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Saturday
Mar062010

Mamallapuram to Port Blair (Andaman Islands).

As previously referred, I had rather ‘cocked-up’ my flight to the Andamans. It was scheduled to leave Chennai at 4.15am on Tuesday 23rd February. This meant that I had to be at Chennai Airport by, say, 2.00 am. That, in turn, also meant that I had to leave Mamallapuram by, say midnight, to allow for the 60 kilometre journey. Why, on earth, I didn’t go for the 9.30 flight, I don’t know, but I didn’t.

Suffice to say that my taxi picked me up, in Mamallapuram, at midnight. We had an entirely trouble free journey with the result that I was deposited at Chennai Airport at 1.00am precisely. This was almost exactly 72 hours after I had arrived at the same Chennai Airport, en route from London. At some point, after this trip, I am going to go on Mastermind, and my specialist subject will be ‘Chennai Airport, its environs, ATM’s, taxi drivers, pay toilets, and cigarette smoking areas’. I will win.

After arriving, I discovered that they would not start processing tickets until 3.00am. I could go through the first security check, but I would not be allowed out again. I opted to sit on the pavement, outside, and watch the world go by. I am fairly sure that you can smoke out there. I did, anyway.

Eventually, I started the process of negotiating Chennai airport. Fortunately, I knew about the Indian system whereby you have to get your hold baggage scanned before checking in. What I did not know is that, after checking in, you have to take a tag for your hand baggage. This is not a seal, or anything like that, it is just a simple tag that you tie onto your baggage. It is purely so that security can stamp it after you have passed through the personal and hand baggage screening. Without the tag, they won’t screen you, so I managed to spend quite some time in yet another wasted queue. Incidentally, I will explain something about Indian queues another time.

The two hour flight was uneventful, and I landed at Port Blair, capital of the Andaman Islands, at around 6.30 in the morning. You need an additional permit to visit the Andamans, and this is allocated on arrival, but it does, of course, entail another queue. Armed with the required permit, I left the airport and made Papa’s day.

Permit to visit the Andaman Islands - additional to an Indian Visa

As I was on the early flight (idiot), John had checked his camping guide and found a couple of hotels in Port Blair for me to check out, prior to his arrival at a sensible time. It should be pointed out, at this stage, that you don’t have to find a taxi, or rickshaw at an Indian airport, thousands of them find you. You take your pick from the scrum awaiting you at the exit. In my case, I chose Papa. I don’t suppose he is really called Papa, but they all try to give you a memorable name so that you can remember them. I showed Papa the addresses of the two hotels and ‘negotiated’ a 200 rupee (£3) fee for being taken to them both, and if necessary, back to the first one to check in. Papa was delighted, it turns out that the Port Blair airport is about 20 rupee’s worth of auto-rickshaw ride out of town. In the event, both hotels were fully booked. Well ok, they were either fully booked, or they didn’t like the look of me after spending the whole night travelling. Thus, it was over to Papa to recommend a hotel. It is always fraught with danger asking a rickshaw driver to recommend a hotel – he will have relatives, or at the least ‘associates’ who have hotels, and there will be a kick-back on the money paid. As it happens, Papa came up trumps with the Holiday Resort in Port Blair. It didn’t look much from the outside but they had really made an effort with the rooms. I therefore booked us into ‘The Holiday Resort Hotel’, Prem Nagar, Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

My room at The Holiday Resort, very nice by local standards

By now, I had turned into Papa’s fairy Godfather, so we returned to the airport to collect John from his flight.

In the afternoon we booked the public ferry to Havelock for the next day. This cost 130 rupees each (including OAP discount) for a ‘first class’ seat. The public boat takes between two and a half, and four hours, depending if it calls at Neil Island en route to Havelock.

Then we went to visit the Cellular Jail in Port Blair. The Cellular Jail represents a symbol of some of the more unpleasant aspects of the British occupation of India. If you think about the location of the Andaman Islands, they represent a desirable hiding place to which you can ship dissidents, freedom fighters, and troublemakers from mainland India. So the Cellular Jail was built at Port Blair.

Sign outside the Cellular Jail, Port Blair

Model of the Cellular Jail

Depiction of a flogging at the Cellular Jail. Note that the flogger does not appear to be British - presumably too much like hard work.

A wing of the Cellular Jail

 I don’t know the full facts, and I will research it more when I get home, but it is not a pleasant place and there was undoubted brutality. It is now preserved as a monument to the Indian martyrs who were incarcerated there, many of whom lost their lives through the treatment meted out to them.

Other than that, Port Blair is a small capital town within an Indian Administrative District (Andaman Islands) within the Union Territory of The Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The real power within the A&N Islands, is held by the Commissioner, and it is interesting to note that law enforcement varies from the mainland. The driver of every scooter and motorbike is required to wear a helmet, and does. Not the case on the Indian mainland. Furthermore, the paperwork for checking into a hotel is a nightmare......and the police do check it, regularly. 

 You have been warned! Sign in Port Blair