Binsar the Beautiful


I left home with a tankful of petrol, Rs 3000 in my pocket and nothing in my bank account. Does not speak volumes of my financial acumen, but hey, i get by. This was the i’m-in-between-jobs-ride and i had nothing better to do in Delhi. So i thought that a ride would be the best way to spend the last of my cash. So i rode. It was one of the occasions when i did what i do best – travel alone.

I have made countless trips, visited many places known, unknown and little known, but even after all the travelling i have never been able to sleep the night before. The excitement of the impending trip is enough to keep me up all night and this time was no different. I hit the bed looking for some shut eye and it was a long time later that obdurate sleep did come. When i woke up, the watch told me that it was 4:22 AM. Shit! As per my original plan, i am already an hour late.

The problem was Moradabad. The previous day, there were some communal clashes and a curfew had been imposed on the city and some surrounding villages. I have never travelled in this route before and i did not know how close the highway went to the affected areas. So the idea was to cross it before sunrise. And now i have through pass through violent rioters in full daylight. Awesome!

Anyway, coming back to my leaving home with a tankful of gas and a handful of money… I had been in touch with a certain Sundar Singh, whose number (09410590980) i found on a very helpful site on travel in India. The post said that he arranges for homestays in the villages in Binsar and also acts as a guide in longer treks. A  quick check on the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) revealed that Sundar was giving me a room in his village for half the price of the cheapest room in the KMVN Rest House and the price included all meals. I was sold!  Also, the village was supposed to be in the middle of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary!

The first roadblock on the way was the bridge over the Ganga at Garhmukteshwar. The ancient two lane bridge was fed on both sides by four lane highways and it created one hell of a bottleneck. In spite of the fact that i reached Garhmukteshwar by 6 AM, it took me over 45 minutes to negotiate the nightmare. There are two ways to get to Binsar, and while going, i took the Moradabad – Bazpur – Kaladhungi – Nainatal – Almora route.

Route

Barring the bottleneck at Garhmukteshwar, the road from Delhi to Modarabad is pretty good. Just before entering Moradabad, it is recommended that you get on to the Moradabad By Pass road. You will pass a couple of toll plazas and at the end of the bypass, you take a left (feels more like a U-turn) and ride on heavily potholed roads till Kaladhungi. After that, it was a different business. The Corbett National Park was making its presence felt and through it ran a black ribbon of a road.

Immediately after Kaladhungi
Patchwork on the road. Signs of Corbett all around!

Right after Bazpur, i could see the mountains and with every passing kilomete, they grew closer and closer till suddenly i was halfway up one. In front of me lay the expanse of the plains and the green carpet of Corbett, which i had just skirted. It was bang in the middle of monsoons so the greenery was unbelievable.

Finally, the hills!
Here i come, you sexy twisty road 😀

The roads were practically empty and the tarmac was perfect. I was a bit apprehensive about riding hard as my rear rubbers were almost without any tread. But the thing with roads like these is that once you start the cornering, you forget everything else… the lean rules your world. Thankfully all went well. Very soon i was within 40 kms of Nainital and i decided to take a break after riding non-stop for around 240 kms.

Road to Heaven
Glee!

As i said earlier, the route i took was less frequented by the touristy lot, who preferred to come to Nainital via Bheemtal and Bhowali. The ride was fantastic and since this was my first time in Kumaon, the greenery was refreshing. The mountains were spectacular and the gain in altitude was perceptible. Khurpatal appeared suddenly to my right reminding me that i was in the Lake District.

Mist-topped
Khurpatal!
I don’t need to go to no Switzerland

Very soon, the otherwise empty roads showed signs of automotive presence. Nainital was close and it welcomed me with a massive traffic jam. Once the jam cleared, i took the Mall Road by the side of the Naini Lake and i must admit, for a touristy place, it was very nice. Like Darjeeling, where i practically grew up, Nainital had a charm of its own. I wouldn’t mind coming here for a relaxed weekend if the company was right.

Nainital

When you drive through the Mall Road, the Lake is to your right. From the intersection where the lake ends, you have to take a left for Almora and eventually, Binsar. Road conditions, barring landslides is generally good and even if you are driving lazily, you should reach Binsar within three hours.

From Nainital, Kosi shows you the way to Almora
Clad in green
Amazing drive!

Around 30 kms from Nainital, at Garampani the road splits into two. The one heading heft across the bridge on the Kosi, leads to Ranikhet while the one going straight leads to Almora and eventually, Binsar. You can also reach Binsar via Ranikhet and Jageshwar. This route, although much longer is more often than not, in a slightly better shape (this i heard, no first-hand experience though)

My first knowledge of Almora was imparted through the Jim Corbett stories. As a kid i was fascinated by the man and how he trudged through the mountains and waited all nights on the branches of trees for the elusive man-eating tigers. There was a sense of foreboding. With the years of images superimposed on my mind, i almost did not expect Almora to have any resemblance to a modern town. I was thinking more in terms of pack-mules, muzzle-loaders, khakis, sola topees and mem sahibs. Sigh!

