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Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Jolly Buoy Island as seen from the ferry


Even before I reached Andaman Island, almost everyone advised me to visit Jolly Buoy Island. What is so special about it, I wondered. I was told that it is a part of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park which is a unique project in the world. The marine park is spread out in open sea, creeks and 151 islands over an area of app. 280 sq kms. Jolly Buoy is one of these 151 islands.

The ecological wealth under these waters needs to be protected
My question “Why a Marine Park?” was answered amply by the bill-board at the Wandoor Jetty  which stated the purpose of the project, to conserve the unique bio-diversity found in this area, to provide protection to flora and fauna, to protect, preserve and manage the  natural breeding grounds and   habitats of marine life particularly which is rare and endangered , to promote scientific study and research, to create awareness amongst masses about the fragile marine eco- systems and their significance and to promote eco-tourism. Well, well, well, it all sounds pretty heavy. No?  In nutshell, in simple English, let’s say the Govt. of India is trying to take care of variety of fish and corals in this area. 

Waiting for the vessel at Wandoor Jetty


Due to the importance of this area, the entry to the island is restricted.  Only 5 boats per day are allowed which carry 50 passengers each who are allowed to stay there only for 2.5 hours. A visitor to this area requires a permit from the Forest Deptt. Entry to Jolly Buoy Islands is allowed from December to May only. Monday is the weekly holiday.

The private tour operators conduct the tour in ferries. There is no commercial establishment on the island and no food or water is available there. Polythene bags and plastic water bottles are not permitted. The only conveniences available at the island are a make-shift wash-room and a Changing Room.

 The steps involved in going to Jolly Buoy Island are:
1.   Obtain the Entry Permit from Forest Deptt.  located in the office of Directorate of Tourism in Port Blair. The Permit Charges are Rs. 50 per person and a form has to be submitted along with the proof of identity. 

2.   Get the Ferry Ticket from a Boat Operator who also sits in the same office. The Boat Charges are Rs. 550 per person which cover ferry charges, transportation charges from ferry to the beach as there is no jetty there, hiring charges for the glass-bottom boats for viewing under-water coral reefs and hiring charges for snorkelling equipment.

3.   On the morning of tour, get your lunch packed, and proceed to Humfryganj  (Wandoor),  a distance of about 30 kms. You can take a Tourist Bus to the place or hire a cab,

4.   Once at the Wandoor Jetty, take a thermos flask from the counter. One can carry water only in the water bottles provided by the Govt. by giving a security deposit of Rs. 100 per bottle which is refunded when you hand over the bottle on your way back.  Jute bags are also available in similar manner.

Coconuts are so green, so big and soooo fresh. Loving it!
The boat is late but no problem. Coconut water (Daab) is available in plenty @ Rs 20. The coconuts are really huge and absolutely fresh. Without realising their size, we buy two and hubby found it impossible to finish it. The hoggy that I am, I ended up having one and half and a tummy about to burst.  

MV Silver Wind, our passport to heaven

10.40am:  Vessel MV Silver Wind has been sighted. We all walk into the jetty. I suggest to co-passengers that we all stand in a queue and I am surprised that all comply. The boat-keepers are tying the vessel with the Jetty with the help of ropes in a very crude manner. Later, passengers were helped by the Boat-keepers to actually hop on to the boat.
Meanwhile, a large family perhaps from Bihar tries to push their way by breaking the queue. I protest loudly and others also join me and we manage to bully them into waiting till everyone gets on to the ferry. But this adamant family refuses to go to the tail-end of the queue and waits impatiently at the entry point only, trying time and again to break the queue. If their looks could kill, I would have been dead long ago.

Emerald is the mood of the day.

On the boat, there is a lot of noise. There is a group of tourists from Kolkata who are highly excited. The boat starts sailing through the emerald green waters. The scene on both sides is exotic and we are mesmerised by the divine beauty of the islands that we see. The dense Equatorial forests on the uninhabited islands on both sides, very tall trees reaching almost up to the sky, creepers climbing right up to the top, the sky with scattered clouds and the emerald green water; the nature is hypnotising us. The sound of the ferry and the loud noises made by the passengers are sounding absolutely out of place. We seem to be breaking the peace and disturbing the beauty of this exotic place. In about 40 minutes, the vessel switches off the engine. We are almost there, close to the Jolly Buoy island.

