Tag Archives: India

The Andamans – Port Blair

Somewhat unfairly, Port Blair (the largest town in the Andamans) often gets overlooked by visitors on their way to the beaches and jungles when it’s easily worth a couple of days of traipsing around. First stop – especially for the Indian history buff – Cellular Jail.

 Cellular Jail

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Cellular Jail Facade

The British had been using the Andamans as a transportation colony for Indians ever since the uprisings of 1857. With the growth of the independence movement, Cellular Jail itself got built in the late 19th century. Given the whos-who of independence leaders imprisioned here, it’s now an Indian national monument.

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With all prisoners kept in solitary confinement though and hard labour the norm, there’s no doubt life here was tough – from the prison museum:

“The revolutionary fighters […] found themselves confronted by the cruel Jailor, David Barry, an Irishman who believed it was his God-given destiny to suppress these enemies of Her Majesty the Queen with violence and vile abuse”

Hmmm… so, it would seem I wasn’t quiet the first Irish to visit.

Ross Island

Beyond the prison and just across a short stretch of water – a bit like a ghost town of a long-lost civilisation – lies Ross Island.

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Ross Island, Andaman Islands

For decades the island served as the seat of British administration here. Long abandoned though – partly due to damage caused by both an earthquake and the Japanese occupation – in its heyday Ross Island was said to have been one of the most opulent headquarters within the Raj.

There are still hints of the opulence here and there, but these days its the fig trees and encroaching jungle that rule Ross Island.

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Ross Island Cemetery

And with that – and with some nasty squalls blowing – time to get back to Port Blair and a flight back to the mainland – no three day ferry this time!

 

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The Andamans – Havelock Island

Think tropical island and Havelock Island in the Andamans has it all – sugar-white beaches, palm trees, fantastic sunsets, swimming elephants (retired) and well, rain, lots of rain.

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Port Blair Harbour – next stop Havelock

With the rainy season arriving in the Andamans weeks before the rest of India, it was at times a bit like a wet Summer in Kerry – albeit with temperatures in the 30’s and falling coconuts to be avoided. Not that it was a problem – with both foreign and Indian tourists keen to stay dry, the place was largely empty and totally relaxed.

 

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Inland from the coast, the island is covered with rice paddies that push up against dense jungle. Not being a fan of leeches and trudging through muck – hammock dozing won out over jungle hiking in the rain.

 

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Did I mention the rain?

It wasn’t all just hammock-time though – with Havelock having some of the best diving in Asia, I could hardly pass up the chance to take some lessons. Alas, while I fairly well mastered the ‘how not to drown’ class, my underwater photography needs a bit of work. So, failing miserably to photograph a single fish, I’ll leave you with a blurred underwater selfie for now…

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Anyone seen Nemo?

 

 

One for the Farmers

It had been a long time since I’d been at a cattle market, so when I heard about one of South India’s largest dairy cow markets taking place on Thursdays in Erode – I could hardly give it a miss. So yes, one last dose of cow photos from India…

(Still fixing the hammock on my remote tropical island btw, but this this would be a post I made earlier)

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Located right at the centre of the Indian peninsula, Erode is well placed to draw farmers from all across the south. Its actually only getting back to normal now after being effectively closed for a couple of weeks on account of the general election.

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Organised like farmer marts of old back in Ireland, there was no central market as such – simply turn up at 5-6AM with your cow and hope you find a buyer. Getting there myself just after six, bundles of rupees were already being shuffled between farmers.

No shortage of farmer coyness either – while I saw one young jersey cow go for 12,000 rupees (about 150 euro) – cards were being played close to chests (I believe typical prices would be 2-3 times that). Even for the few posed photos of farmers with cows I had to persuade them I wasn’t a well-dressed big-farm agent disguised as a tourist.

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Most cows were being sold either heavily in-calf or with their calf – like this little fella.

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When they were sure I wasn’t there as a buyer or dealer, farmers were quiet happy to pose with their cows.

There didn’t appear to be much in the way of officialdom either – although without any animal tagging, there’s probably not much to be done. It seems the only tagging is done on larger farms who tag for insurance reasons. Out of the hundreds of animals, perhaps I saw one cow with a tag?

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A rarity and often banned in other countries, here farmers have the horns on their cows sharpened to get a better price.

The bulk of the cows (say 70-80%) on sale were Jerseys Рthey seem to be better adapted for the  heat of the plains. Friesians and Herefords are said to be popular in the Cauvery Delta for some reason, but are also to be found on higher altitude and larger farms with cooling showers Рthey accounted for say, 15% of animals. The remainder then were buffalo and local cattle breeds.

 

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And with that, I may just have run out of cow pictures – so farewell from Erode!

 

 

Disconnected

Sorry for there being no updates lately – alas, with Internet access being a scarce to non-existent resource on remote tropical islands, not much that can be done. But don’t worry, as tough and all as living the disconnected life is, they do have nice sunsets – I’ll be fine…

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In case you’re wondering btw, I’m on a dot near the third red dot down in the lower right of the map below

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Map courtesy Wikipedia Maps

 

 

Chithirai Festival – The Missing Brother

Etir Sevai is the day that the procession of Lord Alaghar finally arrives in Madurai for the wedding of his sister – the goddess Meenaskshi. It’s actually a local holiday, so there was a big crowd out when I caught up with the procession for a couple of hours to traipse around the backstreets of Madurai.

Waiting for Lord Alaghar's Procession to Resume

Waiting for Lord Alaghar’s Procession to Resume

Although his temple is only 20km away, with stops at various temples and 400 mandapams (canopies erected by locals to receive blessings) along the way, it takes the best part of three days to make the trip – in the scorching heat (lots of happy ice-cream sellers here).

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Perumal Temple, Tallakulam

The precession finally reaches and rests up at a small temple not from from the northern banks of the Vagai and that’s when the madness begins – you see, no-one is going to bed tonight.

I didn’t get so many photos of the madness mind you – probably because I was busy dodging armies of teenagers with waterguns – but with the crowds, the roving drumming circles, temple cows and elephants, musicians and wandering monks the place was buzzing.

 

A Temple Cow Working the Crowd

A Temple Cow Working the Crowd

Eventually though, with dawn approaching, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands – who knows how many – move down to the riverbed for the main act. You see, as even the smallest child in Madurai will tell you, Lord Alaghar was late for his sister’s wedding and on hearing this at the river, does an angry about-turn.

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And so, this is what everyone has come to see – the highlight of a month-long festival – Lord Alaghar on his pure gold steed entering and then leaving the Vaigai River. It was all a bit crazy really, but next thing it was all over – and time to catch up on lost sleep.

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Although I did manage to catch one last 4 am procession as part of the festival – with yet more insanely large crowds – that’s largely it for Chithirai this year. By now Alaghar is back to his temple and the newly married couple returned to theirs and all is back to normal in Madurai. At least until this time next year when it happens all over again.