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Editor’s letter

“Almost everything on this planet has already been explored. The question is – when will we find ourselves exploring all that is already explored?” These few words by famed documentary film maker and National Film awardee, Gaurav Jani, at the Mumbai launch of ‘Explore’, stunned an audience of about a 100 odd adventurers into complete silence. The words also held special significance for me. Having faced several challenging situations and soul searching moments during my off-beat adventures, I too have pondered over the larger questions of life. After all, what is it that so many of us keep searching for despite dream homes, fantastic jobs and wonderful relationships? Are we ever truly satisfied by the endless time we spend navigating that back breaking traffic, negotiating those terms and signing those deals? From the explorer in me, I hear a distinct “No”. I believe that life is not only what lies before your eyes, but also that unseen force which lies beyond. Life pulls at our heartstrings and gives us a reason to wake up to a new day. For some, it is the unconditional love in a child’s eyes, for others it is the simple joy of inhaling fresh mountain air. Life is what lies beyond the explored…it is the unknown constant. This is what we all look forward to – exploring the unexplored. With this in mind, I take immense pride in introducing our new section that navigates through the mind of an explorer. I hope it will reveal to you some of those mysteries of the universe, which most adventurers spend a lifetime in discovering. In this issue, we continue our exploration through our cover story, which takes you as far south of the subcontinent as you can go – Yes! You got it right! We’re exploring the relatively unexplored Andaman Islands! I’m sure this would come as a relief for some of those readers who may till now have thought that ‘Explore’ was predominately about the Himalayas. For these readers, rest assured, there is no ‘Editor’s Bias’. The only thing that this editor is biased towards is presenting the world of adventure to you. Incidentally, our cover story on the Andaman Islands is also an opportunity for readers to discover the difference between ‘adventure’ and ‘outdoors’. For me, the adventures on this planet that are experienced outdoors – amidst the mountains, jungles, deserts and seas, are explorations that in some cases, could keep you there for good! I found no better way of presenting these jewels of the Indian Ocean to you, than through the eyes and hearts of the people who call these spaces – underwater and over the land, their home. But, there is a catch! Being the obstinate mountain lover that I am, I present to you – Chomolungma (Tibetan for ‘Holy Mother’), more commonly known as Mount Everest – a force to be reckoned with and an exercise in humility, that most of us dream of experiencing some day, and a lucky few actually do! Then there is Kilimanjaro, another dream climb. Deoriatal will prove to be a reprieve, while the stunning photo feature on Nagaland is guaranteed to take your breath away. By the way, did I forget to mention, what else our cover story on the Andaman Islands showcases? Well, I guess you’ll just have to turn the pages to step into another world! Happy Exploring!

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Cover Story Amazing Andamans

28 Introducing Andamans

40 Havelock A tourist’s must-see, this island has a lot more to offer than what meets the eye

Buckle up and get all set to explore the beautiful islands

34 Chidiya Tapu Embark on a wreck and a trek in close proximity to Port Blair

52 Barren

46 Little Andaman

This is what geography books taught us and we forgot

58 Narcondam

Go that extra mile for a perfect date with nature

Dreams of every adventurer are made up of trips like this

Features 78 Everest

Give in to the spirit of freedom and adventure inherent in all of us

86 Deoria Tal

Just one of those perfect retreats in the lap of the Himalayas

92 Kilimanjaro

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Trek to the largest free standing land mass on the Earth

100 Nagaland

Do not let hearsay scare you. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the region



64 Wildlife

in the mind 68 PSoak rofile

Harish Kapadia is an boggling biodiversity inspiration to many of within the confines across the globe the 324 islands

70 Ecology

Gaurav Schimar

72 FThe itness fragile ecology

Itof isthe imperative islands istoto prepare your body be appreciated and well in advance to respected avoid injury

72 Basics

guide to choosing 70 B  Aasics

Extensive require the right treks outfitter for a special preparation and safe and exhilarating skills to truly enjoy the diving experience sport

74 Fitness

74 GPrepare ear yourself for

Pick the right and gearinjuryand a rewarding accessories before free holiday in the embarking on those pristine islands excursions


05 Editor's Note 10  Feedback 12  Contributors 14  Updates 22  Launch 108 Resort Review 110 Survive 112 Footprints 114  Adventurer 116  Web Review 118 Book Review 120 Deals 122 Departures 124 Contest 126 What’s Next

Cover photograph: Tasneem Khan Location: Andamans Cover Design: Chitersen Shisodia

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letters to the e d itor September-October 2012 Vol I • Issue 3

Managing Editor Gaurav Schimar

the Subcontinent’S 1St adv enture travel magazine

I was very happy to read the latest edition of the magazine. Simply put,it is fantastic! I really would like to know which trek a beginner should go on, to get a feel of everything. I’ve never been on a proper, professional trek and would love to do so, sometime in the near future.  ~ Karan Subarna, St.Stephens College

Vol I | Issue 2 | July-aug

ust 2012 | `100

Deputy Editor D.V. Krishna Varma Editorial Desk Mohit Kohli, Rekha Kohli Head of Creatives Chitersen Shisodia Illustrations Shalini Shisodia Marketing & Advertising Head Arathi Sen Circulation & Distribution Virendra Negi Advisors Col H.S. Chauhan, President, IMF Col J.S. Dhillon, Principal, IISM Dinesh Gulati, Ex President, Indian Express Tejbir Singh Anand, President, ATOAI Tsering Namgyal, President, ALTOA Explore Media A-22, Vikaspuri, New Delhi - 110018 Edited, Printed, Published and Owned by Gaurav Schimar. Published from A-22, Vikaspuri, New Delhi-110018 and Printed at Rave India Press, A-27, Naraina Industrial Area, Phase- II, New Delhi-110028. The views and opinions expressed or implied in the magazine are those of the writers and contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Publisher. Unsolicited articles and transparencies are sent at the owner’s risk and the publisher accepts no liability for loss and damage. Materials in this publication may not be reproduced, whether in part or whole, without the consent of the Publisher. The publisher reserves the right to refuse, withdraw or otherwise deal with all advertisements without explanation. All advertisements must comply with the Indian Advertisements Code. The publisher will not be liable for any loss caused by any delay in publication, error or failure of advertisement to appear. Supported by


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Accolades! Accolades for launching the 1st adventure travel magazine of the Indian Subcontinent, which is an adventure in itself. Just got a copy of the July-August 2012 issue and it was just a matter of few hours before I finished reading it. The photographs are awesome and the description of the offbeat destinations entice the reader to explore those places. Overall, it was a very pleasant and enthralling reading experience. Also I would like to share my feedback, to make ‘Explore - The Unexplored’ an impeccable option for adventure seekers. The trekking stories may include a summary snapshot which may comprise of trek duration, access to nearest road, railhead, highest point, altitude of the trek, grade of the trek (easy/moderate/ difficult), best season and restrictions if any. Also note that a few photographs did not have captions. This could be improved in subsequent issues. Also answers to the quiz of the previous edition could be provided in the current issue. Once again, kudos for the initiative you have taken. ~ Lakshit Seth, Outlook

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Want to know more

Want to contribute First and foremost – Congratulations on launching India’s indigenous adventure publication. The inaugural issue was a great read and provides a much deserving focus on the magical land of the Indian Subcontinent. What was really exciting to see was that most of the content was generated from local contributions. I am also an avid traveller and am very much interested in contributing to your future issues.  ~ Praveen Maloo, Hyderabad

Missing Ladakh I have gone through the first two editions of ‘Explore - The Unexplored’, an extremely enjoyable read! For someone like me – brought up in the hills of north India, having been to Ladakh as a child (when Ladakh was not open to tourism), brought back a lot of fond memories... and a tinge of envy too. Though perfectly understandable, Explore is extremely North India centric. However, I am sure, as you go by, the rest of the Subcontinent too shall get it’s due share. Despite this, it is a great beginning and I for one, am sold to ‘Explore’ and would love to be a regular reader. Warm regards and all the best!  ~ Tathagatha Ghosh, ATOM, Mumbai Thank you for your inputs. We’ll try our best to incorporate them in our forthcoming issues. Drop us a line:

Explore contributors

sumer verma

UMEED MISTRY Umeed has been diving India’s waters for the last 18 years. He has dived and photographed the Andaman Islands extensively and currently spends most of his time working out of ANET (Andaman & Nicobar Islands Environmental Team). As a dive instructor, and partner with Lacadives, he is also responsible for training some of India’s leading marine researchers, as well as, forest department officials and police personnel on the islands. He is happiest by himself in the water, surrounded by the stillness of the sea, with his camera for company.

TASNEEM KHAN A zoologist by education, Tasneem is better defined as a photographer, scuba diver and a writer with a vast knowledge of the natural world. Currently, she spends most of her time in the Andaman Islands, working as the Assistant Director of ANET. Tasneem’s words and images have found their way to the pages of a number of magazines and to the top spot in the Wildlife Category of ‘Better Photography’, Photographer of the Year Competition of 2008. With experiences that include volunteering at the Pune Snake Park, setting up the Eco Tour program for Barefoot Resorts in the Andamans and managing the ANET base, Tasneem possesses an incredible knowledge of not just the flora and fauna, but also some of the bestkept secrets of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

nayantara jain Nayantara has been working as a SCUBA Instructor and Divemaster from 2009 to 2012 in the Andaman Islands and Lakshadweep. She developed a love for the ocean, from the seaside holidays she took with her family while growing up. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from the UK, she returned home and soon moved to the Andamans to work as a scuba diving instructor. She also assisted biologists in collecting underwater data at the island ecology research base of ANET. Nayantara now lives in San Diego, California, where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.

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t Reach ou at u ntrib tors to our co tu n e v ploread x e @ fo in

Toolika Rani Toolika, ensures safety in air as an Air Traffic Controller and is equally sure footed while traversing dangerous ridges and crossing deep crevasses in mountains. An avid mountaineer, she has done six expeditions in India and abroad, including scaling the mighty Everest. Now she has set her eyes on the highest peaks in the seven continents of the world. Her others passions include travelling and writing. A book on her 2012 Everest expedition is in the making.

SANKAR SRIDHAR Author of ‘Ladakh Trance Himalaya’, Sankar developed a head for heights as a teenager in Calcutta while climbing stairs, first to peddle pagers and then trousers. A photographer and travel writer, Sankar today specializes in documenting remote regions of the Himalayas, by living with the tribes that call these spaces, home. Chasing Nyima, Sankar’s essay on his time with the nomads of Ladakh, found a distinctive place in Penguin’s third edition of First Proof. Sankar’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries across India and have received awards and honourable mentions at national and international salons and contests.

VANDIT KALIA Vandit aka Vinnie is a NAUI Course Director, a PADI Staff Instructor and SSI Divecontrol Specialist Instructor at DiveIndia, Andamans’s first professional dive center and India’s first full-time instructor training facility. A keen diver since 1991, he quit his job as a management consultant in the US, moved back to India and became a full-time dive instructor. His main passion is wreck diving, and his eyes light up at happy memories of diving the freezingwater wrecks of the North Atlantic. Today, he is the highest-ranked instructor in the country and also a keen underwater photographer, at least when his camera gear is not taking an unexpected bath in the sea water.

SANGEETA S bahl Sangeeta in an avid mountaineer, fearless adventurer and a globe trotter, who has seen the world many times over and plans to climb the highest mountains, including some of which have never been scaled before. Her 24x7 passion for travel is inspired by her husband and is also something that motivates her to excel in her chosen field of work. She is the Founder, Author and Director of Impact Image Consultants and is a former Model, Actress and now an Image, Etiquette and Colour Consultant. Sangeeta is the 1st Certified Image Consultant from AICI (Association of Image Consultants International) in India.

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Explore updates

Adventure is the reason has released statistics on the travel habits and research preferences of travellers. These insights have been gathered via their proprietary ‘Destination Explorer’ property, a tool which utilizes avant-garde technology, exclusive content and individual preferences to recommend the most suited holiday experiences to a user. In doing so, this tool captures quantitative data on search preferences of every unique user, thus presenting insights into consumer demands and behavior. This year, Adventure has been the most popular reason for both domestic and international leisure travel with one in every four users searching for such an experience. While destinations such as Auckland and Bali were among the favorites for international holidays in this segment, interestingly some of the most commonly researched domestic adventure destinations were Lansdowne, Auli, Aizawl and Naukuchia Tal.

Saddle up for Jamaica There’s no better way to explore the mountain trails, the peaceful meadows and the sandy shore of Jamaica than by horseback. Jamaica, besides being famous for sun, sand, rum and reggae, one must not miss the experience of horseback riding on the beautiful beaches of Caribbean’s third largest island. One can ride bareback into the sea or take a horse on a river walk or a beach tour. Explore the rain forest and historical sites including working plantations. Experienced riders will want to take jumping and polo lessons. From ride ‘n swim to polo, Jamaica offers a wide array of fun-filled equestrian activities. Saddle up to experience another side of Jamaica. Braco Stables offers excellent group rides through the sugarcane country that culminates in a bareback ride into the turquoise surf. The ride ends with refreshments at the Braco Great House. Prominent signages on the main road take you to the stables, through Rio Bueno, a fishing village 52km east of Montego Bay. Whether you are a die-hard race fan or one looking for an exciting way to spend a day in the Kingston area - Caymanas Park promises a day of fun-filled entertainment for the entire family. The sole promoter of horseracing and racing pools in Jamaica, Caymanas Track Limited takes pride in presenting over 80 days of racing each year. So join throngs of Jamaican enthusiasts and enjoy the thrill of a day at the Track – win or lose, it is the place where you will definitely have the time of your life!

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Do you have it in you? Do you thirst for the road? Do you long to feel the wind in your face? Do you want to escape all that is known and discover the unexplored? And do you love everything that moves on one, two, three or four wheels? If you are all of these, you are in luck! ‘Explore The Unexplored’, will be soon rolling out a contest for roadies, which will take them through stunning locales across the subcontinent. All on the house! Could not ask for more? Look no further, as the lucky ones will get to accompany Gaurav Schimar, Editor of ‘Explore - The Unexplored’, on his rambles across the subcontinent. The nomad that he is known to be, even while living on the roads, Schimar is bound to leave everyone high and gasping for more. The trips are expected to start from the middle of October. Look out for latest updates on

Explore updates Disney delights

The Inspiration Lives on In Subedar Amar Prakash, or Amar Sir, as he was fondly called, India has lost not only a great mountaineer, but also a fine human being. Recipient of the Shaurya Chakra and the Indian Mountaineering Federation Gold Medal, Amar was a mentor to several budding mountaineers. He was known for making the best of every situation and making the most difficult times seem cheerful, a quality that endeared him to many. It was no surprise therefore, that Amar’s untimely death left many people from the mountaineering fraternity shell shocked. Hailing from Lahaul in Himachal, mountaineering was in Amar’s blood. He was one of the rare few to conquer Everest twice and returned just short of Everest’s summit, on his third attempt. In fact, Amar was a part of the first Indian expedition to successfully conquer Everest from the Kangshung Face, the most difficult route to Everest. He was one of the most dependable and skilled lead climbers of the ‘80s and ‘90s and was part of almost all the major expeditions organized by India, be it the Joint Indo-US Army Expedition to Mana, the Kabru Massif Expedition, the Joint Indo-British Army Expedition to Gorichen or the HMI-Argentina Expedition to Kamet, Abi Gamin and Acancagua. Amar’s passing away, is a huge loss to his many friends and disciples. However, he continues to be an inspiration to many. ‘Explore’ salutes the spirit of this daring mountaineer. ~ Parineeta Chauhan

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Walt Disney World guests can sip new wines, beers and cocktails, savor delicious new marketplace tastes and enjoy live entertainment all day long, at the 17th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival from September 28 to November 12, 2012. The 46-day festival at Disney’s Epcot theme park serves up authentic cuisine from six continents; wine, beer and inventive new cocktails; nightly ‘Eat to the Beat Concerts’ with entertainment ranging from rock and soul to funk and blues; cultural exhibits of more than 25 international regions; and regularly scheduled performances by acrobats, musicians, dancers and comedy troupes. Exotic marketplaces from Hawaii to Belgium offer exciting tasty treats. The festival is believed to be the largest food and wine event of its kind in the world, beginning at the Festival Welcome Center in Future World and fanning around the promenade encircling World Showcase Lagoon near Orlando, Florida.

Druk Air going places Druk ir’s inaugural flight from Paro landed at Changi International Airport, Singapore on 28th August. The flight brought a forty five member delegation of government, Druk Air, Tourism Council and private sector representatives. The delegation was led by Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck. Singapore is the fifth country to be linked by Druk Air with Bhutan. Over the past three years, there has been a rapid growth in the number of visitors from the island state. The number of travellers is expected to further grow with this direct flight. The arrival was followed by the opening of ‘Bhutan: The Untouched Kingdom’ photo exhibition at Changi International Airport Terminal 3.

Explore updates World looses its Star kayaker One of the most experienced kayaker in the world, Ian Beecroft passed away whilst kayaking the Tsrarap Chu in Ladakh, on 2nd September 2012. Ian drowned on the Tsarap Chu downstream of Phugtal Monastery and some 40km from the village and small district centre of Padum. Ian was leading a small team of international kayakers on an expedition down the Tsarap Chu and then on through the Grand Canyon of the Zanskar. Ian was a vastly experienced white water kayaker – he had paddled many of the major rivers of the Himalayas and was the co-author of the guidebook ‘White Water South Alps’. He shared his love of rivers through this forum under “Croft” and many kayakers all over the world will have paddled with him and enjoyed his enthusiasm for life.

Man vs Nature: The debate continues Close on heels of pro-dam protests, a section of environmentalists have blamed the construction of a series of hydel projects for the recent devastation caused by cloudbursts and heavy flooding in Uttarkashi district. “If you temper with them (rivers), they will become angry and create havoc. This is nature where no one likes to be hurt,” ‘Chipko’ movement leader Sunderlal Bahuguna said. Nearly 28 people were killed and hundreds rendered homeless on August 4 following heavy flooding of Assi Ganga River in Uttarakashi, where a series of hydel projects are coming up. The devastation caused by the floods has brought the controversial issue of hydel projects back to the fore with one section of environmentalists opposing them and others supporting them.

The Ang Tung Expedition 2012 In a first known one of its kind, a five member team consisting of Divyesh Muni (Leader), Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Aditi Gadgil and Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh made the first ascent of two peaks – Petze Kangri (20,112ft) and Lugzl Pombo (21,045ft) of the Ang Tung range of mountains of Kho Lungpa valley, located near Pangong Tso, Ladakh, in July-August 2012. The team, sponsored by ‘The Himalayan Club’, trekked for two days from the village of Yurgo with a caravan of horses carrying about 1500kg of ration, camping gear, ropes and technical equipment. On 4th August they established Base Camp at Vimgul (17,095ft). After an initial reconnaissance, they decided to attempt Petze Kangri (20,112ft) An advance Base Camp was established at 18620ft and on 9th August, the team left at 7 a.m. for the climb. Vineeta Muni, Rajesh Gadgil, Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh and Divyesh Muni along with Sherpas Neema Thondup and Pemba Norbu were happy to be on the summit at 11 a.m. They were greeted with spectacular views of the entire range of unclimbed peaks around them and the beautiful valley that stretched for kilometers towards the mountains of Tibet and East Karakoram. Happy with their first ascent, the team withdrew to Base Camp.

Setting Precedents The Government of New Zealand has placed a high level of responsibility on adventure tourism operators, to make sure their staff are not impaired by drugs or alcohol while working. The government has proposed changes to the Health and Safety (Adventure Activities) Regulations 2011 and aviation and maritime rules, requiring operators to monitor and manage safety risks associated with drug or alcohol impairment, from December this year. During independent safety audits, adventure tourism operators will be required by law, to address the possibility of drug and alcohol use in their health and safety management. Courtesy: The New Zealand Herald

18 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012

Explore updates

Pride of Haryana Despite severe personal and financial constraints, Kapil Ruhil, a gutsy Haryana Armed Police cop and national level kabbadi player, refused to give up his dream of scaling Mount Everest. After borrowing money from family and friends, Kapil undertook the expedition with bare minimum supplies and his faith in God to sustain him. After scaling Island Peak (20,305 ft) and Kala Patthar (18,300 ft), he finally reached Camp I (20,000 ft) on 26th April and Camp II (21,300 ft) on 27th April, 2012. His first attempt at scaling the summit was thwarted by an avalanche, which took away two fellow climbers in its icy embrace. Shaken but resolute, Kapil undertook the second attempt on 15th May to reach Camp IV two days later. He then realized that he was without food and the regulatory water flask. Within two hours, his head-light too went off and he was reduced to following other climbers in utter darkness. Huge crevasses waited to swallow him up, should he miss a single step. Kapil did the impossible. He finally set foot on the top of the world (29,035 ft) at 0930 hrs on 19th May, 2012, to unfurl the Indian flag. Overwhelmed with emotion, he spent twenty minutes at the summit, with the world under his feet. By the time Kapil started his descent, he had eaten only two apples in five days and had not sipped water in nearly 22 hours. Battered and bruised from slipping, he reached the Base Camp on the afternoon of the third day to a warm welcome and to become the first Indian sportsman Everester.

The Ultimate High Skydiving or Tandem Skydiving is fast catching the fancy of the Indian traveller. Tandem skydiving refers to a type of skydiving, where a student skydiver is connected via a harness to a tandem instructor, who guides the student throughout the dive. Popular as a training method for first time skydivers, during tandem skydiving the student needs only minimal instruction before the dive. The good news is that, this once in a lifetime experience is now offered in Mauritius. Best experienced in summer, the unique pre-flight experience gives you a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Mauritius’ amazing and awesome coastal, inland and mountain scenery. During the dive, skydivers experience a freefall for about a minute, during which they reach a speed of 200km/hr, before the instructor opens the canopy, to let them float down for about 5 minutes and then lands them safely on the ground. If you are a first timer, the instructor will guide you through the dive from exit through freefall, piloting the canopy and landing. The whole skydiving experience takes about an hour and includes ground training, a 25-minute flight to 10,000 ft from where the skydivers jump, freefall and parachute flight. The take-off from the sugar fields of Mon Loisir, offers stunning views of Mauritius’ lagoons and reefs stretching far into the Indian Ocean. Skydiving in Mauritius, is endorsed by its Department of Civil Aviation and qualified Instructors with thousands of skydives, ensure that the highest international safety standards are met at all times. Tandem skydivers receive a skydiving certificate as a memento of their memorable experience. For a small additional cost one can also get a DVD recording of their experience. However for this, bookings have to be made in advance at the diving centre, on the day of the activity.

20 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012

Explore your world

Explore LAUNCH

It was an evening of pure delight for any true adventurer. The speeches made by stalwarts added fuel to the already existing adventurer in me. It was an evening when the journey to ‘Explore - The Unexplored’ commenced for me. ~ Arathi Sen Advertising & Marketing Head

Bash Mumbai

Explore’s Industry launch took place on July 18, 2012 at Sofitel Mumbai BKC at a hi-adrenaline evening with spirited adventurers stealing the show In pursuit of its vision of being the ‘Final word on Adventure in the Subcontinent’, ‘Explore the Unexplored’ went to the financial nerve centre of the country, Mumbai, in the month of July this year.

budding adventure enthusiasts. Also to arrive specially for the event to share their enthusiasm for flying and adventure with the audience, were the ‘Flying’ couple and founders of TemplePilots - Avi and Anita Malik.

