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Tour of Andaman_19 - An epic cycling tour from Port Blair to Diglipur, 337 km (209 miles) over 6 day

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Suresh refused to wash off the mud, sportingly posing for photographs! :) (PC:Suresh)
Suresh, the mudslinger! This photo sums up the road conditions on this tour superbly! -

Day 1 - Tour of Andaman (Port Blair to Baratang): Carb Loading Day

Sunday September 15, 2019

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are an archipelago of about 572 tropical islands,set far to the east of mainland India in the Bay of Bengal, with the Andaman Sea separating them from Thailand further east.

Andaman islands are a group of Indian islands in the Bay of Bengal

Aerial view of the beautiful coral fringed Andaman islands

Emerald Andaman Sea

A Social Enterprise called Team Parikrama from Bangalore, consisting of a group of idealistic young men and women in their early twenties, decided to organize a supported cycling tour in these islands for the first time in the islands' history!This team generally promotes outdoors activities among the youth and contributes towards education of girl-children. Having lived here for quite a while, my husband Partha and I decided to sign up for this as soon as we heard about it on Facebook. The tour was being supported by the local Andaman Chamber of Commerce & Industry which helped with the riders' accommodation, and the Chennai based Probikes, which provided rental bikes that they shipped over all the way from Chennai as there is not much of a cycling culture in the islands yet.

Hotel Diviyum Manor in Port Blair - the assembly point for all the cyclists (P.C. Neeraj)

The inaugural session of the Tour of Andaman, with the president of the ACCI as the Chief Guest (P.C. Neeraj)

Dhiraj, the brains behind the Tour of Andaman, and Rajkiran, the present President of Team Parikrama(P.C. Neeraj)

So, on 15th Sep, 17 cyclists and 8 volunteers from the organizing team set off from Port Blair, which is the capital of Andaman & Nicobar, to Baratang in Middle Andaman, in a bus!! The reason being, this route passes through a highly restricted reserve forest for the indigenous Jarawa tribe, and nobody is allowed to pass on bicycles or two-wheeler through this reserve forest. Even 4-wheeler are allowed to pass only in convoy,four times a day, with police protection. Everyone is forbidden to interact with the tribals or take their pictures.

The bikes were loaded on a truck, and there was an additional SUV as a support vehicle.

One of the three support vehicles, with our bike carrier. My hybrid has already been loaded while Partha's Trek is being seen to.(P.C. Neeraj)

We started from Port Blair at 12.30 pm and caught the 2.30 pm convoy from Jirkatang. There was much excitement in the bus as we spotted some Jarawa men and children in the edges of the dense forest. Then we took a vehicle ferry over to Baratang island and reached our hotel (Coral Creek Resort) by 5 pm. Riders assembled their bikes and did pre-ride checks, in preparation for the next day's ride.


Day 2 - Tour of Andaman (Baratang to Rangat): Rainy day with slushy and gravelly roads!

Monday September 16, 2019, 73 km (45 miles) - Total so far: 73 km (45 miles)

Rainy morning at Baratang

We woke up the next morning to a continuous steady rainfall - the type that can go on and on! The start time was supposed to be 7 am, after a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, but it was slightly delayed in the hope that the rain may stop or slow down at least. After consulting the riders, a decision was taken to start the ride in the rain instead of waiting indefinitely. Most people had some kind of rain jackets or ponchos and we started off!

Starting the tour in the rain(P.C. Neeraj)

Half the riders didn't bother with rain protection!(P.C. Neeraj)

The route was very simple - there is only one Andaman Trunk Road (ATR)! So in case of confusion at a bifurcation, the riders were told to ask any local which the ATR was. The three motor vehicles were distributed such that one was in front, one behind the last rider and the SUV was used to provide any assistance to riders, in case of injury or fatigue.

