M double U

The Andaman Islands

When my doorbell rang at 7:30 at Monday morning I knew it was Charl who came to pick me up and bring me to Dusseldorf Airport. It was a short drive and checking in went smooth. My first flight to Frankfurt took about as long as the drive from Hillensberg to Dusseldorf Airport and not much later I made myself comfortable at the upper deck of a Lufthansa A380 for the just under 8 hour flight to New Delhi. We arrived in the middle of the night but I had to wait till dawn for my third and final flight to Port Blair, centre of the most isolated region of India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. I cleared customs (again) after which I took a short ride to the harbour. There I had to wait a couple of hours again till departure of the ferry. Checking in was done in the typical chaotic Indian way, it was done in stages and every time I had to move to yet another room. Finally it was departure time and an hour and a half later we arrived at Havelock Island, not that I had seen much of the trip as tiredness took it’s toll and I slept most of the way. After arrival I took a short taxi ride to Emerald Gecko Resort and I finally arrived at my first destination of this trip. The total journey from Hillensberg to Havelock Island had taken over 28 hours but at the first glimpse of it I already knew it had been worth it.

I was ready for more enchantment, I was ready for India beyond the Taj…

My accommodation was a simple hut on the beach built with bamboo that had drifted from Myanmar. Simple perhaps but I could not have wished for anything more in this idyllic setting. My bungalow was directly at the beach and the view breathtaking. I had a refreshing shower and decided for a short nap before I headed to the restaurant. A mixed seafood soup and a coriander Lemmon prawn curry was a good start of my adventure in India but not surprisingly I returned to my bungalow early that night…

That night I had a long and rejuvenating sleep from just over 10 hours. When I woke up I felt much better, headed towards the beach for a short stroll and a dip in the gulf of Bengal. What a fabulous way to start what would be undoubtedly a relaxing day. A refreshing shower later I headed to the restaurant for breakfast. When I was finished it was just past eight…

I was ready for a new day and headed out to the street, there I went on a stroll in the direction where I came from yesterday. Besides the street was a coconut vendor so I bought a refreshingly sweet coconut from him, apparently I was the first customer of the day as he blessed and kissed the money I gave him. The coconut was delicious and gave me the energy I needed to continue my stroll. Still I decided to take a rickshaw to the starting point of the short trek I was planning to do, which turned out to be the right decision as it turned out further then I expected.

I wanted to visit Elephanta beach and getting there either required a boat trip or a trek of 2km, I had chosen the latter. The trail was narrow and although I was confused a couple of times it was rather easy to follow. Several times a lizard crossed my path and took shelter under the rotting leaves, I could hear the crickets and birds singing and the only other thing to be heard were my footsteps. It was so peaceful and as it was still early morning the heat was not too bad either.

Finally I arrived at the mangroves from where I could see the beach. A bit further on a large group of Indians, who based on the number of boats anchored at the shore, all had chosen the easy way to the beach, were amusing themselves. There was a wonderful and exciting vibe in the crowd. Fruit sellers were trying to catch attention of potential customers, other stalls were promoting underwater walks and I even saw two jetski’s. The atmosphere was happy and everyone was enjoying themselves but my eye was attracted by a long stretch of white beach that seemed to be untouched.

So that is where I headed, leaving the crowd behind me. Not much later their noise was no longer filling the air and I seemed to have the beach for myself. Without doubt it was the most stunning beach I had seen in India so far. No pollution, breathtakingly beautiful and the only thing I could hear were the small waves crushing into the shoreline.

On the beach I could only see the trails of crabs and it seemed my feet were the first ones to leave their marks in the sand, well at least until high tide would wash them away. Some large trees had not survived the power of the gulf of Bengal and had collapsed on the beach, providing a perfect hiding place for the crabs who were looking for shelter for predators high up in the sky.

I was surprised to meet someone else one the beach, he looked like a true Robinson Crusoe, in real life an Italian hippy who was trying to find the ultimate spot to be happy. So far the Andamans had not given him that to him as he was disturbed by altering positive and negative vibes. Shame he could not see the true beauty surrounding him, something I was absolutely blown away by.

