12thDec being the last day for us in the Island, we decided to take it easy and spend time browsing the downtown museums and shops. Our first stop was Sagarika Emporium, an Andaman Government enterprise located on MG Road. This was the best place to browse through hundreds of locally made artefacts. The place was divided into two parts within the same complex; towards the right was the handicrafts and trinkets section with sea shell products while one on the right side of the entrance was the khadi section displaying garments and artefacts connected with khadi development. As we walked into to the large hall of the emporium, we were greeted by rows upon rows of sea shell items neatly stacked in showcases. There were conches of multiple sizes, shapes and colour all over the place that was very pleasing to the eyes. There was fine sea shells’ jewellery that ranged from ear rings, nose rings, bangles and bracelets to pendants. Prominent in the show cases were also the miniature wooden doll like statuettes of primitive Andamanese people holding spears, bows and arrows. I also noticed small statues of Gods, shields with decorations, trinket boxes, table lamps and walking sticks, all made of local island material. The place was swarming with enthusiastic tourists busy choosing, rejecting, buying and browsing more. The cash counters were crowded with people lined to pay and collect their items. Sometimes back I had learnt that a left hander conch is unique and auspicious and here I was admiring some beautiful pieces on display. I chose a small handy one along with few sea shell bracelets and paid for it at the crowded counter. When the gang members finished, we called for the vehicle to leave for the next destination, the Naval Museum.
The next port of call was Andaman’s famous Samudrika Naval Marine Museum, run by the Indian Navy. Located opposite Andaman Teal House in Delanipur, the museum is guarded by imposing gates with Naval Insignias. It was an unexpected and surprise welcome by the awesome, larger than life shining white skeleton of a Blue Whale that stood in a glass case at the centre of the small lawn in front of the building. Standing over a pedestal, its head facing the front entrance the giant skeleton looked out of a prehistoric Jurassic Park. An explanatory board described the situation under which the gentle giant mammal had found its way to the Coast of Kamorta Island. The writing on the board further explained that the whale may have been beached due to bio magnetic navigational syndrome which occurs where a geomagnetic field crosses the coast at right angles. The museum by itself was as neat and as well laid out as any military institution of the country. The displays were neatly and logically arranged in show cases with good lighting and background history of the items that represented the vast marine life of the island. Interestingly, there was a separate room for multiple verities of corrals of different sizes, shapes and colours. There were Brain Corral, Mushroom Corral, Finger Corral, Organ Pipe Corral, Interlocking Branching Corral, Basket Corral, Table Corral and more. The pieces appeared to be from another world that almost represented alien life. Another room displayed different types of fish and other marine life. There was an interesting room dedicated to the indigenous people of Andaman where life size statues of Andamanese in their natural habitat were displayed in a very authentic manner. As we moved on to the next room it was sad to see the mortal remains of a giant Hawksbill Turtle family that had found their way to the museum after being trapped and killed by poachers. In a moving first-person account of their tragic tale written on a board, the head of the family, the father turtle describes their ordeal when they fell prey to poachers’ greed while on their way from the coast of Philippines to their nestling site in the Andaman Island. The turtle further explained that at the time of death his weight was 85 kg while the weights of his wife and only child were 60 kg and 30 kg each. The explanatory board further added that the bodies of these three turtles were recovered by an Indian Naval ship of the Andaman Nicobar Command from a foreign fishing trawler engaged in illegal poaching.
The last room was a small handicraft shop selling an array of sea shell artefacts and handicrafts. I bought a small lantern that had an intricate wax design representing aqua life. Finally, we exited and left for the last destination of the day, the Government sawmill.
Organ Pipe Corral
Government Saw Mill
Browsing for places of interest in Port Blaire, I was surprised to find a saw mill listed as one of the important land marks of the island. Upon further study it was revealed that this is no ordinary saw mill. Established in 1883 by the British occupiers, the mill located in Chatham Island was called Chatham Saw Mill and is the oldest and the biggest saw mill in Asia. Drawn perhaps, by the greed of teak and other precious trees available in the virgin tropical island, the British decided to establish this saw mill for their construction works in the island and to take the precious timber to mainland India as also back home to England. During the 2ndWW the island was captured by the Japanese and the Mill had to go through much destruction due to bombardment. After the war the Japanese surrendered and the British regained the island but it was not before another three years that the mill would start production again. Having survived the ordeals and upheavals of the history of the island it is now under the control and being run by the Department of Forests, Government of Andaman Nicobar, hence called Government Saw Mill. I wish they had continued with the original name, but then who can beat the politico-beurocractic logic.
We had to buy an entry ticket at the entrance gate that was Rs 20 per adult. Local guides were available for Rs 50 and we took one for the ease of systematic access to the mill along a logical route. We saw the entire process of the mill from the time fresh trees are brought and cut into pieces of logs and further sawed into planks of required dimensions. Systematically laid out, the mill had an internal rail system for transportation within the premises and the entire process was mechanical. Another attraction within the mill was the Forest Museum, also run by the forest department that exhibited an assortment of wooden artefacts with intricate designs showcasing the talent of the local craftsmen. Our guide explained that the mill collects various types of trees such as Paduak, Marble, Satin and Timber from the Chatham Forest of the island to be converted into fine wood raw materials. He also told us that the mill provides employment to about 800 islanders and processes nearly 20,000 logs a year. We came across student groups and many other tourist groups being conducted around the mill.
The finale of our Andaman visit was a well organised farewell dinner for us, on the 12th, laid out in the beautiful lawns of the officer’s mess. We took the flight back home on the morning of 13Dec 2018.However, before departure we committed to each other for the next trip in 2019 to another interesting destination, hopefully with an increased strength of gangmembers!!
It was a visit par-excellence where-in we got to experience unspoilt nature, clean and pristine beaches, sailing over clear turquoise blue waters, the heavenly world of marine life, the awesome corrals and above all the famous, notorious and now nostalgic cellular jail, all in the company of dearest lifelong comrades. Thank you, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and your primitive and modern inhabitants!