India Backpacking 2017-18

Andaman Islands Part 1--Port Blair and Havelock Island

30 Nov. Port Blair
The flight on Indigo Airlines 6E-972 had a very inconvenient departure of 6:15 a.m., which meant getting a taxi to the airport in the wee hours. There wasn’t any point in going to bed, so I sat down with the computer for writing and internet surfing. Around 2 a.m. I roused the hotel man to let me out of the gate—he didn’t really mind as that’s his job—and headed to the main road nearby in hopes of catching a taxi to the airport. Kolkata is wonderfully quiet in the middle of the night, at least most of the time, and I wondered if there really would be taxis rolling by. There were a few and I got a fast ride for 400 rupees. I felt uncomfortable when the driver zoomed through red lights, but that seems to be the way it’s done here. The Indigo check-in desk was already open when I arrived at the airport about three hours ahead of departure. An Indian friend who travels extensively had recommended Indigo for best on-time service, and I had a good flight with the airline four years ago from Kolkata to Bangkok. Passenger ships also make the journey from Kolkata to the Andmans, but I thought the 40-50 hours at sea might go by very, very slowly.
I had bought the air tickets to and from the Andamans via, but a website error failed to state that the ‘Special Fare’ to Port Blair was hand luggage only. I was worried that a huge fee would be assessed for my backpack, however the friendly check-in fellow asked only 200 rupees and offered a window seat near the front. Together the two flights cost a bargain 10,444 rupees ($160), but if I had to cancel or change dates the fees would have consumed most of the purchase price! Kolkata’s airport has a spacious new terminal, uncrowded at this early hour, but shortage of jetways meant a bus out to the plane. The Airbus A320 rolled down the runway just as the red sun cleared the horizon. The smooth flight climbed above India’s murky brown haze and took about two hours. Rows of tiny clouds hovered over the deep blue sea below. Last winter I had views of the Andamans while flying from Bangkok to Sri Lanka and on the return, and the islands looked relatively flat. But on approach to Port Blair I saw rugged jungle-clad hills. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are not only far closer to Southeast Asia than India, but they are part of an undersea range that connects Myanmar with Indonesia’s Sumatra Island. Altogether the archipelago has 556 islands, islets, and rocks. Barren Island, off to the east has an active volcano, but foreigners cannot visit.
Even though no flights connect Southeast Asia and the Andamans, foreigners arriving at Port Blair still have to go through immigration to get a Restricted Area Permit and a passport stamp. Officials were friendly and helped with the paperwork. A long list of rules listed the places that I would be able to visit and prohibited such things as photographing tribal people or camping on beaches. I grabbed the backpack and got an old Ambassador taxi for the 200-rupee ride into town and the Aashiaanaa Residency Inn. When I first made a reservation with only my first night was available, then rooms became very expensive for subsequent nights. But later the rates dropped and I reserved two more nights. At the lodge I had a choice of a room with shared bath (750 rupees) near the potentially noisy reception area or one with private bath (1200 rupees) upstairs, and went with the latter. Air-conditioning would have added 500 rupees to the price, but I wouldn’t have used it as the weather felt pleasantly cool. I got a simple breakfast of an omelet, toast, and tea from the hotel for 120 rupees, then crashed.
Later I did some writing, then thought about places to visit in the Andamans. Havelock Island, about 2.5 hours northeast by ferry, seemed the most appealing destination and is said to have the best scuba diving. I also thought of taking boats or buses north through the length of the main Andaman islands to the Diglipur area for jungle hiking and perhaps a chance to see turtles laying eggs on beaches. The 325 kilometers takes about 12 hours by bus, so stopping off on the way for a detour to Long Island, said to have good scuba diving, seems a good idea. In the evening I went to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a dinner of tomato soup and mixed vegetable curry. Afterward I updated the journal text.
The air is refreshingly clean here, especially compared to the dusty atmosphere of the northern Indian plains. Also, vegetation is bright green instead of dust colored! And it helps that fewer cows and dogs roam the streets. On the other hand, lots of trash lies strewn about on roadsides and shorelines as Indians do not take any better care of their environment here than on the mainland.
1 Dec. Port Blair
This pleasant sunny day with some thin clouds felt a bit warmer and more humid. After a simple breakfast at the hotel, I started off on foot toward the Andaman and Nicobar Tourism office but soon caught an autorickshaw. Staff at the tourism office had brochures and information on government guesthouses, but not first-hand experience nor information on private accommodations or scuba diving. My hotel manager couldn’t tell me much about the Andamans either. So I am relying mostly on the Lonely Planet India, then confirming things by telephone.
