Tuesday, October 31, 2006Share
I completed the payment formalities in the Agatti Island Beach Resort (AIBER) Office at Cochin. I was handed over the ship tickets and entry permit for Lakshadweep. Then I put up my queries one by one. Siyad, the young lad in the office, told me that my ship, named MV Minicoy, will leave from the warf named North Coal Berth. I need to report there by 10 am. He added that there will be no problem in finding the ship as the autowallahs are familiar with port. Few more tourists were to accompany us for the trip and Siyad himself would be available at the port for our facilitation. Assured, but still with questions, I left for hotel. Lesson 1: I now at least know that a ship leaves from a warf in the port, like a train leaves from a platform in the station. The ticket charges were Rs.1250/- for adults and Rs.650/- for child. This is the fare for tourists. The fare was highly subsidized for locals. The fare for a local adult was just Rs.350/-. The AIBER people charged Rs.2000/- for adult and Rs.1250/- for child as ticket fare. According to them this includes cost of boat transfer from the ship to the resort and also some additional amount they pay to the ship cafeteria for special treatment to the tourists.
Finally, the morning of 18th October, 2006 had arrived. We hired an auto and headed first to the AIBER office. The fare is fixed at Rs.100/-. Autowallahs do not cheat in Cochin. So one need not bargain. In the office, Siyad instructed the driver in Malayalam as to where the ship will be. In half an hour’s time we were in the Cochin Port Trust area. There were containers and carriers everywhere. Maneuvering through these behemoths, we finally arrived at the gate of the designated warf. It appeared to be secluded spot without much activity. The gate was manned by CISF personnel. For formalities we had to open one bag for a superficial inspection. The ship was some 200 mtrs away from the gate. There is no coolie (poreters) available, neither vehicle is allowed inside. So one need to carry his luggage on his own. I thanked God for deciding to travel relatively light. We had one large bag for cloths, one small bag for food items and my camera backpack. It was not fun carrying them to the ship. We climbed up the ladder to the deck on first floor. A Lakshadweep Policemen was manning the gate. We showed him the tickets and handed over the copy of entry permit. He then told us to go downwards for our seat. Taking the luggage down the narrow and stiff ladder was still more difficult. Finally we reached the hall where we were to seat. This ship, MV Minicoy, is a small ship with a capacity of 155. It has only one class of accommodation – chair car or tourist class. There was no cabin class. It was like a tourist bus or shatabdi express coach with push back seats. All the seats are arranged in 3 columns in a 2-4-2 system in the big hall which is air-conditioned. There was enough leg space and open spaces to move around inside the hall. Seat numberings were however most unimaginative and created problems for other accompanying tourists. But fortunately, local people were considerate enough to adjust. Siyad from AIBER had also arrived by this time to help us out.
The ship started to get filled as time passed by. The ship is managed by the Lakshadweep Development Corporation Ltd. (LDCL). There were few television sets in the hall, all of which are synchronized to play together. Once the ship is filled with passengers, the LDCL started playing a information video, though in Malayalam. My brain cells started working hard to understand from the visuals. Fortunately I could pick up some like where will be our designated lifejackets and lifeboats. I expected that there would be an English version. But it never came, instead the malayali version was repeated a second time. This time it started to give headache. I decided to have a walk around and see the ship. One can move around freely inside the ship. Restricted areas are clearly marked. By this time I had picked up one more funda – Port Side and Starboard Side. Lesson 2 : If you stand facing the nose of the ship – then your left side is called the Port Side and the right hand side is called is the Star Board Side. This is a standard nomenclature used in ships. Thus my seat was on the port side. The ship will always dock on the port side.
The scheduled departure of 11 am was long over and yet there was no sign of the ship leaving. There use to be some inspections from several agencies before a ship is allowed to leave. Some went unnoticed like the one by food inspector that certifies that there is enough food for everybody on board. But the one by inspector from Marine Mercantile Deptt. (MMD) was noticeable to everyone. Everyone is required to remain seated when he arrives. He ensures that ship is not overloaded and no extra passenger is there. But few extra people are allowed in after the inspector leaves. The captain later admitted to us having allowed 3 extra passengers, but others say they carry about 10 extra people.
The ship finally set sail around 12:45 pm. We were all thrilled as the ship slowly moved out of the Cochin port, went past other big ships, the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi and finally into deep sea. The colour of water kept changing from muddy to dark green to deep blue. All of us were on the deck in the harsh midday sun, enjoying this first time experience of a sea voyage. It is something we will never forget. The ship majestically marched ahead tearing into the deep blue water creating ripples of bubbles around it. Soon flying fishes started flying out of water attempting to fly as far as they could.
