"Okay everyone!" declared the Big One holding up his hand for silence.
Everyone in the room stopped and looked around to see who had interrupted their spirited discussion.
"As usual, we have not reached a consensus about the destination for these holidays which is just a month away. In that case, we might as well stay back and enjoy the dust and traffic jams here."
" But you promised me one! After an entire year of stressful house-wifery!" objected his wife first.
"No! And I told my friends we are going on an exotic holiday!" butt in his College Going daughter.
His niece, all of nine plump years, looked at him with doleful eyes threatening to bawl her disappointment out in high wet decibels.
"Hah! I knew this would happen!" came from his Know It All nephew lounging on the floor with his lanky limbs getting in everyone's way.
The room once again erupted into a cacophony with everyone voicing their concerns. How can a family of myriad opinionated selves ever agree on anything tangible! If one was looking for adventure, the other wanted to loaf around a beach, the third vetoed it since she didn't want to get tanned before her college reopened. The Elderlies didn't want to go abroad for gastronomic reasons. But the most abominable of all 'wants' was the one to live in a tree house! A long nurtured fantasy and vestige of "Phantom"comic days. That one came from his brother, Young One.
The Big One looked around exasperated. His old Mother walked up to him slowly and said,"My Friend's sister's grand daughter works for a travel company called Yatri something..."
"Yatra dot com, you mean. But they book only journey tickets and hotels, I think."
"Let me speak to her in the kirtan today, baba."
That evening, she came back with F's S's Gd's number and gave it to Big One. Two days later Big One found himself in F's S's Gd's office at Yatra dot com pouring out his woes. He looked at this young girl wondering whether she at least identified that there was a problem, let alone figure a way out.
"Sir, you do seem to have a problem there." as though reading his mind, " and I've spoken to some of our experts and they have come up with an option. It does look like it'll suit you all!'
"It's relatively new in the travel circuit and so very few are aware of it. There is this island in the Andamans which was recently permitted to be developed as tourism property by an environmental NGO. Well, it has the usual snorkeling, deep sea diving, limestone caves, back waters. Ummm... it has few shacks on the beach itself and....a few tree houses!" she said scanning the monitor on her desk.
The Big One's heart leapt. What! They found a place for his cantankerous family! Thanking her profusely he discussed the travel details and made the arrangements before the place filled up. He already loved this place. No mobile network, no TV or internet - total electronic detoxification! Ah! They were to tank up on bird songs, lapping sea waves, rustling leaves...
"Can we please behave like a well groomed family..."
The Big One's voice was lost in the cacophony of excitement and grumblings of his family.He gave it up. No point behaving like a class monitor when his family decidedly turned into kindergarten kids. Their motley group of Growing Kids, Grown Up Kids and the Elderlies bundled into a waiting vehicle taking them to the Port Blair jetty from the airport, finally on their way to Tsol Erutan which was to be a three hours sailing into the sea.
The family chattered on non-stop. Once out in the sea, they became silent. Either they were tired or the magic of the clear sky and the open sea tied their tongues in place. Faces broke out into smiles and even the reluctant ones wiped that grumpy look off their face as the destination came into sight. The sea had many shades of blue with the clearest view of the sandy bed near the shore.
Thick vegetation sprouted from the tantalizing white shoreline. A few neat shacks dotted the beach. Jumping off the boat on to the pier and towing the luggage they followed a shaded path into the island Tsol Erutan. Coconut trees, ficus trees, hibiscus shrubs flanked them as they reached a clearing. Everyone gasped!
Surrounded by the thickets was a clearing with few ancient banyan trees with sturdy roots making many columns from the branches that spread out wide in all directions.
Wait!The best is yet to come! On these branches were gracious tree houses with thatched roofs, wooden structure and waiting to host the weary and the tired! The tree foliage screened them from a 'bare it all' view. Every one looked at Young One and who in turn looked at the Big One with a dazed look that reflected a recap of all the "Phantom"comic days. He looked liked he was going to beat his chest and do a "Me Tarzan you Jane".
Everyone exclaimed and twittered with amazement, silencing the feathered inhabitants of the trees.This indeed was going to be an exciting holiday! Much to the relief of the Elderlies, a wooden stairs led to the tree house from behind, taking care of their tired limbs and old bones. Each house had two bedrooms, a lounge and an attached bath, thankfully with modern plumbing!
