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Monday, 2 April 2012


SBI's Regional Office and Guest House
on Aberdeen Road
A visit to Andaman & Nicobar islands was a long-cherished dream which was fulfilled during this trip which was my very first to this beautiful part of our country. A stop-over at “Samudrika” the Naval Marine Museum helped me refresh my history, geography, anthropology and general knowledge lessons of the yonder years. I also understand now why it was called "Kala Pani". When the sun is bright, the water looks absolutely stunning -  blue and green. But when there are clouds in the sky, the colour of the sea changes to almost black. With the area having rains from April to October, the water must be looking dark most of the time. To add to it, water was the culprit for ensuring that the convicts could not escape from here. 

SOME FACTS FIRST: Andaman & Nicobar Islands numbering 556  are located very close to the Equator, covering an area of 8,249 sq kms. Out of these, only 37 islands are populated and the rest have no-one living there. The main Bay Island is quite cosmopolitan and the population comprises Bengalis, Tamilians, Andhraites and Bangladeshis. 

THE TRIBES OF ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS:  There are six major tribes in these islands. These are Nicobarese numbering 28,653,  Shompens 398, Jarawas 240, Onges 98, Great Andamanese 43 and Sentinelese only 39. They still live in jungles in huts made with leaves and bamboos, survive on natural fruits and do not wear clothes. They are scared of ordinary human-beings and  use bow and arrows to protect themselves. We were told that they do not eat any salt and, therefore, their saliva is very poisonous. Even snake-bites etc do not affect them. I am not too sure about this as it is unauthenticated. Their numbers are dwindling fast. No wonder, the Govt. is making all efforts to keep them safe and protected.

FORMATION OF ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS: These islands are made of volcanic lava rocks. I  read that some 150 million years ago, molten magma might have oozed from the earth’s crust along the dilated ocean floor at the foot of a sub-marine ridge. Andamans are at the tip of an undulating lava plateau the root of which goes deep down beyond the ocean floor.
Tall green trees with creepers
GEOGRAPHY LESSONS REVISED: The islands being located almost on the Equator, the climate is hot in winters and extremely hot and humid during summers. The rainy season starts in April and ends in October. It does not rain here, it only pours. The area has dense tropical forests. The trees are very tall, vying with each other to get the attention of sun. There are creepers and vines covering the tree trunks. The trees have broad leaves to help evaporate the water. I was so excited to notice that everything in the flora and fauna of the islands was as I had studied in my High School lessons.

HISTORY REVISITED: These islands were discovered only in the year 1859. In 1857, when the first War of Independence broke in India, the British found it very difficult to handle so many prisoners. They wanted a far off place away from the mainland India where they could establish a settlement where these 'convicts' could be deported. So a young British officer was assigned the job of looking around for an area which could serve as a prison for the Indian 'mutineers'. He set off in MV Viper looking for a suitable place and landed up in this area. In due course, the British established themselves here, built the infamous Cellular Jail in Port Blair, set up gallows in Viper Island and made Ross Island their capital for this area. The rest is history.

DISCOVERY OF THE ISLANDS:  History has evidence that the Chinese knew about these islands more than a thousand years ago and called it Yeng T Omag. The Roman Geographer Ptolemy also mentioned these in the 2nd Century as Angdaman Islands which meant  islands of Good Fortune. A Buddhist monk named it Lo-Jen-Kuo, the Island of the Naked. Marco Polo called it Angamanain. In the 15th Century, Nicolo Contri the Italian traveller called these the Islands of God. However, it is not recorded anywhere when the current name Andaman was given. As per some Indian legends, Hanuman had stepped on this island on his way to Lanka and hence Handuman which in due course became Andaman. The name Nicobar seems to have originated from a South Indian word  “Nakkavaram” which means the Land of the Naked as mentioned in a Tanjore Inscription of 1050 AD.

A visit to these islands is strongly recommended to every Indian if s/he wants to live through the history of the country and enjoy the virgin beauty of these islands. More about various interesting places later in my blogs!

For more TRAVELOGUES, please visit my dedicated blog on travels

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