Tag Archives: Responsible Travel

Exploring Andamans-Part 8-Nandu’s Day Out

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 ,Part-4  ,Part-5 , Part-6 and Part-7

Nandu and I enjoyed our time on the beach. Time was passing by slowly looking at the open sea, admiring the freshness of the experience by the sea. We ran on the beach, choosing which pebble to pick and throw into the sea, and observed that some pebbles were smoother than the shells that lay washed ashore. Before we went off for lunch, we stared at the sea, and I was telling Nandu that we are in many ways tied to the ocean and that is probably why we keep getting so attracted to the sea and that is where we will go once the eternity of a lifetime passes. I am not sure, he understood anything, but kids have a way to process information and retrieve it contextually on demand.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- For a calming day out, always trust the sea, and some time by the beach is always fun

Nandu was fascinated by the Go-Pro Camera that I was using, and I thought its a good idea to hand over the camera to him, since it was easy to photograph. I told Nandu to use the voice function that just required some one to say ‘Go-Pro Take a Photo’. Nandu lapped it up and went about clicking photos. I gave him a little task to get a peep into what he observes, and asked him to click upto 10 pictures of the things he likes.

These are a few of what Nandu came up with

  1. There was a little dog at the restaurant and at Parvati’s house that Nandu used to play with. It looked like he was on Nandu’s ‘LIKE LIST’.
The little dog at Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)
The little dog at Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)

Nandu’s Lesson #2- In a new place, mix with the villagers and the local and understand their life. Nandu made himself comfortable in Parvati’s shop by relaxing on the hammock and playing with their dog.

Nandu chilling in a hammock at Parvati's store near Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)
Nandu chilling in a hammock at Parvati’s store near Flying Elephants- Kalapathar Village in Havelock (Andaman Islands-India)

2) Kaushik from the Flying Elephants Team made us our breakfast and lunch. Nandu spent time sitting in the kitchen with him observing him make food. Since he fed Nandu well, Kaushik made it to Nandu’s ‘LIKE LIST’

Nandu developed an attachment to Kaushik-who cooked for us at Flying Elephants (Andaman Islands-India)
Nandu developed an attachment to Kaushik-who cooked for us at Flying Elephants (Andaman Islands-India)

3) Our Hotel room had some bird art made with paint. Nandu seemed to like it.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

4) Nandu liked the portico where we were sitting and spending most of our time at the resort.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

5) Nandu loved running, and he liked the pathway that connected our hut to the reception. So that made it to his ‘Like List’

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

6) I am not quite sure, if I influenced Nandu, but he seemed to also like this view of the open greenery from our windows.

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

7) And as a last item, he loved his little beach kit

Nandu's Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)
Nandu’s Go-Pro Photography Task at Havelock Islands(Andamans-India)

Nandu’s Lesson #3- If you have a camera in hand, and an easy one at that, its very rewarding trying to document what captures his fancy. A camera helps you freeze moments that you can take back home [Despite daddy doing that for a living]

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes.

There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 5-Reaching Kalapathar Village

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 , Part-3 and Part-4 so far.

Entering Kalapathar

It was about 10 am, when I had come to the Kalapathar side of the island. The island seemed breathtakingly beautiful as we made our way with the sea opening out on one side and the tall trees by a hill on the other side. The road was patchy, as the population decreased along the 10 kilometre stretch from the market at Beach number 3 to Kalapathar Village. There was something very inclusive about the village, as soon as we saw the board that Kalapathar village welcomes us. The beach had a small road which had about 7 shops, selling food and beach wear, and 10 metres from it was one of the most pristine patches of sand that I have seen. In between was a shelter made out of tree logs, as seen in Munda Pahar, dotting the beach sands.

Nandu loved the beach, and made it a point to get right to the beach, and open his book and spend the day by telling us Spiderman tales, and by immersing himself in the turquoise waters of Kalapathar Beach.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- Its possible to spend a day just reading a book by a beach. The sea is calming and is always a source of energy for every session spent playing in the water.

Nandu's day out at Kalapathar Village Beach shelter-Andaman Islands(India)
Nandu’s day out at Kalapathar Village Beach shelter-Andaman Islands(India)

We went and checked in to the Flying Elephants Resort, and quickly came out to the restaurant that lies a 100 metres away from the resort on the village road, with an easy ambience inside. Our food affairs were limited as we mostly ordered bread toasts for breakfast and usually had the Dal-Chawal-Roti combo for lunch in the couple of days that we were there.

At the Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar(Andaman Islands-India)
At the Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar(Andaman Islands-India)

 

The resort had 2 types of huts. One type of huts was having a ground and a first floor through steps within the house, and the other type of hut had a front area as a balcony and a room right inside, all made of wood and bamboo, and that too very tastefully by the founders Lynda and Benny (who we did not meet during our stay, as they were traveling to Neil Island around the same time)

The houses have a pathway connecting the main part of the resort, which also houses a yoga centre. This resort has NO Air conditioners, NO Internet, NO telephone signals. You have chickens walking across the grass on either sides, and you are in exactly the kind of surrounding that mankind was meant to be. Waking up to the sounds of birds at 4 am, talking with fellow humans, sleeping at 9 pm, go for long walks in the forests and use the moon’s light for navigation, See sunrises and sunsets by a calm sea. Nature can help us re-discover that side of us, only when we blank out digital noises around us. It was beautiful and surreal being in a almost zero night pollution zone and our bodies were slowly getting synced to nature. Our mobiles were stashed in a corner safe, as they were of no use. No GPS, No Internet, No Signals.