Almora’s sole soccer ground!
The town and its strange light
Another view of Almora Town

Once you reach Almora, Binsar isn’t far away – a mere 30 kms. Since Almora is the last big town on this road, the traffic too gets even thinner and you start enjoying the drive even more.  Roughly halfway between Almora and Binsar is Deenapani which has a KMVN Guest House and many smaller private cottages. If you do not find accommodation in Binsar, Deenapani is your best bet.

Somewhere close to Binsar
Man’s best friend. Dope takes a well-deserved breather

Interestingly, not many people know that Binsar is not a place / village / town per se. It is the name of the wildlife sanctuary that was once contiguous to the Corbett forest belt. The sanctuary in turn owes its name to the 9th-10th century Shiva temple that can still be seen today. The manifestation of Shiva worshipped in the temple was called Bineshwar, a name which the Brits later corrupted to Binsar. Today the temple is called Binsar Mahadev.

The entry to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is on the Almora-Jageshwar road (State Highway 37). You need to register your vehicle at the gate and pay the dues. You can only enter or leave between 6am and 5 pm and once you enter, preserve your ticket and the receipt as it is valid for three days and during this time you can enter and exit multiple times.

Entry to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

From here, a narrow road branches off and snakes its way up the mountains all the way to the Travellers’ Rest House (11 km). The Binsar Mahadev Temple sits at the end of a small meadow 7 kms from the entry gate, by the side of the road. Sundar Singh had been guiding me on the phone all the way and i was supposed to meet up with him at the TRH and then proceed to his village, 4-5 kms in the forest. Since this road is access controlled, the staff of the TRH as well as the forest officials have a hard time getting any transport. So when one of the forest guards asked if he could hitch a ride with me, i obliged. If someone approaches you for a lift, please do.

Clear skies… no pollution…
Binsar roads
Somewhere close to the TRH

At the TRH, i was welcomed by Sundar Singh, who turned out to be a strapping young fellow and not a middle aged man like i thought he would be. He is an expert trekker and guides amateur trekkers to Roopkund, Milam, Sundardhunga, etc. It was also revealed that i would actually be staying at his house in his village.  Before the trek to his village, i wanted to relax for a bit and so i went to the terrace of the rest house, famed for its view of the snow capped Himalayan peaks. Unfortunately, as it was the middle of the monsoons, the clouds had covered almost all of the peaks. So much for the view!

What i did see, however was a cluster of a few houses, deep in the valley below surrounded by a sea of green. Sundar Singh pointed to one of the houses as his! I was looking at my destination and i was thrilled.

Peak peeks!
Peak peeks – II
Looking towards Nepal
My destination. One of the houses you see here is where i spend the next two days

I used this break to down one entire pot of sweet milk tea. I needed all the energy for the trek even though all of it was downhill. Immediately after leaving the TRH the trail plunged into some of the deepest forest. It was drizzling and everything was wet and glistening. At certain places the forest was so thick that it was almost dark.

As the trek started…
Forest walk
Dead and red
Sundar Singh leads the way
Forest walk
Dark and wet and beautiful!
And the occasional clearing in the forest
The road leads on…
Nature’s carpet

The downhill trek did not take much time and within 40 minutes, the village was in sight. It was called Gaunap and was more like a cluster of 10-12 houses on a slope arranged neatly around terraced fields. In all, the village was home to not more than 50 people. This is as remote and quaint as could be. I was already loving it. Sundar Singh turned out to be as much of a talker as i am and very soon i learned that the nearest town is Dhaulchina, 10 kms away. The kids go to school there, walking for 20 kms everyday.  On their way back sometimes they carry groceries and other supplies often weighing as much as 10-15 kilos.

Gaunap in sight!
My home for the next two days
And my little grumpy neighbour
And thus ends the day

Like most other villages in the forest, Gaunap has no electricity.. forget about running water. The government has given each house a solar panel to recharge some batteries so that they can at least run a few bulbs. In Sundar Singh’s house, he has done up four rooms which he lets out to travellers like me. The food is cooked by his mother and other than the rice, everything else comes from the family’s fields.  If you were to follow on my footsteps and find yourself in the dining room of Sundar Sing’s house, do not forget to ask for the desi ghee. Just add half a teaspoon to your dish and enjoy the heavenly taste!

You stay there as a part of the family. So if you can help these people with their work. I for one, was so excited on seeing a rajma tree for the first time that i immediately proceeded to harvest two of them. I was later told politely that the second plant was not ready to be harvested as yet.

