Andaman – Culture, History & Nature

Andaman gave me more than expected. Seeing  local tribals, some of the prettiest beaches and above all, so much of our national history during freedom struggle, heroic and heart-breaking stories of freedom fighters which definitely deserve much more visibility. Here I begin…

During one of my term breaks at b-school, my parents and I went on a family holiday to Andaman for 6 days. This being a cluster of islands, I pictured this place as serene and disconnected from the world where I could lie back on the beach and take a  break from the frenzy life at college. Within one day, we confirmed the plan and made all the bookings. My first view of the islands from plane was mesmerizing.

Aerial view of the islands

Aerial view of the islands

I thought Andaman was another pretty island. I vaguely knew that this has been served as one of the main prisons during freedom movement. When we went to Viper Island  which served as open jail during freedom movement, I had goosebumps listening to the punishment meted out to the freedom fighters there.

Viper Island - The open jail

Viper Island – The open jail

 

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Depicting the prison life @ Andaman Jail

The guide there told us that the prisoners were tied to chains with their hands or feet tied to each other. This island is known for plenty of vipers (snakes), hence the name. Those prisoners were left on the island in open (there were no prison cells) awaiting fatal bite by vipers. If they managed to escape, there were dengue causing mosquitos in the island and man-eaters in the adjacent if the prisoners managed to escape. Some tough ones who managed to survive all these were hanged on the island.

Life at Andaman jail in Port Blair was even worse. The punishment here was called Kala Pani punishment. Once they were sent here, there was no going back for them. Unable to bear the punishment, many prisoners have died, or gone insane. Some of them died even due to force feeding.

After hearing these stories, I was moved. This still on my mind, on the way back to the island to Port Blair, I saw this sign of India map with the words “I love India” above it. I never felt more patriotic.

"I Love India"

“I Love India”

Then we went to Ross Island. I was fascinated by two reasons mainly – 1. It served as British administrative centre in those days and also a famous picnic spot, thanks to the beautiful beaches, presence of  diverse flora & fauna. 2. During world war II, Japanese invaded this island and built an underground tunnel around the island. My dad & I walked the entire island and explored the path through the whole length of this tunnel. It was a major eureka moment!

In Port Blair, we stayed at Rose Valley, a peaceful resort. We got it a good deal as we went in September, which is off-season. Now this place has the best food ever, especially the fish biryani! I was perpetually eating when I was in the resort.

Rose Valley

Rose Valley

But the best part was  Havelock Island. We stayed in a resort with a private access to the beach. In the early morning, my dad & I went to the beach to collect pebbles. In the evening, my mom, dad & I  used to hangout there. This beach has a swing tied from a tree branch & facing the ocean. Do I need to say more?

Havelock Beach

Havelock Beach

We covered a couple more beaches, did scuba-diving, saw the tribals – we did not know that so many surprises were in store.

Radhanagar beach on Havelock Island is rated as 7th best beach in the world. With this water colour & view, wouldn’t you agree?

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island

The people we met there are simple & sincere – our cab drivers, hotel staff, boat staff & a few locals. In Port Blair, they do not have movie theatres, happening hangout places or high-speed internet. They watch movies on their TV channels, play with friends in-person & do some work at home or outside to pass their time. They are blissfully unaware of what they do not have compared to the urban main lands of India (except for Chennai, where they get almost all of their supplies from) & enjoy their life!

I want to go to this place and spend some time there, eating all the food and enjoying those heavenly beaches.

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Travel Companions

 

IMG_0690.JPGWe interact with a lot of people in our day-to-day life. Most of those talks would be trivial about the weather, updates on latest TV show, cricket series or politics. More close friends discuss their work problems & relationships. The depth of conversations would end there mostly. Sometimes,  though I “knew” people for too long, I did not really feel like I knew them. Different shades keep emerging.

Travel helps you know about other person more than what you can know about him/her after having long endless conversations. Traveling tests friendships, questions your hypocrisy, helps you understand about yourself and others better. It puts you in situations that reveal the actual you, despite what you always keep telling others or what you made yourself believe.

