Baratang Island – Of mangrove creeks, limestone caves and human safari

It’s 17th of September 2015. I wake up in this damp room to the sound of the pouring rain on the tinned roof at Eco Palm Resort, Port Blair, with my best friend beside me. I hear an occasional roaring sound of distant thunder and it seems to be coming closer. I sigh. My mind then traces back to a night ago when I was in my all too familiar bed of my one bedroom apartment in Chennai. It all still seems so unreal, I think to myself. It’s still raining heavily and I wish the rain would stop, but I know there isn’t any stopping this heavy monsoon rain. I just pray that it won’t play spoilsport today. I check the time. It’s 2 am. And after a few more minutes of contemplating a fraction of my life gazing at the ceiling fan, I finally get up and get fresh for the day.

We needed to be at the reception by 3.30 am, we were told the previous night by our hotel manager. We both pack our backpacks and get all our essentials ready for the long day ahead. I manage to get some 2G airtel network in my phone as we hop into the cab that will take us to Middle Strait Jetty. I hastily manage to post an Instagram update and send a few pictures across some other part of the world. ‘Instagram addiction’ my friend refers to me as we both set off on our first ‘Island Hopping’ journey in the Andamans.


Getting to Barating Island : Located at a distance of ย around 90-100 kms from Port Blair, there are different modes of transport including government buses, AC and non AC tours and travels buses as well as private vehicles to get to the Middle Straight Jetty. From here, a ferry takes you to Baratang jetty in 15 minutes from which you get a speedboat ride to the creeks in Baratang island. We spent a huge amount on hiring a private vehicle, something which could have been planned better had we known the days on which other islands were opened and closed and had we not made this big mistake of booking two nights’ stay at Havelock island in between two “two nights’stays ” in Port Blair. But that’s okay we all learn through our mistakes. We only had this day to explore Baratang island so we went ahead with the private vehicle.


I sleep in the cab for most of our early morning ride in the dark until the time when my sleep is interrupted by the call of nature. I’m glad that the cab finally comes to a halt.

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Vehicles plying on the Andaman Trunk Road waiting for the gates to openย 

 

I lazily set out my gaze outside the cab window and then to my surprise, I see a hundred other vehicles plying on the road. Thanks to google and the research we had done before the trip, I get to know I’m at the Andaman Trunk Road.

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Breakfast at the roadside dhaba – garam garam chai and puri

We get out of the cab for a quick early morning delicious breakfast of hot-hot puri and chai at a roadside dhaba at Jirkatang Police Check-post. I see a public toilet in sight and I heave a sigh of relief.

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Strolling around the Jirkatang Police Check-post area. You can see the temple opposite to the check-post in the right corner of the picture.
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At the temple near the Jirkatang Police Check-post

 

We walk around the place as we have 45 odd minutes before the gates finally open for the first convoy to enter the Jarawah Reserve forest area. We stroll around and take few pictures of the temple opposite to the checkpost.

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The police convoy that guards the vehicles once the gates are open at Jirkatang police check-post.

 

An announcement which instructs all passengers to have their passports, addresses and licenses ready at all times forbidding people from taking photos and recording videos, giving biscuits or any kind of clothing to the Jarawas, is made with a warning which says whoever disregards these regulations will be considered in a judicial process and sentenced in court. And then finally the gates open and we drive through the gates into the reserve forest area.

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This was taken by my friend after passing the Jarawa Forest Reserve Area on our way back after the long day. Photography, I was told, was strictly not allowed in this area so I carefully kept the camera tucked away in a corner in my bag.

