Sunday, June 27, 2010



The Human Safari!!!




The survival of the very rare stone-age Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands is again being threatened by human safaris run by insensitive tour operators.


Survival International announced last week that it has written to eight travel companies that promote visits to, or sightings of, the Jarawa people, urging them to put an immediate stop to their tours. The trips put the tribe, who are likely to have little immunity to common illnesses, at serious risk of disease.


The promotion of tourism to the Jarawa is illegal. Four of the companies stopped promoting Jarawa tourism on their websites after Survival wrote to them. The Indian government also issued a public warning to companies after Survival alerted it to the safaris. Four companies, however, are continuing to promote the tours.




An illegal highway runs through the Jarawa reserve, bringing in tourists, poachers and settlers. Survival is urging the Government of India to close the road immediately, and to stop intruders trespassing on the Jarawa’s land,” said Stephen Corry, Survival’s director.


The Jarawa people lived successfully on their island without contact with outsiders for probably about 55,000 years, until 1998. Today, a road runs right through their forest home, and they risk decimation by disease. They call themselves the Ang, which means ‘human being’, yet they are being ogled at like animals in a game reserve.


The very last member of the neighboring Bo tribe died in January. We must not allow the same fate to befall the Jarawa, or the world will lose yet another vibrant, knowledgeable and complex part of humankind.”


As per Survival International, the companies that are still advertising tours with sightings of the Jarawa include:


1. Andaman Island Adventure [June 17 update: The page now appears to have been taken down. The company have written to Survival today saying that they will remove the references to the Jarawa from their website];

2. Explore Andaman with Kariappa;

3. Rhino Jungle Adventures;

4. Offbeat Andaman Vacations


The following companies have stopped promoting tours to the Jarawa on their websites since Survival wrote to them:


1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands Tours and Travels, owned by Barefoot India. Barefoot says it bought the company and website from another tour operator, and did not run the tours that were advertised as the website was ‘“dead” for all practical purposes’. Barefoot’s Director has explained that they did not have the necessary password to enable them to change the website. Since Survival wrote to the company, the website has been removed.”

2. Sky-Sketch (India)

3. Andaman Island Travels

4. Vicky Tours and Travels


In 2002, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the highway that runs through the Jarawa reserve should be closed, but the government has kept the road open yet. Nevertheless, the Government of India has issued a public warning to tour operators after Survival alerted it to the safaris.


Facts about the Jarawa and Bo Tribes:


The Jarawas number about 320 and live in the thick forests of South and Middle Andaman. They hunt pig and monitor lizard, fish with bows and arrows, and gather seeds, berries and honey. They are nomadic, living in bands of 40-50 people.




In 1998, some Jarawas started coming out of their forest to visit nearby towns and settlements for the first time. The Andaman tribes’ ancestors are thought to have been amongst the first people to migrate successfully from Africa to Asia.


Most of the Bo tribe died of diseases brought by the British in the 19th century. The death of Boa Sr in January 2010 meant that what may have been one of the world’s oldest languages, Bo, also came to an end.

Monday, June 14, 2010



A Sea of Change in 30 Years

With silver sands, lagoons and enchanting seamless greenery, the Andamans have always been a destination worth visiting. Tourism is the bread & butter of the people of these exquisite islands. Unlike the vignettes of Port Blair more than a quarter century ago, one can today find many eateries and lodges that suit one’s taste buds as well as budget.


Over the years, new places have been thrown open to the tourists, like the Ross Island where the settlement’s headquarters was first established, the Viper Island where penal settlement was first established, and Chatham Island where Asia’s First and Biggest Saw Mill was established and is still functioning.



The historic Chatham Island housing Asia’s First & Biggest Saw Mill


New museums like the Samudrika marine museum, forest museum and the fisheries aquarium boast of rare collection of flora and fauna of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Anthropological Museum is worth a visit, what with Old Stone Age Jarawa and Sentinel tribes still surviving in the islands, against all odds.




A couple of days ago, I happened to come across a pretty interesting piece of travelogue by one Mr. S. Balakrishnan, who had stayed in the islands about 30 years ago and had recently made a tour to the islands after staying away all these years. I liked most of what he has said about the sea-change that he observed in multifarious aspects of development in the territory, while on tour. Hence, I feel tempted to share it with you all, here, so that you could fathom the immense difference one feels in the Andamans of yesteryears and those of today. Read on…


It was a revisit to India’s emerald islands in the east embellishing the Bay of Bengal. Reflections of life and times in Port Blair three decades ago flashed through the mind as Indian Airlines carrier touched down Veer Savarkar airport.


