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Lakshadweep Travel Guide

The charm of Lakshadweep islands lies in their remoteness. Far off the beaten track, they attract no hordes of merry makers to its shores, or perhaps it is the beauty of the islands densely covered with coconut palms, and threaded by an unbroken line of creamy sand, each island serenely set in a sea whose waters range from palest aquamarine and turquoise to deepest sapphire and lapis lazuli. Yet again, may be the unique charm of Lakshadweep lies in the fact that each island, a tiny principality in itself, has existed from time immemorial, with little influence from the outside. Whatever the reason for Lakshadweep's magic. One fact is certain - it is the big destination of tomorrow.Lakshadeep is an archipelago consisting of 12 atolls, 3 reefs and 5 submerged banks. There are 10 inhabited islands and 17 uninhabited islands with a total geographical area of 32 sq. kms. It is located between 8 degrees - 12 degree 13'North latitude and 71-degree -74 degree East longitude, 220 to 440 Kms. away from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala, in the emerald Arabian Sea.

Capital: Kavaratti
Population :('000s in 1991) 52
Area :('000 sq. km) 0.03
Principal Languages: Malayalam and Mahl
Industries: Copra, Coir, Vinegar, Fish Canning, and Handicrafts.
Crops: Coconuts, Fruits

Scattered some 200-400 kilometers west off the Kerala coast, laid the islands of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 27 coral islands and open reefs. Out of these islands, only ten are inhabited and they are Andrott, Amini, Agatti, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmath, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy. These islands form the smallest of the Union Territories of India, and are the country's only coral islands. The main islands are Kavarrati, Minicoy, and Amini. Kavaratti is the headquarters of these islands, while Bitra is the smallest of all, with a nominal population. About 93 percent of the people in Lakshadweepare Shafi School Muslims of the Sunni sect, and they speak Malayalam.Not much is known of the early history of Lakshadweep. It is generally believed that Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala, as a result of shipwreck on the stormy Arabian seas, made the first settlement on these islands. But the historical record shows that, around the 7th century, a Muslim saint was shipwrecked on the island of Amini. He converted the inhabitants here to Islam, despite initial opposition. Although the sovereignty remained in the hands of the Hindu Raja of Chirakkal, it eventually passed to the Ali Raja of Cannanore (Kannur) in the 16th century, the only Muslim royal family of Kerala, and later, in 1783 to Tipu Sultan.

Following the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British, at Srirangapattanam in 1799, the East India Company annexed the islands. It remained with the British until Independence, when it was made a Union territory of the Indian Union in 1956.Agriculture is the mainstay of the Lakshadweep economy, the major products being coconut and coir. Coconut is the only major crop grown here, with a production of around 26.5 million nuts in 1994-95. Coconut fiber extraction and conversion of its fiber products is the main industry in the islands. The other major activity here, is fishing. Immense potential for development in fisheries has resulted in the setting up of boat-building yards, canning and processing factories and adoption of mechanized fishing boats. The islands stand first in the country in per capita availability of fish.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. The people of Lakshadweep are often commended for their honesty, and the absence of crime in the islands is laudable. Climatic conditions are similar to that of Kerala coast. Average rainfall is 1600mma year with the major share from the southwest monsoon. Almost all islands experience tropical climate with temperature ranging from 25 degrees c to 35 degrees c and humidity ranging from 70 -76 per cent during the most part of the year. March, April and May are the hottest months of the year. There is silence here, unbroken but for the cry of a seabird, or by the soft paddle of a local canoe as it moves gently over the waves the water is so clear that one can see the fish among the coral; while snorkeling or deep sea diving, these waters come alive with amazing clarity and colour! A polluting free, the only coral island is the Rama Rajya of the great country of India.

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 helicopter services are available. Some effect of the northeast monsoon is felt in October-November in the form of light transitory showers, which cool the place. Tropical clothes throughout the year are sufficient. A waterproof coat during October-November will be useful.