The tourism office wasn’t a wasted trip because across the street lay the Zonal Anthropological Museum (150 rupees) with photos, crafts, and even huts of the tribal peoples in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The tribes include both people with Negrito and with Mongoloid features whose ancestors somehow made the perilous voyages to these remote islands. Some of the tribes fiercely resisted European and Indian visitors, and the Sentinelese still do. Tribes have gone extinct over the past century, and others face that possibility. Only the Nicobarese, the largest group at about 30,000, have maintained a stable population; most have converted to Christianity and have partially assimilated with Indian society. The museum’s exhibits include the Burmese Karen and Indian groups brought in during British colonial times. More recent settlers include Bengalese who fled here during India’s partition and persecuted Tamils who left Sri Lanka. A large gift shop is filled with shell crafts and pearl jewelry, but alas, no postcards.
I walked north and down to the shore near Marina Park and continued to Aberdeen Jetty where a very pleasant sidewalk follows the coast around the north side of town with the sound of gently crashing surf. An autorickshaw took me to Port Blair’s top site, the Cellular Jail National Memorial. The 100-rupee ticket states that “The Cellular Jail, the Indian Bastille, stands as a mute witness to the untold sufferings, valiant defiance and undaunted spirit of the fire brand revolutionaries against the brutalities of the British barbarism.” The British began deporting pesky revolutionaries to the Andamans soon after the 1857 First War of Independence, then built this enormous prison in 1896-1906 with seven wings, each three stories high, that radiate from a central tower. Political prisoners sentenced here felt their fate as devastating as a death sentence, and some died from brutal treatment and forced labor. They would spend long periods in solitary cells—that’s the ‘cellular’ in the jail’s name—with few chances to socialize with fellow inmates. Hunger strikes over the years gradually forced the British to improve conditions and eventually return the prisoners to jails in India. Japanese used the jail during their very harsh WWII occupation of the Andamans. Demolition of the prison after Indian independence came to a halt when citizens called for making the site a memorial to the freedom fighters once held here. Two and a half of the wings, along with the central tower and the front building, survive as a testament to the dark times. Exhibits with photos and paintings tell of the extreme hardships that political prisoners endured. A work shed, one of which stood between each wing, has mannequins in different styles of shackles used for recalcitrant prisoners and examples of the oil presses that required great effort to make the daily quotas of coconut and mustard oil. Today’s visitors are free to roam the long corridors of the jail, step into the barren, windowless cells, and climb the tower and rooftops for views.
I swung by the nearby aquarium, very basic with small tanks of small fish and exhibits of ghostly coral skeletons and bottles of pickled fish. A short autorickshaw ride brought me to the hilltop Hotel Lalaji Bay View, where I had a palak paneer dinner in the rooftop Excel Restaurant as the final sunset glow departed from the sky. The sun is early to bed, early to rise here in the Andamans!
2 Dec. Port Blair
Today felt full on tropical—sunny and hotter with scattered cumulus clouds. After breakfast I headed over to Aberdeen Jetty for the short hop by boat to Ross Island. Lots of people waited for their boat here, but I couldn’t find the ticket office. Then an Indian fellow invited me to come with his group of New Zealand visitors and their hosts. We donned bulky life jackets and boarded a small covered boat for the 800-meter crossing, taking 20-minutes and catching some spray as we bounced through the waves. I think all the tours allow just two hours on the island, though I would have liked to stay longer.
Political prisoners arrived in 1858 on two ships and began the task of clearing jungle for a new settlement, which became the British headquarters for the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The remote town offered all the comforts of home with three clubs, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a ‘superb’ bakery, library, shops, and churches for its population of about 500. The good life got a jolt from an earthquake in 1941, then nearly all the British fled by the following year when the Japanese invaded. The settlement remained abandoned after WWII and now stands in picturesque ruins, many enveloped by ficus trees. Ross Island took the brunt of the 2004 tsunami, saving Port Blair from major destruction, though other parts of the Andaman and Nicobar islands suffered greatly.
