Monday, February 14, 2011



Is it a bird; Is it a plane; No, It's a Seaplane!!!

The long-awaited seaplane, that has captured the imagination of people, mainly through James Bond movies, “Jal Hans”, India’s first commercial seaplane service has, ultimately, taken off in the serene, historic islands of Andaman & Nicobar, the subcontinent’s largest and most sought-after island tourism destination.

As the “Jal Hans” - Cessna 208 A, the amphibian fitted with the modern navigation facets of a large jet, took off from the Flying Club Hanger, behind the ITF ground, VIP road at Port Blair for the hip and happening Havelock Island and flew, in splendour, over the city of Port Blair and the Ross Island, the erstwhile “Paris of the East”, so did the new-fangled anticipations of the mostly uncared for local islanders, who thrive on tourism as the only viable source of living in this vulnerable island territory.

The Islands’ Lt. Governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Bhopinder Singh inaugurated the operations of the country’s first commercial seaplane service in the Islands on the 23rd January, 2011. He traveled with his better half on the maiden trip of “Jal Hans” to Havelock along with the Chief Secretary and senior officers of the Administration.

“It was an enthralling experience for the tourists, subsequently, to behold the awesome volcanic eruptions taking place in India’s lone active volcano at the Barren Island, while enjoying the first ride in the sea plane. The amphibian hovered around the Barren Island enabling the tourists to have a glimpse of the natural phenomenon.”

“The tourists, after returning, said that flying in the seaplane helped them to see the magnificent view of the various islands covered with green forests, the volcano and vast sea stretches around it. They were also enthralled with the information coming in from the pilot about various places they were flying past,” as reported by a local daily here.

The seaplane service which has come up as a joint venture between the public sector Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) and A&N Administration will be used to connect Port Blair with Havelock, Diglipur and subsequently other parts of the islands including Southern groups of Islands.

View of the cockpit of “Jal Hans”

Until now, anyone wanting to travel between these islands had to use boats or a couple of PHHL helicopters, which were predominantly allocated for the commuting senior officials of the A & N Administration. It was awfully formidable for the general public of the islands to avail themselves of a seat on the choppers.

Markedly, now again one of the first passengers after inauguration of the “Jal Hans” was the BJP President, Nitin Gadkari, who enjoyed the seaplane flights from port Blair to various islands, while on tour here during the first week of this month.

BJP President, Nitin Gadkari with the “Jal Hans” at Port Blair

The “Jal Hans”, with a seating capacity of 2 (pilots) +8 (passengers), can fly passengers and their baggage to distances within 250 km in about an hour and can land on most calm waters. The launch of the commercial seaplane service promises to open up new vistas for tourists wanting to visit far flung islands that cannot have an airport.

To facilitate safe operations, facilities for ferrying of passengers from the shore to the pontoons, sanitization of the water-drome before take off and landing, a speed boat of 10 passenger capacity & one stand-by boat (inflatable Gemini boat) and one floating jetty (pontoon) each in the above locations have been placed.

According to my good friend Shri N Ravichandran, the Controlling Officer, Seaplane Operations (PHHL), Port Blair, seaplane schedules have been released already to ensure regular and fixed operation of seaplane to various tourist destinations in these islands. As per the schedule, seaplane will operate everyday except on Sunday which is reserved for maintenance. (Details of the schedule and bookings - .)

Accordingly, Port Blair to Port Blair (joy ride), Port Blair to Barren Island aerial view and Port Blair to Havelock flight schedule has been released and the “Jal Hans” will make trips to Diglipur (North Andaman), as well.

Meanwhile, local grapevine has it that this is not the first seaplane in the country. It’s being asserted, of late, that “the first seaplane service was launched sometime during 1995 but unfortunately the seaplane during its return flight from Little Andaman plunged in the sea near Dundas Point - Kumhra-Kheti area while landing on 06-09-1995. The mishap cost life of a Senior Officer of SAI. The recovered and reconstructed seaplane (Cessna Caravan) now stands displayed in the Science Centre at Goodwill Estate, Port Blair.”

Seaplanes in front of the Ross Island during the Japanese reign

However, as I’ve written in my earlier posts, as well, seaplanes are not very new for the people of these historic Indian coral islands, at all. The Japanese occupation forces had used seaplanes in the Andamans for sometime during the Second World War, till the Allied Forces had introduced a full blockade of the islands. But the fact of the matter is that those were only used for the purpose of warfare and not for any civilian use.

As I’ve written here earlier too, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been witnessing steady increase in tourist numbers, as the rich tropical rain forests and waters of the Bay of Bengal are home to a vast species of plants, animals and marine life, most of which are endemic to these islands. Adventure tourism, including trekking, island camping, snorkeling and scuba diving are also becoming increasingly popular in the Andaman Islands. The launch of the commercial seaplane operations is expected to boost tourism infrastructure, manifold.

