Sunday, November 29, 2015

Metropolises, sun, sand and sea!

This is about a family trip to Andaman Islands (Port Blair, Havelock, Ross,Viper and North Bay) via Bombay and Calcutta.

November 3, 2013: Reached Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad at around 05:30 am, to board an Air India flight to Bombay. Boarded the aircraft at 07:10 am. It took off at 07:30 am, delayed by a few minutes. At 08:45 am, the aircraft landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Bombay. As we had more than 9 hours left to board the connecting flight to Calcutta, we decided to meet relatives in the city. We hired a black-and-yellow taxi to Churchgate. We were lucky to get a Premier Padmini (Fiat), famous for having ruled Bombay’s roads as an iconic taxi since the 1960s. This was being phased out in favour of newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles like Hyundai Santro and Maruti Alto.

Decided to take the Bandra-Worli Sealink. We had to pay Rs 55 at the toll-gate.

Bombay seemed to be like New York, with skyscrapers dotting the Worli skyline just like Manhattan. Could see Haji Ali’s Tomb. Crossed Pedder Road, Jaslok Hospital and Wilson College. The city was apparently much cleaner than Ahmedabad.  Turned left at Hotel Marine Plaza on Marine Drive and stopped near Mantralaya. Our relatives welcomed us. After refreshing ourselves, we spent time with them. We had lunch and slept for a while before bidding adieu. 

At 3 pm, we decided to leave. We hired a Hyundai Santro taxi and told the driver to go to the airport via the Gateway of India. We saw Oval Maidan, Rajabai clocktower just before reaching Apollo Bunder. We waited for a few minutes near the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel. Saw the Bombay Stock Exchange building (Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers) and Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-a World Heritage Site), before hitting the Eastern Express Highway. After crossing Byculla, Dadar and Sion, we took a detour via Dharavi to reach Bandra-Kurla complex. Autorickshaws were seen after crossing Dharavi (they were not allowed in South Bombay). Took the Western Express Highway and reached Santacruz airport at 04:30 pm. Waited at Terminal 1A to board the evening Air India flight to Calcutta.

The aircraft took off at 06:40 pm. Dinner was served: Veg salad, bread roll, rice, curry, chocolate cake and tea. At 9 pm, the aircraft landed at Netaji Subash Chandra Bose International Airport, Calcutta. We identified our bags and hired a yellow Ambassador taxi to Salt Lake. Reached the guest house at 10:30 pm. As we were tired, we hit the sack after checking in.

November 4, 2013: Woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and went shopping around Bidhan Nagar, Salt Lake Sector-III. We decided to visit the Botanical Garden. Calcutta had many yellow Ambassador taxis, trams and colorful old buses. Crossed the second Howrah Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) and reached the Botanical Garden. The main attraction was the 250 year old banyan tree, but it was difficult to spot.  Went to Rashbehari Avenue (Lake Market) and had a masala dosa at an Udupi restaurant. APJ Abdul Kalam had dined there in 2005! 

Visited Victoria Memorial in the afternoon, but didn’t go inside. Returned to Lake Market for shopping. Returned to the guest house at 5 pm. The sun had set by then (Quite early for people from Ahmedabad). Had dinner and slept.

November 5, 2013: Woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and called the driver who had taken us around the city the previous day. He said there was a problem with the car. So, another vehicle was arranged for us. Went to Victoria Memorial again. Went inside and felt the relics were more interesting and informative than any high school history lesson!

Went shopping at Lake Market again. Had lunch at Komala Vilas, a South Indian restaurant. Left for Belur Math at 02:50 pm and reached at around 4 pm. Got to know a lot about Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda. Temples were built in their memory, overlooking the Hoogly. Bought some books from the souvenir shop and proceeded to Dakshineswar on the other bank of the Hoogly. Calcutta got its name from the presiding deity of Dakshineswar. There were subordinate shrines with lingas of Lord Shiva. Dipped feet in the holy river and left for Salt Lake. Reached the guest house and had dinner. Went to bed by 10 pm (we had to reach the airport at an unearthly hour!)

November 6, 2013: Woke up at 02:45 am and checked out at 3 am. A taxi was waiting for us. Reached the airport at 4 am. Boarded the early morning Air India flight to Port Blair. It took off at 05:55 am. Breakfast was served: Veg cutlet, bread and butter, chole bhature, fruit salad and tea. At 07:50 am, we could see the Andaman islands. The emerald sea contrasted with the dark green rainforest of the archipelago, just like the Caribbean or Mauritius (exotic locales).

At 8 am, the aircraft landed at Veer Savarkar Airport, Port Blair. The weather was warm (29 degrees Celsius) and sunny. Some passengers were scolded by the airport authorities for clicking pictures.
We identified our bags and proceeded to the arrivals gate. Someone had come to pick us up. Checked into Hotel Anbu at around 10 am. Relaxed in the room till 10:45 am. The driver came at 11 am to take us on a city tour. 

At first, we visited Samudrika Marine Museum. It was really impressive, more than just another aquarium. Found Nemo (Clownfish feeding on sea anemone)! J There were other colorful species such as parrotfish.