I walked beside the rusting boilers of the water distillation plant and the nearby bakery, then climbed past the Subordinates’ Club that once sported Italian stained-glass windows and a teak dance floor supported by springs. Atop the ridge rises the shell of a Presbyterian church, and farther south a graveyard with sad tales to tell. In the other direction I came to an Anglican church, in relatively good shape, and a line of ruined barracks beyond. Also on the ridge sits the formerly grand Commissioner’s Bungalow that had a ballroom and Italian tiled floors, but only overgrown brick walls remain today. Back near the boat dock I met up again with the New Zealanders, and we waited for our little boat. The ride back was much smoother without any sea spray.
After a paneer pakora snack, I walked south through Marina Park with its statues and greenery, then followed a sidewalk beside the rocky shore to the southeast with fine views of Ross Island. At its end I found a ride in an autorickshaw back to my hotel. I decided to head tomorrow to Havelock Island, but the government ticket office was said to be closed today for a Muslim holiday. Rather than go to the dock and fight crowds tomorrow, I let the hotel manager book a seat on a more expensive private ferry online, but that failed when the payment didn’t go through. Then he arranged for an autorickshaw driver to buy my ticket, and the best available was an 1150-rupee ticket (plus 100 rupees for the driver) scheduled to leave tomorrow morning at 6:45 a.m. on the Green Ocean 1. For dinner I had a malai kofta at La Marina around the corner, though most of the Indian crowd here went for the simple buffet.
Internet connections in the Andamans tend to be slow and expensive, which is inexcusable considering that India not only has satellites, but its own space program. My hotel offered wi-fi in the lobby only at a cost of 60 rupees/hour, but I never bothered to connect. The phone’s internet had worked well on mainland India, but here it’s hopeless. On the other hand part of the appeal of the Andaman Islands is to disconnect from the world! With so much sad news coming from so many places, that’s not a bad idea.
3 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
The day started off pleasantly cool, then became increasingly hot and humid under partly cloudy skies. As is common in the Andamans, the Aashiaanaa Residency Inn has an ungenerous check-out time of 8 a.m., so the early departure time for Havelock Island was timely. From the Inn I had an easy walk of a few hundred meters to Phoenix Bay Jetty, where I had to wait for the check-in process—and pay an extra 50 rupees—before boarding. A government boat was also leaving about the same time and had attracted a huge crowd, so I doubt a ticket on it would have been available. Onboard I had a comfy upholstered seat in an air-conditioned cabin, though myself and most passengers also stepped outside to watch jungle-clad islands glide past during the 2.5-hour gentle journey. Inside a Bollywood ‘masala’ movie played with the mix of humor, violence, justice, and music that so appeals to Indians. I was the only Westerner aboard, and I only saw a handful of them among the crowds on arrival at Havelock’s jetty on the north end of the island. A tourist office near the jetty had very little information.
With no reservation, I just hopped in an autorickshaw for the 100-rupee ride south to Beach 5, where many accommodations line the road. Orient Legend Resort, mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook, seemed a likely place to stay, and had a choice of very basic mattress-on-floor bamboo huts (400 rupees) or basic rooms with attached bath (1500 rupees), which seemed a better bet. I wasn’t sure this was the best deal, so I walked north and had a look at a bunch of other resorts. Most turned out to be full and the rest more expensive, so I returned to Orient Legend Resort and checked in, then had breakfast in its little restaurant. The resort, surrounded by coconut and betel palms, sits beside a sandy beach where the shallow sea glows a bright turquoise color for a long ways out before turning to dark blue. Most restaurants specialize in seafood, but this morning I noticed a pair of vegetarian places to the north on opposite sides of the road. So in the evening—it gets dark at 5 p.m.—I walked north to Shakahaar and had a chatpata paneer (cheese cubes in a fiery and tasty tomato sauce). A hazy full moon rose above the coconut palms.
Several scuba dive shops line the road near my resort, and I stopped at Andaman Bubbles for information. Strong winds had caused cancellations of boat trips, but I could check back in a few days to find out if conditions had improved. Diving costs in the Andamans run about $75-100 for a pair of dives, about twice that of Southeast Asia. Part of this is an 18% government tax, but it still seems too high. Nevertheless I do plan to go diving here to see the undersea life.
4 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
On another fine and breezy tropical day, I tried my luck with wi-fi at a nearby resort—there’s none at all where I’m staying—and got a feeble connection for half an hour at a cost of 50 rupees. Without internet, the days seem to have more hours in them, and I’ve had time for reading, thinking about future travels, and listening to music! I had a spinach and mushroom lasagna next door at Rony’s, one of the multi-cuisine restaurants that are very common on the island.
