Port Blair, India

Today, we arrived at our final Indian port, Port Blair.

As we hadn’t been given any escorting duties, we decided to go for a walk. Approaching the main gate, after collecting our shore permits, we passed Raul, the Shore excursions Manager, who was going the other way. ‘I hope you’ve got your metal helmets at the ready’, he said, with a very wry smile on his face. The second the gate opened, to let us out onto the street, we knew exactly what he was on about. We were set upon by an absolute barrage of tuk-tuk drivers, like wild paparrazi, or stock market traders waving their papers about ten people deep… all of these tuk-tuk drivers wore the same brown uniforms and waved their driver permits… every one wanted our business, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Except ‘No’ was our only answer.

We fought our way through the throng (official collective noun… a throng of tuk-tuk drivers) and proceeded to follow the coast road towards the town, accompanied by the constant sound of tuk-tuk drivers stopping and saying ‘hello sir…’ We must have repeated our reply; ‘No Thank you… we’re walking…’ twenty or thirty times, but still they came.

The walk was pleasant enough; the shoreline not so.

To say it was disgusting is a crass understatement. Somewhere beneath the mounds of rotting rubbish, there must have been sandy beaches, and this went on the whole distance. We paused briefly to take photos of a harbour with lots of lovely old rusty ships; Tracey was in her element due to the preponderance of birdlife. Another thing that entertained us was the sight of several cows that wandered freely down the road (and pretty much everywhere). In India, where cows are sacred, they are allowed to do this, and cars and tuk-tuks simply work their way around them patiently.

As we approached the town, we noticed long lines of washing hanging along the side of the busy road. On further inspection, we discovered that this was the laundry; long lines of whites, that were presumably contracted cleaning from local hotels… one wonders how clean they must be by the time they are brought in to fold, after being subjected to all those exhaust fumes.

As we arrived at the town, welcomed by a huge statue of Ghandi, the heavens opened. We sheltered beneath some trees until it passed, rather enjoying how much it cleared the air, and soon discovered that the town of Port Blair is a very colourful, and slightly, manic place, with tuk-tuks flitting around everywhere, slipping into any spaces they can find.

Eventually, after about two hours of walking, we arrived at the quayside, overlooking Ross island. We hadn’t set out with much of a plan; the intention being to simply rest and then take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. That was until a couple from the ship came past, heading towards the ferry, asking if we were going to the island. At the last minute, we decided we perhaps should, and hot-footed it along the quay, in the wake of the couple. When we got to the gate for the quay, however, where the ferry was revving up waiting to leave, we were asked for tickets. When we said that we hadn’t got any, the guard pointed to a building way back… Lucky for us, the guard was in a good mood; he took our 5 dollars (yup, that’s all it cost) and sent a man running for two tickets.

Disembarking the the ferry at the other end (it was only a 15-20 minute ride), we were told by the boatman that they would be back at 1:50pm (it was about 11:45), which gave us a good hour and a half to explore the island.

Before that, though; we were faced with another turnstile, and a woman demanding entrance tickets, which we didn’t have; neither did the other couple from the ship. Luckily for us, the other couple had some local currency, and were able to buy tickets for all four of us. The cost? Another dollar.

Ross Island reminded us very much of Isle Du Salut (Devil’s Island in French Guyana), except this was a British Penal Colony between 1857 and 1942, after which it was captured, and occupied, by the Japanese, until it was recaptured by the Allies in 1945, who later abandoned it. In 1979, it was handed over to the Indian Navy. These days it is a museum where they hold Light and Sound Shows.

Many of the old buildings are almost totally engulfed by tree roots and vegetation, giving them a fantastic elvish look, as if they are straight out of Lord of the Rings. Large numbers of Roe deer wander freely, ground squirrels dart about between the trees, and peacocks holler out their distinctive, plaintive cry. It was all quite fascinating, and over too soon.

We dutifully caught the return ferry at the appointed time and haggled with tuk-tuk drivers, once back on the mainland, over a price for a ride back to the port. We agreed on $2, but happily paid the man $5 for the entertainment value alone.

Sadly; the disgusting state of the beaches, high levels of litter, open sewers by the side of roads, and questionable habits of some of the men we saw, has left me with rather a poor impression of India. The impression disappoints me, and I hadn’t expected to be looking forward so much to leaving it.

Tonight, the clocks go forward 1 hour tonight, putting us 6 hours ahead of UK.