Viper and Ross Islands Tourism Information
The first stop on the harbor cruise from Port Blair is generally Viper Island, named not after the many snakes that doubtless inhabits its tangled tropical undergrowth, but a nineteenth century merchant vessel that ran aground on it during on it during the early years of the colony.
Lying a short way off Haddo Wharf, it served as an isolation zone for the main prison, where escapes and convicts (including hunger strikers) were sent to be punished. Whipping posts and crumbling walls, reached form the jetty via a winding brick path, remain as relics of a torture area, while the prominent gallows occupy the site’s elevated position.
No less eerie are the decaying colonial remains on Ross Island, at the entrance to Port Blair harbor, where the British sited their first penal settlement. Originally cleared by convicts wearing iron fetter (most of them sent here in the wake of the 1857 Uprising), Ross witnessed some of the most brutal excesses of British colonial history, and was the source of the prison’s infamy as Kalapani, or Black Water. Of the many convicts transported here, distinguished by their branded foreheads, the majority perished from disease or torture before the clearance of the island was completed in 1860. Thereafter, it served briefly as the site of Rev Henry Corbyn’s “Andaman Home” a prison camp created with the intention of “civilizing” the local tribe’s people before becoming the headquarters of the revamped penal colony, complete with theatre hall, tennis courts, swimming pool, hospitals and grand residential bungalows. Rather ambitiously dubbed “the Paris of the East”, the settlement typified the stiff upper lipped spirit of the Raj at its most cruel while the burra and memsahibs dressed for dinner and sang hymns in church, convicts languished in appalling conditions only a kilometer away. In the end, the entry of the Japanese into World War II, hot on the heels of a massive earthquake in 1941, forced the British to evacuate, and in the coming years most of the buildings were dismantled by the new overlords, who themselves founded a POW camp here. Little more than the hilltop Anglican Church, with its weed infested graveyard, has survived the onslaught of tropical creepers and vines, but the island makes a peaceful break from Port Blair. To get here, jump on one of the regular launches from Phoenix Jetty.