5 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
Wind-driven rains hit the island many times during the day and into the night, sometimes with torrential fury. I stayed indoors and worked on sorting photos from the recent European bicycle ride, something I didn’t have enough time then. Staff got hold of a table for me to put in the room, so that I would have a place to sit and write. Although the resort tends to be quiet and peaceful, every now and then a coconut or betel nut crashes onto a metal roof with a terrific bang. Electric power, seemingly unreliable in the best of times, went off a lot today. For dinner I headed over to Rony’s for a simple, yet filling vegetarian thali.
6 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
Rain continued to fall all day, though occasionally tapering off to a drizzle, when I went out to stretch my legs. The sea, so pretty a few days ago, now had a dull brownish-turquoise color and the dark blue farther out had disappeared entirely. As usual I had a tomato omelet, milk porridge, and milk tea at the resort while all the Indians went with poori and vegetables. The little restaurant is non-smoking, something I’ve come to appreciate as many of those in the neighborhood get stunk up with smoking Europeans and Israelis. In the evening I braved the wet and walked north to Anju Coco Resto, a large and slightly upscale restaurant with a long multi-cuisine menu. Also it’s non-smoking! I enjoyed a South Indian Platter of the classic snacks of that region—masala dosa, uttapam, idly, and vada—followed by a masala tea.
7 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
Rains stopped soon after breakfast, then bits of sun came out of uncertain skies. I used the free and very slow internet at nearby Andaman Divers/Fat Martin’s Café to update my website, check some e-mail, and read the news, but I couldn’t post photos to Facebook. In the afternoon I walked north 2 kilometers to Govind Nagar, a village with a market, supermarket, and a bank, but I had to continue north another 300 meters to a pair of banks with ATMs that accepted foreign cards, but I was out of luck as none of the ATMs were functioning. My hotel accepts only cash and if the ATMs don’t resume operation I will have to cut short my time on Havelock. Scuba diving companies are hoping that calm seas will return after getting stirred up by strong winds of recent days. On the walk back I stopped at Anju Coco Resto for a flavorful North Indian thali.
8 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
Weather conditions seem to be on the mend. I hung out and thought about future travels while reading guidebooks. Since I’m now set up for backpacking, I think I will do non-cycling travels for the rest of my time in Asia. I’ve already booked a flight to Thailand for the night of January 8th where I will have about 10 days in Bangkok, followed by a 10-day meditation retreat in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, then 10 days to experience Chiang Mai. On February 6th I have a flight direct from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There I would like to take in city sights, then journey northeast to the jungle of Taman Negara, Malaysia’s biggest national park. Then on to more jungles in the vast island of Borneo! Back in the early 1980s I had fantastic adventures in Malaysia’s state of Sabah in the northeast corner and in eastern Kalimantan on the Indonesian side. This time I hope to head for the sultanate of Brunei, the only country in Southeast Asia I’ve not been to. Then I could head southwest along the coast of Malaysia’s Sarawak state for jungle visits and giant caves. Lastly I could fly to the multi-cultural old town of Penang on Malaysia’s mainland before continuing north to Thailand and scuba diving. Meanwhile, back on Havelock Island, I returned to Anju Coco Resto for another South Indian Platter.
9 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
35km cycling
On this sunny and calm day I rented a bicycle from a nearby shop for 100 rupees and headed north. The main thing that Indians look for in a bicycle is that it’s cheap. This one was styled as a mountain bike, but lacked gears, suspension, or other frills. The frame was too small, the gearing too high, and I couldn’t raise the seat enough. I missed my bicycle “Bessie Too,” but bringing it along on this trip would have been too much work for too little riding. Today the Axis bank ATM was working, though this bank has a 150-rupee withdrawal fee. The adjacent State Bank of India would have had fee-free withdrawals, but its ATMs didn’t work today, or perhaps any day it seemed. A little farther north I came to the pier, where I checked ferry schedules. I’m thinking of taking a ferry about two hours north to Long Island, where scuba diving is possible.