The super charged, star studded evening at the newly opened Sofitel Hotel at Bandra Kurla Complex, witnessed a spellbinding expose by several ‘Adventure’ experts, including Gaurav Jani, Harish Kapadia and Bhuvan Khare, to an audience comprising of several seasoned and

After defeating pouring rain and cancelled flights, adventurer and actress Gul Panag, reached just in time to add her unique brand of glitter and passion to the event. Gul began with “I am very happy that an adventure magazine has finally been launched in India”. She later

France is a land of formidable experiences. We would indeed be pleased to explore avenues of collaboration with ‘Explore - The Unexplored’ ~ Catherine Oden France Tourism

Celebrity adventurer Gul Panag gets into the groove of the evening with Gaurav Schimar

22 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012

PHOTOGRAPHS courtesy: impact

The evening was a celebration of the spirit of Adventure and a call to get out and EXPLORE!” ~ Aparna Andhare Master of Ceremonies


I am glad that Gaurav Schimar has finally given shape to his dreams with the help of his friend Chitersen Shisodia ~ N.K. Awasthi Aviator

Divyesh Muni of Himalayan Club (right) engrosses the guests at the evening

added “Coming from an army background, adventure and travel has been my passion and ‘Explore’ would be an ideal platform to share those adventures with the larger world.” “It sure is a trailblazing venture on a topic with very limited information. When I went through your publication, I was struck by the ease with which information on adventure activities is available to the reader. I hope ‘Explore’ will be marketing in Mumbai as well, as I am sure there is a need for readers here to be able to access

Avi Malik, Founder of TemplePilots gives a lesson on flying

Catherine Oden finds her passion at the evening

the subcontinent’s own adventure magazine“, said Harish Kapadia, veteran trekker and author of ‘Trek the Sahyadris’. Amidst loud cheers and resounding applause, the editor of the magazine, Gaurav Schimar, dedicated the evening to the spirit of adventure by felicitating Everesters from the Giri Premi Club, Pune. Despite a meager budget and severe resource constraints, this year these adventurers finally achieved their dream of scaling Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.

Film maker Gaurav Jani at the evening

The question is – when will we find ourselves exploring all that is already explored? ~ Gaurav Jani Director Dirt Track Productions

I am glad that I could leave the rut of the corporate world and follow my dreams and be a part of the creation of ‘Explore - The Unexplored’ ~ Chitersen Shisodia Head of Creatives

Pushpa Koshal and Monica Tata grace the evening

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cover story



Whether it is riding a bike or trekking a hill, swimming with dolphins or befriending some wily beasts, experiencing the thrills of seeing the only active volcano of India spew smoke or just diving the coral reefs; the only place to head is the Andaman archipelago


All images photographed in restricted areas have been done so with requisite permissions from the Forest Department and Tribal Welfare Department, as well as any other paper work required by the Andaman and Nicobar Administration


cover story


In the

28 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012

Two weeks(!) is what he thought would be more than enough to discover the beautiful archipelago that lies shimmering in the Bay of Bengal. Having been there, Gaurav Schimar, now realizes that even a lifetime may not be enough to do justice to the beauty of the Andaman Islands

PHOTOGRAPHS: gaurav schimar

prevue Andaman & Nicobar Islands were a long cherished dream. During middle school geography classes, the tiny polygons off India’s eastern coast, dotting the stretch of blue on the globe had me fascinated. The text books were not informative and I could only gather that these islands were a part of India. History books were a little better with information and enlightened me to the fact that countless gallant freedom fighters were sent to the Cellular Jail at Port Blair – the infamous Kalapani. Several years later, when a Naval friend of mine was posted at Port Blair, the dream seemed closer at hand. Alas! Destiny had something else in store and the tsunami on December 26,

2004, wreaked havoc on the fragile life of the archipelago. In 2010, hope crept in again as I found myself a part of an expedition to the islands. Once again, destiny prevailed and a road accident saw me cooling my heels off in Delhi’s cold winters. But destiny could prevail no longer! The moment had finally arrived and I found the chance to join the 2011 New Year celebrations at the Andaman Islands (Nicobar is off limits for the regular junta). The moment I knew I was flying to the Andamans, I dialled all the “experts” I knew, who told me (quite emphatically) that two weeks would be more than enough to explore the region. So two weeks it was and even though the last minute

air tickets cost me a bomb owing to the holiday rush, there was no turning back. On arriving helter-skelter at the Delhi Airport one foggy December morning, I discovered to my utter dismay that most flights had been cancelled that day. It seemed that destiny was playing truant yet again. After spending the whole day in endless negotiations with the airline staff, I pulled off a coup to get closer to my dream and managed to land at Kolkata the same day. The last day of the year saw me en-route to Port Blair, and I could scarcely keep myself from grinning with glee during the two hour flight over the deep blue sea. The

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


cover story

Fastfacts When to Go The season time for conventional travellers is from October all the way till May. Weather is most pleasant from December to April. Though monsoon is completely off season for tourists to Andaman, it is still probably the best time for some real exploration.

Getting There Getting to the Andamans can be an exploration in itself. A more time taking, albeit very adventurous option is to opt for a boat ride from either Chennai (65 hours) or Kolkata (60 hours). But beware - the sailing time of boats are completely dependent on

glee soon turned into awe, as the shimmering coastline came into view. What I saw from the tiny window of the airplane made me realise that I had been “misguided” by the so called experts. There was no way I was going to explore even a fraction of the Andamans in two weeks! For the uninitiated, the Andaman & Nicobar group of Islands lie off the eastern coast of India, at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Spread over 6500 sq km, the islands are closer to Indonesia, Thailand and Burma, than to mainland India. The Great Nicobar island, which proudly hosts the southernmost point of India,

weather conditions. So delay and cancellations are not uncommon even in peak season. Going by air is the more popular and faster mode of transport, but again subjective to weather conditions. Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher flies daily to Port Blair directly, from Chennai and Kolkata. Connecting flights are available from all other major cities in India. There are no direct international flights to Port Blair, as yet.

Where to Stay There are stay options to suit all budgets, across all the islands in Andamans which are open to tourists.

Indira Point (yes, it isn’t Kanyakumari) lies barely 150 km from Sumatra in Indonesia. Had you been allowed, it would be simple enough to take a boat ride to Sumatra. Tourists are allowed to visit select islands that comprise the Andamans. Nicobar Islands are completely off-limits for civilians, unless you are a part of an elite exploration unit whose visit is going to be of phenomenal benefit to the world. So the fateful last day of the year, saw me stepping out on the tarmac under an unrelenting sun at Veer Savarkar Airport, Port Blair. The airport was teeming with tourists who had come to spend the New Year here. I learnt

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ENTER ANDAMANS (Previous page): A boat launches off Port Blair; (above) the infamous Cellular Jail; (facing page) the jetty at Neil Island

from a few foreign tourists that they intended to head straight to the jetty for a boat ride to Havelock, one of the most happening islands in the region. Ever the dreamer, I took the road less travelled. A cab took me straight to the (recommended by friends) Palm Grove Eco Resort, where I was met by the ever helpful owner of the resort, Shibhu. After breathing in the fresh air of the resort and resting for a while under the thatched roof of my cool room, I called a cab to take me to the nearest beach at Corbyn’s Cove, which I later realised was barely three kilometres away. Much of the beach had been washed away in the


2004 tsunami. However, that night, Corbyn’s Cove was teeming with New Year revellers. Though the currents are known to be pretty strong here and a signboard strictly cautions you “Beware of Crocodiles”, neither could deter the few bold locals who decided to take a celebratory plunge into the dark sea water. The first day of the New Year saw me perched atop Shibhu’s modified, no-

“And now look at me. In Port Blair, I am God”

frills, Royal Enfield, which became my companion around Port Blair, whenever Shibhu could spare it. My exploration of Port Blair started with a visit to the Cellular Jail. The towering gates of the jail and the imposing structure, dotted with hundreds of tiny iron clad skylights, subdued my spirit. I was surprised to see that the compound’s walls were low. I later learnt the reason for this from an information board inside. It is said that the dreaded jailor, David Barry warned all prisoners, “…..We tame lions here. You see these walls around? Do you know why they are so low? Because no one escapes from this place. All around for a thousand miles, there is nothing but sea. And now look at me. In Port Blair, I am God”.

Of the seven wings of the jail, two were destroyed during the Japanese invasion in the Second World War and two post independence. The remaining three wings continue to be immaculately maintained as a National Memorial and form an elaborate backdrop to a stunning sound and light show in the evenings. Stories of the atrocities our freedom fighters went through, were heart wrenching. I finally understood first hand, something which no history book can ever explain – the terrible cost of our nation’s freedom. I offered a silent prayer for the martyrs who lost their lives in the struggle for our independence. It was a humbled and sombre me who returned to the resort that night.

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cover story I set out for my late afternoon rendezvous with Divemaster Nayantara at the ANET base in North Wandoor, South Andaman Island. The Andaman & Nicobar Environment Team popularly known as ANET, is a haven for researchers and naturalists. Tara (as she is fondly known as) took me around for a dekko. The shimmering water and white sand of the adjoining beach looked inviting. I looked around for the regulatory signboard warning visitors of crocodiles and on not spotting one, started by asking Tara, “If we –“. She cut me short saying, “This beach is part of the Lohabarak crocodile sanctuary.” Whew! So there went my swimming ambitions. Shibhu had already acquainted me with the story of a tourist being gobbled up by a crocodile while trying to capture the reptile on film. So I ventured no further. Tara took me around to the mangrove forests and educated me about the fragile ecology of the island. Small fish and frogs of all sizes were to be seen hopping around. I was forced to watch my step so as

GettingAround To travel within and around Port Blair, you may opt for a cab or hire a motorbike or a bicycle. The main islands of North, Middle and South are well connected by road. While you can travel on your own in South Andaman, you need to be a part of an organised trip, to travel to Middle and North Andaman. There are regular ferry services to other islands including Diglipur and Mayabunder in North Andaman and other islands like Neil, Havelock and Little Andaman. Special boats and good outfitters are required to be arranged to visit Barren. Special permissions, which are hard to acquire, have to be taken and services of specialised outfitters are required to visit out of bound islands. You can also opt for the seaplane or the inter-island helicopter services to travel to places like Havelock, Neil and Diglipur.

not to squish any living being. It was then that I realized that Tara, like the other researchers we encountered, had been walking barefoot all along. After bidding adieu to Tara, I headed out to catch the sunset at the famous Wandoor Beach located on the southern tip of South Wandoor. Alas! I was late for my appointment with the setting sun, but the night ride back to Port Blair more than made up for it. Determined not to miss the

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rising sun, I got up early the next morning and rode out to watch the sun rise out of the ocean at a few sites that came highly recommended by Shibu. And so it was then, that I decided to visit Chidiya Tapu. On arriving I realized that one could see only the sunset at Chidiya Tapu and it was too early for a peep into the bird sanctuary there. The rest of the day was spent riding around town, getting on to a ferry (bike and all) at Phoenix Jetty, to get off at North Bay Jetty. The Mount Harriet National Park was a short, beautiful drive through a dense forest from the jetty. Incidentally Mount Harriet is the highest point in South Andaman and the Forest Department’s guest house has some excellent vantage points for the shutterbug. After exploring the national park, I made it back in time to watch the gorgeous rust gold sun set at Chidya Tapu. It was time to move on. Next day, saw me ditch the seaplane ride for a boat ride to Neil Island. I am glad I did so. It was a clear morning and I was up on the deck to witness the ever changing hues of the blue ocean.


I saw fish of various colours trying to catch up with the giant monster trailblazing through the sea. The captain was kind enough to let me stand on the bow (remember Titanic?) where I was drenched in a fine spray of sea water. At Neil, I checked into the Tango Beach Resort. I dumped my bags in the room and without thinking for another second, without looking for any warning signage, stepped onto the beach and into the sea. The night was spent on a hammock strung out thoughtfully on the beach for the benefit of lone travellers like me, watching the star spangled sky. I woke up with a back ache, courtesy the hammock and went for a bicycle ride around the small and quaint island which at its widest is only 5 km. Post lunch, I set out to explore the Laxmanpur Beach, which

MEN AND THEIR DEVICES (Clockwise from L): A boat makes its way around Neil Island; a fisherman casts his net at Laxmanpur Beach; an abandoned Tollywood film set at Neil; scuba divers gear up to explore under water

boasted of an abandoned but still beautiful Tollywood film set. Neil, to me appealed much more than its popular big brother next door – Havelock. Of course, the high point of the time spent at Havelock was my diving experience! My diving instructor ushered me into the fascinating underwater world, which I had till then seen only in movies and photographs. Back on terra firma, I happened to run into Rajan, the last surviving seafaring elephant. He didn’t look very happy to me. How could he? He is after all a social animal, meant to be a part of a herd and yet forced into solitary confinement. While at Havelock, I also ran into some interesting people like Sajan, who were happy to share details about the sensitive ecology

of the region, that was being slowly destroyed by mindless tourism. From Havelock, I took the last ship out to Port Blair. The setting sun was casting its magic on the deep blue water. The golden palette of the evening sky was mirrored flawlessly by the ocean. My two week trip to the Andamans, was drawing to a close. There was so much left unexplored – Baratang, Barren, Little Andaman… the list was endless. Yet, there was a sense of deep satisfaction for having fulfilled a cherished dream - a dream that has now given way to a longing to coax more hidden treasures out of these fascinating islands. I knew even if I spent a lifetime in these sparkling islands, I would only be able to explore as much. On that note, I shall leave you with the people who call these spaces their home, to explore the amazing Andamans.

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Chidiya Tapu


wreck and A trek

The only place near home where you get to see the beauty in the sky, on land and underwater at one place, says Nayantara Jain

PHOTOGRAPHs: umeed mistry

Andaman Islands! It’s been a strange love affair. My first visit four years ago, happened thanks to the Gandhi family. There, now I have your attention – love, travel and politics – isn’t it exciting? I was hoping to go to Lakshadweep and ended up here because the resort I was booked into was suddenly sequestered for a much-needed vacation for India’s First family. When you want a tropical island, only a tropical island will do. So I put on my game face, made a last-minute change of plan, and flew into Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair, instead. It was an inauspicious start, and when I stepped into the urban village that is Port Blair, I was quite tempted to get back on the flight and make a hasty retreat. I’m glad, I didn’t! This was a journey that changed my life. It took me out of the city and into the sea. At times, to have a once in a lifetime sort of experience, you have to give things a second chance. I made my way to the harbour and found the next ferry to take me out UP AND AWAY: Black-naped Terns at Chidiya Tapu take to the sky as the photographer tries to sneak up on them from underwater

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to one of the more pristine islands. Ironically, this is the route that most tourists follow, which explains why the dramatic southernmost tip of the South Andaman Island – Chidiya Tapu or Bird Island – is for the most part, left out of the tourist trail. It took me nearly two years of living in the Andamans before I discovered Chidiya Tapu, I hope you find it sooner… My very first visit involved a wreck and a trek. There are only two dive centres in Chidiya Tapu. ‘Infinity Scuba’, run by a charismatic and imposing ex-Naval officer, and ‘Lacadives’, India’s oldest dive centre with experience in both the Andaman and the Lakshadweep Islands. A stone’s throw away from

each other, both are right on the water front. Quickly we load up the small wooden boat to reach the shipwreck which is twenty minutes away. We head towards a small protruding rock called ‘Corruption Point’, a dive site in its own right. The boat boy with his ocean eyes, spots the small buoy bobbing just beneath the surface. The boat fastened, the dive begins. We tumble into the water and make our way down along the buoy line. I am already distracted by the juvenile pilot jack playing on the line, but the dive leader beckons me deeper. We make it through the surface currents,

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(Above) A boatman waits patiently for divers to emerge from a dive;

and for the next 15 metres, there is only blue. We reach a depth of 25 metres and suddenly we see beneath us – a World War One vessel, that once held a few platoons of soldiers but is now surrounded by a troop of neon fusiliers. We let go of the line and fin towards her bow, the realm of the batfish. Hundreds of batfish suspended in the water, these curious fish would make the worst spies. Unabashedly they stare at you, intrigued they follow you around, as you trespass their territory. Enjoy the attention, because as you turn the corner, you will be ignored. The tuna and jacks are focused, cutting in and out of their prey. The schools of blue lined snappers lie at the bottom, like a pool of forgotten sunshine. In the periphery of my vision I spot something silver. I focus and there are two giant Barracudas, silently biding their time. There are groupers galore in the nooks and crannies of the wreck. A banded sea krait slithers gracefully in and out of holes in the corroding ship. We pass through the center and the dive leader points down, with a goofy regulatorin-mouth smile. I follow his finger and see a bathtub – it must have been an officer’s luxurious toilette, now filled with salty bathwater, a century old. Big grey snappers hover above with their reddish lips and mean teeth, and I see three giant trevallies coming in from a

Chidiya Tapu distance to join the feast. Again I see movement from the corner of my eye – I turn quickly and spot a giant grouper, as tall as me, with impressive bulk. It swims over a section of the wreck, and then disappears into a smaller opening than I thought it could possibly fit into.


At 35 metres, in fairly strong currents and abundant fauna, I spot a tiny anemone with a precocious little clownfish. I stop for a moment, struck by the strange sensation of seeing a cartoon character in an art film. I smile at his determination to play with the big guys. I’m jealous that he gets to stay on, while I have to surface. It’s been a deep dive, and since neither dive centres offer Nitrox, we can stay underwater for just 25 minutes. Reluctantly we make our way up for the safety stop at 5 metres. When we finally surface, we will excitedly exchange notes, but for now I revel in the silence. Suspended in blue water, stunned by the magic I just witnessed. Wreck completed we head back to shore. A Swiss-German anthropologist working in the Andamans for years promised to take me on a trek of a lifetime. I swap my fins for flip-flops, my regulator for a water bottle and drive to the beach 10 minutes south. A word of advice; do not try this trek on a weekend, so as to avoid the swarm of weekend beachgoers.. The walk begins

BUS – If you’re willing to rough it out, try taking the public bus from any bus stop in Port Blair. Though the fare is nominal, but the rattling and overcrowded buses can be one of a kind experience.

Getting There

Staying there

TAXI – a one way taxi ride from the airport should cost you approximately `600. If you want them to wait there for a couple of hours, and bring you back to Port Blair, you can usually do it for under `2000.

Rose Valley Resort – here a night’s stay would cost around `5000, while the resort offers all the amenities needed especially if you are traveling as a family with children or elderly.

Either way, enjoy the journey. Once you drive through the town, the rest of the ride is past a beautiful coast line and dense lush green rainforest.

A less expensive option is a small resort nestled in the Chidiya Tapu forest, 10 minutes from both dive centres. Inquire at Infinity Scuba for rates and availability. Alternatively, you can have a base at any hotel at Port Blair and make the 45 minute journey to Chidiya Tapu by bus or taxi.

When to Go The best time to trek and dive in the region is in the post monsoon months.

along the beach, past a wonderful wooden bridge over a creek. Towards the end of the beach, a narrow opening through the break in the vegetation takes you up the Munda Pahad. I followed the long-haired, linen-shirted anthropologist through an unfortunate heap of plastic bottles and disposable picnic plates (don’t say I didn’t warn you), but since it was a journey of second chances, I trudged on.

(Below) Atop of Munda Pahad, the southern most tip of the island, just before sunset

PHOTOGRAPHs: Gauri Chopra

Leaving the hazardous plastic waste behind we were on a path that played hide and seek, through the dense canopy, winding through trees and spiny undergrowth. I walked slowly

up the gradual incline, listening to the background sound of the ocean. From the forest the ocean was not visible. But the sound of waves crashing on either side, reminded you, that you are on a narrow finger of land protruding into the ocean. It is a beautiful tune to march to, but the anthropologist pointed out that I should listen to the details. Sure enough, I found a beautiful amalgam of the sound of cooing birds, of forest lizards rustling in the dense undergrowth, of insects singing that any theatre professional would be proud of. The sky of Chidiya Tapu boasts of 46 varieties of birds - drongos, hanging parrot, scarlet minivet, emerald dove,

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cover story long-tailed and red-breasted parakeets, white-bellied sea eagles and greyfronted and imperial green pigeons to name a few. I walked slowly and every couple of minutes, the sides of the forest would open up, revealing rocky cliffs fringed with the bluest, clearest water. We paused many times involuntarily rendered motionless by the majestic views. After forty minutes or so at a leisurely pace we passed by a lighthouse that seemed straight out of a picture book. We climbed up the spiral staircase for yet another vantage point. The door to this lighthouse is not always unlocked, but sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised. A few minutes later and past one final burst of dense vegetation we reached the southernmost tip of the South Andaman Island. I stood at the peninsula, with ocean on three sides. To the south and the east it stretched on forever, uninterrupted by land and marked by the occasional dot of a boat bobbing in the distant sea. Every time I have gone there, I keep my eyes peeled, as something assures me that one day I will see a pod of majestic whales passing by, or the tail of a sea monster, or the back of a lithe mermaid. There is something about an open ocean that fills you with hope and endless possibility!

GET DIVE CERTIFIED A dive certification is needed if you want to explore 70% of the world that is water. There are two widely recognized certifications available in Andamans: PADI – an American certification is available in Infinity Scuba and Lacadives

and open water dives. Both centres charge `20,000 for this course. An entry level CMAS course costs a little less. Both courses require an additional deep dive training if you choose to dive the ship wreck. This dive will also count towards your Advanced diver training, if and when you choose to do it.

CMAS – a French federation certification is available at Lacadives.

`13,500 and involves theory and 5 Specialty

PADI Open Water Course is a four day course that involves theory, pool session

Dives, which can include Night Dives, Navigation Dives, Deep Dives amongst others to choose from.

The Advanced Open Water Course costs

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To the west, across a channel, you see the dark island of Rutland or Kala Pahad, though densely forested you can clearly see its dark hue. A calm sea flows between Rutland and me; it is placid and innocuous. And then I spot a tiny rock and recognize excitedly that it is ‘Corruption Point’. Having been under the surface right there a few hours ago, I know of all the life pulsing underneath – breathing, hunting, dancing, playing, and yet on the surface there is no sign of any of it. Second chances, I am reminded. I promise myself to

Chidiya Tapu I promise myself to always look deeper, to never get locked into one perspective, to appreciate the three dimensionality of this beautiful planet

secure in their masterful camouflage. Another beautiful place to go to dive is the Cinque Islands. A long boat journey (30 minutes to an hour or more depending on the type of dive boat) from Chidiya Tapu, takes you to the tiny North and South Cinque. Always with exquisite visibility, dives here are a treat for underwater photographers. It is the only place where I have ascended

SETTING BEAUTY: (L to R) The setting sun casts magic; exploring an inlet into a little cave on Rutland Island

Gaurav Schimar

always look deeper, to never get locked into one perspective, to appreciate the three dimensionality of this beautiful planet. It reminds me to never again get stuck in a flat in the city but to climb, to swim, to dive and to soar. I have returned to Chidiya Tapu many times since then, and taken many people on this journey of a wreck and a trek, for it remains for me the diving highlight of this place. But there is plenty more on offer on this island. Other dive sites include

Pirate Rock, where strong currents cut through a network of rocks. It creates channels in which you can dive, with sharp rocky faces on either side, covered with colorful soft coral and beautiful oysters. As the current takes you where it desires, you will see turtles and napoleon wrasses seemingly unaffected, feeding and floating at will. There is Fish Point, a shallow dive site with schools of snapper and fusiliers and ephemeral silver sides. Train your eyes to pick up nuances, and you will spot many a scorpion fish sitting on the benthos,

from a dive to stare straight into the eyes of a grazing deer, instead of the dive boat I was looking for. There is nothing wrong with the beaten trail – people would not traverse it if there was nothing to see. But occasionally, veering off it rewards you with a pleasant surprise. I had not heard much of Chidiya Tapu and no description of it was particularly inspiring. The fact that it occupied the same island as Port Blair was enough to act as a deterrent. When you choose to go to an island, you think ‘pristine’ and rush out of the crowds without a backward glance. Don’t! Change your lens! Look through the crowd and past it! I saw the most dramatic beauty where I least expected it! Not to forget the beautiful collection of corals, butterflies and the splendour of the sun setting in the wine red horizon!