Dinner-time
After dinner sky!
After dinner sky -II

It had been a long day. Began with a long ride, then was followed by a long walk and all i needed now was a long sleep. People do not lock their doors here, and i am glad that neither did i. I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the loo and realised that i could not see anything. A minute later i figured out that the clouds that were coming from the valley below had entered the room through the open door. So i slept , for the rest of the night in a room full of cloud!

Morning came in the form of Sunder Singh’s brother Mahesh bringing me a whole pot of some amazing herbal tea. I went to the balcony outside my room and finished the gallon of tea over the next hour and half while looking at the clouds moving around in the valley in front of me. Even the herbal tea was made from plants in the family’s garden.

View from my balcony. Good morning, folks!
Cloud-play

After i was well tea-d and well fed, Mahesh and i went out to survey the nearby mountains. Both days we spent hours walking across mountains and resting on rocks by the many streams. In the afternoons, i would have another gallon of tea, spend some time in the family’s fields undoing much of their hard work and then come back to my room and write reviews of the international edition of the India travel guide by candle-light.

Mahesh Singh replaces Sunder Singh
I’ll follow you into the mist..
.. and the mist is gone!
So what if there are no trails.. just scramble up!
The snow clad pics are still hidden by clouds
An old Shiva Temple near the village

The walks were purely aimless. Mahesh knew the hills like the back of his hand so i could go anywhere i liked. We spotted some exotic bird species, some mountain goats and once from a great distance, a leopard. The forest around the village was composed mainly of tall pines and the ground was covered with pine needles. The rains had washed them clean and the red needles lay in fine contrast to the bright green of the freshly sprouted grass. Sometimes it would rain, then in a matter of minutes the sun would come out. Often, the clouds would come rushing in and i would lose sight of Mahesh. So i would wait where i stood and shout at the top of my lungs like a little girl until Mahesh found me.

On a more serious note, if you are ever trekking in these hills, especially in the hills, be careful of something the locals call bicchoo ghas (stinging grass). Although it is technically not a member of the grass family, the first part of its name is true. Even the slightest touch to exposed skin feels as if a red hot needle has been pushed in. I learned the hard way, so you just stay the hell out!

Looking at somebody’s village. A patch of green in a larger sea of green
Clouds above me… clouds below me..
Discarded pine needles and the emerging juvenile grass
Walking on pine needles, all day long

On our walks, we would never carry water because we knew that we would encounter a gadhera (a mountain stream in Kumaoni language) every 200 m where we could quench our thirst. It was also fun to wade into the almost waist deep pools and try to catch the little fished that swam around in then in lightning fast speeds. Many of these gadheras mergee further down to give rise to larger streams, locally known as gadh (rhymes with ‘bar’).

Eden-esque
Another one
I had to wade through knee deep, ice-cold water to get there for the shot!
A stream’s eye view
Mahesh, my best pal in Binsar

The night before i was supposed to leave for Delhi, the heavens opened up. It rained the entire night but held for a moment in the morning. Mahesh needed to get back to Almora where he studies in the high school and i was more than happy to give him a ride. So, the moment we left the village the rains came back and in spite of the rain gear, i got drenched in a matter of minutes. On top of that was the trek back to the TRH which was now uphill the whole way. Eventually after much huffing and puffing i managed to reach the TRH and by the time i left from there it was already 8 AM. That evening, i reached home  at 8:30 and it had been raining the whole way. This time, from Almora i went straight to Bhowali and from there i passed through Bheemtal, Haldwani, Kathgodam and Rudrapur and joined the Delhi highway at Modadabad.

Return Route

The greenish blue Kosi river that you had seen earlier in the post was unrecognisable. The muddy waters roared and frothed and fumed while from the mountains above me fell a steady stream of rocks and loose earth. I had to get out of there before there was a major landslide as I was to begin my big new job the very next day. So i drove 400 kms in pouring rain. In the process, i lost my glasses, ruined my mobile phone and spoiled the  magnetic strip of my debit card. Still, no regrets because i knew that while i was hating it that very moment, in the future (which is now) it will be another experience to share with you.

I have not yet decided what the next post is going to be. This new job takes up too much of my time, but i would love to get back to my dearest Madhya Pradesh.

So long then…

Fatboy in green hills!

Oh and i still had Rs 270 left!

Mumbai Memories


Mumbai could be very unsettling for someone who is used to life in Delhi. My first impression of Mumbai was marred by the nightmarish flight. It was the middle of August and i had added some leaves to the Independence day weekend and come to meet Anindita, who was working here for a media agency. The monsoons were hitting Mumbai with their full fury and we began to feel the effect as the plane began to begin its descent towards CSIA. I had a window seat from where i could see the wings of the plane and i could see them almost flapping up and down. Scared would be an understatement..,i hate flying with all my heart. Every time i need to travel on work, i try and go by train. In my mind i was waiting to hear the captain announce “Mayday!” anytime.