In the boat with glass bottoms, trying to see coral reefs

Once,  near the island, we are asked to alight from the ferry to small boats which will take us to the island. Passengers start rushing and pushing around. Why are we such an impatient lot? Anyway, through a very crude contraption, we hop onto the boat which has a glass bottom and which takes us around to show the coral reefs. All are leaning over and straining their eyes to see the coral reefs of various colours and designs through the glass base. In 15 minutes, the trip is over and we are on the island.

In the Bahamas of India

As we alight on the island, our eyes are wide open with awe. The beach is pristine white. There are three colours on the horizon, pure white, emerald green and azure blue. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Only the photos of Bahamas that I have seen look like this. Wow, nature at its best!

This was our best effort to get into water.

We do not know how to swim but neither does that elderly lady in salwar-suit. She plonks herself on the beach in water and is simply enjoying the feel of the cool water. Later, she admits that she did not know swimming either, but having come so far from Delhi, had decided to enjoy the feel of the water. “What if the waves had taken you away?” I cannot hide my inquisitiveness. “Dekhi jaati,” I admire her nonchalance. But we are the "Play Safe" types and do not venture into unnecessary dangers. "Jin khoja tin paaiyan, gehre paani paith. Main bauri boodan dari, rahi kinare baith." (Those who ventured into deep waters, got what they sought . Poor me, I was scared of drowning, so I kept sitting on the sea-shore.) 

On a jungle trail, in search of shade

We walk around in the water for some time enjoying the beauty of the beach and trying to capture it in the camera. But the sun is very hot. The smart ones have their umbrellas with them. So we start walking into the jungle in search of some shade and soon locate a nice canopy made of grass and bamboos.

Lunch time under the canopy in the island forest

It is already lunch time and this appears to be a good place to enjoy the cool breeze and nibble at our sandwiches with sips of Amul Lassi which we had brought with us.

Post-lunch siesta

Enjoying Amul lassi

Lunch over, hubby decides to stretch on the narrow bench to take a short nap. Nap is not possible on such a narrow curved bench but he somehow manages to balance himself precariously there and has semblance of lying down. 

Over-cautious that I am, I refuse to take any such chances and continue to enjoy my cool lassi under the canopy.

Can anybody  please tell me what  this animal is called. Komodo Dragon?

Sitting under the canopy, with the dense forest on one side and deep blue sea on the other side, we suddenly spot a huge lizard like animal. I don’t know what it is called but we captured it in our camera. Soon there was a lot of excitement and many people gathered around to look at it. Some said it is called "Komodo Dragon". It had such mean eyes.

The Glass bottomed boat that took us to deep seas for viewing coral reefs

Soon it is time to go back. MV Silver Wind has come to take us back. Again there is such a rush to get into the boats to reach the vessel. Why this kolaveri kolaveri  kolaveri di? Nobody will be left behind. But we are Indians! We are an impatient lot and can’t wait at all. All rush towards the small boat and manage to climb on to the vessel through another make-shift contraption…a jugaad!

A dolphin has disappeared here after creating all the stir on the vessel

Back in the vessel, there is a kind of lull for some time with all exhausted and sun-burnt passengers with eyes half shut. The beautiful green islands are not creating the same excitement any more. Soon somebody announces loudly, “Doalfeen.... Doalfeen …. ekhone”. And a whole lot of passengers are shaken out of their stupor and rush to that side of the vessel to have a look at the dolphin. The boat tilts heavily to that side and my heart misses a beat. “My watery grave is going to become a reality today,” I think.  Will the boat turn over? What are they doing?  The caretakers of the boat came shouting, “ Baith jaaiye…..  baith jaiye … apni seat pe laut jaiye …..  Boat palat jayegi.”  (Please sit down…go back to your seats. The boat can turn over).  But is anybody listening? They all want to see the “Boro maach” (big fish) and all the pleadings of the boatman go over deaf ears. I suddenly think of our Parliament where Speaker Ms. Meira Kumar keeps saying, “Baith jaiye, baith jaiye” and nobody listens to her and a smile comes to my face. I am so amused by this thought that I stop thinking of life-boats. The reality of the moment is Dolphin. Nothing else matters. “Live in here and now,” I tell myself.

Thank God! The Dolphin disappeared and our dare-devil co-passengers returned to their seats mighty excited about their latest achievement of having seen a dolphin.  I took a sigh of relief as Wandoor Jetty was sighted at a distance.  Thus ended our trip to Jolly Buoy island, a place absolutely out of this world. 

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