Let me give a few examples here. My best friend & I went for a Euro trip with 3 other friends – we were spending more than a day together after 4 years. I used to think people’s relationship evolves & changes with time. One day, I had a urgent issue from work but could not do anything about it as I had no access to laptop.  She understood that something was wrong by just looking at my face. She asked engaged me in a seemingly casual conversation by not bringing that topic directly and helped me get a clarity on tackling that issue. (I will spare all the details here). She even managed to crack some lame jokes that made me laugh & forget everything. Some people & friendships never ever change with time. I felt so so happy that day, screw that work issue. In hindsight, I am glad that it happened.

In one of the other trips, I was traveling with an acquaintance. He said he considers clicking & posting pictures during travel is a worthless “wanna be” thing, just to showoff people. He ended up clicking & posting the most pictures in our group. This happens with me too. Sometimes, I love walking. On some days, I hate it but I don’t admit. I know about the inner hypocrite in me.

When you travel, you will realize that the girl “with the most attitude” takes care of others the most, that silent introvert guy has a great sense of humor! When you travel with friends, you may also realize how your college crush is a shallow person & the crush can vanish. I was a part of budding friendships, a happy spectator to silent love stories & cute flirting.

In a foreign country, when you don’t come back to the hostel at the time you mentioned, who calls to check on you? Which friend realizes that your bag is too heavy & offers to carry? Which one agrees to accompany you on your preposterous impromptu whims? When you travel, it is common that someone makes mistakes, someone gets tired, someone disagrees with you & your actions. How do you react to that? How easily do you lose your temper & restraint? How do you treat fellow travelers from a non-friendly country? How easily do you judge people you have just met?  Observe that next time consciously. It talks a lot about the actual you & the people you think you know!

A Glimpse Into Heaven – Dublin

There are those places which make you cry after leaving them to come back home. Ireland is one of them.

Where do I even begin? This was my first international trip, and I travelled solo most of the time. Those architecture with colorful doors & pretty windows with flowers, that lush greenery which literally shines in sun-light, small cozy pubs & streets brimming with culture. You stand at a place and turn 360 degrees and there WILL be something of historic significance.

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Some of those memorable places that I had the good fortune to see are the smallest bar in the world – Dawson Lounge, world’s first subway station, those magnificent buildings – some of which are birthplaces to famous personalities, the famous Molly Malone statue, the beautiful parks and areas like Temple bar & Bachelor’s street & ofcourse the Trinity College which gave us people like Maxwell, Bohr, Nabokov (author of Lolita).

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World’s first subway station (Dublin)

But, the actual beauty of Ireland lies in the country side. It is endowed with an excellent geographic setting, it is located on an elevation with sea around the borders. This gives amazing view and great winds. When I was traveling through the country side, I was so jealous of those sheep and horses who get to spend all their time on the green grass located on the shore!

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I went to Kilkenny & Wicklow, the latter being famous for the movie P.S I Love You. But what I discovered there was that Wicklow was also home to many monks since 10th century through the period of Vikings. The places is so serene that if you close your eyes, all you can hear is the sound of flowing river. The landscape flaunts multiple colors, thanks to the flora. In addition, it changes hues along with sunlight – my camera could not do justice in capturing that wonder!

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In Kilkenny, there is Kilkenny castle that talks a lot about the 18th century lifestyle and ostentatiousness & talents of local lords. These guys still preserved the constructions from 200-300 years, all those war & military rooms and weapons. The lawn in front is endless and magnificent. The country side typically has tall watch-towers, which I saw both in Wicklow & Kilkenny – mainly to keep an eye on Vikings in those days. I climbed the Kilkenny tower and the view was awesome from there!

What surprised me was when I was walking through the narrow lanes of these small towns, I saw stores of luxury brands like Prada, Gucci. On my way back to Dublin, we passed through small villages that have a population of hardly thousand and yet have their own little school, hospital and all basic facilities. This is their small perfect little world!

