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Old 10th October 2009, 17:22   #16
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Lightbulb 19th Sep 2009 - Chennai to Port Blair & Ross Island.

'Shake'... 'shhaaake'.. 'shake'... 'Slap!!'... What is going on? Why am I shaking?? Is it an earthquake??? and what is that noise in the background ??!! and why is Sangeetha slapping me???...

It took me a few minutes to come out of my stupor and realize that the phone was ringing and Sangeetha was trying to wake me up.

The taxi guy had come in a little ahead of time and was calling up for directions; so there we were, wide awake at 2.00am. No point in trying to sleep anymore.

Freshened up, had some porridge and made sure that we were carrying the correct bags for the Andaman leg of our trip.

'Tickets' - Check!; 'Cash & Cards' - Check!; 'Photo IDs' - Check! and off we went to the airport.

Not much of a crowd at that time of the day. Quickly completed the security and check-in formalities and settled down for the boarding call...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-001.jpg


We would be Mr.Mallya's guests for the next couple of hours...

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All set! Andamans... here we come :-) Though the 'Time to destination says 1hr:36mins, the flight takes around 2 hours from takeoff to landing.

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The first rays of dawn, lighting up the clouds...

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I was busily clicking away... 100s of cloud pics!

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Are we there yet? Nope... another 40 minutes or so to go.

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Finally the plane started descending and we were eagerly looking out of the window... and caught our first glimpse of the Andaman Islands.

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Landed at Port Blair by around 7.00am. Stepping out of the air-conditioned plane, we were greeted by the hot breeze. The outside temperature was at around 29 degrees centigrade, with very high humidity. Got our luggage and came out of the airport to catch an auto to the hotel.

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Not a bad place, no lift to the upper floors though. There are several other better hotels around, but given that we just needed a place to crash at night, it served the purpose.

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-013.jpg


The room came with a weird request...
"You had booked non-AC room, but all non-AC rooms are full, so I'll give you an AC room, but please don't switch on the AC."
"Boss, I had booked almost a month in advance... what do you mean no non-AC rooms? Anyway, will the windows open out? Or are they shut because it is an AC room??"
"No, no... Windows will open..."
"@#$%&... ok, let us not waste time, just show us the room..."

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A view from the hotel window...

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We freshened up quickly and headed out to see Port Blair. We would have the entire day here + almost half a day on the 23rd when we returned from Havelock.

Well, Port Blair made us feel right at home! Autos standing in a queue... refusing to come to where you want to go... it was as if we had never left Bangalore... :-)

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But first things first; we had to go to the Phoenix Bay Harbor to book ferry-ship tickets to Havelock island for the next day. Reached there by around 9.30am and lo & behold, we were again reminded that we were very much in India!

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-017.jpg


Only Government ships ply between PB & Havelock, so typical scenario similar to a railway station.
- A big queue at the booking counter;
- managed to get info that we needed to fill up reservation forms;
- searched around and finally found the forms to be filled;
- filled in the forms and stood in the queue for a while till someone told us that we needed Xerox copies of photo-ID cards;
- grumbling about why the hell don't they put up clear instructions, I step out of the queue complex to find a Xerox machine, only to be told that the nearest one is in the bazaar area, a couple of kms away;
- I walk out of the harbor area to find an auto to go to the Bazaar area, but no autos around;
- While I am outside the harbor, Sangeetha was still in the queue, trying to see if we could get tickets without the Xerox copies.
- She finally reaches the ticket counter and calls me on my mobile

“Come back... forget about the Xerox copies... there are no tickets available till the 24th!"
"Whaaatttt???... how can that be? There have to be some tickets on some ship at least?"
"This guy is saying absolutely no tickets till 24th"
"What about alternatives?"
"This guy is not being helpful..."
"Ok... forget it, we'll figure out something"

We caught hold of a security person at the harbor entrance and explained our predicament and asked him if there are private boats to Havelock..."No. But... you can come to the harbor tomorrow morning and talk to the ship crew, they'll let you board for a small fee or 'standing tickets'".

