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Monday, 2 April 2012

19. VIPER ISLAND (ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS) - (TRAVELOGUE)



With the onset of clouds, the water
became dark, "Kala paani"
Having landed at Port Blair, we went to Aberdeen Jetty soon after lunch and found that a ferry was going to Viper Island immediately at 3pm. Tickets were at Rs. 180 per person for the journey from the mainland to the island and back. We bought the tickets and hopped on to the ferry which was already packed with people.  There were about 100 passengers on board. As all could not be seated, some plastic chairs were provided and the vessel moved to take us to the infamous Viper Island where we reached in about an hour. 

The sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, the soft breeze gently tickling the waves of the sea and  the lush green palms swaying lazily in the nearby islands, emerald was the colour of the moment. Balmy air swept the place though contaminated once in a while by the whiffs of diesel emissions of the boat.

As we reached the beautiful island, the attendant at the Vessel announced that we had only 15 minutes at our disposal and we could see the “Phansi Ghar” (Gallows Room) and the Court at the island.  A real “Phansi Ghar”! A cold shiver went down my spine.

Steep steps lead to the Gallows Room
Huffing and puffing, we climbed the high steps to the central hillock where the “GALLOWS” still stand a live testimony to the atrocities of the British who had built a building with openings on all sides, visible to the convicts on the island to remind them all the time of their impending death. The prisoners on the island, surrounded by sea on all sides, had no escape route even if they wanted to and had an opportunity.

 There were only three buildings on the island, the Gallows on the hillock in the centre of the island, a room which was the Court Room for summary trial of the prisoners and a tin shed which looked more like a crematorium.
There are of course a number of trees half destroyed by the recent Tsunami wave which has given a graveyard kind of look to the trees in this infamous place.



The Gallows
As the history goes, Lt Archibald Blair, in the year 1788, was assigned the job of exploring the possibility of starting a British settlement. He travelled to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and found this place. The vessel “Viper” in which he travelled is stated to have met with an accident and its wreckage was perhaps abandoned near the island.  The island is said to be named after the vessel “Viper”.

Could it be a crematorium???
The building of the jail at Port Blair had been undertaken by the British under the supervision of Major Fort in the year 1867.  It is stated that in the year 1872, Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India visited the island. He also visited various establishments, works etc, including the site of construction where Pathan Sher Ali who was one of the convicts, was engaged in the building of the jail. Lord Mayo is reported to have said, "This is such a beautiful place! Why should anybody complaint about being sent here. I would rather pay to be able to live here all my life." This enraged Pathan Sher Ali so much that he immediately attacked and killed Lord Mayo. Later, Pathan Sher Ali was convicted and executed in Viper Island on these very gallows.


A tree turned to a stub by recent
Tsunami attack


The entire island had around it an eerie feeling. Even the sea-breeze seemed to be  loaded with torture, torment and death. I stood there gazing into the oblivion, with unknown faces emerging from nowhere looking sad that they were handicapped and were not able to pursue their mission of getting freedom for their country.
The Court Room at the jetty, the gallows in the centre,  the Crematorium look-alike tin-shed on the sea-shore and innumerable tree trunks turned to stubs after the onslaught of recent Tsunami, all added to make me feel very low. 
The more I thought about it later, the more I empathised with the freedom-fighters making me sad and morose and a surge of impotent anger against the British started overpowering my mind. It was now time to return to the present.

For more TRAVELOGUES, please visit my dedicated blog on travels http://globalhindustani.blogspot.in



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