Journey: Kolkata to Port Blair 24th – 28th of December, 2015
For adventure lovers, reaching Andaman and Nicobar by passenger ship can definitely be a memorable experience in itself. However one needs to know what type of adventures one can expect.
My photo blog is specially meant for those who are planning to travel to Andaman by ship!
Boats usually leave twice per month from Kolkata, from Chennai as well as from Vizag. Tickets are available from the respective Shipping office in these harbours and it might be wise to buy these tickets at least two weeks in advance. The distance from Kolkata to Port Blair is 1255 km and with a scheduled duration of 66 hours of sailing, it is the longest of the three possible journeys from the mainland.
I obtained my ticket from Kolkata’s Shipping House (033 22484921/ 22543507) near Fairlie Place on Strand Road. The procedure was quite straight forward and easy, though initially it was difficult to find online information about the schedule, facilities or even the correct phone numbers for getting in touch with the Shipping House. When I finally reached the right contact, though, they were very helpful and able to provide me with all necessary information. Along with the ticket amount in cash, foreigners also need to bring a passport size photograph as well as copies of their visa and passport. Tickets cost anywhere between INR 2000 – 9300 depending on the category (bunk, second class, first class or deluxe class). However, a foreigner on board claimed he tried very hard to get a bunk class ticket but had been denied on the grounds that foreigners are not allowed to go in bunk class. Locals belonging to Andaman and Nicobar as well as government employees get great discounts here and pay only a fraction of this.
Delays both in departure and arrival are the norm. I was in fact asked to call the Shipping House two days before scheduled departure for confirmation; and as it turned out, the ship was indeed delayed by a day. In the end, the whole journey would take more than 100 hours (4 nights) instead of said the 66 hours.
The immigration procedure at Khiddirpur docks was another long and chaotic but interesting process. Almost made me think of how it must have been to travel by passenger ship back in the Titanic days. When the gate finally closed and all passengers and goods were on board, the boat still remained in the harbour – the whole night – until the early morning, when the high tide finally set in. Mobile and cellular data remained functional for about one whole day after departure – and then stopped after the ship left the Hubli river and entered into open sea.
I travelled on MV Nicobar as a solo female traveller thus, was subject to many opinions and concerns about the entire experience. The rather unpleasant stories about hygiene conditions in the bunk class made sure I took the (rather expensive) deluxe cabin. The second bed being empty came as an added bonus. I didn’t regret this choice of the deluxe cabin. As a foreigner, you will probably be a very rare sight and the most interesting attraction on board. Expect getting stared at constantly or even being followed wherever you go. Thanks to this, I was very thankful for my own quiet, private space.
The deluxe class cabin has two beds, an old TV, an older refrigerator, a wooden table, chairs and storage space as well as an attached bathroom. First class cabins contain four beds, a table, lockers and an attached bathroom. 2nd class cabins have six beds, with shared toilets and showers in the corridor. Bunk class beds are below sea level in one big area, separated by occasional walls. They have common toilets and showers that tend to get blocked, congested and overflow throughout the journey, and it seems there is barely any ventilation.
The ship I came on, MV Nicobar, was built in 1991 in Szeczin, Poland, but looked far older than its actual age. Despite the fancy retro dance floor in the deluxe dining area on board, no alcohol is served, no music is played and no dancing takes place. This actually seems like a rather sensible decision – considering the rather poor state of the boat as well as its enthusiastic (mostly male) passengers, and other safety concerns. In fact, not much entertainment can be expected at all, though exploring all nooks and corners of the boat was quite a thrill in itself and kept me busy for at least one whole day. I was even lucky enough to find good company and make a few friends during the journey.
There is a cinema in the bunk class area which is always full, with a small shop selling cold drinks and snacks next to it. On the sun deck, apart from an empty swimming pool, there is a small shop selling snacks, chai and coffee and other cold drinks. A big crowd of young boys hung around here most of the time, and once in a while there was even loud music.
It is definitely advisable to bring your own food for the trip (especially fresh fruits), more so if you are selective about quality and hygiene. Restaurants on board are divided into deluxe class, first and second class, and bunk class. Coupons can be bought in advance or before every meal (INR 80-100 per meal, veg and non-veg). Breakfast consists of simple puris and curry, lunch is rice and daal (lentils) with vegetables and dinner is very much like lunch, but if you are lucky there will be chapatis too. And although I didn’t fancy eating all three meals here, the food on board was actually not as bad as I expected and kept me alive and in good health through the four days.
The staff on MV Nicobar was extremely friendly, helpful and competent. They found efficient solutions to all kinds of problems like broken cabin keys, falling lamps and leaky taps , or cabins being flooded with water from the ceiling above, resulting in power short cuts.
Needless to say, this ship journey has great potential to being a lot more popular as a choice of transport. But for me, these four days on the boat have definitely become a precious and adventurous memory – I wouldn’t want to miss any of it as part of my whole Andaman and Nicobar experience. In terms of luxury and relaxation, this way of travelling might not live up to everyone’s standards especially if you choose the second or bunk classes. However, if you love adventure and if you enjoy travelling the old school way, surrounded only by ocean, sun, moon and stars for days together, then this will be one to experience. If you are a group of friends or family sharing a first or second class cabin, don’t think twice.