It’s hard to imagine a life of complete seclusion, but there are a few places on the planet that remain untouched by technology and the advances of the modern world. Making contact and understanding the people who choose to live this way has enticed us for centuries. Curiosity, though, can come with risk…
As one anthropologist led a team of researchers towards the world’s deadliest secluded peoples, she might’ve been wondering if her careful efforts and intense training were enough to survive the encounter. She wouldn’t have her answer until it was too late to turn back…
Nestled between India and Myanmar, smack dab in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, are the picturesque Andaman Islands. But, despite looking like paradise, visitors need to approach with tremendous caution…
The World News
The India government requires visitation permits for every form of entry. Some of the islands in the cluster are tourist hubs and access is allowed with proper documents. Others are forbidden, namely the North Sentinel Island, and for good reason!
While the indigenous tribes of the Andamans have long fascinated anthropologists, they don’t look kindly on any intrusions from the outside world — and they aren’t just giving visitors the cold shoulder…
Travel Tour Guru
Visitors must approach with caution because the tribes are regarded as some of the most dangerous and violent in the world. They prefer to have no outside contact and have rejected many who tried to infiltrate their territory.
Throughout history, anthropologists carefully organized missions to visit, make friendly contact, and hopefully get the chance to learn more about these fascinating people. But there was a pretty big problem…
Any visitors, no matter how cautious or kindly intended, have been met with open hostility and extreme suspicion. Some visitors to the island have even been killed.
Getting to know them seemed impossible. But there was someone who was about to change all of that, and in the process, change our understanding of the tribe.
Doctor Madhumala Chattopadhya wanted to accomplish what so many others had lost their lives trying to do. But the path to doing just that wasn’t going to be easy for her.
As a young girl, the indigenous tribes off the coast of her home of India fascinated Madhumala. She was the top of her class and went on to study anthropology at the University of Calcutta. While hitting the books, these tribes were her focus.
In 1991, Madhumala got to live out her dream of making the first-ever recorded friendly contact. She was working as an associate of the Anthropological Survey of India. Along with a team of 13, Madhumala set out to attempt a connection no one had ever survived before.
But Madhumala knew she and her team would have to do something different to successfully engage the tribe — something other visitors hadn’t tried. So she brought coconuts!
As her team’s boats crept closer to the shore, the researchers started throwing coconuts out for the tribe as a peace offering. Not long after, some of the more curious members of the tribe waded into the water to take the coconuts.
Standing with bows and arrows ready on the shore, the tribe was skeptical of the visitors. They kept the coconuts coming, and eventually, Madhumala was able to enter the water and physically hand the offerings to the tribal members.
Another factor contributed to Mudhamala’s groundbreaking contact with the tribe: she was a woman! On her next visit in the same year, she led an expedition on land into the Jarawa tribe’s territory and made history once again.
Jarwa women spotted Madhumala, the only female member of her team, on the boat and yelled to her, “Milale chera!” It translated as “friend come here!” and broke out in an impromptu dance. She was the first woman to visit, and they welcomed her!
The tribal women approached Mudhamala and examined her hair and skin. But then she made a bold move that could have ended in complete disaster…she embraced one of the natives in a hug. By a miracle, her gamble paid off. The tribe reacted with happiness!
The tribe had never taken to an outsider like they did with Madhumala. They let her assist in chores, and even hold their children.
Nurturing an intense trust, they let Madhumala enter their huts, which was another historical first. She shared food with the tribe, and offered medical assistance. They allowed her to tend to their wounds and act as their doctor.
Despite her monumental strides in communications and anthropological discoveries, Madhumala hasn’t really been regarded as one of the great anthropologists in history. She lived amongst one of the most dangerous and mysterious tribes in the world, but her legacy remains a hidden gem for most of the world to discover.
As of early 2019, she continued to work for the central government, in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Madhumala’s texts about this secretive tribe were considered the standard of study for universities worldwide.
Times of India
Looking back on her success, Madhumala was grateful no harm came to her. North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese, a group of natives that have called the island home since pre-Neolithic days. The tribe is considered to be one of the last uncontacted peoples in the world, and the reason for this has given the island a truly notorious reputation.
In an effort to preserve their primitive lifestyle, the Sentinelese are known to mercilessly attack any visitors to the island on sight. They’ve even been known to fire arrows and launch spears at fishing boats that drift too close to their shores.
