Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Vacation to an unknown world - Part-1

Update: In May 2015, the Prime Minister of India asked us to share our travel experiences across India. He acknowledged this blog :). 

Recently, for a long vacation, we went to the Andamans. Port Blair looked like a laid back town - no one is in a tearing hurry to rush; everyone is pretty relaxed and life moves on at it's own pace! A stark contrast to the mad rush that we see in our daily life! Each day exploring the various landmarks, beaches, and acquatic life was a learning experience; it was more like exploring a world that is unknown to us! 

Following are some of the experiences that I am sharing :) 

The Cellular Jail 

The above picture is a model of the original cellular jail. Only three blocks exist now; the others were damaged in a Japanese bomb raid. A hospital has now been constructed at that area. 

While explaining the methods of torture at the Cellular Jail in Port Blair, Andaman, the guide made an emphatic statement -  "So many people have suffered so much for the cause of Independence. All we get to hear are the names of Gandhi, Nehru and others." He moved on to talk to us about other facets of the jail, but that statement just stuck with me! This is was one of the poignant moments in the whole visit to the Jail. 

One of the first thing that the guides here show is the gallows - another poignant reminder of the torturous history of this jail. The guide then takes you to the "condemned cell block". These are 4 cells, which have a direct view of the gallows. If you are in this cell, that means your next stop is the gallows. While taking a look at the cells inside, they didn't look anything like the cells we see in the hollywood movies. Something was amiss, and that's when the guide pointed us to it. The cells had no toilet! 

According to the rules of the jail, the inmates were taken out for answering nature's call for only three times in a day. The last such outing was at 6 in the evening. And if you had to answer the call after that, they were given a small bowl - Veer Savarkar describes this plight in detail in his autobiography (picture below). 

Just a bowl! 

Look closely below: - the inmates of one block cannot see the inmates from the other block because the jail doors of one block face the back walls of the another block - Veer Savarkar did not know for two years that his brother was also in the same jail!

More methods of torture were explained at the shed (the red block between the buildings) - coir binding and oil grinding with unreasonable expectations was the order of the day. Political prisoners were made to toil worse than animals. Below extracts from autobiographies of the inmates is a must read:

The way inmates were chain cuffed; the massive hunger strikes which often ended with massive force feeding that led to death of the protestors - so many stories to imagine and feel fortunate to have been born in today's day and age. Statues of some of these fighters are installed outside the Cellular Jail. 

 All during this tour, I was sweating profusely and constantly wiping it (because of the climate) - and then realised that the inmates had to endure all this every single day of their stay here - most of them endured this for our freedom. The poignant stories of the inmates, their struggle and their fightback made for some really inspiring reading. 

Then there is this whole section on Netaji Subash Chandra Bose's visit to Port Blair and his appointing of Mr. Loganathan as the commissioner of Port Blair before leaving. We were also told that this was the last flight he took before his ill-fated last flight (there's too much controversy around that though..)

There is a sound and light show that's well organized. Cellular Jail is a story that needs to be told far and wide - and this is a small attempt to spread that story. 

Chatham Saw Mill

This was listed as one of the places to visit - many were casual about it, but even this place turned out to be a learning experience! This Saw mill was established by the British, on a small island called Chatham and hence the name. The first thing we learned is that the there are multiple types of wood used in various places! 

And then there was a self-tour of the entire saw mill, including a "bomb-pit" - Japanese bombed this island to inflict damage to the British during the second world war. The tour of the entire mill was in itself an experience - how the logs are cut; how they are processed; transported etc! 

As always, it was very sultry and workers were really sweating it out! We in IT industry have forgotten to literally sweat it out! Some pamphlets were around - looks like there were elections to the workers union recently. Workers Union at the mill put up a notice telling the management that bio-metric verification of attendance was not acceptable to them :D 

The naming of Corals and Shells

So there was this musuem called "Samudrika" - and one of the rooms had exhibits of Corals and Shells. Various sizes of shells were displayed and to my astonishment, all of them were given scientific names too! I mean, I never knew that so much effort went into classifying shells that we take for granted! Below picture is an example (never knew such large shells existed!) - the small shells in the enclosure behind all have scientific names associated with them! 

Oh wait - the musuem also houses the skeleton of a whale! 

Tribals and their life style! 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Andaman is the tribal life there. The Jarawa tribes are the only tribes that mingle freely with the outside world - and this was causing some health problems for them it seems! For good or bad, the Supreme Court has currently banned any tourism in the area where the Jarawas stay. Currently, there are only about 240 Jarawas living. 

The Setinelese are another tribe that stay in a small island away from the main one. They are not as friendly, and tend to get violent when approached it seems! Below image describes it better :). I think there are only about 98 of them living. 

You will now be tempted to ask - Dude - what about the fun that Andaman is associated with? What's with all this "learning" you are bombarding us? ;) Part-2 will talk about all the fun we had :)