I wished him good luck with his quest and continued my walk for another 30 minutes or so. Then I arrived at an area with large boulders and rocks and instead of climbing them I decided to return and backtrack my footprints. Robinson Crusoe was nowhere to be seen anymore.

When I arrived at the area that was filled with Indian fun seekers I ordered a fruit salad at one of the stalls. Spicy sir? Well, as I never had masala on my fruit go ahead. It worked out pretty well I must say although it took me a bit to get used to the taste combinations. I returned my platter to the friendly vendor and once back at the mangroves found the trail again leading me to the road.

Once there it did not take me long before I sat in a rickshaw back to Emerald Gecko. Instead of going directly there I had lunch in one of the roadside restaurants where I enjoyed a masala papadum that was a true assault on my taste buds. Never before did I have a masala papadum that was so spicy. I could only hope the Andaman Fish curry that I had ordered as a main would be milder and so it was.

After lunch I tried to find Andaman bubbles dive centre which seemed easier said than done. Having asked three times and passed it twice I found the small dive shop and decided to book 4 dives with them, spread over the next two days. Then I returned to Emerald Gecko and sat on my balcony to read a bit in my book.

Not for long though as my eyes became heavy so I returned to my bed for a well deserved nap. When I woke up there was time enough for a refreshing shower and then head to the massage hut as I had booked an Ayurvedic massage. That made me feel even more relaxed and in spite of arriving a little bit late at the restaurant I was granted the last order of the day.

My first day at Havelock had been absolutely stunning. Although I had done quite a bit of walking I felt extremely well. What a good choice to start my India adventure with a couple of relaxing days. Taking enough rest between my activities seemed to fit me well.

Back at my hut I updated my journal, closed my eyes and dreamt about the next two days when I would be scuba diving once again. I felt extremely happy…

Next morning at 6 the alarm went off and it took me a while to realise where I was. Oh yes, Emerald Gecko at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India… I made another short stroll at the beach and seeing the white sand made me connect with the people at home as I had got reports also their place was covered in white, so far for the similarities…

Unfortunately no breakfast today as I had to report at the diving club at 7:30, also the time the restaurant opened, I would survive…

I walked the short distance to Andaman bubbles and was welcomed by the staff. They introduced my to my fellow divers, an Australian couple and an Israelian girl. She would be in my group and I was happy to find out that she, like myself was an advanced diver so it would be a relaxing dive.

We were brought to the diving store located at the beach where our equipment was selected. I setup the equipment in order to test it and when I brought it under pressure an o-ring popped, glad I tested it here and not on the boat.

It did not take us long to get to the first dive site, Jude reef. We were briefed, set up our gear and not much later descended on the mooring line. The water was nice and warm and visibility good. We were surrounded by thousands of fish and the coral was in pretty good shape. There was so much to be seen but some of the highlights for sure were a stingray, a crocodile fish, the a andante and variety of colours and a group of playful clownfish.

It was good to be back underwater again after 5 long years.. Time was passing by quickly and 50 minutes after descend we returned to the mooring line for a slow and controlled ascend. We were helped onboard and once we got rid of our kit were presented some snacks while we shared experiences at the front deck.

The next site, simply called the wall was about an hour and fifteen minutes away but we were not bored one single minute, the company was great, laughter was in the air and the surroundings were breathtaking…

The blues and emeralds of the water and the lush green islands were separated by a strip of bright with beach, absolutely gorgeous and picture book perfect.

After we arrived we kitted up again, stepped in the water and made our descend. Immediately it was clear the visibility was even better than on the first dive and the abundance of colours was simply intense. I was impressed by some beautiful deep blue soft coral fans, the box fishes, snipers and all other fish so close at the reef that I had almost not spotted a group of barracudas who seems to carefully observe us.

At the end of the dive we got in a thermocline which totally ruined the vision for a couple of minutes. It did not take long and not much later we returned to the mooring line for our ascend.

I fell asleep at the front deck and was woken up when we arrived at the shore. After rinsing the kit we said goodby to our dive masters and were brought back to the dive shop.