Surprisingly, however, after nearly a hundred years of failed efforts, an anthropological team made peaceful contact with the Sentinelese in 1991. The researchers were able to gain unprecedented access to the small island, though their time spent on North Sentinel left them with more questions than answers.
Despite their proximity to other island tribes, the Sentinelese possessed a distinct marking system unlike those of any other group, and their language – described as a series of high-pitched sounds and gestures – was unintelligible. Even a translator from a tribe of Onge natives, whom the Sentinelese had been know to engage with, couldn’t understand them.
Peaceful exchanges between the anthropologists and the Sentinelese continued until 1994, whereupon the project was abandoned in favor of leaving the tribe completely uncontacted. This decree was generally respected by the vessels that trolled the waters around the island… until two fishermen decided to test their luck in 2006.
While illegally harvesting crab just off North Sentinel, the weight anchoring the vessel manned by Indian fishermen Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari failed, casting them adrift toward the island. Paying no mind to the warnings of fellow seamen, the two washed ashore and were brutally killed by the natives.
Following the incident the Indian government cracked down on illegal visits to the island, maintaining a constant naval presence in the surrounding waters and prosecuting any who attempted to enter the area. But even with additional efforts made to sway potential trespassers, those determined to contact the forbidden tribe weren’t dissuaded.
In October of 2018, an American named John Allen Chau arrived in the area in the hope of visiting the island and living amongst its inhabitants. Chau, a devout Christian, sought to adopt the language of the Sentinelese and convert them to Christianity.
Chau was met with heavy resistance to his plan, but the 26 year old felt it was his spiritual mission to bring religion to North Sentinel. And so, in mid November, Chau hired a group of fisherman to take him to the island.
His initial visit to North Sentinel was a positive one, as upon arriving he was met with amusement and curiosity as opposed to the anticipated hostility. However, after offering them fish and other gifts, one of the natives fired an arrow at his Bible and Chau fled the island.
fieldhockeyx8 / Flickr
Following this brush with death, the fishermen advised Chau to abandon his efforts, but the young man, unfazed by the arrow, was determined to see his mission through. That’s why on November 17, Chau instructed the men to bring him to the island and to leave him there for good.
The fishermen obliged, but after a few hours they returned to North Sentinel to make sure that their American friend hadn’t been harmed. To their horror, the men watched as the Sentinelese dragged the lifeless body of John Allen Chau along the beach.
Hurrying back to Port Blair – the capital of the Andaman Islands – the fishermen relayed the news of Chau’s death to one of his friends, who then contacted Chau’s family to break the news. The fishermen also brought with them Chau’s diary, wherein he had left instructions in the event of his passing.
“I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” Chau wrote in the final entry before his death. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed … Don’t retrieve my body.”
Chau’s family honored his wishes, calling off the attempts made to recover his body from the island. Though it’s believed his death was caused by arrow fire, the truth behind what actually killed John Allen Chau will likely never be known.
The Indian government has taken a hands-off approach with Chau’s death, believing that both the missionary’s body and the Sentinelese people should be left alone. And while officials won’t press charges for the killing, those involved in getting him to the island in the first place have been arrested.
Though Chau’s death is no doubt tragic, many refuse to blame the Sentinelese for simply defending themselves from what they perceived to be a threat. Given the region’s history of foreign imperialism, some believe that the natives’ violent nature is rooted in a desire to survive, not some primal need to kill.
With yet another death on their hands, the Indian government faces enormous pressure to place stricter regulations on the North Sentinel area and to properly protect the native inhabitants. Whether they meet these demands remains to be seen, but this event should send a strong message to any wannabe adventurers looking to set sail for the forbidden island: leave the Sentinelese alone.
There are some places on this planet that even the most intrepid explorers will never get a chance to visit. While they’re not necessarily difficult to access—they’re just totally off-limits. From islands like North Sentinel to top-secret government facilities, these places are totally forbidden to tourists.
Lascaux Caves, France: The 20,000-year-old cave paintings located in the south of France were being damaged by the carbon dioxide exhaled by tourists. To preserve the paintings, the government has closed off the site to visitors.
Ise Grand Shrine, Japan: Only Shinto priests and priestesses to the royal family of Japan are ever allowed in this sacred temple. It’s also torn down and rebuilt every 20 years in keeping with the Shinto philosophy.
Club 33, Disneyland: If you can afford to pay $20,000 as an initiation fee and $10,000 annually in dues, then you might be able to nab a seat at one of the most exclusive supper clubs in the entire world.
Metro 2, Russia: This secret subway system underneath the city of Moscow was the brainchild of Stalin himself. Though the government has remained mum about Metro 2, some people who helped create it have revealed its existence.
Mount Weather, Virginia: Located 48 miles outside of Washington, D.C., in the Blue Ridge mountains, Mount Weather is the underground facility where the President would be kept in case of a doomsday-type emergency. Photos of the interior, however, are hard to come by.
Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City: While the name makes it clear that you aren’t welcome inside of the Vatican’s secret archives, you can absolutely request to view any document they hold that is over 75 years in age.
White’s Gentlemen’s Club, London: This exclusive gentlemen’s club is the most prestigious in England. In order to be invited to join their ranks, you’ve got to be male, a member of the royal family, or someone else in a position of power.
Room 39, North Korea: This top-secret government building is said to be the heart of countless illegal operations. How illegal? Well, that depends: how does counterfeiting and practicing insurance fraud sound to you?
RAF Menwith Hill, England: The Royal Air Force, with the help of the NSA (yep, you read that right), run this monitoring center. It is said to be one of the most comprehensive in the entire world. Have you ever gotten the feeling someone was watching you? It was probably someone working here.
Coca Cola Recipe Vault, Atlanta: For decades, the top secret recipe to this popular soda was locked inside a bank just down the street from the Coca Cola headquarters. They have since created a vault of their own for storing the recipe.
Area 51, Nevada: No list about forbidden places is complete without Area 51. The United States Air Force base is where, for years, people have theorized that research and experiments have been conducted on aliens and UFOs.
Mezhgorye, Russia: This top-secret town doesn’t welcome visitors. That’s probably because the town was established as a place for employees at the nearby major nuclear facility to live… and hide from NATO.
Snake Island, Brazil: This island’s name isn’t an accident. There are more than 5,000 different types of venomous snakes living on this island, making it totally unpleasant, if not downright uninhabitable, for anyone who is not a snake.
Surtsey Island, Iceland: This is one of the newest islands on planet Earth. It recently emerged after a volcanic eruption in the 1960s and it is in near pristine conditions. Iceland wants to keep it that way, and only a few scientists have been allowed to visit the island so far.
Google Data Center, Oregon: If there is one thing Google takes seriously, it’s security. Their data center in Oregon is probably more well-protected than Area 51, and as far as we know, there aren’t even any alleged UFOs here!
Tomb of Qin Shi Wang, China: The Chinese government has been intensely protective of the tomb of their first Emperor, Qin Shi Wang. The tomb contains the famous terra cotta soldiers, but what else it holds we may never truly know.
Bank of England Vaults, London: In order to access the vaults, you need a key that is more than 35 inches long! Getting the key itself would be a problem since the names of people with access to vaults is a strictly kept secret.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway: If all of the plants in the world were ever to be wiped out, the seeds stored in this top secret vault could literally bring the Earth back to life. Even countries who have contributed seeds are not granted access, though!
Bohemian Grove, California: More myths than truths are known about the West Coast secret society of elites. They are rumored to have single-handedly begun the entire Manhattan project. Many ex-presidents have been among its members, as well.
Pine Gap, Australia: Controlled by the Australian and United States governments, Pine Gap is home to a satellite monitoring facility. These aren’t any old satellites, either. Pine Gap is central in receiving and transmitting spy communique.
Chapel of the Arc of the Covenant, Ethiopia: This chapel is said to house the Arc of the Covenant, which contains the 10 Commandants as handed down to Moses. Other than the priest who tends the church, no one else is allowed to enter.
Woomera Prohibited Area, Australia: This is the largest bomb testing stretch of land in the entire world. Rather than risk people stumbling into the wake of a bomb, the government went ahead and made it known just how off-limits the place was in its very name.
Propiyet, Ukraine: While you can technically get into Propiyet, you might not want to visit this tiny town in Ukraine. That’s because it is literally the most radioactive town in the entire world. Definitely give it a miss.
Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean: While the Mariana Trench is not exactly “forbidden,” it’s not easy to get to, either! This trench is the deepest in the entire ocean if you can believe it. Only three people have successfully visited it.