The maiden trip to the Andaman Islands – Chatham Saw Mills

I had no idea, how a rising sun looks like, if seen from a flying aircraft. We have seen sunrises from hilltop, desert, sea-beaches, bank of a river or lake etc., which are eye-pleasing. But, all pre-conceived romance will vanish when you see the first granule of a rising sun while flying high above in an aircraft, which is more bright than a flame. Looking continuously at it may make you blind, at least temporarily.

How did that happen? Let me now put it straight. For many years, I possessed a dream to go to either Andaman or to Lakshadweep. The dream would have been in prolong hibernation, had there not been a thrust from my energetic friend Balai. By default, my love and passion for travelling flow in favour of the Himalayan range. But it is Balai, who compelled me to make continuous enquiry, do the research work and formulate a detail plan for going to Andaman during the last part of January 2019.

But why is Andaman chosen over Lakshadweep?

Here go the reasons. Firstly, Port Blair (the only airport in Andaman) is well connected with Kolkata by many daily direct flights. If the pre-sunrise flight is not convenient for you, there are subsequent flights also. Secondly, a huge population profile of Andaman is Bengali speaking. In fact, Bengali and Tamil – these two languages are widely spoken in Andaman. Knowledge of local language helps a lot when I speak with local people to enquire about many real life issues, which are not available in the net world. The third and most important point is, Andaman is an integral part of our freedom struggle. It bears footprints of many selfless freedom fighters like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Mohan Kishore Namadas, Bhupendra Nath Ghosh and the list goes on.

Andaman is a place, where you can see some fascinating beaches including the world famous Radhanagar beach. At the same time, walking through the corridors of Cellular jail will take you to the past, which you can not afford to miss.

Planning a trip to the Andamans

Keeping all these factors in mind, I made up a detail programme after months of research work and rounds of discussions held with experienced travelers. This was followed by negotiation with various travel operators.

Finally, I selected M/s Andaman Nomads for a 10 night 11 day schedule, as we found that the jointly agreed commercial terms and conditions were mutually beneficial. Mr.Samir Halder (mobile no.9734181784) was host cum co-ordinator for us for the trip. We know that Andaman is placed much away from the main land. Also, I had no previous experience about the place. So, I gave the agency full scope for providing accommodation at all places (AC rooms in hotel/ resort), providing food (B/L/D) everywhere and for providing conveyance (AC tempo traveler / winger for journey by road, ship / speed boat for waterway journey). I think this is the right place to mention here that there is no winter season in Andaman. You need to have the comfort of AC room or AC vehicle whenever you go to Andaman. Even in December or January.

From my personal viewpoint, I would suggest prospective travelers to carry all necessary medicines and currency notes with you. Within Port Blair, medicine shops are plenty but ATMs are not very commonly available. Beyond Port Blair, medicine shops and ATMs are items of rarity. Carrying warm clothes/ jacket etc. to Andaman, even in winter season, is a burden. Carrying power banks for your mobile, more batteries for your DSLR/ movie camera will be a good point. However, getting a stable internet connectivity remains a big headache in that region.

And so began our journey…

DAY 1 – January 1, 2019

At last, after months of waiting, series of preparedness and countless checking & re-checking, our date of start of journey saw light of the day. We made a group of 10 persons. First 4 members caught the 5.40am Air India flight AI-787 from Kolkata airport on 20th January 2019.

Myself and balance 5 members caught flight AI-787 next morning, i.e. on 21st January 2019. Quite purposefully, I booked the left window seat in the 2nd row. After taking off, this seat position helped me to see the magnificent setting moon, which emerged like a giant white globe in the backdrop of dark sky. After a while, the sky slowly started to show morning glory, paving the way for sun rise, which I have mentioned at the top.

From the very first instance, the sun appeared like a flash of a matchstick. Then gradually it took the shape of a fireball. I could not withstand its radiant glory any longer. The view almost made me blind. Therefore, I thought it better to have a bit of nap, before breakfast was served by the airline. Another benefit of the seat position was to have a great view of blue sea, green islands and golden beaches, which mostly appeared on the left side minutes before landing at Port Blair airport.

Our team sitting inside Port Blair bound Air India flight AI-787
The rising Sun looked like a flash of matchstick from the flight

Flight AI-787 landed Port Blair at 7.40 am, 10 minutes before scheduled arrival time. The benefit of reaching early was lost by delayed delivery of luggage. Outside the airport, a representative of Andaman Nomads greeted us and took us straight to Hotel Sunrise. It was a 15 minute journey from the airport. The hotel was situated in Bathu Basti area.

The locality was full of shops, where you can find every items of necessity. A big three-road junction was nearby, which was flooded with traffic even at such early hours. After reaching the hotel, we met with other 4 members of our team who arrived yesterday. We all had refreshment together and started local city tour as per our schedule.

Visit to Chatham Saw-Mill

First, we went to Chatham Saw Mill. The journey from our hotel to Chatham Saw Mill took apprx. 20 minutes by a Tempo Traveller. The mill is situated in Chatham Island which is connected to Port Blair by a 100 meter long bridge. After crossing the bay and entering Chatham Island, gate of the mill came on the right side. The ticket counter stands beside the gate. You just pay a nominal Rs.10 per head and get inside the mill area. The Saw Mill and the museum inside is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 8 am to 14.30 pm.