I enjoyed lunch and a well deserved beer at the red snapper after which I returned to Emerald Gecko. I tried to read in my book but a couple of pages later I was too tired to continue and fell asleep for an hour or two. When I woke up it was almost seven, I had a refreshing shower and returned to the dive shop to arrange my dives for tomorrow. Then I returned to Emerald Gecko for my dinner, King Prawns Indian style, updated my journal and fell into a long and satisfied sleep.

Six o’clock the next morning the alarm went off, time for another refreshing shower and a short walk to the dive shop. Today the boat was filled to it’s max, 10 divers and as a result of that preparations took much longer than expected. We did not leave the office till after eight and to my surprise I was not even frustrated, this was India after all.

At the dive club it took another hour or so to get all equipment arranged and then we finally headed to the boat. It was only a 20 minute trip to pilot reef and Annette, Kappu (the dive master) and myself were the first one to go in. Visibility was good and we really enjoyed our dive. The dive was very similar to yesterday’s first dive and there was so much to discover and enjoy. Time flew by far to quick and as our dives were limited to 50 minutes we returned to the mooring line, ascended to 5 meter to make our mandatory 3 minute safety stop and returned to the boat.

After all divers had returned we headed to our second dive site off the day which again was at the wall…

There was a slight current alongside the vertical wall so we simple drifted at it’s side admiring the wonders that revealed in front of our eyes. It was a gentle drift so there was enough times for my eyes to soak up the colourful world in front of me. The whole experience that lasted 20 minutes or so was like a meditation on itself. Besides my breathing and the air bubbles out of my regulator ascending to the surface there was nothing to be heard. The world around me was at peace and so was I. As we changed our bearings we now had to start finning. It did not take long before we spotted a massive stingray who gently passed below us, a breathtaking experience. Not much later Kappu spotted a large octopus who constantly changed his colour and texture in order to perfectly blend in with it’s environment. Annette and I were mesmerised by this stunning display from Mother Nature.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end and so did this dive, we could see the shadows of our boat above us so slowly we made our way towards it. Once everybody returned we had died back to the diving club, a trip that took over an hour.

By the time we returned it was almost 4 o’clock, much later than yesterday. Due to the fact that I was supposed to be at the dive shop at 7am I missed breakfast and now all restaurants were closed for lunch… Still I was not hungry but I promised myself a good dinner.
I relaxed a bit, had a refreshing shower and then headed towards the massage hut for my second massage of this trip. The herbs in the Ayurvedic oil smelled wonderful and were rubbed deep into my skin so I could enjoy it for hours. The massage itself was deeply relaxing and not for the first time I had to be woken up to turn around.

After the massage I went straight for the restaurant and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast, lunch and dinner in one go. I felt satisfied after. I remained in the restaurant to update my journal and by the time I was done it was only 20:30. I returned to my hut at the beach, read a bit and dimmed the lights. Another day had come to an end…

Next day after breakfast I read two more chapters and headed towards the road. It did not take long before a rickshaw stopped and I negotiated the price for bringing me to Radhanagar Beach. The well paved road meandered through textures and shades of green, I could see an abundance of coconut palm and banana trees, but that was just a small part of all the plants growing at the side of the street. It was a cacophony of colours, wonderful to see.

The 8 kilometre drive did not take long and on arrival I agreed with Parog, the driver to be picked up 3 1/2 hours later, that should do. I entered through a welcoming gate and immediately saw some benches and patios where Indians were amusing themselves. It was busy but certainly not as crowded as Elephanta Beach. Like there also here all activity was focused on one area, the rest of the wide beach seemed virtually empty.

I spent some time observing the activities after which I started my stroll to the left. The beach was extremely wide and the sand, brightly lit up by the sun hurtled my eyes, in spite of my sunglasses.

By the trees I spotted a small sign telling there was a temple so I followed the path and discovered 2 small and modest temples. Nothing compared to the ones at mainland India but both were lovingly taken care off. At the 2nd temple I was even invited to make pictures and the doors protecting the deities were specially opened just to do that. I thanked the friendly lady for her efforts and made my way back to the beach.

