The islands, which make up the Lakshadweep ('100,000 islands'), have superb beaches and beautiful lagoons. There are, despite the name, only 10 inhabited and 26 uninhabited islands making up the group. Minicoy, the southernmost island, is 183 km from Kalpeni, its nearest neighbour.
Coral reef in Laccadive islands
Geologically they are the northernmost extensions of the chain of coral islands that extends from the far south of the Maldives. The atolls are formed of belts of coral rocks almost surrounding semi-circular lagoons, with none more than 4 m above sea level. They are rich in guano, deposits of centuries of bird droppings.
The wealth of coral formations (including black coral) attracts a variety of tropical fish-angel clown, butterfly, surgeon, sweetlip, snappers and groupers. There are also manta and sting rays, harmless sharks and green and hawksbill turtles. At the right time of the year you may be able to watch them laying eggs, arriving on the beach at night, each laying 100-200 eggs in the holes they make in the sand.
Ins and outs
You can only visit the islands on a package tour - individuals may not book independently.
Lakshadweep Tourism's Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS) and other tour operators organize package tours. Everyone needs a permit, for which you need to provide details of the place and date of birth, passport number, date and place of issue, expiry date and four photos; apply two months ahead.
If you plan to dive, get a doctor's certificate. Foreign tourists may only visit Bangaram and Kadmat Islands; Indians can also visit Kadmat, Kavaratti, Kalpeni and Minicoy. Thinakkara and Cheriyam are being developed.
Kavaratti, the administrative capital, is in the centre of the archipelago.
The Ajjara and Jamath mosques have the best woodcarvings and the former has a particularly good ceiling carved out of driftwood; a well nearby is believed to have medicinal water. The aquarium with tropical fish and corals, the lake nearby and the tombs are the other sights. The woodcarving in the Ajjara is by superb local craftsmen and masons.
Kayaks and windsurfers are available for rent, there's a dive centre, plus a bank and a few dhabas selling local food.
Some of the other islands in the group are Andrott, one of the largest which was first to be converted to lslam, and Agatti, which has Lakshadweep's only airport, a beautiful lagoon and a palm-shaded resort.
Barren, desolate and tiny, Pitti Island comprises a square reef and sand bank at its south end. It is a crucially important nesting place for terns and has now been listed as a wildlife sanctuary.
Conservation groups are pressing for a ban on the planting of trees and the mining of coral, but the main risk to the birds is from local fishermen who collect shells and the terns' eggs for food. Nearby Cheriam and Kalpeni have suffered most from storm damage.
Bangaram is an uninhabited island where CGH Earth runs the Bangaram Island Resort.
Kalpeni, with its group of three smaller uninhabited satellite islands, is surrounded by a lagoon rich in corals, which offers excellent snorkelling and diving. The raised coral banks on the southeast and eastern shores are remains of a violent storm in 1847: the Moidin Mosque to the south has walls made of coral.
The islands are reputedly free from crime: the women dress in wrap-around lungis (sarongs), wearing heavy gold ornaments here without any fear. Villagers entertain tourists with traditional dances, Kolkali and Parichakkali, illustrating themes drawn from folk and religious legends and accompanied by music and singing.
Minicoy (Maliku), the southernmost and largest, is interesting because of its unique Maldivian character, having become a part of the archipelago more recently. Most people speak Mahi (similar to Dhivehi; the script is written right to left) and follow many of their customs.
The ancient seafaring people have been sailing long distances for centuries and the consequential dominance by women may have led Marco Polo to call this a 'female island'. Each of the nine closely knit matrilineal communities lives in an athir (village) and is headed by a Moopan.
The village houses are colourfully furnished with carved wooden furniture. Tuna fishing is a major activity and the island has a cannery and ice storage. The superb lagoon of the palm-fringed crescent-shaped island is enclosed by coral reefs. Good views from the top of the 50-mn lighthouse built by the British. You can stay at the Tourist Huts.
The Amindivi Group
The Amindivi group consists of the northern islands of Chetlat, Bitra (the smallest, heavily populated by birds, for a long time a rich source of birds' eggs), Kiltan where ships from Aden called en route to Colombo, Kadmat and the densely populated Amini, rich in coconut palms, which was occupied by the Portuguese.
Kadmat, an inhabited island 9 km long and only 200m wide, has a beach and lagoon to the east and west, ideal for swimming and diving. The Tourist Huts shaded by palms are away from the local village. The water Sports institute has experienced, qualified instructors. There are 10 executive and Tourist Cottages and a Youth Hostel with a dorm for 40.
Kavaratti and Kadmat have basic tourist cottages resembling local huts. Each hut has 1-2 bedrooms, mosquito nets, fans and attached baths; electricity is wind or diesel.
Meals are served on the beach and are similar to Kerala cuisine, with plenty of coconut. Breakfast might be iddlis or puris with vegetables. Lunch and dinner might be rice and vegetable curry, sambhar, meat or fish curry. Vegetarian meals available on request.
Alcohol is available on board ship and on Bangaram Island (tourists requested not to carry it though).
Bangaram lsland Resort, Tel: 0484 3011711, 6 standard huts on the beach with fan, fridge and bathrooms or 3 deluxe beach huts which sleep 4. Scuba diving, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, kayaking. International cuisine served.
Air Agatti has a basic airport. Two airlines fly to/from Kochi, daily except Tue and Sun.
Laccadive ship "Tipu Sultan"
Ferry MV Tipu Sultan sails from Kochi. It occupies 26 passengers in 1st and executive class has 2- and 4-berth a/c cabins with washbasins, shared toilets; 120 passengers in 2nd class in reclining seats in a/c halls.
Ship anchors 30-45 mins away from each island; passengers are ferried from there. Total travel time from Kochi can take up to 30hrs. Inter-island transfers are by helicopter (when available) during monsoons, 15 May- 15 Sep or by pablo boats for 8.
Agatti has a medical centre; emergencies on the islands have helicopter back-up.
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