Why Cellular Jail in India is more than a National Memorial

I was born in post Independent India and grew up in the 80’s of Kolkata. Storytelling afternoons with a dadu (grand uncle) who lived with us were nearly always about Indian Independence. In between the stories of his childhood that revolved around ponds and trees in his small village he spoke of his teacher and a friend who had joined the Swadeshi movement to free India from the Imperial Raj. The freedom heroes he spoke about seemed to be men next door with a flaming passion for the motherland. They endured deep torture in the hands of the British masters for rebellion and heroism. Many were incarcerated in different prisons across the country. There was one Prison in a distant land, somewhere in the middle of the ocean in Andaman Island often referred as “Sazaa e Kala Paani” the prison sentence across the seas from where few or rather none returned. This infamous prison is Cellular Jail in Port Blair which was our first stop during a recent visit to Andaman.Cellular Jail in Port Blair

Why the name “Cellular Jail”

There are exhibition halls on either side of the entrance where pictures, memorabilia and stories related to the inmates and their struggles within the Cellular Jail are displayed. The miniature model of Cellular Jail encased in a glass box caught my attention. The building was designed like the spokes of the bicycle with 7 spokes or buildings comprising 3 Floors with rows of tiny rooms or cells. The guards kept watch over all the 696 cells from the tower in the centre of the spokes. These 15 ft by 7 feet cells had a small window located high on the wall and the inmates were served food through a gap on the wall. The Cellular Jail was constructed over a period of 10 years between 1896 and 1906 by the rebels of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 with bricks brought from Burma.Cellular Jail in Port Blair

Walking around the Cellular Jail Complex

The entrance opens out into a courtyard which is in between 2 spoke like buildings. The first thing that strikes is the demonstrated image of the man being sent to the gallows. Cellular Jail in Port BlairThere is a small workshed in the centre with life like installations demonstrating the day in a life of an inmate. It was torture, torture and more torture on the whims and fancy of the British Master.Cellular Jail in Port Blair

I could feel anger well up within the pit of my stomach for such demonstrated inhuman behavior.They were flogged, chained or given nearly impossible laborious tasks of churning oil or pounding husks to extract fibre. It is humanely impossible to manually churn 30 pounds of coconut oil and 10 pounds of mustard oil in a day.

I paid a quick visit to the area demarcated as the erstwile gallows and stepped into the building which was one of the spokes. As I walked along the long corridor, I peeped into the small cells. The lone windows perched high up on the wall was barely enough to get a glimpse of the sky, to hear the bird song and know the season. At the end of the corridor there are names of inmates and the states they belonged to inscribed on a pillar and along the walls.Cellular Jail in Port Blair

This was repeated on all the floors and most of them seemed to belong to Bengal. The known unknown names on these walls may just be a statistic for most but without their supreme sacrifice and contribution we may have experienced a different future.

On the 2nd Floor, I visited the room where Veer Savarkar spent his days of imprisonment. His pictures still adorning the wall and a few floral homages around. The airport in Port Blair is named after him in memory of his contribution to Indian Independence. Incidentally, his brother Babarao Savarkar was also confined in the cellular jail at the same time but they had no contact. The next level is the terrace which opens out towards the sea. The cool sea breeze was pleasant on my face and partially succeeded in diverting my attention away from the anger that was welling up as I pondered over the past. I forced myself to focus on the sunset instead which seemed to have a calming effect; the end of something giving way to the new and a day consigned to history

Brave Sons of India in Cellular Jail

Some of the famous and popular names were Batukeshwar Dutt; Barin Ghosh, Sohan Singh, Vaman Rao Joshi, Biren Sen, Jatish Pal, Yogendra Shukla, Nand Gopal, Maulana Ahmadullah, Diwan Singh, Fazl – e- Haq Khairabadi and many more. Ref Wikipedia 

Cellular Jail in Port Blair

Cellular Jail ~ Light and Sound Show

Later that evening; during the Light and Sound show; the anger that had taken shape was further aggravated after hearing the narration of various incidents. The prisoners were denied the right to relieve themselves and had to seek permission which was mostly denied. Some prisoners succumbed to losing their mind and some revolted against the inhuman torture and went on a fast they were force fed to death. The force feeding led to choked windpipes and food and water entering the lungs. Mohan Kishore Namdas, Mohit Maitra and Mahavir Singh succumbed to death as a consequence of this inhuman act. I had already seen their statues in the park opposite to the Cellular Jail Complex. My eyes welled up in the dark and almost everyone reached out to the edges of their saree, dupatta or handkerchief. Some of the inmates surrendered with their lives under extreme torture with on their lips as the dying wish and yet others just lived through it to see the Tiranga our National Flag fly higher than the Union Jack.The sacrifice of these young men confined here and countless others led to the hoisting of our tricolor on 15th August, 1947 !! The evening after, was one of gratitude; looking up at the sky and thanking the stars to have been born in a free country and the right to live my own way.