Radhanagar Beach is voted to be the best beach on Havelock Island and is also the 7th best beach in Asia. I could easily see why as the whole beach was simply picture book perfect. A wide stretch of snowy white beach bordered by a green forest on one side and the turquoise and emerald blue water on the other side. It was absolutely stunning. And best of all, besides one spot where all the activity took place the beach was almost empty.

A dream to come true, especially when I think back to the overcrowded beaches in Montenegro last year where I saw more bodies than sand on the beach. No this was definitely more my thing….

I walked until rocks marked the end of the beach and then slowly returned to the centre. At the entrance of the beach I had spotted some stalls and after I enjoyed a refreshing coconut I bought a bottle of water that I finished sitting on one of the benches and enjoying what was going on around me.

Once the bottle was empty I continued my walk to the other end of the beach. I encountered three fishermen, one was carrying a surfboard and one of the others a big fish, apparently their day had been successful with a good catch.

Not much further there was a sign warning for salt water crocodiles. I had already heard from different sources that the crocodile came to Havelock after the tsunami and the last human killing occurred in 2010. Confident but still a bit cautious I continued my walk till I arrived at another small cove. The water over here was bright green, in contrast to the emerald and turquoise shades at the large stretch of beach. I loved it!

On my way back I was asked by a young Indian couple to make some pictures of them and how could I refuse, they seemed to be happy with my work. I could have made another stroll to both sides of the beach but in spite of having drunk a litre of water I was thirsty again. I returned to the restaurant where earlier I had bought the first bottle and got another one, as well as a fantastic prawn curry thali. Although one plate would have been enough I could resist a top up….

As promised Parog showed up on time to bring me back, but first I wanted a stop at an ATM as I was running low on cash. Next to the bank was the one and only wine shop on Havelock so I treated myself on a bottle of beer and a bottle of rum to take along to Neil Island tomorrow.

It was my plan to go for a swim but it was low tide and it did not look good for swimming. So plan B came into action, update my journal and enjoy the breeze.

A bit later I picked up my beer from the fridge in the restaurant, asked for a glass and enjoyed my first beer in days. Needles to say I enjoyed it a lot. Once it was finished I returned the glass to the restaurant and enjoyed my last dinner at Havelock island.

Days start early but also finish early, I returned to my beach hut to finish one more chapter (I was extremely delighted that reading went so well, it seemed I had found the peace to do so, a thing that has always been extremely difficult for me since May 2014…)

Next morning I set the alarm at 5:15 so I could witness the sunset at the beach steps away from my hut… As soon as I entered the beach I could see it would not be spectacular, nethertheless I enjoyed the dawn of a new day and as I had risen early it meant I had all time to pack my bags and have breakfast.

By 8:30 I was all set but had to wait until 9:00 till Gopal, my rickshaw driver would show up. Whilst I was waiting at the road I had at least 8 or 9 offers for a ride but I did not want to disappoint Gopal I friendly rejected them. It turned 9 o’clock without a sign of Gopal and just when I was getting worried he showed up.

It was a short drive to the jetty and checking in went smoothly. I made myself comfortable in my deluxe seat and we departed according schedule. The crossing took just under an hour and by the time I was at the jetty my luggage was already waiting for me. It was not difficult to find a rickshaw, actually it found me, and within 15 minutes I was at Emerald Gecko.

My first impression was that it looked in much better shape than the one at Havelock, but I was already told this was built much later so had not suffered from the teeth of time. My hut was more like a bungalow with all facilities present, except a mosquito net, something that I arranged a bit later.

Emerald Gecko was not at beach front location but the beach was only a 25 meter walk away. I enquired about diving and would be contacted later that evening.

In front of my bungalow an inviting hammock was installed so I opted on a lazy afternoon and read a bit in my book. Just when I returned to my bungalow for a refreshing shower someone knocked on my door, it turned out to be a dive master from scubalove who came to see me about tomorrow’s diving. We had a nice chat and I signed up for 2 dives the next day, when I enquired about the starting time I was shocked to hear 6:00… Oh well, on the positive site it meant I had the whole day left after the diving.

