THE CAPITAL, Port Blair, is located to the southeast of South Andaman Island. The town is a base from which to travel around the archipelago, and is well equipped with hotels, banks, tour operators and sports complexes.

The town’s tumultuous history began in 1789, when Lieutenant Archibald Blair ofthe British East India Companyconducted a survey to identify a safe harbour for the Company’s vessels. He chose the site of what is now Port Blair. Fifty years later the islands became a penal colony. Those incarcerated were political activists involved in the Indian Mutiny of 1857  by 1864, the number of prisoners had grown from 773 to 3,000. In 1896, the construction of the Cellular Jail began; it soonbecame an infamous symbol of colonial oppression. Designed specifically for solitary confinement, it earned the Islands the dreaded name of Kala Pani or “Black Waters”, reflecting the atrocities that awaited the prisoners. It remains Port Blair’s most
prominent landmark.

Of the original seven wings laid out around a central watchtower, only three remain; these are lined with cells, each 3 by 3.5 m (10 by 11 ft) in size.Daily rations consisted of two  cups of drinking water and two cups of rice. Executions were frequent and many were made to undergo hard labour.Japanese troops, who occupied the  Islands during World War II, destroyed part of the prison. In 1945, the British moved back, re-established their headquarters at Port Blair and closed the jail. It is now a memorial to the political prisoners; a moving sound and light show is held here every evening. The town’s other places of interest are scattered around Aberdeen Bazaar, on the east side of town. The Anthropological Museum, west of the bazaar, sheds light on the islands’ tribal inhabitants and has a collection of rare photographstaken in the 1960s.  The Aquarium, also known as the Fisheries Museum, at the eastern end of MG Road,displays hundreds of species  of unusual fish, corals and shells. Next door, the Andaman Water Sports Complex offers a range of activities, including windsurfing and parasailing, and also hires out row boats and rubber dinghies. The Samudrilca Marine Museum, run by the Indian Navy, has five galleriesdevoted to the history, geography and anthropology of the Islands, and has a superb display on marine life. The tiny zoo at Haddo has successfully bred saltwater crocodiles and returned them to the wild. At the Forest Museum nearby, different varieties of local wood areon display.

Chatham Sawmills on Chatham Island, 5 km (3 miles) north, is one of the oldest and largest saw mills in Asia. Established by the British in 1836, this is where many of the Islands’ fast disappearing species of trees  including the towering padauk (Andaman redwood), are processed.

ENVIRONS: The nearest beach from Port Blair is the crescent shaped Corbyn’s Cove, 7 km (4 miles) south of the capital. Viper Island, named after a 19th-century British shipping vessel that was wrecked off its shore, can he reached via a cruise from Port Blair. Itssinister history involves the  local prison, built in 1867, whose macabre gallows and torture posts can still be seen. Only daytime visits are allowed to Viper Island. About 15 km (9 miles) i from Port Blair lies Sippyghat Farm, where many improved varieties of spices are grown along with a range of indigenous flowering plants and shrubs.

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