Writers International Edition

Baratang Bliss: A Journey of Three Men Army Through Time and Nature Via NH 4

Nobody wishes to confine themselves to the dull and dreary rhythms of daily life. The monotony of life can make one go low and insipid. The general absurdities of life should give way to the unexplored vistas of the world. One should wake up and get ready for a takeoff from what makes life stagnant. The only constant of change beckons us to chill and feel good once in a while. It’s time to rejuvenate and recoup oneself from the pangs and pains of ordinary days. Who does not like to create extraordinary days of the real ordinary days? I sensed that echo in me – time to take a break for a week. Trips, travel, places, and people – all things afresh can freshen up the mind. Losing oneself to the legacy of travel destinations can arouse the creative rush of adrenaline. Kunjapp and family have made up their minds to explore the untarnished beauty of an unexplored island. Planning has begun and our master planner, Jeeth has already fixed the chart with Plan A and Plan B for Day 1 to Day 7. Finally, the time has reached our footsteps to dive into the wonders of the breathtaking Baratang Island. The last impression and the seventh day of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands created a lasting impression on us. Kunjapp and his mom were only new to the land as well as the island. Many of the roads and byroads remain familiar to Jeeth who is also a foreigner like us now in his best-loved destination. Islands are the reminders of arrivals and departures, as the axiom goes. A trip to remind our arrival on this mighty planet and to depart with the hope of arriving somewhere else. We carry the reminders of a dreamy land lying far away from the madding crowds and unfrequented locales of the pristine Baratang Island of the Indian Union Territory of Andaman Nicobar Island. For me, it’s Lieutenant Archibald Blair’s island, land of integrated tri-services command of the Indian Armed Faces. Above all, INS Jarawa, is a naval base based on the indigenous people of Andaman and Nicobar islands. Jeeth has already shared umpteen stories on his expeditions to the tribal land and Baratang experience.

Though we have to make our movements with a two-and-a-half-year-old baby, we have decided to set off to Baratang. The name sounded unique and Western to me. My curiosity prompted me to ask Google Maa. She enlightened me with her findings that it is the land of the big fig tree and the land where the wind blows. Jeeth’s typical explanation in his oft-comfortable Hindi Bhasha made me comfortable with his elucidation of Baratang as ‘barah tang’ meaning twelve channels. It is believed that the island is located in an area that has numerous channels that wind their way through the marvel of mangrove forests. Tucked away in the sapphire waters of the Andaman Sea, Baratang Island is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. Journey through its emerald mangrove forests and witness the dance of nature as sunlight filters through the dense canopy. Wonder at the ancient limestone formations sculpted by time, and immerse yourself in the rhythmic beats of indigenous cultures that call this island home. Baratang Island beckons adventurers to unravel its secrets and indulge in the raw beauty of untouched wilderness.