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Havelock Discovering

and my self

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Going from an ultramodern apartment in the heart of Barcelona and Boston, to living in a sea-breeze swept beach shack, wasn’t quite the backward step he had expected – in fact, it was quite the opposite, discovers Vandit Kalia

It was a small island, about 2 hours by boat from Port Blair, with high, rocky crags, occupied only by a pair of nesting eagles and some egrets, all of whom watched with mild curiosity as our boat drew closer. I took a few snapshots, and then started kitting up. My excitement at the prospect of exploration and discovery was tempered by the knowledge that the ocean floor is an immensely vast desert, with reefs being tiny oases in the middle of all this, and that finding new reefs is an incredibly long and arduous task. The water was a bright azure, with gold flecks of sunlight reflecting off it, inviting me in while remaining mysterious – even so close, I couldn’t tell what lay at the bottom, about 80 feet below the boat. What fascinating corals were underneath? What reef fish would I see? Would there be any sharks? Would there be any turtles or manta rays? However, the ocean was obviously planning to wait till the last minute

to reveal its secrets, and in that place and at that time that was the only appropriate way for events to unfold. A short while later, I jumped into the water, did my safety checks and gave the “all ok” sign to the boat crew, before starting my descent to the bottom: in a few seconds, I would see what secrets the ocean bottom held for me! People with a desire for exploration and discovery live in the wrong era these days. With virtually the entire world viewable at your finger-tips, thanks to Google Maps, the days of Dr Livingstone and Lewis and Clark are well and truly behind us. I’ve had the discovery bug since childhood. Growing up on a steady diet of books like Treasure Island and other adventure stories in my youth and Wilbur Smith’s Africa tales in my adulthood, the urge to see something that no one else has seen, has left me with an insatiable appetite. I remember going off trail, getting lost

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cover story ...every scuba diver – an explorer in his or her own way – has visions of going out diving and discovering a new reef or a new dive site while hiking in the Himalayas a while ago, and the annoyance of having to retrace my steps the next day, was completely outweighed by the fact that I stumbled across a small pond nestled in a clearing which obviously hadn’t been visited by humans. The indescribable feeling of joy that went through me at that small, insignificant discovery still remains vivid in my mind, and I have always dreamed about what it would have been like to discover something like the source of the Ganges, or Indus rivers. To some extent, the oceans present the one remaining frontier where discovery is still possible; but even here, exploration usually involves either a substantial bank account or wealthy backers: boats, crew, equipment are not inexpensive. Moreover, the diving industry is reasonably mature and in most places, the days of exploration and discovery are in the past, as most of the dive spots have already been found. However, the dream remains alive: every scuba diver – an explorer in his or her own way – has visions of going out diving and discovering a new reef or a new dive site, and seeing something that no other human has seen before. The closest thing I had come to exploration and discovery in my adult

YELLOW SNAPPER: Large schools of yellow snapper are common on several reefs, and provide hours of endless entertainment with the way the school swirls, changes direction and flows

MARINE LIFE OF THE ANDAMANS Despite its proximity to Thailand, the Andaman Islands, along with the Nicobar Islands, are an extension of the Indonesian ridge. Hence the marine life and diving conditions here are similar to other parts of the Indo-Pacific region, and can be easily summed up in one word: maximum biodiversity.

to large pelagics (barracudas, groupers, trevally, tuna) to the Big Stuff (sharks, mantas and even dugongs). And of course, the reefs themselves are teeming with the typical inhabitants: butterflyfish, angelfish, surgeonfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, moray eels, octopii, lobsters, turtles and a host of others.

While there are other regions in the world which abound in one area of aquatic life – be it sharks, mantas, macro life or whatever – there are very few places in the world which have such a broad spectrum of aquatic life as the Andamans: a large variety of marine fauna ranging from varied species of small critters (including highly exotic species such as mimic octopus and ambon scorpionfish),

The most interesting facet of Andaman Islands is that, because large-scale fishing has not started here yet, the density of fish on the reefs off Andaman Islands are higher than all but a select few places in the world.

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This is the sort of incredible diving sites where you keep finding new things, even after years of diving here!


life was diving shipwrecks – sunken ships lie ghostlike on ocean floors, hidden from the world, and diving them feels like traveling back into time and seeing a living snapshot of something from the past, and I had been diving ship wrecks for almost a decade before my first trip to Havelock in 2000.

itself to diving close to Havelock and couldn’t do as much exploring as this region deserved. Looking at some of the catch that the local fishermen brought to the fish market, it was very obvious that there were a lot more reefs, containing a greater variety of marine species than seen underwater hitherto, waiting to be found.

When I visited Havelock for the first time, there was one small scuba centre there, struggling to operate, without most of the supporting infrastructures that dive centres need. The diving itself was pleasant but nothing earth-shattering. Due to limitations posed by external factors, the dive centre had to limit

Diving at that time held a lot of promise but hardly delivered, while the island themselves were absolutely magical. I remember getting off the ferry and looking around – there were no touts pushing hotels, no taxi drivers pestering me if I needed a ride...nothing. Life went on, and the fact that a visitor or two had been

COLOUR MY WORLD: Swimming amidst pristine coral is one of the highlights of diving off Havelock

deposited on the island was of no consequence. There were a handful of rooms available for rent, most of them right on the beach, and meals were whatever the owner’s wife had cooked (or been persuaded to cook) that day: usually rice, fish curry and some veggies. I remember taking a bicycle and exploring the island – all 20 km worth of roads – and hardly coming across any traffic. An occasional islander would pass by on a cycle, but for the most part, there were more cows, goats and chicken on the road than humans. In fact, as I cycled towards the famous Radhanagar Beach (well before it became famous), I was

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cover story And then, I saw the bottom, my jaw almost dropped: below me was one of the largest and varied coral gardens I had ever seen anywhere in the world warned by several well-wishers to watch out for the “Traffic Hating Elephant”. Apparently, the Forest Department’s elephants – now unemployed and no longer swimming from one island to another, after the Supreme Court made timber-felling illegal – were often let loose for a couple of days a week to forage in the forests. One of these happy go lucky beasts had a particular dislike for vehicle headlamps, and occasionally charged at a vehicle which offended her sensibilities. Radhanagar Beach was a revelation – I got there and had about 2km of gorgeous sunny beach all to myself. I walked to the end of the beach and then snorkelled among the rocks, to

discover stingrays and a turtle barely 50m from the shore! My first trip lasted less than a week, but I was hooked. The next year, I took a sabbatical from work and spent the first 6 months of that sabbatical in Havelock, teaching diving at the very same dive centre, where I had dived as a customer, the previous year.

PORCELAIN WONDERS: A porcelain crab is a relatively common species found in the Indo-Pacific waters, and is typically about 1.5-3 cm in size

Those six months laid the groundwork for a radical change in my life. Going from an ultra-modern apartment in the heart of Barcelona and Boston, to living in a sea-breeze swept beach shack wasn’t quite the backward step I had expected – in fact, it was quite the opposite. There

DIVING IN NEIL Neil is only a short distance from Havelock but relatively undiscovered, both on land and underwater. However, with Diveindia just starting their dive operation there, this looks to change and prospective divers have a second place to dive when they visit. In terms of fishlife, it should have the same marine species as Havelock – however, differences in topography mean that the fish distribution is likely to vary. There is a good likelihood of greater “big fish action”, especially with sharks, around Neil, as the

drop-off into abyssal depths is a lot closer, than it is in Havelock. While there are always going to be sheltered sites for beginners who are learning to dive, the majority of the sites for certified divers are likely to be in the open seas, with strong currents and moderate swells. So this is best visited by either experienced divers, or divers who have to first spend a few days in Havelock, getting accustomed to the conditions in the Andamans before deciding to dive off Neil.

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was a sense of tranquillity that came from waking up to the sound of birds calling and the sea slapping against the beach. With a serene mind I sat inside a thatched, open-air structure to eat a simple meal with a bunch of other hardy adventurers who took a trip to the islands, without knowing what to expect. I ended up knowing the names of almost all the people on the island – considering that I hardly knew the names of my neighbours in the city I earlier lived, this was a big change for me. On a small island, news travels faster than light and even the ones I didn’t know knew me. As a result, I never actually carried cash anywhere I went – everything was put on a tab which I paid monthly (a habit which can occasionally backfire in the “real world”, as I discovered at least twice when I had a meal at a very fancy restaurant and discovered I didn’t have my wallet). For a city-bred person, this level of personal interaction and trust was something absolutely unique. During those six months, I dived every day, like a possessed man. As things turned out, the little dive centre –


which had helped seed the thoughts that would change my life – went out of business towards the end of my stay there, and I ended up having time to do some serious exploration before leaving. In my time so far, I was doing my research and picked out one particular island as being a good candidate for some great diving. Looking at the sea charts, prevailing wind directions and the topography/ nature/location of this island, I was hopeful that it would have a reef different from the typical reefs found around Havelock. However, while everyone knew about the island, in those days, it took quite a long time to get there; as such, very few people went fishing there, so I had no basis of using fish catch to predict what I might find. And so it was a fine sunny summer day that found me getting into the water not far from South Button Island. The rational part of my brain was telling me not to expect much, but the “explorer” part of me was full of excitement at the mere possibility of finding something. Anything! The anticipation didn’t last long – the moment my head went into the water, the first thing I saw was a large

OUT IN THE OPEN: (Above) Potato cods are members of the grouper family and are large, inquisitive fish that have no hesitation in coming very close to investigate something they find interesting; (below) the highly unusual sight of seeing a reef octopus in the open

sea snake, gliding by me in crystal clear waters. I watched it for a while and slowly started descending to the bottom. Before I could get there, a school of barracuda came swimming by me, slowly and elegantly, their curious eyes watching me as they passed by. And then, I saw the bottom, my jaw almost dropped: below me was one of the largest and varied coral gardens I had ever seen anywhere in the world. It extended for about 300m ahead and about 30m wide, with coral growth so thick that I couldn’t see the ocean floor. Swimming amongst the corals were hundreds upon hundreds, of the most colourful and varied fish I had ever seen – far more than in the Caribbean and Egypt, two of the world’s most popular dive destinations. And best of all – I was the first person to actually see this nature’s wonder! I still get goose-bumps at the thought. When I got back and was excitedly telling some people about the reef,

one person told me that he had heard stories about a ship-wreck many years ago, just a few hours away from Havelock. My ears perked up instantly at what was said, and as you can imagine, this was one dive I had to undertake! Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been living in Havelock for almost a decade now, my sabbatical turning into a career change. In the time that I discovered the shipwreck, although that one was not easy – taking several months of methodical preparation and searching before it was located, I found Elephant Beach and Lighthouse (two very popular snorkelling spots today), and – with the help of a team of amazing divers and people, discovered a whole lot of other dive sites in and around the Andaman Islands. However, nothing compares with the thrill of that first discovery on that sunny March day.

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coveorry st

A Tranquil Little Andaman is best visited for its unadvertised, unadulterated natural beauty. For anybody inspired by nature, this is the facet of the island that will take your breath away, feels Umeed Mistry

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Of all the places accessible to a visitor to the Andaman Islands, Little Andaman is one of the less-frequented destinations. And that in itself makes it worth a visit. While most people head off to Havelock Island for an ‘Andaman experience’, that is becoming less and less authentic, the charm of Hut Bay, the jetty-town of Little Andaman, lies

Little Andaman has plenty to offer anybody who is willing to go slightly out of the way to find it. Nature lovers, wildlife photographers and those looking for secludedness and solitude will find their time here well spent. Foodies, creature comfort addicts and those that seek the vibe that comes with the congregation of other tourists – Havelock & Neil Islands, offer all of this and more.

in the fact that, most of the locals still couldn’t care less about the handful of tourists that trickle in. While there are fewer options of amenities for the visitor, there are also fewer people constantly trying to sell you something, and daily life unfolds unaffected by the money-dynamics that mainstream tourism brings.

Sunrise at West Bay

The fifth largest island in the Andaman chain, Little Andaman is the southernmost island, and the last stop for ferries heading to Nicobar. Hut Bay lies about 120 km south of Port

fastfacts Where to Stay The V-Vet guesthouse, run by the Forest Plantation Development Corporation Limited (ANIFPDCL), located in Hut Bay, about 2 km from the jetty. Rooms are clean, with attached bath and go for about `100 to `300 depending on the size. Over the last couple of years other tourist “resorts” have opened up nearby, so finding a suitable place to stay, is often just a matter of walking around, peeking into an available room and then settling on a price. Shiva’s, a little roadside restaurant, is located next to the V-Vet guesthouse and serves great wholesome food and is fantastic value for money. Be sure to go in for an early dinner as they start to run out of food fairly quickly.

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coveorry st Blair, and the island’s southern edge marks the beginning of the Ten Degree Channel – a rambunctious body of open water between the Andaman and Nicobar islands. This southerly position, relatively unsheltered from the elements, has played an important role in the shaping of the island. Vast beaches and kilometer upon kilometer of fringing reef are battered by giant waves and a relentless wind. The trees of the littoral forests cower from the sun and the sea, their crowns bent away in unison in search of shelter from the southwest monsoon.

managed to stay standing. Boats, cars, tractors and earth-movers lay in crumpled heaps many meters inland, in places where houses and schools stood just hours before tragedy struck. Hut Bay and its residents soon sprung back to their feet due to the indomitable spirit of the people who eke a living off the island. Little Andaman is connected to Port Blair via ferries (fast, slow and very slow), helicopters (depending on who you know or how winsome a smile you can muster) and in recent months by seaplane (for those with fatter wallets). Regardless of your chosen mode of transportation, Hut Bay is the gateway to this large, lush island. What probably started off as a fishing village slowly developed into a harbour town, by dint of the natural topography and the man-made jettycum-breakwater that now provides the only stretch of calm access from an otherwise boisterous sea.

In 2004, with no submerged coral banks or adjacent landmasses to deflect its terrible impetus, the tsunami battered the island, and the settlement at Hut Bay. Post-catastrophe, the policemen and administrators who rushed to the island from Port Blair were greeted with nightmarish images. Clothes, books, children’s toys and other personal effects were scattered across the landscape; twisted, mangled human bodies were lodged high in The town itself has a raw and the branches of those trees that still unfinished feel to it. Nestled somewhat

midway down the eastern coast of the island, Hut Bay and its jetty form the southern point of a series of settlements that stretch far northward along the coast and then inland, strung together by one very long road. A motorbike is by far the best way to explore the villages along the east coast of Little Andaman. The road

photographytips Photographers visiting the Andaman Islands have a variety of subjects to choose from, which, as we all know makes selecting which lenses to carry and which to leave behind in the camera bag a pain. But in this instance, less isn’t necessarily better and I recommend coming as well prepared as possible, even if it means leaving gear behind in your hotel room once you’ve chosen your subject for the day.

Damselflies, locked in their mating embrace, occasionally sink beneath the surface of the stream to find a suitable place to lay their eggs

Wide-angle lenses: A must for the incredibly stunning landscapes that the island environment provides. Carry a tripod for those slow-shutter waterfall shots and late-evening long exposures.

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This White-bellied Sea Eagle regularly patrolled the skies above our camp from its nest nearby


winds along the coastline for many miles, before breaking away towards the interior of the island. Tonguetwister villages like Ramakrishnapuram and Vivekanandapuram form nodes of human activity along the tarmac backbone, but most of the locals have dispensed with the formality and simply refer to their villages and homes in terms of distance from Hut Bay.

THE INHABITANTS: A Monitor lizard swims off the beach near our camp at South Bay; the pair of amorous Redbreasted Parakeets that have inhabited the same tree at our South Bay camp for the last four years

And so, I’ll cite the sights the way the locals do, by distance. Two of the better-known beaches around Hut Bay are Netaji Nagar Beach and Butler Bay, 11 km and 14 km from the jetty, respectively. Long stretches of golden sand hug the coastline, broken by the occasional freshwater creek winding inland. (As

Telephoto lenses: A must for anybody intending to photograph the magnificent avifauna on the island. While these lenses are a pain to lug around, the rare and endemic birdlife of the Andaman Islands are a treat for bird photographers and should not be missed. Flashes are necessary if attempting to photograph owls, which are a plenty. Some photographers may prefer mid-range telephoto lenses for the many butterflies that can be observed. These might also come in handy for monitor lizard shots on the beach and anybody ‘lucky’ enough to stumble upon a salty or a king cobra in a mangrove creek.

inviting as an exploration of these creeks might be to the adventurous spirit, please note that saltwater crocodiles don’t distinguish between local and exotic meat – and the creeks are home to many.) Enterprising locals have used the rough sea around Little Andaman to their advantage by setting up surfing “schools” during the tourist season.

Macro lenses: Longer macro lenses (100105mm) are very useful for herp lovers. Also a must for mudskippers and fiddler crabs in the mangroves, and other crabs and critters on the beach. Close-focus-wideangle lenses can also be used for some of these creatures that can be quite curious and will allow you to come very close with the right amount of patience.

A jumping spider rests on a leaf at the edge of our camp

Underwater photography of course brings its own set of specialized equipment. Ask your dive-guide about the kind of animals you are likely to encounter at a site before choosing to put a Macro lens or a Wideangle lens in your housing.

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coveorry st For those of you, who wish to be surrounded entirely by nature with nary a murmur of human civilization around, venture south from the Hut Bay jetty, instead of north. The golden sands of Harminder Bay line the southeastern edge of Little Andaman, fringed by a mixture of coconut trees and littoral forest. The remains of pre-tsunami tribal settlements dot the coastal landscape and the chances of encountering another human being are slim. There are two waterfalls in Little Andaman accessible to travelers. About 6.5 km up the road from Hut Bay lies the turn-off to the White Surf waterfall. And further north, 25 km from Hut Bay is the turn-off to the Whisper Wave waterfall. Even the locals aren’t sure as to how these colourful names were coined. The area where the waterfalls meet the road are “beautified” in the inimitable style, insisted upon by the government agencies (complete with “Use Me” rabbit dustbins and gaudy

The appeal of Little Andaman does not lie in any prescribed or organized tourist activity as such. Instead, ...depends on two things – the conversations struck up with the locals, and the willingness to walk

history Back in the days well before the British descended upon the Andaman Islands, the indigenous Onge were the masters of Little Andaman. In the late 1950’s, as part of the Andaman & Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) the Onge were confined to a 520 sq km tribal reserve – one of the 4 reserves created within the Andamans for the Jarawa, the Great Andamanese, the Onge and the Sentinelese. In the 70’s, large tracts of tribal reserve were denotified to facilitate the colonization of parts of the islands by mainland Indians and for exploitation of timber. About 200 sq km of pristine forest habitat from the Onge reserve was handed over to settlers from mainland India, and for timber extraction and the creation of plantations and agricultural fields.

Today, the Onge exist as a pitiful vestige of the proud hunter-gatherer race that they once were. With the steady decline of their population, their incredible knowledge of plants and animals, their language and culture, and their history passed down through generations by word of mouth will be forever lost. It is interesting to note that during the tsunami of 2004, very few indigenous people lost their lives. Their connection to nature and their ability to read its signs, prompted them to move to higher ground when the earth shook and the ocean receded – signs that many fisher folk from the mainland, military officials and even scientists in the field unfortunately failed to heed.

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gazebos), the streams and waterfalls themselves are however worth a visit. White Surf waterfall is easily accessible from the main road, making it a popular picnic spot, while the Whisper Wave falls reward those who are willing to trek the 4 km path through the forest off the main road. The best way, however, to experience these forest streams and waterfalls is to venture off the paths that lead to them and head up or downstream into the midst of the lush rainforest. You can not miss the rocky pools lit by dappled sunlight streaming through the rich green canopy that welcome the more adventurous. Keep your eyes and ears open for some of the rare, endemic birds and reptiles that have made this forest their abode.


The Forest Plantation Development Corporation conducts safaris on elephant-back in the area around White Surf waterfall. Further north, tourists can observe these gentle giants helping with the logging, their ungainly calves scampering about nearby. Beyond the recommended beaches are the elephant camps, hydroelectric dams and other such ‘sights’. Little Andaman is best visited for its unadvertised, unadulterated natural beauty. For anybody inspired by nature, this is the facet of the island that will take your breath away. The lush forests of Little Andaman are unique, by fortunate circumstances. Perhaps the distance over open ocean from Port Blair, discouraged the British to introduce spotted deer here for their hunting pleasure. While the utter idiocy of relocating a species into an island habitat devoid of it’s natural predators has led to the severe degradation of most of the forests

in the Andaman chain, the forest of Little Andaman has been spared this plight. As a result, the flora and fauna of the better part of the island have flourished in a state undisturbed by human intervention. The calls of Nicobari pigeons, parakeets and many other endemic species resound high in the forest canopy. Somewhere in the thick understory of the interior the few remaining Andaman Wild Pigs – the largest mammals on the Andaman Islands – have staked their claim. Closer to the coast, enormous monitor lizards and coconut crabs roam the edges of the littoral forests. Leatherback turtles, Green turtles and Olive-Ridley turtles visit the southern and western shores of the island to lay their precious eggs above the tide line. Egrets, herons and sandpipers forage for food around the innumerable tidepools. In mangrove creeks and littoral streams, female saltwater crocodiles watch over their young. While much of the forest and coastline are closed

SETTING UP CAMP: (L to R) A female leatherback turtle (with a radio transmitter fixed to her shell) labours into the early daylight hours to cover the nest that she started digging while it was still dark; a hermit crab enjoys the sunset on the beach outside our camp; breakfast preparations at the West Bay camp kitchen

to outsiders, and closely monitored by the Forest Department, there is enough and more to keep the nature enthusiast busy without crossing paths with a forest guard. The appeal of Little Andaman does not lie in any prescribed or organized tourist activity as such. Instead, much of what one sees on the island, and the perspective from which one sees it, depends on two things – the conversations struck up with the locals, and the willingness to walk. A mahout may allow you to participate in the bathing or feeding of his elephant, a fisherman may allow you a spot on his boat as he rows up-creek to lay his fishing net. Walking along a forest path may bring you face to face with a monitor lizard. Following the birdcalls around that next bend may bring you to a clear forest pool perfect for a swim. For this, and more, there are no ticket booths, signboards or queues. And so Little Andaman becomes, quite literally, what you choose to make of it.