A call over the load speaker system heralded the lunch time. The ship had a small cafeteria, which actually is a counter in the seating hall. It sells Mineral water bottles as well as soft drinks. All of us carried at least 2 bottles of water as none of knew that it can be bought inside the ship. Other eatables like snacks though with limited choice were also available in the counter. The cafeteria opens only during specified hours. Food was to be collected from the counter by producing tickets. Lunch, dinner and breakfast charges are included in the ticket price. Other things like cold drinks, tea, etc. are to be bought paying cash. Tourists are to collect food at last. We were told by AIBER office that food for us will be special. Well, it was nothing special than having been served in a tray and a bottle of mineral water. I was told by AIBER office that veg food is uneatable and so we should take non-veg only. The food is cooked for the local people who are Muslims and so 99.9% traveller on board were non-veg. One accompanying tourist was veg and so he asked what is there in veg. The reply was a curt ‘Dal’. I had doubt that even the dal is nothing but the soup of the non-veg curry. Anyway, the food had nothing to be boast about, but you need to eat what you get. To remain hungry is your choice!
It was all fine till lunch. Post lunch the first sign of problem cropped up. It is sea sickness. We all had taken Avomin tablets the night before as advised the AIBER people. Still the first to fell victims among the group of tourist was my wife Mono. Once the vomiting starts, it can not be stopped. So her fun fizzled out. (She however had a nice return journey while 4 others fell sick). The slow swaying of ship from one side to other makes everyone feels dizzy. But if you can survive the initial one hour or so, you can expect to be safe. The bigger, the ship more the problem is, as swaying action is much slower.
I was one of the fit to survive! So was my little daughter. May be kids has more resilience. I spent most of the time on deck enjoying the beauty and enjoying the cool sea breeze. We also got an opportunity to go to the captain’s cabin as he accepted our request to show us how the ship sails. Capt. P.N. Joseph, an ex-navy officer, was very courteous and offered us a very informative session. The captain told us that this 55 mtr long ship was built in 2000 at the Cochin Shipyard. Being a modern ship, it is equipped with most modern systems. This being a fairly small ship it can operate only during non-monsoon periods. The ship sails on an auto-pilot kind of system which is based on a gyroscopic compass. Mariner’s compass is used these days only in case of emergencies like power failure. The magnetic direction, relative to the North Pole, of the location the ship is heading is fed to the computer and the ship keeps moving automatically requiring very little intervention from the crew. We could also see the radar and the INMARSET communication system in the ship. We had many questions like rough sea, emergencies, etc. Capt. Joseph told that he had seen both births and deaths in the ship. Even though it has an emergency hospital cabin, here is no doctor on board and so nothing could be done in case some one is dying. Regarding rough sea, he simply told that all of us will know as there will be an abnormal increase in number of people falling sea sick. He added that if sea becomes rough becuase of some storm, it can be felt within a radious of 250 km.
After several hours of traveling, the eagerly waited sunset had arrived. All tourists were out with their cameras trying to capture this magical moment of sun setting in the distant horizon. It was not that majestic though as compared to some later sunsets we had in Agatti. Soon the ship was engulfed in pitch darkness of the surroundings. There is nothing to see around. Temperature also started to drop. We were forced back into the hall. By this time they had started playing a Malayalam movie. The locals probably enjoyed every bit of the movie. There are no cinema halls in Lakshadweep. The movies screening stopped with the call for dinner. We all had an early dinner by our standard. My wife was totally down by now after vomiting several times. She decided to skip the dinner.
The movie continued post dinner. When it ended, it was time to go to bed. But where is the bed! There were few benches outside the halls which had already been occupied by smart chaps. Though the seats were push back type, I knew that it would be difficult to travel 22 hours that way. So I had booked a seat even for my 4 year old kid so that she can sleep. Locals were experienced enough to carry pieces of bed sheets which were laid on the floor for sleeping. Almost everyone fell asleep, except me. I could not. I could hardly sleep for an hour that night.
