Saturday, July 25, 2009

India - The magical Aldabra

Recently My good friend in Thanjavur who is an expert in ships and other craft sent me two sheets of the Aldabra turtle stamps issued by India Post last year. Aldabra brings back very happy memories and I thought you gals and guys won't mind sharing these experiences with me. So here goes....
I had the good fortune of visiting the little known island of Aldabra in the Indian Ocean in 1987 when I was commanding an Indian Navy Fleet Tanker (INS Deepak). Aldabra is a couple of hundred kilometers from Port Victoria in the Seychelles group of islands. INS Deepak was equipped with two Alouette helicopters. And naturally the Captain made full use of these ;-)) On this June morning, I, along with another officer of mine, went to the island in one of the choppers. We searched all around the small island for a suitable place to land. Unfortunately, the island was covered with coconut trees, a few huts and a beautiful silver coloured beach but no safe hard ground to land. To avoid the possibility of getting the chopper bogged down on that lovely beach, I told my pilot to hover about 10 feet above the sand, so that we could lower a rope ladder. The place selected was near a few huts and a bigger brick and mortar walled and palm leaf-covered roof. Which we later found to be an office, cum dining room, cum storeroom, cum everything really. And thus, we scrambled down the rope ladder on to that fabulous beach and a soon to be an experience of a lifetime!
We walked down to the largest of the three huts nearby, and met with an elderly, weather-beaten garrulous old man who was the caretaker (?) of the Island. He immediately welcomed us and started telling us all about Aldabra. He said that a boat from the main island of Seychelles arrives once in 2 or 3 months with water and other provisions. This supply was dependant on weather conditions and that they were not happily provided at that moment of time. He took us to his dining room, where he regaled us with stories of his seafaring days along the East African coast on tramp ships. While he was narrating, we were breakfasting on lumps of bread, luncheon meat, fried eggs and a delicious South African red wine to wash it all down. I may add here that all the tinned food, fruits, wines and liquor were made in South Africa and were of very good quality, as our palates could have vouched for. He also told us that visitors to this island were mainly from Germany, France and Italy who came in small groups of one to ten people. On that day, there were only two young French tourists - a young lady and her boyfriend. These were tourists who came to the island to soak up the sun and get away from the civilized world. They learnt to shed their inhibitions almost as soon as they set foot on this fabulous island. We felt like doing the same, but protocol had to be maintained. But the tourists I mentioned earlier were as free as must have been Adam and Eve in there utopian Garden of Eden. Inhibitions of any kind were anathema to them, as we were to witness by and by.
We were then shown his visitors or logbook, where entries dating back to more than a 100 years were recorded. This book had all the data one could need to write the history of the Island. Names of visitors, the staff, when and what had been received, of storms and bad weather et al. I went through the pages and was surprised that the only Indian sounding name was that of one Mr. Nair (unfortunately his address was blurred due to some coffee or tea, but, I could make out the word Cochin) who had come to the Island about 70 years earlier. So we promptly recorded our names, addresses and have course our impressions. The caretaker then took us around the island. It’s main inhabitants were huge tortoises that live for tens of decades. We got ourselves photographed with my chopper crew’s camera, sitting on the backs of these gigantic but docile creatures. We swam in the crystal clear waters and lay down on the unspoilt, silvery beach and gazed and wondered at Nature's bounty to mankind. We also drank the pure and sweet coconut water from coconuts freshly cut from the luxuriant but shorter coconut palm trees. As we were preparing to leave, the young French couple I mentioned earlier came to talk to us. We spoke about them, the Island and us. And they told us about the marvelous time they were having, and generously invited us to share their hut while we were around. An offer we declined – but Oh so very reluctantly. Oh! But I forgot to mention that they were totally bare as Mother Nature intended all of us to be - I mean they had on, only their first birthday suits. I did say something about no inhibitions earlier, didn’t I? We finally called back our chopper and bid the islanders a fond and affectionate farewell.
I sent a couple of more chopper trips to the island with a few more of my officers and men. On these trips also went wheat flour, rice, ghee, fresh fruit and Jerry cans (the caretaker's) of fresh water. And our Good Wishes that the simple folk on that island continued living happily and comfortably. And soon, the sun set, we weighed anchor and set sail for our next port of call, namely Mombassa, followed by Dar-es-Salaam, where more adventure awaited. But, that's another story. Aldabra, was and still is, a fresh and refreshing memory.
(Please click images for enlarged view)

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