Saturday, June 11, 2005

Barren's volcanic eruption increases tourists interest

If last December’s tsunami virtually wiped off Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the tourism map, another natural phenomenon now holds the promise of bringing visitors back in droves.

The awe-inspiring sight of a volcano spewing lava on this island and smoke blowing from many other hills since last May gladdened the hearts of all on board the MV Onge that recently took tourism department officials and this correspondent to explore the tourism potential — and feasibility — of the place.

Convinced about the magnetic pull and safety for tourists of this once-in-a-lifetime marvel, the administration is now planning to run regular boats to the country’s only active volcano. Though the promise of having breakfast on the island could not materialise for those on board as the sea was rough, no one was complaining.

The volcano was constantly oozing lava from the bottom of the earth — believed to have been shaken by the massive quake — and most of the smoke flew up in the sky to become dark clouds. Water near the island was hot and seagulls were missing in action. While going round the eight-sq-km circular island that rises very suddenly out of the sea, dust from this smoke covered the heads of people on the upper deck of the ship.

At one place, the constant flow of eruptions into the sea had formed a virtual lava bed. After getting a favourable report from officials back from the trip, lieutenant-governor Prof Ram Kapse later told this reporter: "With lava and smoke being emitted, it will be a great attraction and a totally different experience for visitors. We may consider opening the island for tourists." The volcano appears to have put tourism in a win-win situation.

As long as the volcano is active, people would love to view that sight. Once it goes back to sleep and the lava cools off, people may be allowed to scale the volcano and see its mouth. Reaching the island by boat takes over six hours and maybe a bout of sea sickness, depending on the weather and how rough the water is. Barren had come to life in 1991 after a gap of 107 years for about 15 days and it was then active from December 1994 to January 1995.

Andaman, in fact, has three volcano sites — Barren (active) and Narcondum (dormant) islands and the mud volcano at Baratang that’s barely a few hours drive from Port Blair. Baratang is also home to beautiful limestone caves. The governor said that even the mud volcano activity has increased now. After the quake, this was expected. But there is no danger of any kind and it's perfectly safe to view these sights, he said.

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