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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Excursion along the Andaman Trunk Road - Baratang & Rangat


Andaman & Nicobar - The Enchanting Coral Islands of India
(Excursion along the Andaman Trunk Road)
Part-I – Baratang (Lime Stone Cave) & Rangat

Map of the Andaman Trunk road (from internet)

              The Andaman Trunk Road runs from Port Blair to Diglipur, a stretch of road that runs from Chidya Tapu in the extreme south end of the Andaman Island to its’ extreme north i.e. Diglipur, which covers a distance of about 328 Kms. (one way).  The road runs along the eastern coast line of the Andaman Islands, but criss-crosses across the heart & soul of these islands, running through its virgin forests, aboriginal inhabited settlements and across several straits.  Having completed our sojourn in & around Port Blair, we headed for Diglipur, which was to be a four day journey.

Jirka Tang - the starting point of the Convoy

The local market up and going early in the morning catering to  the hundreds of vehicles & their occupants 

The Jarwas - who are protected in these reserve areas

 Day 1 (Day 4 since we arrived in Andaman)
            As advised by our driver & guide for the tour Mr. John, we started early in the morning at 3.30 A.M. sharp (delaying our start by half an hour after much haggling with him), in the Mahindra Xylo Jeep, provided by the tour operator Mr. Deepak, who also owns the ‘Da Bay Inn’ Hotel, in Port Blair, a person whom I found to be bequeathed with a very amenable & pleasant personality.  The main motto of the driver was to be ahead of all other vehicles in the first convoy that leaves Jirka Tang check post at 6.00 A.M.  After driving through the pitch dark roads, with hordes of Cows occupying the main road near many a small villages during the night, being pitch dark with no street lights and sudden appearance of dark cows or rain pits, it was a nightmare of a journey from Port Blair to Jirka Tang.  However, when we reached Jirka Tang it was merely 4.45 A.M. in the morning and the sun was just making an appearance in the east.  Despite having started so early in the morning, we were still second in the queue and it being a long wait till 6.00 A.M (Indian stretchable Time), as the convoy invariably starts at around 6.20-6.30 A.M. only, the children were advised to have a quick nap.  But this was going to be impossible because of the clamor caused by the vendors and hawkers.  Initially, I was reluctant to buy any street side food, but my experience in the Spiti region last year, coupled with the advice of the guide, I purchased five (05) plates of Vada (a south Indian fried snack), as a Doctor friend of mine had suggested that the hot oil kills most of the harmful Bacteria.  This turned to be our savior, as in the ensuing journey and even in Baratang we could not get any proper food.

The Middle Strait view

Baratang

            The journey from Jirka Tang commenced with a lot of expectations of encountering some Jarwa aboriginal tribesmen, whose pre-historic ways of life have changed little, in these isolated Islands, during the thousands of years that they have been inhabiting these islands.  These tribes live in reserved forest areas and occasionally come out on roads, while traveling to different locations for their day to day needs.  In order to insulate them from the modern culture, interaction with the tourists is totally prohibited and filming them in any manner is punishable under the law.  The road passes through some really picturesque & virgin forest areas, with a plethora of birds singing, but few can be spotted from the moving vehicles.  The distance of about 45 odd Kms. is to be crossed from Jirka Tang to Middle Strait, but takes about two hours time for the entire entourage of vehicles to cross, as the speed limit is just 40 Kms. per hour on this stretch of road and that too is seldom achieved because of the State Transport Busses that move ahead in the convoy, just behind the Police escort vehicle.  The Police escort vehicles move at the head of the convoy and one at the tail end of it, with bike riding Policemen patrolling in between.  The decision to start early and heed to the advise of our guide/driver paid dividends, as we were the first to reach the middle strait and board the ferry, with the vehicle and people et al.  Having crossed the Middle Strait through a ferry, we reached Baratang (Nilambur jetty), having traveled about 105 Kms. (in about 4 hours), where we scourged for some decent food, but nothing was available, so we had a short Breakfast of biscuits & cold drink.  This part of the Islands is in the Middle Andaman or Middle District, as it is administratively divided at present.  It was almost 8.00 A.M in the morning and it was getting quite humid when we got into the speed boats to visit the lime-stone caves in Baratang.

Baratang Map (from internet)

