First Published on November 14, 2016
I am sure that by now you know my fascination with ghost towns. No matter where they are, what story they have or what their current state is, I am game for one. Ross Island in Andamans was no exception. My trip to Andamans 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 was her equipment, especially the torch. Not that I needed one. It was more to get into the role ;-).
Ross Island, now renamed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose 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 ruins covered by roots 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 of Ross Island without any restriction or direction. Kind of Do-it-Yourself, which makes the whole visit to Ross Island 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, Andamans
It was only in 2018 that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi named this island as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep. Before that, for centuries together, this isle was called Ross Island. It was called so when I visited and hence, you will find me using both the names interchangeably throughout the post.
The history of Ross Island starts with its local name Chong Ekee Bood until a British Maritime Surveyor – Sir Daniel Ross landed here. With that, the island got rechristened after the surveyor. Later, in 1789, Lieutenant H. Archibald Blair – another British surveyor came along and set up the first base of the British at Ross Island with a small sanatorium and hospital. Owing to its strategic geographical location, it became the British hold in the Andaman Seas. However, the real settlement or what they call the Penal settlement happened after the revolt of 1857.
Discover The Residency in Lucknow – an erstwhile British settlement that was severely affected by the 1857 revolt for Indian Independence. Discover what it was like and compare it to this journey through Ross Island.
Over 200 Indian revolutionaries were convicted and sent over to Andamans island on 10th March 1858. Two ships from Calcutta under the supervision of Dr. J.P. Walker – the prison superintendent carried them to Ross Island along with one Indian overseer, two doctors and 20 naval men. These prisoners were taken to task and under inhuman conditions, made to clear the dense jungles on the island. The chained prisoners built a mini township for the British before they were banished across to the Cellular Jail on Port Blair Isle.
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, clubhouses, a church, cemetery, and more – in short, all that was required for a comfortable living. The Island was dotted with manicured lawns and was quite vibrant with parties in the open-air theater, ballroom dances, tennis courts, a cricket pitch and swimming pool. Every Saturday, they had a sailing race called the Challenge cup. For some golf and hockey, they went across to Port Blair. 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 this island as a residential hub and moved to Port Blair. It was during this time that the famous Indian leader – Subhash Chandra Bose stayed over at Ross Island and even, hoisted the Indian flag. 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. The island took in the impact of the 2004 Tsunami and protected Port Blair from the devastating effect of the natural disaster. In 2018, it was rechristened as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island after the great leader and still remains in their capable hands of the Indian Navy.
The Ross Island history 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 key things to see on Ross Island Andamans.
Fascinating Fauna on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
The first thing that you notice are herds of deer on the Island. It is like arriving on a small piece of a 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. These deer might hI do not have an answer to how they landed up here but they sure seemed happy enough to be there. Most likely, they might have been natural inhabitants of the dense forests that were cleared by the Indian prisoners. Whatever the case, Ross Island indeed has been 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 of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island. 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 on Ross Island, Andamans
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.
It is amazing to see how the very trees – Peepal and Ficus, planted by the Indian prisoners have claimed the island. Left to their own device, they have grown over the man-made structures to show their might. They have closed the gaps to such an extent that some of these structures are literally blocked from all sides. Of course, there are a few of these buildings that have some gaping holes through which you can see the Andamans sea. And yet, there are others 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 on Andaman Ross Island
This is where the stones tell you a story of its residents. The Ross Island Cemetery is a sad place but an interesting one. 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.
Watch out for the tiny grave of a boy – Lawrence, who died within 22 hours of his birth. Most of these deaths occurred as a result of water-borne diseases and malaria. There are stories of how the British tried to find an experimental cure and sadly, to do that, they used the Indian political prisoners. These prisoners were force-fed unprocessed quinine and a lot of them died owing to the same.
4) The Pond on the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
Close to the cemetery is a small little pond. The tranquil setting seemed to be favored by its residents. This is evident with the presence of the various Ross Island ruins around the pond. One of those ruins connects back to the club used by the British officers.
