I am sure that by now you know my fascination for ghost towns No matter where they are, what story they have or what their current state is, I am game for one. Ross Island was no exception. A trip to Andamans for me would have been incomplete without a visit to this ghost town. And what a visit that was. Wandering through Ross Island made me feel like Lara Croft in those hidden tombs. The only thing that seemed missing were her equipment, especially the torch. Not that I needed one. It was more to get into the role ;-).
Ross Island has none of those eerie stories or melancholic ones. If anything, that Island reminds you of the Good Times that the British had in India. From its gorgeous herds of deer to the roots covered ruins and the stories it left behind, there is plenty to see and discover here. The best part is that you can literally walk into those ruins without any restriction or direction. Kind of Do-it-Yourself, which makes the whole visit even more amazing. However, before I embark on my highlights of Ross Island, a quick introduction and history to the place.
History of Ross Island
Ross Island was named after a British Maritime Surveyor – Sir Daniel Ross and owing to its strategic geographical location, became a hub of the British hold in the Andaman Seas. For over 80 years, many families settled here and the entire island was transformed into a lively hub – almost akin to British town. Besides the officers’ houses, the British had also, established bakeries, stores, club houses, a church, cemetery and more – in short, all that was required for a comfortable living. Ross Island was dotted with manicured lawns and was quite vibrant with parties in the open air theater, ball room dances, tennis matches, some cricket, sailing races and swimming. The settlement was so good that it was soon known as the Paris of the East. Only till it was hit by an earthquake in 1941, which ended the British revelry on this island.
British then, abandoned Ross Island as a residential hub and moved to Port Blair. Shortly after the same, in 1942, it was captured by Japan, who held onto it till 1945. With them leaving, the Indian Navy took possession of this island and since then, Ross Island remains in their capable hands.
This entire history of Ross Island still lives on in the ruins that are found here. It is fascinating to walk through them and imagine what colonial life was back then. I had an absolute blast doing so and from the many relics that were left behind, here are my 8 highlights of Ross Island.
1) Fascinating Fauna on Ross Island
The first thing that you notice are herds of deer on the Island. It is like arriving on a small piece of natural paradise. Most of the deer are quite friendly and allow you to approach them and pet them. We had a fun time taking some pictures with these golden wonders. I do not have an answer to how they landed up here but they sure, seemed happy enough to be there. Ross Island indeed, was a home for them.
Other than those are our shy birds of the nation – Peacocks. They are found in various corners and within the ruined homes. The one thing that I can tell you about them is that they definitely seem to have polished their coats for even from afar, they really shone.
2) Officers’ quarters
Gnarled Roots cover the outer walls of the erstwhile homes of the officers. From the officer’s barracks to the senior officers home, you can find them all along on Ross Island. This is where I truly was Lara Croft – with my mighty assistant climbing up the roofs and me squeezing between some to enter the inner rooms – lest there be a treasure left behind.
Some of these buildings have gaping holes through which you can see the Andamans water while there are other that have steps leading to higher floors – something that one dare not climb, given the creaky conditions that were just held together by roots. On the whole, walking through these are quite insightful and exciting.
3) The Cemetery at Ross Islands
This is where the stones tell you a story of its residents. The Cemetery of Ross Island is a sad place but an interesting one as each stone epitaph gives you an insight into the life of its British inhabitants. From the small graves of infants and children who were lost to illness to the death of officers and apothecaries, there is plenty to understand from the graves at the cemetery.
4) The Church at Ross Islands
This one is one of the most impressive ruins of all on Ross Island. The Presbyterian church still stands tall reminding us of its glory. A sign next to it explains that it was a Protestant church and was made of stone and Burma Wood – some of which has lasted till date. It also, tells us that the church had some impressive stained glass. Sadly, the church interiors is out-of-bounds and you can only view it from the periphery.
5) Chief Commissioner’s bungalow
Time felt a little short for this one as I would have loved checking out every nook and corner of this piece of history. The most impressive of all the houses on Ross Island, this bungalow was for the British Chief Commissioner. It’s description of a large hall, ball room with 7 – 8 bedrooms, a garden full of trees and Italian flooring was indeed impressive. Took me back to Mr. Darcy’s estate home in Pride and Prejudice. 🙂
They say that around 24 British Commissioners took up this as a residence
6) The Club house
Again, time seemed short for me to explore this one fully. The structure is said to have been a social gathering spot for all the subordinates of British Army . It was a cultural and sports hub for them. With its own dance floor and a place for the band, I can so imagine the zest of the evening parties that must have been held here.
7) Water Treatment plant
I did mention that a lot of infants were lost to diseases on Ross Island and to prevent further deaths, the British had this water distillery on the island. This was the main supply of drinking water for the entire island.
8) Japanese Bunkers
After the Japanese captured the island, they fortified it further as their hub in the Andamans. The famed Japanese bunkers can be found along the periphery of the entire Ross Island. You can enter a few while the rest are out-of-bounds. It is said that the Japanese used the wood and timber from the abandoned homes of Ross Island to build their bunkers.
The boats to Ross Island give you only about 1.5 hours for you to see these wonders. For a person like me, that sure was not enough. I missed seeing the highest point of the Island, the officer’s club, swimming pool etc. I would have loved to wander some more through those ruins to know what else went on in those years. Well, that is me – what about you? Would you like to visit Ross Island and let the ruins speak to you?
Getting to Ross Island
- To visit Ross Island, you need to get to Port Blair.
- Port Blair can be reached by a cruise from Chennai or Kolkata.
- The best way, however, is to fly from Chennai or Kolkata to Port Blair. There are plenty of flights from these two cities. However, the same can get quite expensive as they are always running full.
- Once in Port Blair, Ross Island can be reached by ferry from Aberdeen Jetty. There are regular ferries available here. You can buy a ticket for yourself for INR 450 – 750, depending on the package you choose. The various packages involve combining trips to other islands like North Bay Islands along with Ross Island. This is however, just the cost of the ride. You will still need to pay for the entrance to Ross Island
- Port Blair and Andamans, in general, has certain restrictions. If you are on Indian Citizen, there is no need for a permit to visit these islands. However, if you are a foreigner, you will need to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (RAP). This is easily got when you enter Port Blair by flight or ship, from the Immigration authorities. It is valid for 30 days. You can also, get these from the Indian Missions Authorities or Foreign Registration offices in the key cities of India. Click here for a complete guide on this.
- Ross Island entrance fees is at INR 30 per adult. Children below 5 years are free. Cameras are charged at INR 30 If you are carrying a video recorder, it will be INR 75.
- There are no guides at the island. There are a few signage that explain the various structures to you. However, if you are keen on a guide, there is just one Ms. Anuradha, who can be hired for INR 300 for a private tour.
- Feeding the deer is not encourage. Littering here attracts a fine of INR 500.
- Remember to wear flat shoes and comfortable clothes as there is plenty of walking to be done.
- For those who are disabled or are not keen on walking, battery operated golf carts are available on rent. Personally, I avoided those as they take away the charm of being a Lara Croft and I really wanted to explore the interiors of those ruins on my own.
- There are snacks and water available on sale at the revived bakery of Ross Island.
- Ross Island also, has a light and sound show. I could not attend the same but those who would like to, can get more details on 03192-232694 or 03192-244091
- Be careful when exploring the ruins as there are plenty of sharp objects around the floor and walls.
- Always carry your ID with you. Though we were not asked, you could be as this is under the Navy management .
- Be cognizant of your time here. If need be, set an alarm as it is easy to miss your ferry with all the interesting things to see on Ross Island.