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cover story

By Jove!

A Volcano! The Barren Island reveals so little of it to visitors, so reluctantly, and in doing so, stirs a greater desire to know more, vouches Umeed Mistry

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barren island

PHOTOGRAPHS: umeed mistry

It was May 2006, a time when powerful OBM’s and fancy crafts equipped with GPS, EPIRB and VHF radios had not yet arrived on the Andaman scene, our pair of little wooden fishing boats left Havelock Island in the wee hours of a May morning. Our destination – India’s only active volcano, Barren Island. Our journey required permissions from a plethora of agencies, none of which we had. My trust lay in the backup of a second dunghi and a handful of diehaed Karen boys. The mood of the volcano on my first visit to Barren Island was designed, I’m sure, to intimidate.

atmosphere. Our boats held their course and a few hours later we were but a speck of humanity on the edge of a bizarre watery shroud that covered most of this towering, enigmatic seamount. The ash spewing from the volcano’s fumarole fell to the sea in a thick black rain, unlike anything I had experienced. Soot covered everything; the water, our boats, the stunted trees that clung precariously to the steep grey slopes of the volcanic island. The surrounding waters were stained black, and I was forced to reconsider my intentions to dive around the island. The visibility was poor and I could barely see a foot in the black water.

The moment daylight hit the eastern sky; the solitary mountain was visible on the pink horizon, belching plumes of dark smoke and ash up into the

Humbled by the lone mountain, its foul breath, the rolling sea that would not yield safe anchorage and the constant apprehension of being

discovered by a patrolling Coast Guard vessel, there was little for us to do. Circumnavigating the 3-km long giant in awe, we finally turned our boats back in the direction of Havelock and prepared for the long ride home. And that was that…refusing to reveal any of its many secrets, stern behind a veil of ash and dark water, Barren Island had stamped an indelible image of its powerful self in my mind. And I knew I would return.

SMOKIN’ JOE! The island’s fumarole spews smoke and ash into the sky, forming a raincloud which throws it all back into the surrounding sea.

The mood of the volcano on my first visit to Barren Island was designed, I’m sure, to intimidate

Nearly two years later, in April 2008, I was sitting at the bow of the boat well before sunrise and watching the eastern horizon. I wanted clarification of just one thing; was the volcano smoking? As soon as the silhouette of the volcano revealed itself in the pink distance, I felt a slowing of my pulse and an inward smile. The skies around Barren were clear and that meant that the water would be clear too. I curled up and fell asleep. It would be another 4 hours before we reached the seamount, and I knew that the next two days would require all my energy. Barren Island is like no place I have visited in my 18 years of diving. While its underwater seascape might share

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cover story topographic similarities with other volcanic seamounts around the world, the enigmatic energy that surrounds this island is tangibly different. Perhaps its inaccessibility and a lack of any significant scientific information add to this mystery. Or perhaps it is because the island reveals so little of itself to visitors, so reluctantly, and in doing so stirs a greater desire to know more. And therein lay the difficulty. Barren Island is not an easy place to get to. Located 135 km northeast of the Andaman Islands’ capital city of Port Blair, the silent sentry of the Andaman east stands alone, surrounded by nothing but water for miles around. The sides of the seamount plummet almost vertically down into the depths, to a massive foundation that rests 2,250 m below the surface. For those who manage to make the journey to Barren (port authority bureaucracy and the typical Coast Guard hindrances notwithstanding), anchoring near the island is a nightmare. Waves constantly tug at boats, drawing them closer and closer to the black rocks and caves, around which the ocean waters crash

and growl in unrest. Even on seemingly calm days, strong currents sweep across the waters, dragging divers off the reefs and down into deeper water. An accident on Barren would be an incredibly difficult thing to manage. The moment my mind stirs from slumber, all this information and these thoughts swirl through my head. But I am more awestruck than fearful. We have reached the volcano. Its cliff walls, complete with rock-strewn landslides and fractured trees, rise high above the waters. The caldera of the volcano rears itself 350 meters above the sea. Craning my neck to the familiar view, this time devoid of smoke and ash, I say a silent hello to the solitary mountain. There is only one way to treat Barren Island – that is with respect. Maintaining a wary distance from the wave-beaten rocks at the base of the seamount, we look for a suitable place to anchor our boats. The previous visit to the island revealed a slightly sheltered beach on the south side and we make for this patch, hoping for a suitable anchorage. Sitting on

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VOLCANIC LIFE (L to R) Hanging on to the top of the wall in the strong current that pulls away from the reef; Our support boat is dwarfed by the black cliffs that plunge down into the sea; the black volcanic sand of Barren Island

barren island

‌its underwater seascape might share topographic similarities with other volcanic seamounts around the world; the enigmatic energy that surrounds this island is tangibly different the bow of the boat it is difficult to keep my eyes, so used to watching the sea, from being dragged to the heights of the volcano. The 2-km wide caldera sits on the northern side of the island, its sloping grey walls seemingly devoid of any life from this distance. In places, steam seeps out of the ground reaching for the sky, giving the entire landscape an otherworldly feel. As our boat circles the eastern edge, moving south, stunted trees and shrubs slowly begin to colonize the cliff-sides. And then I see the feral goats that the Karen boys had spoken off, on our previous visit. No one is certain as to how these animals came to be on this volcanic island, out in the middle of nowhere. It is popularly believed that in 1891 a steamer from Port Blair left them here. Apparently

the British did this quite often, leaving livestock on islands where they feared they might be stranded in future. Two fresh water springs were discovered towards the southeastern part of the caldera. This is possibly the main water source for the goats living on this island. The island is also home to a variety of birds, bats, rats and crabs. My primary interest, however, lay underwater. I waited two long years for the opportunity to dive the reefs off Barren and though seated on the bow of the boat searching for a place to anchor, my mind is already exploring the watery depths of the volcano. What strange life forms inhabit the darkness at the foot of this gigantic recluse? What creatures of the open ocean are drawn to this island in the middle of nowhere, in search of

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cover story

food and a place to rest on a long migration? How little we know of these seamount habitats and the possibility of a number of endemic subspecies that have evolved in the shadow of the volcano!

IN A SPIN Trevally school in a sheltered nook

When I finally don my scuba gear and enter the water, I have to remind myself to breathe. Apart from the sloping beach on the south and southwestern side, most of the island is fringed by an edge of shallow reef. And beyond this edge there is nothing! Barren’s bulwark beneath the sea plummets vertically from the light blue waters at the surface into the inky indigo depths. Below me the wall stretches straight down, disappearing into the darkness, beckoning. The water is clear, and the visibility in the shallows is spectacular. And yet there is a darkness that pervades everything. Barren’s volcanic

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bedrock is black. While most shallow reefs in India are bathed in light that is reflected off white sandy substrates, the shafts of sunlight piercing the water around Barren Island are absorbed by the black sand, never to return to the sky. I begin my descent into this darker blue. A few minutes later I am 40 meters beneath the surface. The wall on my left is covered in a mixture of bright coral and sponges. The water is clear enough for me to see all the way up to the surface above me, as well as, a good 60 – 70 meters below. And there, far below at the very edge of my visibility I see four white-tip reef sharks patrolling the side of the wall. I long to go down to their level, to be in their presence, but I am not a creature of the sea and must respect the limitations of scuba. I begin to make my way into shallower water, my eyes fixed on the slowly undulating muscular bodies of the sharks.

My ears pick up a soft grunting sound, which I recognize as the noise my fellow divers sometimes make to attract attention. Looking up in the direction of a frantically pointed finger, I see a pair of Manta rays appearing out of the blue like apparitions in a dream. Where they are coming from I do not know. But from experience I can tell by their movement, that they are curious of us bubble-spewing human beings that have come to visit this reef. The rest of the dive was spent in the company of these giant marine ballerinas. Flicking their wings and pirouetting massive diamond bodies, they circled us tighter and tighter until I could see their eyes staring at me. And thus, at the upper edge of a wall with no bottom, surrounded by a riot of colorful fish and coral and escorted by two majestic manta rays, Barren began to reveal its splendor to us. After an impatient surface interval of tank swapping and hot tea, we soon

barren island Humbled by the vastness and power of the volcano and its surrounding sea, we dragged ourselves back onto the boat, in silence RAYS RETREAT Manta Rays visit Barren Island as a stopover on long migrations, to rest, feed and be cleaned

were back beneath the waves. The morning had turned to noon and the activity on the reef seemed slower. And so I busied myself checking out the smaller ‘critters’ on the reef. Some species of common benthic reef fish, like sand-perches and gobies seemed to have taken on a darker coloration here at Barren than their lighterskinned relatives elsewhere. They had evolved to blend better into this black sand backdrop! Again I was reminded of the potential these waters had for endemic species found nowhere else on the planet, and how little we know of these mysterious waters. A movement at the corner of my eye called for my attention. Turning my back to the little ‘critters’ I had been inspecting on the reef edge, I sweep my gaze out over the blue. Fearsome barracuda filled the four corners of the liquid canvas. As the day wore on, the current sweeping along the reef slowly picked up and

these silvery fish were now clustering in schools in the shadow of the wall. We had unwittingly made our way to a curve in the reef, where the current from both the eastern and northern sides of the island swept out into open water. Within minutes the moving water dragged us into the midst of the school. Realizing that we were in danger of being blown off the reef, I signaled to my dive buddies to hold on to the rocks at the top of the wall. Torpedo-shaped bodies with big round eyes surrounded us. And then looking up through the melee of Barracuda and other smaller reef fish that were struggling to stay put on their bit of coral turf, I saw the same pair of Manta rays from the morning dive. Seemingly impervious to the now-roaring current, the rays hovered above us inches off the coral reef. I marveled at their ability to glide through this liquid sky, and as if on cue they turned, caught the current beneath their wings and soared away into the blue.

With little air left in our cylinders, it was time for us to end our dive. With nothing even close to the grace of the departed manta rays, we let go of the rocks at the top of the reef. Blown down into and through the school of barracuda we shot away from the reef. Shooting my marker buoy to the surface, to signal to the boys on the boat that we were drifting into open water, I clung to the rope and looked back at the island. The wide-angle view of the edge of the wall dropping away towards nothing, the quickly disappearing school of barracuda and the indigo darkness that now lay nearly 2 kilometers below us, sent a shiver through me. Humbled by the vastness and power of the volcano and its surrounding sea, we dragged ourselves back onto the boat, in silence. We spent two days diving around Barren. On the evening of the first day we washed the salt off our bodies on the bow of the boat with precious freshwater from the jerry cans we had on board. In their inimitable manner of being able to work miracles in the tiny stern, our Karen staff whipped up a meal of rice, dal, potatoes and spicy fried fish, caught fresh from the sea. As the moon rose, I took the first watch to ensure that the anchors held our boats at this precarious closeness to the volcano. Sitting alone under the night sky with the shadow of the island in front of me I wondered at the stories that Barren would be able to tell – of its own growth and transformation through time, of the deep dark ocean and her many migrant children that stop here for the night, and of sailors that passed by bewildered and superstitious of the spewing mountain. One thing I know for certain, firsthand, is that despite its name, no doubt coined by some unimaginative British officer, the island and its surrounding waters are anything but barren!

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cover story

Frontier The Last

No frozen image can capture that moment – the wind in our hair, the shimmer of the waking sea stretching before us and a growing sense of wonderment within each of us, as our boat slowly approached the glimmering island, says Umeed Mistry

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PHOTOGRAPHS: umeed mistry

While the 2004 tsunami did wreak havoc in the Andamans, it also brought about a spurt in the tourist inflow to this previously ignored island chain. With the help of tour operators, the Andaman Islands soon became “the last frontier” for diving in Asia and a “must see” for ornithologists, photographers and other non-diving folk. Well, if there can be a last frontier within a last frontier, and a definite-must-see of a must-see, then that place is known as Narcondam. Narcondam Island, is an isolated world tucked away in the farthest northeastern reaches of the Andaman Islands. It is home to the Narcondam hornbill, a species found nowhere else on the planet. An extinct volcano now nurtures one of the healthiest reefs in the Andamans. The island hides itself from the rest of

the world and shares its magic only with the dolphins and manta rays that swim to it from distant shores.

their vessel that regularly transports policemen to the outpost on Narcondam. Four months earlier, the same personnel had graciously ferried four Mumbai-based photographers in search of the Narcondam hornbill. I was curious to know why we couldn’t be as lucky as them. The Port Authority official we approached dismissed us with a derisive laugh.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in some alternate Andaman universe there was an invisible jetty No. 93/4, from which a derelict steamer sailed a select few to this lone island. But for those of us who do not have a Hogwart’s Express equivalent, or one of Philip Pullman’s zeppelins, planning an excursion to Narcondam is definitely more arduous than the journey itself. In February 2010, on the day we chose to prepare for a trip to Narcondam Island, it seemed that some of us got off the wrong side of the bed. Others, thankfully, had managed to get a good night’s rest. The Coast Guard personnel we spoke to, flatly refused us passage on

Things began to look up when we approached the Forest Department. An intrepid Forest official, who incidentally led an Indian Antarctic expedition and who needed an excuse to get away from his office, gave us the necessary permits, but on one condition that he too comes along. IN TOO DEEP A panoramic view of Narcondam Island and the Emerald Blue

Soon it became just a matter of transportation as we rejected one harebrained option after another. We

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cover story even toyed with the idea of sailing nearly 165 km across the open sea, compass in hand, in a little dunghi from Mayabunder, Middle Andamans in search of the 6.8 sq km speck of land called Narcondam. But lady destiny wasn’t about to let up on us, and our plans came to a nought.

newsflash Narcondam Hornbills Receive a Reprieve: In an effort to safegaurd the fragile ecology of the island, the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Government of India, has finally rejected the proposal of the Indian Coast Guard to erect a RADAR installation on Narcondam Island. Explore salutes the heartening step taken by MoEF.

anchored offshore on his boat and had to report, thrice a day, to the Harbour Master at Port Blair. Niiggling bureaucratic issues aside, we are finally on our way!

A couple of months later, we encountered an Englishman based out of Thailand, who regularly sailed his boat, Emerald Blue, to the Andaman Islands! Through an unlikely series of events involving taxi-drivers and Thai cooks, we managed to secure a place on the Emerald Blue, along with the requisite permits to visit, anchor and set foot on Narcondam. Our team comprised of eminent wildlife researchers, conservationists, a fortunate wildlife and underwater photographer and the Forest official whom we had befriended in February. While we (as Indians) were granted permission to land on, explore and photograph the island during the day, our English captain had to stay

Exploring the rock formations in the shallows around the northeastern edge of the island

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Narcondam via Port Blair, tourists from Thailand regularly dive in the pristine waters around the island from live-aboard vessels that, thus far, have been allowed to anchor off the island. This, among many other Narcondam Island is one of the two administrative idiosyncrasies in policy volcanic islands, which lie between the formulation, is extremely frustrating. Indian and Burmese tectonic plates. While the other island lying further The island is home to rats, bats, south in the volcanic arc – Barren snakes (including the Paradise flying Island – still enjoys an occasional snake), lizards, crabs, insects (possibly smoke, Narcondam wreathed in lush including endemic butterflies) and evergreen rainforest lies tranquil and of course birds, the most famous silent. The Narcondam volcano rises of which are the 300-odd rare, 2330 ft above sea level and marks the endangered and endemic Narcondam easternmost point of the Andaman Hornbills. It is estimated that there Islands. are no more than 90 breeding pairs in the world, and all of them are to be Strangely, while Indians find it almost found in Narcondam. impossible to secure a passage to Beneath the waves, Narcondam is home to manta rays, dolphins, sharks, and is fringed by a robust and exquisite coral reef system. Since 1969, the resident flora and fauna have been suffering the presence of a police outpost complete with fruit and vegetable plantations, set up on land cleared of lush green forest. Annually, at least ten trees are cut for fuel and a few more for maintenance purposes. A proposal to install a radar and diesel power generation station by the Indian Coast Guard, poses a serious threat to the rare Narcondam Hornbill and the already fragile ecosystem of the island. The policemen suffer isolation and boredom. Often, inclement weather


hampers craft landing for supplies or shift changes. We carried a couple of bottles of whisky just in case we made a few new friends. The Emerald Blue chugged along merrily through the channel between Neil and Havelock and then turned north, for the 30 hour ride to Narcondam. Even the most fidgety were coaxed into silence by the gentle sway of the boat, to the rhythm of the sea. As space in the sailboat was at a premium, most of us were content to sit on the deck and watch the world go by. Conversations gave way to the sound of whistling

wind and water splashing against the boat’s prow. The day drew to a close and as the sun dipped in the horizon, we noticed our first pod of dolphins. On spotting our boat, they gleefully raced towards us and were soon joined by a smaller pod of pilot whales and a pod of beaked whales, which we could not identify. The rest of the evening was spent admiring these magical creatures as they surfed the waves and dove playfully beneath the boat. Our attempts at photography in the fading light could not justify the grace of these ocean’s ambassadors. I put

LET’S FROLIC Dolphins play under the bow of the Emerald Blue as we sail for Narcondam

my camera aside, leaned over the bow and for a brief moment became a dolphin in the soft light of the sun. Dusk brought with it dinner, a discussion on night shifts, compass headings and so on. Our captain needed rest, so we took turns to keep the boat on course. Alone under the stars, I had no problems on the first watch and could barely contain my excitement. The next day would bring us to Narcondam – a long-standing dream brought to reality!!

... as the sun dipped in the horizon, we noticed our first pod of dolphins..they gleefully raced towards us ...The rest of the evening was spent admiring these magical creatures.....

At first light, the green-brown cone on the otherwise uninterrupted water surface looked completely out of place. The excitement was palpable and cameras were ready. No frozen image can capture that moment - the wind in our hair, the shimmer of the waking sea stretching before us and a growing sense of wonderment within each of us – as our boat slowly approached the glimmering island.

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At 10.30 a.m. on April 13, 2010, we finally dropped anchor off the northeastern coast of Narcondam. While everyone prepared to go ashore, our English captain bore the ignoble task of ferrying people and bags to and from the island, on a little inflatable dinghy under the watchful eye of an on-shore policeman. Over the next three days, I dove several times at various sites around the island. I discovered that unlike Barren Island, which plummets straight down to the depths of the sea, Narcondam eases into the surrounding waters at a 30 – 600 slope. At some places, the shallower waters are strewn with large boulders and finger-like spires stretching towards the water’s surface. These seem to be remnants of huge chunks of rock spewn by the active volcano into the sea, 18 - 20 thousand years ago. However, the deeper reaches of Narcondam’s underwater slopes (i.e. 20-50 m), house an uncomparable coral garden. After nearly 3,000 dives

in Andaman’s placid waters, I found myself spellbound by the healthiest and one of the most vibrant coral reefs I’d ever seen. Giant fan corals reached out into the water to catch the food that floated by. Every inch of rock was covered with life. The largest Barrel sponges I’ve seen, jostled for space with hard and soft coral, surrounded by vibrant anthias. Sparkling damselfish swam frantically to stay still in the current. Schools of trevally and bream decided to ignore me, while banded sea kraits seemed unperturbed by my following them while they foraged for food.

COMING HOME A diver returns to the boat after a dive on the southern side of the island.

As at Barren Island, anemone and other invertebrates were absent from Narcondam as well. An ochre sponge that seemed to favour volcanic bedrock colonized the reef. I tried to capture the incredible seascape through my lens. During those three days, when I wasn’t diving, I was walking through the forest marveling at the life that was bursting through. Spiders, caterpillars, butterflies and skinks, peppered the trees and rocks that hugged the narrow paths winding through the forest. In the forest canopy, a flutter of wings signaled the

ENTRY RESTRICTED Narcondam Island is not open to tourists. Researchers and experts working in various disciplines of wildlife undertook the expedition detailed in this article, after securing the requisite permits from the Andaman & Nicobar Forest Department, Immigration, Harbour Master & Port Authority and lastly, the Coast Guard. Live-aboard boats do visit the reefs off Narcondam and are allowed to anchor offshore. These boats also cater to divers and snorkelers, who are required to secure various permits from the authorities at Port Blair. Guests on board these boats can not set foot on the island.

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narcondam displeasure of imperial pigeons, at my intrusion. An emerald dove scratched the undergrowth and hill mynas lent their voice to the avian symphony in the distance. It was then that we heard the kok…kok…kok.... we’d all come for. As the forest thinned and the canopy opened up to the sky, a black shape sitting on a high branch grabbed our attention. The beautiful male Narcondam Hornbill has a rufous neck with a black body and a white-tail. A bluewhite neck patch, cuffs the lower mandible of a maroon and yellow beak and yellow folds embellish the base of the upper mandible of this rare species. Two bright orange irises, set in a majestic head held high with pride, stared at us intently. We followed the male to its nest which was secured high up in the crook of a tree. The nest in question was a hollowed out tree trunk with prominent claw marks around its outer edges. We strained our ears to hear the feeble calls of the fledglings resting within. After watching us for a while to ensure that we weren’t a threat to his home, the male resumed the arduous task of gathering food for his offspring. I was content to stay and watch this incredibly rare bird through my lens, even as my companions decided to explore the surrounding area. As dusk fell, we trudged back to the police outpost where our captain was waiting for us. While walking back in the fading light, we heard what sounded like many tiny feet scampering about. We paused for a closer look and saw that the forest floor had come alive with small rats, whose numbers increased as we neared the police outpost. The men at the outpost were unfazed by the presence of these creatures. Time and

THE ENDANGERED The magnificent, and incredibly rare, Narcondam Hornbill

the need for co-existence, had led to a peaceful acceptance of each other’s presence. We spent three more days anchored off Narcondam. One morning was spent circumnavigating the island for a better look. On other days, we dived in the reefs, walked up the winding forest trails, climbed halfway up the 710 m tall peak and fished off the boat. An occasional manta ray cruised beneath our hull while whitebellied sea eagles soared above. Every evening, our boat returned to anchor under the dark shadow of the volcano, with a tiny light from the police outpost winking at us. At night, the light from our boat attracted millions of tiny fish and the water around us seemed to boil. One night I jumped in to try and photograph the critters, but they tickled my arms and legs and squirmed around my face so much, that I gave up the endeavour for a can of beer underneath the stars. On the morning of the 4th day, we bid

adieu to the policemen, lifted anchor and sailed around the island one last time. I decided to take the last dip and held on to a rope trailing the boat. I was swept over reefs and sea slopes, taking in as much as I possibly could. Suddenly, I saw something that made my heart sink. The water was rife with discarded buoys and shark fishing lines. The lines were too deep and extended far too long, for me to collect and remove them from the sea. I looked on helplessly as I realized that their hooks would continue to kill innocent fish for a long time - a mindless waste of life that only we humans are capable of. With Narcondam fading on the horizon, I was sure we were all contemplating the uncertainty of its future, while being grateful for the short time we spent together on this magnificent island. Its strange and rare residents had been graciously tolerant of our inquisition and we all fervently hoped to return someday.