The images of the past and the realities of the present were quite striking. The transformation that the Andaman Islands have gone through was palpable during a recent week-long crisscross of the islands. From buildings to bridges, from roads to bye lanes, beaches to skyline, the canvas of this coral island portrayed a sea change.


For an island territory lying away from the mainland and spread North-South across the deep sea over a length of 800 kilometers, transport is the lifeline. Whereas initially there was only a once-a-week flight from Kolkata, and later from Chennai, now there are daily flights from these two cities, even by private airlines. Additional services are also operated as and when necessary.



Similarly, for inter-island transport, helicopter service has been introduced linking Diglipur, the farthest town of North Andamans to Campbell Bay located in the southernmost part, in Nicobar Group of Islands. Talking of sea cruise, both the mainland to island service and inter-island services have improved a lot. As far as surface transport is concerned, privatization has eased the problem to a great extent. The ubiquitous auto rickshaw has also reached the islands.


Construction of Great Andaman Trunk Road (now National Highway 223) has certainly paved the way for improved infrastructure. However, the road building, which started in 1970s, had turned controversial as it cuts through the ‘reserved’ forest areas of the Jarawa tribe, a Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) group. The current plans to widen the road have further aggravated its impact on the habitat of the Jarawas.



The Anthropological Museum at Port Blair


The advent of cell phone has turned out to be a great boon to the nearly four lakh population in the islands. Not only one could converse with people in the mainland at the press of a button, but could also speak with the same ease and clarity to an acquaintance in the southernmost island of Great Nicobar, where the inter-island ferry takes two days to reach. Postal facilities have also markedly improved, the efficient speed post service scored where a private courier service failed to reach the remote Baratang.


Snorkeling and cruising in glass-bottomed boats and scuba diving for the trained and experienced are the new attractions. Watching lakhs of jelly fish gently float by in the waters of Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park was like watching Discovery Channel live. Near Baratang, the Parrot Island, mud volcano, limestone cave and mangrove canopy walk are the added attractions for tourists who love to be with Nature.


At the same time, responsible tourism that protects and conserves nature is also strictly followed. Tourists are not allowed to pick and bring back prohibited sea shells and corals. 


Limestone caves at Baratang, South Andaman


A lot of renovation and beautification works have been done in and around the cellular Jail, now a National Memorial in honor of our freedom fighters who languished under colonial oppression since 1857. A museum has been created depicting the history of penal settlement and the sacrifices made by our freedom fighters so that we could be free. Watching the sound and light show in the premises of the Cellular Jail that chronicles the courage and sacrifice of our freedom fighters was a time worth spent.



The Cellular Jail


Cut off from the hustles and bustles of mainland, the social life on the island, lacks luster. However, it is made up by satellite and Cable TV and DVDs, that throw open the whole world at the flick of the remote. Take a stroll through the National Highway 223 - the memories etched thirty years ago get overlapped by the transformation over the years.


The look of the bazaars has changed. From what used to be a lazy marketplace that got to life only when ships from the mainland arrived, is now bustling with regular shops that include gold jewellery marts and mini supermarkets stocking almost everything and anything. Local handicrafts sector has improved vastly. LPG cooking gas has reached the islands and so has milk, where milk powder was the only source for milk then. Local production of fruits and vegetables has seen a marked improvement yet, much of the demand is still being met from the mainland and hence a bit costlier.



The Aberdeen Bazar at Port Blair


Despite a manifold increase in power consumption, diesel generators are still the only source of power supply. Other sources of energy like gobar/bio gas, solar, wave, and wind can be tried in a big way. Similarly, there seemed to be a perennial shortage of water despite rains for more than six months a year. Saline water treatment plant could be established and water harvesting, even in small quantities, should be encouraged.
Though life in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands has improved a lot in general, development is always at the cost of Nature. We have to tread very carefully, at least as far as the tribes are concerned.” 


