Saturday, 26 July 2014

Hope Island - Tadpole in the Sea

As you zoom in on Google Earth, you notice a strip of land just east of Kakinada in the Bay of Bengal. A little more zoom reveals a tadpole shaped island with green tinge.  More research identifies the island as Hope Island named after the British engineer General Sir Arthur Cotton’s daughter Elizabeth Reid Cotton or Lady Hope. In the map you can see the tail end of the island meeting the river along the coast full of mangrove trees. This spit of sand is a natural barrier that provides Kakinada and the port the protection from cyclones and tidal waves making the port one of the safest harbours in India. Hope Island is spread over 715 acres and is formed from the deposits of sand and alluvium carried by Godavari. This is the point where Godavari flowing from Yanam empties into the Bay of Bengal.

Fishermen Village at Kakinada

The excitement metre is in the red zone! In the map the Hope Island looks tantalising close, but how do you get there? There seem to be no regular boat service to the islands. You had visited the fishermen village the previous evening and saw all these boats coming in after a day at sea catching fish. Maybe you can hire a boat for a couple of hours. Next morning you find yourself in the village negotiating to rent a boat. Deal is fixed at about 1600 rupees and you are instructed to come back at two in the afternoon.

Hold on to your pants..planks - Hope Island, here we come!

You are back in the village with your colleague and the enthusiastic car driver. Now your bravado is failing you. You do not know how to swim and are scared of water. On the beach you can spend hours watching the waves but it is a different deal being on a boat with no safety vests and a sputtering engine that might die anytime. You sit on the centre plank holding on to your dear life. After navigating the unseen trench below, the boat enters the Kakinada Bay and picks up speed. The engine grows louder until it settles at a pitch when it is impossible to listen to your fellow riders. The water is peaceful and the boat mercifully does not bounce much.

On the way to Hope Island

You decide to enjoy the moment a little. If the engine dies or the boat chooses this exact moment to get pierced, well too bad! Sea birds fly with you when suddenly they dive into the water and come out with fish. You just wonder where do the birds rest when they are done with the fishing. But then the land is not far away. You can swear that you saw fishes flying. They just come out of the water in a group and with a splash they dive in. What is happening here? Have you turned into the titular hero of the wonderful film Life of Pi? This is amazing. You just hope the tiger does not emerge out of the tarpaulin in the corner.

On the contraption like boat, the engine clatters away noisily. The boat skipper smokes with nonchalance and has a faraway look. He perhaps hope to sail into the unknown horizon one day. The boat thumps on the water and seemingly gets airborne every now and then. You know you are in the zone when everything around is flying - the boat, the fishes and the birds. Now there is barge tugged by a boat. Kakinada has receded and Hope Island is beyond the horizon. For a moment everyone is smiling on the boat. We are like a bunch of Somali pirates who have just sighted an oil tanker with Captain Philips on the horizon.

Hope Island Ahoy!

Hope Island Anchor Point - I am not getting down!

Hope Island - You are not leaving me behind, are you?

The island is just five kilometres from the coast. About 100 feet short of the island, the captain cuts off the engine. You wonder why. Well there was no jetty and this is as far as the boat can go or it runs the risk of running aground. There is no way that you are jumping in thigh high water and wading through. You tell them you are staying in the boat and they can go. Everybody gets off but you are not budging. So here you are bobbing up and down in the boat. Towards the west all you can see is water. Except for the waves everything is quite. For a moment you feel like Kevin Costner in Waterworld - the lone ranger on the water but of course you do not have fins growing from your feet. The boat floats with a small anchor holding it and you marooned on the boat.  You needed this quite time to summon courage. Long time ago you had gritted your teeth and landed on a small platform in the middle of a sea - a parasailing experience you still remember vividly. Getting off a boat on a jetty is hard enough and here you have to jump in water. Courage arrives just in time and soon you are walking towards the shore feeling proud of yourself.

Hope Island

The friends cheer you up as you join them. The island at this point is not much wide. What you want to see lies on the other side - you want to go to the eastern side of the island to greet the Bay of Bengal. There is not much on the island - few trees besides the mangrove clumps around the northern end, houses of fisherman that make up the small hamlet and few handpumps for water. You forgot to ask whether the handpump water is sweet or saline. Residents are quite surprised to see the visitors and you wave to them.

Hope Island - The Utopia

And then you come to the beach on the eastern side with the Bay of Bengal stretching before you. The beach is absolutely virgin. In fact there are no people and no shacks - everything is pretty and untouched. Clean sand stretches on both sides. Commercialization is not always good and this is the perfect example. Since there are no regular tourist boats coming to the island, this strip of sand has managed to retain its bucolic innocence. Reports indicate that tourism department has introduced boat services from the city’s Jawahar Jetty to Hope Island in December 2013. This could be the end of innocence for the beautiful island.

Hope Island - Da Beach

You find bliss by the sea. And here on Hope Island you find utopia. Blue skies reflect on the water. Water shimmers under the sun. Waves come in gentle succession caressing the sands. The sight is magical and the sounds musical. You can get used to this life. 

Red Crabs at Hope Island

Come On Give me Your Best Shot!