The cherry on the top was also getting to see a couple of Game of Thrones shoot locations.

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The dark hedges (Game of Thrones)

Finally, to see the beauty of Ireland, you must be blessed. And to live there is another out of the world experience!

Taking a step back, to 1000 years

This started after a rather adventurous stint in a couple of districts in U.P last year. I decided to go on a solo backpacking trip to U.P & Rajasthan. I started the trip from Kanpur to Varanasi – but guess what, I did not book any train tickets from there & I was staying in shared rooms in a youth hostel called Zostel – a relatively new concept in India then.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities of India, dating back to 1000+ years. This is considered to be abode of Lord Shiva, the lord of destruction as per human cycle, but he is much more than the above adjective. Like the present concept of destination weddings, this city was the hot-spot for destination deaths, even now. So, people come to this city to die eventually and it is believed that you go to heaven if you die in this city. Apart from all the beliefs, I respected the city for all the heritage it carries and hence I went there.

The walking tours through the thousand year old alleys, Banarasi chai, the ghats, evening aarti that takes you to trance, those sitar & tabla concerts, Buddhist culture in Sarnath are the sui generis of this city.

While walking on the roads, you gotta be really careful or you might bump into a dead-body being carried for cremation. And the roads are a mini version of roller coaster ride. At one point, I had to get down my rickshaw enroute my hostel because a cow was blocking the way and it would not budge.

I got to meet people from diverse backgrounds in the hostel I stayed, one businessman, one street photographer, a writer & another is an entrepreneur. The latter two went on to become good friends. The writer girl liked Zostel so much that she quit her job & started working at Zostel after a couple of months. On first day, we hung out in the evening. On the second day, they could not stick with my plan of temple marathon and decided to explore an Aghora place, where people were rumored to eat other humans. They were disappointed to note that they did not see any such thing there.

The people there were extremely helpful. Auto-drivers who get you the local food from shop while you are seated inside while the crowd does not look good, hostel host who carries your luggage till end of street to bade you good-bye, another friend who handles harassing police man. Despite being such a holy place, this city is in no dearth of romeos. People can just walk upto you and ask your phone number as casually as they are asking a change for 10 rupee note.

Finally, those ghats, the temples, they are beyond words to describe. This place will always have a unique association in my heart, no matter if I ever return or not.

The hazy lazy beauty – Zurich

While planning our travel, I reluctantly agreed to the idea of stopping over at Zurich for a couple of days. But it turned out to be the most memorable experience of the Euro trip. As soon as we checked in to the hostel Langstrasse, which was in the prime area of Zurich, I ventured out alone. This is something that I always like, exploring into the uncertain. I walked along the street, observing the innumerable clock towers, noting the Swiss obsession with watches.

Like any other European city, this city has some insanely talented music artists. After some walking, there was a musician performing at the entrance of a building. He was playing so well that I sat there for a good 15 minutes and pulled myself from there to stick to the trail. After some more time, I saw a large group of people cycling through the city – with everyone cheering around them.The city had a happy & lively vibe. The best part is the free bikes!

At last, I went to old-town area, which is the oldest part of Zurich with narrow lanes & boutique styled shops. Finally, I reached lake Zurich. The vision of multiple hued mountains merging the clouds was just amazing. After sometime here, I walked back to my hostel through the shopping streets of Zurich, not surprised by seeing the best of apparel & watch brands on the way. Then I went back to hostel, spent some time in the hostel cafe with live music being played.

Now, the second day disappointed us a bit. We took a tour package to black forest & rhine falls. Rhine falls were hyped up & black forest, though it is a stunning place, we had very limited time there! The moment I cherish is I got to eat the authentic Blackforest cake here & got to see an amazing unpolluted landscape with thick dense forests & sleepy lakes.

Back to Zurich, I ponder about how organized & beautiful this town is and wish I get to spend some more time here in the future. Incase the titular adjectives are not clear yet, it’s because the mountains are so hazy there & the lakes the so serene making the time still & lazy.