But then we landed and i headed out where Anindita was waiting for me with a broad grin on her face, which did calm me down a little. I was still a bit unsettled, though. But that was taken care of at the Vile Parle station from where we needed to catch a north-bound train to Borivili, where she stayed. So there was my first encounter with the legendary Mumbai suburban train. I finally managed to get into a first class compartment, luggage and all and stood there, sandwiched by people on all sides, Anindita nowhere to be seen. After Andheri, the crowd thinned a little and Anindita materialized magically from behind a fat Marwari aunty-jee. Phew!

This was in 2008 and i have been to Mumbai twice more and come back with more memories. All my trips to Mumbai have never been about exploring the city, although i always meant to. Its been about spending time with my best friend. And in between long walks on Carter Road, boat-rides to Elephanta, Chicken Peri Peri in Inorbit Mall in Malad or simply sitting on the embankment on Marine Drive, i did get a glimpse of the city. Sometimes i hate Mumbai because of the constant claustrophobia, the ever-present crowd and the way the weather reacted to my then long hair, but all said and done, it is also where some of my most important memories are. Some of these memories are good, and a couple of them, not so, but important they are, nonetheless.

Marine Drive on a very grey morning!

I have always visited Mumbai at the same time of the year – the August 15 weekend. Being the heights of monsoons in Mumbai, i have always got bad light and as a result of which i have resorted to shooting in black and white with increased contrast and spiked ISO for the grainyness. At times, the sun did come out and i reverted immediately to colour!

As the waves come crashing by..

We usually hang out at home in Borivili. Anindita likes to go to the movies so we usually average a movie a day while in Mumbai or when she comes to Delhi. The funniest part of the movie going experience in Mumbai is rising for the National Anthem. Works for a Manoj Kumar Movie but not so much for Singh is Kinng!

Anindita!

Sometimes in the evenings we would go to places by the sea to sit and talk. Carter road was nice but i liked Bandra Reclaimation (i think!) even better. Its like a promenade by the sea with a park that runs alongside. To your right is the Bandra-Worli Sea Link while in front of you, across the little bay is the constantly rising Worli skyline. A perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down. If any Mumbaikars are reading this and you happen to identify which place i am talking about, please do tell me because next time i am in Mumbai, i would like to go back there.

Sea-side Lounge
Sea Link

Last year when i went to Mumbai, Anindita took me to Carter Road, again in Bandra. Off the park by the road, a little strip composed of boulders juts out into the sea. We tried to walk right till the end of it, but it was broken at several places. We however, did make use of the ice-cream vendors loitering about the area.

Friends
Can’t lose your way here, can you?
Animated @ Juhu Beach
Piety!
To the Gods above…

In September 2008, Aamir had to go to Mumbai to meet ‘someone’ and since he had no other place to stay in Mumbai, decided to stay at Anindita’s.. and that gave me an idea. In the evening he was leaving for Mumbai, i asked him if it was okay for me to tag along. It was a Friday and all i had to do was call in sick on Saturday. So i bought my ticket in the same flight hardly two hours before the takeoff and in another three hours Anindita found both of us knocking on her door rather than just Aamir.

That weekend was a flurry of activity. Since i had come unplanned, Anindita had to go to the office the next day, while i stayed at home watching TV and cooking. In the evening, Anindita’s friend Ananya came over. I had gotten friendly with him during my last visit and he took me to a nearby restaurant where we feasted on some delicious Marathi mutton curry and biryani. Anindita came back at night and the next day Aamir, her and me roamed around the city and in the evening both of us left on the last flight to Delhi.

The usual reaction to Aamir’s face
My two best friends in a single frame
Conspirators Inc.
Technicolour
Gadadhaari!

Other than this surprise trip, on both the other occasion, i had made it a point to go to Elephanta Island. Other than my personal interest in history and heritage, it was the hour long boat ride that attracted me the most. As you leave the Apollo Bunder and make your way through a large variety of ships of various sizes, the Bombay coastline recedes gradually to the distance and you see what you rarely do in Delhi – a skyline! I usually bribe the boatman to let me sit in the tiny triangular patch right in front of the boat where you can feel the sway the most.

The island slowly comes into view and in a few minutes the boat docks. It usually does so alongside another boat and you cross from one boat to another till you reach the jetty. The most fun thing about Elephanta Island is the tiny train that takes visitors from the jetty to the ticket office. When Anindita and I went there, we were hungry and went to a restaurant for lunch. Time flew by and before long the caves had started closing down. So basically, we went all the way on the boat, took the train from the jetty to the ticket office and then spent like three hours there, but never really saw any caves.

