Tourism in Lakshadweep Island

Location : 400 kms west of the coast of Kerala
Status : Tiniest Union Territory of India
Language : Malayalam, English
Attractions : Kavaratti, Minicoy, Bangaram, Agatti

Lakshadweep has a precious heritage in its ecology and culture. The local Administration always keeps the carrying capacity of the islands in mind. Similarly, in some islands the water-able is not sufficient to provide increased drinking water in significant quantities and so these islands have not been earmarked for tourism.

Government 'accommodation is available at Kavaratti, Kadmath and Agatti. At Kalpeni and Minicoy private entrepreneurs have taken up the task. Extensive use has been made of tiling roofs and coconut palm matting for external walls, and the effect is remarkable in the way the constructions blend with their surroundings.

Water Sports
High quality equipment of international standards has been imported for the Kadmath Institute of Water Sports. This includes snorkels, glass- bottomed boats, rowing and motor boats, equipment for wind surfing, scuba diving, Para sailing and water skiing.

Water sports facilities like kayaking, sailing, paddle boats, inflatable motor boats, glass - bottom boats and water skiing are available in the islands of Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Kadmath and Minicoy.

Traditional folk dances of the islands are performed by local men. Performances are available on request. No other form of entertainment exists except TV and Radio.

One interesting consequence of the Administration's concern for ecology is the promotion of the concept of day tourism. A passenger liner anchoring near an island provides both transport and accommodation. Tourists therefore have the best of both worlds- comfortable accommodation and service on board the ship, combined with the beauty of the island and water sports facilities during the day.

There is a regular ship service between Cochin and the islands according to a scheduled programme.

Lakshadweep - Location and General Information
In the Arabian sea, approximately 400 kms west of the coast of Kerala between 8 degrees and 12 degrees North latitude, and 71 degrees and 74 degrees East longitude, Lakshadweep is a Union Territory of India - its tiniest - and has the country's only coral islands. Of its 36 islands covering a land area of 32 so. km, 10 are inhabited.

Climate

Lakshadweep has a tropical climate, with summer temperatures ranging from 35 degrees centigrade to 22 degrees centigrade and winter temperature between 32 degrees centigrade to 20 degrees centigrade. During monsoons, ship - based tourism is closed but a helicopter service is available. Some effect of the northeast monsoon is felt in October-November in the form of light transitory showers which cool the place.

It is important to see Lakshadweep in the light of what it is - a group of islands, far from each other and from the mainland. Most items of food supplies, rice, vegetables, tinned food etc. as well as a whole range of consumer goods have to be transported, at some pains, from Kerala. Hence the few shops that do exist cater very specifically to the everyday needs of the locals. Good brands of toiletries and cigarettes are available on major islands.. Books and periodicals in any language other than Malayalam are difficult to find but inhabited islands have excellent libraries. Biscuits, tinned milk and similar provisions are not difficult to find. However, Bangaram, having no local population, has no shops at all.Tropical clothes throughout the year are sufficient. A waterproof coat during October- November will be useful.There is prohibition on all the islands except in uninhabited islands such as Bangaram.

Language
The language spoken in the islands is Malayalam except in Minicoy where it is Mahl, written in the Divehi script. The local population are all Sunni Muslims of the Shafi sect. Tourist guides and those people who come into contact with tourists as part of their job, speak English. Very little Hindi is spoken or understood except in Minicoy.

People and Culture
Ethnically, the people of the islands are very similar to the people of Kerala, even their language is the same except in Minicoy where Mahl is spoken. As Muslims, they have conservative customs and traditions and yet they are liberal in approach.

Each island, has several mosques. Ladies are not permitted to enter.

Non-availability of drinking water accounts for a number of islands being uninhabited.

Not much is known of the early history of Lakshadweep. From the 7th century onwards, however, enough evidence exists to piece together a history of the islands. The people converted to Islam under the influence of Hazrat Ubaidullah who set off from Mecca after Prophet Mohammed appeared to him in a dream, commanding him to leave for distant shores to propagate Islam. The ship on which Hazrat Ubaidullah was sailing was wrecked and after drifting on a plank of wood he reached the island of Amini where his mission met with fierce opposition.

After many difficulties he was able to carry out his mission, and to this day, the people of Lakshadweep follow Islam. Traces of the old culture still linger however; despite the influence of Islam, a caste system still prevails based on occupation- landowners, sailors and cultivators. Although Madrassas in all the islands impart religious instruction to school-going children, many individuals bear two names.

