An Exciting Journey
By J Vaidhinathan
Retired Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Govt. of India
Foreword by Venkat
A travelogue from an octogenarian of a travel as recent as 2019 itself sounds exciting and to read an account with such rich imagery and details is pure delight. Mr. Vaidhinathan and his group (The Travel Circle) inspire so much energy and zest for life in us, running an initiative since the 1960s with nearly one hundred travel trips! His description of the MV Nancowry ship covering in-depth on its topology, the people, activities, and interactions is gripping. The Andaman & Nicobar is certainly more inviting reading the captivating descriptions of beautiful sights the islands abound.
Immerse in the rich experience of this long and amazing travel account by Vaidhinathan uncle. The joy and verve in this writing rubs off on you indeed!
Mr. J Vaidhinathan (JV) was born in a remote village near Sirkazhi in 1940. Grown up & studied in Tiruvarur, he served in TN govt and moved to Govt. of India service Delhi, in 1965 and settled down there itself. In the Ministry of Industry, he rose up to the level of Deputy secretary to GOI in the CSS cadre and retired in 2002. He had also worked as Additional Personal Secretary to a Cabinet Minister, a sensitive & diplomatic posting, for 5 years. Delhi University Graduate, also obtained one year “Post Graduate Diploma” in Journalism after retirement.
As a garden-lover, JV spends couple of hours daily in his small garden. Way-side greenery in his Delhi lane and lovely gardens of his two daughters developed by him in Gurgaon and also in Hyderabad, Munirka Community Hall, are shining examples of his passion. His sustained efforts had borne-fruit in developing the “Rock-Garden” in Munirka by MCD. Having honed the skill of Noting & Drafting in official arena for nearly four decades, sharpened by a journalism course, JV has been scripting, in English and Tamil, above 200 write-ups and articles, some having been published in Magazines.
An Exciting Journey
When I was asked to pen on the above topic of experience, yes, I was confronted with dilemma as to where to begin and where to end. Because I had been fortunate to undertake innumerable interesting travels.
As bachelor boys of mid-20s, around late 1960s, we formed a group of 25, named and styled “The Travel Circle” (TC), in New Delhi, just for purposes of get-together and travel. Wonder of wonders, TC grew quickly into 60+ with families and children, over the next three decades, picnicking, travelling, pilgrimages, educational visits etc. touching nearly 100 programs. TC covered picnic spots in the whole of NCR with a day’s program, and all over India of a long group trip, – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Udaipur to Nainital/Darjeeling – from 2/3 days to 12 days at a stretch. So innumerable and exciting these were, to select one amongst them indeed is a herculean task. As such, tours became a part of our life periodically. As well, through another 50+ year-old Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Satsangam, pilgrimage tours were conducted frequently to a number of places, the pinnacle trip being 18-day trip to Mt Kailash-Mansarovar-Kathmandu-Mukthinath.
However, for purposes of this selected topic, with much difficulty, narrow down my single EXCITING trip to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, more so by MV Nancowry 1992 Poland-built- ship plying between Mainland and these Islands on regular basis from Chennai, from 24-12-2018 to 1-1-2019, for narration, to share my borderless pleasures of the travel experience. Oh! Sea travel took me indeed to a different world altogether, to see nothing but endless Ocean waters all around except the blue sky. What a wonderful sight of scenery. Sure, you cannot derive that pleasure if you go by plane.
For a person who had not seen inside of a ship earlier, it was so huge like a small hill, with 7 floors, having 4 classes of travel – deluxe, I, II & bunk – first two being very ideal like I & 2 A/c tier in train, with attached bath and toilet, with two windows to enjoy the scenery. Ship operations are done in 7th floor, giving a clear long view, with a range of 250 nautical miles, by which any ship within that range is identified all around.
We had a wonderful peep here to get a bird’s eye view and briefing about the operations, well explained to lay-men. 6th floor for officers’ accommodation, 5th for staff, deluxe & I class & cafeteria, 3rd the second class with cafeteria, dispensary, recreation room in 2nd and in 1st, Bunk class, with common toilet, with many rows of 4-bed dormitory.