We are about to dive into the heart of Baratang Island’s rich biodiversity, where vibrant wildlife and virgin landscapes create an impressive array of adventure and relaxation. Now, let’s begin how we began the journey. The seventh day of the trip has reserved a lot of anticipation and apprehensions. Above all, the feeling of the trip has come to a close. We stayed at Holiday Home near Chakkargaon of Port Blair. The stay at Holiday Home was quite homely with Malayali food and fun colored interactions. The owner of the Home arranged a car walla as we have already told him regarding our wish to visit Baratang. We have decided to go early morning along with the first visitors of the day to the channel. It was indeed a surrealistic journey for Kunjapp and his family. Jeeth has given a warning to Maa and Beta to be ready by 03:30 AM to reach there on time to have a glimpse of the Jarawas. It was not that easy for the goddess of the night to embrace us before the usual time. I am not sure when the night mode captivated us but the call of dawn approached us in a wink in the form of Jeeth’s phone alarm. As usual, he got up and started getting ready. I prepared myself to get ready at a dead slow pace. Kunjapp got up within no time and began muttering something or the other. As he sensed that we were gearing up for a trip, he cooperated with us in changing his diaper and attire. We were all set to go with our all-things-fit lavender sykbag. As Amma says, Jeeth has immense potential in packing things of elephant size at ease with the feeling of everything as just goat size ( mera left hand kaa kaam hei, as he says). All elephant-size items got to fit into my goat-size version bag. We came downstairs and started waiting for the gaadi. My prompt man rang him up to inform us that we were ready. His ambassador came within some five to ten minutes. Kunjapp slept off in my arms within no time. Albeit my curiosity prompted me to ask a few things to the driver, I too could not evade the serene call of the calm sleep. Kunjapp got up in between and giggled. I too got up in between and did not fail to fulfil my remaining sleeping time. We reached the Jirkatang check post well before time. We could see one or two taxis and the rest started coming one by one. By the time we got up, Jeeth had already sipped his tea after a short walk. He got a cup of tea for me. Meanwhile, Kunjapp got up and asked his dad to show him around. His eyesight fell on his favorite JCB. Dad could make him stand on it and pose for a pic. He was so excited to see a cow passing by. I was also feeling excited seeing his excitement but I was delighted to see something else. I felt like saying Ahoy, Convoy! For the first time in my life, I was going to experience a convoy journey, a sort of slow movement like a VIP I am familiar with via the silver screen. The convoy trip started on time at 06:00 AM and I was thrilled to see the taxis, trucks, buses, and cars going at a slow pace. It was already informed to us that the vehicle would be going at low speed and we could not click any photographs. After completing the formalities at Jirkatang Checkpost, we began our two-hour trip through the interiors of the reserve forest. The driver asked us to be alert so as not to miss the view of a Jarawa. Tribes are after all people like us. For a moment, I felt like asking myself how I would feel if people came to see me like a different species on the earth. This trip to Baratang turned out to be a divergent experience as I could not see any tribal folk as seen or learned in history books like uncouth and undressed vagrants. On the way to Baratang, we could see one or two Jarawa kids. The driver enlightened us with the fact that these kids go to schools and they do have an ICDS sort of scheme. The sense of shame has slowly started emerging in them and that is reflected in the way they cover some of their body parts. The shocking and harrowing stories made us cross the two hours. Jeeth informed us that it was time for the ferry trip and we reached some middle strait Jetty. The ferry journey started within no time and we occupied the last row of seats. The ferries there have the generosity to accommodate all vehicles like cars, bikes, and buses like passengers. The view of the mangrove forests gave a hint that we were about to reach Nilambar Jetty. It was time for us to refresh. As I forgot to take Kunjapp’s drinking bottle, we had to satisfy his thirst by giving him an ounce of water through the lid of our water bottle. It was time to catch the boat to unearth the mystic beauty of the real barah tang of channel-like mangrove forest. The warm and the tanned weather made us tired of sailing through the winding ways. The half an hour journey ended at Baratang forest division. We were given time to roam around for some time. As Kunjapp developed a mild fever by then, we dropped our plan to climb to the Limestone cave. We made him sit, relax, and enjoy for a while. We made good use of the relaxing time with pics, videos, and fun. Kunjapp’s fever started relieving him slowly. We were peaceful. We missed the view of Mud Volcano as the driver suggested. The boat ride for a few minutes through the entangled scapes of mangroves was astounding. I have nowhere experienced one such journey touching the waves of water immersed in the glory of the canopy lavished by mangroves. It was infact a lovely sight to dream and to recreate in the creative oars. The walk through the bamboo bridge was mesmerizing. We spent some time posing for natural and candid moments.When the boat approached, we went with our fellow passengers back to Nilambar Jetty. Our tired and starved selves were dying too much for something. Jeeth took us to a small Chai shop selling tea, hot vadas, and chutney. It made our day. We had to wait for half an hour to become a part of the return convoy. My drowsy self was all ready to enjoy the convoy journey for one more time. Our vehicle joined the convoy and started making a move. We were all carrying one set of stories or the others. In between, a lorry carrying Jarawa kids passed by. A journey that created countless queries and expectations in me and culminated in an unanticipated rain. Wow, what an auspicious design of the providence. That’s all I could say. The return journey ended up at Holiday Home by 15:30 hours. We straight away went to the room after settling the payment and expressing our gratitude to the Baratang gaadiwalla. We dug the interiors of the Chicken Biriyani after diving into the interiors of Breathtaking Baratang. We were captivated by the sleep that lasted till the wee hours of the next day. A day/night to dream and dive into that dream!

Walking is a vital travel venture. You never know where your feet will take you. Here, my warrior’s walk with nature’s rhythm hoping for fresh woods and pastures new with a murmur that long way to go and enjoy life to the lees. “Every island for a child is a treasure island” goes the dictum. Kunjapp goes in search of the treasures unlocked in the mystic action field of evolution carrying with him the reminders of arrivals and departures. It’s time to unfurl the charm of yet another untarnished island. Stay tuned!

Dr Aparna Ajith

Dedicated to Sujeeth and Anvik Sujeeth, the priceless possessions of my life who make me go ahead with all my daily delirium and creative lunacies. Love and hugs to my warriors!

About the Author

Dr Aparna Ajith writer and her travel experience in goaDr. Aparna Ajith serves as an Assistant Professor in the PG Department of English at Sree Narayana College for Women, Kollam affiliated with the University of Kerala. She is the author of Musings of Venus, An anthology of poems. She is the recipient of the Panorama Global Youth Literary Award 2020. She is one of the recipients of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy Research Grant 2020. Being a freelance journalist, she writes and translates articles for the Information and Public Relations Department, Govt. of Kerala. She is an avid reader and blogger who dabbles in the world of prose and verse. Having lived in four Indian cities and a quaint hamlet, she soars high in the sky of artistic imagination wielding her realistic and diasporic impressions. Her academic and creative pursuits bestowed her the opportunity to travel to 18 states and 2 union territories in the country and get a glimpse of their varied cultures. Beyond her professional pursuits, she finds joy in navigating the highs and lows of life alongside her beloved baby, Anvik Sujeeth, whose presence often breathes life into her poetic expressions.

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