Nandu’s Lesson #2- It’s possible to stay in the forest without air-conditioning and without television, and to follow a healthy sleeping routine in sync with the environment

The Long Pathway to our room at Flying Elephant Resort (Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island-Andamans)
The Long Pathway to our room at Flying Elephant Resort (Kalapathar Village in Havelock Island-Andamans)

 

Rotis for Lunch at Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village in Andaman Islands-India)
Rotis for Lunch at Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village in Andaman Islands-India)

Monsoon and Siesta

After a little siesta we headed out to the beach again, and it started to get very overcast. I knew that I was missing a sunset this evening owing to the cloudy nature. It then occured to me that this was the eastern direction, and the beach to be seeing a sunset was actually on the western side at Radhanagar. I could do nothing about it this evening, as that would mean, I would need to travel all the way to the market and take another bus from there to Radhanagar, which was easily an hour of public transport. Maybe I could do with a rental vehicle, but for today, I was content watching the pregnant monsoon in the Andamans, since the Indian mainland was having a scorching summer.

Monsoon laced evening at Kalapathar Beach
Monsoon laced evening at Kalapathar Beach

The rains came about slowly. The clouds were slowly building up giving people enough indications that a downpour was imminent and with the gathering of clouds, most of the people packed up early. Nandu and I were in the outer fringes of the sea, and we were enjoying lazing in the water and splashing each other. When it started raining Nandu was still in the water, and he realised that the water felt warmer while being in the sea, and he felt chill as soon as he came to the shelter where new clothes and towels were waiting.

Nandu enjoying the chill reaches of the sea in KalaPathar VillageNandu enjoying the chill reaches of the sea in KalaPathar Village

Monsoons! Yay!Monsoons! Yay!

Nandu and I were brushing ourselves dry, when we noticed a fisherman walk into the sea to cast his net. He did not seem to go far. He was at the fringes and spent some time before coming out. On days like these fishermen, who live by the coastal villages are far more cognizant of nature’s fury (which has probably denied them business for the day), than tourists who come to the island. We city dwellers dont quite understand the slow pace of life, and always plan packed itineraries even when the sea is part of the equation. The locals respect the sea, and the un-predictability that comes with sea life (rough weather, high seas with swelling tides), while we city dwellers cant quite react or manage un-predictability so easily. The city dweller that I am talking about is people like you and me, who find the change in the pace of life so different from the mainland to the Andaman islands.

A fisherman finding his catch in Kalapathar for the evening!
A fisherman finding his catch in Kalapathar for the evening!

Meanwhile, I could smell Maggi in the air. The shop on the beach road was closing down soon, and he was belting out Omlettes, Maggi and Pakodas to the remaining few people, who wanted to savour the smell of monsoon along with some tea and hot tasty snacks. With some Maggi for the night, I walked across the forest path to the resort, to stare into the night sky and tell my little son over stars.

Fresh Maggi for the rains!
Fresh Maggi for the rains!

We had an early start to our bed time, and it was pleasant to watch Nandu sleep before me and that too around 9 pm. 9 pm in the Andamans feels like midnight on the mainland, since the darkness starts to creep in from 5 pm. The next morning, I woke up rejuvenated and energetic at 4:15 am, and noticed that there was light rain outside. The place looked beautiful. I waited to go watch the greens outside the resort in the path leading to the beach. There was a sense of excitement that last probably came during Childhood when you wake up to a cloudy morning, visualizing that there could be no school that day. Today’s feeling was similar, except that there was no element of school coming in here. I grabbed at my rain bag which had my camera, and proceeded across the pathway, waiting to be part of the surreal scenery that would unfold.

Dawn View of our pathway at Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar Village (Havelock Island-Andaman Islands(India)
Dawn View of our pathway at Flying Elephants Resort in Kalapathar Village (Havelock Island-Andaman Islands(India)

 

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We stayed at ‘The Flying Elephants’ in Havelock Island (Kalapathar Village). Check room rates, and facilities here. You can reach Havelock Island by a ferry/helicopter from Port Blair.

Between Port Blair to Havelock, there are 2 private ferries (Green Ocean and Makruzz) and 1 Government Ferry. The private ferries have online advanced booking, while the booking window for the government ferry is 3-4 days in advance. You would need a local/agent to book the government ferry for you.

There are daily flights to Port Blair from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. Carriers that service Port Blair include, Jet AirwaysAir IndiaSpiceJet and GoAir. Round-trip fares vary in price depending on how early you book.  It usually costs a minimum of about 11,000 INR return from Chennai. A 15kg check-in luggage limit exists for most air-planes. There are no international flights from Port Blair.

Exploring Andamans-Part 4-On the High Sea to Havelock Island

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 Part-1 , Part-2 and Part-3 here

 

I had booked myself on the 0645 am ‘Green Ocean’ Ferry, which I knew was from the Phoenix Bay Jetty. Our hotel, was also in the Phoenix Bay area, so I figured out that a quick auto ride would help us get to the Jetty to find our cruise ferry. I woke up at 4:20 am, and it felt completely normal to wake up at this time, since that is the time the light starts seeping in, and that’s when you realize that your body has a connection with the outside environment. Our hotel serves free breakfast, and they got some nice dosas packed for us with chutney [They usually order for cheap from the army canteen nearby for which they have access].