My first impression of the forests was that of ‘I’ve never seen a more beautiful forest area’.Lush green huge tall trees on both sides of the road, evergreen moist deciduous forests, mangrove forests with large perennial freshwater streams cutting through them – this stretch of 49 kms till the Middle Strait Jetty was one beautiful sight. I fall asleep in between and I’m awaken by my cab driver who tells me ‘ Mam, the jarawa on the right’

I open my eyes quickly and manage to catch a glimpse of the last surviving members of probably one of the most ancient people in the world. We continue driving at the maximum speed limit of 40 kms without a halt anywhere and I occasionally notice members of the Jarawa tribes as we go deeper into the forests. A jarawa boy manages to scare me as he shouts from the roadside with his bow and arrow. I must have noticed around 8,9 of them during the journey. Finally we reach the Middle Strait jetty.

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Middle Strait jetty
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Two men in deep conversation at Middle strait Jetty as we wait for the vehicle ferry

It’s still raining but the rains didn’t dampen my spirit. I maneuver my way to the edge of the jetty and soak myself in the serenity of the view that lay in front of me. I take out my camera and capture few more moments of the day despite the rain. The jetty becomes crowded with the locals and tourists flocking in. My friend makes a conversation with a college kid who invites us to her place the next time we would visit the islands. I smile. I find the locals very kind and polite, I say this to myself.

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From the vehicle ferry that took us to Baratang Jetty
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Finally after 15-20 minutes of ride in the vehicle ferry, we reach the Baratang Jetty. The top floor of the building you see in the picture is also where we had our meal of rice, dal and gobi sabzi on our way back

And then it takes us all of 15 minutes to get us across to Baratang jetty where our speedboat is waiting for us for a ride into the sea through the mangrove creeks to Baratang island. I’m excited beyond words as we share the speedboat with one other family of three.

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View from middle Strait Jetty

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We take a rain drenched speedboat ride in the vast expanse of the sea occasionally coming across isolated small islands with mangrove forests on both sides of the sea. I’m taking a video of the ride on my samsung galaxy S3 and I happily conclude it as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience only to find out later that the video recording had stopped seconds later without me realizing so that I was left with no pictures or videos of the amazing ride.

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Of creeks infested with salt water crocodiles

The speedboat slowly cruises ย along the creek. We then get down at the island and make our way to the limestone caves through beautiful green fields and forests and muddy trails and steps in the rains and from this moment on, I realize that it is the journey (all throughout till the actual limestone caves) that makes a visit to Baratang island worthwhile much more than the destination itself.

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The rain drenched speedboat ride
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Mangrove creeks
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Making our way towards the caves
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I imagined staying in this hut in for a night in this isolated island amidst creeks infested with salt water crocodiles ๐Ÿ˜€

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Amidst the monsoon rain!
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Exploring the limestone caves at Baratang Island
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The Limestones caves at Baratang Island – After years of deposition
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There is something of the marvelous in all things of nature – Aristotle

I lose myself in thoughts about staying at the island and exploring the little known places around wondering what lies in those isolated islands much like discoverers chancing upon unknown lands and of creeks infested with salt water crocodiles. Perhaps, the next time, I tell myself, with better planning, a more flexible budget and a longer duration of stay in Andaman so that a stay at this island could be included and not the one day trip from Port Blair and maybe explore Parrot island and the lesser known beaches at this island, perhaps the next time!

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On our way back to Port Blair

We return back to Middle Strait Jetty, enjoy a meal of rice, dal and gobi sabzi at the restaurant at the jetty. We stroll around the place waiting for our cab driver and decide to skip a visit to the mud volcanoes, a decision I still don’t know , was the right one, cause we never saw.

We hop back into the cab and as we take the same ride back to our resort in Port Blair, with memories of a long day, I fall into a deep slumber.

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Way back from the Middle Strait Jetty

And as much I enjoyed my journey to the Baratang island and would love to recommend anyone going there to pay a visit to the island, I can’t help feeling a little guilty for having been part of the much debated human safari through the Jarawa reserve forest area. There are only 400 odd last surviving Jarawa tribes. Isn’t it high time the Government of India did something about the Grand trunk road passing directly through their original settlement?

For more insights into the Jarawa you could refer this link below. Source of the link : Internet

The Jarawas

 

 


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