Mount Manipur alias Mt Harriet in Andamans
Mount Manipur is the new name for Mt. Harriet in Andamans. This was recently announced by Union Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah. The rechristening is in honour of Maharaja Kulchandra Singh and 22 freedom fighters from Manipur, who were deported to the penal settlement in Andamans (Kala Paani) for rising against the colonial British rule and housed atop Mt. Harriet. The official website of Cellular Jail, now a National Memorial, gives only this information -
“PRE-CELLULAR JAIL DEPORTATIONS (Wahabi Movement, Anglo Manipuri Revolt & others- 1864 onwards)
Kula Chandra Singh
Here is a brief background about Mt. Harriet aka Mt. Manipur -
Mt. Harriet is the highest peak in the South Andaman Group of Islands at 1,966 ft./365 meter, while Mt. Saddle Peak at 2418 feet / 732 metres is the highest peak of the whole Andaman & Nicobar Union Territory. Mt. Harriet lies just across Port Blair, the capital town of the Island Territory. They are both located in the same South Andaman Island but the Island’s vast curvature puts these two places in opposite directions, just across the Blair harbour. The natural harbour resembles a vast lagoon-safe, deep, calm and beautiful. Reaching Harriet from Port Blair by road is a time consuming process. Easiest is by jumping on to the ferry service that plies within the harbour, touching various jetties. Therefore, there is no straight public transport between these two points. However, I suppose the road trip by hiring a cab, though costly, would be an interesting experience. While by road it is 55 km away from Port Blair, it is just a few kms by ferry and then a short trek up to the peak.
Visible from across Port Blair, Mount Harriet lies in the Bambooflat range of hills. It is named after Ms. Harriet Tytler, the second wife of Robert Christopher Tytler, Superintendent of Port Blair’s Penal Settlement (Apr. 1862 to Feb. 1864), who was also a naturalist. It was the summer headquarters/leisure spot of the British Chief Commissioners and officers of Penal Settlement. Colonial era ruins are found there, like a flight of steps of the swimming pool, base of gunman/sentry room, etc., built with local stone and lime (chunna) mortar; at the foothill there is a spot ‘Chunna Bhatta’. Its altitude provides for a fascinating bird’s eye view of the nearby islands, the sea, hill ranges, and Blair port, besides mesmerising views of rising and setting sun, full moon and star-studded night sky. It was at the base of Harriet that Viceroy Lord Mayo was murdered on 8th Feb. 1872 by Sher Ali Afridi, a deported Pathan convict from Khyber, Pakistan. The North Bay tourism spot that is depicted in the 20 rupee note is a part of this mountain. It is a calm and shallow Bay with a Lighthouse nearby; snorkelling is safe and enjoyable here even for novices like me. Private cruises ply from Port Blair. The approach to Mt. Harriet is from Hope Town Jetty. It is also called Pani Ghat because ships were supplied with fresh water from here during Penal Settlement times. The British-built dam-like structure, tanks, canals, etc., constructed for this purpose, lie scattered, uncared and unused.
I had successfully ascended the peak thrice; a hat trick ! Ascended could be a pompous word for such a humble peak but why are you jealous. During my 1978-1980 bachelorhood days in Port Blair, I had once climbed the peak alone. Starting from the base before 4 pm and climbing through the 7-km-long foot track, I was on the peak for a click of the sunset at 5.25 pm on 13th April 1979. Clutching my precious Agfa Isoly II camera I rushed down immediately, not because I was alone and scared (Believe me!) but to catch the ferry back to Port Blair. Else I could be stranded. Looking back, it was definitely a daring feat because hardly anyone visited the top. A gun base erected by the Japanese on the summit during their occupation of the Islands in the course of II Word War was covered with plants and creepers. A Nicobari-modelled hut scarily stood there resembling a mammoth abandoned skeleton. Five months later, in September 1979, the second climb was along with my friends. It was a jolly picnic to the peak with snacks, etc. From Pani Ghat jetty we jolly well trekked along the motorable kutcha road. Once atop, we exchanged our costume for B&W photo shoot. Body builders James and Antony bared their chest. Though I never cared about my physique, yet I was lean and mean but without rippling muscles.
Exactly 30 years later in 2009, I visited it again twice with family members. We took a cab from Port Blair and ferried it across on a Ro-Ro ferry to the landing jetty of Hope Town /Pani Ghat and then drove up to the peak. To proclaim our ascend we made calls back to the mainland from this highest point. Those were the days of 2G mobile service only; so no Selfie clicks! But we had digital cameras and we clicked like maniacs. We decided to climb down on foot while the cab went ahead and waited at the base. It was an enjoyable walk down. This tempted us to come back and trek through the trail. Probably no adventurous soul had used this path for a long time; so it was quite difficult with fallen logs and overgrown vegetation blocking our progress. Imagining ourselves as Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, we determinedly climbed through despite drizzles (again, imagining them as snowflakes!). The climb down was through the motorable road, enjoying the greenery which was soothing for us city dwellers and listening to queer bird /insect calls. It was a botanical paradise. What an exhilarating and unforgettable trip!
In 1987, Mt. Harriet was declared a National Park (46.62 sq. km.), to preserve flora and fauna along with its littoral, semi- & evergreen, and moist deciduous forest areas. Wild boar is the biggest animal found here. The forest guest house atop can be booked for lodge & board. At the summit there is a park, kids play arena, small canteen, watch tower, Orchidarium, butterfly house and deer park. It is always safe to carry your own snacks and water while on a trip to Mt. Harriet, now Mt. Manipur. krishnanbala2004 @yahoo.co.in