The meeting in the middle of the Indian ocean
I was sitting chatting and drinking a cold beer with an attractive Australian woman I had just met in a bar on Havelock Island a few days before Christmas in 2005. The low-tech bar we were drinking in had been discreetly made out of Bamboo and it had been carefully hidden from view and was sheltered beneath tall palm trees that were heavily laden with coco-nuts, just metres from the sea.
Havelock is one of the smaller Islands that make up the Anderman and Nicobar islands, the remote archipelago that sits in the middle of the Bay of Bengal between India, to the west, and Burma to the northeast. It had taken me five long days and very boring nights on board a former Scandinavian owned ship, which instead of moving freight around Europe, is these days used to transport Indian passengers and a few western travellers twice a month from Chennai to Port Blair on south Anderman. After a couple of nights in the capital of Port Blair I took a connecting ferry on to the island of Havelock.
The remoteness of these islands is their attraction, unspoilt by tourism as yet, with permits needed for all foreign travellers – you really have to want to go there and also have the time to do so.
As we continued drinking, our talk, as always with foreigners on long term journeys, eventually graduated from, where have you been and where are you going on to and we talked about what seemed like passed ‘normal’ home lives.
I then began explaining in more depth some of the reasons for my long term travels across India and explained that I had first travelled to India with my grandfather on a trip to Mumbai and Bangalore in 1999. I explained that even though he was 85 years of age he still had a real zeal for life and for travel. The Australian woman looked at me in a rather strange way and said to me “I was sitting in this bar last night and I was told a story about a grandfather and his grandson who had once travelled from England back to Bangalore”. She told me that the man, who was from New Zealand, would be in the bar later that evening and I should meet him.
So, later that evening, I was eventually introduced to a man from New Zealand, who as it happened, was the very same man that I and my Grandpa had met in the Victoria hotel in Bangalore in November 1999 and he was so impressed with my grandpa that he often told the tale of meeting this 85 year old traveller and his grandson. Unusually he didn’t seem at all surprised to see me- as he put it the world is an increasingly small place.
The following day – Christmas day – I rang home to pass on the news that on the remote archipelago of the Anderman and Nicobar islands there were still people talking about grandpa.
Jason Scott Tilley