Saturday, November 29, 2008

WW II Japanese Machine Gun Bunker in Ross Island.
Reconstuction of Cellular Jail

Ross Island Bazaar

High Tea at Ross Island

Tennis Court at Ross Island

View of Ross Island from Cellular Jail

View of Navy Bay from present day Haddo Jetty

History of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Ancient History
During the Mauryan empire, especially at the time of Ashoka the great, in mid third century BC there is some mention of A & N Islands being used as a staging area by Indian traders and delegates to the east. Portuguese led the Europeans in their quest to reach the ‘spice islands’ of the far East. The Portuguese came to Nicobar group of Islands, especially the Great Nicobar Island. The place names like Pygmallion Point (now Indira Point), Galathia and Alexandria rivers are a Portuguese legacy. Portuguese used the Southern Islands as a transit point for voyages to India/ Colombo, besides undertaking missionary activities. A reminiscent of their presence is the fusion of quite a few Portuguese words in the Nicobari dialect even today. The Danes (Denmark) remained at Nancowry islands from 1754 to 1779. They controlled the Nicobar Islands and provided support to European ships besides undertaking missionary activities.
The French came to Carnicobar in 1711 to setup a base that could assist their operations against the British for control of the bay. They later withdrew due to unknown reasons.

Name origins
The name Andaman presumably comes from Handuman, which is Malay for the Hindu god Hanuman. The name Nicobar is Malay for land of the naked (people).

First inhabitants
The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet docu-mented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 to 60,000 years, well into the Middle Paleolithic. In the Andaman Islands, the various tribes maintained their separate existence through the vast majority of time, diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups. By the 1850s when they first came into sustained contact with outside groups, the indigenous peoples were:
the Great Andamanese, who collectively represented at least 10 distinct sub-groups and languages;
the Jarawa;
the Jangil (or Rutland Jarawa);
the Onge; and
the Sentinelese (most isolated of all the groups).
In total, they numbered around 7,000 at that time. As the number of settlers from the mainland increased (at first mostly prisoners and involuntary indentured labourers, later purposely recruited farmers), these indigenous people lost territory and numbers in the face of land encroachment and epidemics. The Jangil and most of the Great Andamanese groups soon became extinct. Presently, there are only about 400-450 indigenous Anda-manese, the Jarawa and Sentinelese tribes in particular maintaining a steadfast independence and refusing most attempts at contact.
The indigenous people of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands. There are two main groups:
The Nicobarese, or Nicobari, inhabiting many of the islands;
The Shompen, restricted to the interior of Great Nicobar.

Geographical Significance
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a chain of 572 islands in the Andaman sea. Largest among them, the Andaman Island, is 355 Kms long and 60 Kms wide. The islands are situated approxi-mately 1200 km from India’s eastern seaboard and about 450 km from Malay Peninsula. There was a time when ancient tribes lived here. Some of the natives bear a remarkable resemblance to the aboriginal tribes of Australia. Today some tribes have receded into the deep forest while others have been resettled. Port Blair, it's principal port, is a picturesque and bustling town, full of greenery. It is well connected to the main land by regular passage of ships and scheduled flights from Kolkata and Chennai. Different communities are living in harmony and use Hindi as their language.

British Occupation
Port Blair, the capital of A & N Islands, was named after Lt. Archibald Blair of East India Company. British occupied the Andamans in 1789 as a safe harbour to keep British ships safe and protected in the rains. Due to in inclement weather conditions, outbreak of diseases and the expenses in maintaining the harbour, the British had to abandon the Andamans in 1796. Early in the first decade of the 19th century the roots of the East India Company were firmly entrenched in India. The British were subjecting Indians to a lot of abject atrocities, snatching away land from peasants, destroying the livelihood of craftsmen, increasing taxes, usurping the states from the Nawabs and native kings. Ordinary people, soldiers, nawabs and kings were all being terrified and harassed. Generally everywhere there was resentment and revolt. People were determined to do away with the East India Company.

Recapture of Andaman Islands to keep Political Prisoners
The Andamans reminds us of those freedom fighters who on 10th May 1857, gave the clarion call to rise against the British rule. In January 1858, the British reoccupied Port Blair,
Andamans. For the first time on 10th March 1858, Supdt. J.B. Walker arrived with a batch of 200 freedom fighters. The second batch of 733 freedom fighter prisoners arrived in April 1868 from Karachi. They had been sentenced for life imprisonment. After this however it is not known how many thousands of freedom fighters were sent to the Andamans from the harbours of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Their numbers, names and ad-dresses are not known.