The road was full of gravel, and potholes, because the highway is being relaid and this is a long-term plan. Right now, most of the ATR has been dug up for this, all the way to North Andaman, making the road journey a nightmare for the local people. But cyclists being crazy, everyone on the team rode ahead with full enthusiasm!The terrain is rolling, which many of the riders from the mainland did not expect, with long stretches of steady ascent followed by rapid descents. But due to the potholes, we had to be very careful in the descents. The road may have been bad, but we hardly noticed it because the of the lush greenery surrounding us everywhere! Green paddy fields, tall padauk and other tropical trees, verdant shrubs, and the call of the hill mynas and drongos accompanied us. There was also very less motor traffic on this road, which was a pleasant surprise to the mainland riders. The local villagers and children were amazed to see so many people on bikes, and waved happily!(though I suspect privately they may have been laughing at us for riding in the rain on bad roads for no reason!)

Surrounded by greenery!(P.C. Neeraj)

It was 23 km to Uttara jetty at the other end of the island, which Partha and I reached in under two hours. There, we discovered to our surprise that most of the riders who reached earlier than or with us, were all above 40 and experienced long distance cyclists, while most of the youngsters in the group were novice cyclists. So we had a good break while waiting for the rest, and everyone indulged in a lot of photography!

Uttara jetty - waiting for the rest to catch up

Having fun at the jetty (P.C. Neeraj)

When all the riders had reached the jetty, we climbed aboard the next vehicle ferry (operated by the government) and went across the Middle Strait to Kadamtala in about 15 minutes. The Middle Strait is a narrow channel, fringed on both coasts by beautiful mangroves, and is crocodile-infested! A bridge is being built across this channel, which will make the vehicle ferry a thing of the past very soon.

All cyclists and volunteers aboard the vehicle ferry, crossing Middle Strait from Baratang island to Kadamtala (Middle Andaman)

Before deboarding onthe Kadamtala side

From the other side, we rode into and past Kadamtala, for a distance of 7 km. The road was marginally better than in Baratang. The last 500 mts was a steep gradient, which I managed to ride without getting off the saddle. Here again, we had to load our bikes onto the truck, because we were about to cross another reserve forest for the Jarawas. The police officer in charge gave us a briefing on the dos and dont's while transiting the reserve. No convoy system is followed here, but two-wheeler and cyclists are not allowed.

Gate no.3 of the Jarawa reserve where we had to load up our bikes onto the truck.

The Police officer in charge of the check-post giving us a briefing on the dos and dont's inside the Jarawa reserve. He was sweet enough to suggest places to visit as he knew most of the riders were visiting the Andaman islands for the first time! (PC:Suresh)

The whole team of riders and volunteers at the Police checkpost at Gate no.3. (PC:Suresh)

The reserve ended in another 25 km. Ironically, this segment of the road had good tarmac! About 5 km after the reserve forest gate, we got down to have lunch in a village called Kaushalyanagar. Team Parikrama had packed lunch in reusable hot-cases, and we used steel plates and spoons to eat, thus reducing the amount of trash generated. Water and electrolyte sports drink were also being carried in reusable 20 ltr cans, and not single-use plastic bottles. Since all the riders and volunteers had their own bottles and sippers, this was a very smart thing to do, environmentally speaking.

Water and sports drinks in reusable large cans. No single use plastic bottles were used during the tour. (P.C. Neeraj)

The local villagers told us that the road ahead was really really bad, and could not be ridden on. Since it was a big task to take down all the bikes from the truck and then have to load them up again after only a few kilometer, it was decided that Partha and I would ride ahead (because we were carrying our bike carrier attached to the SUV, so unloading and loading our bikes was much easier than for the rest of the people) and a couple more experienced riders would follow in the SUV, to see how bad the road was. We managed to ride another 5 km to Bakultala junction before the road turned into a river of mud! We called up the waiting people at the lunch point, and asked them not to bother taking down the bikes. The two of us squeezed into the SUV along with Thanmaya, Shailesh and Srini and went on ahead to our hotel in Rangat town which was 8 km from Bakultala junction.The night halt was at Priya International (it is just a transit motel and certainly is not 'international' in any respect!), where the older set of riders bonded over beer and food!

Bonding over beer in a seedy bar!