one sailing from Vishakhapattanam (Andhra Pradesh) in a month.

Courtesy: The Hindu, Business Line.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008



 Rajan is unique. He flies in the waters of the Bay of Bengal with the ease of a pelican in the air.

He may be a majestic giant on land, but in the water he seems to transform into a weightless creature specially designed to fly in the sea.

(Photo: Barefoot Resorts, Havelock)
Rajan of the sea: At ease in the water

If you’ve ever imagined flying with an elephant in a surreal world, you sure can realize your dream with the help of a male tusker called Rajan in the Andaman Islands.

For a country that has an estimated 25,000 wild elephants and 3,500 domesticated elephants, there is always something happening with regard to the elephants. Even so, Rajan is unique. He flies in the waters of the Bay of Bengal with the ease of a pelican in the air.

As he kicks his legs backwards, he puts out his tail and pushes out his trunk, frequently lifting it out of water for a breath of fresh air.

When an unwary tourist comes his way, he swiftly moves away avoiding collision. The islanders think he is the only elephant who can swim in the sea so gracefully.

Rajan is 57 years old, but his spirit seems to be that of a young elephant. He goes for a walk at 6 a.m. and returns to the Barefoot Resort in the evening.

When the weather is hot, he goes down to the Bay. Rajan’s story goes back to 2004 when he was stranded on the Havelock Island after a film shoot.

His owner could not pay for the cargo vessel to ship him to a nearby island. He subsequently fell sick and the Barefoot Resort on the island took him under its care.

But Rajan’s story continues… His owner is now trying to sell Rajan for Rs.24 lakhs to a temple in Kerala. So the Barefoot is raising funds to save him. In an effort to raise funds, Rajan also does his bit. He occasionally swims with tourists and raises money.

In performing the cosmic dance in tune with the twinkling sun on the water, he seems to express his joy of being on the Havelock and finding his freedom.


Courtesy: The Hindu, Young World.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

ANDAMAN PHOTO FEATURE1 - Tropical Rain Forests, Savarkar, Tsunami, Dolphins


A Photo Feature on Andaman Islands

Dear friends,

For long I’ve been receiving umpteen e-mails from many of you readers asking me to post some prime pictures of the present day Andaman Islands.

Especially after reading the spine-tingling saga of the British maneuvered Penal Settlement at Andaman, many have been wondering what do the present day Andamans look like.

So, folks! Here’s presenting a series of posts with pictures for your contemplation about the present-day Andamans-

That’s where we are…

The proximity to Indonesia spells out the extent of devastation suffered by the archipelago due to the Tsunami of 26th December 2004.

Banda Atjeh in Indonesia was the place that was the epicenter of the earthquake of 9.2 intensity on the Richter scale that resulted in the gargantuan Tsunami and that lies just 250 Km away from the Southernmost tip of India – the Indira Point (erstwhile “Pygmalion Point”) in Great Nicobar, which now lies submerged.

Indira Point before Tsunami

Indira Point after Tsunami

Aerial view of the Andaman Islands

It almost feels like watching green colored cauliflowers floating amid the sea due to the densely forested expanse of the Tropical Rain Forests. Very green, thick, majestic, humid, dark, warm and wet – these words describe these forests aptly. These forests grow in the tropics between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn in high rainfall condition area called TROPICAL RAIN FORESTS.

My dear friends, these forests have been evolving for more than 30 million years and occupy only 2% of the earth’s surface today. Yet they contain 50% of all species of living things! No other area on land contains such diversity.

Imagine how intensely immediate the need to conserve these forests is, at least now, when we are perilously faced with the alarming issue of Global Warming!!! Well, let’s join hands for its conservation and protection for future generations! Shall we?

Runway at Veer Savarkar Airport, Port Blair

It has been named after the great Maratha patriot Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Oh! What a great revolutionary freedom fighter he was! He was the one the merciless German Jailor of the Cellular Jail was awfully terrified of. David Barry, who used to bellow at his prisoners-,

Listen you Prisoners,
It is here we tame lions,
Remember! God does not come
within three miles of Port Blair…
In the universe there is but one
God who lives in the heaven above
but in Port Blair, there are two. One -
the God of Heaven and the other - the God of Earth.
Indeed the God of Earth is myself.”

David Barry had series of nightmares host of times a day just hearing of the physically short and lean powerhouse revolutionary, popularly known as Veer Savarkar.

He was arrested in England on the excuse that the pistol sent by him was used in the Nasik conspiracy case in which his brother Ganesh had already been sent to the Andamans. While being transported by a ship to India, Veer Savarkar, jumped from the ship to escape at Marseilles Port, France. The French police captured him and handed him over to the British 13th March, 1910. He was then deported to Andamans.

North Bay Light House”

The Gateway to Port Blair

If you sail to Port Blair, the capital of the A & N Islands, this is where you enter the harbor through. The mountain at the back is Mt. Harriet, the second highest peak in the archipelago. Lord Mayo, the British Viceroy of India was killed by the Wahabi (Pathan) convict, Sher Ali at the base of this mountain.

You are in for a really fascinating treat in this region as you are welcomed to Port Blair by clusters of enchanting dolphins dancing in and out of the deep blue waters, often swimming alongside your ship.

To be continued…