“Paris of the East”
The ruins of Ross Island speak of better days and a long forgotten history.
The East India Company (British) came to the Andaman Islands in 1788 to make it a penal settlement for Indian freedom fighters. Thus, opened a new chapter in the darkest page of Indian history: - "Kalapani". Ross Island, situated 10 minutes (by boat) from Port Blair became the capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and seat of power.
Named after the marine surveyor, Sir Daniel Ross, the Island enjoyed all modern facilities and architectural mastery. Later, when generators were installed, electricity was made available and at night Ross Island was like a bedecked ship and thus was named - “Paris of the East”.
Important Locations –
The swimming pool was a popular place where the members of the exclusive settlement club met. The principal water source was rain.
The Subordinate Club was meant for non-commissioned and junior commissioned officers. The dance floor was made of teak and the entire window frame and its panes were made of stained glass from Italy.
The Government House - Chief Commissioner's Bungalow is located in the northern peak of Ross. It consisted of 12 rooms, seven to eight of which were bedrooms. The bungalow also included a tennis court, aviary and a palm house. It is said that the Chief Commissioner never closed the doors of the bungalow except for rain and other natural elements.
The Protestant church was built with stone, the window frames made of Burma teak and windows were etched Italian stained glass.
The cemetery is the final resting place for many who died of water borne diseases and malaria. Most of the deceased were young. The youngest was Lawrence, born on September 16, 1863 who survived only for 22 hours.
Some of the other places of interest are the distilling plant, troop's barracks, bakery and the hospital.
The penal settlement lasted until 1942, when the British left the islands and disbanded it. The Japanese also used the Ross Island during the World War II.
On April 18, 1979, Ross Island was handed over to the Indian Navy and on December 6, 1993, the Indian Navy set up "Smrithika" - the Ross memorial. A few buildings have been renovated but the rest have been left untouched, in ruins, engulfed in the roots of giant trees.
Now the Paris of the East is like a haunted island, the ruins telling many a dark story.
Ancient history apart, it is, now an out of the world tourists spot that is being visited by Indian and foreign tourists alike in huge numbers on a daily basis. It’s an exotic and mesmerizing atmosphere at the island with herds of Andaman deer and peacocks seen moving around all over the place in gay abandon. And the Andaman Sea waves kissing and caressing the serene white beaches around the island makes one really feel the existence of paradise on earth.
The Islanders of Port Blair, the present-day capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands shall be eternally indebted to the Ross Island, which stood unshaken as a mighty shield and took the massive brunt of the ferocious Tsunami on the 26, December, 2004 and saved the city of Port Blair.
Had the Ross Island not shielded Port Blair, the city’s entire main market area comprising of the Aberdeen Bazaar, the Netaji Stadium, the Aberdeen Water Sports Complex, the Bus Terminus, the BR Ambedkar auditorium and the historic Aberdeen Clock Tower, to name a few, would have been completely washed away by the Tsunami.
The Indian Navy maintains the entire Ross Island as a Memorial, ensuring that tourism does not disturb the serenity and the historic grandeur of the majestic “Paris of the East”, our very own – Ross Island.
(Stats Courtesy: Young World, The Hindu)