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PHOTOGRAPHS: umeed mistry

Biodiversity at its

Best! Few places in the world boast of the incredibly diverse variety of flora and fauna within the confines of the 324 islands that form the Andaman Archipelago, says Umeed Mistry

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cover story The Andaman Islands bring to mind images of solitary beaches fringed by thick rainforest above and abundant coral reef below, British penal colonies and Japanese invasions, meandering mangrovelined backwaters and the whispers of indigenous tribes still living lives of yore. Amazing destinations both underwater and above, these islands are fast becoming a port of call for tourists from around the world. What most of these tourists don’t realize is that the islands also attract scientists, conservationists and researchers

galore, and has hosted some incredible, groundbreaking research in recent years. All for good reason. Biodiversity Biological diversity, or ‘biodiversity’, of an area refers to the variety, arising out of genetic variation, of the living organisms within that area. Few places in the world boast of the incredibly diverse variety of flora and fauna within the confines of the 324 islands that form the Andaman Archipelago. Surrounded by rich seas,

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and sandwiched between ecosystems of coral reef and fringing mangroves, the islands are also home to nearvirgin rainforests, littoral forests, tidal swamps, wetlands and beaches. Caves and rocky islets dot the Andaman landscape, which is inhabited by six aboriginal tribes who date back to the middle stone age; all of this coexisting in a measly 6340 sq km. One need not be a scientist or travel far in the islands to witness this biodiversity, in the ever-changing landscape. On any one island, hilltop

wildlife tropical evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests and lowland evergreens quickly give way to littoral forests and beaches. Rocky cliffs at the sea’s edge yield to coral reefs, and interior wetland grasses are shepherded away from the coastline by vast tracts of mangroves. And yet, the land-sea boundaries that coax this diversity of ecosystems to such remarkable proximity, are the same finite boundaries that dictate an infinite fragility of balance and interdependence between the flora and fauna of the Andaman Islands.

WILY WONDERS: (Previous Page) A water monitor lizard launches off the southern beach of Little Andaman (Left) a Bay Island forest lizard with a meal at ANET

Endemism While tourists, wildlife biologists, photographers and eco-enthusiasts on the Indian subcontinent generally choose tigers, lions and other large mammals as their subjects of adoration, study and generous donations, the Andaman Islands do not have such typical poster-children. In fact, on these islands, what is more likely to elicit a shriek of excitement is perhaps a tiny pair of neon-green lizard eyes or the hammering of a redcrested, feathered head somewhere in the forest canopy. All again, for good reason. Many of these creatures are rare and endangered and harder to find than India’s disappearing tigers. Biological diversity is not spread evenly across the planet. Some places have a larger number of species unique to that area. Endemism is the ecological state of being unique to a particular geographic location, like a specific island or habitat type. Endemic species are especially likely to evolve in places like the Andaman Islands, due to their geographic isolation. These species are more vulnerable and easily become endangered or extinct because of their restricted range and habitat. Introduction of new organisms or interference by humans threat the very existence of these species. Rare plants and animals hold a special fascination for anyone interested in wildlife. The Andaman Islands host a varied number of endemic species and subspecies within each habitat. Approximately 120 butterflies, 29 reptiles, 28 birds and 14% of the indigenous plants are endemic to these islands. While none of them might command the same hype as our orange and white striped feline friends, they are

no less beautiful and absolutely vital in their contribution to the incredible ecosystem of these islands. So the next time you visit the Andaman Islands take a slow walk through a littoral forest, lie down in some mangrove muck or put on a mask and snorkel and take a peek beneath the waves. You’ll be amazed by what you find. Some common endemic species of the Andaman Islands While most people are fairly familiar with forest environments, few have the opportunity to walk around in mangroves or explore a coral reef. And so, here is an introduction to the mangroves and coral reefs of the Andaman Islands – two lesser-known ecosystems that are invaluable to the health of the island chain. Mangroves Mangrove swamps and forests are salt-tolerant evergreen trees which evolved by specially adapting to grow in saline, waterlogged conditions. Mangrove leaves have ‘salt glands’ which exude salt, while some species have a waxy substance on their leaves that prevent the loss of water from within the plant. Mangroves line about 8 percent of the world’s coastlines and 47 species of mangroves have been recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Mangroves provide a secure home and foraging ground for a variety of birds and animals. Waterlogged mangrove forests form essential nurseries for juvenile fish that seek shelter amidst the roots of the mangrove trees. They also provide secure nesting grounds for salt-water crocodiles and monitor lizards. Besides ensuring protection of coasts from storms and erosion, mangrove forests filter pollutants from river run-offs

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tasneem khan

and prevent the siltation of adjacent marine habitats, like coral reefs. In many parts of the world, man relies on mangrove forests resources. These areas make excellent fishing & shrimp farming grounds. Wood is extracted from mangrove trees for fuel and timber. The barks of some mangroves contain tannin that is used as a dye and to strengthen fishing

A massive Coconut Crab in the littoral vegetation in Little Andaman

nets. Nothing is wasted in a mangrove forest. Mangrove plants shed a large number of nutrient-rich leaves, which are either broken down by fungi and bacteria or are eaten by small crabs that live on the forest floor. Decaying organic matter breaks down into small particles (detritus), which are covered with a protein-rich bacterial film. Detritus or ‘marine snow’ is a food source for many species of molluscs

WILDLIFE GUARDIANS ANET, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team, is the island’s leading environmental NGO, and a one-of-a-kind research base in the Andaman Islands. A division of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, ANET was constituted in 1990 by Romulus Whitaker, Satish Bhaskar and Alok Mallick, and today remains the only NGO to have conducted extensive studies on sea snakes, marine turtles, herpetofaunal biogeography, bats and other small mammals, land and resource use, island flora and coral reefs.

The NGO, located on a forested hillside in North Wandoor, on the southern tip of South Andaman Island, regularly conducts workshops and education programs for a number of local, national and international organizations. While ANET does not accommodate tourists as such, a lucky traveler may find an empty cottage for a night or two, and the place is well worth a visit. For more information look up

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(snails), crustaceans (crabs, shrimps and prawns) and fish, which in turn are the food source for larger animals. Nutrients released into the water through the breakdown of leaves, wood and roots also feed the plankton and algae that form a part of the mangrove ecosystem. The main threat to mangroves is their over-exploitation. Mangrove habitats are a dumping ground for solid wastes and effluent discharge. This habitat is also being destroyed by continuous human encroachment and reclamation. The destruction of mangrove forests would greatly affect biodiversity within the Andaman Islands, decrease fisheries production, and increase coastal erosion and the impact of storms. Coral Reefs Coral reefs are one of the most complex and beautiful ecosystems

wildlife climate change with mass bleaching events and ocean acidification is probably the biggest threat to the survival of coral reefs. The ability of reefs to recover from unusual warming events, tropical storms and other acute disturbances is undoubtedly largely affected by the level of chronic human interference. Where reefs are healthy and unstressed, they often recover relatively quickly. Natural disturbances have impacted coral reefs for millennia prior to human induced impact and reefs recovered naturally from these impacts. Even now, healthy reefs can and do recover from major perturbations, like the 2004 tsunami. However, tourist destinations such as the Andaman Islands are typically damaged as a result of untreated sewage and chemical discharges, blast fishing, boat anchors, over-fishing and destructive fishing practices. Also toxic runoff (pesticides from farmland) and sedimentation (soil erosion after deforestation) due to land use change cause damage.

Reefs are one of the most extensively utilized and economically valuable natural resources of the planet on earth. They are spread over nearly 300,000 sq. km. of the world’s shallow marine areas. Reefs grow slowly as the tiny polyps that form their living surface multiply, spread and die, adding their limestone skeletons to the layers of the reef. Coral reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the world’s ocean surface, yet shelter around 25% of all marine species. This ecosystem is also home to an astonishing variety of flora and fauna - about 100,000 described species, representing some 94% of the planet’s phyla, have been recorded on coral reefs. Some scientists estimate that there could be five or more times that number hidden under the waters. Reefs are one of the most extensively utilized and economically valuable natural resources of the planet. Coral reefs provide food and livelihood for millions of coastal people, by harvesting the marine resources they generate, and through

tourists attracted by the beauty and biodiversity of the reefs. They are also a promising source of novel pharmaceuticals for the treatment of various diseases. The Andaman Sea reefs are fringing reefs which are formed close to the shores of the islands. The reefs that line the east coast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands form the largest continuous area of reefs in south Asia. About 200 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish, have been recorded here. The reefs and islands are important feeding and breeding grounds for a variety of sea creatures including the endangered sea turtles and a few marine mammals like the Dugong. Today the Andaman Sea reefs are under pressure due to threat to their health from various sources. Global

UP AND AWAY: (Clockwise from top Left) Andaman Teals, endemic to the islands, take flight; An Andaman Cobra at ANET, displaying it’s moulting colorations; A pair of Black-naped Terns at their nest on a little rocky islet west of Strait Island

The degradation of reefs means the loss of invaluable economic goods and services, and the loss of food security and employment for coastal people. This is the frightening reality in a developing country like ours, where many live in poverty. We should all be more proactive to prevent further damage rather than allow the situation to get out of hand. The reefs around the Andamans are at a ‘tipping point’, where bouncing back today is a possibility, if we enable recovery. Instead of trying to rebuild an ecosystem piece by piece, attempting to assist the natural processes of recovery would result in quicker rejuvenation. Careful and timely conservation efforts are important to maintain the reefs in these waters, and will dictate the future of the health and beauty of the Andaman Islands.

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Under Threat

While the ecological damage is not irreversible yet, steps need to be taken on a war footing, says Vandit Kalia Just a few years ago, people associated Andamans with a penal colony, and were surprised to learn it actually had amenities like electricity and phones, let alone tourism opportunities, and these were Indians. People around the world had not even heard of this place; those that had, had done so in the context of the 2004 tsunami. The few tourists that did come were adventurous backpackers, traveling on a tight budget. Fast forward to the present, and the

Andamans are the hottest tourist destination in India. Aggressively promoted by travel agents domestically, supported by excellent advertising in international markets by India Tourism, it is now a ‘must visit’ destination for holiday-makers. And the effect this has had on the islands is very obvious.

This is great for the island’s economy; the service sector generating employment covering a vast range of skills and wages. Outsiders are investing heavily in tourism projects. And tourism is supporting a wide range of related industries: construction, transport, restaurants, handicrafts, etc. All this exists due to one thing: the pristine natural beauty of Havelock, ranging from the dense, prime-growth rainforests teeming with insect, reptile and bird life; the gorgeous, secluded beaches and the amazing underwater world for scuba diving. While everyone is enjoying the golden eggs of tourism, the goose that is laying them is being neglected. The very thing that makes Havelock such a fascinating destination to visit is being ignored.

From a couple of planes a day, there are now about 9-10 flights daily, all full of tourists. Hotels are springing up



everywhere and their quality is improving as tourism is moving upmarket. With more taxis to cater to the tourists, the number of vehicles has gone up drastically. And the star of all this, of course, is Havelock.

A diagramatic representation of the various habitats and their associated vegetation over a cross section of a typical island in the Andaman chain. 9

1. Coral Reef & Shallow Seas; 2. Sandy Beach; 3. Rocky Shores; 4. Littoral Zone Vegetation; 5. Wetlands; 6. Caves; 7. Understory; 8. Forest Canopy; 9. Emergents; 10.Mangroves


7 3 10 2






ecology Some of the threats are: • Massive increase in solid waste: with increase in visitors the amount of solid waste: plastic bottles, paper/plastic bags, fast food wrappers, etc., has gone up. Proper disposal of this is a major challenge even in the West; here, it is a lost battle. A lot of these objects are littered on the beach and even the ones put in a trash bin, merely end up in a landfill on the tiny island. • Increased stress on natural resources: More tourists’ mean more resorts and a greater demand for wood and bamboo, which inevitably come from forests. The sea is not exempt either; people associate beaches with fresh seafood. The increase in demand for fish leads to over-fishing, especially for fragile species like lobsters, crabs and sharks. Increase in food trash leads to proliferation of feral dogs and cats at the expense of native wildlife. Dogs dig up turtle eggs and kill big crabs while cats kill small reptiles and birds. • Overloaded infrastructure: As tourist and resident volumes increase, so does the load on the infrastructure, which was designed for a much smaller number of users in mind. The single-lane road in Havelock earlier had only a few auto-rickshaws and cars while now vehicles pass every few seconds. The heavy traffic on these roads makes eco-friendly modes of transport - walking or

DECLINE IN NATIVE FAUNA Empirical evidence indicates that almost 90% of the sharks that existed in the waters around Havelock in 2002 have been wiped out. The biggest culprit is shark-finning, where a shark’s fins are cut off and the living animal is thrown back into the water, to bleed and die a slow death. Why? So that the fin can be exported and used for soup. This is an absolutely barbaric practice and is the marine equivalent of cutting off the legs of a tiger and leaving it to die, so that you can hang its claws around your neck. This needs to stop immediately!

On land, the situation is equally dire. With increase in human population the number of stray dogs and cats has multiplied. Feral dogs dig up and eat turtle eggs and also kill crabs. Feral cats kill pretty much anything they can – lizards, birds, etc. The number of turtles seen around Havelock has dropped drastically in the past decade, as have the number of large crabs. While reptile and bird population is harder to quantify, the sheer number of cats indicates that these species are also suffering. Steps to control the population of stray dogs and cats are essential!

bicycling – difficult. The load on the island’s electric supply means more CO2 production, as electricity is generated by diesel generators. The purpose of this article is not to paint a doom-and-gloom picture. Recent visitors to the islands may even disagree with the assessment – but this assessment is based on over a decade’s observation of changes, and the trend is not heart-warming. While the damage is not irreversible yet, steps need to be taken on a war footing! Here are a few suggestions that you as a responsible tourist can do: • Avoid bottled water – it is very safe to drink filtered water, as most of the water is drawn from wells. • Use a bicycle or walk - you don’t need a car, especially on a holiday on a small idyllic island. • Avoid eating shark products. Would you eat at a place serving tiger

SOLID WASTE AND RESOURCE UTILIZATION Small islands are very sensitive to environmental stresses. Any solid waste produced is going to end up in a landfill on the tiny island. Tourists should follow the 3 R’s of environmental - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce plastic usage: use re-usable jute bags, not plastic disposables; drink filtered water

in a glass or steel cup, not bottled water in a disposable cup; skip paper plates in favour of re-usable plates. Instead of eating an insipid “packed lunch” of dry sandwiches and chips, eat at a local restaurant. There are many ways to cut down on waste and they all add up to you making a big difference.

bone soup? Sharks are aquatic equivalents of tigers and are just as critically endangered! • Encourage your tour operator to inculcate eco-friendly policies and support operators and resorts that do more than just offer lip-service. Support resorts adopting ecofriendly measures – like grey-waterrecycling, solar electricity, natural cooling, etc. Being made of wood doesn’t make a resort eco-friendly (where did the wood come from? Is it renewable wood?). Educate yourself and ask tough questions. • Skip air-conditioning. You don’t need it here: while the sun can be strong, the shady trees and the cool sea breeze combine to make it pleasant, if the resort is constructed with proper, eco-friendly material. • Minimize use of disposables. Do you really need a straw with your glass? Can you get your packed meals in a re-usable box, instead of paper and plastic? With proper ethical and responsible implementation – be it self-driven or by guidelines set up by the authorities – tourism can be a sustainable, long-term source of both enjoyment to visitors and economic development for the locals. As a potential visitor, you need to do your part to help encourage this.

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Choosing the

Right Dive Outfitter

Here is a guide that will help beginners choose a center that conducts underwater activities in a safe and conscientious manner, thus contributing to an exhilarating experience, says Umeed Mistry A Dive Outfit Diving as a sport gained popularity in the last few years. Today many youngsters train to become scuba instructors while many island and coastal destinations, sport more and more dive centers. Diving is fun and very safe when practiced correctly, but is an equipment intensive sport that involves exploring an underwater world that can, on occasion, pose risks. Currently in India there are no governing bodies that regulate the activity, nor any administrative standards by which quality can be assured. While there are many reputed dive outfits, there

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is no dearth of operators who try to cut corners to save a few bucks, as running a dive center is not inexpensive. The guidelines based on internationally accepted standards of diving may vary between various certifying agencies. Dive federations/certifying organizations in the country include:

PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors SSI: Scuba Schools International BSAC: British Sub-Aqua Club NAUI: National Association of Underwater Instructors CMAS: Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (World Underwater Federation)


photograph: Richard Carey,

Dive Center and Staff credentials • Individual Instructors can conduct scuba diving without having a center registered with an international certifying organization, if they are in current registered teaching status and possess all requisite equipment and training material. • No rule exists that an individual with a certification level lower than a Divemaster cannot lead certified divers on a dive, however it is accepted internationally, that dive centers enlist a Divemaster. • Non-certified divers who engage in introductory dives should be supervised by a qualified Divemaster or Instructor and should not be taken on dives by Open Water Divers, Advanced Open Water Divers or Rescue Divers. • Student divers on certification courses, like the Open Water Course, Rescue Diver Course, etc., should be under the supervision of a certified Instructor in current teaching status with appropriate certification level to conduct the various courses. What you can do • Do not hesitate to ask an Instructor, Divemaster or any individual conducting your diving activity for proof of their certification level. Most Instructors and Divemasters will happily flaunt their certification card that contains their photograph, name, date of birth and date of certification. • Ask about the minimum equipment and training material required for a course. These can be verified on the websites of the certifying organizations or by simply walking into the next dive center. • Fill out Course Evaluation Questionnaires from the certifying organization. This helps to recognize outstanding performance

on the part of your Instructor, as well as to alert the certifying organization of any malpractice or professional negligence. Equipment and Boats • Diving is an equipment intensive sport, and appropriate wellmaintained equipment keeps you safe and comfortable underwater. • All certifying organizations have clearly laid out equipment requirements. The requirements usually vary based on location or the kind of diving involved, e.g., diving at night. • Boats are a divers “piece of land” on the water. Well maintained boats and competent boat staff are an integral part of safe diving. What you can do • Educate yourself beforehand or ask the staff of two or three dive centers to explain the basic equipment required for diving. • Do not accept ill-fitting, badly maintained, malfunctioning or leaking dive gear. If a dive center cannot equip you with state-of-theart gear that feels comfortable to wear and use, then they are not fit to take you diving. • Do not hesitate to ask when the scuba cylinders were last pressure tested, when the equipment was last serviced and to see the air filling station at a dive center. A center that looks after its equipment according to international standards will not hesitate to give you a tour of their facility. • Ensure the dive boats are well stocked with food and water for the duration of travel at sea. Check availability of communication equipment, first aid kits, emergency oxygen and life jackets. These are basic requirements on a dive boat. • Note: “fancier to look at” is not always better.

Safety and Contingency Plans • Ocean conditions are constantly changing and even the most experienced dive crew cannot predict and plan for every eventuality. • Safety equipment requirements and contingency plans depend on location and how far from help, one is diving. Boats that do not intend to venture far from shore use mobile phones for communication in case of an emergency, while boats that move out of a mobile phone coverage area require radio equipment to communicate. What you can do • Ask the staff for the day’s plan – intended distances from the shore, estimated time of return, etc. Also ensure that ample food, water and emergency equipment are on board. While it is good to trust a crew that has more experience in the area than you do, signs of negligence by the crew should not be tolerated. • The golden thumb rule while engaging in scuba diving is to ask yourself, if you are comfortable with the three basic things – your guide/instructor, your gear and the dive plan. • While nervousness is a part of adventure, it should not be confused with anxiety and discomfort. A good dive outfit will ensure that you are comfortable at every step. • Before entering the water, you should ask yourself, “Do I feel like doing this? Do I want to dive?” If the answer is a hesitant “maybe”, then perhaps it is better to try diving another day. Nothing is worth the risk to one’s life. • If the answer is a loud resounding “YES!”, then go out, go in and have a blast!!! september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


cover story

High Intensity

Interval Training HIIT is today’s magic mantra to not only stay fit, active and healthy, but it also ensures a great fitness level for a rewarding holiday in the Andamans, says Nisha Varma

HIIT is today’s magic mantra to not only stay fit, active and healthy, but to ensure a great fitness level for a host of activities one may wish to undertake. HIIT needs less time than traditional workouts, gives better and quicker results and has a host of long term advantages, like efficient fat metabolism, improved cardio-vascular

health and weight loss through fat burn. The skeletal muscles get stronger and work more efficiently as well. What do you need??? Anything or nothing. Any equipment which is easily available is good. Treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainer, skipping rope, stair running or just work in a park and use easily available things like heavy rocks, park benches, trees, etc. You will of course need a pair of good running shoes, lots of energy and great enthusiasm to “kill yourself” in each 20 minute session. A word of caution: this workout is for the relatively healthy individual. Go at your own pace. You can start at

Shuttle Sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds after which jog for one minute at a comfortable pace. The sprint has to be an all out effort where you actually struggle to breathe and the jog too has to be at a relatively steady pace. Repeat this cycle for 6 minutes. For this you can identify two trees in a park and sprint to and fro from one to the other for the desired time. This can be done outdoors or on a treadmill. You could also use an elliptical trainer and challenge yourself using resistance.

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a lower intensity and build up speed and difficulty with time and practice. Never neglect a warm up and cool down. Hydrate well. Ideally do get a check-up done before starting. I have given a sample workout but you can make your own workouts by using any 4 or 5 activities which involve the full body. Variety will only add interest and challenge. Warm up - a 500 m walk at a brisk pace should take about 4 or 5 minutes. Immediately follow it up with dynamic stretches for the shoulders (shoulder rotations), upper and lower back (Curl the spine and relax it).


Active holidays need a lot of preparation. Specially if the holiday involves a lot of physical activities which are new, varied and need a good aerobic endurance, physical strength and anaerobic capacity. If one is planning an active holiday which includes varied activities like water sports/swimming, trekking, rappelling, rowing, etc., then a few weeks of HIIT is a great way to prepare for such a holiday.

FITNESS Rock/Medicine Ball Throws: Pick up any heavy looking rock. Any weight which is challenging to you. It should feel heavy but not impossibly so. Bend your knees, pick the rock with both hands and arms stretched. Bend your elbows and hold the ball in front of your chest. First squat a little then with an all out effort straighten the legs in a powerful move and throw the rock as far as you can. Run there and repeat again. Keep going for at least 5 minutes. This will improve dynamic strength of the whole body. Be careful not to over extend your spine as you do this. Keep your core engaged all the time as it will also protect your back. In a gym you can use a medicine ball to throw around. Safety is important so watch out for people and animals as you do this. You can even throw the ball sideways to challenge the core much more. Start with a low weight and go higher as you improve your strength.

Plyometric Jumps: Squat down with the legs shoulder width apart. Make sure your body is aligned and core engaged. In this exercise you have to jump while maintaining the squat position. These jumps need not be very high but have to be quick. For one minute you have to spot jump and relax for 30 seconds and repeat for at least 5 minutes. If you want an added challenge then squat jump forward as far as you can and cover some distance. This can be done in the gym as well.

Push-ups and Sit-ups: In a gym use a mat but outdoors a grassy surface is good enough. Push-ups can be done on the knees or on the toes. Lie face down on the floor/mat. Place hands in line with the chest, lift up the whole body using the strength of the arms and the chest and lower the chest again. Each time almost touch the chest to the floor. Make sure the lower back stays neutral and stress free. Alternate 30 seconds of push-ups with 1 minute of sit-ups. For the sit-ups lie down on your back and place both hands behind the ears. Lift the chest from the floor as you exhale and inhale as you relax. Continue these intervals for at least 4 minutes without a break.

