A solo traveller once said, that an adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other. What do you think?
We all have that one passion in varying degrees that makes us more than just live by making us feel alive. For me, that passion is exploring places both on the surface and under the sea and capturing moments on my camera.
Here is one of my experience when things got just too real and a wish of mine came face to face with the world the way it is and not the way I imagined it to be.
When I was off to the Andamans for my deep diving certification in April 2016, I had managed to board the flight when it was just about to take off in 15 mins. So much movie-like drama at the airport and I was not going in for the same drama this time around. So, catching every drop of hope and befuddled by uncertainty, I started my journey from Bangalore at 04:00 AM on the 29th of September 2016. The cab I had booked the previous night didn’t turn up! I was stranded already and such was the start. While I took another cab and head to the airport, I promised myself that whatever happens, I will take complete responsibility for it and will have no regrets what so ever!
My city was waking up and I was taking off against the wind, literally.. Hoping I would come back to the city that I call home.
As I settled down on my plane seat, a million thoughts were losing track in my head while I was holding on to the seat belt and looking away from the people in the flight, gazing into the clouds. The clouds somehow have the flair to hold my attention longer. We share a certain bond or maybe it’s just because that’s what my name means – Clouds. Whatever it is thank you for keeping me company dearest clouds.
I landed in Port Blair after a long layover in Chennai, to be greeted by the rains.. and all that I wanted to tell the rains was, “Rains.. as much as I love you.. not today.. just not today and for the next few days.. please don’t rain on my parade to my Indira Point” But then, all these thoughts went in vain! It poured cats and dogs the same evening and the next day too!!
In the meantime, I managed to rush to the government office for my chopper tickets the same evening. It was a little difficult for me to explain why I wanted that chopper ticket that bad. I mean, I really didn’t know how to explain this. I was planning this for over a year now. The insane number of phone calls that had to be made every other day to the protocol office on every other number I could get.. I was told, “Ma’am, we won’t be able to help much unless you are here in person” So.. there I was!
To my surprise, the officials there were very helpful. They took notice of how eager I was of getting that chopper ticket. They said that the weather wasn’t good and the chopper for that day was cancelled in the morning and don’t think the chopper could fly the next day too. Well, my heart sank.. right there! I mean.. no way!
I obviously had no chance for the 30th September’s chopper as it was really late in the evening and my only hope was the chopper on the 01st October as they don’t fly on Sundays.
The officials said that I can apply for the 03rd October’s ticket and they will see if it could be accommodated subject to availability of seats.. and I go.. Thank you so very much for considering my request.. but I honestly don’t have that kind of time, my return flight is on the 05th and I have to be on that chopper on the 01st October 2016.
What on earth was I supposed to do now.
Woke up at around 3:30 AM the next morning, it was still raining and just couldn’t go back to sleep. I whiled away time by reading and thinking.. thinking a lot!
Got ready and reached the Secretariat by 11:00 AM.. the same response. “Ma’am please apply for the 03rd October’s ticket” and I wasn’t sure what to do. All I knew was that there was no way I was getting back without my chopper ticket that day. One of the officials suggested that I can try talking to Rashmi Ma’am about it. And the next thing I know is that I was waiting outside her cabin without an appointment. Her secretary took my visiting card inside and asked me to wait for some time.
This was my only chance. I could either make it or break it. Her secretary’s words still rings in my head “You can go meet her” she had said. Gathered all my strength and knocked on the door and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Rashmi Mam’s warm smile. There was a pile of files on her table and I could see how occupied she was and yet she was kind enough to hear me out and I could sense that she somewhere understood where I was coming from. She spoke to me for a really long time asking about how did I land up there and why did I want to go to Indira Point and many more things. She then called one of the officers (the same officer who had refused to give me the tickets) and asked him to check on the status of the chopper and update her. She wished me luck and said that she will look forward to my experience and the pictures. This conversation will be cherished for long and it was an honour to meet such a humble woman of her caliber. The world needs more of such women. She is the Secretary, A&N Administration who takes care of General Administration / AR & Trg / Housing & Estate / Archives / Industries and Social Welfare) . The officers asked me to wait until evening and said that they will confirm by then..
While I was walking down the Chatham Bridge in Port Blair, at around 06:30 in the evening and just when I was trying to catch a breath after being chased by two street dogs is when I get this call.. saying that my tickets are confirmed for the next morning.
I stood still, almost frozen not knowing how to react! This call will go down as one of the most consequential phone calls of my life.
