Viper Island – The gallows of death
Much before the Cellular Jail was constructed, the British needed a place for penal punishment. That is how Viper Island came into existence. The British had laid out a good plan for the Andaman Islands. While the Ross Island served as the administrative center, a jail was needed close to Port Blair and Ross Island to confine and teach lessons to freedom fighters.
Viper Island is a small patch of land where on a hillock, a jail was constructed. A fifteen-minute ride from Port Blair, this jail was different from any the freedom fighters had seen all their lives. Surrounded by water and quiet as a mouse. Women were also detained in the jail on this island and prisoners were subjected to unimaginable tortures.
Stories behind the name: Lt. Archibald Blair of the Bombay Marine first came to Viper Island in a vessel by the name ‘H.M.S. Viper’. It is believed that this vessel met with an accident and the wreckage was found near the island, and that’s how the island got its name.
Another theory says that the island was far away from habitat because of vipers found in this island. These venomous reptiles made it hard for humans to stay on the island and hence the name.
The gallows: Even after many years, the small structure atop the hill on the island has the same beam on which once prisoners were hanged. While the rest of the structure was restored, those beams have been left as is signifying the place it was.
This island also stands testimony to the death penalty of Sher Ali, who assassinated Lord Mayo, the then Viceroy of India. Sher Ali’s courage in the act has been much appreciated and his death was hence inevitable. Viper Island was then chosen as the right place for the hanging.
What makes the island beautiful? You may think that with a history like that, the place would not be an attractive destination. The truth is far from that. While the history is a reminder of the struggle for Indian Independence, the island is beautiful. Surrounded by coconut trees on the outside, it is peaceful and green as far as you can see. The brick-red structure on top looks like the olden days’ dak bungalows.
Travel tips: Viper Island is a small place and there is not much gung-ho about it. We got to visit the island because Ross Island was closed for tourists. If given a chance, I would visit both Ross and this island again. If you love history and you have the time, a quick ride would be great.
- You don’t need more than 45 mins to go around the jail so this island is easy enough to be fitted into any itinerary.
- Ask questions. Your boat guy doubles up as the guide and will tell you much more than you can find online.
- Walk around and soak in the beauty.
- Be back before 5 PM. That’s when the island closes for the tourists.
Until you visit, here are some pictures from my trip to the Viper Island.
And now the jail and what you see there.
There is a lot more to Andamans than what meets the eye. Watch this space for more Andaman Adventures.