Can you imagine a place which is least visited by tourists and yet be one of the most beautiful and very much affordable at the same time? Say hello to Lakshadweep!
Lakshadweep means “one hundred thousand islands” and all these islands are a result of various coral activities over millions of years. It is probably one of India’s best kept secrets and you will hardly find any photos of the place on google. Only a handful of the islands are inhabited and the rest are used for fishing, coconut procuring etc. Turquoise blue water and endless lagoons make it stand apart from rest of the places in India. The virgin reefs, abundant marine life and skilled instructors make it a perfect place to go diving. The place has lots to offer for everyone and quite affordable too.
It is situated around 400 km from Kerala with the capital being Kavaratti. The place is mostly Muslim populated and has a strong influence of Kerala culture. Most of the supplies come from the mainland by ship and at a premium. They do generate their own electricity through generators and also have sea water treatment plants. The tourism is run by a government agency called SPORTS (Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports). The best time to visit Lakshadweep is from December to March and travelling in monsoon should be avoided at all cost as the sea gets rough and it is difficult to do pretty much anything. You need a permit from the local administration to stay on any of the islands.
Ways to visit Lakshadweep
These are 2 ways to visit Lakshadweep:
1. SPORTS Cruise
SPORTS offer 5 day cruise packages from Kochi labelled as “Samudram” package. It covers visits to the islands of Kavaratti, Kalpeni and Minicoy by ship – M.V Kavaratti. The island tour is organised during the day with lunch and refreshments ashore. Nights are spent on board the ship. The ship has First Class and Second Class Cabin accommodations. It is by far the most popular way to visit Lakshadweep. More information on the Sundaram package can be found on their website.
Cost: ~26k per person
2. Fly to Agatti
Agatti island has a beautiful little landing strip at the edge where flights land to reach Lakshadweep. There is a single flight run by Air India to Agatti everyday and makes a stop at Kochi if you are flying from Bangalore. Though expensive at most times, Air India runs offers frequently to this place where in you can get a round trip flight from Bangalore to Agatti at 5k per person if you book in advance.
2.1 Kadmat/Bangaram stay (SPORTS package)
Agatti itself does not have resorts at the moment due to some litigation. Resorts are available at Kadmat and Bangaram islands. Kadmat is a 4 hour speed boat ride from Agatti and transfers are not available on all days. Meanwhile, Bangaram is close to Agatti and ferries run on all days. Depending on which day you are travelling and how long is your stay, you can mix and match between Kadmat and Bangaram stay. You can book accommodation through SPORTS and they also take care of arranging the permit.
Cost: 63k for 2 for 3N Kadmat + 1N Bangaram package (includes AC stay, meals, transfers, permit)
2.2 Agatti stay (homestay package)
Though not permitted to officially stay in Agatti for tourism, you can still find homestay options where people can get you permit to stay as relatives/friends. There is a definite cost advantage with this but comes with its own hassles like having to get a Police Verification Certificate on your own etc. This is probably the least popular option but will save you money.
2.2.1 Getting a permit
If you decide to stay at a homestay (which is what we did), you will need to do some extra work to get the permit. You need to get the Police Verification Certificate from the Police Commissioner’s office. It will cost about 300 Rs per person and 2 or more visits to their office. The permit itself will take about 15-20 days to process. You will need to then courier the original copy to your homestay agent in Kochi to further process the Lakshadweep permit. This will take about 10 days more. If you are short on time or don’t want to do the extra work, you are advised to stick to the more popular options for visit 🙂
2.2.2 Homestays in Agatti
There are only a few homestays in Agatti, the following 2 being the more popular and reliable ones:
- Island Holiday Homes: A 4 night package costs around 42k for 2 people and includes permit and heritage fee, airport transfers, AC accommodation, meals, Agatti island sight seeing, Bangaram & Thinnakara island day trip and Kalpitti island day trip.
- Kasim’s Homestay: A 4 night package costs around 48k for 2 people and includes permit and heritage fee, airport transfers, AC accommodation and meals.