Back at the tiny traffic circle in Govind Nagar, I turned my fat wheels 9 kilometers southwest across Havelock Island to Radhanagar Beach. Although Havelock Island has a range of hills running through it, the coastal road had been nearly level. Yet when I rode inland the hills, which would have been easy on a geared, properly fitted bicycle, were too much and I had to walk all but the gentlest. The warm humid tropical air felt fresh, though I soon became soaked in sweat. Lush vegetation along the way glowed in deep hues of green. Radhanagar Beach, famous throughout India, is the prettiest on the island. Although I’m not a “beach person,” I enjoyed strolling the long white crescent of sand. Across the sea the length of South Andaman Island stretched out across the distant horizon. The few small groups of Western women lying on the beach in their bikinis contrasted with the fully clothed Indian women who waded into the very gentle surf. Only the bravest people went swimming. Lots of tiny sand-colored crabs raced across the beach as I passed. Farther along at a rocky section I saw many hermit crabs, also tiny, but lumbering in their borrowed shells. Beyond the rocky place I came to a pretty crescent of sand. None of the beach goers had come this far, and I saw only a trio of locals walk past with a fishing net. With the tide near its high mark and mangroves blocking the way beyond the cove, I returned to the road, taking a jungle trail that parallels the beach for the first part of the way.
I cycled back over the hills to Govind Nagar on the island’s eastern side, then rode south past Beach #5, where my hotel is, and continued another 5.5 kilometers to Kalapathar Beach at the end of the coastal road. The last part had particular pleasant scenery with the surf gently crashing on my left and jungle-clad hills on the right. A couple passenger boats cruised by off shore, no doubt on the short hop between Havelock and the smaller, less developed Neil Island. Beyond lay the open Andaman Sea. After drinking a large green coconut and dining on strips of the soft meat, I rolled back to Beach #5 and returned the bicycle to its shop. Now I’ve cycled all of the island’s two main roads!
With the fine weather, Andaman Bubbles had run a scuba trip today, so I signed up for tomorrow’s pair of dives at a cost of 5500 rupees. Havelock Island has about half a dozen companies that lead dives, and I wasn’t aware if one company is better than the others. This one happens to be just a few minutes’ walk from my resort, which will be appreciated tomorrow morning when I head over for the 7 a.m. meet-up and breakfast.
Dinners at Anju Coco Resto have begun to be a habit as the food is so good! Tonight I went with a palak paneer, then a dessert of a pair of hot gulab jamun balls with a little ball of ice cream.
10 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
On a pleasant mostly sunny day I got a free breakfast of pancakes and tea at Fat Martin’s Café, then our little group met up farther south at Andaman Bubbles gear shed to get suited up. Equipment was similar to what I had experienced in Thailand, including a thin ‘shorty’ wet suit. No dock here, so we waded out, then transferred to a small boat with outboard motor out to the dive boat, a larger wooden craft. The diesel engine fired up and we motored for about an hour out to Dixon’s Pinnacles, southeast of Havelock Island. The green hue of the shallow water gave way to deep blue sea. There were just four customers: a couple doing a course with a dive master, then an Israeli fellow and myself with our own divemaster, a local from the Andaman Islands named ‘Belgian.’ Three pinnacles lie submerged at a depth of about 18 meters, so the captain had to navigate until the white float of the buoy line came into view and we tied up. We made two dives, each to a depth of 27 meters and lasting for 37 minutes, with a surface interval of one hour and 15 minutes. Visibility turned out to be less than normal at about 5 meters, but we saw a great many fish. Snappers of a golden hue swam in dense schools while larger fish such as Napoleon wrasse, trevally, and groupers tended to be solitary. Anemones grow atop the pinnacles and some harbored little orange-and-white anemone fish. A blue-spotted stingray lay partially covered by sand on the bottom, but took off at a fast pace when my buddy moved in for a shot with his Go-Pro camera. Hard corals tended to be sparse, but we saw many soft corals and large sponges. On the way up we saw a medium-sized jellyfish pulsating. The second dive had similar abundant fish. There seemed to be a lot more larger-sized fish here than in dive sites I’ve been to in Thailand and certainly in Vietnam where a great many fishermen roam.
The sea had gentle waves and I got through the day without seasickness, which helps a lot for enjoyment on the water! Also nobody on the boat smoked, which was nice. Now I have logged 130 dives since getting recertified on Koh Tao in Thailand in 2006. I have more dives than that since my first certification 47 years ago in Key Largo, Florida. In the evening I celebrated with a North Indian thali at Anju Coco Resto.
