It’s been much in the news lately due to proposed development plans. Let’s take a closer look at the treasures of this azure archipelago.
Positioned as the new ‘it’ destination of the future for oceanic biodiversity and aqua adventure for domestic as well as inbound travellers, Lakshadweep has a lot going for it. Made up of several atolls, Lakshadweep is a collection of coral reefs in the Arabian Sea off the south-western coast of India. The name itself translates to one lakh ‘dweep‘ or 100,000 islands, although in reality there are actually 36 islands that make up the archipelago that’s only 32.69 sq km in area.
And although only 10 of these are inhabited, supporting a population of less than 70,000, Lakshadweep is of strategic importance in terms of national security. Hence the Indian Navy base called INS Dweeprakshak has been built on Kavaratti, which is one of the main islands along with Agatti, Minicoy, and Amini. The languages spoken in this union territory are Malayalam, Jeseri (Dweep Bhasha), and Mahl, with the dialects of the northern islanders being influenced by Arabic and those in the south speaking a variant of Divehi, which is spoken in the Maldives. The cuisine is largely influenced by Kerala, and the most active industries are fisheries and coir factories.
Rich in biodiversity, it is a place where you can observe a variety of sea life and bird species within a compact area. The PM Sayeed Marine Birds Conservation Reserve has been created in the hope of protecting the wealth of marine and bird life, especially four species of pelagic seabirds – the greater crested tern, lesser crested tern, sooty tern, and the brown noddy. Pitti Island is also an important breeding place for sea turtles. The world’s first conservation zone for sea cucumbers was also created in a 239 sq km radius of the uninhabited Cheriyapani reef last year. Called the Dr KK Mohammed Koya Sea Cucumber Conservation Reserve, it promises these endangered creatures sanctuary from poachers.
Know your islands
This gleaming chain of emeralds in the middle of the sapphire Arabian Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean, is one of India’s best-kept secrets. On the occasion of United Nation’s World Ocean Day (June 8), here’s why you should visit each one.
Agatti: It not only has a cool airport; it also boasts one of the most beautiful lagoons in Lakshadweep.
Bangaram: An uninhabited (and perhaps uninhibited too?) island where alcohol is legal. But there are other great reasons to visit too! In the lagoon formed between this teardrop-shaped island and the tiny ones called Thinnakara and Parali, you can feast your eyes on phosphorescent plankton washed ashore on the coral sands at night. Coconut groves, white sand beaches, and snorkelling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing. No wonder this one is popular with international tourists.
Kadmat (Cardamom) Island: An atoll that spans just 3.20 sq kms, this eight km long stretch has a shallow lagoon that’s perfect for water sports along one side, with kayaks, sailing boats, pedal boats, skiing boats and glass-bottomed boats available on hire. The Water Sports Institute flourishes on the island, offering snorkelling and scuba diving. Kadmat has emerged as one of India’s most sought-after dive centres. From the early 2000s, since Star Cruises had started tendering off this island, Kadmat has been on the tourist map for those seeking secluded serenity. We found that the locals are hospitable and like to share their culinary creations as well as their recipes.
Kalpeni: A bank of coral debris from a storm almost a century ago is a unique sight on this island. There are beautiful spots to swim, snorkel or reef-walk in the vast lagoon as well as have fun on kayaks, sailboats and pedal boats. This one is 45 minutes away from Agatti Island by helicopter or eight hours by boat.
Kavaratti: As the administrative headquarters, it’s Lakshadweep’s most developed island. A marine aquarium, some stunning mosques, as well as aqua activities such as lagoon safaris in glass-bottomed boats, kayaking, wind surfing, sailing and PADI-certified diving and courses from the Dolphin Dive Centre are all great draws.
Minicoy: Visit this one for cultural insights into the people of the erstwhile Laccadives (as the Lakshadweep islands were once known). Catch a traditional dance – the Lava – during a festival, or cheer the colourful race boats. The 300 feet tall lighthouse built in 1885 by the British towers over the curve of the bay. Water sports facilities and bathing huts as well as a few cottages have been built to cater to tourists.
What to expect as a tourist
Before you go: You need a permit to visit Lakshadweep. Get the details here.
Getting there: Kochi in Kerala is the gateway to this remote island paradise, with flights to Agatti and seven ships connecting the mainland of India with Lakshadweep. The ship journey lasts about 14 to 18 hours.
Getting around: Between islands, there are high-speed boats and chopper services except in the monsoon months (June to September).