  • Light and Sound Shows are held for an hour twice in the evening at 6pm and 7.15 pm. The Second show is in English only on 3 days during the week Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Priced at Rs 50/- per person; tickets are obtained from the counter at the entrance. Free seating so queue up early to grab a good place.
Visit to Cellular Jail is a Pilgrimage

Cellular Jail in Port Blair and Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar are perhaps the only 2 memorials which connect to Indian Independence. Rest of them are more historical in nature with architectural significance. A Visit to Cellular Jail in Port Blair is more like a pilgrimage with respect and thanksgiving for presenting us a free India. It was dedicated to the nation as a National Memorial in 1979 by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. 

For the children of the 21st century Cellular Jail is just another National Memorial. Born several years after Independence, they do not relate to slavery and subjugation. Independence Day is like any other day but to fly the flag, to perform a drill and sing the anthem and 15th August 1947 is just another date in History. We need to evoke passion and thanksgiving in them for the men and women who gave up their today for our tomorrow. I wish to see more school trips from mainland India to Cellular Jail in Andamans for a first hand brush with history and the very existence of post independent India.

Travel Tip
  • Cellular Jail is in the heart of Port Blair and is easily accessible by car and auto. The adjoining park is a must visit where life like statues of freedom heroes have been installed.
  • Open all days except National Holidays; from 9am to 4.45pm. it will take about an hour to go around. Recommend hiring a guide to go around to get a perspective on history
  • Entry tickets can be purchased at the gate. Currently it is Rs 30/- per person. They are reluctant to accept cash (good) and hence be ready to buy with card or e-wallets
  • The views from the terrace are gorgeous and would highly recommend climbing the flight of stairs.
  • Light and Sound Shows are held for an hour twice in the evening at 6pm and 7.15 pm. The Second show is in English only on 3 days during the week Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Priced at Rs 50/- per person; tickets are obtained from the counter at the entrance. Free seating so queue up early to grab a good place.
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10 Must Do’s in Port Blair the Gateway to Andamans

Port Blair is the gateway to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The first thing that strikes about Port Blair is the clean roads, dust bins located at frequent intervals on road sides and a very conscious civic administration engaged in continuous upkeep. Located in South Andaman islands, Port Blair a little more than 16 sq kms in area is also the capital of the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar and the only town in the entire area. Once dreaded as Kala Pani from where very few returned, today Port Blair is a travelers paradise.While planning a trip to the emerald green waters of Andaman every traveler needs to spend a day or two around Port Blair to get the essence of the island. A list of 10 Must Do’s and Must Visits is detailed here along with a Port Blair Sightseeing Itinerary.

Best Time to Visit:

Port Blair and Andaman Islands can be visited all through the year though the monsoon months of June to August may be a little difficult to navigate through the islands. November to February is known for great weather, clear skies and calm seas. Temperatures through the year hover around 30 to 35 degrees

Around Port Blair:

The squeaky clean roads are often winding down the port or along the coast. The pace of life is slow and content, no one seems to be in a tearing hurry to reach anywhere which is a far cry from the cities in main-land. The old wooden houses with tin roofs are giving way to concrete structures but shopping malls and multiplex theatres are yet to make an appearance. You can easily be taken behind by 20 years if not for the cars and mobile phones that seem to be keeping up with the times. The city goes to sleep early so there is not much of night life either.Port Blair Sightseeing - Fore Shore Road

While you can hire a vehicle for the day; it is very convenient to hire autos from one point to another specially if you are a solo or a small group of 2 or 3. It works out inexpensive and convenient.