History comes alive in folk ballads that women chant during their house - hold chores. Events of the past - the arrival of Hazrat Ubaidullah in Lakshadweep, the plunder of the islands by the Portuguese, have been perpetuated by the balladeer.

Economy
Coconut cultivation and fishing are the chief occupations of the people, whose folklore and customs are, not surprisingly, largely derived from the sea.

Boat building was once an important skill. Sadly, after the advent of motorised boats, this has reduced considerably. However, majestic wooden boats anchored along the shore stand silent testimony to a fragment of the past. Boats were built for fishing, for navigation from one end of the island to another, for inter- island communication, for transporting coconuts and dried fish to the mainland and returning with food supplies, as well as for friendly competitive races Each boat was built differently, according to its function and every island has its own slight variation in design. This meant that just sighting a boat approaching the shore was indication enough of which island it came from. The people of Lakshadweep are often commended for their honesty. The absence of crime in the islands is laudable. The most obvious testimony to this is the profusion of gold ornaments worn by the women, young children are allowed to wander around alone wearing chunky jewellery is a pointer to a way of life that one hopes will continue into the future.

Tourit Attractions in Lakshadweep Island


THE HOLIDAY ISLAND - LAKSHADEEP

Kavaratti
The administrative capital, Kavaratti is the most developed of the islands with the highest percentage of non-islanders as residents. Fifty two mosques are spread out over the island, the most beautiful being the Ujra mosque. A well, within its precincts, is believed to contain water of curative powers. The Ujra mosque has an ornately carved ceiling, said to have been carved from a piece of driftwood. Kavaratti also has an aquarium with several colourful species of fish. There is a glass bottom boat for viewing marine life and an array of remarkable coral formations that pro- vides a background to the lagoons and the islands: within them. Some Water Sports like kayaking canoeing and snorkeling are available for tourists.

Kalpeni
Kalpeni has three uninhabited satellite islands, all surrounded by an immense lagoon of spectacular beauty. Sunlight on the water causes it to sparkle and flash like a million aquamarines. Koomel, the gently curving bay where the tourist facilities are located, directly over- looks Pitti and Thilakkm, two of the islands. Here you can swim, reef walk, snorkel or use water sports equipment like kayaks, and sail boats. Now the tourist facilities have been augmented and tourists can stay on the island in privately managed huts, depending on the package. This lagoon is specially rich in coral life.

Kadmath
A particularly fine lagoon, of even depth and an endless shoreline, perfect for swimming, makes Kadmath a haven of solitude. The tourist huts are situated some distance away from habitation, with only the splash of the waves to break the silence. During the day, when the heat of the overhead sun becomes too strong, the feathery network of coconut palms provides a canopy throughout the island, through which light dimly filters, green and cool. It is the only island with lagoons on both eastern and western sides. A Water Sports Institute providing water sports facilities has been set up in Kadmath. Accommodation consists of AC and non AC tourist huts aesthetically situated in the coconut palm groves on the beaches. The island is becoming increasingly popular for honeymooners. As a testimony to its Water Sports potential, a Scuba Diving Centre has been set up there. With the Water Sports Institute, Scuba Diving Centre and the proposed augmentation of accommodation, the island is sure to become the focal point of tourist activities in Lakshwadeep.

Minicoy
Furthest from Kavaratti island, 200 km away to the south and also nearest to the Maldives, Minicoy has a lighthouse built by the British in 1885. Visitors are allowed up, right to the very top. Words cannot do justice to the incredible size of the lagoon, one of the largest in Lakshwadeep, the green of coconut trees, and the mirror-like surface of an inland lake as it nestles in one corner of the island. Minicoy has a culture very different from any other island - dress, language, food, all differ. Minicoy has a cluster of 10 villages, which are called Athiris, each presided over by a Moopan. A walk through the winding lanes of the villages is an indication of the culture here. Minicoy is renowned for its dance tradition: the lava dance is performed on festive occasions. There is a tuna canning factory - signifying its importance in tuna fishing and boat building activity. Privately managed cottages have been built on the isolated beaches and are available for tourists.

Agatti
Agatti has one of the most beautiful lagoons in Lakshadweep. This is where the airport is built. A virtual gateway to Lakshadweep, a 20 bed tourist complex has been set up here. The island will shortly be opened for tourists.