Just beyond on the beach you see a carpet of red flowers. But where did the flowers come from - there are no flower trees here. You walk towards this red shimmer and then voila - the red vanishes. You go quiet and then suddenly hundreds of red crabs start popping out of their sandy holes. You have not seen anything like this before. This is an amazing spectacle. The sea has its own life and here on the beach you can see it is colourful too.

Hope Island, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh - looking towards the Southern end

Hope Island, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh - Sands of Time

It is time to wrench away from this virgin piece of land in the middle of the sea. On the way back you walk around the tiny village. Reportedly there are 100 families living on the island in two settlements. It seems the captain of the boat is a resident of this island. The entire family is surprised and happy to see him. On the shore tiny sand ridges are formed with birds footprints. Some boats are moored waiting for good tidings.

Hope Island - The Ride back to Kakinada

Sunset Over Kakinada

The skipper’s family follows us to the boat to see him off.  And this time you actually enjoy the walk back to the boat. We wave to the family as the engine sputters back to life. It was quite an adventure and you are pleased with yourself. Hope Island fills you with hope - its people, its tranquility, its honesty. The sun sets on another beautiful evening over Kakinada as fishermen check on their nets for a new day is not far away

Getting There: Make Kakinada your base. Kakinada is a developed city with hotels of all budgets. Hope Island is about 5 kms into the sea. Tourism department has introduced boat services from the city’s Jawahar Jetty to Hope Island. Please find out the boat times.  Enjoy slice of Pondicherry about 32 kms south of Kakinada in Yanam. Visit the Coringa Mangroves on your way to Yanam.

Related Posts:

Yanam - Slice of Pondicherry

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Yanam - Slice of Pondicherry in Andhra Pradesh - A Photo Essay

You learn something new every day. While researching Kakinada, you hit upon a new surprise. This was nothing new - Andhra Pradesh has been surprising you on a regular basis these past few days. Apparently Pondicherry comprises of four districts spread over states of TN, Kerala and AP. Pondicherry or Puducherry as we all know was a French Colony established by folks famous for raising white flags everytime Germany invaded. The geographical spread of territory is similar to the Portuguese colonies that were spread out in Hooghly (yes, this was news again), Daman, Diu, Mumbai, few other places and of course Goa. It seems the Europeans set their colonies wherever their ships hit the rocks. Dutch too hit the rocks here in AP but that is another story!

We all know that Pondicherry is south of Chennai surrounded by Tamil Nadu. South of Pondicherry on Bay of Bengal is Pondicherry’s district Karaikal. Mahe is another district in Kerala on Arabian Sea. The district in AP is called Yanam and is just 32 kms from Kakinada. You have not visited main Pondicherry yet, so you are certainly excited to grab this chance to get a slice of Pondicherry in Yanam and on a hot Sunday evening you set out south from Kakinada. 

Welcome to Yanam

Yanam, all of 30 sq km, is also known as French Yanam even though it is a part of India since 1954. It is tantalizingly located on the Godavari just a few kms before Godavari merges into the Bay of Bengal along the Coringa mangroves. The drive from Kakinada is scenic as you encounter backwaters and related flora and fauna. A sign finally confirms that you have entered Yanam which is a part of Union Territory of Pondicherry. And here stands the majestic Lord Hanuman resplendent in bright colours.

Yanam - French Riviera

Yanam - The Godavari River

You get off just before the massive bridge over the Godavari. Below on the left is the paved riverfront. The beach named after Rajiv Gandhi is a centre of activity. The entire stretch is paved and is quite well maintained. Boats bob on the water. In the middle of the river, fisherman check on their nets.

After a hot day, the evening is pleasant and the crowds swarm the area. On the other side of the beach tall coconut trees sway in the breeze. On the water, aquatic activities are in full swing. Speed boats roar over the water and get airborne packing. You settle for something mild and ride the launch run by local tourism department.

The launch coasts languidly over the river. The river is quite wide here and to the east water stretches into the horizon as Godavari makes her way into Bay of Bengal. You soak in the atmosphere: soothing sight of water all around, the wake of the water behind the boat, the sun about to set over the bridge in the west, the drone of the engines lulling you into the nirvana zone.

Yanam - Rajiv Gandhi Beach

Yanam - Bharat Mata

Grudgingly you get off the boat for a walk on the beachfront. The main attractions on the riverfront are a series of huge statues - There are two elephants performing abhishek of a massive shivling; Bharat Mata stands proudly blessing everyone; and statue of Jesus Christ similar to the Christ The Redeemer at Rio lights up as dusk falls.

In the distance a boat with an orange sail glides over the water. In the west just beyond the bridge the sky gets painted in gentle sunset hues. The waves lap at the feet. Andhra Pradesh, here on the west coast of India is full of surprises. It is time you discover the little known charms of Yanam.

Getting There: Make Kakinada your base. Kakinada is a developed city with hotels of all budgets. Yanam is 32 kms south of Kakinada. Take a boat ride to Hope Island from Kakinada and visit the Coringa Mangroves on your way to Yanam.

Related Links:
Hope Island