Chances are you’ve carried a picture of the Andaman and Nicobar islands in your wallet, even if you’ve never visited. Take a close look at the image on the back of a ₹20 note: Rendered in salmon pink are the tops of swaying coconut palms, and between their fronds, a beach with a tiny lighthouse in the distance. The dreamy landscape, I was recently informed, is North Bay Island beach and the barely-there dot is the Port Blair lighthouse.
I learned of North Bay’s noteworthiness on a recent trip to Port Blair. One morning, I noticed guests at the Fortune Resort Bay Island holding up ₹20 notes at the viewing deck and pointing vaguely in the distance. Nutty island visitors, I muttered under my breath, until I saw a board at the hotel’s restaurant with an enlarged photo of a ₹20 note, strategically placed in sight of North Bay and its candy cane-coloured lighthouse. Neat markings matched the landscape with the elements on the note. Sure enough, the panoramic view seemed to fit.
Keen to find out more, I began calling other Port Blair hotels. “Yes, that is the photo on the back of the note,” a helpful manager at one of the hotels said. “Even the boat operators will tell you that.” There was no doubt in the minds of everybody on the island, but things were a little fuzzier on the mainland.
Anup Mitra, President of the Numismatic Society of Calcutta mentioned he’d heard similar stories on his trips to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but confessed he had no proof. “I’ve spoken to various RBI officials too, but no one is confirming this,” he said.
The official document detailing the design elements of all Indian currency notes issued since 1967 didn’t help either. The entry about the ₹20 note simply says that “The central theme depicts the Indian coastal line with coconut groves.” No specific geographic location, but Mr. Radhakrishnan— curator of the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Museum in Mumbai—mentioned that the illustration could be part of the government’s effort to highlight India’s natural landscapes and resources.
It certainly got me examining the other notes in my wallet. The ₹100 note, I noticed, had a ring of handsome peaks crowned with clouds. Could they be the Himalayas, I wondered, remembering a school trip to Nepal, where I saw snow-covered peaks pierce the clouds as our flight began its descent into Kathmandu. The ten-rupee-note had a tiger, an elephant, and a rhino, only one of which I’d seen in the wild. Suddenly, the notes in my wallet became souvenirs of trips I’d taken, or premonitions of places and animals I hoped to see.
I couldn’t find an official statement proving that the beach on the ₹20 note was in fact North Bay, but I’m inclined to believe what I saw. If it’s good enough for the drivers, divers, and ferry boat operators in the Andamans, it’s good enough for me.
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.