Nandu was woken up again earlier than his usual time, and he was surprised that it was 5:30 am and really bright. This was his first brush with how the world and timezones work (though the Andaman Islands is wrongly tagged as part of Indian Standard Time as it seems to be ahead of when the light comes and goes). He was waiting to get into the ship and see how a ship moves in water. I had told him that we will do dolphin spotting possibly later today from the ship.

Nandu on his first ship journey
Nandu on his first ship journey

One of his first lessons at day break, was that places where we start our journeys are always loaded with muck and waste [Rail, Bus, Ships]. He saw that the jetty’s calm waters had many water bottles and plastic floating. It’s as if no one cared about places outside their home. People had thrown wrappers and plastic bottles into the sea, since it was not in their interest to keep any place outside their home clean. A lot of us humans are intrinsically selfish and false people. Our sense of cleanliness can reach fashionably reach OCD Levels when it comes to our home, but the same sense of cleanliness is found wanting when we go out of our home. We are completely okay to throw wrappers or waste on the road, all because we did not make efforts to find a bin.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- The definition of home, extends beyond the walls where we live in and the whole earth is our home. We cannot pollute the very place where others/we sit and live. Always carry a spare bag to put all used plastic contents, so that you can put it in a bin as soon as you find one.

Muck floating around in the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Islands [Phoenix Bay Jetty]
Muck floating around in the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Islands [Phoenix Bay Jetty]
Kishore Da and Magic on the Ferry

We set off our journey, by quickly finishing our breakfast as the ferry started to leave. One of the pitfalls of these private ferry providers is that they don’t allow you on the deck, when the ferry starts from the port or nears a port. The ‘Green Ocean’ nevertherless allows you on the deck in all of the time in between, saving the first and last 10 minutes when you need to be inside your cabin. At one point mid-sea they also play popular music which includes Hindi, Tamil and Bengali songs on the deck. It was beautiful when they played Kishore da’s ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani’ and ‘Chalo Jaata Hun Kisi Ki Dhun Me’, as the ferry slowly made its way across the vast expanse of the sea. That moment has magic in the air all around. Magic in Kishore Da’s voice and magic with views of random islands popping out of Bluish-Green sea.

The ‘Green Ocean’ is the best bet if you need the comforts of air-conditioned travel and the pleasure of an open deck. If you are someone like me, who is here for vitamin-sea and staring outside at the sceneries, get a local/agent and book the government ferry. It’s not as clean as the private ferries, but it more than compensates with the views and no rules as the private ferries. The ‘Makruzz’ is the other private provider, with very comfortable seating and lighting, but it allows no time on the deck and it can be quite the bummer. My recommendation is to land up at the ‘Directorate of Shipping Services’ early in the morning or the previous day to enquire about tickets. The locals have a quota, and as a result outsiders have very few tickets on the government ferry.  The ‘Green Ocean’ ferry play a documentary on Andamans, featuring Tom Alter. This can be found on Youtube here

The Air-Conditioned cabin of the Green Ocean ferry from Portbair to Havelock Islands [Andaman Islands-India]
The Air-Conditioned cabin of the Green Ocean ferry from Portbair to Havelock Islands [Andaman Islands-India]
Jetty Blues

Usually it is said that, being on sea causes some kind of nausea or sickness. The only blues that were getting to us on the sea, were the colours on the sea. It was various shades of blue on a paint card. Looking at the sea, as you lean in against the railing, and look at, is when you get an appointment with yourself. Nature manages to do that every time you are following a sunrise, sunset or the vast expanse of the sea.

Resting on the Rails of the Ferry, looking at the vast expanse of the sea
Resting on the Rails of the Ferry, looking at the vast expanse of the sea

There are islands in the horizon, and I wonder how these islands were formed, and whether people can drift off their for picnics there. If I had a genie, I’d ask for a boat or a helicopter that can take me to my island of choice and whims. Nandu was like a cop, coming by my side every few minutes to ask where the dolphins were. I waited for the dolphins to show up, but they did not. He soon found his entertainment in the deck, where people played music and some of the popular music included Nandu’s favourite songs. I meanwhile saw a moment there, out at sea, that reminded me of ‘I am the King of the World’ moment from the movie Titanic, where its only you and the sea, and there is nothing between the both of you. That moment where you feel connected in all vibes to the huge canvas that plays out in front of you. That moment when you are the sea, and the sea is you. It’s a fleeting moment and the moment fades away after a minute as a loud bollywood track on the deck, cuts through my moment.

'I am the King of the World' at sea- Between Port Blair and Havelock Island
‘I am the King of the World’ at sea- Between Port Blair and Havelock Island

In about a hour and a half, we were receiving instructions from the staff on the ferry to get back inside. Our brush with the sea was ending. Havelock Islands were approaching and one part of the island started showing up as a forest lined up against the calm azure waters of the sea.

