“Truly speaking all that one can claim is that one has the blood of mankind in one’s veins.” – Veer Savarkar
Around 1200 km from the Indian mainland, Port Blair is a small city surrounded by tropical forests and some beautiful coral beaches. It is known for the infamous cellular jail. It is the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a union territory of India in the Bay of Bengal. The city was also the former headquarters of the colonial Andaman Islands under the British after it was shifted from Ross Island. Port Blair is the only access point to the Andaman Islands.
HOW TO GET THERE?
The sole entry point to the Andaman Islands is accessible only from the Indian mainland. The Port Blair airport is, as of now, a domestic one. Direct flights fly to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata. We flew from Bengaluru to Port Blair via Chennai. It is a 2 hour flight from Chennai. Additionally, one can reach Port Blair by sea from either Kolkata, Vishakapatnam or Chennai over a voyage of around two and a half days.
Cellular Jail: Also known as ‘Kala Pani’, the jail was built by the British between 1896-1906 to serve as a colonial prison housing political activists and offenders opposing the British rule. Even much before the jail was built, political prisoners were sent to exile to the Andaman archipelago since the great rebellion of 1857. With increase in the number of prisoners sent there, there was a need for a jail to be built. Notable inmates include Batukeshwar Dutt, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Yogendra Shukla among others.
We walked our way to the former prison, which was at a distance of about 1 km from the hotel. There is an entry fee of INR 30 per head. The prison originally had 7 wings with a tower in the centre but today 3 remain after the rest were demolished. The tower, 3 story high, has a bell at the top which served as warning bell and below it was the location where prisoners were executed. Each prisoner was kept in solitary confinement in individual cells, hence the name ‘Cellular’. The cells had small windows and limited space and one can only imagine the plight of the prisoners. We climbed onto the roof of the structure to be greeted with a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Every evening the former prison hosts a son et lumière (light and sound show), a story told by the prison itself that stood witness to the torture the freedom fighter underwent at the Cellular Jail and their determination to overcome it and breathe in a free India. By the end of it, we were moved and with much more gratitude towards our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives in order for us to live freely. There are two shows every evening and it costs INR 50 per head. Get the tickets early in the day else they will be sold to you in black at INR 70-100.
Corbyn’s Cove Beach: Around 7 km from the city centre, Corbyn’s Cove Beach is the nearest beach to Port Blair. It is fringed by coconut palm and the sand is covered with a large number of dead corals. Even though the water is clear and has a beautiful landscape, this is one of the lesser beautiful beached in the archipelago. The beach offers jet ski and motor scooter among other water sports. You can visit Snake Island, situated across the beach, where scuba diving is available.
We reached the beach after dusk and it was lit by green lights. We had a relaxing walk getting our feet wet by the waves and collected some fine corals. Sit on the blue benches overlooking the beach and listen to the calming sound of the waves. We hydrated ourselves on the tender coconuts sold at the beach and checked out a few stalls selling pearls, junk jewelry, hats and souvenirs.
Anthropological Museum: About a kilometer from Arbedeen Bazaar, is the Anthropological Museum that showcases the life and times of the tribes of the Islands. There are 6 native tribes- four Negroid viz, Onges, Sentinelese, Jarawas and Andamanese; and two Mongloid viz, Shompens and Nicobarese. The museum displays various articles like handicrafts, tools, arts and crafts, weapons, boats and clothing that date back to the era of prominence of these native tribes. It goes on to display models of clay and hay to better describe the houses, utensils, ornaments and equipment used by them.
Additional places to see: Checkout Samudrika Museum and Fisheries Museum to see some interesting and colourful marine life. Visit wandoor beach and go snorkeling at the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park to view the corals and rare marine life. Go bird watching at Chidiyatapu and explore water sports at Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex.
Port Blair is beautiful city and it gives a sense of calm with the roads free of traffic. The city is small and you can reach most all locations by foot. Although I would recommend not to undertake any water sports activity at the beaches of Port Blair and look at Havelock Island, Neil Island and North Bay. As said, this is the entry point to the Andamans and the more you explore, the more you will be awestruck.