Ok, while that was the last option, we decided to try and get some confirmed seats on the ferry. A couple of calls to the resort offices and we were put in touch with an 'Agent'; who assured us confirmed tickets on the ferry at Rs.400/- per head (Normally they cost Rs.260 per head.) He asked us to be at the jetty by around 5.30am the next morning.

With the tickets taken care of, we headed off to see Port Blair. First stop was at the Rajiv Gandhi Water sports complex, from where we caught a ferry to Ross Island.

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While we waited for the ferry to depart, we saw some schools of fish swimming around in the clear waters...

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And we were wondering about how fast the weather seems to change on the Andamans; one moment it will be bright and sunny...

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And the next moment it will be raining cats and dogs...

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Ross Island is just a couple of 100 meters away from mainland and takes around 20 minutes to reach...

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It is essentially a very small island and about 2 hours is good enough to see the place...

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Some relics from the time of the Japanese occupation...

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A shop / store from the British days...

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You'll find deer and geese wandering around on the island...

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The USP of Ross Island are the tree covered buildings all over the place. A text-book example of nature reclaiming its own space...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-028.jpg

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'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-030.jpg


Contd...
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Old 10th October 2009, 18:22   #17
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Lightbulb 19th Sep 2009 - Port Blair & Ross Island Contd...

Some of the buildings were destroyed by an earthquake in 1941 and others were abandoned in the 1940's; subsequent cyclones and the recent tsunami also have taken their toll...

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I was fascinated by these huge iron boilers. They are the remains of a water distillation plant from the late 1800s / early 1900s...

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We walked around the place for a couple of hours...

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Remains of a church...

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The bell-tower...

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We were still wandering around when we heard the horn from the ferry announcing departure back to mainland. If we missed the ferry, we would have to wait for another hour on Ross. So we ran all the way to the jetty and headed back to PB...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-040.jpg


Next we walked over to the 'Marine Museum' which is right across the water-sports complex. Having seen aquariums and museums in other countries, we went in with some expectations. First thing we saw was a 'No photography allowed' notice. "Oh... there must be some national secrets hidden inside "

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The guard was keenly watching us to ensure that our cameras stay inside the bags. Now, the irony was that even if they had allowed photography, I wouldn’t have wasted any major battery time in the museum. 95% of the exhibits are dead specimens preserved with formalin inside dusty laboratory specimen jars. (See pic below to get an idea.)

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So what was the 'No photography' rule all about? Reminded me of a joke about a drunken Russian thrown into prison for calling Brezhnev an idiot. He was charged on two counts - one for being drunk in public and the other was for revealing a state secret. The secret in this case is that this place is not worth the visit...

It was a little past 1.00pm and all the walking around had made us quite hungry.

"Let us find a restaurant to have lunch and then we can go to the Cellular jail"
"Ok, but I don’t remember seeing any restaurants on this road..."
"Hmmm... let us walk up to that road and see if there is anything around"

So we walked up the steps to reach the parallel road higher up on the hillside and there was this familiar looking building in front of us...
"Hey!!! Isn’t this the Cellular jail?"
"Looks like it is!"
"I did not realize that we were so close to this place!"

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Walked up to the gate and asked someone there about the visiting hours... the jail was closed for lunch break and the guy gave us directions to a nearby restaurant. We walked over to that place for a leisurely lunch and returned back to the Cellular jail.

Statues of some of the martyrs tortured and killed in the cellular jail...

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A route guide for the jail...

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A hall in the admin building has a small collection of photos of artifacts associated with Subhash Chandra Bose. This was apparently a car used by him when he visited the Andamans.

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The cellular jail originally had 7 wings or spokes around the central tower. The name, "cellular jail", was derived from the fact that unlike normal prisons where there are dormitories; here all the prisoners were in solitary confinement. The cells were designed to minimize or prevent communication between the prisoners.

