India is a sub-continental country with seas surrounding on the three sides. There are several islands in the seas on all sides which are part of India. The most famous are islands of Andaman and Nicobar, and the other one is islands cluster of Lakshadweep. We happened to get opportunity to visit Lakshdweep islands during Diwali time a decade ago with eco-tourism organization called Pugmarks of Pune, under program titled Marine Nature Orientation Camp. We reached Kochi in the morning by a train from Pune, after long train journey. For our travel itinerary, we had chosen to travel by ship to Lakshadweep islands, instead of flying. It was our maiden trip in a ship, away from mainland India.
The first day was a city tour of Kochi with a visit to fort Kochi, Chinese fishing nets on sea shore, Vasco Da Gama church, a backwater ride, and to a nearby village to experience villager’s life.
The Kerala style food is simply amazing, and I fell in love instantly with that food. The red rice, various coconut based curries, pickles, salads all served on a big green banana leaf. I continue to relish on that whenever I get opportunity. Evening was free, for shopping, but instead, I wished we had Kathakali dance show, but that was not to be.
Next day we started our voyage over a ship called M V Tipu Sultan towards Lakshadweep from Kochi port. As we approached the port, we were sunk in to the environs of the port’s busy and bustling life. Our ship M V Tipu Sultan, looked rusty and old. It was operated by Shipping Corporation of India(SCI). This veteran ship has been on this route since 1988. This was our shelter for next 4-5 nights. The travel plan was very exciting. As you probably know, Lakshadweep is a cluster of large number of islands, and not may of them are inhabited. From the tourism perspective, about 4-5 islands have been developed. The travel plan as to visit 3 islands with an island a day. Each night we were to stay on the ship, as it traveled to next island. The travel to and fro is the longest.
As we boarded the ship, mixed feeling got into me. We were a gang of 20-25 tourists. The ship was huge with passenger capacity of more than 500 passengers, and there were so many other passengers with us, mainly the local citizens. The ship started its journey after a while with a big blow of horn. It was around afternoon time. I quick took a tour of the ship visiting the deck, main seating hall, cabins, cafeteria, and a quick glimpse of engine room, navigation room to get glimpse of sailors and the captain. The life on a ship had begun. Some of started feeling nausea(sea sickness) as the ship went to deep seas. It was all blue ocean below, and the blue sky above, and good powerful blowing wind. We would encounter small fishing boats, and other ships also passing by. The panorama of evening and later the nights were very different. We had our meals at the cafeteria which also had attached kitchen aboard. It was different experience to see the kitchen, chefs in action on the ship, serving food there.
Next day early morning, we reached Kalapeni island. Disembarking from the ship was an experience. Our ship was anchored in the high seas. We got down into a small boats which took us to Kalapeni island in 10-15 minutes of boat ride which was adventurous to say the least due to big waves in the ocean. The sea shore is shallow, perfect for any kind of water sports. Being in front of endless blue watered ocean and absolute white sands is like a dream come true. We enjoyed those blue lagoons. They also had snorkeling facilities. Before took our dip into waters with that gear on our nose, we were given bit of orientation and instructions on how to navigate once inside. It was unfortunate that I could not record or take photographs of those corals which we saw underwater. But we witnessed wide variety of corals including brain corals, and different types of fishes. Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed local folk dance, and a visit to khadi bhandar. We boarded our ship-M V Tipu Sultan, again around 5.30 pm, and set off to next island. It started raining which we enjoyed from the decks.
We reached Minicoy island next morning. It was Diwali time, which we were missing as were traveling. But to our surprise, one of the elderly couple who was in our gang, did not want to miss Diwali, it seems. They had come all prepared to perform Laxmi Pooja, which we did on the ship! I wonder if something of this was done earlier, very unique! After getting off-loaded, we went to visit Minicoy lighthouse which is quite old. This lighthouse is huge and were able to go all the way up.
Our last stop was at Kavaratti island which we reached next morning. It is a capital of Lakshadweep union territory. Here we enjoyed glass boar ride in the lagoons, where one can view coral reef under water. It was fantastic experience. Going in the blue lagoons with crystal clear water, and easy able to view colorful corals underwater. We also were able to try our hands with kayaking and boating which also was fabulous experience.
We reached back to Kochi after our journey into the ocean covering about 400 nautical miles since we started off from Kochi. Any kind of tourism in Lakshadweep area needs to happen via government body called The Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS) which works with local population taking their help and also generating revenue and employment for them. Our gang was a mix of young and grown-ups, out of which a person called Dr Vishwas Yewale, who apart from being doctor, was a water sports expert. He shared his knowledge and experience with boats, ships. He went on starting water conservation movement called Jaldindi in Maharashtra about which I have written over here. As we traveled back to Pune from Kochi, memories our time on these islands, and in the waters filled in. We also decided to make a trip to islands of Andaman and Nicobar, which are much bigger, and also rich in marine life.