Suspended Animation @ Apollo Bunder
A village in Elephanta Island
Joy-ride, literally!
One flew over…
Anchored in the jewelled sea

When the Portuguese were building their base in India, the island’s jetty used to be dominated by an enormous sculpture of an elephant; hence the name. Numerous attempts were made by the Portuguese to destroy the sculpture, until it was broken down in pieces. The fragments were later transported to the mainland and joined together. Today it can be seen in the Bhau Daji Lad museum in the suburban Byculla.

One of the many caves in the island
The jetty from in front of the caves
Sculptures at Elephanta
Sculptures at Elephanta

As i said already, the best part about Elephanta is the boat ride. In the evenings, when you take the boat back from the island towards Colaba, the sun is usually setting and a thousand other suns dance on the surface of the waves. Here are a couple of images i took on the trip back from Elephanta:

At the end of the day!
Bom Biah: The Good Bay!

On one of the trips, Anindita had to be in office one day and i decided to walk around the fort. I was told that it would be deserted as it was Sunday. So i walked around. I started at VT and walked all across the Fort and the narrow bylanes and following the recommendation of a friend, had lunch at Jimmy Boy Cafe. I dont know if anyone would agree with me, but Fort did feel a bit like Kolkata, albeit better organised.

Someone please help me identify this building. This was near St Xavier’s
Details from VT
Details from VT
Details from VT
Look, a cherub!
The old man of the arch!

Bombay is too hyperactive for me. Everyone seems to be travelling all the time. From home to the station, from the station to catching a bus without any time to spare. I have seen women chopping vegetables on the the train so that they can get home and cook and get a few hours’ sleep before the next day begins at the same pace. I am not that ambitious a person. All i need to have is enough money to tank up my bike and my camera slung on my neck. Bombay does not make any sense to me, but then its my personal, honest opinion.

The customary mugshot

Sometimes, i did feel that i was travelling to Bombay to bring back memories that would sustain me till the time i came to Bombay next or Anindita came here. But i guess after some time, you need something more than memories… you need something that stays in the preset – with you. So Bombay, in a way is synonymous to distance, as far as i am concerned – a place where memories are made, the Chocolate Factory, if you will! Thinking about Bombay does make me feel nostalgic but at the same time makes me realise that there is more to life than nostalgia. There is life itself. Things change, as do people. I know i will go back to Bombay and when i do i just hope i stop manufacturing memories and just be in the moment, at one with the environment.

Its been raining more than ever!

And as Vikram Seth said:

All you who sleep tonight

Far from the ones you love

No hands to left or right

But emptiness above.

But know that you are not alone..

The whole world shares your stears

Some for a day or two…

And some for all the years

And some, for all the years

Day 5 – Havelock Island


What a day! What a rare day! Ever since we came to these islands, it had been raining… all the time. For the first time in days, the sun was out and all the colours changed. We reached the port early in the morning to board the boat (MV Rani Lakshmi) that will take us to Havelock via Neil Island.

The map of Havelock will put my later ramblings into a lucid context. I hope!

Havelock map

Boats lined up on the docks at Port Blair. All of them are run by the government and are subsidised for the locals. While we paid Rs 235 per head for the journey from Port Blair to Havelock, for locals its Rs 25.

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Jetty lights against the clear blue sky!

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Thats the colour of the sea when the sun is shining. Port Blair recedes to the distance as the boat starts its eastward crawl towards Neil and Havelock

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North Bay. The entire region is surrounded with coral reefs and forms the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. When you look at the back-side of a Rs 20 note, you will see an island with lots of coconut trees and a lighthouse. Thats the north bay island and the lighthouse (which is just left of  this photo’s left limit) is known as Wandoor.

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The seating area of the boat.

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Once the boat reached the high seas, there was nothing to do on the deck so i sat down and caught up with a couple of episodes of SCRUBS. The photograph was taken by ma while i was busy in the aforementioned fashion.

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The deep, blue sea!

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The boat makes the first stop at Neil Island. On the background is one of Neil’s beaches while the lighthouse in the foreground, a tiny lighthouse marks a coral reef so that the ships and bigger boats like the one we were on,  stay clear.

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That, they say is the real colour of the sea around here.

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These pillars too, mark the coral reefs. All these pics were taken when the boat was approaching Neil jetty.

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One more

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Men relax on the jetty, suspended above the glassy waters.

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Boats around the Neil island shoreline

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The jetty at Neil Island

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While you wait for the boat to pick up and drop passengers and begin the next leg of the journey towards Havelock, you can chill with some coconut water at the jetty

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or with some paan and cigarettes!