Havelock Island Approaching [Andaman Islands-India]
Havelock Island Approaching [Andaman Islands-India]

Arriving at Havelock

The ship slowed down near the jetty, and it looked like a dream like sequence, even in a place like the jetty. We slowly got out, waited for our luggage to be pulled out. Airtel’s telephone signals were non-existent. I was given a number by Kumar to call for our taxi needs in Havelock, but due to poor signals, I could not call. Since our hotel at the Flying Elephants Resort was on the side with least populated traffic, we had very few buses directly heading that side, relative to Radhanagar Beach (which is a more populated area).

Arrival at Havelock Jetty [Andaman Islands-India]
Arrival at Havelock Jetty [Andaman Islands-India]
I fixed a taxi, and while the taxi driver was loading the luggage, I noticed that there was a water re-filling station near the Havelock Jetty. I asked Nandu to take our water-bottle and head to the water filling station to re-fill our bottles. This was part of the lessons for him on the island to make sure we never buy plastic water in bottles, and to also drive home the message to others seeing this to avoid plastic and bottled water. The Andaman islands, especially Havelock, encourages travelers to come and refill water at either the water refilling station or at their resort, instead of buying bottled water. It basically means lesser plastic to deal with on an island’s fragile eco system that is already threatened by burgeoning population.

Nandu’s Lesson #2- Always Refill water at re-filling station or the resort in Andamans. Never buy bottled water in the Andamans. Lesser plastic means helping the environment and eco-system survive.

Nandu about to go to the water-refilling station in Havelock Jetty
Nandu about to go to the water-refilling station in Havelock Jetty

Our resort too had a water re-filler at the reception area, which Nandu would frequent to fill water for us. It was convenient and hassle-free instead of being snooty about 2 plastic bottles at your disposal. We were part of the outdoors and nature, and were thrilled that we are privileged enough to be able to explore the world outside our home, which we were also calling home!

Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
Water Refiller at our Resort-Flying Elephants (Kalapathar Village-Havelock Island) [Andaman Islands-India]
Check out the previous part OR the next part

 

 

Exploring Andamans-Part 3-Sunset at Munda Pahar

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 , Part-1and Part-2 here

As we left the Loha Barrack Sanctuary, we took with us some fond memories of the place, and realised we have more reasons to come back here the next time we are in the Andamans. We wanted to see the crocodile park, the Mahatma Gandhi National Park and Jolly Buoy Island (which needs a tour operator to book, or you need to go to the tourist office in Port Blair to get a permit a day in advance) and probably do a local bus journey here.

Loha Barrack Sanctuary in Wandoor [Andaman Islands-India]
Loha Barrack Sanctuary in Wandoor [Andaman Islands-India]
On our way back to Port Blair, the beautiful and green Andamans got my attention. We used to stop every few metres on the Grand Andaman trunk road and observe the scenery. With some help of previous research, I was able to tell Nandu that the Andamans is famous for some of the thin trees, which are basically Betel trees. Betel trade is one of the reasons that people cut trees but plant it back since its essential to plant trees to run it as a business. I also showed him some of the other trees and asked him to point out really big trees on our way to Port Blair. The Andamans has a state tree called the Andman Padauk, which usually means its ‘4-6 daddies tall’ [My way of saying 25-40 metres tall]

We sat by a little stream, to pick another biscuit packet that lay like a treasure inside the reams of clothes that we had packed. Nandu also was starting to fall asleep in the front seat, so I thought he would be better off sleeping in the back seat, but when we stopped and he woke up to this, he was up and awake. He asked me, why dont we have so many trees near where we live. I thought a bit and told him that most of the homes today are built on lakes or lake beds, and as a result, a lot of trees have been felled to make way for houses and apartments. As a result when the rains pour longer, nature has its revenge by flooding quicker, increased temperature in the city and more pollution. The Andamans was like a breath of fresh air for even him.

Nandu’s Lesson #1- Nature is peaceful, and beautiful. As long as we preserve this, it will protect us

Green Andamans at Garacharma (Near Port Blair)
Green Andamans at Garacharma (Near Port Blair)

We saw a very viscous and thick layer of green on a lake. It took me a minute to figure out that this was a lake and not seem green solid bed.

Green and Viscous Stream near Port Blair
Green and Viscous Stream near Port Blair

After a rather expensive lunch at ‘Anna Purna’, we realised that the food on the island can be really expensive. Annapurna was a normal hotel with slightly below par service. In the Andamans, you pay a premium for a hotel that just looks clean, as the cost of bringing raw-food materials/vegetables from the mainland spikes up eating costs. So for a very basic thali (plate) at a non-airconditioned place, we ended up with an overpriced menu. What irked me even further was my driver, had forewarned me that while Annapurna was a well known vegetarian restaurant, their pricing is high and food is nothing to write home about. Lesson learnt, and we then went ahead to the next part of our trip in Port-Blair after picking my dad up from the Veer Savarkar airport. We were off to Munda-Pahar beach, which is a beautiful place for spending a sunset as per my driver/guide-Kumar

Approaching Munda Pahar Beach near Port Blair-Andamans(India)
Approaching Munda Pahar Beach near Port Blair-Andamans(India)

To Munda Pahar

On our way to Munda Pahar Beach in the Chidiya Tapu region, I fell asleep. We had a pretty long day with intermittent sleep. Waking up at 3 am for a 6:30 am flight and having a delayed breakfast and lunch certainly had affected my body cycle. When I woke up, I found myself amidst the hills as the car swerved its way. Kumar wanted to show me the path to Chidiya Tapu, which is a trek route to get to the top of the hill, but I was too tired to walk over. I earmarked the trek for a subsequent trip, where I would spend a day trekking with  Nandu to show him the beauty around a moderate trek. For now, the only place we were heading was Munda Pahar the beach.