Welcome to The Chatham Saw Mill

[Chatham Saw Mill was set up in 1883 with the primary objective to meet the local requirements of saw and timber for the constructional works. Being one of the biggest and oldest in Asia, this structure has witnessed a lot of history. The mill obtained raw material from the dense forests which surrounded the Chatham Island, which is now owned by the Government.

Front view of the forest museum

After entering the mill area, a forest museum came on the left side. Entry fee to the museum is Rs.50 per head, which is additionally payable over and above the entry fee paid @Rs.10 per head at the mill gate. The museum is a medium sized godown type single hall, but well decorated, well maintained and above all – very rich in contents.

It has got a great collection of wood based work and carvings; photographs of tribes of Andaman, variety of corals, birds, plantations etc. It also exhibits photographs showing the various phases that the mill had undergone.

Many items of artwork curved out of huge blocks of wood are really astonishing. Anyone who wants to see the museum minutely, will have to devote at least half an hour. It is a place, which none can afford to miss.

A large Hawk curved out of a huge wooden block. Guess the cubic area of the block from which the bird was curved out
Skull of a buffalo displayed in the museum
Map of Chatham island
Please note the range of beautiful wooden items displayed in the museum. From a small spider or Scorpio to a huge Dolphin – all in one place

After coming out of the museum and taking a left turn for going deeper into the mill area, we found a statue of an elephant made of concrete cement. Visitors, especially children were happy to be photographed here. Nearby, there was a memorial called Pillar of the Planet which was told to be established in March 2009 with an aim of commemorating 125 years of forestry in the island.

The crowd puller cemented statue of an elephant placed inside the saw mill area
A memorial cementing the bond between nature and human civilization

In that area, we found an underground bunker situated along the upward slope of the adjacent hilly surface. Our guide told that the bunker was used by the Japanese during World War II. We put on flashlight of our mobile sets, bowed down and tried to get inside the bunker. But we could enter only 10 metres apprx. inside, where it was found sealed with brick wall.

Entrance to the Japanese bunker made during World War II

After coming out of the bunker, we took right turn to get inside the saw mill. It is said that the mill was devastated during World War II by Japanese bombing. The island was then reclaimed after the war and recovery period of the mill was as long as three years. The British also used the mill to process huge amount of timber for London, New York and various other European cities.

It is believed that the crimson walls of Buckingham Palace in London is made from the Padouk wood of the Andaman Islands processed in Chatham Saw Mill. The condition of the mill now is good, at least what we saw. It’s a big mill in fact and specious inside.

We were astonished to see that most of the columns and bars – if not all of them (vertical and horizontal both) are wooden. Our guide navigated us carefully, because firstly, the machines were in operation and secondly, visitors are not allowed to go anywhere as per own sweet wish. The guide carried on educating us about many important facts and details of the mill, which are integral parts of the history of Andaman.

Apart from the machineries, there was a big wooden statue of Lord Vishwakarma curved out of single block of wood. It was really a great place which must not be overlooked by a person visiting Andaman.

Inside the Saw Mill
Finished products are transported out of the Saw Mill

Getting out of the saw mill, we went to a nearby spot, where a bomb was dropped by the Japanese force during World War II. Impact of the bomb was so huge that it created a pit, which can be seen by climbing an upward concrete pathway and stairs made around the pit. The pit was covered by huge trees giving quiet shelter to the entire area.

The bomb pit area

[After visiting all these places, we went to the back end of the saw mill area. There was a walk way going upward along the slope of the hill. We had nice view of the sea and Chatham jetty from that point. We took many group photos at this serene point then bid good bye to Chatham Saw Mill to get back to hotel for having lunch.

View of sea and Chatham jetty from back end of the Saw Mill

Our plan was to visit the Cellular Jail after lunch. In school days we read about this jail in history books. More than that, we heard many inspiring stories from our seniors about our freedom fighters, who were jailed there. So we were eagerly waiting for the jail visit.

…contd. to part-2

8 Comments

  • Bhaskar Sengupta says:

    Thoroughly & beautifully described.Great to read.Eagerly waiting for the next part.

    Bhaskar

    • SANTANU PATHAK says:

      Many thanks Bhaskar for your appreciation and encouragement. This will encourage me to nourish Part-II of the present series in a great way.

  • SANJOY BARUA says:

    The tour description is so beautiful that it feels like I am there! Waiting for the second part.

  • Arun Kumar Patra says:

    Dear Santanuji,
    It’s a fantastic journey to Andamen through pen. The person who has not visited there will be delighted by reading this.
    However I will get more pleasure if it in Bengali.
    Thanks once again for your beautiful writing.
    May God bless you for more journey and similar writing. Waiting for the 2nd part.
    A K Patra

    • SANTANU PATHAK says:

      Thank you Arunda for your kind appreciation, which gives impetus to amateur writers like me. Should keep in mind to write in Bengali in future. One of my school friends also put the same request few years ago when I started writing travelogues in Gumakkar. It appears that I should consider the request seriously now.

  • Sir,
    Nice beginning with detailed information and supporting photographs. Though I have never been to there yet it feels I am along with you.
    Waiting for the next part..

    • SANTANU PATHAK says:

      Dear Naresh ji,
      Thank you for your warm compliments. The next part is in concluding stage and hopefully it is coming shortly. I still think myself lucky to get associated with you and your excellent team during my 2nd Amarnath yatra. Many thanks once again.

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