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The sea, painted a million shades of blue!

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Approaching Havelock

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Near the Havelock Jetty. Look at how crystal clear the water is

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What can i say!

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This is at the jetty. All these fishes were in a large school and were circling around the jetty pillars.

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And then there were smaller fishes!

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Just like people have cars in cities, people in Havelock and other islands have boats and this is how they park them!

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Thats the view we enjoyed sitting at our resort!

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The wall was put up so that the high tide water cannot rush in.

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Why do people rave about Thailand so much. Are they not aware of these places in India itself?

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The resort lawns

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There you go! half a day of sunny bliss coming to an end. The rain clouds start rolling in… that too when i had just finished renting an Enfield! Damn you rains!

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Thats the red Bullet i rented. It was called Red Bull for the day!

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And thats Andaman’s finest Brew! The fact is, if you are wet and you are sitting in a shack on the beach and waiting for your shirt to dry, any brew is good brew!

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Havelock’s prime attraction – Radhanagar Beach. This 3 km long stretch of white sand is considered to be one of the best in the world.

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And it attracts not only loud Bengali tourist and bikini-clad westerners, but also the canines.

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I wish i knew how to swim…i wish i knew how to surf!

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Have you ever seen a beach this large so empty?

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Just to stress on the point i just made.

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framed with forests…

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Driftwood on the beach

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HA HA HA! Crabs are the best. These little fellows are barely two inches across. Whenever the waves go back, they appear for seconds, only to disappear into the sand in the wink of an eye. If you happen to catch one of them, like i did, they just play dead! the moment you let them off your hand, schoom…they are off!

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The beauty of this beach! The trees look as if they have been planted according to a plan. They grow naturally in a neat row across the length of the beach

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Just like this…

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And like this…

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At times there are rocks that jut into the sea. The rocks are covered with algae and they can be very slippery. I found out the hard way and to this day, more than a week after i am back, there is still a bluish black patch on my butt!

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The sand in this stretch of the beach was rather soft. Your entire foot disappears with every step.

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Ma being a little girl!

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I like this pic!

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The sun says Good Bye!

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I will definitely come back here one day. May that day be very soon and may the company be right!

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Day 4 – Baratang and back to Port Blair


We started from Rangat at the crack of the dawn, as usual. the destination of the day is the limestone cave at Baratang Island – the same place where we had the first ferry crossing just the day before. Only that from the jetty we take speedboats and begin the 40 km ride through the creeks to reach the other side of the island where the cave is located.

Ma and baba seem prepared for the worst

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and i did too, only with a frown:

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The creek at Baratamg. Apparantly they are full of saltwater crocs.

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More traffic on the other side of the creek. The big boat in the distance is the ferry.

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Lifejacket for protection against drowning and dupatta for protection against cold and wind-induced bad hair. Smaart baay, Rabart!

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From the wide creek, the boat took a turn into the narrow mangrove channel. at times the channel was so narrow that the sides of the boat kept bumping into the roots.

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From the jetty, we had to walk for like a kilometre to get to the cave. First, the road took us through the jungles

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Our guide and his brother leading a group of enthusiastic travellers

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More forest roads:

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After some time, things started to rock! i mean the surroundings started getting rockier… and indication of the proximity to the cave.

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A narrow road passes between the sentinel rocks.

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And then there was a narrow bridge over a narrow brook.

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I was tired of no one clicking my pics. So i stood in the middle of the ‘bridge’ till ma snapped one.

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Gone…

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Going…

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Gone!

Entering the foreboding limestone caves. The inside was pitch dark. The guide was carrying an emergency lamp, the only light source once you are in.

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And these, my dear friend, are the rock formations inside the cave. Over thousands of years, water had been dripping down giving rise to rocks of curious shapes. they are in a process of constant growth, sometimes they grow and change so rapidly that the change is discernable even within a few years.

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Various chemicals in the water adds various ishades of colours to the rocks. The colours are not completely understandable as most of the photographs inside the caves were to point to or focus on.

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And yes, it can be very claustrophobic

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A stalactite

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From a wide and lofty opening, the cave gradually goes narrower and narrower and the rocks weirder.

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And there is ma, shouting at the rocks, apparantly. Look at the expression of fear on baba’s face. The cave does weird things to your psychy.

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A stalactite descends from the woof while a stalagmite rises from the floor.. or is it the other way round? whatever… one day they will meet and form a pillar!

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Leaving the caves. The rocks on the right looks like a series of faces carves on the walls.

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The amazing bamboo forest. Spot the bench in the lower right corner? We sat there for a while nursing the straining legs

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Back on the road and exhaustion takes over. This is when the car stopped at the forest checkpost at Jarbatang.

