Here come the tourists
There was a time when the flight to Port Blair used to be like the great Indian railway journey. You met fellow islanders on board and gossip was exchanged and woes were shared during the three-hour flight over the Bay.
But now the tourists have taken over. You hardly see any familiar face on board or at the Port Blair airport any more. From October to March, you are jostled by curious tourists eager to drink it all in during their three days and four nights of the Andamans experience.
Tourist arrivals to the Andamans have grown from 1.2 lakhs in 2009 to nearly four lakhs now.
Alienated at home
Tourism is crucial to the islands’ economy, so one must be careful to count one’s blessings. But the rapid growth has brought a bagful of troubles to the local people and some nurse a feeling of alienation in their own land.
During the tourist season, all inter-island ferries, especially those to the more touristy islands like Neil and Havelock, are full. While the well-heeled prefer private ferries, budget travelers take the government ferries, the tickets to which cost around Rs 300 plus the tout’s commission of Rs. 100, which the mainlander is ever willing to pay.
Local people only have to pay Rs. 25-30, but then most of the tickets are cornered by tourists. Similarly hotels and cabs become more expensive in the tourist season. Locals can’t afford a weekend in any tourist hotspot, especially Havelock, during this season.
Missing: The real Andamans
Ninety per cent of the tourists to the Andamans are herded around in a tight itinerary, which is designed mainly to yield a good turnover to the tour operator.
I think this leaves tourists shortchanged. They but don’t get a real feel of the islands. All they get to see is some scenery and some souvenir shops.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the only place in India that were ruled by the British as well as the Japanese. So there are amazing stories here.
So if you really want a real taste of the Andamans, slow down a bit and walk the old streets of Port Blair. Take in the wooden houses built during the British and Japanese eras. Take the time to peep inside the WWII bunkers. Who knows, you might get lucky and find hidden gold or red mercury, left behind by the Japanese, as is believed by locals. Go to the outskirts and you will be amazed to see how settlers from Bangladesh, Burma, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh still maintain their culture.
Tail piece: Beware of fake imagery
If you are intending to visit the atoll any time soon, be warned that the some of the images of the Andamans you’ll see on the web could be fake.
For example, a picture of Mount Otemanu in French Polynesia is being passed off as a lagoon in the Andamans. Such fakery really is unnecessary. The islands are beautiful, so why gild the lily?