The caretaker appeared from behind the bushes wearing a huge welcoming grin and a hat. He showed us our 'nests' and said breakfast would be served in the dining shack just beyond the Banyan Line. Happy voices filled the trees punctuated with squeals of excited discoveries. Young One was particularly beaming having discovered a pretty view from his 'nest'!
Soon hunger pangs speeded up all freshening activities and the Family found themselves tucking into a sumptuous feast of fresh fruits, tender coconut water, cool sandwiches and steaming idlis.
"Welcome to Tsol Erutan!" boomed a voice. Everyone jumped to look at the source of this voice, during their various phases of munching and gulping. He was Dr Borah, the head of the NGO working in the island, researching the ecosystem and preserving it. A round of introduction followed before he gave some advice on island living.
" Do enjoy every bit of your time here in Tsol Erutan and take back lovely memories. But remember to respect every inhabitant of this island be it a plant, a snail or a monkey because they are the hosts and we are merely guests. Leave the island as you found it and that means not to take back even a shell. Do have fun but not at the cost of inflicting pain on others. Cheer up! I didn't mean to sound like a wet blanket! Raghu here will take you for your snorkeling session now and all the other activities planned for you."
"Errr... could we come and see you sometime and your work?" asked Big One.
"Sure! Only I hope you don't get bored" he said.
Everyone scrambled to the beach while the Elderlies sank into the hammocks nearby. And into the lapping aquamarine colours with every shingle visible, waded the others fitted with snorkeling equipment and life jackets. Colourful fishes swam around the corals with an orange, pink or a blue starfish here and there. It was a different world altogether- a world that followed its own decorum quietly.
Snorkeling With Raghu
Everything else seemed like an intrusion into this different cosmos altogether. Smiles brightened up
every snorkeler's face as they came out of their session. The children ran to their Elderlies who were dozing off in the hammocks. Pulling them towards the water with excited chatter of the colourful fishes and corals they said,
" You must snorkel!"
"But I am too old for it and besides I can't swim!"
"You don't need to swim. And you wear a life jacket and they guide you."
"Hey Ram! At this age! What if I die?"
"You won't. If you do,be happy. You would die having seen a slice of heaven. Don't be such an 'oldie'!" and so ended the argument with the Elderlies gingerly testing the waters and the apparatus.
And so the first day rolled by between lazing around, inspecting each other's 'nest', building sand castles about which the Grown Ups seemed more interested digging a moat here and adding a turret there, and walking along the beach into the sunset.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, all were up and down at the beach waiting for the first deep sea diving lessons. Snorkeling had fuelled the desire for the daring in the reluctant ones. While the ones looking for adventure were revved up. Raghu showed the breathing techniques, the under water communicating signals and the uses of the diving suit and flippers. This was all to be for the day.
"There's a surprise trip for you after breakfast" he said.
No cajoling could make him divulge it. Soon after breakfast, all started on a trek into the island with packed lunch and a naturalist from Dr Borah's team leading the way.
The trek progressed into a dense area with thick green canopies and blanketed atmosphere broken by bird and insect sounds. A stream wound around with thick trees on both sides. At places these trees had roots from the trunks pointing towards the stream.
"Notice these strange roots?" asked the naturalist
" Well! They are kind of strange! Like they are trying to find each other across the stream" observed the College Girl.
"They are on their way to making natural living bridges" said the naturalist.
"Sorry, what was that?" asked Young One.
The naturalist looked around and said,"There are some indigenous people here who are said to have been inhabiting this place ever since the African continent broke up and drifted here. Don't look alarmed. They are harmless and do not mix with outsiders. And we do not have permission to be in contact with them. They are protected from modern civilization."
"Just like the Jarawa tribe" observed the Young One.
"They help to build these living bridges by pointing the roots of the rubber tree towards each other across the stream" continued the naturalist, "As they grow over the years, they are initially braided with each other and left to grow and strengthen."
"I thought these were found only in Meghalaya " quipped Mr Know It All.
"Yes, they are. These were discovered recently. A little ahead is a full grown bridge" explained the naturalist.
