Friday, April 3, 2009

ANDAMAN ISLAND ADVENTURE

2 April 2009 Andaman Islands – These islands (54 they say) are in the Indian Ocean and belong to India. They are volcanic in origin rather than coral islands so are quite hilly. We did not take Clyde or our camera ashore since we were headed to the beach and did not want to leave anything valuable on the beach while we were snorkeling. Actually that was not a real concern because the tour we were on took us to an island within a Marine Park and our tour was the only people on the island. However we have no pics to post this time. But our experience was worth jotting down.

The port where the ship docked was secured behind a tall set of gates. Outside the gates were throngs of Tuk-Tuk drivers ( perhaps 50) vying for customers among the ship’s passengers that were brave enough to go out on their own. We saw a few go out and angry disputes break out among the drivers and the potential customers felt threatened enough by being part of this animated tug of war that they retreated back inside the gates. As our bus tried to get out those same gates it took several minutes for the Tuk-Tuks to give way enough for our bus to get out – the ones closest to the gates did not want to give up their prime spots I suppose. Only 4 cruise ships come here each year, so this is a rare economic opportunity.
Then our bus wound its way through the town of Port Blair dodging cows pedestrians, Tuk-Tuks, etc ---occasionally having to back and fill a few times to make it around a switchback that was too tight to make the turn in one swing.

At one point we pulled off to the side of the road and sat for a while. The tour guide explained that they had had some problems with the bus and were taking a mechanic along just in case. A few minutes later he hopped on and we were off again. We were on the bus for about an hour going through villages and past farm fields. We also saw some of the devastation they suffered in the Tsunami that hit here a few years ago. There were big, low-lying areas that still had trapped seawater covering former farm fields.

Lots of coconut and betel nut trees and many nutmeg trees as well along the way and lots of small fields of various kinds of vegetables. Although we did not get an impression of prosperity here (just the opposite) the guide pointed out to us that we would not see any beggars or homeless people or need to worry about pickpockets as everyone here had a way to make a living honestly. Shockingly we were not even approached by any souvenir vendors so maybe what he said was true. Cows were everywhere -- wandering in the streets, picking through mounds of garbage, staked out in fields. Also many goats. Most businesses were open air with a sort of garage door in front they opened when they were open for business. Most buildings looked neglected and there was trash everywhere.

We arrived at a dock where we boarded an old wooden vessel that reminded us of the African Queen and it putted off at a stately 2-3 knots out into the Ghandi Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary is made up of several islands and access to these islands is carefully controlled to try to preserve the coral and other marine life. We putted past several idyllic little islands with broad white sand beaches. When we finally arrived at the island where we were going to land someone in the boat said “Where is the beach?”.


We moored the big boat offshore at a mooring buoy and climbed into little outboards to go ashore. There was a flat area near the water that had a couple of palm-thatched shelters to provide shade and a couple of ramshackle changing huts. Nothing there that we would call a beach – no sand to lay on for instance. Someone said it looked like Gilligan’s Island but not as nice. They provided masks and snorkels (no fins) that were pretty grimy looking. Mary would not put one near her face. I decided that maybe the salt water would clean them up enough to avoid leprosy so I gave it a try. I’m sure she will be watching me for several days for symptoms of dysentery, etc ;-)

The water was quite warm and fairly clear. There was a good variety of colorful fish and some squid, so I spent about 90 minutes snorkeling. The coral was in pretty rough shape but looked like it was making a comeback. I guess it had been damaged in the Tsunami.

Lunch was an adventure. They provided a box lunch of a sandwich, a muffin, a box of orange juice, a green banana, and a tangerine. This did not come from the ship and after seeing conditions on the island and, not knowing the provenance of the sandwich and muffin, the only things we tried were the fruit (which we could peel) and the juice. The banana, though green outside, was perfectly ripe and absolutely the best banana I have ever tasted. They did provide plenty of bottled water to drink.

Other impressions. There were a lot of schools so apparently a good emphasis on education. Guide said 90% of kids go to school. Many drivers training businesses as well. Lots of noise, bright colors, smells, stray animals, confusion and trash. It was in the 90s and the humidity was in the 80s. Not a place where we would be wanting to buy a timeshare or rush back to visit again. Did not really get much chance to interact with the locals, so don’t really know what they are like. Lots of people in uniforms – police, army, guards. They had a modern airport /military base with jet flights daily to India. This was built by the Japanese in WWII. And, of course, chaotic traffic with many of the same characteristics as traffic in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Next stop Mumbai – after four days at sea. We are in the Bay of Bengal which is part of the Indian Ocean and will round the southern tip of India and go up into the Arabian Sea to Mumbai which is on India’s west coast.

1 comment:

  1. The Indian hospitality industry has seen a major hike in the recent times owing to the astounding industrial growth of the country. The growth in the IT sector has also hugely led to the revolving fortunes of the metros and major cities of the country. Offshore business flowing in and the eagerness of the MNCs to come up in India has led to the obvious growth of the hospitality sector also. Most of the big names in the hospitality industry from India and abroad have their properties in the important commercial hubs of the country. However, surprisingly, the hospitality industry is not that vigorously promoted in one of the most important metros of the country, Kolkata. In the past decade Kolkata has also seen major industrial growth. But unfortunately, the West Bengal state Government hasn’t shown much inclination towards the development of the hospitality industry of the state in general and the hotels in Kolkata in particular. Inspite of the repeated appeals from the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India, the state government hasn’t come up with steps that would boost the growth of the hospitality industry. Most of the suggestions and appeals made by the Association have gone unheeded. On the contrary, the state government increased the luxury tax payable by the air conditioned budget hotels in Kolkata and the ones in the rest of the state by a whopping 650%. Change in excise duties, reduction in the bar license renewal fee etc have also not been worked upon. In one word, the government seems to be underestimating the need to strengthen and boost the hospitality industry in the wake of unprecedented industrial growth. With proper etching out of the taxes and fees payable by the hotels of the state, the state government can make the business hotels in Kolkata and other renowned hotels of the state bring in huge profits for the state.

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