Weather plays a pivotal part in these ship operations, on day-to-day basis, with cyclonic storm emanating anytime in rough weather. The ship is the main link for common Islands, to purchase for the needs from mainland and hence heavily subsidized for natives, descendants from Bengal, TN, AP etc. Ship charges range from Rs. 2500 to 9000.
Sunrise and sunsets were a delight to watch from the open space of the ship, with gentle soothing breeze always blowing. Movement of the ship can be seen and felt only from the gushing waters behind the ship, leaving a long trail of white foamy bubbles.
With special permission, we visited the monstrous powerful machines which move the heavy ship, to the whole bottom areas of the ship in engine room with huge boilers and control rooms. These machines are run with raw crude, stacked in large quantities in the ship’s open yard. Noise from the machines deafens the ears – cannot stand more than a minute, coupled with extreme heat. The staff work in this hostile atmosphere from a/c controlled sound-proof room. Even in TN Express train, to spend 2 nights and a day, to reach Chennai from Delhi, we get so bored; as such, one may wonder, how I spent 4 days and 3 nights in the ship?
The first day had gone by admiring, for the first-timers like me, going through all areas of the ship, climbing and getting down through many stair-cases, enjoying the sheer vastness of the sea, witnessing the butter-fly-like small wind-powered boats – para sailing and rafting, huge boats in the port, witnessing the man-made encircled walls within the sea for containing the forces of tides for smooth-docking of ships, delay in floating the ship due to some sudden strike by native passengers for the decision to divert to Port Blair first, instead of normal route to Noncowry island, on account of perishable goods. As such, the first day was lost in that process, and the ship sailed by 6:30 pm only.
If you minus the sleeping time and eating 3 times a day, we found enough time to enjoy. Spent in interesting interaction with large number of co-passengers, many commoners, mingling with them, sharing their nativity, back-ground, how they immigrated to A&N and other interesting details. My self-introduction about my being from Delhi – that itself giving undeserving aura around me, attracting more friends. And my sitting always with a pad and pen and hitting down details also exciting many! To while away time, apart from cafeteria, some movies were screened, some played playing cards, carrom. I sat with some of them, played and won, without the Red coin!
Yoga in the early morning for an hour was very relaxing and educative, Captain & other crew members participating. Made a thanks-giving speech to Captain Kumar & the yoga teacher. Christmas Celebrations were going on from evening to mid-night. Likewise, on 26th night, descendants of freedom fighters from India, who were in the group, were honored, with dance, music, patriotic songs, speeches etc. PM was in A&N to honor the freedom fighters and we also participated in the meeting.
Wow! Sighting a land after more than 48 hours of sea-travel, was indeed a great relief and exciting. Berthing of this huge ship at Port Blair was an art in itself and took nearly an hour to anchor. To disembark about 1300 passengers and crew through a single exit, with their huge luggage and merchandise, was a time-consuming process as was the boarding at Chennai Port. A&N have 572’islets, 86% forest, with a number of peaks, tiny beaches everywhere bin bays, Wandroo beach, Corbyn beach, Chidia beach, which we visited in bus. In 120 capacity boat, we travelled to Viper Island, nick-named “Hell on Earth” – where freedom fighters were interned and…Oh! horrible, kept as prisoners for hanging, the journey with so many green beautiful islets, visible en-route, full of coconut trees, was so memorable.
Then we visited Ross Island, fully controlled by Indian Navy with a five sq. mile radius. It served POWs (prisoners of war) during World War, when Japanese occupied A&N Islands. The notorious Cellular Jail in Port Blair, star-like in shape, with 3 rows of three floors each, for 200 prisoners was our next visit, presently in photo-frame scenes, surrounded by sea amidst green areas. If one had seen and witnessed 2/3 beaches and islets, that would more than suffice as saturation comes into play, in my view. On first January 2019 I returned back by flight, a two hour journey, with memorable, fond, ever-lasting inerasable happy impressions!!
By J Vaidhinathan