There seemed to be some development of the beach for tourists, as one could see a pathway built, name boards on trees, wooden seat rests made out of tree logs, amidst the tall trees for people to sit. There was sand on either sides of the pathway, but there was not much of a beach here, owing to the low tide when we had gone. Kumar tells me that some scenes from the Tamil movie “Kaakha Kaakha” were shot in this area. Now when I look back at the video, after arriving home, I can see the connect clearly.

Also if you look into the sit out made out of the tree logs, the deciduous tree is made of a dark coloured bark and is supposedly a cousin of the domesticated Jackfruit tree. This is commonly found in all communities in the Andaman Islands. The tourism ministry of Andamans have done a good job in making sit outs and shelters for the travelers in the little parts of the Andaman Islands that I have seen (Kalapathar, Radhanagar, Wandoor and Munda Pahar)

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Uprooted Trees at Munda Pahar-Andaman Islands(India)
Uprooted Trees at Munda Pahar-Andaman Islands(India)

The sun set is an event that is treasured in this part of the world. The process of fading light starts from 1630 IST, and by about 5:15 pm, the place is steeped in darkness. By about 6 pm, it feels a little later into the night like 8 pm on the mainland. I was telling Nandu that in Bombay/Goa which is on the west coast, the sunset would stretch into 7 pm and it would be dark only by about 7:30 pm. I wish I had a little globe to talk through the phenomenen.

As the sun made its way behind the mountains, it created this surreal moment as it decided to shine on a selected area of the sea. I told Nandu that this is exactly life. Providence and nature decides to make you shine based on the good vibes that you generate for the world. Just because an area is shining and other areas are not shining, it doesnt mean that one area is better than the other, it just means nature decided to focus on that area for that time. Everyone gets their time and appointment with nature. I am not quite sure, how much he understood, but the moot point for that little lesson was to see if we can help the world to help us.

 

Beautiful Sunset at Munda Pahar Beach (Andaman Islands-India)
Beautiful Sunset at Munda Pahar Beach (Andaman Islands-India)

Nandu was constantly changing, getting into the sea to play with his swimming trunks and was quite enjoying the vast canvas that he had to run around. He had taken a love for the sea and the outdoors. I gave him a little lesson that I had learnt, and that was to be able to see sunsets, and meditate during a sunset by staying quiet. The sunset is so beautiful, that it has a way for your mind and your heart to talk. They seem to be at loggerheads as you grow up, and you need external tools to make them see the same things.

Nandu’s lesson #2- Trust the sunset, and consider yourself lucky if you can see sunsets and do deep breathing to soak in the moment. It has a calming influence.

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As we walked further on the sea bed, we noticed a couple taking selfies of the sunset. They probably wont be able to send it till they get back to their hotel. The Andamans has very little connectivity and 2G is very slow, but nevertherless that allows the travellers to soak in the moment at the place they are, and doesn’t make them seek the virtual world of likes and comments on Facebook. Andamans that way makes you discover that part of yourself which is pre-facebook. It’s a different version of you. I stayed without 4G for 108 hours. It never felt bad. My son stayed without Chota Bheem for much longer. We both felt better. You should try this!

 

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Check out the previous part and the next part

Exploring Andamans-Part 2-Wandering in Wandoor

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Part-0 and Part-1 have been passed and we are on Part-2 here.

Usually kids are used to an air-conditioned existence or an existence that doesn’t have them roaming out in a sunny day. My son was no exception. While he was playing with the cat [from Part-1], he got used used to the bliss of being in the shade of the long trees by the beach. I asked him to come out and join me in the sea where we would be at the fringes and feel the water. Nandu initially was grimacing at the thought of coming over to the beach, and then I told him he could go back if it was too hot. Nandu walked with me, and initially felt the water was too cold. I told him to trust nature and that the best swimming pool is indeed the sea. Kids take a while to listen in, but once they feel convinced, they literally take to the next activity like a fish takes to water. So off we went from the shade of the trees and benches to the new world of the sea!

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Once he had crossed the chasm of the warm sand into the waters, a little more cajoling and coaxing was required to make him realize the bliss that the waters of the sea could be on a warm tropical day. He then sheepishly turned around and told me that the waters are beautiful to be spending time in. This part of the beach in Wandoor was chosen as there were very little waves and the water was more or less very calm. With kids, its important to pick the right beaches to travel and make them familiar about the sea, and experience nature by respecting it.

Nandu initially ignored one part of the beach, saying its rocky and dirty and was jumping near it. I went near that side of the beach and noticed that these were basically not dirt but sea weeds and some fishes. I told Nandu that these are homes of the fishes and we are visitors here. We must behave like visitors and not act like we own the place. He sheepishly smiled and went aside nearby and played a little more calmly.

Nandu’s Lesson-1 : Respect the natural environment of animals when travelling to their place. It’s their home and we are visitors.