Two wings were demolished by the Japanese, probably to use the material for their own fortifications and buildings. Another two wings of the Jail were demolished after India achieved independence. However, this led to protests from several former prisoners and political leaders and the remaining three wings and the central tower were converted into a National Memorial in 1969.

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A view of the jail though a window in the admin complex...

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Some exhibits...

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The main courtyard...

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The gallows...

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Nothing much can be seen from the ventilators; other than the brick walls or the sky above...

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One exhibit was a news paper from 15th Aug 1947. See the ad on the first page by Hindustan Motors?

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"Oye… let me out! I really wasn’t looking at the Air-hostess on the flight! "

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More pics...

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We came out of the jail after a while and decided to hang around to watch the 'sound and light show'. We walked into the park in front of the jail to kill some time.

Shortly thereafter, I and Sangeetha were looking at each other, with blinking eyes and trying hard to hold back the tears...

Why? Were we emotionally moved by the cellular jail?? Were we missing home??? Well...

While waiting for the Sound-n-light show, we ate what turned out to be the 'hottest masala puri in the planet'... leaving us with watering eyes and burning throats... "Forget Kala-pani, let us go find some Nariyal-pani!"

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-057.jpg


The 'Sound and light show' was a disappointment of sorts. Slow and depressing. ‘Bling’ a light comes on one side and Om Puri drones on about he being some tree and stuff… and then comes some inane song… followed by more droning from Om Puri and co...

"Chalo, let us escape from this torture" I said, turning towards Sangeetha; only to see that she was already running away!

Went back to the Aberdeen Bazaar area, had dinner in a restaurant and walked around for a while. Port Blair by itself is quintessentially an Indian town, same traffic, and same scenes.

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"Let us get back to the hotel and call it a night. We have to reach the port at 5.30am to catch the ship to Havelock"
"Auto... Auuutooo"
"Deaf Morons..."
"AAAUUUTTTTOOOOO!!!"

Last edited by hotstuff : 10th October 2009 at 18:38. Reason: Shpelling mistik
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Old 10th October 2009, 21:19   #18
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Lightbulb 20th Sep 2009 - Havelock Island.

The previous evening we had argued with the hotel guy that since we were not using the airport transfer (Included in the package.) he should arrange for a drop to the harbor instead. After some hemming and hawing, he finally agreed.

As promised, there was a cab waiting for us in the morning and the harbor was just a few minutes away. Walked over to where the ferries were berthed and called up the 'Agent'. We caught up with him near the Chouldari, money was handed over and tickets were procured.

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-001.jpg


The tickets were in the name of a Mr. & Mrs. Ashwin, but no ID proof was sought and we walked onboard.

Later when I was looking into the time of issue of the tickets, they were confirmed tickets, issued at 10.30am on the 19th, a few minutes after we had spoken to the agent. We had been at the counter at around 9.30am and were told that there were 'absolutely no tickets available...’ so where did these confirmed tickets materialize from?

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-002.jpg


Apparently, this is an organized racket involving the booking counter guys, the 'agents' and the ship crew.

- The booking counter guys will issue a few tickets and then start off their 'no tickets' story.
- Tourists who need to reach Havelock will ask around for options, only to be pointed towards the agents... who will sell the tickets at a premium; with the booking counter guys and the crew getting their cut. (For turning a blind eye to the ID requirements at the time of boarding).
- Those that just walk into the jetty before the sailing time are allowed onboard by the crew on payment of a fee or the so called 'standing ticket'.

Welcome to India... :-)


We dumped our bags on the seats and headed up to the top deck. Other than locals who travel on this route regularly, everyone else prefers to be on the top deck...

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Soon the horn was sounded and we headed towards Havelock Island...

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We came across some amazing sights around us while sailing past the isles...

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We walked all around exploring the ship...

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Even though there are GPS devices, a depth sounder and other electronic navigational aids onboard, the crew was still manually cross-verifying the details with the depth charts...

