Imagine yourself lazing on a divine beach, soaking the sun, with the crashing waves in the background? Scuba diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking, para sailing? Feasting your senses on the awesome marine flora and fauna that surrounds you? Welcome to Lakshadweep!!! Scattered off the west Kerala coast, the islands of Lakshadweep are an archipelago of 36 coral islands and a northern extension of the Maldives chain. Of these, only ten are inhabited and are the only coral islands of the country.
It is believed that Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala, made the first settlement. But historical records shows that, a Muslim saint was shipwrecked on the island of Amini who converted the inhabitants to Islam, despite initial opposition. Although the soverignty remained in the hands of the Raja of Chirakkal, it eventually passed to the Ali Raja of Cannanore (Kannur) in the 16th century and later, in 1783 to Tipu Sultan. Following the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British, at Sriranga pattanam in 1799, the East India Company annexed them. It was made a union territory of the Indian Union in 1956.
Lakshadweep has a precious heritage in its ecology and culture. Ethnically, the people of the islands are very similar to the people of Kerala even in their language except in Minicoy where Mahl is spoken. As Muslims, they have conservative customs and traditions and yet they are liberal in approach. Local men perform traditional folk dances of the islands. No other form of entertainment exists except TV and Radio.
While the total area of the 35 islands is a mere 32 sq km and the area of the lagoons enclosed by the coral reef about 700 sq km, the extended sea zone is more than 7,00,000 sq km! This almost makes it the size of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh put together!
Out of the 12 atolls with 35 islands, only one island in each of them is inhabited. All the islands are shaped like a boat with their backs resting on the reef in the east and lagoons washing their shores on the west side. The lagoons are shallow, never more than a couple of meters deep. Just as the sands on the beaches are pure white and sugary, the waters of the lagoons are crystal clear and clean.
Air and water connect Lakshadweep. There are flights from Cochin to Agatti Island from where passengers are transported to Bangaram by fast boat. A helicopter service links Agatti to other islands.
There is a regular ship service between Cochin and the islands, according to a scheduled programme. They have air-conditioned cabins and an air-conditioned Lounge hall with push back seats. Package prices are inclusive of ship fare, meals on the ship and island, ferrying charges between ship and island, transport charges in the islands, sightseeing charges, lagoon cruising and accommodation on the islands.
Lakshadweep has a tropical climate, with summer temperatures ranging from 35 degrees centigrated to 22 degrees centigrade and winter temperature between 32 degrees centigrade to 20 degrees centigrade.
The Bangaram Island, with its idyllic palm grove backdrop and the smooth sands caressed by the rippling waves of the multi-coloured sea is one of the finest tourist spots in the world.
This uninhabited island lies about 8 km north of Agatti. The island, developed as a tourist centre, is the only island open to foreign tourists. Bangaram is enclosed by a magnificent lagoon about 10 km long and 6 km wide that is shallow and safe. It is well defined by several coral reefs and small islands on its seaward periphery. One can clearly sea multi-coloured fish weave in and out of the corals. The island offers snorkelling, scuba diving, sea bathing, fishing and yachting. Daylong trips to nearby islands, walking on the white sand or simply lazing around in the sun are some of the activities one can indulge in.
Amini lies 304 km southwest of Mangalore. It is about 3 km long and 11 km at its broadest point. The name of the island is derived from the Arabic word Amin which means faithful. The island is oblong and almost fills the entire ring reef, leaving only a very shallow and narrow lagoon around. There is a formation of coral sandstone on the eastern and western beaches of the island.
Pitti is 24 km northwest of Kavaratti. It is a small reef with tiny sandy banks at its southern end. Pitti is conspicuous for the lack of any kind of vegetation on the island. Not even a blade of grass grows on it. The island is a breeding ground for thousands of birds belonging to the tern group. Earlier, islanders from Amini and Kavaratti came to this island to collect the eggs. However, Pitti is now a bird sanctuary and a preserved area.
Kavaratti is the administrative capital of Lakshadweep and lies between the Agatti and Androth islands. It is about 6 km in length and 1 km at the broadest point. Kavaratti is the most developed of all the islands in terms of economy and architecture. There are more than 50 mosques in the island, most of which are architecturally superior to those on the other islands. The Ujira mosque with fine woodcarving is the most spectacular. Water from a well around this mosque is believed to have curative powers. Kavaratti also has an aquarium with several colourful species of fish.
Glass bottom boats are available on hire for viewing the colourful marine animals and coral formations. The island also offers facilities for water sports like snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing.
Minicoy or Malik is the southern most island in Lakshadweep and has the largest lagoon in the group. Marco Polo referred to it as the ?female? island because of the matrilineal society. The island is crescent shaped and more than 10 km from end to end. The lagoon is large and deep (one of the largest in the islands). Viringili, a small island at the northern tip of the main island was used in the olden days to isolate small pox patients and therefore it also came to be known as Smallpox Island. Within the lagoon, the reef dries at low tide at the northwestern entrance and provides an ideal place for marine life observation.
The island has a couple of privately managed cottages on isolated beaches that are available for tourists.
Agatti is the most westerly island of Lakshadweep. It lies on the eastern arch of the coral shoal and is 6 km in length and about one thousand metres wide at the broadest point. There is a large and beautiful lagoon on the western side of the island which is ideal for fishing. Coral growths and multicoloured fish abound in this lagoon, believed to be the most beautiful in Lakshadweep.
Kadmat is one of the most popular islands with tourists. About 10 km from Amini, the island has a huge lagoon on the west, which abounds in spectacular coral growth. There is a long shoreline that sports a fine beach and is also ideal for swimming. In 1948, some gold coins belonging to the Roman Emperors of the 1st and 2nd centuries were found on a beach at Kadmat. This leads one to believe that outsiders visited the island very early on.
Androth is the island nearest to the mainland. It lies east-west unlike the others which lie north-south. It fills the entire ring reef leaving virtually no lagoon. The island is thickly planted with coconut trees. According to local tradition, this island was the first in the territory to have embraced Islam. Hazrat Ubaidullah, who is believed to have converted the people of Lakshadweep to Islam, is believed to have died here. His tomb is exists in the Jumaath mosque.
Bitra is the smallest inhabited island in the territory, lying on the northeastern tip of a large coral ring reef enclosing a magnificent lagoon. Till the early 19th century, the island was the breeding ground for countless seabirds and people from other islands used to collect their eggs from here in very large quantities for food. The island has a small shrine dedicated to Malik Mullah, an old Arab saint. This shrine is a place of pilgrimage for the people of other islands as well.
76 km south of Androth, Kalpeni lies in an extensive and shallow lagoon. The lagoon is popular for its rich marine and coral life. The island has three uninhabited satellite islets of Cheryam, Tilakkam and Pitti. The reef that connects Cheryam and Kalpeni dries up at low tide and is excellent for walking. Facilities for Indian tourists include small, privately managed huts, snorkelling and sailing.