How to reach Andaman and Nicobar islands:
By Air: Port Blair, the capital to Andaman and Nicobar Islands is connected with Chennai and Kolkata by air. To reach Andaman from other parts of India like Bangalore, Delhi etc., the traveler has to first reach Chennai or Kolkata by air, train or bus and then catch flight to Andaman and Nicobar islands (Port Blair airport) from Chennai or Kolkata. There are five Airlines namely Indian Airlines, Jetlite,Jet Airways, Spicejet and GoAir which operates regular flights to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
By Train: The Andaman Express (16031/16032) is a long distance express train that connects Katra, Jammu and Kashmir to Chennai, Tamil Nadu from which the traveler can take a flight.
By Sea: Passenger ships ply from the cities of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Kolkata (West Bengal) and Vizag or Vishakapatnam (Andhra Pradesh). Taking anywhere from between 56–60 hours, ships from Chennai and Kolkata ply four times a month, whereas from Vizag, they ply once a month.
Port Blair Weather:
Best Season to Visit Andaman and Nicober: December to February
Where to Stay in Port Blair: There is no dearth of Port Blair hotels, which is the ideal place to stay to travel around Andaman and Nicobar islands (Neil islands, Ross island, Havelock etc.). Low-budget hotels are few and far, but mid-range and luxury hotels dot the map in plenty. Beach resorts are a favorite and if you book in good time, you can get a sweet deal of a sea-facing, or beach resort for a great price. Andaman and Nicobar tourism has very cheap, clean rooms available; they have even tied up with a few resorts for subsidized accommodation. These get filled very quickly, so be sure to keep an eye out! Read here to know more.
Places to Visit in Port Blair and Andaman/Things to Do: Scuba diving in Andaman remains a major crowd-puller for tourists. Radhanagar beach, Cellular Jail, Jolly Buoy Island, Ross island, Havelock and Neil island are top contenders for a true Andaman and Nicobar tourism experience.
When I say ‘Andaman and Nicobar’ islands, you think blue skies shimmering in the crystal clear shades of aqua, sea green, light blue and ink. You think palm trees swaying to the same breeze that kisses the waves, slightly lifting them up and dropping them, softly, on your feet. You think sun-kissed sand and bare bodies. You think hues of colored beach chairs, between the endless sea and a landscape of breathtaking colonial architecture. You think peace, quiet and an ecstasy so calm, you wonder if what you’re feeling is normal.
Wanderlust Bonus #1: The Magic of Covelong Beach, Tamil Nadu
At the heart of the islands lies the Cellular Jail- a relic that has only recently made it to the ranks of India Gate and Jallianwallah Bagh, as a crucial repository of the history of Indian independence. Written literature on it is little, and hence, repetitive, and oral history was ensured to never exist. Separated from the Indian mainland, it was not only isolated geographically, but also administratively. The 698 cells in the cellular jail, not one facing another cell, housed a barrage of Indian freedom fighters from all over the country for several years. Popular culture has told my generation, that inmates are sent to solitary confinement for disobeying rules or creating chaos during their imprisonment for a certain amount of time as punishment. While reading about the Cellular Jail at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it struck me- all our freedom fighters were, by default, put is small, dingy, isolated cells facing walls for decades, far away across Kaala Paani (Black Waters). This was only the beginning of their punishment.
While the construction of the carefully-engineered structure only began in 1896, to be completed in 1906, the British had been using Andaman and Nicobar islands as jail-in-exile for Indian freedom fighters since the First War of Independence in 1857. Inside the mainland, thousands were executed heartlessly- hung from trees in the public and tied to cannons and blown to smithereens. 200 of the mutineers were put on the first batch of prisoners to Andaman and Nicobar Islands under jailer David Barry. Then more than 700 were sent from Karachi. Slowly, freedom fighters from India and Burma began populating the island. Till this point, the British were using the prisoners as slave labor to construct the jail, and administrative and residential centers of the British at the nearby Ross Islands.
Wanderlust Bonus #2:
British Heritage in India — Footsteps of the Raj
As the number of inmates grew, the British realized the need to monitor and organize, what is now called, the cellular jail. In a survey of the area done by the Home Secretary of the British Raj circa 1890, they came to understand that prisoners preferred being jailed here, rather than being executed in jails in India. With this observation, the British came up with a blueprint of a jail, with a necessary ‘penal stage’, wherein each prisoner was subjected to verbal, psychological and physical torture during his or her imprisonment.
Think daily flogging, contaminated food and water, jute bag uniforms in the humidity of the islands, pulling carts in place of bullocks, being in fetters for weeks and countless execution in rows of gallows- and no history of it all.
Panopticon, an architectural blueprint for a prison, was designed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham to obtain ‘power of mind over mind.’ It basically places the guard or head of the institution in the central tower, with the inmates spread around the perimeter, so as to allow the guard to keep an eye out on all prisoners at once. While this is not practically possible, the fact that each prisoner knows they might be being watched automatically controls their behavior.
Similarly, the cellular jail is built with a central tower, with 7 wings radiating out like bicycle spokes. Each wing faces the back of the other wing, making sure no communication was possible between prisoners.
It was impossible to escape from the jail; run from here, die at sea. However, in 1868, 238 prisoners did try to escape. Within a month, they were all caught and executed.
Some of the famous freedom fighters who were imprisoned here were V.D. Savarkar, Bipendra Chandra Sen, Jatish Chandra Pal, Indu Bhushan Roy, Pandit Parmanand and Ladha Ram. Several associates of Bhagat Singh were also imprisoned. One of the punishments meted out to prisoners was being fed only kanji- or water rice broth for weeks. Shiv Verma, an associate of Bhagat Singh was treated with alcohol as eye drops when he complained of eye pain, resulting in a loss of vision. Mahavir Singh, another associate, went on hunger strike, was force fed milk that went into his lungs, and died. His body was tied to a stone and thrown away in the sea.
During World War II, the Japanese invaded the islands and took over the jail, which was then used to house British Prisoners of War, ironically. In the bombings, two of the wings of the jail, along with the inmates, were destroyed. Towards the end of 1945, the British regained control over the islands and the jail, and continued their inhuman penal practices- far away from the mainland.
The tableau of Andaman & Nicobar depicting the ‘100 years of Cellular Jail ‘, passes through the Rajpath during the Republic Day Parade — 2006, in New Delhi on January 26, 2006.[/caption]
When India finally gained independence, the British demolished two more wings of the jail, and only stopped when the freedom fighters who went on to live raised hue and cry about it being an attempt to remove tangible, historical evidence of their oppression. One of the wings is now the Cellular Jail memorial, open to tourists, complete with photographs and relics. The other two wings have now been converted into Govid Ballabh Pant hospital.
Wanderlust Bonus #3: History of India — 6 Significant Cities
This chapter of India’s struggle for independence is not only significant, but also, essential. The next time you go to Andaman and Nicobar islands for a vacation- heck, just go to Andaman and Nicobar islands for a vacation- do go to the Cellular Jail Memorial at Port Blair. Walk through the jail as your hands graze the dark walls of the cells. Try to imagine the isolation. Sit for the light and sound show, as Om Puri’s iconic voice floods over, telling you the story of the Cellular Jail through the eyes of the Banyan tree that has stood near the gallows for a hundred years now.
Come back and talk about it, write about it, remember it- even if, twice a year, for the whole point of travel is to learn. The beach is right around the corner from the jail. Go there and unwind after.