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Isles of bliss

India’s island getaways are just right for rainwatchin’, says Suktara Ghosh

How would you like a holiday with a difference? Its everyones dream to hang out on a tropical island (think about painter Paul Gauguin in nature is the sole show stealer and the palm trees wave about gently against blue, blue skies. Where you can watch the sun sinks into the waters on a distant horizon. Lets change that picture

a bit. How would you like to hang out on a tropical island during the monsoons? And instead of heading to islands like Langkawi or Mauritius, travel to Indias own small island getaways. Remember that India is a huge and varied subcontinent and you can travel east and spend time on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands or head west to Lakshadweep. These islands may not be as tourist—oriented as the Caribbean islands or Indian Ocean getaways like Mauritius but they have an unspoilt charm of their own that is unquestionable—especially during the monsoons.

Andaman & Nicobar Islands The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been described as a broken pearl chain in the Bay of Bengal”. The islands are still surprisingly undeveloped from a tourist point of

view. In fact, there are still only a handful of resorts stretched

across the islands—thats partly because Port Blair, the capital is about 1,200km from Calcutta and its expensive to get there. Make sure

 you visit Cinque Island, one of the best diving destinations in the world with water visibility up to 80ft. And if the underwater coral garden is not enticement enough, the superbly colorful and diverse marine life is sure to take your breath away. Havelock Island,Neil Island and Long Island also have spectacular beaches. And if you prefer your holidays with a dose of adrenaline, the Andaman Water Sports Complex in Port Blair offers the excitements of waterskiing, snorkeling, parasailing and glass-bottom boats, to name just a few.

HOT TICKET! Chill out in the luxurious Welcomgroup Fortune

Resort BayIsland (on PortBlairIsland), built from the native red paddock timber by the celebrated architect Charles Correa. A double occupancy Continental Plan room will cost Rs.4,310

(including breakfast), while an American Plan will cost Rs.5,810 (including all meals). The APAI (American Plan, All Inclusive) at Rs.4,777 for a 2-night stay includes accommodation, meals, airport transfers, a half-day city tour ending with a sound and light show, and a half-day Ross Island tour (landing fees extra) for two people. Taxes are inclusive. 

LakshadweepThe Lakshadweep Islands off the Malabar Coast are famous for being the only coral reef island in India. Once again its not easy to get here—you can fly 398km from Kochi to Agatti, the only airport. Or, you can make an 18 to 20 hour journey by ship.

The most well-known holiday resort is on Bangaram Island, about

90 minutes from Agatti airport by boat (transference by helicopter during monsoons), and a haven for lovers of adventure water sports. Indian Airlines and Kingfisher have flights fromKochi to Agatti.

HOT TICKET! Bangaram Island Resort offers a summer package

on a twin-sharing basis. Valid till September, a 7 night stay will cost Rs.27,660, Rs.20,900 for five nights, and Rs.13,250 for 3 nights, including all meals and taxes. Transferring charges extra. Snorkeling, kayaking and turtle watching are some of the attractions—if weather permits.Poovar Island Indians are just discovering how small islands can be turned into tourist getaways. Take PoovarIsland which is barely 30 minutes from Thiruvananthapuram and a 15 minutes boat ride from Poovar Jetty. This tiny island now has the 25-acre Poovar Island Resort with a mix of floating cottages and others on dry land. Be warned: there are no water sports here. But its the ultimate get away from it all destination—especially when there are thunderous grey monsoon clouds above.

HOT TICKET! The Poovar Island Resort offers double occupancy Premium and Floating Cottages at about Rs.10,149. Land cottages cost Rs.6,767. The package includes arrival and departure by boat

 to and from Poovar jetty, welcome drink on arrival and all meals

(buffet) served in the restaurant. The package is valid till September and excludes taxes.The Portuguese and numerous other dynasties that have ruled Diu have all left their mark. The fort, skirted by the

sea on three sides is majestic with its giant light house and grand cannons.NagaoBeach, shaped like a horseshoe, is famous for its water sports. And if relaxing away from the crowds amidst

casuarinas plantations is more to your taste, opt to hang out

on the Jampore beach.

HOT TICKET! At Hotel Kohinoor, a double occupancy Classic Deluxe room costs Rs.1,950, while a Royal Executive comes for Rs.2,450. A suite is slightly more expensive at Rs.3,450. There is

also a special package for a 2 night Classic Deluxe stay costing Rs.5,400, while for a Royal Executive; you have to shell out

Rs.6,400. This includes breakfast and dinner, taxes are extra. 

 The great Indian rope trick

WAYFARER: Rappelling at Ratan Durg Fort led to some

classic cliffhanger moments for Rachel Pillai

Rattan Durg Fort sits on top of a 300-ft cliff, around thirty stories high. One side is vertical, dropping straight down into the ocean; if you lie on the edge, looking down; youll see waves washing over flat, sun-shattered rocks below.

            Look around, and the rocky shore stretches around the curve of the peninsula, past miles and miles of seascape, fishing boats, birds, a lighthouse, clear sky and blue water — a beautiful background to the black rocks, white waves and red fort walls.

            Its a lovely sight if you werent terrified rigid the minute you look down at the rappelling path. In a few minutes, youll be stepping over that edge and going way down, your entire past, present and future held in a length of rope slimmer than your little finger.

Starting: You know what the worst part of rappelling is? Its watching other people go down. It ties your stomach in knots,

makes you dizzy, nauseous, tensed and drains your camera battery too, because everyone wants you take that classic going-down photo.

            The day gets hotter, the horizon shimmers. A huge cloud of swifts flutters around, and faraway, we see a pair of beautiful bramhani kites circle and I get extra intestinal intertwining

because Im watching them all from above.