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 some 200-400 kilometers west off the Kerala coast, laid the islands of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 27 coral islands and open reefs. Out of these islands, only ten are inhabited and they are Andrott, Amini, Agatti, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmath, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy. These islands form the smallest of the Union Territories of India, and are the country's only coral islands. The main islands are Kavaratti, Minicoy, and Amini. Kavaratti is the headquarters of these islands, while Bitra is the smallest of all, with a nominal population. About 93 percent of the people in Lakshadweep are Shafi School Muslims of the Sunni sect, and they speak Malayalam. The Lakshadweep archipelago consists of 36 islands some 200 to 300 km off the Kerala coast. The islands are a northern extension of the Maldives chain. The islands form the smallest of the Union Territories of India and are the country's only coral islands. The population is 93% Muslim. Malayalam is spoken on all the islands except Minicoy, where the people speak Mahl, the language spoken in the Maldives. The main occupations of the island people are fishing and the production of copra and coir. Tourism is an emerging industry. The first historical records date from the 7th century, when a marabout (Muslim saint) was shipwrecked on the island of Amini. Despite initial opposition to his efforts to convert the inhabitants to Islam, he eventually succeeded. When he died, he was buried on Andrott. His grave is revered to this day as a sacred site. These palm-fringed coral islands with their beautiful lagoons are every bit as inviting as those in the Maldives archipelago, but until recently they were effectively off limits. Now there are regular boat cruises and tours to the island for Indian nationals, and the resort on the uninhabited island of Bangaram is open to foreign tourists. Bangaram is in a six km by 10km lagoon with three smaller islands - Thinnakara, Parali-1 and Parali-2.

Not much is known of the early history of Lakshadweep. However, enough evidence exists to piece together a history of the islands from the 7th century onwards. The people were converted to Islam under the influence of Hazrat Ubaidullah who set off from Mecca after Prophet Mohammed (S.A.S) appeared to him in a dream, commanding him to leave for distant shores to propagate Islam. The ship on which Hazrat Ubaidulla 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, 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.

What to See
Lakshadweep is spreading its wings in the way of tourism, by providing various facilities for the tourists. Tourist facilities in Lakshadweep have been developed by way of luxury cruises around the islands. All tourists need permission to visit Lakshadweep, except those booked on a cruise, in which case permission is automatic. Four of the inhabited islands (Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Minicoy and Kadmath) are open to Indian tourists and Bangaram, an uninhabited island, is open to both domestic and foreign tourists. Bangaram has facilities for water sports. Swimming, fishing, sailing in glass - bottomed boats, which give enchanting views of the coral below, and yachting is the main attractions. Wood - carving in the Ujra Mosque at Kavaratti, the tomb of Hazrat Ubaidullah at Andrott, the Buddhist archaeological remains at Andrott, and the famous lighthouse at Minicoy, are some of the places worth visiting. Lakshadweep has a tropical climate, with summer temperatures ranging from 35 degrees centigrade to 22 degrees centigrade, and winter temperature between 32 degrees to 20 degrees centigrade.

When to Visit:
Though the resort is open round the year, May to September is the ideal time to be on the islands. Not only is the weather pleasant, you can also have the islands almost to yourself. The rush of tourists is mainly concentrated from November to March, and August. (All visitors to the Lakshwadeep Islands will require an entry permit.)

Tourism in Lakshadweep:
Located in the Arabian Sea off the southeastern coast of India, the charm of Lakshadweep Islands (known as Laccadive Islands till 1973) lies in their remoteness. Far from the chaos of civilization, as we know it, they represent a rather magical realm of existence. Each island is densely covered with coconut palms, and serenely set in a sea, the waters of which range from palest aquamarine and turquoise, to deepest sapphire and lapis lazuli. The Lakshadweep islands are India's only coral islands. The Lakshadweep chain of islands is a coral atoll. An atoll is a coral organism lying exactly at the surface of the ocean where air and water meet; this being the only condition under which coral can live. The coral here is shaped like a ring and encircles a staggeringly beautiful emerald-blue lagoon. Each atoll is the topmost point of a submarine pillar of limestone extending several thousand feet from an extinct volcano. Tempting, as it is to pick up a coral as a souvenir, it is strictly illegal, being punishable with heavy fines. Non-availability of drinking water accounts for a number of islands being uninhabited. Of the 36 islands covering a land area of 32 sq. km, only 10 are inhabited. Ethnically, the people of the islands are very similar to the people of the state of Kerala. Majority of them is Muslims, and speaks Malayalam except in Minicoy where Mahli is spoken. Coconut cultivation and fishing are the chief occupations of the people, whose folklore and customs are, not surprisingly, largely derived from the sea. The people of Lakshadweep are often commended for their honesty.