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Who knew there was so much more to the Andamans than just sand and surf?

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Of course there are deserted roads in the middle of thick forests where your car suddenly breaks down, miles away from humanity. The driver went off to the next town, 28 kms away to find us another vehicle while we waited.

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Rampwalking in the forest. What people would do to pass two hours!

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Obviously Baba cant do rampwalk, so he just took a stroll

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and then stopped to admire the lush foliage!

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Finally back in Port Blair. The runway of the town’s airport is to the right. They built two parallal roads – used one for the cars and buses and the other for Airbuses!

lol

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Funny breed of local poultry. Looks like a cross between chicken and turkey to me. Whatever it is, it’s bound to be tasty!

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A pillar erected in 1914 in memory of the few residents of the islands who died fighting in the First World War for a country, they or their descendants would never set foot in.

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Day 3 – Dighlipur to Rangat


Today, i shall take you from Dighlipur where we halted the previous night to Rangat where we will spend this night. On the way we visit the Ross and Smith islands of the coast of Dighlipur. As i mentioned earlier, Dighlipur is the main town of the North Andaman island. Close to Dighlipur is Saddle Peak, the tallest mountain of the Andamans. This map of North Andaman will make things clearer.

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We woke up in the morning and walked down to the Kalipur beach which is a little distance from the resort. Here’s ma and Baba in front of the hotel

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You have to walk for like a quarter of a mile on the main road before turning into a lane that leads to the beach. Ma and Baba taking the long walk

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From the main road, this narrow lane branches off to the beach. As with everything else on the island, the pathway passed through a very thick forest before opening, almost miraculously onto the wide and wild Kalipur Beach

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It was stormy overnight and it had been pouring torrentially till around an hour before we hit the beach. The winds were high and the sea was rough. Here, take a look:

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…and the rains started all over again. We had to run for shelter at the shack on the beach where we waited for the next hour for it to stop. This poor man was trying to stay dry and guide two stubborn buffaloes at the same time. Poor man!

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How many colours can you see in the water?

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This is the wild and storm lashed Kalipur beach. This is pristine habitat. In November-December, turtles – Olive Ridleys, Leatherbacks, Hawksbills – come ashore to nest on this beach.

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The rain held for a few minutes and i went for a walk on the beach and this is what i found. This is a huuuuuge King Cobra, easily 14 feet in length. Its not surprising that it was murdered, because thats the only thing people can do, but what struck me was the way it was murdered. If you look closely, you will see that it was strangled to death with a rope. What sort of a depraved person would do that??

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Another view of the beach and all the storm debris that have been washed ashore.

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And thats baba and me taking shelter from the strong winds and heavy rains.

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So after we managed to cram in some breakfast, we headed straight to the Ariel Bay jetty to take a boat to Smith Island. The time was just about right as the low tide had just set in. Heres ma in the jetty:

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The simple man guiding his simple boat

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One of my trademark abstract shots. I must stop taking more of these. Its kinda getting repetitive

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When you reach Smith island, you discover that there is no jetty. So the boat goes as far as it can and then you have to jump! Here are two people who have successfully got down from the boat in the manner described before.

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The skies were so dramatic throughout the trip. I love this picture:

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What you see here is the smaller Ross island seen from the larger Smith. As it is low tide, the two islands are connected by this while sand beach. While we were there, the waters receded further and the beach became even broader.

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Thats the beach on the Smith Island side

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As the waves came lapping on the shore, it churned the sand on the seabed into these interesting formations. On a clearer day, this would have been even clearer.

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Resting places for tourists at the Smith island beach

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One more of the beach…it was so beautiful, could not get enough of it.

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Our boat waiting to take us back to the jetty. Check out the hills in the background. Mysterious misty hills.

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And the waters recede even further and reveal what was till a few moments ago, under the waves

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The beach was full of corals and sea shells. This one was huge. It would have easily weighed 2 kgs. Beautiful..only nature can craft such colours and patterns

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Random beach shot

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Another random beach shot

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This is how deserted the place was. We were the only people in the two islands. And look at the sky again. AWESOME

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Beachscape

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Check out how clear the water is. the bottom is crawling with hundreds of crabs and fishes. Wherever you plant a foot, there are a thousand things scuttling around. That place was alive

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Ma taking my pic, i guess

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This is one of my favourite pics from the day. The colour of the water here is so unusual. Adding to the charm are the patchy sky and the cloud topped hills in the distance

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Its time to go. The boatwallah gets the craft as close to us as possible

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Be careful when you get on to that boat‘, he tells her

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Anchors Aweigh!

