Monday, January 11, 2010

Feel like a fish...

We stayed 3 days in Dive India, Havelock, Andaman. We went for scuba diving on 23rd Dec, 2009. Couple of us know swimming. Rest of us know the basics of swimming. We had breakfast around 7:00AM, Picked the dive jacket and fins according to our size, travelled in dongi about 40minutes to reach the dive spot. On the way, in the dongi, dive instructor explained about the procedures, signals, dos and don'ts etc. Reached the spot, fitted our cylinders, etc and were ready for the dive :) . Dive instructor, David, gave instructions, and asked us to practice it in the shallow water. We practiced to breathe from the cylinder, to clean the goggles, to clean the mouth piece, etc. for 5 minutes. Once we were ready, David asked us to touch the ground with finger, keeping our body flat, move like crawling only with fingers and flipping the fins. He took care of inflating and deflating the air in the jacket to maintain the buoyancy. Actually, there are lot of calculations behind it. You need to know all those if you want to go deeper, say 20meters depth, and above. There are dive certification courses to know about those in detail. We reached 5 to 7 meters depth only.
Raffi, Sunil, and Elango went in one batch and Maruthu, and Sampath went in other batch. David asked us to clear the air pressure on the ear regularly by swallowing saliva. Coral reef area started just few meters ahead in the water. Saw lot of beautifull corals, colurfull fishes, Blue fish, Yellow and Black fish (Clown Fish), Green fish, Sea urchins, rose colored star fish, groups of fishes, etc. David asked us told the boulder corals if we need any support and asked us not to touch any other corals or any other creatures over there. It was a nice experience seeing the marine life under water. Didn't feel any difficulties. One of the mates had a calf muscle catch, but within manageable limits. We were under the sea for 30 minutes, felt like a fish, and enjoyed the marine life.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lost in the Jungle...

Dec 21st 2009 - Andaman - Mt Harriot - Maduban Beach Trek.
We were out of our resort by 7:00AM , had breakfast in Naidu hotel, Bhatu Basti, packed the leech kit with salt, tobacco powder, dettol, etc. Packed enough water to stay for the day. Once we were all set, took a cab, and reached chattum jetty. Reached bamboo flat in a ferry. We reached the base check post in a jeep. Paid him the cash, Sampath asked Raffi to note down the jeep driver akbar's number in case if we need jeep while walking back. After noting down the number, Around 8:30AM, we started our walk on the road to mt Harriot. After few kms of walk, we reached forest department check post, paid the entry fees, got the permit, and entered the forest area. Elango brought his new trekking stick, others picked the sticks on the way to avoid the load on the knees.
Although the walk is inside the forest area, it was not much pleasure to walk on the motorable road. Just before reaching mt Harriot, we saw few orchids and plants in the controlled environment and the abandoned commissioner's bungalow.
We reached mt Harriot, relaxed under the peepal tree, refreshed ourselves before starting our actual trek, which is supposed to be 16kms starting from mt Harriot peak and ending at the mt Harriot peak. We started our trek in the trail inside the forest. It was a pleasure to walk inside the forest. It was 9:50 am when we started our trail. As per one of yogi's advice, Elango had brought black raisins and palm sugar crystals. That helps you to generate the saliva in your mouth and avoid de-hydration. We retained couple of them in our mouth and enjoyed our walk. In the beginning of the trail, within couple of kms, we saw a professional photographer with a nice binoculars and SLR camera with good lens taking pictures of birds found in that forest area. We didn't see anyone after them until we reached kala pathur, which is near to mt carpenter.
one fellow crossed us, asking us the way to kala pathar. Not sure whether he lost his group. We took few minutes of rest on the rock, saw the names embossed on rock dated from 1840. We took few photos, refreshed and resumed our trek.
It was a dense forest with one trail. We just followed the trail. No one is either coming in the trail or returning back in the trail. We were the only group walking in the trail, that too without any guide. We were hit by leeches in few kilometers of the trail. We applied tobacco powder with dettol and coconut oil. Not many leeches when compared to karimala gopuram trek in parambikulam. Couple of people felt irritating as it was a new experience for them, other folks were okay with it. Elango suddenly got scared of snakes and walked slowly by clearing the leaves on the trails. We took turns to lead, cleared the leaves and walked with care as instructed by Elango. Sun started going down, we were walking, walking, walking within the forest.
Around 2:00PM, we started sensing that we were getting lost in the forest. Couple of us including me suggested to walk back so that we can reach before the night. Couple of us does not want to climb the uphill now, wanted to go downhill, reach the beach and find alternate mode of transport. We decided to walk ahead till 2:30PM, and if we don't reach the beach, we'll start walking back. In Andaman, sun sets too early at 4:30PM. Finally, we reached a small stream around 2:45PM. We got some hope after seeing that stream. We washed hands and face to refresh ourselves and ate the packed lunch given by kodhandam sir's family, who were very kind. By the time we finished our lunch, it was 3:15pm.