I didn’t need an alarm that morning.. was up by 4:00 AM. My first thought that morning. “Just hope it’s not raining..” and the first thing I did even before I could open my eyes was reach out to the curtains. As I drew the curtains, see that it wasn’t raining.. it was a pouring!! damn! How would the chopper fly in such horrible weather.. can’t tell how terrible it felt.. curled up in bed for a while, took a long shower and slipped into one of my favourite khaki shorts and a navy blue floral top and checked out of the hotel.
6:20 AM, 01st October 2016 at the helipad and it was still raining. I was going a little blank by now. The chopper was cancelled on the previous two days and I could hear people murmuring about how they had waited the previous two days and the chopper hadn’t taken off.
This was my first ever chopper ride and I was extremely nervous about it. First, wasn’t even sure if the chopper would take off that morning. Second, how bad could a 3 and a half hour chopper ride with bad viz get. well… and apparently one could carry only 5 kilos of baggage in the chopper and I had 12.5 kilos! I had no clue about the 5-kilo restriction. Damn.. extra 7.5 kilos! Where would I leave it.. the officials were very strict about it and said that I can carry only 5 kilos and no extra weight will be allowed, especially because of the bad weather. So, had no choice but to leave it all at the Helipad office and hope to find my things when I get back.
So now, Ticket payment – check! Baggage weight – sorted! My weight – weighed! Security check – done! Boarding pass – check! All sorts of thoughts – Check! and all set for my 3 and a half hour Dauphin N3 ride, if at all we flew that day..
I could see the officials and the pilots converse at the far end alongside the orange and white Pawan Hans chopper. The rains sort of subsided.. but it was still drizzling and everyone in the room had just one question! “Will we fly today?”… to which the officials kept saying.. “Can’t say..” ..which was fair, considering the weather.
After a while, the officials hurried to us and said, “Get ready, start boarding!” The atmosphere in the room lit up like a firecracker! Phew! I couldn’t contain myself and spontaneously hugged my fellow traveller in joy and almost cried. She held me tight, smiled and wished me luck. She was a government officer who worked in Car Nicobar.
So, it was eight of us along with the pilot and the co-pilot on board. One of the passengers was a patient, who had survived a road accident, he and his father were getting back to Car Nicobar, which was my pit stop. I looked at him and smiled wanting to ask if he was comfortable, he smiled right back and nodded his head… his father was sitting right next to him. I smiled at them again with moist eyes looking at the way they were holding each other.. the father all protective and the son putting all his trust in his father. They both smiled back at me.. It was one warm of a moment. Sigh.. would have broken down if I had looked at them for few more minutes.. So, quickly turned around and started looking outside the window.. The chopper had already picked up speed and even before we knew the clouds had gathered us.. and how! They looked like grey colossal cotton mountains. The lady who was sitting next to me very sweetly checked on my seat belt and offered me some cotton to plug into my ears to ease the whirring sound of the chopper.
First pit stop – Car Nicobar. Six out of eight passengers got off here. So, we were left with a government official (guessing), the pilots and I. The ride was a surely a crazy turbulent one but the blue and green chemistry that I could see from up there made it up for it. Just couldn’t take my eyes off it – the vast blue ocean and the green jewel islands.
Finally! the gorgeous runway of Cambell Bay! this was actually happening..
As soon as I land.. woah! two lady police officers along with a bunch of people gathered around me. Two of them were there to collect envelopes from me that their colleagues/relatives had sent from Port Blair. I forgot which pocket I had slipped those envelopes into looking at the way people had gathered!
It took a while for me to figure out the guest house and settle down. I hadn’t informed my folks that I had reached safely, how would I.. There was absolutely no network, and the landline of the guesthouse was dead. Somehow managed to make a call and inform my folks that I was safe. It was a big relief.
All I had was roughly two and a half days there and I couldn’t afford to fall asleep, so took a quick nap after lunch and headed out with my sweetheart – my camera.
There was absolute silence everywhere and amidst the dense green forest and the enraged blue ocean lies this placid village called Campbell Bay in the Great Nicobar Island – a vicinage worth taking a plunge.
The tropical forests so mystical and the lovely orchids, like little ornaments, adorned the lush dynasty.
Everything around was so raw and rustic and that sort of remoteness was very fascinating. Felt like a NatGeo explorer except for exploring nothing in particular. Spotted a few ‘non-vegetarian monkeys’ too, who apparently eat the giant robber crabs in the forest. Had never heard of such monkeys before and it took a while for me to believe it.. the crab-eating macaque, as they are called.
The Mangrove forests couldn’t get groovier with the salt water crocodile sign boards all over which creeped me out for a bit. So much so that they crawled around in my dreams as much!
