Mayabunder – Is this the land of illusion (“maya”)? Well, there is illusion everywhere and in every sphere of life. Every human being falls for some or the other illusion. Some say the world is an illusion (“Prithvi ek maya hai”). Then how to discriminate between illusion and reality? Anyway, this was enough of my philosophical nonsense. I have no intention to write this post on such philosophical concepts. On my quest to travel as much of Andaman Islands, I was on my way to Mayabunder (the dock of illusion?).
Travelling north of Port Blair towards Middle and North Andaman, there are many interesting places to cover on the road journey. One of the best parts of the journey is the drive through the Andaman Trunk Road or the NH 4. This highway that runs straight from Chidiyatapu to Mayabunder. That too through the dense area of the Jarawa Reserve forest.
This being the protected area, vehicles move under restrictions, guarded by pilot cars. There are some fixed timings for the movement of the convoy. The first convoy starts at six in the morning from Jirkatang towards the Port Blair side. People travelling for various purpose – be it the local people returning back home after some important work in the headquarters in Port Blair; some office goers who work in various government organisations across the upper part of the island; the fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry to feed the people there and above all a large flocks of tourists.
People mostly target the first convoy to reach their destinations far off. So do the tourist who in their limited time wants to cover more and more of the places. Some go for a day trip to see the Baratang limestone caves, the mangrove forest and the mud volcano. They return by the afternoon convoy back to Port Blair. While the other travels far to cover Rangat, Diglipur and Mayabunder staying at their convenient places and returning back after a day or two.
People starts very early in the morning around 4 am to reach the Jirkatang check post first and get in the queue, so as to take the first ferry. All are in hurry to cross the creek, where a couple of large vessels ferry multiple vehicles up and down the waterway. It is a precalculated timesheet where if one gets a chance in the initial ferries then they could get into the next ferry by a certain time. The rat race runs in this process.
Taking the advantage of this extra long queue, eateries on either side of the road do a good brisk business during the convoy timings. With the passing days the number of shacks increases. As the drivers of the respective tourist vehicles line up the counter to get the permits ready for their passengers, the passengers line up in front of the public toilet and then straight to the eateries. Sharp at six the gate opens. A pilot car with police and forest officers lead the convoy of hundreds of vehicles through the Jarawa Reserve Forest.
This is a long stretch of narrow road winding through the hilly areas of the evergreen rain forest. The cool morning forest breeze lulls me to sleep. The time of the day and forest cover soothes the otherwise day long, hot and humid temperature. Every time I repent my sleep during my drive through this road. But can not prevent my heavy tired eyelids to close. They rebel against my will to rest after their half night long duty for the preparation to leave at four in the morning.
All of a sudden our driver said: “look on your right”. And my sleepy eyes opened wide to see a smiling middle aged Jarawa man. Wearing mere white painting on his face and entire body, he sat by the road. He had a stoned expression on his face with a wide grin on his black toothed mouth. The vehicles silently passed by. By order no vehicles are allowed to stop on this route, no photography, no disturbance to the resident Jarwas, no offering food, no loud music and driving in a definite speed level.
All these measures are taken to prevent the Jarwas from the ill influence of the outside world. In recent past, there were many reported incidents claiming Jarawa people are being used as a tool to do unlawful activities. Outlaws use narcotics, alcohol and various other items to entice them and get them addicted. In this way, they come into contact with various diseases and infections that were yet unknown to them. Restrictions are also implemented to respect their identity.
Many tourists on seeing any individual from the tribe, are seen to react in a way that they have encountered some animal in the wild. Forgetting the fact that they are human beings just like any of us. Thus in their excitement does many activities which are hostile to the Jarwas. They may be different from us but they need their own space and deserve respect too.
We did encounter another group of Jarawas on our return trip through this road. This time they were all dressed in colourful Hawaii shirts. Must have been provided to them by the Tribal Welfare workers who work for their betterment and conservation. They were travelling on a lorry and had flower garlands on their head and neck. Probably heading to some marriage within their group in a far off settlement from their own.
Here comes some insight from our driver. Although the genuinity has not been verified. He said that the Jarwas generally celebrate after having a meal of wild boar. Which is considered to be delicacy as they primarily depend on deer as their primary meat source. Then they apply the oil on their body and then paint their body.
They are aware of the vehicle timings in their own ways and in the case of travelling far they stop the lorries on this road and board the vehicle. On reaching their destination they bang the sides as a signal to the driver to stop. Thus they travel from one settlement to another that is far.
On reaching the Nilambur Jetty at Middle Strait, we were again in the queue for the vessel to ferry us across the strait. There were vast stretches of mangrove forest on either side of the Jetty. The temperature was soaring so was the humidity. But the sea breeze did bring some relief. The passengers of the vehicles stand on the upper deck of the vessel while the vehicles get loaded to cover its total area of the lower deck.
The other side is the Baratang. Here multiple small speed boats are available to take the tourist to the limestone caves and the mangrove forest. There is another major attraction here – the parrot island. My Baratang stories are to come in a separate post. So now from Baratang, we hit the roads again to reach another waterway to cross. Here no more rush as it was in the previous. There are regular ferries throughout the day carrying vehicles and passenger across the waterbody.
The other side was the Uttara jetty in Kadamtala area. Now we headed straight to Rangat. Sometimes passing through the forest, then some cultivated land and then we were by the sea to reach the beautiful calm crowd-free beach named Amrakunj in Rangat. This pristine beach has some eco huts and a few log structures named after the local variety of flora and fauna.
I wished to spend some more time here but we had a long way to go. Then again on the roads. Now it was mostly through the forested area to reach the Morice Dera. This was again a lonely rocky beach with some remnants of landscape gardening done some time ago to promote tourism. The remains seemed to be appealing. I wish they were maintained well. We were the only visitors to disturb a local couple spending some private time in the wilderness.
A very special destination was awaiting us. Little did I know that I was on a way to such an amazing halt. Approximately a kilometre long nature walk through the wooden platform made above the exposed roots of the thick mangrove forest. This leads to a serene long white sand beach. It was the famous Dhani Nallah Mangrove Nature Walkway. The beach is also known as turtle breeding ground. The breeding season is from January end to February.
The exciting walk through the wooden bridge on a variety of thick root undergrowth was a memorable part. There was different types of mangrove trees some known while mostly unknown. They were neatly marked with their common and scientific names. There were boards with many information regarding mangrove forest and its importance. The long bridge also had log shades for people to sit and relax. They were named after various birds found in this region.
We were lucky enough to see a few on our lonely lovely walk. This mangrove ecosystem is home to many species of wildlife ranging from crustacean to avian. This was an insightful walk through the greens to reach the large forest area which led to the calm sea with white sandy shores. This is an ideal destination for turtle nesting. The breeding season offers a feast to the eyes with baby turtles swarming towards the sea.
Thus ending the Rangat episode to get on the roads again through mostly cultivable lands and forested areas to reach the far off, beautiful and the small little town of Mayabunder. Our stay there was itself a destination. I would consider it as one of my best and memorable stays till date. The story of my stay is yet to come in my next post. (Read the stories of my stay in Mayabunder.)