Saturday, October 31, 2009



Hi, chums! In November 1991, a Crocodile Bank researcher Ms. Manjula Tiwari embarked on a six-month survey of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The study and survey was a pilot project to accumulate baseline data for initiating a longer term (five year) study program for the conservation and management of Sea Turtles that use these islands for nesting. The project was supported by the non-profit, Madras Crocodile Bank.

Here’s sharing with you all a fascinating first-hand chronicle of the experiences that Manjula narrates on

As the ship pulled into the port at Campbell Bay, on the Great Nicobar Island on the fourth evening of the journey, I sat up on deck watching the large crowd on the dock. An overwhelming sense of loneliness filled me - I didn’t know a single face in the crowd, no one was expecting me, I had no idea where I would spend the night, or how I would survey the southern group of Islands in the Nicobars… But I underestimated the people of the islands… I found friends, and surrogate family that worried every time I left Campbell Bay on another survey, and I found Ratnam, my very first field assistant.

Ratnam – the field assistant holding a sea turtle in his hands

Ratnam agreed to help me survey the beaches for any amount of money that I thought was suitable for his help - he didn’t really seem to care about how much he would get paid. He was not a local tribal. He originated from the Indian mainland. Apparently, he had wanted to attend school, but his father had insisted he work in the fields belonging to the family. So, the angry Ratnam caught the first ship leaving the mainland coast and ended up in the Nicobars! I couldn’t have found a better assistant - he knew the islands and he knew many of the Nicobarese who lived along the coast, making it very easy to find floor space in some Nicobari hut to cook and sleep every evening.

I would describe Ratnam as “petite” but very strong. He called me “Madam” from the beginning and insisted on carrying my backpack even when we waded across deep creeks and most of him was underwater - I remember seeing just the top of his head and two arms straight up in the air holding my backpack above the water as he crossed the creek ahead of me. Even though we lived in very primitive conditions during these surveys, he always insisted on giving me the best of what was available.

One night, our only choices for sleeping were the forest floor and a 50-cm wide plank about 2 m off the ground. “Madam” was graciously offered the plank while Ratnam slept below. I got little sleep not because I had to lie still and flat on my back all night, but because I worried I might roll over and fall from 2 m on my kind and “petite” field assistant who slept below…

I have no idea where he is now, but I always remember him fondly…

Prologue: I had read somewhere that many early travelers avoided the Andaman and Nicobar Islands because they believed the inhabitants were cannibals. Surely, I said to myself as I hurriedly packed to catch the ship leaving for the Islands, this is an outdated view…

I had been told to hire Pau Aong, a Karen (tribe of Burmese origin) and a fine boatman, who would help survey the many islands of the Andaman archipelago. It was a long bus-boat-bus trip from Port Blair to his settlement in the North Andaman. Soon the bus arrived at the start of the Jarawa reserve - one of the very primitive tribes in the Andamans feared for their hostility. Two armed policemen boarded the bus and we were asked to shut our windows because the Jarawas may throw spears at us. The Jarawa reserve is sandwiched between two modern towns and locals in the bus told me stories about how the Jarawas had recently dragged someone off into the forest and probably eaten him.

Apparently, the Jarawas occasionally wandered into town and abducted people - the locals suspected that these abducted people were eaten because they were never seen again. After these extraordinary stories, I eagerly looked out of the bus, hoping to catch a glimpse of these people, but no such luck.... others have had more interesting encounters, and issues associated with the tribe continue…

Moving south from the Andamans to survey beaches in the Nicobar archipelago, I often stayed the night at some Nicobari tribal hut on the beach. This provided an opportunity to learn about the lives and world of this peaceful, coastal-dwelling tribe. One time after walking all day on the beach, we arrived at a little Nicobarese tribal village towards early evening. Immediately we were invited into one of the huts and offered hot, refreshing tea.

A lot of people were sitting around the hut looking very glum. On inquiring why everyone was so uncharacteristically gloomy, I was informed that earlier that morning, a boat with strangers had stopped at their beach and one of the village men had accompanied them to a settlement further down the coast. He had still not returned and everyone was very anxious. I was surprised that they had let him go with strangers because in my experience, the Nicobarese would often abandon their huts and run off into the forest when an unknown boat arrived at any of these small, remote, coastal villages.

Finally, as the gloom deepened, one of his despairing relatives asked me in great earnestness, "Do you think the men in the boat have eaten him?" (We later encountered the missing man at another village quite alive and intact. He was just enjoying a few extra days away from home…)

Certainly, this was a very different world from the one I had grown up in...

Friday, October 16, 2009



Diwali is a unique confluence of happiness, bliss & prosperity. May the festival of lights be the harbinger of joy and prosperity to all my friends and well-wishers the world over!

As the holy occasion of Diwali is here and the atmosphere is filled with the spirit of mirth and love, here's hoping this festival of lights brings your way, bright sparkles of contentment, that stay with you through the days ahead.

The Diwali firework safety message is part of the firework safety campaign launched by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), aimed at reducing the number of firework accidents at this time of the year.

"Take more responsibility with fireworks, they are more dangerous than you think and could severely injure children or yourself."

"Even if you think you know how to handle fireworks, failing to follow the

 Firework Code properly, puts you and your loved ones in danger.

"Each of us has a responsibility to take the right precautions with fireworks so we can all enjoy them safely this year."

Don’t stand too close to the fireworks while lighting them!


Saturday, October 10, 2009



An unexploded shell of World War II has been found in Lamba Line area near the Veer Savarkar Airport at Port Blair on the morning of 9th October, 2009. As the news spread, thousands of people of the Andaman Islands gathered at the area to catch the glimpses of the unexploded ordnance (EXO).