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In a while, Nandu had realised that the feeling of frolicking in the sea was bliss. The water was clear and he could see fishes in the water. Nandu could slowly start to feel what paradise looks like. First it was peaceful frolicking and then it turned to splashing water and jumping. The joy of being a child could never be truer.

Nandu’s Lesson-2 Trust Nature and learn that the best way to cool off is in a sea! No water getting wasted 🙂

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Nandu also spotted a lot of sea-shells by the beach. He asked me how do these sea shells are formed? I told him that these shells are usually skeletal remains of sea animals, after the death of those animals. Nandu probed a bit further, asking me where was blood on the skeleton and whether this was the skeletal remains of an electric eel. Where do his questions come from, I wonder? Electric eel was the most random reference I have heard. But with my limited knowledge, I answered some questions and let him explore the sea, and go back to the trees to re-apply sun-screen lotion.

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The beach hardly had any visitors. The few people who were out were changing their clothes under a bamboo rest and change place built by the beach. The ones who come to the beach, bring with them plastic waterbottles which they sometimes forget and throw it by the beach.

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After playing for a long time in the waters, we were getting hungry. There is some thing about bathing, that creates and opens up pathways in your stomach to be all clear for food intake. We decided to cool off, dry ourselves under the cool confines of the majestic trees of the Loha Barrack Sanctuary. We heard that the sanctuary is otherwise famous for crocodile conservation and was set up in 1983. I heard from my driver that turtles share the space with crocodiles in the environment of the sanctuary. This beautiful place, I heard has camping facilities too, but that’s probably for a much longer trip. Wikitravel lists a camping place, if you are interested.

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The beach had small strands of plastic even on the nets nearby. I showed Nandu that even that small plastic when it is blown away by wind can get into the sea, and a sea-animal could think of that as food and swallow it. The plastic goes inside the animal’s body and wreaks havoc. So for the next 10 minutes, Nandu went about collecting plastic along with his search for sea-shells and kept it in the bin at the beginning of the beach.

Lesson 3- Plastic does not work for the environment, nor for animals. We need to make sure that this is not there anywhere on a beach. If some one throws plastic on a beach, we should politely request them to use the dustbin.

Plastic-The-Killer is all around- Shot at Wandoor Beach (Andaman Islands-India)
Plastic-The-Killer is all around- Shot at Wandoor Beach (Andaman Islands-India)
Saying NO to plastics at Wandoor (Andaman Islands-India)
Saying NO to plastics at Wandoor (Andaman Islands-India)

And so we started on our way back to the airport, to pick up my dad. I only wish I had booked my dad on an earlier flight, we all could have boarded the afternoon ferry to Havelock Island and we could get to paradise on Kalapathar Beach. I had anyway kept the folks at Flying Elephant Resort informed that I would mostly land only on the second day, as I knew I would have problems coordinating my dad’s flight timing and the ferry to Havelock. For now, I was driving back to Port Blair, from the Loha Barrack Sanctuary for the much anticipated lunch at ‘Annapurna’, [ I had been here 8 years back for a quiet dinner]

Check out the previous part OR the next part

Exploring Andamans-Part 1-PortBlair to Wandoor

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series. Can travel be made more meaningful and enjoyable for kids? Lets explore and find out. Check Part-0 and Part-2 here

 

Once we landed in Port Blair, I waited for our luggage at the conveyor belt. The airport was small, and I spent some time at the Andamans Tourism desk, while waiting for the bags to arrive. The trip, as among other trips, despite the fact that I was with family, was only partially planned. For now, I had told the folks at Flying Elephants, that I was coming to Havelock the next day, but the whole of day-1 had to be spent in Port Blair, since my father was coming by a different flight in the afternoon, meaning that I had to wait in Port Blair, and I could not be on the afternoon ferry to Havelock that day.

 

Bandwith Bummer

I thought I’d wait to check for rooms on a travel app, and I strangely found that the internet was virtually non existent in Port Blair. First bummer on the trip. Andamans has very slow 2G, and the only 3G signals are that of BSNL, which again is sporadic. Reliance Jio was yet to come here as of April-May 2017. I went out and decided to take a taxi to find a hotel and also be able to book tickets on the ferry between Port Blair and Havelock, since the online ticket booking websites of Green Ocean and Makruzz did not work at the time, I was traveling. I met a taxi driver called Kumar (who can be reached at +91-9933283384) from the pre-paid taxi centre. I told him in Hindi to help me find an air-conditioned room for a family of 4, and also help me with booking tickets for the ferry to Havelock. I reccomend using Kumar’s services, as he is aware of each place that can be reached by car on the island, and can tell you stories of places. Andamans does not have self-drive car rentals, since there are very few service centres on the island.

Ferry Blues

Port Blair has 3 ferries to Havelock Island, up from the single Goverment ferry it had, when I had been there in 2008 April. The other 2 ferries added were Green Ocean and Makruzz. Kumar helped me to go each of these centres and help me book tickets. Green Ocean accepted only cash, while Makruzz accepted Credit Card payments. If I were to reccomend these ferries, here are my observations.