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Soon we reached Havelock and it was a beautiful sight!

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We got off the ship and caught an auto to reach our resort. One of the few fuel bunks on the island...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-013.jpg


We reached the resort after a scenic drive, checked in and were shown our home for the next two days...

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Only problem I saw with this 'shower with a skylight'; what if a coconut decides to drop in from the tree above when I am in the shower?

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Unpacked, freshened up, had a quick breakfast and asked at the front office about the itinerary for the day.

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We decided that today we'll go kayaking... tomorrow we'll go snorkeling and the day after we go scuba diving. A logical progression... first above the surface, then on the surface, and finally under the surface

"What are the charges?"
"1500 per single person Kayak."
"For how long?"
"Oh... for half a day"
"How far can we go"
"Well, you can go up to the light house near Elephant beach and around the mangroves..."
"Ok, we'll take it"

After getting used to the Kayak in the shallow waters, Sangeetha was swiftly rowing away into the clear blue seas...

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Ok.. ok.. Control Yaar!

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Huffing and puffing, I followed her around...

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It was good fun, trying to have an impromptu race... navigating our way around the channels in the mangroves...

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It was only after a while that we realized that 'Half a day' was a very optimistic offer... within an hour we were baking in the sun and after a couple of hours our arms were aching!

Gyan for the day..."The further you row away, the more you have to row back..."

Slowly we rowed back to the jetty beach, returned the Kayaks and got into the cab back to the resort.

Enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the restaurant, freshened up and headed towards the Radhanagar beach, which is just around 100 meters from the resort...

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With just around 5 - 6 people on the beach which stretches across a couple of kilometers, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves...

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Played in the water till it was dark and then walked back to the resort to grab dinner and curl up with a book. [There are no TVs in the resort... they do have a small collection of books though.]

We were asked to be ready by 7.30am the next day and a cab would be ready to take us snorkeling.

Sangeetha - "Good night..."
Me - "Snore... snooorrrreeee..."
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Old 11th October 2009, 23:09   #19
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Lightbulb 21st Sep 2009 - Havelock Island.

It dawns quite early on the Andamans. A quick glance at a time-zone map shows that AN is actually in the GMT+6.30 zone, but as a part of India, the clocks are set to GMT+5.30.

Woke up quite early and went out for a chai and a stroll on the beach. No chance of catching the sunset, the sun was up long before we were... and the skies were overcast too.

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-001.jpg


Playing with my new toy

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True to what we had read and heard, it is a very very clean beach. The stuff that you see on the sands is just sea-weed that washes up onto the shore. I had read in a couple of places about this beach being mentioned in the Time magazine as the "Best Beach in Asia" in 2004...

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After a while it started to rain. Packed up our cameras and ran back to the restaurant to finish breakfast.

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A hermit crab walking across a fallen tree...

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At 7.30am sharp, there was a cab waiting to take us for our snorkeling trip. We were joined by another couple who were on their honeymoon...

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The 'Dunghi' boat first took us to Elephant beach, past the light house. The snorkeling trip was a half day event. Around 1.5 hours in the waters around Elephant beach and later followed by an hour or so around the light house area.

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The waters around Elephant beach are clear and have great corals + lots of multi-colored fish...

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Don’t go by the color of the waters in this pic. It got muddied up by all the walking around with the swim-fins on...

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A few minutes of practice with the snorkel gear in the shallows and we started venturing out into the deeper waters...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-010.jpg


The guys on the boat stationed themselves a little further away to keep an eye on any other passing boats...

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Snorkeled for about an hour or so before getting back onto the boat to head towards the light-house area...

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After another hour of chasing fish around, it was time to head back...

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A quick shower and we were feeling quite hungry!
"Let us hire out a bike and have lunch in one of the other places on the island"
"Ok"

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The resort has a bunch of Honda Activas readily available and they rent them out for Rs.350 per day. We hired one out for half a day and headed out towards the main market / jetty area. We had come across this new looking restaurant earlier, decided to grab something to eat there...