Ethnically the people of the islands are very similar to the people of Kerala even their languages are the same except in Minicoy where Mahl is spoken. As Muslims, they have conservative customs and traditions and yet they are liberal in approach. 93% of the population is indigenous Muslims. According to 1991 census, population is 51707. History comes alive in folk ballads that women chant during their house - hold chores. Events of the past - the arrival of Hazrat Ubaidulla in Lakshadweep, the plunder of the islands by the Portuguese, have been perpetuated by the balladeer. Smiling and friendly people. Nobody is tip-minded. The place in the world to go for a walk, with no dogs and no poisonous snakes either. 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 - heavy earrings and necklaces. The fact that very young children are allowed to wander around alone wearing chunky jeweler is a pointer to a way of life that one hope will continue into the future.The young men have some spirited folk dances. The women are modest with colorful dress and wear their jeweler in safety. The people of Minicoy have a good sense of colour, painting their houses, furniture and boats in bright and tasteful combinations. Seamen from Minicoy are to be found on merchant ship all over the world.

The economy of Lakshadweep has a few peculiar features, which are influenced, by its geography. It is a small Robinson Cruse-type of economy with one major difference that it maintains trade with outside world. That it resembles the primitive economy in many respects, but it is not a closed economy. The only commercial crop is Coconut, which is cultivated in every available space and the most important source of income generation. The annual yield of coconuts is approximately 265 lakhs nuts. Surrounded on all the sides by sea, the fishing industry is the other major source of income generation here. The annual fish landing crossed the level of 10000 Mts. in 1996. Industries based on coconut products and fishery products are yet another source of income of the people. Boat building was once an important skill. Sadly, after the advent of motorized boats, this has reduced considerably. However, majestic wooden boats anchored along the shore stand silent testimony to the past. Boats were built for fishing, for navigation from one end of the island to another, for interfaced 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 island from where it came from.

Tourism in these islands is restricted so that their beautiful environment is not damaged. As guests on these islands you will have the chance to meet some of the friendliest people and, like them, stay in cottages made of indigenous materials with their palm-thatched roofs. You will have the chance to commune with nature in virtual solitude on a holiday that will be different from any other you've even enjoyed. The Lakshadweep islands provide an experience that can never fully be explained in words or captured on film. To ensure that the way of life of the islands is not disturbed by external influences, only four islands have opened for domestic tourism and one Viz. Bangaram opened for International Tourism.

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 colorful species of fish.
There is a glass bottom boat for viewing marine life and an array of remarkable coral formations that provides a background to the lagoons and the islands within them. Some Water Sports like Kayaking Canoeing and Snorkeling are available for tourists.

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 overlooks Pitti and Thilakkam, 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 especially rich in coral life.

A particularly fine lagoon, of even depth and an endless shoreline, perfect for swimming, makes Kadmat 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 beat 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 Kadmat. 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 Center has been set up there.

Furthest from Kavaratti Island, 200 Km. away to the south and also nearer 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 Lakshadweep, 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 has one of the most beautiful lagoons in Lakshadweep. This is where the airport is built. A virtual gateway of Lakshadweep, a 20-bed tourist complex has been set up here. The island will shortly be opened for tourists.

There is something indescribably romantic about the very notion of an uninhabited island and Bangaram justifies that feeling. Teardrop 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-I, Parali-II, each easily accessible by out boarding, sailing rowing and for the athletic, by kayaking or windsurfing from Bangaram 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. 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. 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:
Air: NEPC Airlines operates flights from Cochin to Agatti Island. Tourists are ferried from Agatti to other places, by fast boats. Also, a helicopter service links Agatti to the other islands.
Ship: Vessels ply between Cochin in Kerala and Lakshadweep. Rates vary according to the type of accommodation.

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