I updated my journal in the restaurant, had a lovely dinner and chatted with a nice young Italian couple I had met earlier at Havelock. At nine the restaurant closed and I decided for an early night, just to make sure I got my required hours of sleep. It had been a lazy day and the only thing I actually did was travel from Havelock to Neil Island. But then, it was a holiday after all….

Next morning the alarm went off at 5 o’clock so I could shower at ease. A rickshaw was already waiting for me and brought me to the second jetty at the harbour. There I met the dive crew and not much later Mitch, the dive master arrived. The boat was loaded and we changed at the jetty after we headed off at the dive site.

Our boat, an old fishing boat, was much smaller than the boat at Havelock so things were a bit more cramped. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the first dive site and all 7 divers were helped to gear up one after one and did a bankroll into the water. Once all assembled we started our descend.

There was quite a strong current which we had to swam against but I felt comfortable and slowly made my way forward whilst enjoying the beauty around me. Late schools of Trevally swam were present and as I was very calm I could swim amongst them, it was a lovely experience. I observed a lot of macro stuff and found several nudibranches, a ghost shrimp and other species that I could not recall the name off. I was really enjoying myself and far to quick for my liking we arrived at the mooring line and started our ascend.

As the current had been quite challenging for some of the novice open water divers we decided to alter our plan and go to the nursery, a shallow dive site at the other side of the island for a second, shallow dive. I was happy with that as all I wanted was a relaxing dive and a good time underwater, depth was irrelevant.

The same procedure as the first dive was followed and one by one we entered the water. I could see the bottom whilst swimming at the surface and this time there was a lot of photo plankton visible which lighted up beautiful blue. Large schools of fish were swimming around so I joined them whilst they were observing me as close as I was observing them. Again lots of macro stuff to enjoy and I spotted a Murray eal who curiously came out of his cave to have a look at me but quickly retreated when I came too close. This went on and on and was a lovely game to play. There were several smaller reefs to explore and not a single boring area. All good times come to an end and so I finished my last dive whilst at the Andamans. After 5 years it was good to be underwater again and based on some comments of my fellow divers who were impressed on how quiet I moved through the water and how much in control of my buoyancy I was it seemed I had not forgotten on how to dive. It seems one does not forget old tricks.

I said goodbye to everybody, got a big hug from the divemaster and took a rickshaw back to Emerald Gecko. There I read a bit in the restaurant whilst waiting for the kitchen to open. The lemon garlic fish filet was wonderful although I realised there would at least be one fish less in the gulf of Bengal to be enjoyed by my fellow divers.

After lunch I headed to the nearby Sitapur beach for a relaxing stroll. It was not as wide and long as the beaches in Havelock, but then Neil island was much smaller than it’s bigger neighbour Havelock. Still it was highly enjoyable and a picturesque beach. I had to climb a large rock to get to the second beach and then wade through the water for a third beach. Once again there were just a hand full of people present at the beach but most of the time I felt I had it for myself. I am not sure I will ever be able to enjoy the masses of tourist who all seem to gather at the same beaches all over the world. Here I felt at peace and in touch with nature, a humbling and fulfilling experience. I returned to Sitapur beach and bought a coconut from a friendly lady who had set up a simple beach cafe. I enjoyed the coconut water and asked the lady to open up the coconut for me so I could enjoy it’s meat as well.

Refreshed and happy I returned to my bungalow, read some more and had an extended afternoon nap. Contrary to my last trip I decided to listen much more to my body and sleep when I felt so. Perhaps it was the island feel that made me much more mellow and relaxed, whatever it was it surely felt good!

When I woke up sun had set and dusk had made it’s appearance. At the restaurant I updated my journal and waited for Julia and Leonardo, my Italian friends to join me for dinner. They enjoyed a great day too and whilst having great conversations we enjoyed our meal. According to good Andaman traditions the day finished early, I read another chapter or two and closed my eyes. What a wonderful day it had been!

Next morning I woke up early, without even setting the alarm. I enjoyed my hot shower and headed to the restaurant for breakfast. I opted for a fruit salad, aloo parantha (Indian bread stuffed with potatoes) and black coffee. I guess the last was more out of habit and by now I decided I would go for tea as of now, a much wiser choice whilst in India. Julia and Leonardo joined me, both of them were heading back to Havelock to follow some scuba training.