Cellular Jail:

If there is one historical building in the country where every brick on the wall has a story to tell then it has to be Cellular Jail in Port Blair. Constructed over a period of 10 years by convicts for the convicts under the Imperial Raj. The freedom strugglers were incarcerated here under various charges of treason and have been subject to inhuman torture. The small cells, the names of people who have served their terms, the installation art exhibits to portray the torture brought tears to my eyes. Most of us born in post independent India have been fortunate due to their sacrifices. The premises are open through the day and also host a Light and Sound show in the evening  narrating the story of the inmates of Cellular Jail.Port Blair Sightseeing - Cellular Jail

Chatham Island: Take a peek Inside Asia’s Oldest Saw Mill

Chatham is a small island at the edge of Port Blair which was earlier connected by a wooden bridge now replaced by a concrete bridge. Asia’s oldest saw mill is located on this island and is a must see spot during a trip to Port Blair. Beyond the wood processing the mill is testimony to the changing faces of history right from the colonial settlers to the arrival of Japanese during World War II and finally being an integral part of India.Port Blair Sightseeing -Chatham Saw Mill


There are nearly 7 museums in Port Blair and each one with a distinct theme. I could manage only Samudrika which is catered to by Indian Navy. The essence of the islands including tribals, marine life, history is displayed in a nutshell in this museum. I loved the section on corals and infact spent a long time admiring their natural beauty. I also wanted to visit the Anthropological Museum and Fisheries museum which have a great collection about the tribes and marine life in the islands but could not squeeze them in my schedule. Port Blair Sightseeing -Samudrika Museum

Ross Island: Walk around and hear the Ruins Narrate the History of a Bygone Era

Located at an arms length away from Port Blair, Ross Island was referred to as the Paris of the East by the English who settled there for decades. The ruins of the life they left behind after the earthquake that nearly split the island. In recent times, Ross Island bore the brunt of the tsunami and protected Port Blair from mass destruction. Plan a visit towards the evening to walk around, relax with the deer and peacocks under the coconut trees or simply watch waves lashing on the broken edges. Complete the visit with the laser based Light and Sound Show. Most tourists visit in the morning but I would strongly recommend an evening trip to get the most out of it.Port Blair Sightseeing -Ross Island

Corbyns Cove Beach

There is so much to see and do in Port Blair that Corbyns Cove is often left side stepped. This is a small cosy beach lined with palms and coconut trees. Actually, the drive to this beach from Cellular Jalong the coast is very scenic. I sat on an abandoned tree and watched people jump in and out of water along with the mild waves. A few water sports are offered here but not as much variety as in the different islands.This is a nice stop gap during  a busy day around town.

Wandoor Beach and Jolly Buoy Island ~ Perfect Day Trip in search of Corals in clear blue waters

These are a part of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park which comprises of several other islands. This is the best place to view the corals through the crystal clear water. The ship ride towards the open sea where the island is located is simply spectacular. The color of water changes to different shades of blue and the green groves on the numerous other islands just add to the beauty. The beautiful corals and snorkeling in the clear waters is a prized experience. A must do half day trip from Port Blair while visiting Andaman Islands. Port Blair Sightseeing -Jolly Buoy

Chidiya Tapu:

As the name suggests; this is the famous bird island about 20 kms away from Port Blair to view the the spectacular sunset in the sea. I had to postpone Chidiya Tapu for a later visit due to paucity of time but the pictures that I have seen and the narratives that I have heard make me feel that I have indeed missed a memorable sight. This picture is taken from Fore Shore Road in Port Blair for illustration purpose.

Day Trip to Baratang:  Passing by Jarawa Land for a tryst with nature

The claim to fame for Baratang is the limestone caves, the parrot island and the mud volcanoes all located on different islands in the vicinity. The route passes through the Jarawa Reserve Forest area where the vehicles have to move in a convoy without stopping and if luck is on the side then you can see the Jarawas clothed in flaming red moving about their daily routine. The limestone caves are like the ones in other parts of India but the boat ride through mangroves is very exciting. Parrot Island is not accessible during a day trip since the birds are best seen in the evening during their home coming. Baratang is also a stop over for tourists going towards the more rustic Diglipur in North Andaman. Day Trip costs may be Rs 5000 upwards depending on vehicle type and capacity.Port Blair Sightseeing - Andaman Baratang Mangrove


Port Blair has quite a few restaurants catering to vegetarians and variety of other cuisines from the South, North and Bengalis but surprisingly not a thriving sea food eatery joints. The road side carts cater to a few fish items, rolls and chaats. I had a few meals in Megapode where I was staying, a thali in the Bengali Restaurant near the Junglee Ghat area, some roadside chaat grabs and finally found my bliss in Light House Restaurant near the Water Sports Complex. The crab and the fish fry both were good and remains one of the best meals I have had during my one week trip to the Islands.