By very early next morning, the ship started approaching its first halt -- Kavarathi, the capital of Lakshadweep. People who were to get down became busy. I picked my cameras and was on the dock again. It was unearthly hours and I do not remember the last time I got up at such hours. All that I could see was few lights in distant horizon. The first lights of dawn broke around 5:45 in the morning. This gave me opportunity to shoot some memorable bluish shots. By 7 am, the ship had come to a halt off the coast of Kavarathi. The ship can not move close to the islands as water is shallow and so it remains parked in the deep sea, about a kilometer or so off the coast. A big bellow type tank anchored to the sea bed was floating to which the ship was tied to keep it relatively stationary. The ship become abuzz with activities. Crews preparing for the anchoring, people taking their items out of the cargo hold, etc. etc. In about 20 minutes time, the first boat carrying outbound passengers from Kavaratti had arrived. It soon got filled with inbound travelers and left. Several such small boats arrived, some left with cargo and some with passengers. This entire embarkation – disembarkation process took almost 1 ½ hours. In the horizon, dark ominous clouds started to gather. Heavy rain lashed us sooner than expected and we had to run inside for cover. The waves and swaying of the ship became more vigourous as wind speed increased. Fortunately, it was just a passing heavy rain, not a sea storm. The ship started off again amidst the heavy rain for its second stop – Agatti.
Weather cleared as fast as it worsened. By 11 am we had the first sight of Agatti and other islands in that group such as Bangaram and Kalpitti. As the crew prepared for anchoring, I took my final shots before packing. The ship halted in the deep sea on the eastern side of the island. The AIBER resort is located on the western side. Many people came to the ship and an equal number left by those small machine boats. We had to wait for about half an hour before the boat from AIBER arrived. The boat deck was some 5 feet below the gate of the ship. Both were swaying unsteadily, hitting each other many times. We were required to get down to the boat deck using a rope ladder. That too hanging in the air using two ropes. It was quite an adventure trying to get into the boat. The entire 15 tourist managed to come safely to the boat after some effort. I was surprised as to how the locals did that so easily, including ladies. Anyway, we were the odd man out there. The entire crowd in the dock was advising us trying to help us getting down to the boat. They all knew we are tourist and not used this adventure. The boat started off maneuvering deep sea waves. We bade get goodbye to the waiving crowd in the MV Minicoy.
The boatman used great skill and common sense to ride the waves to get into the calm lagoon. Once in the clear green water of the lagoon, we all forgot a tiresome journey. I forget that I had only one hours of sleep in last 30 hours. Honestly we were all left dumbstruck, mesmerized the beauty of the lagoon. Turtles started going past us beneath the crystal clear water. We all had seen such water only in movies till now. Now we are actually traveling through it. The delight in everyone's face was quite apparent.
On the way we past waving crowd at the main jetty of the island. The jetty becomes active on arrival of a ship from the mainland. There were autos waiting there for transporting people from the jetty. It seems tourists are most welcomed here. It took about half an hour to reach the private jetty of the resort. The AIBER staff were waiting there to receive us. On landing we were offered coconut waters as welcome drink. Then we all retired into our designated rooms to get fresh.
(To be continued with return ship journey)
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Monday, October 30, 2006Share
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Friday, October 27, 2006Share
My accommodation was booked by the Agatti Island Beach Resort (AIBER) office at Bijou’s Tourist Home on the Canon Shed Road, which was very close to the main jetty. The prepaid auto from the Ernakulum Junction station was only Rs.20/-. The hotel charges were Rs.500 + Rs75 (tax) for 24 hours. The room was good and clean. Toilet was good, a basic necessity to be called a good place to stay. Though it had a cafeteria that serves breakfast, it does not have its own restaurant. So we had to walk down to the City Park Restaurant located on its back. The food there was delicious and tasty. And the rates were quite reasonable.
I found that there are many hotels and tourist homes around this place. The landmark for the place is ‘Colombo Hotel Junction’ where the Cannon Shed Road and the Market Road intersects. This is right in the heart of the city and is very close the main boat jetty from where one can catch a local ferry to Fort Kochi or Willingdon Island. It definitely is better place than the ATS Willingdon hotel where I had stayed last time. ATS was costlier, but it is located on a secluded stretch from where one has to hire an auto or taxi to travel out. Cochin basically consists of three parts – Ernakulum is the main town (and rail head), in between is Willingdon Island and then Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is the place where almost all ‘must see’ tourist spots of Cochin lies and hence most foreign tourists stay there. In fact I am told that the hotels there prefer only foreign guests rather than Indian guests.
This time I was determined to see the sunset at Fort Kochi in the backdrop of the famous Chinese fishing nets. Introduced by traders from China centuries back, these nets are one of the landmarks of Cochin. I missed the sunset last time as I visited the area during daytime like most regular tourists do and hence I wanted to stay in Fort Kochi this time. Being familiar with Cochin helped me to travel cheaply. We walked down to the boat jetty which was hardly 300 mtrs, may be, from my hotel. From there we boarded a local ferry to Fort Kochi. The fare was only Rs.2.50. An auto would have taken at least Rs.70/-. In half an hours time we landed in the jetty at Fort Kochi. It was about a kilometers walk to the spot where Chinese fishing nets are parked.