According to the A & N Police, the owner of the plot, Mr. Mahesh Kumar was carrying out construction work on the said plot and during the extraction of earth, the construction workers found the shell. “We found it this morning and immediately informed the police about the bomb,” said Mahesh Kumar. 

“The matter was informed to the police and our bomb squad team is now examining the shell, which doesn’t have any marking. This is why we can’t say whether the shell was dropped by Japanese or British forces,” V Ranganathan, the Superintendent of Police in Andaman told UNI.

The police have sealed the entire area and experts from the defence forces have also been called in for examination. “We are now examining the shell and only after proper investigation we can say anything more,” the SP added. Mr. Ranganathan, however confirmed that the shell still has explosives inside and is 1.3 metre in length and 1.2 metre in diameter.

In the last six years, in two different cases, huge amount of ammunitions were earlier found in the Aberdeen Bazaar area at Port Blair and Arong village at Car Nicobar, which were believed to be kept by the Japanese forces during their occupation in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from 1942 to 1945.

History has it that during the World War II, the Japanese forces had heavily bombarded these islands and captured the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the forces of the British Government of India in 1942. But during 1942 to 1945, when these Islands were under the Japanese rule, the British forces used to bomb these islands periodically based on specific information received from a British spy, Denis McCarthy in a bid to retrieve the significant Island territory from the Japanese control.

The place where this Unexploded Ordnance (a shell) has been found is situated very close to Port Blair’s lone Airport which harbors a naval airbase of the Indian Navy called INS Utkrosh. The airport was actually built by the Japanese forces during the World War II and was obviously one of the prime targets of the British bombers.

Meanwhile, grapevine in the Islands is hot due to the thrilling discovery and will continue heating up until the mystery unfolds further.

News courtesy: UNI Photos courtesy: andamansheekha

Thursday, October 1, 2009



Yet another horrendous disaster struck Asia hours after the devastating Tsunami that battered the Pacific yesterday. 

Rescue teams struggled on Thursday to find people trapped under debris after a powerful earthquake hit the Indonesian city of Padang, possibly killing thousands.

The 7.6 magnitude quake struck the bustling port city of 900,000 people on Wednesday, toppling hundreds of buildings. Telephone connections were patchy, making it hard for officials to work out the extent of destruction and loss of life. 

"We need aid as soon as possible. We need food and medicine. Our houses have collapsed," said Siti, a resident of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province. 


"There are people still trapped inside after their houses collapsed." 

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told reporters at an airport in Jakarta before leaving for Padang that the number of victims "could be more (than hundreds or thousands). I think it's more than thousands, if we look at how widespread the damage is. But we don't really know yet". 

The national disaster agency put the confirmed death toll at 220. Officials said 500 houses had collapsed. 


A second quake, initially put at magnitude 6.8 but later revised down to 6.6, hit another part of Sumatra Island on Thursday, causing fresh panic. The second quake's epicentre - inland and further to the southeast -- was 154 km (96 miles) northwest of Bengkulu, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The area could not immediately be contacted. 

A Reuters reporter at the partially collapsed Jamil hospital in Padang said there were at least 40 corpses on the ground. Many patients had been evacuated to the hospital's yard. 

The reporter, whose own house collapsed, said some medical tents had been set up nearby but that many people who had gathered were still waiting for treatment.

A woman clutching her dead baby cried for help: "My son is dead. My son is dead." TV footage showed troops carrying a woman on a stretcher, blood seeping from wounds on her legs and her body covered in dust. 


Heavy rain initially hampered rescue efforts and officials said power had been cut in Padang, which lies on a coastal plain and is surrounded by steep mountains that stretch far inland. 

Damage to roads had affected transport of rubber in West Sumatra, the fifth-largest producing province for rubber in Indonesia. 

Sumatra also has some of Indonesia's largest oil fields as well as a liquefied natural gas terminal, but there were no reports of damage at those facilities. 


People Crowd Airport to Flee City 

Sumatra is one of the most seismically active parts of Asia. 

A 9.15 magnitude quake, its epicentre 600 km (375 miles) northwest of Padang, caused the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people in Indonesia and other Indian Ocean nations. 

Australian businesswoman Jane Liddon told Australian radio from Padang that the city centre was devastated. 

"The big buildings are down. The concrete buildings are all down, the hospitals, the main markets, down and burned. A lot of people died in there. A lot of places are burning." 


TV footage showed piles of debris, collapsed houses and multi-storey buildings, with scores of crushed cars. 

Padang's airport was operating, although many people were camping out on prayer mats as they tried to flee the city, while soldiers and aid groups such as the Red Crescent arrived. 

Patrick Werner, 28, a German tourist at the airport, was on a beach when the quake struck. Some overseas visitors use Padang as an entry point to visit nearby beaches and mountains. 

"We saw some cracks emerge in the soil and water come out of the ground like it was Universal Studios. We grabbed our passports and some money and ran up to the street," he said. 


Officials said, heavy equipment such as bulldozers, excavators and concrete cutters were badly needed, although getting into the area would be difficult given many severed roads. 

The disaster is the latest in a spate of natural and man-made calamities to hit Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 226 million people. 

Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie said on Wednesday that the damage could be similar to that caused by a 2006 quake in the central Java city of Yogyakarta that killed 5,000 people and damaged 150,000 homes. Padang sits on one of the world's most active fault lines along the "Ring of Fire" where the Indo-Australia plate grinds against the Eurasia plate to create regular tremors and sometimes quakes. Geologists have long warned that Padang may one day be destroyed by a huge earthquake because of its location. 


Courtesy: “Yahoo News” (John Nedy and Sunanda Creagh). Pictures courtesy: BBC World News