Photo: Snehaa Sundaram
An Island lost in Time
If you sail for 537 km., southeast of Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, you reach the southernmost tip of India, the mysterious Great Nicobar Island (6046’N – 7020’N and 93037’E – 93056’E). The land of the Nicobarese and Shompen tribes, the land of the Nicobarese crab-eating macaque, the Nicobarese tree shrew, the Great Nicobar Serpent-eagle, the saltwater crocodile, the Edible Nest Swiftlet, the dugong and uncounted more. The island is largely unexplored even by field biologists, and presents nature’s canvas at its best, with dense rainforests, lush coral reefs and with tribes living in relative isolation from the world.
Lying within the most seismically active regions of the world, the ring of fire, the island finds its earliest recorded mention in the Sri Lankan Pali Buddhist chronicles, (3rd – 4th century), as Naggadipa (nagga meaning naked in Pali language). The name Kala Pani (Black Waters) is etched in almost every Indian’s psyche because the A&N Islands were used as a colonial prison and penal settlement by the British during India’s freedom struggle. As a whole, this fragile archipelago has been ravaged down the years and the many atrocities against the tribes over few centuries is well documented, particularly during its occupation by the Danish (17th century), the British (1868) and the Japanese (1942-45). Finally, in 1950, the Islands became a part of free India, but did not quite stop the ecological downslide.
Because the Great Nicobar Island lies far from the Indian mainland, thus far it has largely escaped the attention of developers and is, consequently, a treasure-trove of biodiversity. The Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve therefore remains a wonderland of tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges and coastal plains. Predictably, isolation has resulted in high endemism with such unique species as the Nicobar Megapode found nowhere else in the world.
Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria
The Campbell Bay National Park on the northern part of the island, and Galathea...