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Saturday 26 Mar 2011
Havelock Island, India

Elephant Beach, Andaman Islands

I woke to a completely overcast day Frown

I was determined to make the most of it and so after breakfast I headed down to the jetty to organise a boat to Elephant Beach (on the other side of Havelock). After a bit of haggling I managed to get a speedboat (one of only 2 on the island) to Elephant Beach for 1,700 Rs return. It was a bit pricey.  I could have gotten a slower boat for 1,000 Rs return, but given that the speed boat only takes 10 mins vs 50 mins on the slow boat, I didn't mind.

Elephant beach, judging by the photos I'd seen before, has pristine white sand and excellent coral. It's clearly a shadow of it's former self now as when I arrived the damage inflicted by the 2004 Tsunami was clearly evident: piles of huge uprooted trees laying haphazardly along the stretch of the "beach" (if you could call it that ... the walkable area is only around 3-4 metres deep) blocking off many sections. This meant that the only boat-accessible part of the beach was a tiny section where several families of Indian tourists were congregated, jostling for space in the overcrowded water. Chatting to some of the families (who bizzarely were still in awe at seeing a white guy in their midst, despite there being so many on Havelock Island) I learned that most of them were visiting the island to learn to swim.

As I wandered around the tiny area, I couldn't get over how much litter was liberally flung around the place. Alas another blight of Indian society was carried across to the Islands. I don't know what it is with Indians, but tossing your garbage on the ground seems to be a habitual thing, and this is despite having several half-empty bins in the vicinity! It was like a bunch of Irish knackers had moved onto the island!

It's quite telling that I didn't take a single photo of the Andaman Islands (beyond pictures of my hut) while I was there.

I heard somewhere that the reason they don't pick up their litter is a result of a strict caste-based upbringing. If you are a higher caste like Brahmin, as most Indian visitors to the Andaman Islands would be, then it is almost "beneath you" to deposit your litter in a waste basket. Ideally there should be lower-caste Indians working around you that pick up the litter for you. To be honest this theory does have some credence, as it wasn't hard to see how higher caste families were often quite snobbish and arrogant and their kids suffered from (as I like to call it) "Little Maharaja" syndrome: spoilt brats let run riot while their parents looked on.

It was really saddening that this has been carried across to the islands and it made me a bit depressed (the weather probably had something to do with this too). Had it been any other country, this would all be cleaned up, especially considering it's a tourist destination. I have to put it on record: One thing India is not is clean. And what annoys me is that it doesn't have to be this way. It's a bit like the other thing that bothers me about India "queue-jumping" (both in person and on the roads). Lack of cleanliness, and pushiness. And all of these have been brought to these remote islands. End of rant.

Resolving to get as far away from the littered beach as possible, I decided to try a bit of snorkling. The coral really wasn't up to much at all. All bleached/brown and uninteresting (the water had only about 5m visibility too, although again this might have been weather related). The only saving grace for Elephant Beach was it's wildlife. The array of fish here was pretty fantastic and many are endemic to the islands. The cutest thing I saw was a clown fish guarding her little baby. The baby was about 1 cm in size but was a fully-formed clown fish. The mother was fearless, even coming within 5 cm of my mask as I approached, staring me down.

I managed to snorkle past all the dead trees to the last stretch of sand on the beach. It was completely empty (the only way to get to it was to swim) and for the first time in my trip I was alone (and also litter free!). I realised that I hadn't had one moment like this in my entire trip. India is so packed full of people that, even in the most remote forests or national parks of the North East states, you get people and traffic jams. It's quite nice to have a place to yourself once in a while.

I spent the rest of my time on the beach staring out at the other islands, trying to imagine what life was like here for the native populations before the diesel fumes and plastic bottles of India arrived on their doorstep.

I chilled out for the rest of the day, amidst the heavy rainstorms and rolling blackouts, and watched "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" on the laptop. It's funny that I was able to understand references in the film's dialogue to the "1857 mutiny" and "Shiva" etc.

I don't think I ever really noticed before Laughing

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

dr a v bhat india Says:

18 June 2011

awareness and sense of responsibility can solve the issue of garbage and pushines, should enjoy the richness of culture,diversity, tradition, hospitality,and uniqueness of india.castsystem has nothing to do.shed ignorance,share richness.happy holidy

peterforan Replies:

19 June 2011

you're a doctor? Hard to believe :)

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