The place was not crowded as most tourists come here in the morning. May be the fear of Chickengunya had kept Indian tourists away from Kerala. However, foreign tourist soon started arriving to see the sunset. Restaurant owners started approaching us to avail the ‘You buy fish and we cook for you’ facility. One of them even took me to a fish seller in the nearby market. There I found the odd man out in Kerala. The fisherman tried to cheat. For 4 small unknown fishes he asked Rs.100/-. I told him that fishes are much cheaper in Delhi. May be he is used to selling at that price to foreign tourists. Thus the ‘you buy’ part ended there and so do the ‘we cook’ part. We decided to bide time sipping fruit juice.
I clicked few nice shots before sunset. One of the fishermen even asked us to come over to his fishing net. He showed us some of his catch including a catfish. He even offered me to walk to the tip of the net to get some good shots. But I was not that intrepid to walk 20 feet over water on a single trunk of log with two cameras hanging from my neck. I thanked him and clicked a photo of him. He also clicked a family photo for us.
Soon the sun started to turn orange. I found many shutterbugs, most of whom were foreign tourist, already taking their positions. Cameras were clicking fast and furiously to capture the magnificent sunset. I tried to find a vantage point and joined the group. As the sun started going down the sea in distant horizon, the sky turned majestic. For the first time I had tried exposure bracketing. I probably shoot about 10 frames in that final 5 minutes or so. I have got the results now. Some of the shots are really stunning. And the rich saturated colour of my Kodak Professional 100 made some of the shots look surreal. The outcome of the evening was worth its effort. My Cochin trip is now complete in all respect.
After the sunset, we returned back taking the same route. But this time we boarded a boat that is run by a different operator. I understood this deviation only on reaching Ernakulum as it landed us in a different jetty than one near our hotel. I had no idea about how far we need to travel to our hotel, but knew that we need to walk down the road known as the Marine Drive of Cochin. After walking for some distance we had a premonition that we might have a long way still left and it would be wise to hire an auto. So I stopped an auto and asked him how much to pay. He replied 10 rupees. When we were dropped at the hotel, we found that it was almost 2 km or so and would have been hard to walk down. Just imagine the honesty of the autowallah here. I was a tourist and was with my family looking for an auto at night. But still he did not exploit my situation. He charged me what is probably correct fare. Even if he had asked for Rs.30/- or so, I would have paid in that situation. In north, specially in Delhi, one would have been taken for a ride in such a situation. This is why Kerala is such a nice place for tourist.
So that is Cochin. You can also read about my first visit to Cochin two years back. This time I could also grab a copy of ‘Hello Cochin’ which is a treasure trove of information on Cochin. Please do write to me in case I may be of any help.
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Thursday, October 26, 2006Share
I am back from Agatti yesterday. I was overjoyed to find myself in place which is more scenic than I had imagined. The 3 and 1/2 days spent in this remote island named in Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea, some 459 km off the coast of Cochin will remain etched as the best ever holiday in my memory. Kilometers of unspoilt beaches, a lagoon with clear light green water that extends to the horizon, the big turtles that played hide and seek, the corals, the colourful lagoon fishes, the shells we picked as souvenirs, the coconut trees..........it all epitomises this mesmerising beauty. We enjoyed glass bottom boat ride, lagoon fishing, kayaking, speed boat ride and a trip to an uninhabited island name Kalpitti --- all offered to us as complementary to the 3N/4D package. In the end we all wished if we could have stayed for one more day.
Friday, October 13, 2006Share
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006Share
Karwa Chauth involves fasting from sunrise till moonrise. This is like fasting from 4am to 8 pm. Not even water is sipped during these 16 hours or so of fasting. It is tough, fortunately it is not very hot at this time of the year. The long wait for moon starts after sunset. I am told that the moon rises a bit late on this day. This day falls on the Kartik Krishna (dark) Chaturthi and is about 9 days from the Diwali celebrations. The fast is broken after observing the moon through a sieve. The fist sip of food and first morsel of food is offered by the husband.
Applying of Henna on hands the day before is also one of the important customs. Henna symbolizes luck and prosperity. Thus, decorating hand and feet by creating beautiful designs out of henna paste is one of the most common traditions on occasions like marriage. As Karwa Chauth is meant for married woman, the significance of henna increases manifold. There was quite a rush in the market yesterday with women queuing up for applying henna in stalls.
Its equivalent in west would have been a Husband’s Day. This tradition however is observed specially in North India. The tradition does not exist in my corner of the country which is East. In fact we did not know in our childhood that something like this existed. But after watching numerous movies and by virtue of living in North, even my wife had been observing Karwa Chauth since last year. The media exposure and consumerism had also caught the fancy of many women, including working ones. If you do not observe, then you may be scorned at. Anyway, the society has made so many customs for the womenfolk, but none for men! Nothing stops a man from looking at other women even on this day.
