Travel Route: Andaman – Port Blair – Havelock Island – Barefoot Resort

What is the geography and history of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands?

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a set of 572 islands located in the Bay of Bengal.  Only 36 of the islands are inhabited.  A few of these 36 are occupied by aboriginal tribes opposed to any sort of civilized interference.  The climate is tropical, sweltering hot, and very humid.  The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are 745 miles (1200km) from the Indian mainland, but only 30 miles (50km) from Myanmar and 55 miles (90km) from Indonesia.  How come then, that this string of islands are part of India?

Andaman and Nicobar were abandoned islands but for some aboriginal natives.  During the colonization of India, some British officials were posted there.  But due to thick forest cover, wild animals, and mosquitoes, the Islands were abandoned, which made its location perfect for a jail site.  The Indian fight for independence started long before Gandhi came to the scene, and the British repeatedly crushed any attempt of revolt.  Political prisoners were shipped to Port Blair’s infamous Cellular jail since 1857.  During WWII, Japan, along with Subhash Chandra Bose, fought against the British through Burma and North East India.  As soon as Japan took over parts of North East India along with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, they were gifted to Subhash Chandra Bose.  Thus, Andaman and Nicobar Islands became the first territories of Independent India.  By the end of the war, Japan lost, and the Andaman and Nicobar again fell into British hands.  During the Independence of India, these incidents were taken into consideration, and Andaman and Nicobar were granted to India.

Who was Subhash Chandra Bose?

We associate the Indian fight for freedom from British colonialism with Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent approach.  Still, there were other Indian leaders with alternative models to achieve independence.  Subhas Chandra Bose became a leading advocate for violence as the only effective way to expel the British and simultaneously restored Indian self-esteem.  His story and adventures are quite fascinating.  He cooperated with Nazi Germany and Japan in their war against the Allies in south-east Asia.

In 1943, Bose traveled by German submarine around Africa’s southern tip to rendezvous with a Japanese submarine.  The Japanese had captured some 70,000 Indian soldiers, many of them abandoned by their British officers when Singapore fell suddenly in early 1942.  The Japanese then released about 40,000 of these prisoners of war to form the Indian National Army and invade India under Bose’s command.

While small parts of India fell to the Indian National Army, the war was already entering its final stages.   The Indian National Army took heavy losses.  When the Japanese finally surrendered unconditionally in August 1945, so did the Indian National Army.  Bose himself tried to escape to continue the war of liberation, only to have his overloaded plane crash in Taiwan.  Some Indians still see him as the inspiring figure for India’s modern future as a militarily and economically strong world power. This is far from the model of India that Gandhi wanted.

In the last few decades, Bose’s vision of India became a reality.  The Indian army is, after all, the third-largest in the world.  India has fought four wars with its neighbors, and it is armed with nuclear weapons.  Further, India is an emerging global economic power.  All this is much closer to Bose’s vision than to Gandhi’s.

What were the effects of the 2004 Tsunami on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands?

The islands are a bit north of the earthquake epicenter.  The tsunami waves reached a height of 49ft (15m) within minutes; as a result, some of the islands were submerged.  The Nicobar Islands were the worst hit among all the islands because of their relatively flat terrain.  The unofficial death toll, including those missing and presumed dead, is estimated at 7,000.  The 2004 Tsunami took over 230,000 victims throughout south-east Asia.  It is considered the deadliest in history.