We visited Chatham Saw Mill and the Anthropological Museum of Port Blair, but they were not as impressive as Samudrika. We had lunch at Annapurna, a vegetarian restaurant. At around 3 pm, we went to Corbyn’s Cove beach. There were rocks along with white sand on the shore, apart from coconut groves in the vicinity. We could see tiny crabs making intricate patterns. Spent half an hour there and proceeded to Cellular Jail.

The Andaman archipelago may seem like a cool holiday destination now, but not in the past (from the 1800s to the 1930s). Prisoners were treated cruelly, probably worse than slaves. ‘Kaala Pani’ is the term used for the sadistic treatment meted out to them. After sunset, there was a sound and light show which was interesting.

Went back to the hotel, after shopping at Aberdeen Bazaar. Had dinner at the hotel. It started raining after 9 pm. As we were tired, we hit the sack.

November 7, 2013: Woke up and went to the Port Blair jetty to board ‘Sea Princess’. Left at 08:30 am and reached Ross Island at 10 am. Ross Island was a British settlement planned for recreation. There were Japanese bunkers. They bore evidence that there had been an attempt by Japanese soldiers to invade the territory. Deer and roosters were seen. A church (Presbyterian) was seen overlooking the azure sea. Feral beach was beautiful, with coconut groves on the shore.

Lunch packets of pulav were offered before reaching Viper Island. Spent a few minutes there. There was a memorial for prisoners (they were there before the construction of Cellular Jail). Arumugam, the guide, explained the history behind the memorial with full gusto. There was a moment’s silence in memory of the martyrs.

Proceeded to North Bay Island. Went in a glass boat to see fishes and corals (the sea had a greenish tinge). Went snorkelling. Could reach the ocean floor and touch some corals. There were shops selling coconut water and coral/shell souvenirs. The shore was composed of corals and shells, not rocks or sand. No crabs were seen.

Left at 04:30 pm and reached Port Blair at 05:30 pm. The sun had set by then. Reached the hotel and had an early dinner

November 8, 2013:  Woke up at 04:15 am. Went to Port Blair jetty and boarded ‘Hut Bay’. Left at 06:30 am.  Reached Havelock Island at 9 am. Went to Dolphin Resort in a Tata Sumo. Checked in and had breakfast. 

There was a beach (Vijaynagar beach-No.5) in the vicinity, unmatched in terms of beauty. The sea was an exquisite shade of cyan. The shore had white sand, shells and corals, apart from coconut groves. It was a sunny day and nothing could spoil one’s mood. One could spend hours relaxing in the picturesque, pristine surroundings.

Had lunch at 1 pm. Left at 03:30 pm for Radhanagar beach (Beach No.7).

Reached Radhanagar beach at 4 pm, after crossing a tropical rainforest. Dark clouds were seen in the southern horizon. It started raining after a while. Though the beach was rated by Time magazine as the best Asian beach, it didn’t seem as interesting as Vijaynagar beach. It was sandy, with green hillocks at either end. Sunset was observed at 04:45 pm and there was darkness by 05:30 pm. Went window-shopping at stalls near the beach and returned to Dolphin Resort at 6 pm. Went for a stroll on the beach, after having dinner at 8 pm. Rocks could be seen at low tide.

November 9, 2013: Woke up at 04:45 am. Went to the beach and saw rocks at low tide. Came back to the room as it started raining after sunrise. Had breakfast and checked out at 08:30 am. Reached Havelock jetty and boarded a speedboat at 9 am. Reached Elephant beach after 30 minutes. It was beautiful but not as picturesque or pristine as Vijaynagar beach. Trees were on the shore. Went in a glass boat. Could see fish species like angel fish, zebra fish and parrot fish, apart from corals. Went snorkelling as well. The view of corals and fishes was far better than the same at North Bay Island, though we weren’t supposed dive and touch corals on the ocean floor.

Took another speedboat back to Havelock jetty. Reached at 1 pm and had lunch at a restaurant near the jetty. Boarded ‘North Passage’ to Port Blair. Left at 04:40 pm. Caught a glimpse of the setting sun. Reached Port Blair jetty at 06:45 pm. Reached the hotel and had an early dinner, as we had to board a morning flight to Calcutta.

November 10, 2013: Woke up and reached the airport to board the Air India flight to Calcutta. The aircraft took off at around 08:30 am. Landed at Calcutta Airport at around 11 am. Took a taxi to Salt Lake and checked into the guest house where we had stayed earlier. 

After refreshing ourselves, we had lunch and decided to take the famous Metro Rail to Kalighat. Boarded a train at Jatin Das Park. It was as crowded as a Borivali-Churchgate fast local train at rush hour. The coaches were not airconditioned. Namma Metro (of Bangalore) seemed better in comparison. After visiting Kalighat temple, we returned to the guest house at Salt Lake.

November 11, 2013: Reached the airport and boarded the 6 am Air India flight to Bombay. The aircraft landed at Bombay Airport at around 9 am. Spent 8 hours in transit, before boarding the evening Air India flight to Ahmedabad.

The trip ended on a memorable note. Before leaving for Ahmedabad, we saw Kirron Kher in a lounge. She was being interviewed by a reporter. J

The aircraft took off at around 06:45 pm and landed at Ahmedabad Airport after an hour. 

Here are the pictures: Diwali 2013-Trip to Bombay Calcutta and Andaman Islands

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