Nisha Varma is a Reebok Certified Master Trainer working with Reebok and is an ACSM Certified Health and Fitness Specialist, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, a Yoga and Strength Expert Write to her at

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |



An Everest 78 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012


PHOTOGRAPHS: team members of toolika rani

What are the limits of a human being? How expandable the physical prowess and how inclusive the labyrinths of his mind? This most intriguing question has formed the fertile soil which has conceived and nurtured the seed of all explorations in this world, be it anthropology, science, philosophy or fine arts. The thread that runs alike in all is the eternal yearning to sculpture a self-image. Adventure sports are the crudest way to discover one’s mettle by plunging into the unknown, venturing into the unexperienced and setting off against the unbridled force of nature, to test how far can one go. With its towering peaks throwing a constant challenge and deriding the notions of bravery, their steep rocky faces and icy pinnacles frozen in a cold sneer and the innumerous perils that lie waiting to wipe out anybody who dares to intrude into their peaceful, solitary and almost meditative existence, the Himalayas, since time immemorial, have fascinated men and women in pursuit of self-discovery. Understandably every year, hundreds of trekkers and mountaineers toil up the treacherous ridges of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, confronting and overcoming their fears and awakening their latent strength that every human possesses but realises and utilises seldom. On 8th April 2012, as I landed at the primordial airport of Kathmandu

The thrill of adventure lies in the fact that it’s nature that controls our moves, not us. We can only react to the rapidly changing scenario, says Toolika Rani september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore CLIMBING and further flew to Lukla, a small airstrip at 15850 ft amidst verdant mountains, my last year’s failed attempt on Mt. Everest played in my mind. While climbing above 22000 ft, my fingers became extremely cold. Danger of frost bite loomed large. Amputated fingers...end of mountaineering mind whirled. Forced to take a decision, I resentfully turned back. The first sight of the same mountains dawned on me the enormity of the challenge ahead. Apprehensions regarding my fitness for such an enormous task raged wildly inside me. Someone once told me, “No amount of preparation is enough”, but I was clear that this time I was not going to turn back till I was alive and able to move. The eight day trek to Base Camp (14000 ft) through pristine forest, swaying iron bridges over roaring streams, blooming Rhododendron

trees and the rhythmic music of tinkering Yak bells was made more enjoyable by the cheerful company of my two sherpas - Pimba and Pekma. While Pimba was a professional with an athletic physique and a strong competitive streak, Pekma embodied the carefree rustic spirit set in a broad, robust appearance. Both whistled continually while climbing, filling the environment with the characteristic gaiety of the Sherpas. I trudged slowly up, cautious about acclimatizing my body as per the changing physiology. A continuous trail of trekkers and the tourist lodges made of wood and stone lent a human touch to the vast wilderness of the Himalayas. At Base Camp the atmosphere was quite like home, though set up against the backdrop of the jagged and notorious Khumbu icefall, in which the thickness of snow was intensified by frequent avalanches and the

racetoeverest The year 2012 has seen a large number of climbers from India, scaling Mt. Everest. For the first time ever, 53 members as individuals and as part of five expedition teams scaled the peak successfully. This is the largest number of summiteers ever from India to have scaled the peak in any given year. The teams that scaled the Everest in May-June were: ITBP: The expedition was led by Prem Singh, DIG. Six members scaled the peak on 19 May 2012 from North Face (China Side)

Sagarmatha Giryarohan Sanstha Pune: Shrihari Tapkir who led this expedition along with three members ascended on 19 May 2012 from South Face Giripremi Pune: The leader of this expedition was Umesh M. Zirpe. Eight members conquered the peak on 19 May 2012 from South Face HMI: This expedition of six members led by Col. Neeraj Rana scaled the summit on 25 May 2012 from South Face The Indian Army: The leader of this expedition was Col. Ajay Kothiyal. A total of 17 members, including 7 lady officers climbed the peak on 25 May and 26 May 2012 from the South West Face.

“No amount of preparation is enough”, but I was clear that this time I was not going to turn back till I was alive and able to move

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EVEREST rock and sand mixed mountain face from where stones kept on hurtling down, providing a free orchestra day and night. Life at Base Camp went on as smoothly as in a comfortable house or so it appeared to us - the mountaineers, aware of the rigours of the higher camps, except the fleeting mist of expectation and the heavy fog of uncertainty that floated in the already rarefied air. With climbing gear rechecked and rucksacks packed, as we started negotiating Khumbu icefall several shocks awaited us. The thrill of adventure lies in the fact that it’s nature that controls our moves, not us. We can only react to the rapidly changing scenario. The unpredictabile weather and the terrain alters situations every day and the unexpected moves of nature keeps its explorers on their toes all the time. When we started climbing from Base Camp towards Camp-I (19500 ft),

SCALING HEIGHTS: (previous page) The panoramic view from Camp-III at 23,500 ft with Mt. Pumori in the distance; (facing page) posing for the lens; (below) tents around a frozen pond which acts as the source of water at Everest Base Camp

we learnt, an experienced Sherpa who had climbed Everest earlier, had unfortunately fallen in a crevasse and lost his life. We were advised to go back to Base Camp, as other Sherpas laboured to bring his body up, slightly ahead of where we stood. The calamitous event sent a shock wave not only through the aspirant climbers but also the otherwise fearless Sherpas, who usually hurry down the ladders, jump over crevasses as if playing in their backyard. Now caution was overtly conspicuous in their manner and they vociferously instructed us to keep the safety clip attached to the rope at all times. Another attempt up Khumbu was foiled by an avalanche that caught us midway. My Sherpa jerkily ducked me down as a moist mass of snow rolled past us, thrusting icy snow particles in our nostrils and leaving our cheeks grazed with a chilled sensation.

Sherpas descending informed us that the route ahead was completely washed off and would take 2-3 days to be repaired by the icefall doctors. Anxious about my delayed acclimatisation process, I waited impatiently at Base Camp with other climbers, lamenting the loss of excellent climbing prospects in the ensuing four days that the sun shone brightly but were spent idly. On account of this delay, I had to rush through my acclimatisation climb to Camp-III (23500 ft) as the prevailing good weather period was forecasted to be followed by an inclement spell. My body protested against this hurried onslaught and succumbed to nausea and exhaustion. My swollen body increased my dimensions as never before and for the first time, I realised the plight of obese women. My sherpas gibed at me, “Ma’am,

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore CLIMBING you have become a bomb, ready to explode any time”. Though I laughed it off, it cast serious apprehensions on my prospects of success. “If I am not fine in two days, be ready to get me evacuated by a chopper”, I called up and told my mother at midnight. To recover from high altitude sickness, Pimba, usually a jovial guy, appeared pensive as he accompanied me down to Periche (14000 ft). Only after the doctor at the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic declared that all my vital parameters were normal, both of us heaved a sigh of relief. Six days of recuperation, conversation with a motley group of trekkers and the

resurrection of appetite revived my drained body and sunken spirits. Back at Base Camp, ebullient with freshly acquired strength, we eagerly waited for a weather window to make the summit attempt. This year, only two weather windows were predicted as compared to the usual three. It led to a traffic jam even at the highest place on the earth, as around

150 climbers attempted to reach the summit during each window, forming nearly a 2 Km long human chain. During our first summit attempt, we zigzagged through treacherous ice blocks in Khumbu, crossed endless ladders placed over frighteningly deep crevasses, precariously balancing our crampons (ice-spikes) on swinging

Continue, it is worth dying like a brave man, exceeding the perceived human limits. If you survive, you would have conquered yourself forever and risen above the trivialities of mundane life

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aluminium rungs and crawling up the 70-80° steep ice wall on Lhotse Face, to reach Camp-III (23500 ft) on 19th May. But the next morning we awoke to the heart breaking news of the death of four climbers and disappearance of another two who attempted to reach the summit last night. The wind shook our tiny threeman tent with thunderous jolts as it slapped it repeatedly in hysterical fury. No one dare fight the forces of nature and so we retreated to Base Camp.

water and spicy dried meat curry. It fortified us for the last and the most gruelling climb to the summit.

Once again mission recuperation was underway in great earnest. We gulped down water in litres to recover from the severe dehydration and consumed chicken in large quantities to replenish our expended energy. May 23rd saw us once again treading up the same path that we ventured to take a few days ago. Weather was bright and promising. Pimba exhorted me to keep moving, sometimes even showing his displeasure on my being tired, while Pekma jovially lent a helping hand whenever needed.

An hour after we started climbing above the Summit Camp at 8.00 p.m., my left foot felt extremely cold. I asked Pekma to put a warmer inside the zip of my climbing shoe and continued to climb. On return I found two of my toes frost bitten. Months later one of them lost its tip and became disfigured, but it was nothing compared to the sacrifices some others made. Now and then, the beams of our head torches illuminated the bodies of our fallen comrades but the message emanating from these silent heroes resounded in the entire valley, “Continue, it is worth dying like a brave man, exceeding the perceived human limits. If you survive, you would have conquered yourself forever and risen above the trivialities of mundane life. As an additional reward you will witness the most majestic view on the earth and the most gratifying feeling that comes with it, only after achieving your goals”.

At the Summit Camp (26250 ft) the three of us relished the Sherpa food moist balls of gram floor kneaded with

After continuously climbing for more than eleven hours, I was throughly exhausted, drained of all energy and

TOP OF THE WORLD: (L to R) Base Camp, in the back drop of Mt. Everest; the long human chain while climbing a 90 degree gradient; the Summit, finally!

felt almost dead. My back ached severely under the weight of the oxygen cylinder wearing down on me. At some distance, vibrant colourful Buddhist prayer flags fluttered merrily in the clear blue sky at the tip of the earth, while I dragged my feet, powered purely by will, up the ascent. After another 15 minutes, my exhausted figure inched its way up one step at a time. “Keep moving”, my mind commanded! Finally, on 26 May 2012, at 7.10 a.m., as the sun’s rays rolled out their golden carpet, I stood utterly astounded on the very top of the earth. Snowcapped peaks gracefully bowed their heads before their indisputable king Mount Everest. Filled with an immense sense of relief, I felt absolutely at peace with myself and the mighty Himalaya around me. Everything that belonged to the earth lay below me. Above me lay only the clear blue sky. For a moment, I stood still, one with the universe, devoid of any thoughts. Then, I bowed my head in gratitude to the Creator for bestowing our earth with such grandeur and for infusing human beings with the quest to explore - within and outside.

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Explore Getaways

For those who simply cannot get enough of the mountains and do not mind going that extra mile, Deoria Tal nestled at 10,000 ft in Garhwal Himalaya is the place to head for, says Gaurav Schimar 86 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED | September-October 2012

PHOTOGRAPHS: gaurav schimar

deoria tal

“Stop!” yelled my cousin Manish from the pillion seat, the moment we crossed Srinagar on the RishikeshBadrinath road. I presumed he was just tired, since we’d been riding non-stop for 345 km from Delhi since 4 A.M. When I did stop next to a dhaba on the banks of the yawning Alakananda, he voiced his concern, “Why are we carrying all this camping gear?” “Patience” I retorted and started the Enfield to continue our journey. We left Srinagar and then the sparkling Alaknanda at Rudraprayag, to take the detour from Ukhimath on the Kedarnath highway. Five hours later, we were at Sari. As I parked my bike near a roaring brook just short of this quaint village, I could see Manish

bursting with excitement at the prospect of finally camping in the wild.

Route map

Early next morning, we started the trek to Deoria Tal in the company of our young guide, Negi. The well marked trek route took us through a lush forest teeming with birds. Some odd cows that didn’t pay heed to us went about grazing their way. The trek wasn’t easy given the fact that all of us were carrying a fair amount of load. “Now I know what a trek really means!” declared Manish, parking himself on the odd bench put up by some thoughtful forest officials. Finally, thick rhododendron trees gave way to an open meadow in the september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore Getaways midst of which lay a rainbow – or that’s what I thought, till I realized it was Deoria Tal! The lake offered an astounding 300° panoramic view of the majestic snow-clad peaks around it. Legend has it that Deoria Tal was created by Nag Devta when Lord Shiva wanted to have a bath, and a Nag Mandir on its banks bears testimony to the belief. As we got rid of our backpacks, we were surprised to see an old man perched on the cliff edge overlooking the Tal. I chatted up with the old man to learn that he’d walked for three days all the way from distant Phata, after traversing steep mountains and precarious forests. “There used to be no roads fifty years ago and it is since then that I’ve been dreaming of coming here,” he said. When I

asked him the reason for not taking the road till Sari, he promptly replied “We locals revere the Tal. We believe that Gods and angels still descend from the heavens to its waters. It’s a pilgrimage for me.” I was in awe of the old man’s spirit because we were almost on the verge of collapsing from the three hour trek from Sari. Manish, the designated chef, dished out lunch consisting of Maggi, and we invited the old man to share. After setting up camp I went about exploring the Tal. Since we’d left most of our luggage at Sari, which unfortunately also included our woollens, the relentlessly cold evening breeze gave me no choice but to return to camp. I was relieved to see the rest of the campers sprawled around a crackling bonfire.

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Fastfacts Getting There Delhi-Roorkee-Haridwar-Rishikesh-SrinagarRudraprayag-Ukhimath-Sari Village-Deoria Tal Distance: 440 km Drive Time: 12 hours Break Points: Haridwar; Srinagar; Rudraprayag

Where to stay There are a handful of guest houses to stay in at Sari Village. But the best option is to camp overnight at Deoria Tal. Northern Escapes (info@northernescapes. in) arranges for trips to the Tal from Delhi.

AUGUST COMPANY: (Below) Snow clad Himalaya as viewed from the tal; (facing page) enjoying a cuppa

A handful of cows decided to join the melee, probably because they felt safe in human company, as leopards are not uncommon in the region. Soup was cooked directly on the logs and our guide Negi, assisted ably by the

deoria tal

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Explore Getaways

HOLY HIGH: Kedarnath Peak as viewed from Deoria Tal; (facing page) Shiva Temple at Sari Village

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deoria tal Fastfacts What to Eat The restaurant at Rakesh Lodge at Sari rolls out some mouth watering aloo paranthas served wih dollops of butter, ideal for the trek ahead. There is a food shack midway to the Tal and one at the Tal itself, which has been set up by enterprising locals and that rolls out dal, roti, rice besides Maggi. Nothing beats the experience of carrying your own rations and cooking at 10,000 ft!

What to Do There is plenty to do at the tal besides enjoying the unparalleled Himalayan vista. You can spot quite a few birds like the Himalayan eagles and magpies. If you

old man, regaled us with local tales, even as our chef whipped out mirch ka salan and rice at 10,000 ft, that night. Just as we were about to call it a day, Negi insisted that a small fire be lit through the night to beat the cold. Suddenly, in the middle of the night we heard the pitter patter of raindrops. I stepped out to survey the scene, but couldn’t see any rain! Instead I saw dew, the size of rain drops falling from the sky! Our double layered alpine tent couldn’t keep the dampness out and our sleeping bags were soon wet. “What now?” whimpered Manish. “This is adventure! Enjoy it “, I whispered and went right back to sleep in my damp sleeping bag. After registering some protest, Manish followed suit. The snow clad Chaukhamba and her companions were dressed in gold to greet us the next morning. Deoria Tal itself was attired in blue to flawlessly reflect the pristine snow peaks. It was like witnessing the impossible union of two worlds. While I was caught in the enigmatic moment, a group of local women came up with huge sickles glistening in their hands. I mumbled to Manish that these were the bandit women of the region

have a couple of days to spare then indulge yourself in a jungle trek from Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak (13,500 ft) via Tungnath Temple. The entire region is a protected sanctuary for musk deer.

Tips Spend a night at Sari village and undertake the trek to the tal after a sumptuous breakfast early next morning. No prior permission is required to visit the Tal but Indians have to pay a nominal fee of `50 while foreigners pay `200 to the Forest Ranger present at the Tal. Use of still cameras is free but use of professional video cameras attracts a fee.

Light a bonfire only with fallen dry leaves and branches and that too after taking prior permission of the Forest Ranger, to avoid paying a hefty fine. Never leave the fire unattended and extinguish it with sand and water before you leave. Do not even think about littering, in fact engage in a cleanliness drive of the Tal and its surroundings. Do not forget to pose for a picture or two as these meaningful memories will last forever. Besides bird watching in the day, undertake a night wildlife safari but always in a group and you may chance upon a leopard.

who had come to rob us! Manish got the joke this time, when he saw Negi speaking to the women who had come to collect grass and dried vegetation. Negi explained that these women did not cut trees or harm the environment and only took whatever lay waste. After quickly having our breakfast we went about exploring the Tal. I was depressed to see that a lot of what we had mistaken for shrubs the previous night, was actually garbage strewn all over the place. I summoned Negi and Manish to undertake, what Negi said, was one of the most intensive cleaning drives in the Tal region. By the time we finished, all the garbage cans were overflowing and we were absolutely exhausted. As we sat down to rest with a steaming cup of chai, the Tal was a silent witness to the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. It looked magnificent and surreal. Manish was preparing lunch while Negi took a quick nap. I glimpsed at magpies frolicking on tree tops and a dozen butterflies playing catch on the azure waters of the Tal, all too happy to be in the lap of Deoria Tal. september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore trekking

Roof of Africa

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Even Hemingway in his volumes on Africa missed out on the grandeur of it, but Kilimanjaro is something that any mountain lover and adventurer just cannot afford to miss, says Sangeeta S Bahl


© Paul Hampton |

When I was flying as an Emirates Air Stewardess, I used to frequent various cities in Africa on many of my flights. While Africa was mysterious, the name “Kilimanjaro” sounded very exotic. I always wondered what it would be to scale the mountains so high! At 19341 ft, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and one of the few places on the continent where you experience snow. Having been brought up in the hills, I took to climbing as a fish takes to water. When the opportunity arose last year to scale the highest peak in Africa, I just nosedived and joined my husband for this challenging venture. Soon, we were planning, ordering equipment and training for the climb; and dreaming, sleeping, thinking and talking about nothing other than Kilimanjaro. Flying in to Tanzania from Kenya was an unforgettable experience. The first glimpse of the 19341 ft mountain was

out of our aircraft window, as we landed at Kilimanjaro Airport just outside Moshi. Our journey started from staying at Mhabe farm Village in the heart of Moshi for two nights at 6000 ft to get acclimatized. We relaxed with homebrewed coffee, and delicious meals served by our cook from Zanzibar. The first day, we were introduced to our two Guides who provided a climb orientation and gave a through equipment check to see if all was in order. Our heartbeat, pulse and health history was looked into too, along with a mini hike around the village over cascading waterfalls and rivulets of streams. Lemosho Route We had chosen to climb the Lemosho Route to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The main reason was for acclimatization. The Lemosho route is the longest route and we would be on the mountain for almost eight days and we hoped that we would acclimatize well in that time to

fastfacts How to Reach: Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania in eastern Africa. Kenya is to the north of the mountain, and cheaper flights are available to Nairobi, Kenya, although it will add a day to your trip and another entry visa as well, which is available on arrival. When to Go: The best time to climb is midDecember to end February. The second best time is mid-June to end September.

Currency: Tanzanian shilling is the local currency, but US dollar, euro and pound sterling are widely accepted for climbs and at many places in Moshi.

Health Certification: You need a valid Vaccination Certificate for Yellow Fever before you enter Tanzania and make sure you are vaccinated 15 days prior to your visit, for the certificate to be active and acceptable by the authorities.

avoid Mountain sickness. We arrived at the Londorossi Gate 6800 ft in the midmorning and our Chief Guide, Honest, went off to organize our climbing permits for us. Once that was done, our porters were already waiting for us and we set off on our adventure Trip.

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Explore trekking The real unsung heroes were the team who travelled with us‌ Without them, I have no doubt that no one would make it to the summit. I owe this trip to their patience and help every step of the way.

The Terrain Trail While climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, we traversed pretty much all the climatic zones on Earth. One of the highlights of the trek is that we actually got to experience five climatic zones on the way to the summit including tropical conditions, rainforest, moorlands, high desert and arctic.

Support Staff The real unsung heroes were the team who travelled with us; our porters, cooks, camp masters and guides. These tough men carried between 15 and 25 kg of equipment up the mountain and down. We were just the two of us and we had 12 support staff assisting us. Their duties included carrying all our stuff up the mountain, like tents, food, extra clothing, cooking equipment, our dining room tent (yes, we ate on chairs and

Big Tree Camp (8700 ft) The first move towards the Big Tree Camp (8700 ft) was 3.8 miles on the lower plains where indigenous vegetation has been replaced with coffee and banana plantations in abundance. The next zone was to the forest belt of Shira Plateau 1 at 11420ft that was 4.7 miles away – a typical rainforest with heavy undergrowth, lots of ferns, a variety of trees, abundant wildlife and a warm, moist climate. We

had a dining tent) and even a portable bucket toilet. To say that these guys were heroes is an understatement, they are super-human. Many of them climb the mountain each week and return home for just two days before they embark on their next expedition. They are truly the toughest, strongest and most resilient men I have ever seen. Without them, I have no doubt that no one would make it to the summit. I owe this trip to their patience and help every step of the way.

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saw many beautiful flowers en route, not to forget the stillness in the air and even managed to chance on colobus monkeys. The day’s hike took us from the montane forest, through a transition zone, and into the heath zone, where old lava flows were visible. We then moved up to the Alpine Heath and Moorland zone of Shira Plateau 2, which started at an altitude of 12570ft and walked for 5.3 miles. In this zone there were small scrubby bushes and barely any shade. There were lots of unusual flowers, but mostly small shrubs and bushes. In the Moorland, the vegetation started thinning out and plain trails started to form. We were taken on a conditioning hike in the afternoon, where we examined the giant groundsel of lobelias and senecios that are endemic to this region. We viewed the

MORE THE MERRIER!: (Previous page) A herd of African elephants in Kenya with Kilimanjaro in the background; (facing page) a typical Kenyan celebration that marks each day of trekking

most spectacular sunset here and had to our advantage an amazing expansive view of the Kilimanjaro Mountain. We passed through the alpine moorland zone and after 4.3 miles we reached the Lava Tower 15230 ft, Kilimanjaro’s alpine desert zone, where plants were extremely hardy and consisted of lichens, grasses, and heather. This was an extremely tough day as we walked through hail, sleet and thunder to our adventure climb up the Lava Tower. Since we were well equipped with our rain gear, we reached drip dry. That night at Lava Tower it snowed! I feared we were going to get snowed in or blown away by the howling wind. The Highland Desert was next and we moved another 5.9 miles towards the Karanga Camp (13250 ft), and

here we began to comprehend the reality of being on a mountain. The days in this zone were drizzly and the nights extremely cold. There was literally no sun for a few days. After an initial descent from Lava Tower camp, we climbed the Great Barranco Wall, an imposing cliff, steep but still an exhilarating challenge – which our guides made safe and accessible for both of us, by ascending ‘pole pole’ (meaning “slowly” in Kiswahili). Again, we were met with torrents of rain and shattering thunder but that did not deter us in any way and we kept moving. We descended into the Karanga Valley and then climbed again to our camp on a ridge above the Valley, where we were ready to call it a day after a long arduous trek. The view from the ridge was spectacular and we were above the clouds.