I took a rickshaw to the natural bridge and was dropped at a small path leading towards the beach, then followed some other people who also seemed to be on their way. I had to crawl over some rocks and wade through the water but not much later I saw Neil Island’s famous natural bridge.

There were two other Indian families but it was still very quiet. By now it was not even 9:00 am but I liked I had started the day early. It turned out to be a good decision as by the time I left much more people arrived, I had been just in time.

I bought a bottle of water at one of the food stalls and asked whether it was possible to go on foot to Laxmanpur Beach in the north of the island. As it was low tide it should not be a problem according to the vendor. I followed a beautiful stretch of beach where at the end I met a young couple who asked me to make a few pictures, their poses were in true Bollywood style. I was allowed to make some extra pics with my own camera of the young couple who were obviously deeply in love.

After a short conversation I continued my walk. The beach came to an end and I had to walk over some razor sharp rocks that I could even feel through my sandals. I was carefully not to fall as that would have caused some serious injuries and definite damage to my camera. Progress was therefor slowly. It I made it to the next stretch of beach. In front of the beach there was a small mangrove forest which was tremendously picturesque.

At the end of the beach there were some serious boulders and rocks, I was not sure what the best decision would be, wade through the water or climb the rocks. Carrying my camera did not make things easier. It turned out to become a combination of the two. Not much further I could see the beginning of Laxmanpur Beach but the boulders and rocks were a serious barrier. With my goal within sight however I did not feel like returning but at one point I was not sure whether I would make it or not.

Then I found a shortcut climbing upon a tree and a hill which helped me to avoid the biggest boulders. Once I made it up the hill a small trail led towards the beach.

All beaches I had visited so far on Havelock and Neil Island had been absolutely stunning and this one was no exception to that. It looked like a tongue of snow white sand surrounded the northern tip of the island and that was once again surrounded by different shades of emerald and blue. The water was crystal clear and looked extremely inviting.

I walked around the edge and kept on walking for a while. I noticed I had been singing in myself for quite a while as I was enjoying this walk so much. I can hardly remember such stunning and natural beaches although I must admit at places I could see empty plastic bottles and other garbage, left behind by people who apparently not had nature’s interest in mind judging by their foolish actions.

A small path led to the interior of the island so I decided to follow that. At a cozy looking restaurant I enjoyed a lemon soda to quench my thirst before I continued the walk. At one point a luxury resort was being constructed and not much later I arrived at the centre of Neil island where most activity took place. There were several shops and even a small market.

A path to the left was leading to the jetty but I continued my way. I had made my mind up and wanted to walk all the way to Emerald Gecko, a walk of approx. 6km in total. Halfway I enjoyed a prawn masala for lunch after which I continued my walk. The sun was not high in the sky and it was tremendously hot. Fortunately I had bought another bottle of water to keep me going.

Around 2 o’clock I arrived at Andaman Gecko and I must admit the walk had taken it’s toll as I felt sweaty and tired. The only thing I wanted was a cold shower which was a slight problem as I only could choose between a hot and a steaming hot shower. Still it did me well and after a generous layer of deodorant I felt refreshed. To recover I continued reading my book and by six I was finished with the third book of this trip.

Another achievement that made me extremely happy as it had not been easy for me to finish one book after my operation. The first time it worked out was my trip to Bali last year and now things even seemed to work out better. It seems I only need an extremely quiet and tranquil environment in order to do so.

In the restaurant I started to update me journal but I could see preparations were being made for a presentation of some kind. It turned out to deal with snakes of the Andamans, a subject that not really caught my attention. The presentation was interrupted several times by the usual power cuts which left the island pitch black.

I did not really feel hungry that evening so I skipped dinner and limited myself to a couple of lemon soda’s. I returned to my bungalow and started my fourth book of the trip. It had been a wonderful, but also slightly tiring day.

Next morning it was time to pack again. After breakfast I ordered a rickshaw for the short ride to the jetty and checked in for my trip back to Port Blair.