Friday, October 06, 2006Share
There are four strains of Dengue – 1, 2, 3 and 4. One is expected to be infected by the same strain only once in their lifetime as antibodies formed will protect him from that strain forever. Dengue-1 causes high fever and joint pain. Dengue-2 causes haemorrhagic fever resulting in spontaneous bleeding form skin and gums. Dengue-3 causes high fever and Dengue-4 causes DHF (Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever) with shock leading to un-recordable blood pressure. In DHF a person bleeds to death both internally and externally because of excessive lowering of platelets.
The 1996 outbreak was the most fatal caused by the Dengue-2 strain. Over 550 people died in the 1996 outbreak. Fortunately, this strain has not returned with that ferocity. But there is every possibility that it will make a comeback someday.
The update from Delhi is that there has been one more fatality reported in last two days taking the toll to 16.
Thursday, October 05, 2006Share
Virasat is a fortnight long folk exhibition aimed at sensitizing people to the folk life of India. It is organized by Reach (Rural Entrepreneurship for Art & Cultural Heritage) – a non profit organization. In fact it had become one of the important events in the tourism calendar of Dehradun. Organised between Dusserah and Diwali, the event consists of exhibition, film festival, workshops, live drama performances and cultural evenings which are graced by noted artists from both India and Pakistan. More importantly there is no admission fee. The entire festival is FREE. However, for events like film festivals and drama, one needs to register and obtain prior invitation cards as seats are limited in those venues.
The main attraction of the festival is the cultural evening. Last year we watched live performances of Ghulam Ali (Ghazal), Abeeda Parveen (Sufi) and Wadali Bandhu (Sufi Quawwali). This year’s prime attractions will be Jagjit Singh (Ghazal) and Tejan Bai (Pandavani). Both will be performing live in the village on the 7th October evening. Quawwali by Warsi Brothers is scheduled for the evening of 8th October and Wadali Bandhus (Sufi) on 9th October. In between these there will be numerous folk performances from across the nation. For security reasons, mobile phones and cameras are bared from all venues this year.
Living in the Dehradun, the previous editions of Virasat became a way of life. We were the privileged ones as the ‘village complex’ is constructed in the ONGC colony stadium in Dehradun. (We used to live in the ONGC Colony in Dehradun). We will be missing Virasat this time.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006Share
Living in the Dengue stricken Delhi, I was more worried with the news of another mosquitoes borne disease named Chikungunya which is reported to have assumed epidemic proportion in down south, specially in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. This illness is also spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads Dengue. I was relived to learn that it is less fatal than Dengue. I will be Ernakulum (Kochi) after 12 days on my way to Lakshdweep. Ernakulum district has also been reported to have been affected. I will be spending at least one night there.
I have confirmred the status with the resort office at Kochi and they have told that Kochi has not been affected till now. I wish it remains so. Anyway, I believe that if you are to die, you will die sitting at home. There are bigger worries in an island holiday like Tsunami or some storm. If you are to live, God will find a way to protect you.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006Share
Dengue [pronounced Den-ghee] is a flue like illness found in most tropical areas around the world, often after monsoon. This is spread by biting of Aedes aegypti mosquito. Dengue is common in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Australia, and the Americas. It is widespread in the Caribbean basin.
There are two forms of Dengue --- the Dengue fever and the Dengue hemorrhagic fever. While the first one relatively harmless, the second one may be fatal. Most dengue infections result in relatively mild illness, but some can progress to dengue hemorrhagic fever. With dengue hemorrhagic fever, the blood vessels start to leak and cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, and gums. Bruising can be a sign of bleeding inside the body. Without prompt treatment, the blood vessels can collapse, causing shock (dengue shock syndrome). Dengue hemorrhagic fever is fatal in about 5 percent of cases, mostly among children and young adults.
Honestly speaking, Dengue has not created panic here. Delhi had received more than twice rainfall this year as compared to the previous year. This has resulted in abnormal growth of mosquitoes, even in the locality I live. Fortunately, there has not been any Dengue case reported from this area. But we have taken pre-cautions to keep mosquitoes away. People living in slums and other low cost congested areas are at much higher risk as people there has very little civic sense. It was quite surprising to observe that one of the death reported this year was from the posh Vasant Vihar locality. Ironically, both the parents of the victim were doctors. Other such high profile fatality was ythe death of an MBBS student of the All India Instt. of Mediacl Science, which is the cradle of Indian medical education.