Bangaram
There is something indescribably romantic about the very notion of an uninhabited island and Bangaram justifies that feeling. Tear-drop shaped, it is encircled by a continuous halo of creamy sand. Like all the other islands of Lakshadweep, luxuriant plantations of coconut provide coolness even during the hottest part of the day. There are three uninhabited islands in the same atoll consisting of Tinnakara, Parali-l, Parali-ll, perfect for a day's outing. All the islands share the same lagoon, an enormous bowl of turquoise blue. At twilight, the setting sun, a ball of crimson in a flaming sky, casts its reflection on the water, and with the ever present coconut palms as a black silhouette, Bangaram is at the height of its allure. That is the hour when every visitor promises himself another visit someday.

If one were to cut the poetry, eulogising the beauty of the island of Bangaram, then one would still be left with the essential fact that it is a breathtakingly beautiful island quite out of this world. Surrounded by one of the largest and safest lagoons with its calm, unimaginable blue- green waters, lie the white coral sands and the half-a-square kilometer rise of Bangaram.

And yet the lagoon is born out of a long coral reef that rings around three other islands as well, each easily accessible by out boarding, sailing, rowing and for the athletic, by kayaking or wind-surfing from Bangaram.

But that is not all. The warm, clear, deep waters of the Indian Ocean with its myriad marine flora and fauna are an irresistible invitation to the scuba diving fraternity of the world. The exquisite coral formations including the black coral formations, the large variety and number of coral fish-the angel, the clown, the butterfly, the surgeon, the groupers, not to mention the abundance of the awesome, but harmless sharks, mantarays, sting rays, moray eels (morena) and turtles, make diving here an addictive experience, enough to make impressive any diver's logbook with the stamp of the Diving School at Bangaram.

And quite important too is the philosophy of preservation of marine life in its state of indigenous purity, where the coral and the shell are left undisturbed and the fish merely observed. The more venturesome, however may espy a sleeping nurse-shark, as commonly seen as the grey and the white tipped or play with a friendly turtle.

Bangaram is also an experience of yet another kind. Of matchless peace and tranquility, of a sense of severance from; the 'civilised' world, of the visit of the muses that compel contemplation. To the sensitive and the romantic, embroiled in the cacophony of crowded cities, it offers a memorable escape into isolation, a moment of harmony with nature, an experience quite beyond anything similar on the mainland.

For those who think they know India, either by travel or reading, the islands of Lakshadweep and Bangaram in particular, beckon.

The Bangaram Island Resort is fast becoming a by - word among the island hoppers of the world. Opened only recently to foreign tourists the resort with its simple, but attractive housing has already become a circled spot in the brochures of tour operators and travel agencies all over. There are attractive package terms for the domestic tourists too.

HOW TO GET THERE - (Travel Information Lakshdweep)

BY AIR
NEPC has started operating flights from Cochin to Agatti island for Bangarani. From Agatti, passengers are transported to Bangaram by fast boat and brought back to Agatti in time for their departure. A helicopter service links Agatti to other islands.

BY SHIP
Vessels ply between Cochin and Lakshadweep. They have air-conditioned cabins for first class tourists and an air-conditioned Lounge hall with push back seats for tourist class accommodation. Rates vary according to the type of accommodation as well as the package chosen. Domestic package prices are inclusive of ship fare, meals on the ship and islands, ferrying charges between ship and island (the ship anchors 30-45 minutes away from each island), transport charges in the islands, sightseeing charges, lagoon cruising and accommodation on the islands. Every journey of the· ship-between Cochin and an island as well as between one island and another takes anything from 3 to 20 hours. Indian meals are served on board. Some cabins are fitted with a wash basin and have common bathrooms. First class AC cabins have attached toilets. Bed-linen and towels are provided. From October to April, Catamaran speed vessels operate as per monthly schedule between major islands in the northern group.

Board and Lodging
The tourist huts in each island are situated on the beach in ideal locations, Each hut has one or two twin-bedded bedrooms, overhead fans, and attached baths, Meals are served out on the beach, An extra bed can be provided in each room. (The tourist huts along with the entire island receives its electric supply from diesel generating sets.)

Tips For Travellers
Lakshadweep islands are India's only coral islands formed from coral rock, and beautiful formations can be seen all over the lagoons. Tempting as it is to pick one piece up as a souvenir, it is strictly Illegal, being punishable with heavy fines. This is because in doing so you are seriously endangering the environment. Local cuisine resembles food from Kerala for the spices it uses, and for the extensive use of coconut. Breakfast could consist or idlis or poorie subji and lunch and dinner of rice with a dry vegetable, sambhar and fish, chicken or mutton in a gravy. Tuna fish, curried, fried or barbecued is generally available from October to March, Vegetarian meals are available.