We asked the opinion among ourselves about our next move. Elango was telling that somehow we need to reach back to Port Blair tonight because we have the ferry to Havelock early in the morning. Raffi replied him that let's first see how we go out of this place. Not sure whether we'll reach Port Blair tonight or tomorrow. We referred the snap of the forest map that we took at mt Harriot peak. We found all the small streams reaches the sea. Based on our knowledge of traveling inside the forest and the remembrance of discovery channel programs, We decided to follow the stream to reach a place where we could see some life. So, got into water, water was at knee level, we walked few meters and found that the forward way is not that easy. Trees had fallen down and blocked the way and the depth of the water was increasing. We withdrew our plan of following the stream, we came back to the place where we had lunch and tried to apply our mind again. Since we walked downwards much, we felt that altitude has come down quite considerably and the sea should be nearby if we walk in the right direction and decided to walk in the trail across the stream.

We were little scared that the trail might not lead us to beach. Sampath insisted that we have to walk in that way, no other option. As a back up plan, we decided to track our route from that point, so that we can reach back to the stream at least if we didn't find any beach. Staying near stream is better than staying in the middle of the forest under trees. Elango had told us many times about the presence of snakes especially King Cobra in these forest. We took back the paper that we dropped after the lunch, dropped small pieces of paper to track our path as suggested by Maruthu. Maruthu's turn of dropping paper was over, then Raffi's turn was over. We took the downhill path, after certain distance, we started feeling the salt water in the air. Few meters down, Maruthu heard the crow's sound. Based on the above observations, we felt that we are nearing the sea. Few hundreds meter down, we reached the sea shore.
We got some hopes, could see smiles on everyone's face. We relaxed for few minutes, applied our mind again, identified the north, south,etc. based on the sun before it hides away from us. Referred the Andaman map on the book that Raffi bought in the museum shop. Realized that we need to walk south from our current position to reach Port Blair. Their was no mobile signal.
We walked couple of km on the rocks, it is not that easy to walk on the uneven, wet, rocky surface.
We saw some boat crossing on the sea at a far distance, tried to make some signals to the boat, but, all went in vain.

We continued our walk, after crossing a curve, mountain in the forest were cleared away and we got signal on our mobile. Signal was feeble and it was on and off. We thanked Sampath who asked us to note down the jeep driver, akbar's, mobile number. Raffi called him up, informed him about the situation, and asked him for some help. He replied "Sir, reach some road and call me, I'll come and pick you all". Where do we find a road there? Again we emphasized that we got lost inside the forest and somehow reached a beach. Told him that it will be of great help if he can send some boat to rescue us. He said, he'll check with the boat fellow and call back. He called back after 20 minutes and handed over the phone to boat fellow. We explained him the situation and asked him to come and rescue from the beach. Initially he said that the waves are too high right now, and sea will get more rough as the night is approaching and the full moon is nearing. He asked us to stay over the beach on the night and he'll come in the morning and pick us all. We called Akbar again, negotiated with him for a while, we were ready to pay double the amount and even some commission for him. He negotiated with the boat fellow and boat fellow called us again. Now, Raffi lost the signal in his BSNL mobile. Luckily Elango's mobile picked up the signal. Raffi called the boat fellow through that mobile and after rounds of negotiation, Raffi and Elango convinced the boat fellow to come immediately.

