Standing neck deep in the warm and turquoise waters we are listening to last minute instructions. We are about to begin our dive into the deep blue Andaman Sea. Afterwards we have a lazy lunch at Full Moon Cafe and later we have a great night by the beach bar at the Dolphin Resort.
Exploring the Andamans with friends, we were blissfully unaware that we were about to encounter a lifetime experience.
Most of us imagine being marooned on an island. But this became our reality for the next 4 days. Struck by cyclonic winds and heavy rainfall, Havelock transformed from a paradise island to a prison for the people stranded here.
Havelock is one of the biggest and most picturesque island in the Andaman archipelago. It is 3 hours away from Port Blair by cruise boat.
The days following sunny Sunday of Dec 4 are unforgettable and here is my daily journal of the events from sunshine to cyclone to rescue.
Dec 5, 7:05 AM
The morning sea was calm at beach number 5, Vijaynagar Beach. Swimming in the sea was relaxing and fun for all of us.
Today we were to go snorkeling at Elephant beach. A short boat ride would take us there. We wait at beach number 1 for our boat.
Dark clouds move in stealthily over the horizon ambushing the sun. In a few seconds the colour of the sea changes from a sunny turquoise to broody deep green. This was a warning from the storm gods. The clouds were laden with their juice, busting at their seams, ready to rumble.
An announcement by the port officials leave us surprised. A warning is out for a probable cyclonic strike. All boat rides were canceled for that day. We are dejected to miss snorkeling as we were to leave Havelock the next day.
We decided to explore Radhanagar Beach instead and later in the day hangout at beach number 5. Our resort too was located on this beach.
At beach number 5, we observed the palm trees swaying wildly. The wind was gaining speed. Cyclone Vardha would debut on the island very soon.
Dec 06, 6:30 AM
We wake up to heavy rainfall and thundering clouds. Today we were to take our cruise ship back to Port Blair.
Looking at the weather we are not sure, but make our way towards the dock. At 6:30 am the dock looks like a disaster zone. Crowds of people are waiting everywhere. Port officials are struggling to manage the inquiries. Word goes around that two cruise ships sailing towards Havelock have turned back to Port Blair due to choppy seas and bad weather.
An announcement from the officials, around 11am, confirms our fear. No ships will be sailing till the weather clears.
People have missed their connecting flights from Port Blair to the mainland. Some travelers are hysterical since they would be missing their international flight connections as well.
I realized that we humans are helpless when nature strikes. Now we were officially marooned on Havelock.
Having a late breakfast at the well managed Barefoot Cafe, we talk about how the media would have a field day reporting about the cyclone and the tourists stranded here. The official number was 1500 tourists stranded on Havelock.
Dec 06, 14:27 PM
Now we could complain and be negative about our situation or relax and enjoy our isolation. We choose to make most of the time we had, irrespective of the situation as it was beyond our control.
We explored Kala Pather Beach on bicycles.
It is a 7km ride one way, from beach number 5. The route takes us through some spectacular rain forests on one side of the road and a hyperactive sea on the other side.
As we are riding we can see that the sky and sea are grey. The waves are angry and getting more aggressive as the day progresses. Cycling through the forests we encounter a never ending, dense emerald foliage. These are the indigenous trees of the Andamans. Dating back hundreds of years they remain untouched from the influences of the mainland. The Andamans is more than just beaches.
Arriving at Kala Pather, the rain gods begin their show and the winds begin their symphony. A brief spell of silence sometime later allows us to cycle back to the safety of our resort.
We analyse the situation and assume that our stay on this island could be a long one. The power goes out and we rely on candles to light up our rooms. We also gear up by checking our finances and things required for daily survival. From this day we were on survival mode.
Listening to the winds howling outside our rooms we knew this was going to be a long and terrifying night.
Dec 07, 5:44 AM
Vijaynagar, beach number 5. The gloom hung heavy. The night before was filled with loud wails and shouts. The wind rose a high pitch, fell low and rose higher again. The sea tossed and turned, waves jumped and crashed. Lying on our beds wide awake we too tossed and turned imagining the worst. What if our wall blew over and we were swept into the sea? What if there was a tsunami? The fearful thoughts were never ending.