11 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
On a hot and mostly sunny day I started with a good breakfast at Anju Coco Resto—tomato omelet, hash-brown pancake, butter toast, and milk tea. Then I rented a bicycle and rode north to the main village Govind Nagar where I got photocopies of my passport pages and permit, then continued to the ATMs, but none worked. I went into the Bank of India office to see if foreign currency could be exchanged, but no luck with that either. Bad luck followed me at the government ferry office near the pier where I waited and waited and waited to buy a ticket for the boat to Long Island or nearby Rangat in two days time. Although there was a senior citizen line, the women’s line wouldn’t let us in. The ticket agents seemed to take forever with every ticket, and I gave up waiting. Back at my resort, the manager offered for one of his staff to buy the ticket for a fee of 300 rupees, which seemed reasonable, but he later told me that I would have to go myself tomorrow for the ticket. I barely have enough cash for my hotel bill, so I will try the ATMs tomorrow. During the afternoon I worked on sorting photos of the recent European trip. Then off to Anju Coco Resto at dinner time for South Indian fare. A Christian group singing songs accompanied by two kids in Santa Claus masks and costumes made the rounds of the village and came into the restaurant. I didn’t recognize the songs, but assumed they were Christmas tunes.
12 Dec. Beach 5, Havelock Island
On another nice and mostly sunny day—that sun sure is hot, though—I headed north on foot and rickshaw with a breakfast stop at Anju Coco Resto. Bad luck again with the ATMs as none are working today, though a guard at the Axis bank promised a functioning ATM tomorrow. We’ll see. More bad luck at the ferry office where all tickets for the Long Island/Rangat ferry tomorrow had sold out. I was still determined to leave Havelock Island, so easily bought a ticket with the private company Makruzz back to Port Blair; the cheapest fare is listed as 1150 rupees, but add taxes and fees and it comes to 1407 rupees. I phoned the Aashiaanaa Residency Inn in Port Blair to request a room for tomorrow.
From Port Blair I plan to get a bus ticket to Rangat and a short ferry to Long Island. I would like to experience traveling the length of the Andamans by road even though it’s a much longer journey than by sea. I hung out in my room the rest of the day with reading, writing, and photo projects. Luckily I had enough rupees to pay the hotel room and food bills with a little to spare. In the evening I walked over to Anju Coco Resto for another fine dinner, this time a creamy malai kofta.
13 Dec. Port Blair
On a fine mostly sunny tropical day, I had breakfast at the resort, then hung around a bit before getting an autorickshaw to the pier. While waiting for the Makruzz check-in to open I wandered over to see the wooden cargo boats. A large one named ‘Jesus’ lay docked at a pier and the others had simply pulled up on the beach. No fancy port equipment here as goods are loaded and unloaded by hand, piece by piece. Passenger boats went to and fro from the main pier. A helicopter cruised overhead, no doubt on its way to Port Blair; tourists sometimes get on these flights, but baggage is said to be limited to 5 kilograms. After waiting in a long line I got checked in, waited in another long line to enter the pier area, and waited again for baggage to be stored on a lower deck. Finally onboard I got an airline-style seat on the main deck, nicely air-conditioned and with windows on all sides. The exceptionally smooth journey in this Singapore-built catamaran took a bit less than 2.5 hours.
On arrival at Port Blair I walked to the Aashiaanaa Residency Inn and got a small fan room with a handy little table for 900 rupees. I could stay only one night, however, as all rooms were booked for tomorrow night, so that meant I had to get a bus ticket. The bus station was less than a kilometer away to the southeast, so I strolled over and got the last seat for tomorrow’s 6:45 a.m. bus to Rangat at a cost of 160 rupees. The ticket seller said the trip would take maybe 7 hours, and a fellow ticket-buyer mentioned that the highway isn’t so good. If I was lucky with timing, I might be able to catch the last ferry from a nearby pier over to Long Island.
A little farther up the road near a gold-colored statue of Mahatma Gandhi, I went to the State Bank of India and milked an ATM three times for a total of 30,000 rupees, a little under $500. I turned northeast into Aberdeen Bazaar, densely packed with shops and a covered market, where I picked up a few supplies at a supermarket. Many shops sold Christmas decorations including little Santa Clauses, artificial trees, and large illuminated paper stars with cut patterns. At the clocktower I turned uphill to Annapurna Cafeteria, a “pure-vegetarian” place, and went with South Indian cuisine, a tomato uttappam and a mixed-vegetable masala dosa. Back at the hotel I got online with a creaky wi-fi and managed to dive into e-mails, the news, and check finances. Then I reserved a room for the last four nights (24-27 Dec.) of my time in the Andamans.

On to the Andaman Islands Part 2

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