Much to the cheer of the tourists, a special introductory price is currently in effect for a period of 10 days from 9th February, 2011 in the Port Blair-Havelock-Port Blair sector, offering 50% discount on the operational cost fare drawn up earlier. A passenger can now avail a trip to Havelock at a meager fare of 2000 INR one way, which otherwise would have cost 4100 INR one way.

It’s a truly worthwhile experience to fly in the seaplane, as the amphibian offers large individual windows to each and every passenger that facilitates enchanting aerial view of the peerless scenic beauty of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands; particularly the kick of flying so low above the sea level, combined with the excitement of landing and taking off in the sea, makes it a marvelous experience.

So, when are you flying the brand new “Jal Hans” at Port Blair?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011




"कोई माता की उम्मीदों पे न डाले पानी,
ज़िन्दगी भर को हमें भेज के कालेपानी...!"

“Koi Maata ki ummeedon pe na daale paani,

Zindagi bhar ko humein bhej ke Kaalepaani…!”

Introducing the supremely venerable, heroic saga of the selfless, intrepid freedom fighters of India in “Kaala Paani” recreated in a moving Sound and Light Show at the world-renowned Cellular Jail, Port Blair!

Till 1857, Andaman and Nicobar Islands had been just another dot on the map of the British Empire. Came the struggle for India’s independence and the first mutiny in 1857, the British rulers found new use for these islands and thereby starts the agonizing story of the massive and awesome Cellular Jail.

Located at Port Blair in the South Andamans, the Cellular Jail is very closely associated with the great Indian freedom struggle. Into this puce-colored structure were sent patriots who raised their voice against the British rule. Thousands languished for years in solitary confinement in its cells. And many perished, thus giving Andamans the notorious sobriquet of ‘Kaala Paani’ or the black waters.

Today, the Cellular Jail is a National Memorial, a tribute to those who dared. Visit to the Cellular Jail is a pilgrimage for every Indian. The saga of the heroic struggle for freedom is now brought alive in a moving Son-et-lumiere (Sound and Light Show) both in Hindi and English.

The show begins with a brief historical and mythological reference to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the wandering spirit of the Cellular Jail. The spirit, along with the centuries old ‘Peepal Tree’ in the compound, takes us on a journey through the dark times when freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar, Baba Prithvi Singh Azad, Bhai Parmanand, Ullas Kar Dutta, Sher Ali and host of others, faced inhuman torture and humiliation at the hands of the terrorizing jailor, David Barrie, the self proclaimed ‘Jail ka Khuda’ or the Lord of the Jail, as my erudite father, Shri Purushottam Lal Vashishtha, the very first Hindi Officer & Assistant Secretary – OL (Retd.), of A & N Administration, wrote once in one of his much-admired articles published in the leading Hindi magazine – ‘Dharmayug’, way back in the eighties.

Undeterred, they stood firm in their resolve, to carry on their fight for freedom. With courage and dignity. It is to these valiant patriots that the Cellular Jail Son-et-lumiere is dedicated.

I’ve been watching the peerless show ever since it was launched in the early nineties and would strongly recommend it to every visitor to these exemplary islands, to include this as the foremost in their itinerary. The sonorous voices of Late Manohar Singh, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter and singers like Vinay Mandka, with Louis Banks’ enchanting music are a memorable and prized treat to listen to, indeed.

“Jayostute, Jayostute! Shri Mahaan mangale, Shivaspade, shubhade! Swatantrate bhagawati twamaham, yashoyutaam vande!”


Timings: •• Hindi – 6.00 pm •• English – 7.15 pm


Entry ticket: Rs. 20 (Rs. 10 for children below 12 years)




Research and Basic Script-

Late Dr. Melville de Mellow


Show Script-



Music -

Louis Banks


Lead Singer -

Vinay Mandka

Lighting Designing-

Dr. Nissar Allana



Late Manohar Singh, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Jalal Agha,


Deepak Mathan, Tom Alter, K. K. Raina, Vijay Kashyap


Technical Collaboration –

Mavin Kurve, S. K. Mehta, Shiv Kumar & Robert Kerr of


M/s Philips India Ltd.


Artistic Design-

Late Manohar Singh


Production Consultant-

A. J. Jaspal



Chandni Luthra, R. M. Gupta of ITDC

"हाथ, जिन में है जूनून, कटते नही तलवार से,
सर जो उठ जाते हैं वो झुकते नहीं ललकार से.
और भड़केगा जो शोला सा हमारे दिल में है,
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है!"

“Haath jin mein ho junoon katt te nahi talvaar se
Sar jo uth jaate hain voh jhukte nahi lalkaar se
Aur bhadkega jo shola-sa humaare dil mein hai
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai.

"है लिए हथियार दुश्मन ताक में बैठा उधर,
और हम तैयार हैं सीना लिए अपना इधर.
ख़ून से खेलेंगे होली अगर वतन मुश्क़िल में है
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है


Hai liye hathiyaar dushman taak mein baitha udhar
Aur hum taiyyaar hain seena liye apna idhar
Khoon se khelenge holi agar vatan muskhil mein hai
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai!”

Vande Mataram!