5) The Ross Islands Church
This one is one of the most impressive ruins of 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 have lasted to date. It also, tells us that the church had some impressive stained glass. Sadly, the church interiors are out-of-bounds and you can only view it from the periphery. The signboard with this information also, has a black and white photograph of how impressive this place of worship was in its hey-days.
A glimpse of the interiors of the Presbyterian church on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Isle
Before you exit the church area, look across it to spot the Secretariat. This is one of the many administrative buildings on Ross Island.
6) 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 the description of a large hall, ballroom 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. 🙂
As you can see in the picture below, there was always a cannon guarding its entrance. The Ross Island Commissioner’s house had its own private tennis court, and an aviary too.
They say that around 24 British Commissioners took up this as a residence. In fact, the last one on the island – Sir Charles Francis Waterfall was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese when they took over the island in 1942.
7) The Club house on Ross Island Andamans
The structure is said to have been a social gathering spot for all the subordinates of the 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.
8) Water Treatment plant on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep
I did mention that a lot of infants were lost to diseases on the 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.
Don’t miss the remains of the old swimming pool next to the water treatment plant.
9) The Bakery & the Printing Press on Ross Island
The renovated building labeled as Bakery used to have wafts of freshly baked buns, croissants and pastries. Close to that are the ruins of the old Printing Press – the ruins that I would not have recognized had a signboard not been there!
10) Japanese Bunkers around the Island
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 Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose 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. A lot of them are interconnected by way of tunnels.
11) Light & Sound Show on Ross Island
Though I did not stay back for the light and sound show on Ross Island in Andamans, I have heard good things about it. The show explains the Ross Island history, of how it was built, and what were the norms followed on the Island. It brings to light the stark reality of life on the island and that of the political prisoners.
11) Other attractions of Ross Island
While I have covered most of the important areas of Andamans Ross Island, there are a few attractions that you can visit if you still have the time. Here is a list –
- The old lighthouse – Head over to the far end of the island and you will spot the tall monument there. This was used as a beacon and a watch-tower by the British
- Officers Barracks – Not that you would have missed the few that are across the island, the one next to the lighthouse has been refurbished. Hence, you can get a better sense of what the interiors look like back then.
- Ferar Beach – A little rocky and a little smooth, the Ferar beach is a nice place to sit on and take in the sights. No swimming is allowed here.
- Smritika Museum – I really wanted to do this one but ran out of time. This is where the few belongings found in the ruins of Ross Island have been kept. It is an ideal place to read and live the history of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island.
Now that you have had a virtual tour of Ross Island, you know that it is one island that you must visit. It is worth every minute of the limited time that you get on this abandoned island of India. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is an important chapter in Indian history and the island with its vibrant mix of nature and sea makes it even more interesting. I made the most of my time but if I ever get a chance to visit this again, I would be as excited as I was the first time. Somehow, something tells me there is a lot left to discover in the ruins of Ross Island. So go on and pin this up on your board to remind you of the scintillating experience that you can have on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep of Andamans.
How to reach Ross Island from Port Blair?
- 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.
- Ross Island can be reached from Port Blair via a ferry. You can catch one from Aberdeen Jetty (Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex). 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.
- Your trip to Ross Island is going to be only a day-trip. There are no stay options on the island. Also, the ferry that takes you to Ross Island is the one that will bring you back. Most trips are just for 1.5 hours only.
- Ross Island entrance fees are 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 on the island. There are a few signage that explains 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 encouraged. 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 restored bakery on the 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 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.
- Consider Klook.com for booking various activities on Andamans Island. This link allows you to book a half-day tour of Port Blair that includes the light and sound show on Ross Island.
- If you are looking at stay options in Port Blair or even Andamans, Booking.com is a good option.
- Amazon is a great resource for picking up all your travel accessories or even household goods. Do consider clicking through to the site using this link.
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including Lonely Planet India and Jetwings.