The time was 6:00PM, other four fellows already crossed the rocky terrain and reached a sand area.
Raffi and Elango joined the group and informed about the rescue plan. As the sun went off at 5:00PM, it was dark completely. We were signaling with torch to all the boats/ferry that were visible at far distance. Raffi and Sunil collected some shells on the shore. Maruthu was listening to the music in the i-pod. Elango and Rajendiran sir were quitely sitting on the sand. We got doubt on the boat fellow whether he will turn up now or in the morning. We called him many times, checked the status. Some mobile network signal went stronger, some mobile network signal went low. managed to call him through multiple phones to keep a track that he is coming. In the meanwhile, we were signaling to all the boats that were visible, even at a far distance.
After a long wait, boat/dongi came to rescue us at 8:00PM. Tide was high, he could not get the boat closer to the shore. One fellow came out of the boat, anchored the boat. There were three more fellows on the dongi. Water was at the chest level near the boat. We had to walk in the water and get onto the dongi in the high tide. Rajendiran sir went first, gave his bag to the boat fellow, and jumped in. His shoes fell off. Raffi picked up the shoes from water and dropped inside the dongi. Raffi didn't realize that his bag is still on his back. It already had 4 or 5 litres of water, fetched from the stream and it got wet to add more weight. As the high tide was moving the dongi too much, water level was also quite high, with the weight on the back, Raffi struggled to get onto the dongi. Boat fellow scolded him left and right. Sunil managed to get in. Raffi finally realized the bag weight and gave the bag to the boat fellow and jumped on to the boat while Maruthu was getting into dongi, as it went down while Maruthu was climbing. Elango saw all this drama, planned well, gave the bag first to the boat fellow, and followed Maruthu's trick and got in very easily.

We all got into the dongi, boat fellow removed the anchor and started our journey in the rough sea. We thought that our struggle was over. But, in the high tide, dongi was pitching too much, edges of each side of the dongi was touching the sea water everytime. Maruthu, and Elango were alright. Sampath and Sunil were in better shape. Rajendiran sir and Raffi were feeling vomiting sensation because of the dongi movements on the sea.
Rajendiran sir vomited in the bucket, which is used to throw the leaked water out of dongi. Raffi managed to hold it. When we were waiting to get out of the dongi, Elango asked the boat fellow to drop us in chattam jetty instead of bamboo flat. This requires more travel in the dongi on the rough sea. Raffi didn't have energy to reply back. Finally we reached chattum jetty, got out of the dongi, paid the boat fellow the money that he asked, gave some cash to boat fellow to hand it over to akbar, jeep driver, as a commission. Took couple of auto-rickshaws and reached our resort by 9:30PM.

Out talk with DFO

Day 8 - 4th Oct, 2009
On our last day in parambikulam forest area. we refreshed our self in tiger hall. Packed our baggages. Some events were going on in parambikulam. So, they were conducting painting competition for kids in tiger hall. They had outdoor competition such as Kabadi, Cricket, badminton, etc.We didn't have any plans on that day. We just relaxed for few hours, had tea twice, bought forest honey, etc from the forest department shop. Had early lunch. Pickup Tempo traveller came directly to tiger hall. We loaded the baggages in tempo traveler, said good bye to parambikulam village, and started our journey back to coimbatore. Babu came along with us till the eco centre. We told Babu that we wanted to talk to Parambikulam forest officer.

He took us to DFO office, we met Mr.Sanjay Kumar IFS DFO. We spent couple of hours talking to him. He was so dedicated to the work. He p about the eco tourism plan, where he generate the job opportunities for the tribals in the parambikulam, how he controls the forest environment, etc. He explained about the numerous project ideas such as making the key chains from plastics collected through the recycle bins within forest area, etc.
To add to all that, his wife is a doctor, who is also serving for the tribals in parambikulam village. As a couple, they are serving over there and contributing to the environment. We appreciated him for the nice work and gave few valuable feedback. He asked us back to volunteer to help him to keep up the environment. One of that is to teach English to the tribal who are working as guides over there.
Anyone interested? Parambikulam Official site
We said thanks and good bye to all forest officers and left parambikulam forest.
You can read more about our parambikulam experience from the main blog entry on the parambikulam trek blog entry .