National Cadet Corps (NCC) is the Indian military cadet corps, open to school and college students on voluntary basis. The Cadets are given basic military training in small arms and parades. The motto of the organization is Unity and Discipline. Various camps are organized for the purpose of training.
Special National Integration Camp (SNIC) Port Blair is one of the prominent camps of the year. And a selected group of cadets represent their states in the Islands of Andaman & Nicobar. In 2014 February I was given the opportunity to represent the states of Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh (MP&CG) in SNIC. After the interview and my medical tests I was given a full clearance and my measurement for the track suit, sari and uniforms were taken. The amount of stuff they make you carry with a 15 kilogram weight limit on flight just teaches you real adjustment!
The journey began on the 7th of Feb. 2014 with boarding the train to Chennai. It was a pit stop and from Chennai Airport we took off for Port Blair. On our arrival we were given a warm welcome by the Island cadets and our hosts for the camp stay. The really crazy thing that happened was, I was appointed the camp senior as I spoke the 3 most spoken languages on the island that is Hindi, English and Bengali. The 4 south Indian languages (Tamil,Telgu, Kannad, Malayalam) have also an influential number of speakers.
Our stay was arranged in the army cantt. And since we all were complete strangers to each other it took a day to settle but by the time it all was over I had one friend from each state and now I miss them very much.
Not only February is one of the best times to visit the island but this year “MILAN” was also held in port Blair at that time. It is a naval friendship joint exercise to say in short where Navy of 17 countries including India does joint exercises and training and the evenings are spent exchanging cultural events and cocktail parties. It happens every 2 years and one of these 17 countries hosts it. We were lucky enough to visit the whole campus set up for the event. And one whole day was spent sailing on one of those naval ships. Also a demo on scuba diving and helicopter rescue was given. And the random quiz questions by the captain earned me a special Milan cap which I prize dearly.
The coolest thing was the day spent with the Para commandos. It started as a regular guide to jungle survival with Maj. Yogendra giving us tips and tricks and warning about the eatable plants and fruits and the poisonous ones. We were told about the medicinal plants and then taught some air signals and also how to make huts and all, & it kept on going on until they showed us the exotic animals and birds starting from wild cats, Monitor lizard and of course some snakes including the cobra. And just when we thought that was all for the day, that’s when we were taken to the snake pit. And here we were given a live demonstration of how to cut, clean and cook a snake. Since they are cold blooded the commando giving us the demo told us its blood is drinkable and the flesh can be eaten raw. Sudarshana did try that snake meat and said it tasted like fish, so much for experience. True Bear Gills moment I tell you. And they had more. Next we were taken to this fire place where all the exotic animals we had seen were on display again this time to be eaten raw, cooked, smoked etc. seriously I have dedicated a long paragraph to that one single day experience as that was something that was stuck on my mind for the rest of the stay.
NOTE: I am not really proud of the animal cruelty and I don’t support it. But the commandos are trained to survive in any situation come what may. As jungle war fare includes survival of the fittest. And the army has time and again proved itself and defended our pride and glory, so I donot oppose their tactics. But I am not in favour either.
Coming to the beauty of the islands and the things you can do, well let me just say that 2 weeks are not enough. It is known as the mini India not only because of its rich cultural diversity but also that it has everything from mountains to volcanoes to mud volcanoes to the sea. Havelock jetty was worthy of that long cruising as once you reach there you realize why Radha Nagar beach was awarded the BEST BEACH IN ASIA in 2004 by times magazine. Dolphins are also an attraction on the way. Glass bottom boating is a unique experience where one can see coral reefs and marine life pretty closely.
Ross islands are famous for the rich Flora and Fauna and have all the variety of animals and birds. Other fun things we did were the trek to Mount Harriet which is the second tallest peak of the islands. And the view from there is splendid. The museums and aquarium were also very unique and exquisite. “CHATTAM Sawmill” is the largest wood processor in Asia and is situated on the main Island of port Blair. Saw blades up to 52 inches are used to cut wood.
The cellular Jail also known as “kala pani” has the distinct specialty of being an attraction both during the day and night. During the day light the museums, the original chair of the vice Roy, the gallows, the oiling mils, the unimaginably small cells and the 3 out of the 7 remaining rows of the jail can be seen. And right after sunset the jail has a light and sound show which left us mesmerized for sure. Through lights and sounds an hour long effect is crated in the minds of audience telling the history of the jail right from the beginning till its shut down and also the cruelty that went in. and at the same time makes us proud of our freedom fighters and the men who faced it all for the sake of the country and we being NCC cadets were really touched. One must not miss out on that when visiting the islands.
Among all this there are some other treats as well, like the water sports complex meant for water sports and adventure activity and the Gandhi park where Japanese had built a temple in the early 1940’s.The other nearby beaches like Wandoor, carnie etc are also relaxing and fun to spend time. Not to forget the coconut water, hats and shell items we went gaga over. Best restaurant to try out for sea food is the “sea shells” in port Blair itself as suggested by the captain of the naval ship himself. And best place to shop is ”sagarica” emporium (they are a bit over priced).
Having the local cadets to guide us was definitely a help. And do you know the islands have a 24 hour police patrolling service and the crime rate there is lowest in the whole country. Lime stone caves are also a quick but nice visit. And the Viper Islands still have the remains of Gallows & prison; these were abandoned when the “cellular jail” was built. We did not see any Jarwa( the local tribe) as to visit them some permission is required and that could not be arranged on time.
The visit to INS UTKROSH which is the naval air base headquarter was another thing that only the NCC cadets got an opportunity to visit and see all the working of the ATC tower inside and out. The Veer Savarkar International Airport is attached to it.
The Army cantt has its own private beach known as the Nariel Bagicha and the sunsets are awesome and may I just say We had the coolest Colonel as our camp Commandant who usually had most of our wishes fulfilled and on the last day we got to spend almost the whole evening and a good amount of time after the sunset on the beach. It was our last day and we all felt a little low and it’s really strange how a bunch of complete strangers had become so close.
I met some of the smartest and nicest people but MP&CG came prepared and in individual competitions I bagged the quiz and extempore speech gold medals. And two more gold for being the best appointment and best cadet. We also won silver in state presentation. Our state did well in dancing and singing competitions too, though Andhra Pradesh’s kirti kala with a Guinness book of world record for longest kuchi puri dancing was hard to beat but our score was good enough in these competitions which raised our overall position to first.
The cultural for Lt. Gen Annirudh Chakravorty VSM Director General NCC was a grand affair with each one of us practicing since the very first day of the camp late into the night. I was the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ for the event and it was a tiring task but a special appreciation by the DG (Director General) himself and his wife Mrs. Falguni Chakravorty made all the efforts worth it.
As said earlier it was just a small glimpse of what the islands had to offer and there is just so much more to visit and one needs a whole year to experience every bit of the island as our camp commandant briefed us the very first day.
The friends I made are still in touch and the experiences I gained are beyond words. The whole thing was a dream. Every cadet aims for the prestigious RDC camp but being rejected at the last step I was a little upset but SNIC port Blair not only changed that but also made me realize whatever happens,happens for good.
I made this whole experience thing into a mini travel guide but Andaman does that you. It has so much to offer that you can never have enough. Our experiences as NCC cadets was little different as we had tracks and uniforms for most of the visit and were competing with each other, exchanging our cultures at the same time. I am thankful to NCC and the officers and staffs for encouraging me and helping me make the most of this opportunity.
Gargee Roy Chowdhury