The Construction of the Cellular Jail
In 1896, the construction of Cellular Jail started and was completed in 1906 with 698 cells. The Jail had seven wings, spreading out like a seven-petal flower. At the centre was a tower with a turret. Connected to this were the three storey high seven wings with 698 isolated cells. This is why it is called the Cellular Jail.

Horrors Of Prison
The work quotas given to political prisoners were generally impossible to complete within the specified time. Dire punishments were meted out to those who failed to meet them. Punishment was barbaric. Torture and flogging were frequently resorted to on an iron triangular frame, gunny bag uniforms, unhygienic diet, bar fetters, crossbar fetters and neck ring shackles and leg iron and chains were other deterrents for those who refused to submit to the brutal wardens. The punishment varied from handcuffs for a week and fetters for six months to solitary confinement. The freedom fighters brought to the Cellular Jail rebelled against the tyranny of ruthless Jailor David Barrie. Mass hunger strikes were resorted to especially between 1937 and 1938. Three prisoners died. The last hunger strike begun in July 1937 continued for 45 days. The strike was terminated on the intervention of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindra Nath Tagore. The Government decided to close down the penal settlement and all the political prisoners of Cellular Jail were repatriated to the jails in their respective states in mainland India by January 1938.

Japanese Occupation Of The Islands (1942-45)
The Japanese occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands during World War II from 23rd March 1942 to 7th October 1945. They put to death hundreds of people in the most bar-baric way, many of them on the mere suspicion of sympathizing with the British. Many educated people were imprisoned in cellular jail as suspected spies and later shot dead. Many were buried in a common grave. The Humfraygunj Martyrs’ Memorial today stands a mute witness to the inhuman treatment meted out to the citizens of India.

Netaji in Andamans
Netaji visited the Andaman Island as a guest of Japanese Government and hoisted the tricolour flag on 30 December 1943. Indian revolutionary freedom fighters were kept in cellular jail , very much like the Bastille in Paris during the French Revolution. Netaji declared that very first bastion to be relieved of the British yoke was Andamans. The British reoccupied the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and re-abolished the Penal Settlement in 1945.

The Demolition of the Cellular Jail.
We do not know on whose initiative the demolition of the Cellular Jail was begun. Indian freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail and others intervened. We felt strongly that this symbol of tyranny needed to be preserved as a National Memorial to remind our future generations of the tremendous cost that was paid in Indian blood for the freedom of our country.
Cellular Jail-A National Memorial.
After Independence in 1947, many of the erstwhile political prisoners visited the islands. Their association-"Ex-Andaman Political Prisoner’s Fraternity Circle" took up the issue with the Government of India, who accepting this proposal agreed to preserve it as National Memorial without making any substantial change. The Memorial was dedicated to the nation by the then Prime Minister of India on 11th February 1979. Today the entrance block of the National Memorial houses, Photograph Gallery and Museum, displays articles of every day use by the prisoners and method of strict discipline adopted by authorities then in the jail. The first floor of the building has an Art gallery and a Library on Freedom Movement. Netaji Gallery and Old Photographs Gallery has also been set up in the premises of National Memorial. An eternal flame of Freedom - Swatantrya Jyoti has been erected in the vicinity of the Cellular Jail in memory of all freedom fighters and martyrs. An added attraction in the National Memorial is the programme of Light and Sound . This spell-binding show is centered around the wandering spirit of the Cellular Jail which takes the spectators on a historical journey.

Ross Island, erstwhile capital of British penal settlement is named after the British surveyor Reginald Ross. This desolate island was transformed into a thriving township when the British established a penal colony on the Anda-man in the year 1858. Ross Island became the natural choice for the set-tlers due to its commanding geographical location at the mouth of Port Blair harbour, its plentiful supply of fresh water and the security it provided through the water separating it from Port Blair. During those times the settlers went about their business of rec-reating a home far away from home with vigor, so much so that the island soon earned the epithet of ‘The Paris of the East’. In rapid succession rose the Anglican churches, homes for the British and Indian officers, store houses, shops and printing press, hospital, post office, tennis courts, mineral water plant, swimming pool, a bakery, library, general stores. An entire bazaar and three separate clubs were also constructed viz., the Settlement club, the Subordinate club and the Temple club. In all about 500 personnel including officers, troops, Indian merchants and families lived at Ross Island. After almost a century of ruling the islands of Andaman & Nicobar from this tiny ‘island citadel’ the settlers were shaken by a massive earthquake on 26 Jun 1941. The majestic buildings damaged by the earthquake were a sign of events to follow. With the advance of the Japanese forces during World War II, there was also imminent danger to the British settled in the Andaman & Nicobar. Thus the British started withdrawing to mainland and by 1942 Ross Island was virtually deserted. In May 1942 the Japanese forces occupied these Islands. As India gained Independence in 1947 the new government at Port Blair had its hands full administrating and rebuilding the future of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The ‘Paris of the East’ now took a back seat and soon turned into a ghost town, the build-ings once throbbing with life now lay dilapidated, engulfed by the tentacles of time. In April 1979 the island was handed over to the Indian Navy, keeping in mind its strategic importance. The Navy over the succeeding years opened Ross Island to visitors and tourists and thus slowly but surely life started to thrive.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A view of the historic Chatham Saw Mill and Haddo Jetty.