Courtesy: Original Source: PIB

Tuesday, June 8, 2010



History of Andamans Revisited
The Chinese knew of these Islands over a thousand years ago and called it the ‘Yeng-t-omag’ in the First Millenium. These islands also find a place in the first map of the world drawn by Ptolemy, the renowned Roman geographer during the second century. He called it ‘Angdaman islands (Islands of good fortune). During the sixth century, I’T Sing, a Buddhist monk, named it ‘Lo-jen – kuo’ (Land of the Naked). Two Arab travelers during the eighth century referred to these islands as ‘Lakhabalus or ‘Najabulus’ (Land of the Naked). The great traveller Marco Polo called it ‘Angamanian’.
Modern history of Andaman Islands can be traced back to 1789 when the Governor General of British India commissioned a survey of these Islands by Lt. Archibald Blair, who conducted the first ever topo-cum-hydrographical survey and reported suitability for human settlement.

Immediately thereafter, in 1790 the first settlement was established at Port Blair (then Port Cornwallis) in the present day Chatham Island by bringing hard core criminals from undivided India. However, high mortality due to malaria and frequent attacks by aborigines forced the settlement to be shifted to a new port in North Andaman during 1792. Faced with similar problems, the new settlement was also abandoned in 1796.

The present-day Chatham Island guarded by Mt. Harriet
The missionaries entered the Nicobar group of Islands in 17th century. In 1756, the Dutch colonized the Nancowry group of Islands and stayed there up to 1787. After several unsuccessful attempts to build up a colony in Nancowry, the Dutch Government ultimately handed over the Nicobar group of Islands to the British, who took possession in 1869.
The Penal Settlement
It was in 1857, after India’s First War of Independence, that a penal colony was attempted at Port Blair with an initial lot of 200 freedom fighters who, for the first time, attempted to overthrow British rule in India. The number of freedom fighters increased to 773, within three months of that. The famous Battle of Aberdeen between civilized men and Stone Age aborigines of Andamans was fought on 14th May, 1859 at Aberdeen.
During 1869 – 70, many Wahabi Movement activists who rose against the British rule were deported from the Central and United Provinces of undivided India to the Andamans. One amongst them was Mohd. Sher Ali Khan (a Pathan), who assassinated Lord Mayo, the Viceroy and Governor General of India on 08 February 1872 at Hope Town Jetty (now called Panighat). Later, in the same year, Sher Ali Khan was executed in Viper Island by the British. On 13 September 1893, the British Government of India ordered the construction of a Cellular Jail to accommodate 600 prisoners.
Prior to construction of the Cellular Jail, male convicts were held in a jail on Viper Island and women convicts in South Point barracks (near the present day Hotel Sinclair).
Then occurred, the great uprising of Moplahs during 1921- the Moplah Rebellion. About 1400 Moplahs mostly from Muslim dominated districts of Ernad, Walluvanad and Calicut of Kerala were sent to Andamans with their families for rebelling against the British rule. Then, the Rampa Revolution during 1922 – 24. As a result, many Rampa revolutionaries were also sent to the Andamans.
The Japanese Rule
During the II World War, the British hastily evacuated and abandoned these Islands in the face of the advancing Japanese Forces, allowing Japanese occupation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Japanese brutally ruled the territory for four years from 1942 to 1945. During this period, the Japanese took up massive fortification on these islands through construction of airfields (Port Blair, Rutland, Car Nicobar), installation of Radars and guns for air defence network, chain of foreshore concrete pill boxes, underground ammunition dumps with trolley lines connecting some of them to the Port Blair airport and elaborate underground bunkers for the troops. The remains of pill boxes, radars and anti aircraft guns are still visible at some places.
The Port Blair harbor was extensively used as a forward surveillance base for seaplanes of the advancing Japanese forces. A few months after the Japanese occupation, allied forces succeeded in blocking seaplanes threatening the islands’ population to the brink of starvation. The Japanese successfully averted the disaster through enforced intensive community of farming of tubers like tapioca and sweet potato. Extensive road network expansion was also undertaken at that time for connecting Port Blair with outlying villages and cultivating land.
On the morning of 7th October 1945, the Armada carrying 116 Indian Infantry Brigade of South East Asian Allied Land Force under the command of Brigadier A.J. Solomon surrounded Port Blair compelling about 20,000 armed Japanese force to surrender on 9th October 1945.
Eventually, with the advent of the Indian Independence on 15th August 1947, these islands were merged with the Indian main stream.



