A break or a holiday not merely leads to relaxation. It may also enhance understanding and bonding between the participating friends and family members. Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the Emerald Necklace of India, comprising of 572 islands, should be the destination, if one is looking for recharging one’s over stretched batteries in the setting of a ‘warm’ & cosmopolitan hill station. Having said so, I am reminded of 10th of October 2005.
Within an hour of our arrival at Port Blair, a pleasant surprise awaited us. Our host, the dynamic Tourism Secretary of the pollution-free U.T. informed that a steamer specially chartered for the Barren Island (located 135 kms northeast of the territory’s capital) was ready for departure. We were given five minutes for conveying a positive nod and another thirty minutes for arranging required things and eatables. S. Velu, our ever-smiling and pro-active guide helped us in buying some tasty snacks and biscuits. Later, on account of a long journey of eleven hours, we realised that what ever we had, proved insufficient, and that we had to virtually beg before the cabin crew for four meals at exorbitant rates. During the return journey, we almost starved for no fault of ours. But the following lines would reveal that starving was worth it.
The departure from the Phoenix-Bay jetty was a smooth affair. Nine to ten families together with a few bachelors boarded the steamer. The first fifteen minutes we had a good view of the sprawling port city followed by a look at the enchanting Ross Island. In no time we were on the main sea. Not only the seats were comfortable in the basement, the overall atmosphere too appeared congenial. Practically everyone was visiting the wonderful Barren Island for the first time. We were determined to enjoy every bit of journey spread over five and a half hours, one way.
The first two hours passed of easily. It was a pleasure to go up to the top deck and enjoy the memorable view of deep blue sea. Occasionally boats, steamers and ships would pass by. A few islands too would be visible on the horizon. The helpers to the crew, guides and liaison assistants would describe the charm of Jolly Buoy, Red Skin, Havelock, Neil and Barren Islands (B.I.) very well. Off and on, some local folklore in respect of the tribes endemic to the region and vivid description of multicoloured fish and mesmerizing corals would be also heard.
Though the famous active volcano of South Asia at B.I. was reported erupting from 1787 onwards, for nearly one and a half century, between 1852 and 1991, it had remained dormant. It was learnt that the volcano would be generally active for four to six months at a stretch. Following the eruption, a fresh layer of cliff, commonly referred to as caldera wall, would be formed around the island. Tourist arrival, would simply multiply during the period of ‘activity’.
A number of scientific teams would visit the island subsequent to cooling-off but no one ever dared to stay on the island, due to harsh and inclement conditions, therein. In view thereof, our steamer too was also going to be anchored at least half a kilometre away.
When the boredom of a long sea journey got on to our nerves, most of us exercised the option of a good afternoon nap. A couple of tourists did watch T.V. as well. To break the monotony, some one from the deck shouted that our cherished destination was soon going to be visible. Every one ran to the ‘terrace’ and parked him self/herself suitably. It was getting dark but the island was barely visible. Some fog over the vast ocean too obstructed the view initially.
Patience and perseverance ultimately pays. Around 19.00 hours, we got the first glimpse of the rare spectacle. It was once in a lifetime scenario. The speed of the craft was gradually reduced as we moved closer. Those of us having video or digital cameras, were fortunate in capturing the view well for posterity. I cursed myself to have carried an ordinary non-digital camera. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. I could not only admire the beauty and ferocity of the volcano deep from my heart but could also instantly feel the sudden change in weather. S. Velu confirmed that sea water had warmed up due to our close proximity to the active volcano.
After keeping the steamer dormant for nearly half an hour, the captain took us to two different ends of the island. Its total surface area of ten kms.(3 kms in diameter) looked all ablaze. An otherwise dark sky was well-lit by this super natural phenomenon. Not only we saw gigantic flames from atop a 354 meters high peak but we were also blessed with the sight of lava falling and swiftly spreading in the surroundings. The flora on the island, in the process, would not only catch fire. The whole area, rather, would burn instantly.
It was once in a blue moon phenomenon. It was something which could not be elaborated in a few routine phrases. On seeing the eruption and bright red lava, my heart missed a beat. It was nothing but a rare sight, truly a miracle of mother nature. It had a humbling impact. The unusual spectacle honed my power of observation and concentration.