Another view.

Chatham in the foreground and Ross Island behind.

A ferry carrying passangers and vehicles from Chatham to Bamboo Flat.

A view of Ross Island from the Airport Viewpoint.

If you wish to see the Emrald Islands, you need to know the following additional information:-

If you are not a citizen of India, you need to declare your arrival at the airport and produce your travel documents.

If you are travelling around 15 August or 26 January, dont carry pins, batteries, liquids etc in your baggage.

Make alternative arrangements for stay at Kolkata/Chennai in case the flight does NOT take off or return without landing.This is more true during monsoon season. Port Blair airfield gets flooded when it pours heavily. If you are already at Port Blair, make arrangements there.

If you are visiting Baratang Island, you will have to cross Jarawa country.Clicking a single photo of Jarawas can land you in Jail. And it will NOT be the Cellular Jail. Anyway it requires clearance from the administration and hence stick to guided tour.

The Andaman group of inhabited islands are open for tourist stay except for certain specified islands reserved for the aboriginal tribes. Nicobar group is not open for tourism.

You will not be able to do much of snorkelling or recreational diving if you land up between April and November. The summer monsoon morphs into winter monsoon - wind direction changes. In a normal year one can expect 3200 mm of rain.

There is a bed and breakfast concept being introduced by the local tourism department. Since the logistics of sustaining the Islands are difficult, do not expect much in terms of local infrastructure - tourism is in its infancy here.

Do not litter the pristine beaches. Non bio degradable waste is a blasphemy to nature. Plucking Corals is the worst sin one could commit.

Do not expect fresh vegetables to be readily available. Try and stick to seafood - it maybe significantly cheaper. For a veggy meal try the Bay Island resort's Sunday Brunch. It is rewarding for its ambience, breathtaking view and a delicious spread.

Fishes die of old age. Fish and eat.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

View of the World War II origin Port Blair airfield.

The historical Aberdeen Village became the Aberdeen Bazaar of today. Simply referred to as 'Bazaar' by local populace, concrete monstrosities are fast replacing the quaint wooden structures.


Archipelago of 572 islands /islets/rocks comprising 0.2% of landmass of India and 50% of total islands of India.

Bounded by Latitudes 6° N and 14°N, Longitudes 92° E and 94° E which translates into a rectangle of 900 km North to South and 220 km East to West.

Combined area of 8250 sq km approximately. Andaman Group of islands account for nearly 6400 sq km and Nicobar Group accounts for 1850 sq km approximately.

A total of 36 island are occupied, 24 in Andaman Group and 12 in Nicobar Group. However significant human settlement is only in 22 islands.

The islands have International Maritime Boundary Lines (IMBL) running between Landfall island, it’s Northern extremity, and Coco Island of Myanmar (through Coco Channel) and also between Indira Point, it’s Southern extremity, and Banda Aceh, Indonesia, through 6oN channel .The minimum separation from neighbouring, countries across IMBL are as follows:-

* Coco island -42 km

* Banda Aceh -163 km

The islands provide India with approximately 30% of it’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone, i.e., 6 Lakhs sq km. Considering the undersea mineral ,fisheries and hydrocarbon potential of this area, the islands are economically important.

The islands are laid out in a bow shape. The Andaman group has a slight NE to SW alignment and is bounded by Coco channel to the North and Ten Degree channel to the South. It comprises of two administrative districts, i.e., North & Middle Andaman District with District HQ at Mayabunder and South Andaman District with District HQ at Port Blair. The Nicobar group lies between the Ten Degree and Six Degree channels with District HQ at Car Nicobar.

The archipelago is in Seismic Zone 5 (Most Active) with a fault line (extension of Sunda Trench) running parallel and approximately180 nautical miles West of the archipelago. The volcanic belt runs a similar distance East of and parallel to the island chain. The volcanic islands of Narcondum and India’s only active volcano, Barren Island, lie on this belt.