And then came the fireflies! It was like a twilight firefly party that I gate crashed into! so many of them and all over the place! I could sit and watch that kind of bioluminescence all night long.. the mystical land came alive like some magic dust was being sprinkled all over the tree ferns! oh, what a mirage that sight created. Loved every bit of that vivid moment and would love to go back again
I was back from the mystical tour and had to follow up and sort out a boat and a team of fishermen who could take me to Indira Point the next morning.. as early as possible. Nobody seemed to be available, to begin with, but later somehow by around 09:00 PM, had it all figured and was supposed to leave by 05:00 am the next morning. This was a big relief.
I got back to the guesthouse but couldn’t wait to finish dinner and get out again.. for the gorgeous starlit sky! The starry sky was an absolute delight that I had to capture it but didn’t have my tripod with me. Tried a couple of hacks and managed to get one of my favourite starry night photograph by far.
Had to call it a day and get few hours of sleep. I don’t even remember how many alarms were fixed that night! Falling asleep and not making it on time would be like a day dream turning into a nightmare!
Managed to wake up by around 03:00 AM as I had to reach the Jetty by 05:00 AM, so left the guest house by 4:00 AM and was walking around taking photographs, it was still very magical and difficult to believe that I was actually there – walking the deserted streets of Campbell Bay by myself! While walking up to the Jetty, I see this cow.. there was something strange about it, it was walking straight towards me. turn back and there was nobody! It was actually walking towards me and it came really close even before I could realise! It was charging at my dry sack bag. I couldn’t understand what was happening, it was just too quick to register. The temple priest nearby heard me scream and came to my rescue and got back my dry sack for me. The cow seemed so harmless and I am still wondering what happened! Phew! and October 02nd 2016 started that way.
Just reached the entrance of the Jetty by around 05:15 AM and it started raining, out of nowhere! I mean.. why!!? It just wouldn’t stop, and my boat was not to be seen.
A lady who was collecting cow dung nearby came to me and asked me to stand under the tree with her until it stopped raining. She actually stood with me until the rains subsided. After she walked away and it started pouring again. She came back to me and very sweetly said that she lives close by and invited me home until it stopped raining but as I didn’t want to miss my boat so excused myself and stood under the tree. The rains got heavier and as I stood wondering what to do I saw Mr. Murugan walking with an umbrella towards me. He walked me to the stadium across the street. We were standing there waiting for the boat guys to call up when suddenly I see the same lady coming back with an umbrella looking for me! She spotted me standing in the stadium and said that she felt bad that I was alone and getting drenched in the rain so she came back looking for me to offer me an umbrella. I can’t imagine someone doing that back in the cities.
This was just one of the random act of kindness that the people of Campbell Bay bestowed on me and this made me feel truly blessed..
And in the meantime my boat and the fishermen were still not be seen, apparently, the third fisherman was absconding and they were all looking for him. He was supposed to be the guide. They said in their local accent that he is not to be seen, apparently, he got drunk the previous night and nobody knew where he was.. And I went into my panic mode, hundreds of thoughts on my mind in a split second. Hope he is fine and now I don’t have a guide to walk for 24 kms back and forth in the jungle, there were crocodiles and pythons and god knows what not!
We had to come up with a backup plan, they said that we can still go if I am okay going without a guide. There was no time to think as much. I see the boat and two fishermen in front of me and vague images of Indira Point in my heart… and.. decided! Can’t back off now, no way! let’s just head straight to the lighthouse, regardless of whatever happens. They said that they will go provided I don’t jump off the boat and swim to the lighthouse. We will go, see the lighthouse as close as possible and get back. So, that was the plan.
Said a little prayer and set sail..
The weather just didn’t seem to get better. The monsoon rains and the strong wind was maddening! We were headed against the wind, which made the ride even more horrifying. Besides, it was a fishing boat with no shelter. To top it all, I was sitting right next to the double engine and after listening to the deafening noise for six hours straight, it took me another six hours to get that noise out of my head!
The waves seemed to grow in all shapes and sizes.. the boat was losing control and was tossed in all possible directions.. and the life jackets were not to be seen. If not for the dry sack, my camera and phone wouldn’t have survived .. This was by far the scariest boat ride ever.
At one point the fishermen asked me if I want to go back.. wait, what? go back? no way! absolutely not!
After about three hours of sailing, holding my life in my hands I was finally in front of my beloved Indira Point Light House – No amount of rain, sailing against the wind, the third fisherman absconding, the loose screw of the engine, the fierce ocean, six hour boat ride, the deafening noise of the double engine, fear of the unknown, being chased by dogs, being charged by a cow, feet gone numb, all the permissions that I had to take, all the officials I had to meet, the turbulent chopper ride, being creeped out by crocodiles, not being reachable by family and friends… Nothing, absolutely nothing could stop me from being there at that place on that very day.
