The plane broke through the clouds and I could finally see the island. A thin landing strip, stretched out on a sand bank, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Visible on the map, yet a blank spot in the world of traveling. A myriad of islands, reefs, and lagoons, scattered in the turquoise clear water. It was unreal. But at the same time, as real as it gets.
We touched down with a bump and stopped abruptly. The small landing strip on Agatti, the main island, is just long enough for a twin-engine turboprop. Being the only available airport, it’s the gateway to Lakshadweep and the only way to get. A last stop where you can fine-tune your itinerary, review the inter-island time tables, and check your emails before your are cut off in an ever lasting digital detox. An isolated world of coconut islands, silky beaches, and crystal clear lagoons.
The rumors circulating just made my endeavor reaching Laksahdweep greater. “A secret military area”, ”Strictly off limit for tourists”, ”The best diving location in the world”. It had become an urban legend, almost with mythical proportions.
I had heard about Lakshadweep in travel circles for years. But as strange as it might seem, nobody seemed to have been there themself. It usually turned out as a blank spot, even on the most sophisticated globetrotters’ maps. And the rumors circulating just made my endeavor getting there greater. “A secret military area”, ”Strictly off limit for tourists”, ”The best diving location in the world”. A place so pure and beautiful, no words were justified. It had become an urban legend, almost with mythical proportions.
Lakshadweep, meaning “one hundred thousand islands” in Sanskrit, is situated just north of The Maldives, 400 kilometres west of mainland India. The archipelago consist of 36 islands, most of them atolls surrounded by shallow sand banks and ring formed coral reefs. Everyone with its own signs and signatures, untouched by the outer world. Six of the islands are open for tourists: Agatti, Bangaram, Kadmat, Kavaratti, Kalpeni, and Minicoy. However, only three of them, Agatti, Bangaram, and Kadmat, are open for non-Indian tourists.
Lakshadweep, meaning “one hundred thousand islands” in Sanskrit, is situated just north of The Maldives, 250 miles west of mainland India.
You need a special permit to visit Laksahdweep, something that must be arranged in advance, but after your regular Indian VISA has been approved. The restrictions rely on a 1967 Indian legislation, in order to protect the indigenous people living on the islands. It’s also an efficient way to preserve the uniqueness of the region and restrict the number of tourists. Do you really need the permit? Yes. My document was checked more than three times on arrival and departure from the islands, as well as on the airport.
Everything on Lakshadweep, from entry permit to inter-island transports and hotel bookings, is managed by SPORTS, the Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports, formed in 1982. Transfer between the islands are available by boat from October to April, which also is the best season to visit. During the monsoon season, from May to September, transfer is only available by helicopter. Needless to say, time tables are unreliable and departures often changed with short notice, so keep some extra time in your schedule.
Your adventure in Lakshadweep, because it will be an adventure, starts at Agatti. As the only island connected to mainland India with flights, it’s the entry point from where you proceed to the other islands by boat. It’s also the best place to feel the soul of the society and interact with locals. In contrast to the soulless resorts at the Maldives, where locals don’t associate themself with tourists, the people on Lakshadweep are warm, welcoming, and genuinely interested. Local tribes make up 95 percent of the population, many with their own language, rituals, and traditions.
The people on Lakshadweep are warm, welcoming, and genuinely interested. Local tribes make up 95 percent of the population, many with their own language, rituals, and traditions.
The long island of Agatti stretches from the airport in the south, to a small village in the north. Glittering white sand, contrasted by the shallow turquoise water, border the shorelines. Hotels are spartan and the food is simple. A small cafe is the only place to go. Due to the island’s function as a transfer point, beaches are not maintained, making a short stay on the island, in connection with your arrival and departure from Lakshadweep, most suitable. But don’t worry, the best was yet to come.
It wasn’t before I sat my bare feet on Bangaram that I understood what all the fuss was really about. A pear formed island, full of lush vegetation, encircled by shallow sand banks. It was a paragon, the archetype of a paradise. And it didn’t take long before my suppressed Robinson Crusoe alter ego was in full bloom, picking coconuts and diving into lagoons. Not surprisingly, Bangaram is the place the Indian president choose for vacation and the crown jewel of Lakshadweep.
It wasn’t before I sat my bare feet on Bangaram that I understood what all the fuss was really about. It was a paragon, the archetype of a paradise.
“The rules are simple”, the hotel manager explained with a big white smile. “You don’t need any shoes, there are no dangerous animals, and it takes about one hour to walk around the entire island”. He showed us to a row of wooden bungalows, all facing the beach, no more than fifty meters from the sea. The hotel standard on Bangaram is as good as it gets in Lakshadweep. The rooms are beautifully hand-crafted, clean and air conditioned. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, either vegetarian or non-vegetarian, are included and served buffet style in the sand above the beach.
Next to Bangaram is the island of Thinnakara. Being a pure atoll, the small island has a ring-shaped coral reef encapsulating a lagoon. Dive in and you are surrounded by hundreds of free floating sea turtles eager to say hello. Although uninhabited, you can spend the night under the bare sky in light constructed tents on the beach. The island is reached by a fifteen minute boat ride from Bangaram, making it a perfect day trip. You can also walk there cross the shallow sand banks during low tide. Just be sure you can make your way back.
Agatti, Bangaram, and Thinnakara are referred to as The Laccadives. Situated in the central part of the archipelago, they are the core paradise of Lakshadweep.
Agatti, Bangaram, and Thinnakara are referred to as The Laccadives. Situated in the central part of the archipelago, they are the core paradise of Lakshadweep. If you only have a couple of days to spend, these islands are your best choice. Bangaram is also the closest island to Agatti, only a 45 minute boat journey away. Just as the Maldives, the island group is Muslim and alcohol is prohibited on all islands, except Bangaram.
The journey to Kadmat, the last island available for non-Indian visitors, started early morning. The island is connected to Agatti by high speed vessels, operating early mornings, three times a week. However, going from Bangaram to Kadmat turned out to be another story. We had to board the vessel on open sea, balancing with the baggage on a small fishing boat, as we jumped over to the ship. Worth the effort? We were about to find out.
We had to board the vessel on open sea, balancing with the baggage on a small fishing boat, as we jumped over to the ship.
Kadmat, being part of the the Aminidivi Islands, is situated 75 kilometres east of Agatti. A long and narrow island, sometimes less than fifty meter walk from the eastern to the western beach. The resorts are tore down and the service is bad, but who cares when you are left off with endless deserted beaches, thriving coral reefs, bloody sunsets, and some of the best diving locations in the world. It’s was the final piece in the paradise jigsaw called Lakshadweep. And yet another reason to come back. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyhow.
All images © 2020 Erik Ekberger.
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