Monday, August 15, 2016

Jarawa territory

Even though we were in the Andamans right in the middle of monsoon, we were lucky enough to get abundant sunshine throughout the week (with intermittent rain in the night)

The early morning view from our window was just magnificent. 

There was this little bird who always took his morning walk religiously. I noticed that he was very shy and scooted off at the slightest sound of anyone approaching. 

Left Port Blair to see the Baratang limestone caves. But the interesting part is how you reach there. After an hour’s drive from Port Blair, there is a check point where all the vehicles have to stop. As we are entering the Jarawa territory all vehicles will have to move in a convoy. The convoy proceed at fixed times with a periodic interval of 3 hrs. (only during day time) We were all set for the 9.00 am convoy. 

All have to carry photo ids and a detailed form has to be filled up with the detail of passenger in each car. While that was being done by our driver we had real hot puri bhaji at these stalls 

While writing this blog, I did some reading on the Jarawa. 
Some interesting facts:

They left Africa 70000 years ago. The most ancient people in the world.

The existence of the Jarawa has been recorded in the diaries of Lt Col Broke (1789-90) and Blair (1889-96)

Originally not as hostile towards the settlements, the Jarawa became aggressive when the British befriended the other tribes, apparently their enemies.

The Jarawas underwent another phase of unequal conflict with the outsiders, when during the period of Japanese occupation from 1942-45 their areas were bombed from the air.
Between 1946 and 1961 there were 76 encounters with the Jarawa in which 15 settlers and “many” Jarawa were killed.

The next phase started in the 1960s with the laying of the Andaman Trunk road through the Jarawa territory began. The tribals resisted the project from the beginning and the government was adamant to get it done. There were skirmishes and ambushes and no one knows the number of casualties on both sides. 
Here is a picture of the Jarawa exhibited at the Naval Marine Museum.

One evening a Jarawa boy called ‘Enmey’ fell into a ditch while collecting bananas from a village house in Kadamtala area adjacent to the Jarawa reserve. The boy was injured and rescued by the local police. He was sent to Port Blair for treatment. During his convalescence, he became friendly with the doctors, nurses and the attendants. He started taking cooked food and even picked up a few words in Hindi. The anthropologists and the tribal welfare department dealing with the Jarawa also interacted with the boy and gradually a good rapport developed between the boy and them. The Jarawa community was full of gratitude when he finally rejoined them. This helped in furthering contacts with the whole Jarawa community. Though the Jarawa continued to remain aloof they have, over time, come to accept the presence of civilized world in their reserve as non threatening and also allow occasional interaction with the officials of Andaman and Nicobar administration. In the photograph, Enmey is seen posing proudly with his family. 

As photography was strictly prohibited, I did not click till we reached the other end. But it was a wonderful drive through the tropical rain forest of Jarawa land. We did see a few young Jarawa boys on the way in the morning. On our return trip in the evening we saw more of them especially one extended family standing at the side of the road. In a way I felt sad as it looked as if they were expecting something, maybe some gift or food from the passerby. Maybe that was happening on a daily basis as the escort (police) was only at the start and end of the convoy. Here is a video on YouTube by Alexandre Dereims which will give you some idea of Jarawa and what they have to say.

This two hour drive gets you to a place called Middle Straight where a government ferry takes you across to Baratang. While on the ferry you can take in the lovely greenery just kissing the waters. 

From there you hire a speed boat which takes you to Baratang limestone caves. Again the identity card, paper works etc. (it costs Rs 450/- per head for the speedboat) We were in the boat named Sanjana 

The outboard really zips you through the mangrove forests. We did see an alligator basking in the sun but the boat was too fast for me to click. As you near your destination the boat slows down and you wind your way through the smaller lanes of the mangroves. It’s a wonderful sight and one is reminded about the movie “Black Water” 

Some information regarding the roots

You get off the speed boat near the mangroves and walk. It’s a good trek for about 2 kms with tall trees and lush greenery all around you.

If you slow down the pace and look closely you can see some finer things like a cobweb or the tiny leaves growing on the stones.

The path twists and turns till you reach the limestone caves.

You get to see more stalactites than stalagmites. It is a good place for people who are interested in geology.

I would advice tourists visiting the caves to carry a powerful torch. Walking shoes is an added advantage for the trek.
Have made a six minute video on the journey.