Sure enough, after a walk of ten minutes they came across this beautiful living bridge created out of
the roots of the two rubber trees on either banks of the stream.
Living Root Bridge
Courtesy Google Image
Cameras were pointed and mobiles were whipped out. All possible angles were tried to capture this living beauty. From the top, from the bottom, from either ends, hanging from it, perched on it, in twos, in threes and solos for status updates.
That done, everyone closely inspected it voicing their expert comments on its nuances - philosophical, theological, biological, botanical and all the other '-cals' possible. Everyone unanimously agreed this was the ideal spot to unpack the lunch. Over aromatic biryani sitting on the bridge, some on the rocks in the middle of the stream, all declared this was the best lunch one had for a long time.
Was it the bridge or the open environment with the green 'powerhouses' all around or the 'feel good' factor seeping in from the close proximity with nature?
"What peaceful existence! I wouldn't mind living in a shack here by the beach" said the College Girl, lying on a branch of a tree bent over the sea.
"Actually, I am kind of not missing my mobile network and the internet" said Mr Know It All.
"Yeah, and I am excited about the deep sea diving thing" said the Youngest Girl all of nine years.
"So, is everyone for it?"
"Nah! People with Blood Pressure problems and breathing difficulties cannot go for it. So that leaves the Elderlies and my Mother out. Look! Aren't those dark clouds there in the horizon?" asked the Youngest Girl.
"Looks like rain clouds. Let's ask Raghu if we are safe in our tree houses."
They found him near the Banyan Line.
"Where is everyone? I wanted to warn you all about the storm" said Raghu.
" I'll get Father" said the College Girl.
"It's alright" said Big One to his anxiously waiting family "Just be inside your tree houses and nothing will happen. They are storm proof houses and will not fly away or scatter" he said, the only one laughing at his poor joke.
That evening the wind picked up speed and turned into a gale. When they returned from an early dinner, the wind whipped about their clothes and hair. They just about managed to reach inside their 'nests' when the rain came rushing down in torrents. What a night it was! The wind howling through the little openings it found, the waves crashing on the beach and the trees whooshing and bending outside. Everyone mumbled a prayer before turning in that night hoping to see the morning all in one piece. All night the storm raged threatening to bring everything down.
Birds chirped the next morning and flew around happy to see the storm pass away. Everything seemed cleaner and brighter. The family from the 'nests'' walked down later than usual, for all of them slept very less last night. It was decided that everyone would take it easy that day. They spread themselves throughout the day between the beach, the hammocks and exploring the surroundings.
Late in the afternoon they took a trip through the back waters to see the limestone caves barely at a distance of half an hour away. Mangroves with their stilted roots lined the waters. It looked like the trees would just lurch up and start walking around to stretch their limbs.
And so passed the remaining days in Tsol Erutan. With each passing hour, respect for every element and living thing grew. Having interacted with Dr Borah's team and seen their work only deepened the admiration for Nature, realising what perils we as humans are courting in the guise of development.
Deep sea diving just consolidated the awareness of all things beautiful and the beauty in everything. Descending into the depths of the sea, unraveled a cosmos alien and yet moving. The corals came alive with fish darting in and out. Ray fish glided around and shoals of colourful fish passed by least bothered about human presence. The sunlight filtered through the waters lent an enchanting aura to the marine cosmos.Words fail to describe what human heart and mind perceive.
How smug can we be in our limited experiences and knowledge of this world!
Never having got enough of the place, everyone boarded the boat on the last day reluctantly. Each one hoping to come back again. Some day. The Youngest Girl threw back the shells she had collected over the week. Everyone sat quietly on the deck as the boat sped away.
"Tsol Erutan" said the Young One.
"Did any of you notice the significance?" he asked
Everyone turned to face him.
" Its an anagram of Lost Nature" he said quietly. Stripped of urban cockiness each took back a wiser self from Tsol Erutan. It was a yatra that was not just rich in memories and happiness but also wiser in the realization of the self. Some day all will learn these valuable lessons hopefully before it's not too late...
I am grateful to wikipedia and http://rootbridges.blogspot.in/ for providing the information and lovely images.
This post was written for Yatra.com's Creating Happy Travellers at Indibloggers