From Port Blair to Havelock Island

chris (2007-12-31 06:58:33)
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Port Blair is the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Indian republic. I watched from the side of an auto rickshaw as the town revealed itself in a blur of colour, chaos, cows and crumbling colonial mayhem. We stopped at the 'hostel', but it was full, so we went straight to the port instead. I decided that if I could get out to Havelock today, then I might as well try.

The ticket purchasing system at Port Blair isn't so much a system as a melée of men performing exquisite queue scrummage before a seated panel of wives and daughters. The process is this: Go to the large curved desk to the right of the foyer. Smile at everybody, then hurl yourself through the 2-deep flock of mostachiod locals with one hand outstretched. The confused sixteen year old behind the desk will put a piece of paper into it. Fill out the form, then move round to join any one of the queues alongside. On a quiet day you might be able to spot a desk at the end of the queue. This is where you submit the form and part with 150-200 Rupees. A ticket pops out in return. In my experience it helps to hop from one queue to the next - much as you do between lanes on the M25. Smile a lot, flatter some locals and confuse them into letting you barge ahead of them. If you don't, somebody will do the same to you, (just without the smiling and flattery).

I left the port authority with a ticket in my pocket and two hours to spare before sailing. I walked around the chaos of Port Blair, starting with the National Bank of India, where I changed money. The bank isn't what one might expect on entering a bank. It is more reminiscent of an indoor bazaar with a few desks scattered around. I waited for a clerk to fill out a stack of forms and then register my exchange in a huge cloth-bound ledger book. At the cash desk two men were loading bundles of bank notes into an enormous suitcase. I collected my 8,000 Rupees and left.

The 'downtown' area of Port Blair is a district known as 'Aberdeen Bazaar'. This is where you might go if you need to buy some gold, or some rice, spices or perhaps some wares from the iron monger. This part of town has just about everything - all presented in a kaleidescope of colourful shop fronts, thronged by crowds of people of all walks of Indian life - street vendors, women, children and businessmen all collide together in what rapidly became one of my favourite parts of Andaman.

Whilst everybody I met on the Islands hated Port Blair, I simply love it. The life and variety in Aberdeen Bazaar is nothing less than exhilarating. I recommend anybody to go shopping there, get stuck in and enjoy. In Port Blair you will often come across the term 'Mess', meaning 'Restaurant'. On some occasions the former term is probably more apt than the latter!

My hope was to pre-book a night for the 21st December, but every lodge I tried was fully booked, I don't think it matters so much. There are other option which I can try on return. I purchased a snorkel and mask and a bottle of water, then shuffled back to the port. There was a small group of backpackers parked up on the side of one jetty. I sat nearby and listened to them exchange quips about why the boat was late. It wasn't. We boarded the ONGE at 13:50h and set sail at 14:00h sharp.

The sleeping accommodation is a dormitory in the hull of the ship, containing thirty or so rather military bunks, each sporting a thick, uncovered mattress. I slept on mine for almost the entire duration of the journey.