Like I said before, travelling to the place is more fun than the caves (especially when passing through Jarawa territory)         

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Speaking Tree

I always felt that a tree will have many stories to tell (if it could speak) Here is one tree who has witnessed an important part of the Indian history even though being 1200 kms away from the Indian mainland. 

I am talking about the lone Peepal tree standing in the courtyard of the Cellular jail

It was uprooted in the storm of June 1998, replanted, nurtured and survived to tell the tale of life in the cellular jail.
 There is a light and sound show held every evening, and most of the story is said by this tree (actor Om Puri has lend his voice) You can hear him in the video.

Two wings of the jail is lighted up which transforms it from this

To this 

The sound system is good and the show could improve by cutting out the patriotic songs and giving more emphasis on history. Maybe some sort of visual projection would enhance the show.
The jail had seven wings. Here is a model of how it used to look 

663 cells in the jail were specially built for solitary confinement. Each cell was sealed off by iron grill door and a grilled ventilator. 

Among the exhibits, there are two photographs showing the progress of the construction.

A unique feature of the jail was the total absence of communication between the prisoners of two wings since the front of one wing faced the back of the other.

A single guard on duty could supervise all the seven wings from his vantage point from the central tower. 


A view of the open sea from the terrace

Among the inmates was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (the Port Blair Airport is named after him) In March 1868, 238 prisoners tried to escape. Within a month all were caught and 87 of them were ordered to be hanged.
One of the three nooses and the actual trap door marked in white.

Also noticed that about 70% of the inmates incarcerated there were from Bengal. This is just one of the slabs put up there.

Incidentally only three wings of the seven stands as of now. It would have been only one, had it not been for a letter written by Mrs Indira Gandhi to the Home Minister in Sep 1968 (I saw this entry in the visitor’s book)

The Japanese occupied the islands for three years during World War II 

One of the tower bolts in the exhibit room (typically from the British era) 

And some of the exhibits 

A final view of the entrance

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Story

The visit to the Samudrika Naval Marine Museum was an afterthought and I am glad we made it (just a few hours before our flight took off from Port Blair)
As you enter the museum, you get to see this skeleton of the Blue Whale which was recovered from Kamorta Island.

It possibly beached due to the bio magnetic navigational syndrome which occurs at places where the geomagnetic contours cross the coast at right angle.
It is said that this mighty mammal can grow so large that eight elephants can easily stand in a row on its back. The Blue Whale can stay under water for about 20 minutes between inhalations. The signature water spout of the whale is the exhaled air by the animal and can reach as high as nine meters. (reminded me of the story of Ahab and Moby Dick)

These trees with the Noni fruit was a part of the exhibit. The plant originated in the islands around Pacific ocean. 

Thousands of years ago, sea going people journeyed in outrigger canoes. Space in the canoes was precious, so they brought only what they required to survive. Noni was a prized cargo in these canoes because of its healthful properties.
PS: See the comment below by Mantis Hugo regarding this fruit. Also read his blog regarding the benefits of the fruit
The aquarium gives an insight into the marine life underwater. This stone fish sits still with no movement at all. The only sign of life is the slight movement of the gill which can be seen in the video.

The exhibits of corals and shells could be a delight for marine biologists. I liked the shape of this Mango shell. The outer periphery also looks like the path of an involute.

What really caught my eye was a write up along with these three turtle shells. The title was “My Story” It goes like this: I am the centre turtle on display and flanking me on either side is my family. We traveled extensively all around the Indian Ocean from east coast of African continent, including the seas surrounding Madagascar to all along the coast of Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, along the entire coast of the Indian subcontinent, across the entire Indonesian Archipelago and the North-Western coast of Australia.
Our lifestyle was relaxed and we found abundant food in the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. However because of human fishing practices, we were always under threat and had to be very careful of illegal poachers. We were aware that certain waters were dangerous, especially in China and Japan, people valued our flesh as delicacy and in other places we were hunted for our shells.
We were on our way from Philippines to our nesting site in these islands when we fell prey to one such greedy poacher.
At the time of my death I was about 85 kg and my wife was about 50 kg and our lovely child was just stepping into adulthood and was about 30 kg.

(The above turtles were recovered from a foreign fishing trawler engaged in illegal poaching by a Naval ship of the Andaman and Nicobar Command)