Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 12): Andaman Islands
(Top to bottom): Kate, Phil, Steve, Duncan
The rickshaws in Chennai are the maddest I’ve came across. With the Andaman permit fresh in my hand & 50 mins til the boat left, I got this corrupt geezer who decided to drive me around Chennai with the meter on, clocking up a massive fare. Once I realised his game I scream’d at him, storm’d out in the middle of a busy main road & jump’d in an honest rickshaw. Of course , by the time I got to the port I disocver’d the boat was delay’d 5 hours – but of course this is India.
At the quay I met up with Steve, Kate, Jimmy Van de Mere & a couple of their mates call’d Duncan & Phil, the latter of whom had a bottle of liquid acid ready. Jimmy van de Mere had some ketamine bought cheap from a chemist in Gokarna en route, & I still had a bit of the opium left, an interesting ‘voyage’ felt on the cards.
So, towards the end of the afternoon we were in the bowels of the SS Akbar, a huge cavern of bunk-beds, all of whom are western tourists. We are apartheided from the Indians & we have a huge bunk class amidst the pipes that threaded thro’ the bowels of the ship. It is painted Kendal green & with all the ropes & rigging seems like a giant Jungle Jims. The other half of the ‘below ship’ bit is basically the same, but for Indians. Those with more money can take a cabin upstairs. It was cool, actually; lots of young, optimistic & excited travellers heading on a voyage of discovery, the spirit of which compell’d me to produce the following sonnet;
DEPARTING FOR ANDAMAN
Gazing across exotic ocean stream
Shamrock musing drifts to distant Burnley,
Where for as long as breathing there shall be
My family, my friends, my football team –
So far away, for following my dream
I am a stranger in a strange contree,
Though slowly hook’d upon its cup of tea,
Darjeeling serv’d up with a Devon cream.
The sun has fallen & the ship has sail’d,
The last lamps of the mainland shrink & fade,
A momentary notion has prevail’d,
Varuna on Makara far display’d;
Next time by solid ground my feet regaled
Into youth’s fleeting heart I shall have stray’d.
My day on the boat started off mellow, reading in my hammock as it swung to the ships swaying, so I thought I’d try a bit of the opium again. Not long after I lick’d a drop of liquid acid from the top of Phil’s hand. I then had a jolly trippy time exploring my ship, the MV Akbar. The voyage was slowly turning into one massive mash-up as the only option from hanging out in the cramp’d & claustrophobic deck was getting wreck’d – a choice most people made. After sharing some opium with Jimmy Van de Mere, he whipt out a bottle of ketamine & cooked it up right there in the bunk. I tried a line & I had the most cosmic experience of my life really. I led back on my bunk & sort of sank into the universe – all I could see was an astral swath of stars, with a little chime of celestial music thrown into the mix. Then gaining some vague element of consciousness I lifted my body up & it was like breaking the surface of the sea, for suddenly I was surrounded by the blurr’d colours of the bunk class, but only for a few seconds as I suddenly reimmers’d myself in my opiod-ketamine-LSD ocean.
Eventually I came down enough to take charge of my faculties, & there follow’d a floaty few hours watching the ship scythe through the midnight sea. Being thrown into bunk class with another thirty Western tourists was cool, as I found a few new friends for the islands, which we’ll be arriving at in the morning.
This morning we pull’d into the Andaman capital, Port Blair, a sleepy little paradise with an old imperial residence swarming with banyan trees. The Andamans were once a post-1857 penal colony to deal with the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, putting the ‘subversive’ anti-imperialists here rather like the Nazi’s Dachau, the French Devil’s Island & South Africa’s Robben Island. The Andamans are also like the English Channel Islands, being the only Indian ‘soil’ occupied by the Japanese during WW2, apart from a few cross-border excursions from Burma.
After a couple of hours pottering about the place – including an 8 egg omelette to counter the slops I’d been eating in Bunk Class -, a group of us (about 12 in total) bought some hammocks & then caught a boat to Havelock Island. I instantly hired a bike (my first one with gears) & razzed off round the island to Beach Seven (they don’t have names), making camp on the beach with Steve from England, a French guy & an Israeli lass, all in their early 20s.
The rest of the day was spent swimming, snorkeling, writing, & playing chess in the village with the locals. I’ve also found the next new Olympic sport… hermit races. Basically, you choose a hermit crab from the beach & place it in the centre of a circle drawn in the sand… first crab to the perimeter wins. We’ve also been cooking for ourselves & you will soon be able to taste the fruits of my newly acquired culinary skills – masalas & chapattis.