View from Baratang or Nilambur Jetty

             The Lime-stone caves are situated at a distance of about 25 Kms. from the Nilambur jetty, wherefrom the speed boats can be hired personally (@Rs.2000/- for a small speed boat for a round trip) or shared with tickets available @Rs.300/- per head for a round trip.  The journey to the Limestone caves, is an adventure in itself with the speed boats cutting across the sea water and small islands passing by with Mangroove forests reaching out into the sea.  But as picturesque as it appears, at times it can be equally dangerous, as the Sea Crocodiles lurk in the water near the Mangrooves and it is advisable to avoid putting ones hands or legs out in the sea.  We were bewitched by the natural splendor of green speckled all around us and at the time we least expected, we were ushered into the Mangroove inlet and the boat passed deftly, avoiding the overhead branches and roots, through a narrow natural causeway, which led to a bamboo jetty.  We all disembarked and here from started the 1.5 Kms. trek through the tropical rain forest of Andamans, for reaching the Limestone caves.  As the rain clouds were gathering, the humidity levels had shot up many folds and the guide was urging every one to move fast because of the impending rainfall.  The weather conditions coupled with the uneven & slippery walking conditions, were adding to the woes and most of us were drenched in sweat and parched.  We finally made it to the lime stone caves, which have been formed by gradual erosion of the rocks rich in Calcium Carbonate (maybe of sea organism origin) by water over thousands of years, which has crafted these rocks into various hues & shapes, the only source of ventilation to these caves are the sky-holes above.  Inside the cave, massive limestone formations dangled from the ceiling like chandeliers, glowed from the sides and sprouted from the ground like short pilasters. One hung like a thick pillar from the ceiling of the cave and waters drips into the cave constantly. The serrated edges of the limestone blocks shine in the dark. Overall, the experience was worth the money and effort.

The description of Lime Stone Caves

Through the mangrove forest - towards the Limestone caves

Inside the Limestone caves

             Having returned from the limestone caves, we reached Baratang Nilambur jetty at around 11.45 A.M. and our driver suggested that we head for Rangat and should visit Mud Volcano & Parrot Island during the return leg.  We agreed and boarded the vehicle, which made its way from Baratang to Rangat, a journey covering a further 70 Kms.  Having passed Baratang and after having traversed through some more virgin forest, suddenly I spotted a bird perched high up on a tree and immediately stopped the vehicle to have a look and take a shot, if possible, it was an endemic Andaman Sea Eagle and I got a prized catch with my Camera.  Having traversed though the jungle area, we reached Batuktala jetty wherefrom we again boarded the jetty alongwith the vehicle and alighted at Kadamtala jetty, the cost of ferry ride across all such straits in Andaman are fixed i.e. @ Rs.4/- per person & @ Rs.50/- for passenger car/vehicle (one way).  We were a wee bit famished by now and decided to have some fresh fruits being sold by vendors, we found the local Bananas delectable and the Pineapples sweet and juicy.  Thereafter, we embarked upon our journey from Kadamtala and this was again through the Jarwa Reserve Forest area, but no convoy or Police protection is required in this region and one has to make an entry while exiting the area at Farlobjig Post.  Thereafter, we went past Rangat township, as we had our booking at the Hawkbill Nest Tourist Guest House run by the Andaman tourism department and is at a distance of about 20 odd Kms. beyond main Rangat township/bazar on banks of Cutbert Bay, the nesting grounds for the Hawkbill turtles.  Enroute we visited the Amkunj beach, which was nothing spectacular but for the total eco-concept of the beach, with all the constructions made of locally available materials like bamboo, wood etc. We also had a look at the Panchavati Waterfalls, which is actually a misnomer, as it is small 10-12 feet high rock from where the rain water drains out to sea and the water flow can only be witnessed during & just after rains.  By the time we had reached the Rest House it was almost 2.00 P.M. and only after much persuasion and coercion, did the staff agree to provide Dal & Bhaji for lunch.  This trait I noticed in most of the Tourism run lodges, as the staff is recruited entirely on ‘daily wages’ basis and are continuing as such for years together, thus their impetus to work is much dwindled.  However, by the time we had refreshed ourselves, it had started pouring outside and we enjoyed our hot Dal & Bhaji and rice immensely.   Having taken our lunch, we retired to our rooms as it was not possible to go out & explore due to intense rain, but I took a shot of a few Kingfishers resting on the electricity line to ride out the torrent.  Thereafter, I too retired into my room for a nap, as we were up since 3.30 A.M. in the early morning.

The endemic Sea Eagle - perched on tree top almost 100 feet high

Selling Pineapples at the Kadamtala Jetty

Elephants at work

Farlobjig check point

Aerial view of Rangat

Aamkunj beach - Rangat

Enjoying the rain - shot taken from the balcony of Hawksbill Guest House in Rangat

Fisher women loading their catch in local bus at Rangat 

More ominous rain clouds gathering at Rangat


            After a good nap, we got up and had a cup of tea, but by this time evening was setting in, as it sets in pretty early in this region of India i.e. by 5.00 P.M and we quickly dashed out to visit the nearby Cutbert Bay.  It had already become quite dark by the time we reached the bay.  It was also not very spectacular and because of the fishing village nearby, it was quite filthy also and we beat a hasty retreat back to the confines of the Guest House.  As the Guest House Manager had seen my identity as per entry made in the Guest House register, we got a very good dinner at night comprising of Chicken curry et al, prepared with care & caution.  Having partaken our first & last true meal for the day, we retired to our beds early in preparation for the second day of our journey.

WATCH A VIDEO OF THE DESTINATION -




6 comments:

  1. Andaman and Nicobar is a group of beautiful islands. In andaman and nicobar there is only small island. It is also a famous place for water activities.
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  2. Andaman, a group of 550 islands, is located in the Bay of Bengal. Many kinds of water activities can also taken place in these islands.
    Himachal Tourism

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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