We always wanted to visit Lakshadweep some day. On one lazy Sunday afternoon in November 2015, we found out that Air India was offering cheap tickets to Agatti from Bangalore at 5k per person round trip. We made use of this golden opportunity to book flights for February with 4 nights stay planned in Lakshadweep. After enquiring about the various stay options at Lakshadweep, we decided to stay in a homestay on Agatti. Between Kasim’s and Island Holiday Homes, we chose Island Holiday Homes because of the cost and inclusions.
Few things to consider while considering the stay option:
1. There are restrictions for dressing in Agatti for women since it does not see too many tourists on a daily basis and mostly Muslim populated.
2. Holiday homes is not a beach property, but a 3 min walk away from it. Kasim’s is probably much closer to the beach.
3. Best beaches are in Bangaram and Tinakara (island beside Bangaram).
4. Stay in Bangaram might not be too comfortable because of frequent power cuts on the island. Its better to not stay your entire duration there.
5. Kadmat is slightly far from Agatti and the ride may take longer if the sea becomes rough.
6. There are water sport activities in Agatti available, but run by only one operator. Rates are pretty much the same between Kadmat, Bangaram and Agatti.
The flight from Bangalore to Agatti is a small 40 seater with a stopover at Kochi. Agatti airport has one of the most dramatic landing strip in the world – a thin strip in the middle of the turquoise blue waters. For the best views from the aircraft of the landing or island, choose the seats on the right. Avoid seats 3 to say 6 as the view is blocked by the rotor. At Agatti, after getting our permits verified, we were picked up by our driver Dawood. It was about a 10 min drive to the homestay.
The homestay itself is very well maintained. It’s a duplex with 3 guest rooms – 2 upstairs and one on the ground floor. We were the only guests during our stay. It also has a living room with a tv for entertainment. The hosts are basically 3 people – Shahjahan, the manager. He stays in the property all the time. Shukor – is the utility guy who also accompanies you on the island excursions. The last guy is Ismail, the cook. He comes only for preparing food and not around all the time. They are very friendly people and accommodate your requests whenever possible.
After lunch, we had a nice little nap. In the evening, we were picked up by our driver who took us on the Agatti sight seeing tour. We visited the island aquarium, local museum and finally the lagoon beach. The beach was pretty popular with the locals, but nothing too great to write home about. We spent some time at the beach until sunset and returned to our homestay for dinner.
For day 2, we had a choice between doing the island excursions and water sport activities. We chose to do the latter. All the activities happen on the “Diving beach”. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach very close to the airport, with crystal clear turquoise water and lots of coral reefs close by. A couple of years ago when Agatti had resorts and lots of tourists, this beach used to be a hub of activity and all the resorts were set up on this stretch of land. Now it sports a deserted look except for a room occupied by a diving instructor – Dawood (Yes, shares the name with our driver!). He is the only instructor left on Agatti while the rest have moved on to teach at Kadmat and Bangaram.
We reached this place at around 10:30 in the morning and were ready for some scuba action. Incidentally, this was our second stint at scuba diving, first one being on our honeymoon at Havelock Island in Andaman. Lakshadweep offers a much richer experience for scuba because of the low cost (2k per person per dive) and lots of coral reefs still kept unspoilt due to limited tourism. Dawood was accompanied by his fellow diver Naseeb. Though limited in their usage of English, they both seemed pretty friendly and genuinely keen on getting us a wonderful diving experience. Dawood also brought his GoPro underwater camera along to take pictures and videos of the dive, all for free.
After the customary lessons upfront, we were taken towards a coral reef closeby. My wife is usually a nervous wreck when it comes to going underwater. After a shaky start, she too got comfortable to stay underwater and we were on our way to explore the marine life of Lakshadweep. The visibility was good and we went as far as 6 meters deep, exploring one coral reef after another. The experience was pretty awesome to say the least. We managed to spot lots of colorful fishes, few playing around openly, and few hiding in the caves trying to catch a sneak peak of us. Even the corals were pretty diverse from one reef to another and we had a wonderful 45 mins to 1 hour underwater. It would have been much better had we entered the water closer to high tide than low. Still, it was incomparable to our experience at the Andaman and we knew we would be going back for more, maybe lot deeper the next time.