Then going to sleep above the scritches of en masse hermit crabs & the sounds of the Indian ocean, under a delectably bright balloon was beyond beautiful.
My defining moment of the Andamans came this morning… Celia. She is a fine & feisty Norwegian Blonde, who while riding the rough track to the campsite I was struck by a fine ass, pass’d her, stopp’d & invited her for a spliff & a ride. So we took a tour of the island’s beaches, producing a moment to smile about til I die. On my left was the lumescent turquoise ocean, on my right the lush jungle, up above a perfect sun, down below a mighty motorbike, up in front the open road & right behind a gorgeous blonde. When spending a day at the office one likes to have pictures of sexy ladies to look at… I was sat writing my poetry while her skimpily clad curvature splash’d in the waves.
After dropping her off & getting back to the site, the police moved us on from our impromptu site this morning – no permits – so, I took a boat back to the capital where I had to soak my feet in Dettol water and cover them in plasters for frolicking among the coral has ripp’d them to shreds. You’ve gotta be real careful with your cuts, I’ve been told, as they can soon go bad in the humidity (and the fuckin flies know exactly where the sores are).
I am now in the wee townlet of Wandoor for a bit of solitude. My boat to Vizag leaves in two days, so I thought I’d have one last adventure before I leave – let’s hope it’s a good done !
Fuck me! I have been genuinely unnerv’d, the closest I’ve come to death since a certain scampi pasta I cook’d up a couple of years back. This morning I bought a ticket for Jolly Buoy, a tiny island open to visitors for a few hours each day. We got there & sure enough it was paradise; jungle, white sands & shallow coral flush with lushly colour’d fish – thro’ my snorkel mask there appear’d an em’rald phantasie kingdom. So I had a couple of reefers & did a spot of writing whilst tucking into my pack’d lunch (major munchies) in a quiet, shady corner of the beach. After a while I went to check on when the boats would leave & to my horror found they had fuck’d off! I was completely alone on a deserted island with no sign of a boat anywhere – the boats might have come back in the morning, but after taking stock found I only had one third of a litre of water & half a samosa (vegetarian).
Across the waters fishing boats were hugging the mainland but they could not here my shouts over the sounds of the engines which chugg’d over the waves, then faded with the boats into the distance. So I was shipwrecked – & without a reality TV camera crew in sight! So, after stripping off naked I check’d out my possibilities. On one side of me was the ocean’s expanse (next stop Antarctica) & on the other, various islands of the archipelago. The closest one seem’d to be about a mile away, from where smoke seemed to be rising from the jungle… people! After two abortive attempts at swimming (not stoned enough) I tried to make a raft, which duly sank. Fish kept flying out of the water reminding me I was in tropical waters & I remember’d that someone had seen a four foot shark two days ago not far from here. After another spliff I thought fuck it, it’ll be an adventure & began to swim.
After 15 minutes of easy breaststroke I look’d back & realised the current was sweeping me out to sea! Panic kick’d in & I turn’d round for Jolly Buoy, but the current was really strong. For the first time in my life I was dependent on my own strength to save my skin. I swam & swam & swam, my life flashing before my eyes – nor more peachy lady bottoms, no more Yips Chips, no more black pudding from Burnley market, no more of my Gran’s Lancashire hotpot. Fuck, Gran, she’d fuckin’ kill me if I hadn’t just died in a rip-tide in the Indian Ocean.! Fortunately, after a full-on heave of effort my feet touch’d solid & I collapsed in the sand, listening to my thumping heartbeat in a state of shock…
thump…. thump… thump… thump… thump… thump…thump…chug….chug…chug-chug-chug…
This time I shouted as loud as I could & waved frantically & almost piss’d myself when I saw them turn for the island. I quickly dress’d & greeted them passionately – they were very curious about me – & soon we were chugging out across the waters. I quickly skinn’d up & pass’d a spliff round my three new shipmates & lay back in the boat to watch the magnificent sunset – a sunset I was lucky to see! They also gave me a top tip – if u are ever stuck on a desert island you must wave a piece of material to signify you have been stranded (internationally understood).
At the astonished fisherman’s village I gave a geezer 60 rupees to drive me on the back of his bike to my hotel – about 30 miles all in all – where I order’d a huge feast. Like loads of fucking food, most of the dishes on the menu.
After telling my tale to my hotelier, he said apparently I was lucky not to have reach’d the island I was swimming to (with the smoke curls), as there was a good chance they might have in fact eaten me! It certainly seems that Sarsawathi has smil’d on my life today, & I’m not being allow’’d to leave this mortal coil this yet – more work to do, perhaps!