I go on a ferry to feel the wind on my face and hair, and stare at the sea and the mountains by the sea. I would not really look beyond this. I hate to have restrictions of any kind on my strolling on the ship to photograph. The Government ferry works the best for such travel. The ticket window usually opens 3-4 days before, and is not online for non-islanders to book. So you need to either have a local go and spend time in a queue and book it, or come here with enough time in hand to go and book it. That’s what makes it tough. Most of us city dwellers, love predictability and our air-conditioning, and there are 2 private services to cater for it. The Makruzz is very comfortable and comes with 3 levels of seats, with the highest costing about 1500 Rs per seat. You cant get on the deck, as the Makruzz is small, and has a rule that makes all people, be inside the air-conditioned area. The Green Ocean combines best of both the worlds. While ‘take off’ and ‘landing’ you are not supposed to be on the deck, but you can be on the deck in the time between that, apart from enjoying the air-conditioning inside the ship’s closed seat areas. There is a little documentary that plays from the TV’s inside the seating area where Tom Alter takes you through the beauty of the Andaman. This is also found in Youtube here.

I signed up with Kumar on 2 driving assignments. He would first drive us to Wandoor, we would spend some time on the beach, and then come back to the airport, pick up my dad, have lunch at Annapurna and then head out to catch the sunset at Munda Pahad Beach (Chidiya Tapu). 1300 Rs, each way for each of the trips. Nandu’s lessons were ripe and ready to be learnt. As a first, we quickly settled on a basic air-conditioned room in Phoenix Bay Jetty near the Tamil and Malayalam association at a place called the Ritz Hotel. Not a great place to stay, but very functional. Small pathways, but reasonably okay rooms with air conditioning, heater and television, if you are looking to stay just to board the next day’s ferry.

Missing Mainland

Wandoor is a little beach town around 25 kilometres from Port Blair in a South West Direction. As we were on the drive to Wandoor, Kumar pointed out on my left to little pools of water, which were actually created during the 2004 Tsunami and the water has since then stayed on these fields. We passed via scores of betel nut plantations which seemed to stretch across the length of the journey even as the music that played on the car shifted from Kumar Sanu to Illayaraja. The island seems to have 2 major languages (Bengali and Tamil) spoken, representative of the migrants who have shifted here from the mainland, and has little communities with a similar name as in the mainland. We passed Ranchi Basti and Mallapuram, as we made our way into Wandoor (also a name inspired from a town in Kerala).

Nandu’s Lessons

Cat by the beach at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Cat by the beach at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Nandu spotted a little cat by the beach, which came around us as we sat there to drink some water from our water bottle. We sensed that cat was thirsty and offered it some water. Nandu was sitting next to the cat and was playing with it. He also offered it water to drink and then let some of his bread on the floor for the cat to eat. The summer was about to end. The lesson here was to let Nandu know that, if the cat stayed there for longer than usual, we should not do anything to drive it away, since this is a forest and these are the homes of animals, and we are here to visit and then go away. I asked him to look at whether the cat had the food offered, and if it left the bread an hour later, we should throw the food into the litter bin. One of the biggest problems with virgin places are that people bring food and plastic, and then throw them away, asking “who’s watching?”. Nature is always watching, and knows the problems such behaviour entails.

 

Birds welcoming us at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Birds welcoming us at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Nandu saw very tall trees around, and loved the whole sense of space around him. He was happy and started to loudly exclaim with excitement and run around. I looked at him, and asked him to be joyful, but not shout so loudly so as to disturb the environment. He had a look at the birds and observed the surroundings for a whole 15 seconds (a sense of achievment to make kids observe silence), listening to the chirping of birds and the leaves covering the sun’s light coming inside the forest.

Nandu wonderstruck by the tall trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Nandu wonderstruck by the tall trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Since it was our first day of our holiday, and we were spending the day on the road, I was worried if Nandu would get tired and sleep off or he would start to ask for Cartoons on TV. So far so good. I had not brought his colouring books

 

 

Clear Sky between the Trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Clear Sky between the Trees at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

Postcards from Wandoor

As the first part of this series ends, I leave you with a few postcards from the serene beach of Wandoor, which is the alighting point for trips to the Mahatma Gandhi National Park and Jolly Buoy Island (snorkelling). One needs to go to the tourism office, a day prior to get permission slips to visit Jolly Buoy Island or find a travel agent to do all the paper work for you. Since our trip was just planned on the go, we were not able to find our way to either of the places, where a little ferry leaves at fixed timings. If I had more time on the island, I would have probably taken a bus which would have cost less than 20 Rs from Port Blair to Wandoor. Maybe that’s for later this year. There are a couple of small restaurants near the beach, which we did not go to. We were getting ready for our lunch at Annapurna which was very expensive for a simple Thali meal. Most meals are expensive in the Andamans, because the food is brought from the mainland.

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Made for quiet afternoon siesta
Made for quiet afternoon siesta-Wandoor in Andaman Islands

 

Silhouttes at Wandoor
Silhouttes at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

 

Our Host-Kumar resting by the woods at Wandoor-Andaman Islands
Our Host-Kumar resting by the woods at Wandoor-Andaman Islands

 

Check out the previous part OR the next part

 

 

 

Exploring Andamans- Part 0

This is part of a series, where I take my little son with me on my travels to help him understand responsible and sustainable tourism, so that he grows up to be a responsible citizen who can help inspire others to also understand the importance of respecting nature and nurturing it. In this series, we explore the Andaman Islands as part of #ResponsibleTravelForKids series.