After a pretty tiring dive, we headed back to the homestay for lunch and a quick nap afterwards. We went back to the Diving beach in the evening to try out some kayaking. After a rough half an hour with the kayak in the sea and coming out almost fully wet, we decided to take a stroll on the beautiful stretch of sand. We waited until the sunset and then were back at our homestay for the dinner. An exhausting but very memorable day had come to an end.
We woke up in the morning excited about visiting the Bangaram island. We had heard very good reviews about the place and couldn’t wait to see it ourselves. After breakfast, we reached the west side jetty of Agatti (closer to Lagoon beach) and started towards Bangaram. We were accompanied by Shukor who had packed the lunch for us for the afternoon. We also had an unexpected guest on the boat – Faizee. He was about our age and a native of Agatti. He had studied his engineering in a Bangalore college and was currently serving in the Indian Navy. He was on a 4 month vacation at that time and decided to give us company on the excursion. The boat ride was about an hour and half long. On our way, we saw many turtles swimming past us.
As we got closer to the island, the sea became crystal clear coated in turquoise blue, beaming with full glory in the sunshine. It was nothing like anything we had seen before and was quite spectacular. We also got to know that we are making the first stop at the Thinnakara island adjacent to Bangaram. Faizee had something on his mind and was instructing the crew to stop at a particular place. As we got down, he directed us to this wonderful place which was supposed to be the tip of the island and was in the shape of an ‘S’, completely filled by Seagulls. My wife made a dash towards them and to see hundreds of birds fly around so close to her was quite a moment for my camera to capture. After spending some time on the island beach, we were directed towards temporary huts nearby. There were people trying to collect the coconut produce from the island and we also finished our lunch in one of those huts.
After lunch, we headed towards the Bangaram island. On our way, we made a quick stop to do some snorkeling. It was close to 3 pm when we reached Bangaram. Faizee showed us around the island including a deserted place which once happened to be a Casino. We were back on the boat and they then took us to the other side of the island. We got down at a place which had beautiful white sand and very shallow and clear water. You would almost forget that it is a sea. We had fun time there taking lots of pics and admiring the beauty of the 2 islands for one last time. Our fun little excursion was over and it was time to head back. We were back at Agatti just about the time of the sunset. We said goodbye to our friend Faizee and made our way to the homestay. Another memorable day had come to an end, only blip being the serious tan we had on our skin due to the time we spent in the scorching sun. 😦
We had planned to do our 2nd dive on this day. We left early after breakfast, hoping to catch the sea in its high tide for better diving experience. We also made arrangements to dive from a boat, going much deeper than what we did last time (cost 3k per person). On board the diving boat with the usual diving crew, we drove around for some time trying to find the best spot for diving. After some search, we found a good spot with clear visibility. The sea was slightly rough and we had some initial difficulty in getting into the water. We finally made our way down to the sea bed. We started to feel the pressure in our ears as it was close to 10 meter deep and we had to continuously equalize to stay underwater. The coral reefs were spectacular to say the least. The fishes were much more in number and bigger in size compared to our last dive. The diversity of marine life was very striking and we just lost track of the time completely. Unfortunately, the tank was running low again and we headed back to the boat. Though we were happy to start breathing through our noses again, we were little sad knowing this would be our last dive for some time.
We came back to the homestay for lunch, followed by the usual nap in the afternoon. In the evening, we started on our excursion to Kalpitti island. This is one of the uninhabited islands very close to Agatti near the landing strip. We were on a glass bottom boat accompanied by 2 people and we managed to sea some nice fishes underwater through the glass when the boat passed over the coral reefs. It was a short ride of about 30 mins to the island. There was not much to do on that island. We explored a bit of it and were on our back soon. The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful except for some local souvenir shopping.
Our flight back was at 11:45 am. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to our hosts and flew back to Bangalore.
Lakshadweep in Pics
Lakshadweep is India’s own Maldives. In fact, it shares its sea with Maldives. For the price we paid, it was one hell of an experience and at a fraction of a cost of Maldives. Not being in the public eye has had its impact on the islands and has gone a long way in keeping its serenity intact. We left the place knowing that we will be back again.