A guy from the Forestry commission came to see me this morning & they will be taking action against the boat owner, despite my protestations as to the otherwise. I figured if their chief witness (me) had fuck’d off the captain couldn’t get into trouble & would be able to continue feeding his family, so I scarper’d back to the capital as soon as they left, penning the following sonnet;
Down southern Andaman lies Jolly Bouy,
Of rainbow coral, full of snorkling joy,
I spent an hour lagooning in a laze,
& fell astoned, then woke, to my amaze
The boat had left me, deserted, alone,
No rizlas, samosas, water, nor phone!
A mile or so across the sharky foam,
A trail of smoke show’d someone was at home,
I built a brushweed raft, but that soon sank,
So off I swam, my goddess I should thank
For showing me this was a wild riptide,
Young muscles haul’d me back, I’d nearly died!
Then, waving to distant boats, at sunset,
I’d be the strangest fish they’ve ever net.
With a few hours to kill before my boat, I potter’d about Port Blair again, completely reliev’d to be alive. I went to check out the Cellular Jail, the main hub of British oppression to where the naughtiest members of the Indian Independence movement were sent. Known as Kālā Pānī (‘Black Water’), the term actually means an overseas journey which strips someone of their caste, leading to social exclusion. Far from the parlour rooms of mercantile London, the full evil of British imperialism was showing its face, with an eventual 80,000 political prisoners facing “torture, medical tests, forced labor and for many, death.” (Guardian Sat 23 Jun 2001). Here’s a quote from that article;
“We are forgotten victims,” says Dhirendra. “Back then, all we wanted was food, and you gave us gruel that was riddled with white threads of worms. We demanded an end to work gangs, and we ended up chained like bullocks to oil mills, grinding mustard seed, around and around. We wanted medical aid for our fevers, and your doctors signed papers stating we were fit enough to flog Dhirendra Chowdhury
Towards dusk I boarded my ship to Vizag & away we went once more. Unfortunately I soon began to feel very sick indeed with some kind dysentry (have you ever shit blood?). Along with an Amsterdam whore I think a young man’s first tropical disease is an initiation into manhood – my body can do that!? The worst moment came when I was flopped on a crusted over ships toilets, sat down where one usually squats & to week to stand, with the ship’s rats scuttling about & my whole body liquifying & gushing out of me – & this only 36 hours after nearly drowning in shark infested seas !
I stagger’d to the ship’s doctor this morning, who gave me some pills & before you know it I was feeling at least half better. So, I decided to finish off my opium, & read a book in my bunk. It’s call’d Life of Pi, a vivid, wonder-suffus’d Booker Prize winner by Yann Martel. Its a story about this shipwreck where this guys changes his fellow shipwreckees into animals – an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger – just to stay sane. In the book there’s this one amazing section which can describe Hindu in a way that I could never;
I am a Hindu because of sculptur’d cones of red kumkum powder & baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers & pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine if the reedy nadaswaram & the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word – faith, I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for. It is my heart that commands me so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple. I am aware of Presence, not personal the way we usually fell presence, but something larger. My heart skips a beat when I Catch sight of the murti, of God Residing, in the inner sanctum of a temple. Truly I am in a sacred cosmic womb, a place where everything is born, & it is my sweet luck to behold its living core.
After a lazy day sailing, in the dark of night, on first seeing the shore lights of the subcontinent, I penn’d the following sonnet’
At the back of the ship, at the height of the trip,
Drawn by the harmonies of Lord Vishnu’s call,
Navel-rooted lotus soft floats over waters
Absorbing the beauteous Bay of Bengal,
Transcending to milk, pearly seaway of silk,
Thou lavender cushion of infinite white,
Surrounding the foetal spirit centripetal
Sucking upon toenails painted starry bright.
“Rider, thou art return’d to India,
Saraswathi, I see, has smil’d on you,
Thy mortal aura bless’d in her prayer,
Thine energies hued in a rainstorm blue,
Come drape thyself in the Himalaya,
For there, thy Rose of Sylver shall renew.”
It was cool sailing into Visakhapatnam as it’s port is pretty ancient, being the only natural harbour on the east coast of India. The Romans were here, for example, & now an English poet was taking his first steps in the state of Andhra Pradesh via its funky harbour. Thus, I am now in ‘Vizag,’ the so called ‘City of Destiny.’ It’s nothing special so far – but I’ve only seen the port, a few streets & my hotel. I do have the feeling, however, that it’s gonna be a great place to hole up & explore for a couple of days!