“I Came, I saw & I was Enchanted!”

Thanks to the requests of a good number of my esteemed readers here over the past one year, I’ve been tempted to publish the rich, chequered, extraordinarily spine-tingling but very momentous history of these exemplary group of serene islands of Andaman & Nicobar, in a summarizing fashion, for the benefit of students, anthropologists, scientists, archeologists, sociologists, linguists, environmentalists, tourists and other general readers alike.
So, dive in and treat yourself with a unique and enchanting saga of human settlement that rekindles the reaction of Daniel Defoe’s legendary Robinson Crusoe, who said, “I came, I saw and I was enchanted!” J
Floating in splendid isolation, south-east of the Indian mainland is the archipelago of 572 emerald islands, islets and rocks known as Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This Union Territory is stretched over an area of more than 700 Km. from north to south with 36 inhabited islands and is divided into three districts North & Middle Andaman and South Andaman to the North and Nicobar to the South. The North and the South districts are separated by about 90 nautical miles of sea – The Ten degrees Channel. These islands are the continuation of the ‘Arakan Yoma’ mountain range which extends from Myanmar up to ‘Achin Head’ of Indonesia.
These undulating islands are covered with dense forests and endless variety of exotic flowers and birds. The topography of the islands is hilly and abounds in evergreen forests. The sandy beaches on the edge of the meandering coastline are fringed with coconut-palms that sway to the rhythm of the sea. The sea around the islands offers excellent scope for water sports.
The rare flora and fauna, underwater marine life and corals, with crystal clear water and mangrove-lined creeks, offer a dream-view of the rare gifts of nature. The clean and wide roads, free of filth as well as unpolluted fresh air attract any nature-lover, who seeks absolute peace and tranquility in the lap of nature. Adventure tourism like trekking, island camping, snorkeling, scuba diving etc. are the real attractions. A visit to these islands is, undeniably, a memorable lifetime experience.
Mythologically, the name ‘Andaman’ was presumed to be derived from ‘Hanuman’, who was known to the Malays as ‘Handuman’. The name ‘Nicobar’ seems to be a corruption of the South Indian term ‘Nakkavaram’ (Land of the Naked) as indicated in the great Tanjore inscription of AD 1050.
Since prehistoric times, these islands have been the home of aboriginal tribes. The tribes of the Andaman group of islands are the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, and the Sentinatese, all of Negrito origin, while the tribes of Nicobars are the Nicobarese and Shompens, both of the Mongoloid stock.
The first settlement by the British took place in 1789, which was later abandoned in 1796. The second settlement was basically a penal settlement, taken up in 1858, after the First War of Indian Independence, followed by the settlement of convicts, ‘Moplas’, some criminal tribes from the then Central and United Provinces, refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka as well as ex-servicemen.
The Social Make Up
In these exemplary islands, people of all faiths - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc., and of all languages like Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Nicobarese etc., live together in complete peace and harmony. Inter-religious and inter-regional marriages are common. This amazing racial and cultural mix is correctly described as Mini India.
An old picture of a street in Port Blair, the present-day capital.
Forests are the green extension over gold of the islands. The reserved and protected forests extend over 86% area of the territory and the forest cover is more than 92%. About 50% of the forests have been set aside as Tribal Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, which are inviolate.
Luxuriant Mangroves, perhaps the richest in the world, occupy nearly 11.5% of the territory. More than 150 plant and animals species are endemic in nature. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is rich in corals, varieties of colored fishes, sea turtles etc., besides other marine life. It is a bird’s paradise - more than 271 varieties of birds inhabit the idyllic landscape, out of which 39 are endemic. Megapode, Swiftlet, Hornbill and Nicobar Pigeon are some of the specialties of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago comprising of 572 Islands, islets and rocks, float in the clear blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, 700 nautical miles off the South Eastern coast of India. Andamans are the Weather Windows to the Indian Peninsula as majority of the systems which affect the Mainland have their origin in the Andaman Sea. The Isles experience a tropical monsoon climate. Temperature is moderate and relative humidity is high. With both North-East & South-West monsoons being received, it rains for about eight months a year. December to March is the season of relatively fair weather with winds, generally East/North-Easterly, accompanied by occasional showers.