Close shaves: JD clears the path with a machete, after an abortive start when he goes over and realizes hes forgotten to wear the descended—the single most important piece of equipment in rappelling other than the rope—and is hanging only by his hands. Luckily, hes able to haul himself back.

            Steve starts off, under the influence of too many people shouting instructions; he locks his feet on the edge, and his bodys weight pulls him backwards, until suddenly, hes suspended over open space almost upside-down.

            Raw fear slowly drains away from his face, and he goes from scared to panicked to terrorized and out on the other side, in a death-calm; he told us later that he went because the worst that could happen, had happened.

            I tie the handycam to my forearm and get ready; therell be some interesting videos from this trip. Ds screwed a digicam in

video mode to his helmet; between the two of us, well get a feel of the actual rappel, in first-person perspective. Warning! Do not try this without expert guidance, because youll end up smashing it, or your head, if you arent careful.

Tricks of the trade: The toughest bit is negotiating the first step, gradually letting your body go semi—horizontal. Its toughest because you fight all your instincts that scream blue murder to get back on flat solid ground. Three million years of evolution have taught that safety lies on rock, not nylon, when the ground lays

thirty stories below with thin air in-between.

            My past rappelling experience also doesnt give much confidence, because this feels different; I dont realize why, until later. Normal rappelling lets you easily pass the rope through the descended, but here, I was struggling to feed the rope through the loop. It was because 300ft of rope has several kilos of solid weight, minimum even without wind drag; I had to fight to lift it every inch upwards.

            Once over the edge though, its smooth sailing Except for, suddenly and unexpectedly, thorns, on bushes. And loose rocks. Crumbling scree. Falling pebbles. Long, poky dry grass.

Adrenaline heightens sensation; everything came with its own

heart-in-the-mouth feeling.

So how do you feel?: Whats it like, rappelling, overcoming your instincts and fears? Its hard to describe. Theres certainly some

fear, your heart goes at double-speed, and your hands clench at

the rope in a death grip. But theres also a sense of immense pride that in

spite of feeling like this, in spite of the butterflies, you didnt back down.

            Theres a sense of having joined some kind of elite club, an achievement in doing something you never thought you could do; and in some way, its made you better than you were. Braver, stronger. After this, a lot of things will cease to frighten; youll remember the feeling you had at the top, and youll know that if you overcame that, you can overcome anything.

            The rope hisses onwards, and my nostrils catch a faint tang

of heated metal and friction-burnt mitten. Theres such high tension

 that if I let go my controller hand (the one that holds and controls


 rope speed), and slide free, the ropes friction alone can melt the quarter-inch-thick steel descended.

             I also realize that Im beginning to bounce gently. After two hundred feet, the elasticity in the nylon is becoming apparent, and its stretching along its length. Its unnerving, to say the least; the rope, like a living thing, seems to be trying to halfheartedly shake you off. I keep going, and finally, Im in the blessed shade after five hours in the blazing sun, with the ground just ten feet below and coming up to meet me.

Cooking lessons: I gasp in the shade for a while, before we begin

the long walk back. The suns out with a vengeance now, and the landscape is pitiless; no shade. I was fried before I came down.

Now I get baked, broiled, roasted and by the time the car returns

to pick us up, Ive gone into the dark side of barbecue char.

We have to stop at the coolest hangout in Ratnagiri, the local ice factory. We load up a giant, break it up in buckets and stick in

bottled water; a few minutes later, we savour the best drink ever. Chilled

H2O, after a long, long, sunny, thirsty wait 

Rappelling: Technique used in mountaineering and the military, where you can descend from an elevated location via controlled use of a rope.

Equipment: A very strong nylon rope; a sling or harness; carabineers to hold the harness together and attach the descended, and a descended, a figure-eight shaped piece of steel that attaches the rope to the harness around you.

Technique: After securely anchoring the rope at the top, the harness is worn around the hips and tights so it can comfortably take your weight. The rope is fed through the descended loop, attached to the harness. Theres a specific technique of attaching the rope that allows the rope to slide slowly, letting your body lower itself. Speed is controlled by one hand (controller) that feeds the rope into the loop; the bodys position is maintained by the other (balancer) that holds the rope, keeping you in the correct position. The body is hung at 45 degrees to the vertical, with the feet against the vertical wall.

Who does it: Trained mountaineers/adventure camp organizers need to supervise the knots, attachments, and ropes, and guide you; with proper precautions, anyone can rappel, as it doesnt require high levels of fitness/skill/training. A proper rappel needs one trained person at the top of the rope, and one at the bottom, during every- descend. A second safety rope is a good idea for first-timers.

Caution: Very dangerous if done without proper training or supervision. Do not try this without professional guides.  



                          UPHILL JOURNEY 

If you cant take the heat anymore, then just take a week off from work and head for the hills.Sinclair Hotels is offering a 6-night and 7-day Sinclair’s North East package that will take you to Chalsa in the Dooars,Darjeeling and Gangtok. Priced at Rs.36,560 for two adults, the offer is valid till 30th September, 2008. The costs will take care of transfers, accommodation, breakfast, dinner and lots of sightseeing. You get to stay the first two days at Sinclairs Retreat Dooars, Chalsa, with a sightseeing trip to Gorumara forest or Samsing thrown in on the second day (subject to availability). The third and fourth days

will be spent in Sinclairs Darjeeling with a spot of sightseeing in Darjeeling on the fourth day. Day five and six of the package are to

be spent in Gangkok. On day six, you get to do a trip to Changu

Lake, about 35km from Gangtok. If youre in luck you might see the Red Panda, Brahminy ducks and more. On day seven you head back for New Jalpaiguri railway station or Bagdogra airport. Entry charges, camera fee are not included in the package cost. For bookings, contact 22801317/18/19/20 or email kolkata @  




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