At the harbour I enjoyed a fresh coconut whilst waiting for the ferry and after a while there embed to be some movement at the jetty, boarding had started.

The journey was short and comfortable and once we arrived at Port Blair I did not have to seek for a rickshaw, as usual, it found me. Driving through Port Blair gave me much more the feeling to be in India again than it was the case at Havelock and Neil islands. It definitely was more vibrant. My hotel, the Andaman Castle, was located in the outskirts of Port Blair, a nice but extremely quiet area. It did not have a restaurant so I asked my rickshaw driver to return in 45 minutes.

And so he did, and he brought me straight to the cellular jail, British penal institute for terrorist and war criminals, which was completed in 1906. One did not come here to be imprisoned, one came here to die, whilst spending years in solitude.

The Indians, of course, had a complete different view of this place, like the text on my entry ticket explained; The cellular jail, the Indian Bastille stands as a mute witness to the untold sufferings, valiant defence and undaunted spirit of the fire brand revolutionaries against the brutalities of the British barbarism.

From the original 7 wings (several were destroyed by the Japanese in WW II), constructed in a star shape with a central watchtower there were only two remaining. Directly left from the entrance there was a memorial column and two eternal flames. In what used to be the administrative block there was now an exposition of times long behind us. Hundreds of photos of prisoners and explanations of their crimes were exposed but it missed the impact that the separation museum in Amritsar, Punjab, had on me last year.

I walked at ease through the wings, looked at ease at the rather spacious cells (I had seen much worse examples of imprisonment) and tried to breath the atmosphere, not an easy thing as there were plenty of other, mainly Indian tourists around). The cells were constructed in such a way that prisoners absolutely had no contact with fellow inmates, it must have been a very solitary experience.

From the watchtower I could climb up to the roof to get an areal view from the compound. At the place where the 5 deconstructed wings originally were a hospital had been built. The gardens were nicely maintained with some more buildings housing expositions, none of theme were very appealing to me.

As there was not a lot going on in the area around the cellular jail I had to walk quite a bit downhill to the waterside to find a restaurant. I enjoyed a late lunch and returned to the cellular jail where I visited a small park in front of it.

At 5 o’clock my rickshaw driver showed up again as agreed and brought me back to my hotel. There I checked my pictures, updated my journal and went for an extremely early night. There was no restaurant in the hotel, no common area and there was nothing to do in the neighbourhood. Although the room was fine it definitely had not been the right choice, oh well, it is only for 2 nights…

Next day was another opportunity to witness remains of the British colonial past, I took a boat to Ross Island that was only one kilometre away from Port Blair that once was the administrative headquarters of the British at the Andamans. The island’s old English architecture is still standing, despite an invading wave of fast-growing jungle vegetation. About a century ago 500 carefully selected “happy few” lived the good life which was carefully mimicking the English aristocracy. Those were the days… But now it looked more like a Victorian version of Angor Wat where nature was taking back it’s space taken over a century ago by human beings. An earthquake in 1941 started the downfall of Ross Island and the Japanese finished off the job in WW II. In 2004 Ross Island still played a vital role taking cub of the bashing of the tsunami and protecting Port Blair from further damage.

I strolled over the island for an hour or two and then returned to the jetty where my boat was already waiting. In Port Blair I enjoyed lunch before going to the Chatham Saw Mill. That was a totally different experience.

Although it was a regular working day it was difficult to spot any activity in the saw mill where normally timber should have been cut and prepared for long term use. There were a lot of “workers” present but not a lot was achieved at all.

The museum was an unfocused collection of timber products, photo’s from the Andaman Islands and old pictures of the saw mill. Was I missing any direction in the exhibition?

Anyway, it was a nice place to kill some time before I returned to my hotel (with two bottles of beer my rickshaw driver bought at the “black market”) where I updated my journal and read some more.

The “lazy” part of my trip had now come to an end. The next day I would fly to Delhi where I start a three week journey from Delhi to Mumbai overland. I was looking forward to see sights both old and new but most of all I was looking forward meeting my friend Rohnit as well as Neha and her husband Anmol.

Part two of India beyond the Taj was about to begin…