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Day 2 – Port Blair to Dighlipur


We started at 4 in the morning to get to Dighlipur. Port Blair is at the southernmost tip of the Great Andaman islands while Dighlipur is the northern end. The total distance is around 340 kms. Here’s the map:

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The red line is the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) that connects the two cities. It passes through some of the densest forests in the world, inhabited by the stone age Jarawas. At two pints, you need to get down from whatever vehicle you are in, cross over on ferry – people, cars, buses, et al, and continue from the other side.

The road through forests:

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The first ferry crossing at Middle Strait. You can see how vehicles and people cross over on boats.

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From the boat, you get a very nice view of the creek as well as the numerous small islands and the mangrove forests fringing the waterline

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Here’s a close-up of the lush mangrove thickets:

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We crossed over from middle strait onto Baratang island. Here we waited in little huts built on the water, for the car to come in the next boat. I took some pics while waiting.

Ma

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There was a boat tied to the pillars. I tried to capture it using the window of the hut as a frame:

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More vehicles cross over to join the melee on our side of the water:

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While we were still in the shack, it started to rain heavily. here is a picture of the deluge

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And this, after the rains..

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People line up to board the state bus to Dighlipur at Baratang jetty

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From here on, we went to see the Mud Volcano, which was just an anthill sized mound issuing bubbles from the top. What a let down! Here is Baba walking through the forest to get there

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This is a beautiful photograph of ma, en route the Mud Volcano. When baba saw this pic, his only comment was ‘aagun laiga jaibo‘!

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Strange palm trees…seen nothing like this anywhere else… locally they are known as the Umbrella Palm

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Baba pretending to be a poet while waiting for the boat at Kadamtala Jetty (the second ferry crossing)

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Kadamtala jetty from the boat

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Stormclouds loom over the mangroves at Kadamtala

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ma and baba on the boat

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and thats me

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Funny pic of ma chilling with some nariyal paani. Baba’s reaction to the pic was ‘khaishe!’

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After ma, it was the dog’s turn to succumb to the kernel desire!

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The waste paper bin becomes a hand resting place. Talk about wildlife suffering under the growing weight of humanity

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Baba…poet…jetty…AGAIN

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Lunch at Rangat

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Just outside the restaurant we had lunch in, i discovered a colony of the half-inch-long Tailor Ants. If you look closely into the following pics, you will see that the ants literally ‘stitch’ leaves of the plants together to make a nest. They are very aggressive and their sting is supposed to be very painful.

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The journey from Rangat to Dighlipur was long. The road passed mostly through forests which got denser and denser with every passing mile. sometimes forests were broken by little hamlets with surrounding paddy fields. The clouds were very low. You could see them drifting through the tops of hills barely 100 meters high.

This one was taken from the moving car. Check out what i was saying about the clouds.

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And this was just before everything plunged into a sudden, early night.

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Day 1 – Port Blair


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We reached Port Blair at 7:30 in the morning. We had to wait till 9 for the tourist office to open so that we could get accommodation. We stayed at Hornbill Nest (above) that commands a stunning view of the sea and the road that snakes by it.

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This was the view from the verandah of the cottage we stayed in. I love the dark clouds… sets a very dramatic mood!

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More views of the sea.

After we had settled down, i went for a walk down to the rocks by the seaside. The hotel was on top of a hill and as i was walking down, i got a nice photograph of the sea through the seas:

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It was low tide when i reached the sea-side rocks. As the waters had receded, it had left several pools where one could see stranded marine creatures. This colourful gentleman is called a hermit crab. Unlike other crabs, he does not have a hard shell and is hence very vulnerable. So to protect itself, it makes its home inside discarded sea shells. As they grow in size, they keep moving from smaller to larger shells.

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And these are starfish..you cant see the whole animal as its hiding under some rocks. They look more like octopuses though!

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The rocks itself were fascinating. They look as if they have been chiselled away in an organised fashion in straight lines. While quarrying could be a possibility, natural causes would make these formations all the more fascinating.

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In the afternoon, the three of us went to Corbyn’s Cove, the only beach of Port Blair

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And that, as you know is me, at Corbyn’s Cove

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..and then, its ma and baba.

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But there were you too, Anindita..or atleast something that reminded me of you

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These are fiddler crabs. They like in little burrows on beaches and rocks. The disproportionately large claws are used for burrowing and also to impress females and help the little fellow get laid.

The road back to the town passes by the sea and i stopped at a couple of places to capture the views. Here are some shots taken from the road.

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Port Blair has an extensive watersports complex. When we went there, however, it was closed. But you could still walk around on the brightly painted piers. Here’s a photo:

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Port Blair is a very picturesque city. It has a feel of a hill station as most of the island is mountainous. Here’s how the Marina (it is to Port Blair what Marine Drive is to Mumbai) looks at night. The photograph was taken from the ramparts of the Cellular Jail

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