The morning was the same and the symphony of the cyclone continued throughout the day. We huddled together in our tiny rooms, some of us imagining the worst, some positive and some happy to be marooned.
Dec 08, 09:48 AM
The local villagers are out since morning trying to salvage their fishing boats. They work together to bring all the anchored boats back to shore.
We go out for a short walk to survey beach number 5. She looks devastated. It seems like she has fought a long and hard battle with the monsters of the wind and sea.
Later in the evening we take a walk at the Dolphin Resort. An uneasy calm surrounds us. The deafening thunderstorms of the night have gradually faded away. We look towards the horizon hoping to see some sunshine. Hoping to get on board a naval ship that is supposed to come rescue us.
The entire day was gloomy, but no wind and rain.
Dinner is at the popular wifi cafe Shangrilas, our only connection to the outside world. Yes people we had intermittent wifi and network even though we were marooned 🙂
Spending most of our time in the cafe we see the media circus being played out and our family and friends being worried out of their wits.
Earlier in the day there was talk about the government letting the tourists have free food and stay if they have run out of money. The restaurant owner confirms we can have dal and rice for free as the other food will soon run out anyways. However the rooms are not free as no such circular has been sent to them.
Lesson learnt about island life – The island is dependent on ships to bring in everything. No ship means no fuel to run the generators that give us power and no food brought in. Should we be worried?
At nightfall, the wind and rain come back with a vengeance, but they seem to be loosing their power. We say our prayers as we fall asleep.
Dec 09, 10:12 AM
Havelock looks like she just stepped out of a bath, fresh and green 🙂
Earlier in the morning we had updated our flight details on paper that was handed over to the port officials. But there was no news about ships. We had a few false alarms in the past days about the ships coming to get us, but the good weather today made this seem probable.
With sunshine on our faces we have a hearty breakfast at Ronny’s a popular hangout with the backpackers.
Then Im out with my friend, searching for network on our phones. Word is out again about the naval ships coming to get us.
The island, though connected by phone and internet relies on word of mouth. Messages are passed on personally from one resort to another as they are close by, and everybody knows everyone.
The news is confirmed by our resort manager who urges us, that if we want to leave Havelock we must go right now as the ships are on on their way.
Within minutes of this news there is an exodus on the island. Every tourist or traveler is leaving with their bags. We too follow and hop into autos and go towards the dock. Our auto driver says, whenever the weather goes bad the navy rescues all the tourists in one go.
On our way we see the helipad buzzing with the sound of naval choppers.
They were rescuing people who had flights that day from Port Blair. The chopper ride is only 15 mins from Havelock to Port Blair. We wished we could get on the chopper but our flights were only on 11 Dec, so we could wait and take the ship.
Dec 09, 11:45 AM
Now waiting for the ships was an understatement. The lines were already snaking when we arrived. We were standing, perhaps behind a thousand people.
Once again we were worried that we may not get on the ship as they may not be able to take all of us on board.
With fingers crossed we waited patiently for almost 4 hours and 30 mins.
Amidst some chaos in the queues as the crowds were getting impatient, it was almost dusk when we finally boarded the Makruzz a private luxury cruise ship – for free. After all it was a rescue mission sponsored by the government 🙂
We made a stylish exit 🙂
Dec 10, 7:02 PM
We spent our last day in the Andamans exploring Port Blair. We signed off with some crazy shopping for coral jewelry, a perfect souvenir of our island adventure.
Dec 11, 7:50 AM
It is time for my flight to take off and Im reminiscing about my experience.
Im lucky to have been marooned on an island without compromising on the necessities. There was enough of food and water for everyone. Nobody overcharged us for our stay and food. The locals were patient and courteous even though they had their own personal difficulties to deal with. The cyclone had a devastating impact on the villages in Havelock, but there was no media hype about this.
I got the opportunity to understand the island life which is so unique and difficult, but at the same time they are privileged to be cutoff from the commercialization of the mainland. The locals are true survivors, as they know how to get back on their feet after such knock outs.
Lesson learnt – The storms of life knock us down and we loose hope as we think it will never end. But, every storm will pass and there will be sunshine…always 🙂
PS – We were supposed to explore the other areas of the Andamans, however we could not do so as we were marooned in Havelock. I guess Im meant to be back, or maybe not. Only time will tell.