Published: Verve Magazine, Travel Special, April 2009
Photographs by Geeta Parikh
Sweeping palms and azure waters conjure up an idyllic way of life. Tragically, a gigantic and destructive wave washed all that away faster than you could say ‘Nicobar’. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh reports on the return of the celebratory spirit of life in Car Nicobar post the ravages of the 2004 tsunami
The Andaman and Nicobar islands evoke mixed feelings, predominantly those of curiosity. While images of gorgeous turquoise seas and pristine beaches are imagined by the mind’s eye, there is an element of uncertainty post the 2004 tsunami that ravaged lives and life on the islands. Pooja and Ankur Pandhe (Pandhe Group), currently on the island, are involved in the task of rebuilding local infrastructure. They initially teamed up with an NGO in 2005 and now work in tandem with the Central Public Works Department. Pooja informs me that the Car Nicobar island is a restricted area where tourists are not allowed without a special permit. This is not surprising considering it is an armed force base on which special training and testing activities are carried out, and also because of its strategic location – it’s only a few miles away from India’s southern-most territory, Indira Point.
Last year saw the little island celebrate for the first time in four years. The 55th All India Co-operative Week Celebration was held with over 10 of the villages involved in the performances and celebrations, including cultural exhibits and inter-village competitions. Local colours and moves kept pace with the coconut-flavoured delicacies. Life in this little big island is slowly but surely getting back to normal. Schools have started to run. With government-aided efforts including relief funding from agencies, concrete roads, permanent shelters and most importantly, food, have been provided to the inhabitants. You can spy school-going children scampering along, men feeding their pigs, women cooking or shelling coconuts, and you realise the locals do not have a fixed daily schedule. While the islands have fertile soil, relief funding has reduced the motivation to cultivate, grow and sell. A horticulture department on the island grows a few vegetables; otherwise all supplies are imported from Port Blair and nearby islands. There is actually no vegetation on the island.
Bright young entrepreneurs Pooja and Ankur find that, “The islands will continue to remain the abode of the Nicobari tribals, always remaining somewhat secluded from the life on mainland India. The beats of their tribal drums may bring back the memories of the devastating tsunami from time to time, but thanks to efforts from?various agencies, life is better now, foreseeing a better future for the next generation.”
While Car Nicobar restricts entry, the Indian Ocean offers many spectacular islands in the Andaman and Nicobar group which are great destination spots. Think rare flora and fauna, exotic underwater marine life and corals, crystal-clear seas and mangrove-lined creeks.
Port Blair This Andamanese town is home to several museums and a major base for the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard. The Cellular Jail that became a symbol of the tenacity of the Indians in their freedom struggle is also located here.
Baratang From Port Blair ferries and a restricted Jarawa tribe area bring you to this island where you can check out limestone caves and a mud volcano.
Parrot Island Take a speed boat from Baratang if you are a parrot lover.
Havelock Island Tourist-friendly (with eco-tourism), great for scuba diving and known for its rich marine life. Can be reached by government boats that run from Port Blair.
Barren Island You can find the only active volcano in India here, with a big crater of the volcano rising abruptly from the sea. Can be visited on board vessels.
Ross Island Ruins and a small museum named Smritika holds photographs and the other antiques of the Britishers, the island having once been a seat of British power.
Port Blair is connected with Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata by air. Regular passenger ship services are available to Port Blair from Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam and back. Charter flights or ferries to other islands are also available from Port Blair. For more information go online to www.andaman.nic.in.