Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island – The former Ross Island in Andamans

posted in: India, Andamans, Asia, Heritage | 112

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 ;-).

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep - the former Ross Island as seen from Port Blair
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep – the former Ross Island as seen from Port Blair

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. 

Port Blair as seen from Ross Island
Port Blair as seen from 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.

The old British church on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island in Andamans
The old British church on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island in Andamans

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 deer on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
The deer 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.

My new friend - the deer at Ross Island, Andamans
My new friend – the deer at Ross Island, Andamans
Peacock on Ross Island, amid the ruins
Peacock on Ross Island, amid the ruins

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

Officers' Homes in ruins on Ross Island, Andamans
Officers’ Homes in ruins 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.

Close-up of the Ficus covered ruins on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep
Close-up of the Ficus covered ruins on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep
My mighty assistant climbing the Peepul tree while I squeeze through those gaps - Ross Island
My mighty assistant climbing the Peepul tree while I squeeze through those gaps – Ross Island
When nature reclaims its space - Ross Island Ruins
When nature reclaims its space – Ross Island Ruins

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.

The waves of Andaman Sea through the root covered windows of ruins on Ross Island
The waves of the Andaman Sea through the root covered windows of ruins on Ross Island

3) The Cemetery on Andaman Ross Island

The Cemetery on Ross Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Cemetery on Ross Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

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.

One of the grave stones on Andamans Ross Island cemetery
One of the grave stones on Andamans Ross Island cemetery
The grave of two babies born to the apothecary on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
The grave of two babies born to the apothecary on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island

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

The Pond that was frequented by the inhabitants of Ross Island
The Pond that was frequented by the inhabitants of Ross 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

The Presbyterian church on Ross Islands
The Presbyterian church on Ross Islands

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.

Glimpse of the interiors of the Presbyterian church on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose IsleA 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.

The secretariat across the church on Ross Island
The secretariat across the church on Ross Island

6) Chief Commissioner’s bungalow

The Chief Commissioner's house on Andamans
The Chief Commissioner’s house on Andamans

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.

A picture of the original Chief Commissioner's house on Ross Island
A picture of the original Chief Commissioner’s house on Ross Island

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

Subordinates' club house, Ross Island
Subordinates’ club house, Ross Island

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

Water Treatment plant at Ross Island
Water Treatment plant at Ross Island

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 old Bakery from the British Times on Ross Island
The old Bakery from the British Times 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

One of the Japanese Bunker on Ross Island
One of the Japanese Bunker on Ross 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

The Ross Island light and Sound show tells you the history of the isle
The Ross Island light and Sound show tells you the history of the isle

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

The Ross Island Map showing you all the attractions of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep
The Ross Island Map showing you all the attractions of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep

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 –

  1. 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
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Ferar Beach - on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island
Ferar Beach – on 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?

Catch a boat or ferry to Ross Island from Port Blair
Catch a boat or ferry to 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.

Travel Tips

  • 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.

Booking Resources:

  • 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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112 Responses

    • Ami

      Thanks Jatin. I was there last month. Not right now. Though most of the stuff in Andamans operates on Cash!

  1. Arti

    Looks like a lovely place with lots to discover. I love the idea of the deer mingling with the humans!

  2. Doreen Pendgracs

    Hello Ami. I hadn’t previously heard of Ross Island. It looks like a place I would enjoy visiting, with wildlife, and a natural feeling about it. Don’t think I’d be looking for any ghosts, though!

    • Ami

      There aren’t any ghosts Doreen but lots of stories that are being told by the ruins left over. 🙂

  3. Sabine

    Wow, this would be my place to be, I love ghost towns. It’s actually amazing how nature can take over. And it does remind of the scene with Lara Croft in Cambodja. Great place. Does it get a lot of tourists?

  4. 8duffels2mutts

    As lovely and fascinating as this is, I have to be honest that I was loving it until I read that the area was abandoned after an earthquake. My family survived a devastating earthquake where we now live in Ecuador. It was terrible and the town is mostly destroyed. We had to relocate. I couldn’t visit this place without reliving the nightmare, it’s too similar to our experience with an earthquake in the beach. Did you have any thoughts about another earthquake happening?

    • Ami

      So sorry to hear that. It is so sad. I can understand the loss and the feeling. I hope you get over the loss.

      Ross Island in fact, ended up being a savior during the last tsunami. Apparently it was shielded from a lot of losses.

  5. kallsypage

    This seems like such a neat place to visit and explore! The deer on the island reminded me of those seen in Nara, Japan or Miyajima Island. They were very curious and continually tried to eat our clothes! The Officer’s Quarters are another spot that is so intriguing to me!

    • Ami

      Thanks . The deer did not try to eat anything on us 🙂 They were a pleasure to see. Ross Island with its ruins and fauna is just amazing.

  6. 2traveldads

    Okay, this is much more cool than any of the ghost towns I’ve been to. I’m fascinated by how quickly the roots have taken over since the 40s. Really incredible.

    • Ami

      Absolutely and that to me is one of the reasons that these ruins looked interesting and very Tomb raider like. Loved squeezing through the gaps to access the inner part of the building and seeing if I could find something.

  7. dianavalverde

    I’ve never heard of this Island but it looks so beautiful and peacefull

  8. Abigail

    This is actually the first time that I’ve heard of this island, but seeing its beauty and your photos, it definitely has me curious!

    • Ami

      Thanks Abigail. Andamans as a whole, is a little unexplored and undiscovered. If possible you should head there before it becomes touristy 😀

  9. Marta - Learningescapes

    What a beautiful and interesting place! The Japanese bunkers have a strange fascination on me but the thing that impresses me the most are those roots, they are immense and I would have guessed they had been there for centuries

    • Ami

      Interestingly, it is not too far ago that the Island was abandoned. Just 1940s. Some miracles of nature I guess! 🙂

  10. Anna

    How cool! Loving the pictures. I’ve never heard of this island before, but it sure sounds like an interesting place to check out, even though the cemetery would definitely give me shivers!

    • Ami

      Thanks Anna. Ross Island is not as popular as the other Indian destinations. But is in no way any less interesting. 🙂

  11. Chris

    I love how the island is slowly reclaiming the ruins from the British settlement.

    Is there an option to reach the island, but allow more time than the little you had?

    • Ami

      Thanks Chris. Sadly no. You have to rely on the Ferries from Port Blair and it is generally done as a round trip. Not sure if you can hire one on your own as this is all under the restricted Navy section.

  12. shobha42016

    That is so cool! the Paris of the East. What a different time it would have been with the British Raj in all of its splendour using it as a playground.

    • Ami

      I can so imagine it. The little Tea parties, the dances, the cricket…..hmmm…Times to remember.

  13. Lara Dunning

    What a fascinating place. I love how the trees have grown over the buildings. It does make it feel very Tomb Raider’ish. I really enjoyed all the details in this post and the pictures. The deer probably swam over. They do that here in Washington State.

    • Ami

      That is interesting. They swim over in Washington. You should definitely visit Ross Island. I think you will love it

  14. Vyjay Rao

    Ross Island looks gorgeous and enchanting. But I too am intrigued by the ‘ghostly’ part os the island. The old buildings covered with roots et all! Remains of a once thriving community.

  15. vishvarsha

    My parents just visited Ross Island and they loved the place, and your post tells me exactly why. Yes the place is in ruins but like many a times – this place tells you so much about its existence and glory days! Some day soon I want to go there too!

    BTW I am surprised you didnt go crazy happy about the freely roaming deer and peacocks there!

    • Ami

      Ooh I did go crazy with the deer but I also, was curious about the abandoned homes and other things there. One and half hours is too short …:(