On board MV Chowra: A sea voyage (3/5)

The first post of this series described the beginning of our sea voyage as we left from Port Blair on MV Chowra while in my second post, we visited the beautiful island of Car Nicobar. The year was 2017.

Getting comfortable on MV Chowra

We left Car Nicobar in the evening. We were now slowing getting aware about the eating protocols on the ship. Announcements of seat/ berth numbers were made during meal times, and when we heard our seat numbers, we would head to the canteen. It was a cramped space which had one serving counter with one serving person. How he managed to serve hundreds of passengers, three times a day alone was short of a miracle. But his smile and jolly nature had something to do with it. Food was most basic and those who are choosy might have a bone to pick here.

As we left Car Nicobar, we were up for another night in the ship. We had gotten more familiar and comfortable with the bunk beds under the deck. But I wanted to try and sleep on the deck. So on this night, we took our blankets and made our way to the flat platform on the deck where people slept.

Image: On left is the flat space, where people often took a snooze. On the right, we see passengers watching the sunset.

The night was dark and some star light reached us from between the wisps of clouds. As soon as we settled on that flat platform, it started to drizzle. The winds soon turned torrential. The ship moved up and down like crazy! I was freaked out. There was no way I could sleep on the deck knowing that we were being thrown around like that by the water. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. If we capsized now, there was no way I would escape alive in these rough waters. Nature sent a gentle reminder to my ego (that probably sought adventure?) and I decided to head back below deck to sleep in my bunker. The below deck compartment seemed much more cozy and inviting than before!! And so, I closed by eyes and tried to not think about where we were. With my new found respect for MV Chowra, I closed by eyes. I knew now, how she battled and endured the rough seas.

The only complaint of the ship journey

Perhaps the only major complaint I had about the ship was the washrooms, to be specific, the women’s washrooms. They were not well maintained. For one, ship bathrooms always seem to have a lot of vomit everywhere. People get sea sick and perhaps always do not make it in time to the washroom! The worst part was the lack of garbage-bins in the washroom which led the users to stuff used sanitary pads anywhere and everywhere! And I mean everywhere! Any nook and cranny inside the small toilet cubicle was a space to stuff pads.

Image: Left photo shows a toilet cubicle and right photo shows the whole washroom. The inset left photo with the red arrow shows how used sanitary pads and wrappers are stuffed near the plumbing.

This is something I have never got to terms with. When you have half the population as women (for example, like on this ship), how can we not have in place the most basic facilities required for their everyday living?! The presence of a huge waste-bin in the women’s washroom would have provided a space for the women to throw diapers, pads and other toileteries that may be essential for young kids and women. Also, there was only 1 western commode which was rather un-usable which inconvenienced the elderly and differently-abled. The toilet cubicles were small with no space to hold on to, no handles. Given that the ship rocks a lot, it is important to have handles to hold on to.

Because of this, many older women and young children preferred to just pee on the floors of the washroom and not inside the cubicles. And this collected urine on the floor flowed side to side as the ship rocked. Yes, the situation does seem awful and off-putting.

This situation was unacceptable at so many levels. How can there not be clean washrooms made available on the ship? Was this so difficult? And if MV Chowra is the only ship that plies islanders back and forth from the remote islands to Port Blair/ mainland, then there is no choice for the people! This means the residents have no other mode of transport or option available to them to travel to their homes, except for this ship. Elderly women, middle aged and young women, small children comprised of almost half the ship population! This was an unfair deal for them!

At this point, I do want to flag this issue out as a generic problem in India, and not specific to this ship journey. A major problem for me and many women travellers like back-packers, trekkers, hikers, birders, wildlife enthusiasts is the lack of toilet facilities when on the road. I experience poor restroom facilities across various tourist destinations. I am not talking about toilet facilities when you are camping or in wilderness, but rather in places where you make pit-stops: a bus stop halt, small townships, train stations, restrooms in highway petrol pumps, roadside hotels or dhabas. Often, these are poorly planned or poorly maintained. Though there is some marginal improvement over the years, the crux is something as basic as toilet facilities is uncompromisable. And until these are really revamped in India, tourism will only remain popular with certain groups of people and in certain places. I have a lot to say on this topic, so I will talk of it in a separate post under sustainable tourism series.

Anyways, apart from this unpleasant “toilet experience” on the ship, I must admit, I had nothing to complain. In the case of MV Chowra, the high seas and the serenity of the whole landscape kept all negative experiences at bay.

Image: I will leave you with this photo, for when we reached Chowra and Teressa islands, it was such shades of blue that made our jaws drop!

Now, we reach the remotest of islands, Chowra and Teressa, islands like no other.

The account will continue in my next post: Car Nicobar to Chowra to Teressa

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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