Fancy Shopping Malls have not yet made their way into Port Blair. The main market area is Aberdeen Bazaar located along the many roads and bye lanes that lead away from Clock Tower. Most of these businesses are run by the early settlers in Andaman Islands who came primarily from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. I did some window shopping of clothes and domestic ware which were mostly items that you would find in mainland India. The T shirts with pictures of Andaman are better priced in the Islands. I passed by the flower shops near the temple; the fresh smell of jasmine filling my senses; a little further down the fruit seller was busy stacking up red apples while fresh and tasty samosas were being fished out of hot oil across the road. One bite into the samosas, reminded me of the taste back home in Calcutta and I moved on.

Port Blair Itinerary:

This is a suggested itinerary; plan the days as per interest and time in hand.

Day 1 – Arrive by afternoon.  Visit Cellular Jail and proceed to Ross Island by 4pm. Else take a short trip to Corbyn’s Cove and return to Cellular Jail for Light and Sound Show. If you are on time for Ross Island then stay back for Light and Sound Show

Day 2 – Jolly Buoy ( 7am to 2pm). Spend the remaining day in Chidiya Tapu, Ross Island or Museums

Day 3 – Baratang (4am to 3pm) ; Spend the evening in shopping

Extend your trip in Andaman visiting Havelock and Neil Island and indulging in Adventure Activity

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Inside Asia’s Oldest Saw Mill in Chatham, Andaman

My neighbors in Kolkata had this small folding table in their home which caught my fascination as a child. That shining piece of sturdy wood was their prized possession which was made in Chatham and gifted to them. I would often touch it with my bare hands secretly hoping to possess one, a little lower may be which would be the ideal writing table for me and my poetry. I was ten years old and with my limited geography knowledge all I knew was that Chatham was somewhere in Andaman deep in the Ocean where I could not reach easily. Several years later, I was finally visiting Andaman and Chatham Saw Mill figured high on my list. I could not find that writing table etched in my memory but I did see the place where they are made.

One of the Must Do activities while visiting Port Blair is to include a visit to Chatham Saw Mill

Chatham Saw Mill

Chatham Saw Mill was established in 1883 and more than a century later it is still functioning as Asia’s Oldest Saw Mill under the aegis of the government. The saw mill is named after the island Chatham where it is located. Chatham is like an extension of Port Blair connected by a wooden bridge made in the saw mill which was later replaced by a concrete one. It is the gateway to Mt Harriet and other smaller islands.

Visitor Timings:

The Saw Mill and the museum inside is open to the Public all through the year from Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 14.30 hours in the afternoon. The saw mill is closed for production between 1st to 15th April every year for annual stock taking, budgeting and planning. I visited during this period, could move around but not witness the actual wood processing in the mill.Chatham Saw Mill

History of the Saw Mill:

The saw mill was established in 1883 to cater to the growing need for wood in the area as the island settlement in Port Blair slowly expanded. The Bristish also used the mill to process huge amount of timber for London, New York and various other Europen cities. It is interesting to know that the crimson walls of Buckingham Palace in London is made from the Padouk wood of the Andaman Islands processed in Chatham Saw Mill. Chatham Saw Mill

The Japanese attacked the Mill in March 1942 which led to the mass killing of unsuspecting workers. The Japanese made bunkers inside the saw mill  for 3 years between 1942 and 1945 using it as a base during World War II. One of the bunkers can still be seen just after the memorial monument.

Around the Saw Mill:

I opted for a guided tour of the Mill. We walked past the wagon which was used in the early years to carry wood from one workshop to another. I could imagine the yester-year scene of the wagon chugging past.Chatham Saw Mill

After a brief visit to the museum we walked through the Padouk Wood Storage area to the far corner where the logs were brought in from the jetty by boat into the mill.Chatham Saw Mill

They are soaked in sea water for several days before processing in the mill.Chatham Saw Mill

Then they are sorted and finally cut in different sizes in the different machines within the mill and given finishing touches on the assembly line. One of the machines imported from US was more than a hundred years old. Chatham Saw Mill Chatham Saw Mill

Museum and Souvenir Shop

The small museum within the mill complex has an interesting collection of artefacts about the island, flora, fauna as well as pictoral information on how the mill was built more than a hundred years ago. There was a preserved dolphin, old mariner’s compass and the skull of a sea cow among samples of wood. Chatham Saw MillThere were several intricately carved and aesthetically designed items made from Padouk Wood on display. Chatham Saw MillRight next is a small area with trees (Pillar of the Planet) and a lifelike wooden elephant and crocodile on display with the message of living in harmony with nature with due respect and regard.