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The bike had a liter of petrol when we started and I optimistically put in another couple of liters. 2 liters turned out to be an overkill since the total road network on the island adds up to between 20 to 25kms...

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First we headed down towards the Kalapathar village road, to Barefoot Scuba, where we were scheduled for a half day package the next day...

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Walked around the place looking at all the fancy equipment...

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Walked around on the beach next door; where the waters had receded considerably due to the low tide...

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They have some accommodation facilities here too, meant for people taking up the longer duration diving packages...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-023.jpg


And mini shacks / huts, for Rs.100 per night, which are quite popular with the foreign backpackers...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-024.jpg


Stopped for chai at this errr... Powerful restaurant?!

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-025.jpg


Headed down the road, stopping at the beaches along the way...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-026.jpg


The road winds through the paddy fields and the forests...

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There are quite a few resorts of all sizes dotting this road...

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A game of football was going on in a village playground...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-029.jpg


Contd…
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Old 11th October 2009, 23:18   #20
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Lightbulb 21st Sep 2009 - Havelock Island. Contd...

After a while, we headed back towards the resort, with a plan to catch the sunset on the beach…

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-030.jpg


'Rajan', the swimming elephant...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-031.jpg


Parked the bike and headed out to the beach through the forest patch that separates the beach and the resort...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-032.jpg


Hmmm... We had missed the sunset by a few minutes. Nevertheless, it was a lovely time for a walk on the beach...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-033.jpg

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A hermit crab...

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We strolled around till the last light of the day faded away...

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-037.jpg


An early dinner and we shut down for the day, feeling all excited and looking forward to our first scuba dive the next day.

'Xing'ing around ! - Andaman & Nicobar and Tamilnadu.-038.jpg


Goodnight!
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Old 12th October 2009, 00:17   #21
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Nice Xinging. Waiting for more info.
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Old 12th October 2009, 05:32   #22
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Excellent pics Hotstuff, So did you obey the receptionist or used the AC?
Must say I beached are indeed wonderful. I need to visit there at least once to experience it.

Abhi
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Old 12th October 2009, 12:21   #23
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Great Travelogue. I always wanted to visit Andaman but some how did not materialize till now. Your detailed explanation is definitely a ready reckoner for the travelers wanting to visiting Andaman.

Fantastic photographs and narration. Keep it going.
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Old 12th October 2009, 12:43   #24
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I gotta plan a trip for Andamans. The clear blue water looks so inviting. Thanks for the wonderful travelogue hotstuff.

Do you have to know how to swim to experience snorkelling or scuba diving or is the life jacket enough to keep you afloat??
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Old 12th October 2009, 12:44   #25
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Tickets were in the name of Ashwin? Now waitaminute! :P
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Old 12th October 2009, 12:57   #26
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Great stuff. Man, that was a wonderful travel, and ofcourse the writeup.

Regarding that ferry tickets, damn these guys. Not sure when they will be clean :(
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Old 12th October 2009, 13:33   #27
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one of the best travelogue.
rated as 5*.
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Old 12th October 2009, 14:46   #28
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Great stuff, hotstuff.
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Old 12th October 2009, 15:29   #29
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Great pics, hotstuff!

I'm surprised to hear about the sound n light show. When we visted there in 1996, it was the best show we'd seen---better than the one at Golconda, Hyd, and Red Fort, Delhi. We also saw the Hindi version at Cellular Jail, and that was mundane---the English one was par excellence!

We however could not make it to Havelock as the ship was cancelled on that day.
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Old 12th October 2009, 16:06   #30
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"hotstuff" aint fair dude, 1st day of the week and you cant get us all "depressed" like this:(

Lovely pictures, i just went through them will go through the write up later.

Great stuff dude!

btw what should be the budget like for a weeks holiday in A and N?
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