I so so wish I get to spend more time with Zurich. I think we will get along very well!

Snow White & The 5 Travelers – Interlaken

When we were planning our Euro Trip, this place was suggested by my friend. Since I have never heard of this town, I decided to stay-put and let the place surprise me. It did, more than once. With scary walks on on deserted roads in the lanes (Surprise 1 – the town shuts down at 7 pm, INCLUDING public transport), bumping into my friends who headed off in the opposite direction a while ago (Surprise 2 – It takes around around 40 mins to walk from Interlaken OST to Interlaken WEST, you have to explore rest of the city in between these 2 points). We stayed at Balmers’- it had awesome facilities at affordable rates, its own lively pub, reading room, lounge, pool table, foozball & other entertainment.

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Balmers, Interlaken

As soon as we reached hotel, we booked a paragliding tour. Apart from the view, the feeling of seeing your legs floating at such high altitude & Swiss alps to your left surrounded by those crystal blue waters and the super-talented paragliding instructor only made the ride better. He was funny too. In his own words – “The water is so blue that it hurts my eyes.”

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Paragliding with instructor (he has been doing this for the last 20 years, best job in the world!)

Next day, we went to Jungfraugch, one of the highest peaks of Europe. It was the first time in my life that I saw snow. So much can be said about the beauty but one thing that stuck was the 30 odd names engraved on the hill-top. These are the names of the workers who died during construction of the railway to the hill. This was around 100 years ago. My respect for Swiss people just boosted then.

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Jungfraugch

On the way back, our train compartment was filled with Telugu speaking people – I was surprised at how we are everywhere! In the next train, we met this Indian looking woman who had a cute blue-eyed kid in her lap. We started talking, and she told me that her mother was from Mangalore. When her Swiss father was visiting India, he met her mother. In her won words- “2 weeks later, I was on the way”. Her father took her mother with him on further travels and this lady was born in Nepal. Their family moved to Switzerland after that and lived there ever since. She did not go to college and was working as a waitress to make ends meet before her kid was born. I noticed 2 things here – 1. Her mother was super-brave. 2. This lady was so confident and happy, despite not going to college or having a seal of marriage assure her relationship. More often than not, we run after goals and tie our happiness to it. We need to ask ourselves – “How much is enough?”

Finally, our Interlaken journey ended with a visit to the Balmers pub in the night surrounded with lively & good music. This was a fun experience!

One fine day in Kaulalampur

When you get into the empty train station and the high-speed train just picks & moves, you have a sense of awe that an Asian country has such super-fast trains. Without a bath, tired from a night long journey from Australia, I enter Batu caves premises expecting to see an entrance door for caves. And then, I see HIM. I froze. It was a goose-bumps moment that took my breath away. He stands there, piercing his heart open, to show his unconditional love & dedication…the mighty Hanuman. Him standing against the backdrop of the tall caves made him look like he is in his “Vishwaroopam” – it gave me a miniscule feeling of myself.

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The best part of my journey was the discovery of the unique Islamic culture of Malaysia. I went to the Modern art museum near the National Mosque and was surprised to see how much the Malay revere & identify with the Islam of Mughals, Middle-East & integrate it subtly with their otherwise distinctive culture.

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Those premises felt like another version of Tamilnadu. If you put Tamilnadu & say, Dubai in a mixie, then you get KL.

Then the heat – if humans really evolved by theory of evolution, may be Indians from different regions migrated here initially. May be the Tams finally managed to survive as per Darwin’s theory, thanks to the adaption to heat. I went to the National Mosque, which was very peaceful with many fountains across the pathway, and a major relief from the heat. The underground tunnels were isolated & a bit scary when you travel alone.

I met a couple of people in the metro & temple premises who asked if I was from Tamilnadu, and I could sense a tinge of disappointment when I answered in the contrary. I really like the way you harmoniously co-exist with my south Indian neighbors Malaysia, but I can’t bear your hotness 😉

I really look forward to going to the much talked about Lankavi when I visit you next!