Guided Visit

I would strongly recommend a guided visit which would not take more than 45 minutes. Ganesh my guide was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and made it interesting for me with tit bits specially since the mill was not functioning that day.Chatham Saw Mill

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Ruins narrate the Story of a Bygone Era in Ross Island, Andaman

I first heard of Ross Island when Tsunami struck the Indian shores on a fateful morning in December, 2004. There were stories of Ross Island taking it all on its chest and protecting Port Blair from the onslaught of the natural disaster that would have otherwise wiped out Port Blair and most of the population of Andaman. The name stuck in my head and while planning the trip to Andaman, I knew I had to visit Ross to see the great eastern wall along Ferrari Beach which stood guard for the Aberdeen (the jetty in Port Blair across Ross Island)Ross Island

How to Reach

Ross Island can be seen from Port Blair. Ferry services are available from Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex from around 8.30am in the morning and there after every hour until 4pm. Ross Island can be visited in isolation or as a 2 island (Ross+North Bay ) or a 3 Island (Ross +North Bay+ Viper) package. The cost of a ticket for Ross Island is around Rs 200/- and the package costs are about Rs 550/- for 2 Islands or Rs 750 for 3 islands.

Around Ross Island

Our Ferry docked in Ross Island around 9am in the morning and were given an hour to tour around. After paying the mandatory Rs 30/- access fee, we stepped into the island maintained by the Indian Navy since 1979 and opened up to tourists in 1993. I preferred to walk around the well marked trails to get closer to the ruins. However, there is a gold cart service that takes visitors for a guided trip around the island for Rs 75/- I would highly recommend that to senior citizens or anyone not so keen to walk.

I walked through the coconut grove towards the erstwhile bakery, swimming pool and water purification plant. The buildings which throbbed with life until about the great earthquake of 1941 was now in ruins. As I walked ahead, a pea hen majestically crossed my path leading me towards the subordinates club which seemed like a deserted barrack. Hearty conversations, sounds of tinkling wine glasses, throaty laughter and foot steps of ball dance from a hundred years ago are lost in those bricks in the annals of time. I continued walking ahead until I reached the church where a group of deer stood guard. The structure still intact, the sound of wind and waves made up for the missing church bells.

A few steps ahead and I could see the Ferrari Beach down below. It was a pleasant sight through the trees with tourists romancing with the mellow waves. On my right the large uprooted trees that were hanging from the ledge towards the beach bore silent testimony of that fateful morning when Tsunami ripped through the Eastern Coast of India.

I walked along the rugged high path that was nearly parallel to the beach occasionally stealing glances towards the varying shades of blue that gleamed under the morning sunlight. The fluttering of wings through the trees forced me to look up and there it was the state bird Andaman Wood Pigeon rocking on a branch.

I kept walking till I reached the Japanese bunker at the far end. The small structure and the short narrow door was befitting of the Japanese frame. On my way back, I joined the party with the deer and peacock prancing around in the garden. I had to literally chase the peacock for a while until it found its pride of place on a wall and obliged me with a ramp pose.

It was almost 10am and had to literally race back for the ferry pausing for a few seconds near the pond where the lotus blooms. I controlled my urge for a quick swing in the park for kids and headed straight to the jetty. It was hard to say bye to such beautiful natural surroundings. I wish I could spend a little more time around this island which was referred to as the “Paris of the East” by the British settlers.

History of Ross Island

Ross Island known as Chong-Ekee-Bood in local Andamanese dialect was named after British Marine Surveyor Daniel Ross. After the great uprising and Sepoy mutiny of 1857; 200 Indian freedom fighters were brought into Ross Island from mainland India. They were engaged in clearing out vegetation and constructing settlement for the British, the ruins of which can be seen now. The island buzzed with activity in the clubs and bazaars specially in the evenings when the island was lit up resembling a ship from afar. Life was merry and good for the British settlers in Ross Island as their  home away from home was evolving as the Paris of the East. The spotlessly clean island which was the head quarters for the British was ripped apart by an earthquake in 1941 during World War II. The Japanese quickly took over as the British retreated and used it as their base during World War.

Best Time to Visit
  • The island is closed on Wednesday every week so plan your trip accordingly.
  • Though I visited in the morning, I would recommend visiting Ross Island in the late afternoon and cover the Son et Lumiere (Sound and Light) show as well. A ferry leaves around 4pm for Ross Island and returns by 7pm to the jetty in Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex.
North Bay Island ~ To Go or Not to Go

The only purpose of visiting North Bay Island is for the adventure activities. After a week long tour of different islands in Andaman, I realised that this trip could have been avoided. I would rather spend the time in other places of interest.

Guide to Choosing Adventure Activity in Andaman

The activities held here is also done in other islands. If any of those is in your itinerary, consider dropping this island visit from your itinerary

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