Kilimanjaro National Park

Forests above 8858 ft are within the National Park. According to a 2001 study there are 2,500 plant species, 130 species of tree with the greatest diversity between 5906 and 6562 ft, as well as 170 species of shrub, 140 species of epiphyte, 100 lianas and 140 pteridophytes.

The most frequently encountered mammals above the timberline are Kilimanjaro tree hyrax, a vulnerable species; the antelopes grey duiker and eland, found in the moorland, with bushbuck and red duiker found above the timberline, and buffalo occasionally moving out of the forest. An estimated 220 endangered African elephants occur on the higher slopes. Insectivores and rodents abound above the timberline. Three species of primates are found within the montane forests, blue monkey, western black and white colobus, and bush-baby, and among mammals leopards too. Abbot’s duiker, another vulnerable antelope species, is restricted to Kilimanjaro and neighboring mountains. Lammergeier the bearded vulture, Hill chat the song bird, the small Hunter’s cisticola and scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird are some of the 179 highland bird species recorded. The white-necked raven is the most conspicuous bird species at higher altitudes.

The whole mountain including the montane forest belt which extends into the National Park, has a very rich fauna: 140 mammals (87 forest species), including 7 primates, 25 carnivores, 25 antelopes and 24 species of bat.

The area surrounding the mountain is densely populated, by the Chagga people, and the northern and western slopes of the Forest Reserve surrounding the National Park have 18 medium to large ‘forest villages’.

Mt Kilimanjaro and the surrounding forests were declared a game reserve by the German colonial rulers in the early 20th century. It was declared a national park in 1973 and later designated a World Heritage site in 1987. Kilimanjaro National Park covers an area of 75,575 ha protecting the largest free standing volcanic mass in the world and the highest mountain in the African continent, rising to 19341 ft at its peak. It comprises the whole of the mountain above the timberline and six forest corridors stretching down through the montane forest belt.

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Explore trekking Each exhale reveals a plume of breath within the white light emitted by my head-lamp. It’s the stark visual evidence of Kilimanjaro’s bone-chilling potential...

Finally there was the Ice Cap zone from Karanga Valley Camp (13250 ft) to Barafu Camp (15360 ft), a distance of 2.4 miles. Barafu means “ice” in Kiswahili. At this height there was nothing but rock scree and volcanic soil, and the occasional glacier, most of which are now melting. The conditions were arctic and temperatures were below freezing point all day. The oxygen level is also about 50% less than at sea level. We walked for 6 hours and tried to sleep in the afternoon. After an early dinner we had a summit briefing and prepared our equipment before resting. At midnight, ideally under the stars and a brightly shining moon, we

LOADED! (Above) Making way through precarious rain washed and lava led Bramco rocks (facing page); snow laden terrain of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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began the final ascent to Uhuru Peak, the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim, which is currently dormant. The Summit Now all that was left to do was descend. I think you will make it,” said Honest, our head Tanzanian guide, on day seven of our ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro. “I’ve been watching you this week and you look strong Princess.” This pep talk came as both my husband and I huddled in the mess tent for dinner at Barafu Camp — a cold, boulder-strewn, wind-swept ridge at 15,260 ft. We would be finally woken up in a few hours to begin our midnight assault of Uhuru peak, Africa’s roof at 19,340 ft. Mike was not one

to linger over these nightly briefings, so true to form, he left us so we could ingest our final — and critical — caloric bounty, declaring in Swahili as he exited the tent: “Hakunamatata!” or “No problem!” This was Honest’s two hundredth ascent of the mountain and the lithe, affable guide was artfully rallying his troops. This was my first — and surely last — summit bid. I was tired, had a slight headache and felt the onset of mild nausea — vintage signals of early Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The previous six days of methodical hiking via the Lemosho route in the increasingly thin air of Kilimanjaro’s five climatic zones had


exacted a profound physical toll on me. At this stage of the journey I wanted his prediction in writing. It is now midnight. The approximately 30° starry night reveals a long trail of headlamps snaking their way out of sight up the rocky ridge above Barafu camp. The most distant lamps resemble faint, barely twinkling stars — hardly a sight to embolden a fatigued, oxygen deprived hiking party, a vertical 3900 plus feet shy of their ultimate prize. I survey my people at the base of this seemingly eternal slope. They are barely recognizable behind their insulated jackets, hats, facemasks and other assorted winter gear.

Our group falls into place. Honest takes up the rear position, while another assistant guide nestles in the middle and one takes the lead. The two of us fill the gaps between them. “Pole, pole” says Mike, the assistant guide in front. This Swahili admonition is the most common mountain refrain—and the most urgent one to heed: ‘slowly, slowly.’ This is not a place where speed of any kind is rewarded. The garrulousness that marked our previous six days on the lower slopes vanished. The only sound from our bedraggled clan is the occasional “pole, pole” spilling from a guide or fellow hiker. Our steady companion is

a rhythmic crunching, as our collective boots and hiking poles pound the scree and larger rocks on the trail. Our altitude is steadily monitored by Ankur, my husband who earned the distinction of having the sole sports watch with an altimeter function. “Just passed 17000 ft” he reports wearily, sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning as the temperature dips to its coldest level. Each exhale reveals a plume of breath within the white light emitted by my head-lamp. It’s the stark visual evidence of Kilimanjaro’s bone-chilling potential. Despite being anchored a scant 3° south of the equator, arctic conditions prevail on

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore trekking As I navigate the final steps to the roof of Africa, I juggle a dizzying array of images and emotions... I approach the posted sign, tap it to make the feat official, and pose for the obligatory photo these highest slopes and summit. As we continue our ascent, a bagel with cream cheese begins to flirt with my mind’s eye.

immediate descent. The Indian meal is ceding to a bowl of Chat when a female hiker appears out of the blackness above, flanked by two guides. She passes us silently on her way down, head slumped, and feet stumbling forward like a drunken sailor. Her summit bid is over.

The window of time for reflection on Kilimanjaro dwarfs the four hours of my marathon push. The most persistent images above 15000 ft. here are those that help to curb my nausea. I invoke my A Kilimanjaro climb is physically favorite Indian staples: dal, rice and curd. challenging, but the mental joust is equally intense. How much time until My nausea has not abated, but I the next break? Will I soon resemble repeatedly praise my prescription that delirious girl stumbling down the Diamox, my ark-worthy four-litre mountain? What will a vertical 2000 daily water intake and my fertile ft. more mean for my weary legs and imagination for warding off severe nauseous stomach? Where is the nearest AMS, which would include vomiting hospital? Are the seeds of malaria or and disorientation and require an yellow fever firmly planted in my body?

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Am I truly prepared to sell my soul for two minutes of sea-level oxygen? A break at 17500 ft. in the inky blackness of pre-dawn finds me weary!

GLACIAL HEIGHTS (Below) Glacier at the summit of the Kilimanjaro; (above left) Posing for the lens at Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa at 19,341 ft

The anticipation of cresting the crater rim rose with Frank declaring at 7.30 am: “That’s Stella Point ahead.” A collection of head-lamps are now visible in the distance. The final uphill stretch on loose scree is brutal. My heart protests fiercely with each slow-motion step. My mouth gasps for the slightest residual of oxygen.

Kilimanjaro ice coat the crater’s interior, providing some relief from an otherwise grey, apocalyptic moonscape. A layer of puffy white clouds completely cover the African plains below, spreading a most dazzling carpet of virginal white to welcome the inaugural rays of morning. It is a sherbet-orange, blue and white palette whose beauty has no close rival.

Stella Point is not the true summit, but cresting Kilimanjaro’s initial volcanic rim a vertical 600 ft or so shy of Africa’s roof revived my weary legs with a dose of adrenaline. The path to Uhuru Peak from here is a 45 minute relatively gentle uphill hike around the crater rim. I take off my day pack and stand motionless, weighing the significance of the moment. The glow from the rising African sun spreads its orange brilliance over the vast crater, which falls off beside me into a massive, bleak, bolder-riddled bowl. Patches of glacial

Hemingway’s volumes on Africa never included a description of the rooftop vista that I now savour. His protagonist in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ perhaps came closest, recording its grandeur with an air of reverence: “Wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun.” I can only imagine what Hemingway’s far abler pen would conceive with the glorious view that I presently behold. After a brief additional rest, we depart for Uhuru Peak. By now, the sun has risen higher in the morning sky, taking the sharp edge off the sub-freezing night temperatures. The hike around the crater rim gently rises and falls. The progress is slow, one foot meticulously plodding in front of another. The slightest increase in speed is met instantly by a racing heart, requiring

an immediate halt to recuperate. After about 45 minutes, with Kilimanjaro’s massive glaciers glistening in the early morning sun, we move to within a hundred yards of our goal. As I navigate my tired final steps to the roof of Africa, I juggle a dizzying array of images and emotions in my mind. Smiles and hugs abound as thirty or so hikers mill around and pose for pictures, at the post marking 19,340 ft. I approach the posted sign, tap it to make the feat official, and pose for the obligatory photograph. I have the same feeling of incalculable confidence that came when I gave birth. I step aside to allow other hikers to mark their presence and relish the moment. A few feet away, I gaze at the immense cloud deck spread out below the massive glaciers, wondering what will be presented to me next. The obstacles were many, but Honest was right. Despite acute nausea, headaches, body fatigue, sunburn, freezing temperature, biting winds, aggressive fire ants and malarial mosquitoes, our twosome made it. We touched the roof of Africa!!! © Sefi Greiver |

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Explore Moments


Nagaland is an education in history, geography and anthropology, besides being an outdoor photographer’s paradise, says Sankar Sridhar

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OUTPOST: The skull of a mithun marks the Indo-Myanmar border in Mon district

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Explore Moments

I don’t like prim. I don’t like prissy. I prefer to just be. I let my hair grow, I don’t clip my nails (I bite ‘em) and… oh, wait a minute…this isn’t about me, is it? You don’t even know me. And even if you read the by-line again, there would be no instant recall of who it is. And that’s the whole point, about Nagaland. The brain takes a moment to connect the dots, and if it at all does, the usual set of words that float across the mind are a) insurgency b) head-hunters c) people who eat everything that walks, flies, creeps or crawls, though not necessarily in the same order.

LOCAL COLOURS: (above) Cheerful village belles; (left) scenes of daily life in Tseminyu village; (facing page) a performer at the Hornbill festival

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SEPTeMBER september-october - OCTOBER 2012 | EXPLORE the THE unexplored UNEXPLORED |


Explore Moments

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NAGALAND That’s sad, in a way, because we just don’t know what we are missing. But that could be a boon if you decide to head there, for there is so little you know about it, and so little you will find about it, except the aforementioned (a) and (b), the surprises will never cease. Which brings me back to, well, more similarities between the by-line and the state. Nagaland is not prim and it’s not prissy. PEEK-A-BOO: Women stare out of a window cut out of their tin-walled house in Khonoma

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Explore Moments

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NAGALAND Its wilderness is not corralled into parks or gardens and if you head out of Kohima, and walk the lazy tracks that slither away from the tar roads and melt into lanes, you’re sure to bump into someone ready to point you to a waterfall, the nearest village or even ask you to share a drink and dinner at his house. That’s where, perhaps, the wonder that is Nagaland, has been dealt a rotten hand by fate. The imagery captured by headlines and bytes has always been that of unrest and danger. But beyond that lies stunning panoramas, ancient legends, shamanistic mysteries, spontaneous music, dancing and camaraderie.

WOMEN POWER (facing page and left): Women in Kidima village; (below) Mopenchuket village vista

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Find yourself immersed in nature’s bounty and cross that bridge to rediscover the adventurer in you at Botanix, says Gaurav Schimar Why would one leave teeming forests, majestic mountains, mesmerising deserts and resplendent coastlines, to choose a resort set amidst the Aravalian landscape, barely a hop across from Delhi? What adventures can a “Nature Adventure Resort” possibly offer? As I mulled over such questions during my drive, a signboard loudly declared that, Botanix Nature Spa and Adventure Camp, had arrived. A large iron gate creaked open and a rugged road led me to the parking. Thick green foliage decided to greet me with courtesy

as I stepped out of the car amidst a slight drizzle. Botanix is situated at a village, which derives its name from the famous Damdama Lake in Haryana. The drive itself brought back sweet memories of carefree college days, when classes were bunked and the time used to explore Delhi’s landscape in the company of like-minded friends. Back then, Damdama was a favourite haunt. Once I entered the premises, beautifully manicured gardens resplendent with flowers, impeccably

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Once you’ve done it all, a refreshing dip in the swimming pool is all you need to recharge your batteries

trimmed trees and lush green lawns, vied with one another for my attention. The verdant trees, home to several birds, decided to announce my arrival with the pomp and splendour that would befit a king. Fluttering butterflies added to the charm and I had to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. Just then, Sanjay Sharma, VP, Botanix (the man-in-charge) met me, who informed that the resort is registered as a Farm Tourism Destination with Haryana Tourism, and also the only Adventure Camping Site approved by Gurgaon Administration. I was pleasantly surprised to learn Botanix is the only private property in India audited by WWF-India. Botanix spread across 60 acres of beautifully landscaped terrain, is home to 30 different tree species. The beautifully manicured gardens boast of 200 species of plants and shrubs, and over 30 varieties of flowers. Naturally then, you would find butterflies, of which more than 10 species are found here. If you crave for more, then there is another 40 acres of land around the resort, for you to meander.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Gaurav schimar & sanjay sharma

Explore camp review

Also don’t forget the scores of villagers you can befriend and witness how smoothly life goes on in a village. Here, a special mention needs to be made of the self-appointed guardian of Botanix, Shadow. Incidentally, Shadow is a lovely golden Labrador who accompanies guests on their early morning walks. Beware, Shadow gives you a full appraisal before he decides if you’re worthy of his company. If Shadow ditches you, do look out for a particular peacock, which may well be the largest you’ll ever come across. Though, don’t blame me if you can’t locate it, for you may mistake it for a colourful tree! Ah yes! There’s also the famous Damdama Lake, which can get interesting when it is full of water. If you’re wondering about the origins of the name ‘Botanix’, look no further. A botanical garden set deep inside the resort will solve your mystery. Though the garden once boasted of species of carnivorous plants, it still has enough to keep you clued in for hours. Apart from being a botanist’s delight, Boatnix also offers a plethora of adventure activities to keep the city junkie busy all day. These include archery, parasailing, mountain biking, zorbing and dirt biking. Of course there’s also the zip line, obstacle course, camel and bullock cart ride and the Burma Bridge. If you’d like to indulge in some creative pursuits, check out the potter’s wheel and make a memento. Once you’ve done it all, a

refreshing dip in the swimming pool is all you need to recharge your batteries. I woke up to the sweet symphony of a flock of birds and decided to explore the resort at dawn. During the walk, I found several interesting contraptions that were laid out for the benefit of corporate groups visiting that day. Besides being popular with families, Botanix is also favoured by several corporate groups, who come here for conferences and an assortment of outbound training programs. The management is open to guests getting their own picnic baskets and enjoying nature in action. However, make no mistake, Botanix tempts you with some finger licking, sumptuous Indian fare put together by Executive Chef, Shiv Singh and Dessert Master, Uday Chand. As my day at Botanix progressed, I found myself trying to capture the attempts of a young lady on the

Burma Bridge, through my lens. After much persuasion from her peers, she ventured onto the bridge and found herself stuck in the middle, completely frozen and clueless about what to do next. Some encouragement and tears later, she finally gathered courage and crossed the bridge to resounding applause from all the spectators. She may have taken more time than others to get across, but then, as her husband aptly put it, “It was important for her to let go of her fears and not turn back”. He unknowingly summed up in that one sentence, what adventurers live in a lifetime. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to give in to the call of the wild and experience the real “outdoors”. For those of us who don’t get that chance, Botanix is the perfect getaway. Not only does the resort help you connect with nature and get a feel of the real outdoors, it also helps you overcome your fears and rediscover the spirit of adventure.

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Explore survive


watch that The most effective method to prevent an injury is to never go beyond your ability in any activity, says Krishna Varma

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head injury

WATCHOUT Symptoms to look for in a head injury • Severe headaches • Slurred speech • Loss of vision or double vision • Unequal pupils • Bruises behind ear/around eyes, ear, nose or mouth • Clear/bloody fluid oozing from ear, nose, or mouth • Convulsions • Short-term memory loss • Vomiting

• Weakness or paralysis in limbs

Steps to take in case of a head injury in the outdoors • Protect the airway and cervical spine (i.e., neck) to make sure that the patient can breathe and that there is no further damage to the spine. • Keep patient in a prone position, i.e., face up.

condition when the brain swells rapidly and catastrophically after a person suffers a second concussion before the earlier one has subsided. So pay attention to these signs. It is pertinent the patient be aware of the symptoms, as they may appear even after 48 hours after the release of the injured, post medical aid.

© Zoltan Nagy |

research has repeatedly shown that adventure activities are safer than most other traditional physical activities. Activities like trekking, mountaineering, snowboarding, biking, diving, etc., do expose the adventurer to a higher level of risk of head Injuries.

Adventure sports and outdoor activities involve risk and danger, but so does everything else in life! The presence of danger gives rise to risk, and risk is one of the crucial components that make outdoor adventure that much more enthralling. Today state-of-the-art safety procedures help reduce the real dangers and yet keep desired perceived risks at an optimum level. Hence, balancing risks and safety is an enigma, while

In outdoor adventure activities one should realize that it isn’t necessarily the one big head injury that is most dangerous. Small repeated head injuries that may not cause a full concussion are the most dangerous ones. Even a slight injury to the brain makes it swell to protect and help heal the area affected. A subsequent injury to the brain before the earlier injury heals can lead to further swelling. Repeated injuries increase the swelling and pressure in the brain and as the skull cannot expand, the brain starts shutting down and this is where head injuries turn dangerous. Pay attention to warning signs of even a small injury and stop participating in an activity where risk of another injury is high. Some of the signs to pay attention to are: headache, dizziness, nausea, amnesia, and confusion. The presence of any of these signs even after a small accident means it may be a head injury and any further injury can lead to the Second Impact Syndrome (SIS). SIS is a

• Do not feed water or food to the injured person as this can induce breathing problems in a semiconscious or conscious person. • Carefully observe the patient who has lost consciousness briefly (less than one minute) for at least a few hours. • Transport to a hospital immediately, anyone whose condition worsens.

The most effective method to prevent an injury is to never go beyond your ability in any activity. In “high adrenaline” sports most injuries occur when people go beyond their ability level by putting themselves in positions that they do not have skills or abilities to deal with. The most important aspect of safety is reducing the risks. Despite, the most careful attention to limit risk, there can still be a freak accident that is beyond our control. When we take part in adventure sports and outdoor activities we must accept the fact that such mishaps can occur. This is all a part of the game. Adventure sport or outdoor activity involves many risks, even if one is prudent. A simple accident can create a dangerous situation that tests one’s survival skills. However, with the right precaution and adequate caution, adventure sports and outdoor activities can be enjoyable, safe and a great recreation.

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore foot prints When one reads of the fabled ‘silk route’, the name that springs to one’s mind, is that of Hsüan-tsang (Xuan Zang) who ironically was neither a trader nor a warrior. Hsüan-tsang (c. 599 – 664) a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler and translator left a detailed account of the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period, a golden age of cosmopolitan culture.

Hsüan-tsang studied Buddhist scriptures and by the age of fifteen was well known around the town he lived in. He became a monk at the age of twenty and traveled throughout China in search of Buddhist scriptures. His concern was the incomplete and misinterpreted Buddhist texts that reached China from India. When there were no teachers left in China, he decided to travel to India to study and comprehend the essence of Buddhism. He mastered Sanskrit in 626AD and became interested in the metaphysical Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism. He became famous for his seventeen year journey to India, which is recorded in detail in the classic Chinese text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which in turn inspired the epic novel, ‘Journey to the West’. In 629AD, Hsüan-tsang dreamt of a journey to India, but as Tang Dynasty was at war, foreign travel was banned. In 629AD, a famine helped Hsüantsang join the exodus of hungry refugees to set out for the west without the Emperor’s permission. He records: “As I approached China’s extreme outpost at the edge of the Desert of Lop, I was caught by the Chinese army….However, I answered

‘If you insist on detaining me I will allow you to take my life, but I will not take a single step backwards in the direction of China’.” The officer himself a Buddhist, let him pass. He left the main foot-track and reached a place ‘so wild that no vestige of life could be found. There is neither bird, nor four-legged beasts, neither water nor pasture’, the Taklamakan Desert. Fully exhausted his only companion, his horse, veered off following its instinct, and led him to water and a pasture. His life was saved. Skirting Issyk Kul, the world’s second largest mountain lake in Krygystan, he reached Samarkand, Uzbekistan, which was at the crossroads of cultures on the silk route between China and the West. He then travelled to Bamyan where he saw the two large Bamyan Buddhas. The ancient statues carved out of the rock-face in the fifth century Kushan period, were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. Hsüan-tsang took part in religious debates, demonstrating his knowledge of many Buddhist schools and also met the first Jains and Hindus of his journey. Crossing Khyber Pass he


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Illustration: shalini shisodia

If the Silk Road conjures images of faraway deserts, foreign lands and ancient centres of Buddhist learning then Hsüan-tsang visited them all, says Krishna Varma

HSuAN-TSANG In 646AD, on the Emperor’s request, Hsüan-tsang completed “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions”, the longest and most detailed account of the countries of Central and South Asia that has been bestowed upon posterity by a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim. It is of great value to modern historians and archaeologists. The book is known for having exact descriptions of distances and locations of different places, and has helped in the excavation of important sites, such as Ajanta, Rajgir, Sarnath and the ruins of the Nalanda Monastery in Bihar, India. reached Peshawar, Pakistan, and visited the Kanishka Stupa, rediscovered in 1908, with the help of his account. He traversed Swat and Buner Valley and reached Taxilla, a Mahayana Buddhist kingdom. He spent two years (631633AD) studying Mahayana alongside other Buddhist schools. Hsüan-tsang reached Ferozpur, Punjab, in 633AD, to study for a year with the monkprince Vinitaprabha. He then visited monasteries in Kulu valley and later via Jaipur went on to Mathura, where he found nearly 2,000 Buddhist monks, despite being Hindu-dominated. In 635AD Hsüan-tsang crossed the river Ganges to reach Sankissa Basantapura, in Uttar Pradesh, the place where Buddha along with Brahma and Devraj Indra descended after giving sermons to his mother in heaven. He also visited Kashipur in the Harsha era, in 636AD, where he encountered 10,000 monks of 1000 monasteries. Here Hsüantsang studied early Buddhist scriptures, before setting off for Ayodhya, homeland of the Yogacara School. Hsüan-tsang travelled to Sravasti, where the famous incident of

Angulimal happened in the forest, where the cruel dacoit who used to kill people and wear a garland of their fingers, was enlightened by Gautama Buddha. He then went to Lumbini, Nepal, where he saw an Ashoka pillar near the old Ashoka tree that Buddha is said to have been born under. The pillar was rediscovered in the 19th century, thanks to the detail recordings left behind by Hsüan-tsang. A year later he reached Kusinagara, the site of Buddha’s death and went on to Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon. He visited Bodh Gaya before reaching Nalanda, the great Buddhist University, where he spent nearly two years. At Nalanda, Hsüan-tsang met the venerable Silabhadra, the monastery’s superior, who dreamt of Hsüan-tsang’s arrival and that he would spread the Buddhist Law far and wide. Hsüan-tsang finally found the omniscient master, the incomparable metaphysician who revealed to him the ultimate secrets of Buddhist idealist systems. Hsüan-tsang’s great philosophical treatise, is none other than the Compendium of this doctrine, the fruit of seven centuries of Indian Buddhist thought.