Will never forget that moment when I closed my eyes in the pouring rain, in the middle of the ocean and hoped that I wasn’t dreaming. Find it difficult to believe that I was actually there – right in front of the legendary lighthouse which felt like it looked straight at me and said, “Meghana, glad to see you here and I knew you would come..” Sigh.. happy tears, holding on to my camera.
It took another three hours to get back. Getting back was comparatively less insane, we did get see a dash of sunshine on our way back. The fierce ocean, that insane wind and rain had made the six-hour simple boat ride a rather daunting task.. phew!
Co-Incidentally, 18th of October, the day when Pygmalion Point was renamed to Indira Point happens to be my birthday too and this was my birthday gift to me.
I share a special love for lighthouses because of the way they stand tall and lead the light unnerved by the circumstances. My love for lighthouses goes way back to when I was in school. The lighthouse was the emblem of my school with ‘lead kindly light’ written on it – a badge that we wore proudly on our chest. Having grown up in a coastal town called Karwar, the ocean and lighthouses are something that I deeply connect with and gather my strength from. So well, my love for lighthouses is beyond explanation and this fueled my determination to witness the legend called Indira Point on my own, all by myself.
While it is not a problem for Indians to visit Campbell Bay but it is still not easy to undertake a journey to such a remote corner of my country. Telephone connectivity is still next to nothing there, with only BSNL working scarcely. The lives of the people here isn’t the same as it used to be and it still has that ere of devastation, years after tsunami and the broken empty houses near the shore do have a tale to narrate.. every household here has a story to tell about their lives and it goes in this order – before tsunami and after tsunami.. it was overwhelming to see them living their lives with very limited resource for sustainability.. It is during moments like these, you step back and think that there is so much life beyond the make believe world that we live in with all our whims and fancies and yet complain about things… it is at times like these, you realise that every breath we take is no less than a blessing to be thankful for… sigh..
Never the less, it takes time, patience and persistence to go all the way, not to forget the connectivity issues and hence I must have been easily branded as some sort of a crazy person or someone with a hidden intention. So much so, that I was interrogated by the officials of the Investigation Bureau on my arrival in Campbell Bay and by the officials of coast guard on the day of my departure! I was taken aback with the interrogation and will need some more time to get over it, even more so because I wanted to join the defence and serve the nation, but couldn’t make it due to some reasons.
Just because someone travels alone to a remote location, doesn’t mean that they have a hidden agenda around it or they are some sort of a spy or a terrorist.. I was being referred to as “that girl with the camera in a yellow dress”.
Sometimes, we are just passionate about certain things we do and the way we want to live our lives and can’t explain reasons for the things we do.
We have nothing to prove to the world, it’s just a way of life, nothing more, nothing less.
And this, I say on behalf of all my fellow solo travellers.
Having said that, I see from where the officials were coming too, especially with our country’s then situation. They were doing their duty and rather well and I wasn’t mistreated during the interrogation.
Campbell Bay is full of interesting stories.. was randomly talking to two security officials of the guest house that I stayed in about their life experiences with the Jarawa tribe and a plantation drive at Indira Point. It was just amazing to sit and listen to how one of them was invited to a Jarawa hut and the other official took pride in telling me that he had climbed the Indira Point Lighthouse and had planted saplings about 35 odd years ago.. and the happiness on his face, while he was talking about it, was worth going ‘aawww..’
I also happened to meet this bunch of enthusiastic kids who play football in the stadium at 04:00 am every day. Manu and team as I called them, wanted me to take pictures of theirs, and since I had to rush, promised to meet them the next day.. same time – same place. I was pleasantly surprised by their punctuality. It was a delight taking pictures of these kids. Now I ask them, how do I share the pictures with you guys..? Do I print and post them? and one of them instantly says “Didi, you can WhatsApp it to me!” and I go.. of course!
I stayed in the Andaman and Nicobar for seven days and Campbell Bay for about two and a half days and it turned out to be once in a lifetime sort of an experience and will always stay thankful to everyone who was immensely supportive in this journey of mine.
Campbell Bay and Indira Point – You have left me mesmerized and I am smitten for life! hope to come back with another adventure! until then, much love to you.
Thank you for this amazing experience of a lifetime! Cheers!
The extracts of this write up and the photographs were published by the ‘Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration’ in their quarterly magazine, November 2016’s edition.