Summer Holidays-The 90’s– Back when I was in school, it was that time when I used to sit at home and watch Prime Sports for its live cricket feed of the ending New Zealand season from 3 am to 10 am, the matches in Sharjah from 11 am to 7 pm, and the beginning of the Carribean Cricket season from 7 pm to late night. Whenever possible, I used to find my sleep in between, because the privilege of watching cricket live and very clearly (as DD’s coverage back then in the early 90’s was poor), was too much to resist. I did this from 1994 to 1996, where the English county season also got added to the mix with Shaun Pollock taking a hat trick on debut.  I was completely addicted to watching Cricket on TV. Those were my luxuries. My world was the little room in our house in Adyar in Chennai, adorned on the 4 walls with posters of cricketers, pulled and cut out from the Sportstar Magazines.

It changed from 1997. On February 18th 1997, my school’s travel/nature club announced that they were having a nature camp trek in the summer holidays in Himachal Pradesh for about a little over 2 weeks in the Bara Bangal range, and it was priced at Rs 3800. My parents felt, I am better off going away on travelling rather than gorging on cricket in front of the television. I was also interested, since it involved going to New Delhi after 7 years. I used to previously live in New Delhi, and it felt like a trip back home, and I knew I had a love affair with staring out of the train windows looking at the scenery changing slowly. On that trip in May, I realised how important practical knowledge of first aid is since I injured myself when I fell off a mountain. I also realised that you need to respect nature and understood the importance of responsible travel where you dont throw plastic wrappers into the wild and dont play loud music in the woods. It got me interested about travel, and about the importance of maintaining our environment around us. That was the clear focus, as the cricket clearly went to the background. I still would borrow transistors from the camp’s cooks to listen to bits of hindi commentary of the on going Independence Cup back then. But Nathan Astle, Saeed Anwar, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya remained figments of imagination when the transistor would boom to life, as my primary points of interest were the tall trees and the flowing Uhl river, in the lap of nature, disconnected for most parts from the world.

Cut back to 2016

I was with my son on a beach in Goa for New Year. My 4 year old son was happy staying inside the air-conditioned place, and was asking for POGO channel to entertain himself. He would not feel like walking on the beaches, and stayed away from the sun, and would shy away from enjoying nature or even observing it. I decided that I needed to take him to a place which was cut away from telephone networks, television, air-conditioning and the usual things he would find at home. A place that would shake his senses up about what his definition of the world was. After a bit of search and deciding between Lakshadweep and Andamans, I decided on the latter based on the costs of flying to and staying there. After a couple of friends reccomended a place, I looked up the Flying Elephants resort tucked away in the woods of arguably the most beautiful, but under-rated beach of Kalapathar

It’s often the easier path taken, when you take a 5 year old to a world of luxury and holidays. Watching cartoons on TV, staying in air con rooms all day guzzling the hotel’s wifi. There is a whole generation at risk that could just miss the beauty of nature because as parents we choose the easier path. I decided to take my son to parts of India to mingle socially with people on holiday, and understand responsible travel. 

We had an early morning flight from Chennai which strangely got pre-poned from 8:30 am to 6:30 am. I had chosen the 8:30 am flight purely because it becomes very tough to wake a 5 year old at 4 am to get him ready for such an early flight. There was no way I could cancel the air plane due to very limited flights between Chennai and Port Blair. We chose Go-Air and Jet Airways for our flights which ideally be flights landing in Port Blair before noon and leaving Port Blair as the last flight out in the afternoon. That works best if you plan to head over to the islands of Neil and Havelock right after/before your flights.

Flying across the Indian Ocean
Flying across the Indian Ocean

We chose to spend a day in Port-Blair and just go walking around, since our tickets to Havelock Island (Kalapathar Beach) were for the next morning. More on that coming up in the subsequent posts.

Monsoon Weather in Port Blair
Monsoon Weather in Port Blair

Do stay tuned to the upcoming parts all through July. If you have a young kid, you should come back for more on how you can entertain a kid and teach them early lessons on sustainable and responsible travel. Here are the themes I agreed upon for Nandu to be learnt

When you go into the forest, you are going into the homes of animals. We should respect them and peacefully-co exist without harming or driving them away. Be a traveller and not a tourist who thinks he/she is the ‘privileged one’.

 

Re-fill your water in a water bottle, and do not buy plastic bottled water. Helps any place do away with the problem of waste and helps kid develop immunity by drinking water the way the locals of a place drink it.

 

 Throw plastic out of the sea, when you see it, and collect them and put them in a dust bin

 

Nature can be the best way to entertain yourself. Observe the trees and plants around and ask questions on why things are the way they are

 

Go stay with the locals who cook for you, or who run shops to get an idea of their lives. It helps you appreciate what they have in their world, and what you have in your world.

 

Develop patience, by sitting a full day out at the beach, and knowing that the mind can be entertained by just reading a book by the sea, making castles,playing in the sea and just resting on the sand.

Here’s a sneak preview on what to expect in 3 images in the next few parts!

Nandu enjoying with glee abandon at Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island.
Nandu enjoying with glee abandon at Kalapathar Beach in Havelock Island.

 

Paradise at Flying Elephant Resort in Kalapathar-Havelock Islands
Paradise at Flying Elephant Resort in Kalapathar-Havelock Islands

 

 

Reading books by the beach can be fun!
Reading books by the beach can be fun!

Check out the next part