From Nalanda, Hsüan-tsang travelled south to visit the famous Viharas at Amravati and Nagarjunakonda and later to Kanchipuram, the imperial capital of Pallavas and a strong Centre of Buddhism. Seventeen years later Hsuan-tsang returning to China, aware of the perils of the Taklamakan desert he comments: “...a desert of drifting sand without water or vegetation, burning hot and the hound of poisonous fiends and imps. There is no road and travellers in coming and going have only to look for the deserted bones of man and beast as their guide”. He arrived in the capital, Chang’an, in January 645AD, and was greeted with much honor, but he refused all offers from the emperor. He retired to a monastery and devoted his energy to translating 657AD Sanskrit Buddhist works, until his death in 664AD. While his main purpose was to obtain Buddhist books and receive instruction on Buddhism while in India, he ended up doing much more; preserving the records of political and social aspects of the lands he visited.

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore adventurer

The predisposition of the basic human nature is that of a wanderer and it operates on this connect between the thought put into action and the experiential world somewhere, says Ritu S Dhingra

Today, our environment is loaded with computers, robotic supports, mobile phones, I-pads, etc. On one hand

these facilities are a boon to many industries, while more youngsters practically breathe the indoor airs with these gadgets. When life is a click away then why does unhappiness prevail in their routines more than ever before? There is a phenomenal rise in people becoming more dissatisfied with their role-play especially in the urban areas. Experts say that these gizmos and gadgets are certainly inadequate to satiate the basic need to EXPLORE beyond the mysteries of the mind and the need to closely connect with nature. The psycho-evolutionary history tracks down to this need to be outdoors and remain in contact with nature as an essential quest in the psyche of a human being. Attempts to separate the two only increases the discontentment with all materialistic possessions.

FOREVER IN QUEST... I sit in a dockyard longing to vent the Unrest Wandering amidst the lush green meadows my mind Behest Whispering winds share the hidden secrets they so long to Behold Waiting to settle my senses as the twilight subtly drops to Unfold The beauty springing in my lonely lap glistening like a Star Weaving my thoughts braiding the voyage my heart must travel Afar… ~Ritu S Dhingra

Deep within, we yearn to pull out the adventurer that exists in each one of us. For the die-hard adventurer, the excitement of exploring nature is enough to release the ‘happy hormones’ that strenuous exercise regimentation produces. For instance, a young woman says that she still rejoices in her first experience, with rappelling. She acknowledges the wide scope of coping that this experience offers her in challenging situations. To overcome his fear from heights, another corporate professional shared his experience during an interview on how one holiday changed his life. When his instructor not only helped him in rock climbing

Why does a small child reach out to experiment with something instantly that he or she was asked by the elders not to? Is it because the mind of an explorer wanders into unlimited boundaries of its inherent nature…. “The nature of an adventurer!” Or is it a natural instinct that drives this young mind to readily accept the challenge to find out what lies beyond the limitations that the adults specify? A perfect example elaborates the same in Mark Twain’s adventurous protagonist Tom Sawyer who was in constant search for new adventure, especially the scene on playing sick.

Tom escapes school, coaxes his friends, Joe and Huck, to steal a raft and decides to camp on an island for a few days. The first men, who traveled into space, climbed Mt Everest and walked on moon namely, Yuri A Gagarin, Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong, clearly stand out as icons in the history of true explorers. It is evident from their lives that it is the predisposition to this exploratory innate nature of a human that drives him or her to conquer the impossible.

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© Gerald Senger |

Exploring the Vagaries of the Human Mind

prelude but also motivated him to overcome his acrophobia. He was totally transformed and calls this experience the most liberating! Individual experiences as these reiterate the fact that unique encounters with any adventure, influences one’s personality positively. According to these people they seek mental stimulation from the activities and establish contact with themselves and the abundant beauty of nature simultaneously. To be high spirited, living in the present, not feeling guilty of one’s past or not worrying about one’s future are an integral part of an adventurous personality. In other words….the person who lives with ETERNAL OPTIMISM AND FEARLESSNESS and lives life to its contentment so to say as a living BUDDHA! No amount of restrictions can stop them from reaching their destination. The mind becomes alert and vigilant, once it recognizes the activities it wishes to indulge in. It opens the doors to one’s own awareness of wanting to dilute

All humans are embodied with the innate need to Explore. The adventure you indulge in conquers the state of fear. To revel in your explorations is to follow your dreams; to follow your dreams is to experience the progress within! the hidden fears in order to strengthen the potential the mind holds. Also, the decision to plunge into experimenting with a certain adventure sport is a well thought function of the mind and body. One cannot ignore the journey that the mind takes to achieve a soulful state in the process to acknowledge progress. The predisposition of the basic human nature is that of a WANDERER and it operates on this connect between the thought put into action and the experiential world somewhere. A man or woman without exploring the various gametes of adventure is like the Buddhist parable about the blind men of Hindustan and the elephant:

O! How they cling and wrangle Some who claim For preacher and the monk honored Name! For quarreling each of his view they Cling Such folk see only one side of a Thing. - Jainism and Buddhism, Udana 68-69: Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant Go explore the greens, wilderness and draw your own inferences! RITU S. DHINGRA, is a Consultant Psychologist, Life Skills Trainer, an Intervention Specialist for Mental Health Concerns and a Personality Development Expert. Write to her at:

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore web review In the mood for a holiday, want to go tripping overseas, engage in some off beat adventures or do you mean serious business? Check out these sites to embark on a new experience, says Nitin Pasricha Holiday Moods The site opens up to a whole lot of content and links. The main menu has it all but doesn’t lead you to where you’d really want to go, say the treks or the other products offered. The tool kit link on the menu does not work, the payment gateway option says its coming soon, which really should be working, if a link exists. Some really nice photographs constitute the showcase section, descriptions over them would have helped, as one is left guessing in this case. Further down the home page, there is the awards box and

the products box with images of four products, below which I found the “Book Eco-friendly Accommodations”. This should be higher up the hierarchy, as it might be one of the most important features for a user, along with the “our products” box. Clicking on a particular product took me to that product’s page, to find a quite useful “find your adventure” form. I wondered why it was not on the home page to begin with, as it would have been easier for the viewer. The photo gallery is on an external website, I am personally not a fan of jumping sites, although it works for them, only because they have numerous albums of various treks and

Trip Wolf Trip Wolf’s logo immediately reminded me of Mozilla Firefox’s logo. The site looks really modern, neat and extremely well laid out at first glance. Its really good to see that they have the site in multiple languages, which makes it more accessible, and is really essential in today’s world. The Close-able bottom bar has links to Trip Wolf’s apps for various mobile devices, which can be extremely convenient for any user. “How to plan your trip” section isn’t something that I have seen on other travel sites or at least I cant remember any, but this can be useful for a newbie. They probably could have added more images on the top banner. The search

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places, which gives a real good teaser of the trek; just what a prospective trekker would want. Apart from a few usability issues, the site offers quite a lot. The treks seem really interesting, no wonder they’ve got awards for them.

bar being one of their main tools of navigation, works really well and I got, just what I expected. The blog is quite interesting and the feed is such a value addition to the home page. Moving onto the inner page, they have sorted out a particular region exceptionally well, with links such as “places to visit”, “hotels & accommodation”, “attractions” and “Nightlife”. Just what a traveller would look for before visiting a place. Each and every element on this site is well placed and just about where you’d expect it to be. I think they have got it all right, what it seems like at first glance is essentially what it is till the very last. The site is extremely well made especially considering the amount of content on it. Very well executed.

Refresholidays This website can be categorized as one of the simplest Holidays/Travel sites there could be. Extremely simple to navigate through the pages, if you use the menu system. The search tool was essentially fetching the predesigned pages and was not of much use with respect to finding content.

Adventure Activities page, but I would have liked, it if it had more text. The Women/Girls Outing, under travel options, is something I have never

Good use of imagery, although some control over them (a carousel could have been used) would have been more fun, as it is after all a very photo-centric design and web site. An interactive site, would have been a good value addition.

seen on any other site till date, and I quite like it, as it might convince more women to holiday and travel independently, if they have not already. That brings me to the Team section, it is always good to introduce the team to the viewer, specially in travel based sites. Getting personal and making the other person comfortable, is a sure short win, if you’re thinking of traveling with strangers. Individual pages are well laid out with a good balance between images and text. The pages were not as detailed and descriptive as I wanted them to be. They were rather short and left me wanting more details. Information such as various trips on offer, their duration, skill-level required and time of the month they are active, could have been given.

They have made use of some really interesting photographs in the

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute The Himalayan mountaineering institute’s website seems to be quite simple and straightforward, with just three menu links on the top right, along which there is a downloadable RTI document that states the particulars of the Organization, functions and its duties, which gives it a sense of genuineness. Most of the links are on the left hand side and I had to scroll a lot, before I could see all of them. Some of these links could have been clubbed together to save space. It’s typically, a very text oriented website and I think only prospective mountaineers would be willing to go through the entire site. They could have made the image banner interesting with photographs of mountaineers or facilities available which would certainly generate an

interest in the viewer and make him delve deeper into the site. Images in the inner pages are really small and I wish they were bigger and expressed the look and feel of the place and the activities that go with it. I like how they have given details of HMI; its history, origin and growth, the team, legendary mountaineers of HMI and specially the FAQ section on apprehension of parents & teachers, along with other links as well. The site could be improved upon in terms of presentation, but it certainly fulfills all the requirements of an aspiring mountaineer, as it is quite descriptive and gives all necessary information.

Nitin hails from a family of eminent photographers, and is an avid adventure enthusiast and nature photographer himself. An MCA and a self taught web designer, he is the founder of Pixaphic Studios. He can be contacted on

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Explore book Review

Survivor the very edge

Jon E.Lewis has compiled together experiences of individuals who faced danger, discovered new strengths and defied the laws of human endurance, says Arathi Sen some of us have lost sight of the spirit to fight adversity. Those who dared to go outside the confines of civilization to pit themselves against nature remind us of what it is we are made up of. They thrill us and above all illuminate us.

The spirit of adventure is inherent in every single individual since birth. As life takes its course it becomes an individual’s choice and a play of circumstances as to whether the spirit remains rekindled or fades into the background of monotony and routine. While browsing around in a bookstore looking for something to read that would fuel my desire to try and push me to my limits, I spotted this book named “SURVIVOR The Autobiography”. The very name set my mind racing to the endless possibilities, struggles and emotions that I could discover within. Snuggled in bed that night, with my heart pounding and excitement gushing through my veins I began my journey with the book. Today’s audience is more clamorous for adventure than its predecessors while

Survivor, The Autobiography: Danger Discovery and Endurance in the words of those who have been to the edge - Jon E. Lewis, Constable & Robinson Limited

“SURVIVOR” is a collection of experiences of adventurers through the ages. The escapades start from around the 1800’s till the end of the 20th century. The unique thread that runs through each of the stories is that each adventurer embarked on a journey not only of self discovery but also discover new facets to add to their already illustrious careers. The eyewitness accounts are from diaries and chronicles left behind by individuals who survived personal tests of endurance. The hardships and perseverance detailed in the book are beyond imagination and scream out loud the fact that “Nature is not easily beaten.” The stories cover different terrain starting from the freezing poles to the daunting mountains, covering the ferocious oceans, savage rivers and the infallible jungles, the air and the torrid desert. The book is a compilation of stories edited by Jon E. Lewis, a historian and writer. He has been the editor of many other books including the bestseller, “On the Edge”.

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Whilst the book is definitely inspiring and soul stirring, it at times is very verbose and repetitive in its intrinsic value. The spirit of camaraderie, the strength to look at death straight into its eyes, the unending ability to push oneself in the face of adversity and the never dying flicker of hope that the adventurer lives by, leaves the reader with a feeling of being overwhelmed and grateful to the number of things one takes for granted in the course of one’s daily life. SURVIVOR, is definitely a good read but is too heavy on the emotional factor to permit one from reading more than a couple of episodes at any given point of time. It is the kind of a bedside table book which one can pick, read a bit and drop , whenever one chooses to, without feeling a sense of discontinuity. The book is very rhetorical but one definitely takes home crucial elements both physical and emotional. It leaves the reader determined to partake a hands on adventure real soon, that will enable one to push to one’s limits. The buying and reading of this book seems more providential, something that the universe has guided one towards. It is the ideal last read before one decides to embark on an adventure of one’s own.


Book your date in heaven;

Explore DEALS

Film the majestic beasts, explore Andamans, rejuvenate at Shogi, opt for a deal to Malaysia, or simply wed in heaven!

In Snow Leopard Capital Winter is around the corner and things are heating up in the TransHimalayan region of Ladakh, as the wild creatures, including the majestic snow leopard, start descending to the lower reaches in search of food. Wildlife film makers from across the globe spend years trying to capture the elusive snow leopard on film. While a lucky few get to sight one, some are luckier to film one. Northern Escapes presents you a chance to spot the magnificent creatures of the Trans-Himalaya haven. Their expert guides and

special crew with their unparalleled knowledge of the region ‘ensure’ you sight the endangered wild animals in the region. The trip takes you to Rumbak Valley, which is known as the ‘Snow Leopard Capital of Ladakh’. The trail runs through the enchanting Hemis National Park, which helps you get acquainted with the wily and civilized creatures. The trip starts with a drive to Leh from Zingchen, which is the starting point of the trek. After walking for two hours one arrives at Husing Camp. After spending a day in search of signs of wildlife, the next

day one journeys to Tarbung valley, where signs of snow leopard activities is a normal occurrence. One arrives at Rumbak on the third day. Next two days are spent in search of the snow leopard, while also visiting ancient sights like Rumbak Gompa. You get to stay with Ladakhi families and learn about their treasured traditions. Many legends will be shared over bonfires. You can also dig into handicrafts like woollen socks, caps and mufflers, made painstakingly and with great finesse by the Ladakhis. Days: 10N11D Contact:

Wed in Heaven This one is for those who believe matches are made in heaven, as ‘Wed in Heaven’ literally takes you up there to exchange those vows. Nestled next to the Indus River, Uley Eco Resorts has those ideal settings that all nature lovers dream of being in on the big day. The resort is exactly that – eco-friendly, and is conveniently located just 2 hours from Leh and is surrounded by trekking routes and famous monasteries of Alchi, Mangyu, Ridzong and Lamayuru. The cottages are done in traditional style and there are lots of empty spaces for you to soak in Ladakh’s natural beauty. The end-to-end package takes care of all your needs for that perfect wedding in the mountains. All you have to do is to just arrive there with your beloved and loved ones in tow. Contact:

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Malaysia Dreams The Showcase Malaysia Dream Deal 2012 package would entitle a traveller two nights of complimentary stay, in multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Malaysia, on purchase of a international ticket to Malaysia or any destination beyond. This would mean, if a traveller is flying on Malaysia Airlines to say Thailand or Australia or London, he or she would be entitled to a complimentary stay in Malaysia. Passengers traveling on a Malaysia Airlines economy class ticket can avail of a complimentary stay in a 4 star hotel for 2 days in Malaysia and passengers traveling on a Malaysia Airlines business class ticket can avail of a complimentary stay in a 5 star hotel for 2 days in Malaysia. Validity: 26th July to 31st October 2012 Hot deal: `32,059 Visit:

Explore Andamans Andaman Escapes presents the best of Andaman Islands for first-time travellers. The trip is designed to introduce you to the rich history, geography and culture of the land. And then there is of course diving, snorkeling, trekking, motor biking and bicycle rides. As a complete, end to end trip, ‘Explore Andamans’ can be tailored to suit all budgets and unique requirements of ‘special’ travellers. The first two days are reserved for explorations of historical and natural significance in Main Andaman Island, to get you into the groove of things. The sights would include Cellular Jail, Mount Harriet and Chidiya Tapu. The third day will take you on a journey to Neil and Havelock Islands, where you will spend three days diving and sun bathing, besides having lots of fun, all in an eco-friendly manner. Days: 6D7N, Contact:

Rejuvenation at Shogi Aamod at Shogi is nestled on a natural clearing surrounded by a dense virgin forest. It offers stunning views, astounding hospitality and an unrivalled experience. The adventure zone features a Burma Bridge, Flying Fox, Monkey Crawl and a host of other adrenaline pumping activities. Don’t forget to explore the nearby rock climbing and rappelling site. The activities are supported by a robust team of experts who have more than 15 years of experience. For the ultimate relaxation, visit ‘Sublime’ – the spa at the resort – where there is a variety of contemporary and ayurvedic treatments to revitalize mind, body and soul. Days: 2N3D Hot Deal: `12,000 per couple Contact:, +91 9213022540

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore fifiFixed departures

Go camel shopping in Pushkar, trekking in Bhutan or Changthang, bird spotting in Kerala and cruising in the Indian Ocean. Take your pick and simply fall in love with the land all over again! Pushkar Photo Yatra

Window to Bhutan

Rejuvination @ Neil

Departure Date: November 18 Return Date: November 22 Price: `45,000 Outfitter: Bucket List Travels Email: Tel: +91 9846053140 This trip is not only for the shutterbugs but also for those who just like to see and experience things from a different perspective. To start with, the road trip from Delhi to Pushkar via Jaipur and Ajmer, is an experience in itself. At Pushkar, you will witness what is said to be the world’s largest camel and livestock fair, in an ambience that is as rustic as it gets. The air of a large village carnival in the grandeur of the open desert with folk music and hot piping local cuisine, is guaranteed to leave you asking for more.

Departure Date: October 20 Return Date: October 27 Price: On Request Outfitter: Aquaterra Adventures Email: Tel: +91 11 29212641 Apart from a few exceptions, Bhutan had largely been closed to the outside world, until the first paying tourist group visited this hidden paradise in 1974. Bhutan boasts of a 70% forest cover, rich with several species of flora and fauna. Adventure travellers make up only for 10 -15% of the total number of tourist arrivals in a year. Therefore, travelling to Bhutan is truly a once in a lifetime experience. This eight day trip begins from Paro and takes you through some amazing trails, which define Bhutan.

Departure Date: October 15 Return Date: October 20 Price: On Request Outfitter: Andaman Escapes Email: This trip is perfect for those who want to escape the pressures of the maddening urban world. While most people skip Port Blair and head straight to Havelock, this trip begins at Port Blair to take you to a well kept Andamanese secret, where you can rejuvenate in nature’s abundance, Neil Island. Neil is a snorkeler’s paradise, where you can also engage in some mind blowing scuba diving, ride around on a bicycle on sandy tracks or lie down on the beach and watch the golden yellow sun rising or setting - a sight to behold forever.

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Engage in some mind blowing scuba diving, ride around on a bicycle on sandy tracks

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary

Kerala Birding

Mumbai to Bali

Departure Date: December 01 Return Date: December 08 Price: On Request Outfitter: Northern Escapes Email: This trip takes you through the Northern Highlands of Ladakh to the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. Changthang is spread across 4,000 sqkm of deep gorges, vast plateaus and enormous high altitude lakes like Pangong Tso (13,386 ft), Tso Moriri (15,000 ft) and Tso Kar (14,800 ft), besides several other small and beautiful lakes. This region is home to some rare and not so rare wildlife, such as, the Tibetan wild ass, black necked crane, snow leopard, lynx, wolf gazelle, bharal, argali and the omnipresent, mormot.

Departure Date: October 15 Return Date: October 23 Cost: `36,765 Outfitter: Kerala Adventures Email: A must do for bird lovers, this trip takes you to some of the most stunning locations to spot the feathered creatures in their natural habitat. After arriving at Cochin, you will be taken to Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary also known as Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, which is perhaps one of the best places for bird spotting in the subcontinent. Besides visits to other sanctuaries, this trip also takes you to Munnar Hills and to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Apart from spotting birds in the wild, you can relax and rejuvenate amidst the famous backwaters of Kerala, at Kumarakom.

Departure Date: December 1 Return Date: December 19 Price: Starting from $8,899 Outfitter: Regent Seven Seas Cruises Tel: +1 954 776 6123 This cruise begins at Mumbai and takes you through stunning locations in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, to end at Bali. A trailblazer in the world of all-suite, all-balcony ships, Seven Seas Voyager exceeds the loftiest expectations for luxury. Considering her size, the array of amenities is simply mind boggling. The ship boasts of four main dining venues where you can dine wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose to. The package includes, unlimited shore excursions, gratuities and beverages including fine wines and premium spirits.

..takes you through stunning locations in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to end at Bali...

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Explore Contest

Adventure Quiz

Answer for July-August 2012 ANSWERS: 1. Maria Spelterini, Italy 2. Mihir Sen 1958 3. Four 4. Fifty three 5. Trivistapa - heaven 6. Capt. H.C. Kohli, Capt. H.C. Chauhan, Nk. Sub. N.D. Gurung, N.D. Sherpa and their trusted companion Druk 7. Glen Singleman 8. Suspension bridge across Bhote Kosi River, 525 ft 9. Sagar, M.P. 10. Malam Jaba, Swat Valley, Pakistan

Do you have the Explorer in You? Take our Quiz and Find Out. 1 Name the first Indian woman to cross the 1623 km Gobi Desert 2 Who was the first Indian to reach the South Pole? 3 Who was the first Indian cosmonaut? 4 Name India’s only smoking volcano? 5 Name the first woman to sail around the world solo? 6 Which is the highest lake in India? 7 Which is the world’s oldest University?

The winner of July-August 2012 Quiz is Nandita Singh from Bengaluru, and she has won a Ray-Ban Aviator. 8 What is the southernmost point of land in the territory of India called? 9 Where do you find the only captive ocean swimming elephant on the earth? 10 Which is the highest motorable pass in the world? Submit your answers to to win this Ray-Ban Aviator

Road Sign photo contest

winner of this issue’s Road Sign contest is Sachin Arora from Mumbai. Congratulations! The

You have won a

Casio PRW15ooT Pro Trek Sports Watch! Rush your entries to

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Identify the subject and location of the photograph and Win* 125 adventure holidays in Andamans

Send your entries to *Terms & Conditions • Only one entry per individual • Winners to be chosen by a lucky draw • Each holiday valid for one couple • Last date of entry 25th October 2012 • Holidays valid till 31st December 2012 • Decision of ‘Explore - The Unexplored’ is final and binding • The contest cannot be contested in any court of law • For detailed terms and conditions, write to

september-october 2012 | EXPLORE THE UNEXPLORED |


Pat Moore performs at the Red Bull Snow Performance Camp, Wanaka, New Zealand on August 26th, 2012 Photograph Graeme Murray

Explore what’s next?

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Explore The Unexplored  

We continue our exploration through our cover story, which takes you as far south of the subcontinent as you can go – Yes! You got it right!...