The first event of the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally was to be held four or five days after most of the participants had reached Port Blair so there was plenty of time to get settled, organise changing Australian dollars into Indian Rupees and further explore some of the wonderful sights and magical places we had visited the previous year.
The bank, as always was a bit of a challenge. People in India are intensely curious so when you are talking to a teller or even getting money from an ATM, they crowd round, craning their necks to look at paperwork or the ATM screen and watch what’s going on – even providing a running commentary to the people behind.
Useful comments like “ tut tut tut wrong pin“ or “ahhhh! you have insufficient funds for this transaction” (read off the screen) are very helpfully repeated in a loud voice with much head wobbling and a dramatic roll of the eyes.
Banking is not a private matter in India!
After an entertaining and rather prolonged time at the bank, (there was much paperwork involved in exchanging a few hundred dollars) we set out to purchase SIM cards for our mobile phones.
The previous year it had been virtually impossible for a tourist to obtain a SIM. We had been fortunate to have been lent SIMs by our agent (and Yacht Rally organiser) Rathnam, but this year we were able buy our own – however it was a bit of a mission!
Our driver took us to an anonymous elderly white building and after several false starts in a rabbit warren of winding passageways and steep staircases we eventually found the room we needed to be in.
It was quite unlike any other place that I have ever purchased a SIM. It was a small but high ceilinged room with peeling plaster and electrical wires looped haphazardly around the walls. Three desks were arranged along two sides of the room and other than some uncomfortable looking chairs, the only other furniture was some functional but rickety metal shelving and a desk fan.
The long wait for our SIMs
We had to supply a copy of our passport, one of our Indian visa and also our restricted area permit plus passport sized photos. Then we had a to fill out a lengthy form in triplicate.
When it came to my turn I didn’t have all the required paperwork but I did have a photo (we had found a little store over the road where we were able to get these done). One of our party kindly provided the relevant papers that were in the name of his wife and despite the fact we have different hair colour and style, face shapes and eye colour, the chap selling us the SIMs seemed not to notice (we probably all look the same to them!).
There was a minor hitch when they discovered to their great consternation that we weren’t staying at a hotel but on our own boats. Several phone calls later – including one to Rathnam – our salesman felt comfortable enough to provide us with our SIM cards.
After installing the SIMs we had to head to a little store near Port Blair’s Marketplace and purchase “top up”. We bought phone credit and plenty of data but in truth it was really a waste of time as there was rarely enough signal to pick up emails and as for anything else you might want to do (such as post a blog) forget it!
The market in Port Blair
One of the most fascinating places we visited on our previous trip to the Andamans was Ross Island, a short ferry ride from Port Blair.
On our way to Ross Island
The small island was originally first inhabited by the British in 1788 and then abandoned. In 1887 it became the administrative centre for the British-held Andaman Islands when 773 India freedom fighters were brought from mainland India as prisoners.
The fabulous view from Ross Island
The ruins on Ross Island are a reminder of the grand life residents had back in the day
These prisoners, over time, built houses, shops, offices, a hospital, Churches, barracks and a fine building intended for the Chief of the Penal Settlement which was called Government House. Today all that is left of this grand residence are a few remnants, including parts of the very expensive Italian tiled floor.
Ross Island is like a modern day Angkor Wat
Now Ross Island is rather like a modern day Angkor Wat, once fine buildings and other structures such as a fresh water swimming pool, have been taken over by a jungle of vines and creepers.
As you wander through the ruins you can well imagine the wealth and glamour of this little island with its officers clubs and gracious homes that contrasted so acutely with the terrible conditions that the political prisoners were forced to live.
In 1941 Ross Island experienced an earthquake which damaged a lot of buildings and caused many of the privileged Europeans to abandon their previously comfortable lives on the Island.
The Island remained the administrative centre for the penal colony until March 1942 when the Japanese invaded the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Nowadays it is used by the Indian Navy as a base and is a very popular tourist destination and home to a massive herd of deer, peacocks and most surprisingly very cute white rabbits!
If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below: