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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.