Port Blair is the largest town and main communication centre located equidistant (approx 1200 km) from Kolkata, Vishakhapatnam and Chennai, the three embarkation points for shipping , Air embarkation is only ex Kolkata and Chennai. An international air route does overfly Port Blair. Port Blair is in principle cleared to be upgraded to international airport.

The islands boast of 91% forest cover out of which 11.5% alone is Mangrove forest. The animal kingdom displays a high degree of endemism –nearly 30% of the animal species are endemic.

As per the latest population statistics suitably extrapolated, the island territory has a population of over 4.5 Lakhs , 80% of which is in Andaman Group. The South Andaman district alone has a population of nearly 2.5 Lakhs, of which approximately 1.7 Lakhs are in Port Blair district.

The islands are a ‘Mini-India’ where it’s peculiar style of Hindustani is the spoken language. However the distribution of population by mother tongue is as follows :-

* Bengali - 23%
* Hindi - 20%
* Tamil - 19%
* Telugu - 12%
* Malayalam - 9%
* Nicobari - 8%
* Others - 9%
The distribution of population by religious denomination is as follows:-
* Hindu - 67%
* Christian - 23%
* Muslim - 9%
* Others - 1%

The significant ports in the islands are :-
* Diglipur (North Andaman Island)
* Mayabunder (Middle Andaman Island)
* Port Blair (South Andaman Island)
* Hut Bay (Little Andaman Island)
* Car Nicobar island (Nicobar group)
* Kamorta island (Nicobar group)
* Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar Island)

All airfields/ airstrips in the islands are Defence assets shared for use by civilians.

The islands are home to aboriginal tribes some prized for being the oldest home sapien race on the planet. They are as follows:-
* Great Andamanese. Current population of 43; Negrito stock; originally occupied South Andamans but now restricted to strait Island of Andaman. Access is restricted.
* Jarawa Current population of 240; Negrito stock; and oldest known race; occupy reserves of Middle and South Andaman. Access is restricted.
* Onges. Current population of 97; Negrito stock; occupy areas of Little Andaman. Access is restricted.
* Sentinelese. Current population estimated at 39; Negrito stock; occupy North Sentinel island. Access is DENIED.
* Nicobarese. Current population of about 29.000; Mongoloid stock; population in mainstream and accorded Scheduled Tribe status; occupy all inhabited islands of Nicobar group and own tribal land.
* Shompen. Current population of about 400; Mongoloid stock; occupy area of Great Nicobar Island (GNI). Access is restricted.

With the exception of Nicobarese and Great Andamanese all other tribes are semi nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Though the islands find mention in historical records of up to 18 centuries, the British colonised it in 1857 primarily to establish a penal colony after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The famous Cellular Jail was built in 1906. The islands were captured by the Japanese in 1942 and vacated in 1945 at the end of World War II. The British re occupied it till 1947, when it came to India .

BSNL has a GSM mobile coverage in all large population centres of Andaman and Nicobar groups. A&N telecom Circle has two sub divisions – Andaman (STD Code 03192) and Nicobar (STD Code 03193). Interdialling between the two is by using prefix code ‘95’ instead of ‘0’. BSNL also has WLL networks at Port Blair and Diglipur. Airtel, Vodaphone and Reliance are recent entrants with mobile coverage in Andaman group only.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Sea journey to Hut Bay, Little Andaman, passing close to Cinque Island and the famed 'Sandbar'.
Ship docked at Hut Bat jetty.

Hut Bay jetty.

State Forest Department Guest House at Hut Bay.

Rate list.

Front view of Guest House.
A Forest Department map of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

A really rare Green Gecko.

Arecanut drying at the Forest Department Spice farm.

This red eyed fist sized crab was spotted in the rocks of seashore near Hut Bay Bazaar.


A really out of the world and really wild trip would be to the Little Andamans. The crocodile infested waters are the right place for the adventurous. You may even see some out of work elephants and some really thick sawn off trees if you go towards the waterfalls.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some more snaps of Neil Island

A variety of Sea Cucumber
Lips of a clam

A touch sensitive coral turning silver

A variety of coral


Sea Cucumber

A natural Arch formation


Clam waiting for prey

View of Neil Jetty from the shallowest beach. You can walk nearly 500-600 metres inside without submerging. Walking into the sea is advisable only during rising tide as receding tide tends to pull you inside the sea.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Neil Island has a natural coral aquarium where one can admire them without snorkeling or diving.