Where History has been preserved to blend well with the Present…
In continuing my post on the Andamans after a break.
Amrito picked us up at the Port Blair Jetty, on our arrival back from Neil Island, after three days at Havelock. It had been raining all through the ferry ride, since before it commenced from the Neil jetty. The overcast sky with large unsure orbs of grey cloud-yarn floating like boats of various shapes on an ocean of soft blue sky over blue-green sea, as a dance-floor over which the bopping, twirling, dancing white waves, captivated me.
That afternoon, we visited Corbyn’s Cove Beach, after some deliberation on our part over where we might visit. That the Cellular Jail light and sound show – one of the things we thought we might see on return to Port Blair, even though we had visited the jail, was not in operation, due to maintenance. The Ross Island show we had seen, was much better than the one we had missed we were told.
The next day, by now knowing our interest in the history, heritage, and culture of the islands, over water sports that attract tourists by the plentiful, on Amito’s persistent recommendation we could not overlook – he took us to Chatham Saw Mills.
The Chatham Island was established as the head quarter of First British Colony of Andaman and Nicobar Islands between 1789-1795.
A batch of 200 people convicted by the then British regime from across the country were brought by the ship Semiramis and landed at Chatham Island on 10th March 1858.
The Mill constructed in 1883 by the British, was equipped with second hand machinery to cut wood that would aid the construction needs of the region. The wood that was processed in this mill was used for the construction of the Cellular jail in Port Blair and several buildings in Ross Island. During the British rule, the wood processed here would be exported to several countries. It is a proud moment for various local artisans when they tell you that the wood from this mill was also used in few walls of the Buckingham Palace in London.
The mill also has a museum in its premises. And in addition to the regular information about the history, flora, fauna, of Anadman Islands – this museum also talks about the various types of wood available here, and the process involved in cutting the wood into desired shapes. The museum also has several wooden handicrafts on display, which demonstrates the skills of the workmen.
Chatham mill was closed for four years after the Japanese bombarded this island during World War II. Apart from the loss of machinery and destruction of the factory, several hundreds of workers also lost their lives in the bombing. It resumed its operations in 1946, after the Japanese left, and the control was taken over by the British.
Located in Chatham Island of Andaman, it is tucked away at the far end of the city of Port Blair. It is owned by the state government now, and its upkeep and maintenance, are the responsibility of the forest department here. Connected to Port Blair by a 100-meter-long bridge, this mill is the largest and the oldest in Asia. Varied related activities are on display here that convert raw wood into final wooden planks. Starting with the journey of wood being brought in, sorted, cut, and stored, to being transformed into the final products and sent to different places.
Along with this, the mill also tells another not-so industrious story of the darker days that it has witnessed. The saw mill fell victim to the British bombs during the World War II in 1942. There is a bomb pit that was created at that time and now, it is filled with water. The machines initially installed in the Chatham Saw Mill were second-hand and unskilled labor used to operate them at that time. It was destroyed during the Second World War by the direct hit of bombs. The mill’s working was totally stopped. The forest department maintains the Forest Museum now and provides guidance here. Wood carvings made of padauk wood, wooden furniture, and wooden showpieces such as salt-water crocodiles, balancing dolls, etc. are on display there.
After this, we visited the Anthropological Museum, an ethnographic museum, that depicts the indigenous tribal communities – the four Negrito Tribes of the Andaman. You get to know about the lives and cultures of different tribes that have lived here – Jarawas, the Onges, the Sentinelese, the Shompens, and the Nicobarese. You also see here several different artifacts from different eras of the tribes of this region. Several tools, clothes, boats, leaf baskets, and weapons are showcased inside. A skull originating from the Sentinelese region, an ancient Jarawa chest guard, and the shamanic sculptures created by the Nicobarese are among the highlights of the museum. The collection at the museum is rare and incredible. You can see several portraits, models, and photographs of tribal communities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
For a complete tour of the museum, you would need about one to two hours. You can indulge in these activities when you are there: know about the life of Paleolithic Islanders; watch the various exhibits including shamanic sculptures, Jarawa chest guard, etc. Also, observe some of the most interesting items such as handicrafts, arts and crafts, tools, photographs, weapons, clothing, and many more dating back to older times. Moreover, if you want to still learn more, you may visit the well-stocked library of the museum that details the lifestyle of these cultures.
We had visited Barathang before leaving for Havelock and gone right through and into the Jarawa stretch to visit a natural limestone cave. But it was at this museum that a lot of my curiosities were answered as well as stirred – that inspired marathon chats with Amrito on our second visit to Chiria Tapu beach later that afternoon, for the second time on this trip. Then with his brother the next morning he drove us to the Port Blair airport for our flight to Kolkata. I have just about summed up these experiences in the last few blogs – on my Andamans visit, but a lot more that I have saved to research, narrate, and add to my next novel.
#travelwriter #travelwriting #travelblogger #andamans #magicalandamans #indianhistory #exploreandamans #portblairdiaries #literaryfiction #novelist #worldtourismday #worldtourismday2022 #worldtourismforum
The photo album is in the link: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0GyLpFyfARBRVLF2HHockKBpPsTChGPgrzBRYrSJKYTNUfsJLW2HECzUZQXchqyiHl&id=614624973
At the end there’s a video of the proceedings at the saw mill and an interesting interview in the frame before that of a man – of the history I talk about.
This blog is a continuation of the two below in the links: