Into the Harmony of Lakshwadeep Isles
A tropical paradise
My last year’s family holiday in the dream island of Lakshadweep was a memorable one as we spent some priceless moments in this tropical paradise. Right from the mode of traveling (cruise ship) to the stunning array of beach activities that awaited us, the island holidays at Lakshwadeep was undoubtedly first-rate.
What surprised me was the laidback charm of the Islands. We had come prepared with lots of time at our disposal – a week long sojourn, which we were told was perfect for soaking in the sun drenched islands of Lakshwadeep.
A vast majority of the tourists belonging to mainland India do not even have a clue as to where the emerald island of Lakshwadeep is located. It is ideally located at 8° and 12° North Latitude and 71° and 74° East Longitude. The word Lakshwadeep literally means “One Lakh Islands” but in reality Lakshwadeep is a cluster of 36 islands covering an area of 32 Sq. Kilometers.
Apart from traveling by air, one of the most enchanting ways of traveling to the island of Lakshwadeep is by cruise ships that depart from the port city of Kochi in Kerala. The sea voyage is unique and I would be quite prepared to embark on a sea voyage to the island a hundred times and still not feel bored.
After a captivating sea voyage, we reached the picturesque island of Kavaratti and checked in at the impeccably maintained Kavaratti Tourist Complex. The hutments that we were provided to us were every bit ethnic and offered all the amenities that a modern day traveler would ask for. Since we availed the exclusive “Taratashi Holiday Package” we were offered a plethora of island holiday options ranging from exciting water sports to visits to the spectacular Marine Aquarium. I was most amazed by the sheer richness of marine life as viewed from the see-through glass bottomed boats.
Lakshwadeep is in the record books as well, being the smallest Union Territory of India comprising of just 12 atolls, 3 exclusive reefs and 5 inundated banks. Amongst the 36 islands, only ten are inhabited like Agatti, Amini, Andrott, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy.
An impromptu talk with a local guide revealed that the island came under the influence of Islam way back in the 7th century. According to legends, small settlements started in the islands of Amini, Kavaratti, Andrott and Kalpeni first and later people from these islands moved to other islands of Agatti, Kiltan, Chetlat and Kadmat.
The advent of Islam dates back to the 7th century. Legend has it that St. Ubaidulla of Mecca in his dream saw Prophet Mohammed directing him to go to Jeddah and hire a ship from there and go in search of hitherto unexplored places. It was during his sea voyage in close proximity to the Lakshwadeep Islands that he was shipwrecked and he was literally floating on a piece of wood, which in turn was swept on shore to the island of Amini. It is from this island that Ubaidulla started disseminating the religion of Islam in the islands.
With Kavaratti as our base, we explored the various islands and were captivated by their exceptionally fragile ecosystem and culture. Due to the rather delicate ecosystem, the island of Lakshwadeep is not promoted as aggressively as the other beach destinations like Goa and Kovalam.
It is unlikely that Lakshwadeep will find any mention in the standard Tourist brochures of India. According to our well-informed guide Aftab – “Although tourism is very much encouraged by the government, it is kept under control from the harmful effects of mass tourism. With a view to protecting the sensitive ecological balance of the islands, Eco-Tourism is promoted and that too with all the proper checks and balances so as to be consistent in terms of ecological situation of the islands”.
What appealed to us was the sheer synchronization of the tourist product – “Lakshwadeep” into a truly exotic Island hideway. At times it felt rather difficult to digest that we were roaming around in beaches, which are integral parts of the Indian republic and not otherwise. A chance encounter with a Western couple – Mr and Mrs Stoltenberg from far away Oslo (Norway) brought out in the open our hidden belief vis-à-vis the tropical charm of the Lakshwadeep. As a couple, they had traveled to exotic places like Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka as well as Bali in Indonesia and according to Mr. And Mrs. Stoltenberg, it was rather difficult to comprehend that they were actually in an island in India and not otherwise.
In terms of Sustainable Island Tourism, Lakshwadeep is a fine example of what an Eco-Friendly and Sustainable tourist destination should be all about. I was most impressed with the Island’s Environment Impact Assessment that clearly stipulates the norms like mandatory construction of hutments using thatched roofs, bio-toilets, rain water harvesting, minimal use of pump sets, stress on use of bio-degradable items, plantation of trees, maintaining the carrying capacity of the islands etc…which are being meticulously observed by the developers of tourism infrastructures like resorts, hotels and tourist lodges.
What is amazing is the fact that since most of the islands are isolated and small in size, which means that, some amount of constraints on the physical growth of the islands is inevitable. But, in spite of this constraint, the government has somehow managed to promote tourism, which is high on quality. A visit to Lakshwadeep is like an eye-opener when it comes to extreme low volume and high value oriented tourism. In fact Lakshwadeep’s tourism module can be a great learning process for the other beach tourism destinations of India.
By far the best way to explore the varied charms of the Lakshwadeep islands is by embarking on island hopping. Apart from the administrative headquarters of Kavaratti, which can be a good base for your island hopping tours to Agatti, Bangaram, Kadmat, Minicoy and Kalpeni.
We commenced our trip from Kavaratti, which is most renowned for its 52 mosques that are well spread out throughout the island. I was stunned by the architectural grandeur of the Ujra mosque, which is conspicuous by its intricately carved ceiling. Other attractions of Kavaratti includes the spectacular lagoon where one can indulge in exciting water sports. I being a beach bum spent a lot of my time at the sandy beaches of Kavaratti. Make it a point to visit the stunning Marine Museum that showcases the very best of the underwater sea life found in this part of the world. For the more adventurous ones, Kayaking and Yacht Sailing activities are also available.
From the picture perfect setting of Kavaratti we ventured to the fascinating island of Kalpeni, renowned for being home to the largest lagoon of the Lakshwadeep Island. On the expert guidance of our guide Aftab, we ventured to explore the unusual atoll, which is conspicuous by its exclusive “storm bank” that is a repository of coral wreckages.
Apart from its unique charm, Kalpeni is the educational hub of Lakshwadeep and in terms of “Education of the Girl Child”, Kalpeni has played a pioneering role. Other places worth visiting in Kalpeni Island are the picturesque islets of Pitti, Tilakkam as well as the gorgeous lagoon at Cheriyam isle.
Many visitors decide to halt for a day or two at Kalpeni’s exclusive Tourist Complex at Koomel, which is a spectacular curved bay with facilities for a plethora of exciting water sports ranging from Kayaks to Sail Boats.
Our next hop was to the rather isolated Minicoy Island, which is strategically located to the southern most tip of Lakshwadeep. Anybody who takes the trouble of reaching to Minicoy can rest assured of a slice of Maldives, that fascinating island nation of south Asia. Here the inhabitants speak the Mahl dialect, which is actually spoken in the island of Maldives.
There is another interesting aspect about Minicoy, which we discovered during our trip to the Island – “Emancipation of Women”. Whoever said that Islam was deprecating women, should take a look at the society of Minicoy Island. Here the womenfolk play a dominating role.
Our guide Aftab revealed that the numerous villages dotting the Island landscape of Minicoy were exposed to democratic way of life from times immemorial. A visit to a neighboring village revealed the rather well organized system of village administration with the lion’s share of the responsibilities bestowed upon the – “Bodukaka”.
In terms of culture and heritage too, the Minicoy Island villages are much elevated and it was simply fascinating to watch the rhythmic “Lava” dance performed by the village folks. We also paid a visit to the one-of-its-kind Tuna Canning Factory and the drive through lush green tropical forests replete with coconut groves and sundry tropical foliages was breathtaking to say the least.
The refined lifestyle of the natives of Minicoy Island was very apparent in that the womenfolk were renowned for their culinary skills. My Mom even got involved in an impromptu session on the fine art of cooking a traditional fish dish on the advise of a trained female who would put even the most glamorous Chef of a 5 star hotel to abject surrender.
While womenfolk of Minicoy Island have a dignified existence, the men folks are mostly involved in maritime trade and a lot of them work in foreign merchant shipping companies. They are also expert carpenters and have carved a niche for themselves in the competitive world of carpentry.
While the Island of Minicoy captivated us with its refined social life and the exalted status of women, Kadmat Island on the other hand was at its alluring best with its pristine lagoon and endless stretches of beaches, ideal for swimming and participating in exciting water sports options. We were told that Kadmat was the only Island in the whole of Lakshwadeep to have the unique distinction of having a lagoon on both sides.
In terms of foreign tourist traffic to Lakshwadeep, the Island of Kadmat is a hot favorite and believe me, the island has the capacity to cater to just 48 tourists at a time, which might sound funny and even incredible, but such are the stringent tourism rules set forth by the island’s mandarins in the best interest of preserving the Island’s fragile ecosystem.
It is here that one of India’s finest diving spot is located and there is also an exclusive Water Sports Institute that offers Diving lessons for a fee. We found numerous lovelorn couples at the beachfront and according to our guide Aftab, Kadmat is increasingly becoming a popular haunt for Honeymoon couples.
Towards the last leg of our Island hopping activity, we explored the bewitching Islands of Agatti and Bangaram, each possessing unique tourism attributes to lure the discerning world traveler. While Agatti with its only airport in the whole of Lakshwadeep and a gorgeous lagoon that never ceases to amaze you with its sheer beauty, Bangaram is the stuff of “Romance in the High Seas” – the kind eulogized in James Hadley Chase Thrillers.
Ever wanted to get marooned in an uninhabited Island? With no phone calls, no mobile sets, no fax, no E-mail!! Bangaram is the Mecca of Scuba Diving and is renowned for its scenic charm and exclusive coral formations as well as diverse tropical flora and fauna. Here you can have a date with creatures as diverse as Sharks and rare varieties of Sea Turtles, all of which has already catapulted Bangaram into the big league of international Scuba Diving sites.
We saw hordes of Western tourists fully geared up in their diving suits preparing for their diving stints in one of the world’s best diving spots. Needless to say, the immaculately maintained Bangaram Island Resort is the hub of all tourist activity in this secluded island and apart from high quality accommodation, the resort also offers an array of first – rate water sports equipments.
Given the fact that Lakshwadeep has emerged as a top-end water sports destination, there is an exclusive Department of Water Sports catering to the exacting needs of water sport enthusiasts who converge to Lakshwadeep from all over the world.
In Lakshwadeep, the exciting water sports landscape is non-intrusive in nature, which means lighter activities like water scooters etc… have been intentionally been left aside and the corresponding stress is given on adventure oriented water sports like Scuba Diving and Para Sailing.
No other Island destination offers the kind of variety in terms of Coral Reefs as Lakshwadeep does. For those Coral Reef aficionados, the government has launched an exclusive onboard cruise package covering the bewitching Islands of Minicoy, Kavaratti and Kalpeni. Visitors board the vessel M.V. Tipusulatn from Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala and are taken along the trail of the three Islands in the all-inclusive 5-Day Coral Reef Package Tour.
Apart from the Coral Reef Tour, there is also an exclusive Marine Wealth Awareness Programme on offer for those interested in exploring the myriad charms of underwater sea life. An all-inclusive voyage by ship (6 Day Package) starts from the city of Kochi in Kerala and halts at Kadmat Beach Resort where the ship is anchored for 3 days so as to enable guests to explore the stunning array of marine life in and around Kadmat. Activities include Snorkeling, Kayaking, Scuba Diving, and Deep Sea Diving etc…
Traveler’s Fact File
Getting There: Lakshwadeep is accessible by both air and ship from Kerala’s port city of Cochin or Kochi. There are regular flights operated by Indian Airlines from Kochi to Lakshwadeep and vice versa. As far as the sea voyage is concerned, ships like M.V. Tipusultan, M.V. Bharat Seema, M.V. Amindivi and M.V. Minicoy etc… operate regular shipping services from Kochi to Lakshwadeep and vice versa. The sea voyage is around 15-20 hours in duration depending on the weather conditions. Visitors have the option to choose from a range of options like A/C Deluxe, A/C First Class and Tourist Class. Students traveling in a group of 15 pax or above are given discounted tickets in the Tourist Class.
A range of accommodations is available for the discerning tourists to Lakshwadeep. Quality accommodations are available courtesy resorts and eco-friendly ethnic hutments at key Island destinations like Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kadmat and Bangaram. Apart from being guests of resorts, one unique way of seeking shelter in Lakshwadeep is on board shipping vessels like M.V. Tipusultan that offers all the modern amenities that a discerning traveler would ask for ranging from spacious cabins, cafeteria, snack bar, video shows, entertainment lounge, exclusive Upper Deck as well as doctor on call.
For any further information on Lakshwadeep Islands, please feel free to contact:
I.G. Road, Willingdon Island
Kerala, India Tel: 0484-668387