In the Airport Island – Agatti ;-)

18.01.2017:

Relieved of the stress and strain of the journey after a good sleep, I woke up to walk around the island to join my people who are out there to explore more of Agatti. Walking through Agatti Island, I get through the narrow, paver-blocked streets, small schools, large mosques and of course the beautiful beaches. Almost all the produce consumed on these islands is flown in from Kerala. Coconuts are plentiful, but almost all other veggies are flown in, just like the tourists for whom they are brought. The beach is full of activity with women bringing their children for a play and youngsters playing beach football. Time flowed gently, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

I couldn’t find Imran or aunty anywhere in my quest along the beach and so I sat at one of the shacks munching a samosa. I couldn’t see much of tourists here and as I read somewhere before coming to these islands, Lakshadweep follows a low-impact model of tourism which wasΒ calibrated not just to the local ecology but also to human life upon the islands. 99% of the population follows Islam and their social relations are still conservative. Β People either work for the government or go for fishing and this suffice their needs. I felt so like an outsider crashing a family reunion as I could see that I am the only tourist among them standing like an odd man out 😦

No main lander can buy land here and the shipments of food and fuel that wend their way to these islands are heavily subsidized. To my surprise, I came to know from Jaleel that the entire power supply to the islanders is based on diesel generators! Powder white sand cocooned by calm, azure waters, postcard scenery, no hordes of tourists, sleepy fishing villages nestled among the coconut trees – Lakshadweep is one of India’s best kept secrets!! My eyes ain’t getting enough even after spending so much time along the coasts, beaches and in the lagoons. It’s such a pure bliss! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Not able to find any one of my gang, I returned back to our room and started watching TV when our people came and took me for dinner. The dinner was simple; we ordered a couple of dosas while Imran had Malabar Parota which is a local delicacy. We cycled back to our room to grab some more sleep as I have to fly back to Cochin the next day!

19.01.2017:

We were up at 04.30 hrs to witness the sunrise in this beautiful island. We started walking towards the eastern jetty from where we can get a good glimpse of the rising sun. By the time we reached the jetty, a cargo vessel is offloading it’s cargo and few islanders getting their fishing equipment ready for an early morning catch! Slowly the sun was above the horizon and it was such a mesmerizing sight with the orange colored sun in the background and the dancing dolphins in the blue waters in the foreground! The experience is beyond description!

Just near the shore, we could see wide varieties of brightly colored fishes hovering around the shallow waters. Turtles were swimming lazily along looking for food or sunbathing at the surface while the islanders were trying their luck at catching the other edible fishes for their meal! I asked Jaleel how would a standard meal at home like and the answer came instantly as “Tuna fish curry” πŸ™‚Β The secluded beaches with swaying palm trees, the unending rhythmic dance of waves playfully teasing the silken sands, the sun and clouds creating magical light shows in the skies, transports us to a transcendent state where there is only bliss and ecstasy.

Though I wanted to try my hand at fishing, I was not able to do so as no one was ready to lend their fishing rod to me 😦  If not this time, might be the next time πŸ˜‰ We returned back around 07.00 hrs as I have to leave to the airport early!Β For people like me who are looking for an amazing exotic travel experience in a budget and a destination brimming with natural beauty, untouched by human activities and far away from crow, Lakshadweep is the right spot! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Hope you all would also be visiting these beautiful islands so soon πŸ™‚

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Fire fighting in Thinnakara

18.01.2016:

While we were enjoying the coconuts and the coconut jaggery that was prepared fresh by Fathima aunty, an old man with a serious look on his face rushed towards us. He is Mohommed, husband of Fathima aunty. From his serious looks, I thought he might not have liked us being there taking off their privacy and enjoying his wife’s sweet dish, but I was wrong! It was more serious. Unfortunately, the fire which he made to dispose off some waste started spreading into a larger area behind his home and the old man and his son were not able to control it!

When we went to inspect the scene, we saw that the fire was spreading too fast and it was only these two who were fighting with it. Soon we too were into action – Imran, Jaleel, Uncle and I started fetching buckets of water from a groundwater source beside the home and splashing the water all through the patch of the land that was on fire. As it was almost summer in this part of India with very less rainfall and almost all the bushes and leaves are fully dried, the fire is spreading at a much faster rate! Aunty and Fathima aunty too joined us in fighting the fire.

How much ever hard we were trying, we were not able to curb it and Fathima shouted hard for help and soon the staff at the resorts rushed to the spot with buckets of water and were into action. A struggle of around 30 minutes, two burns onto the sole of my right feet, torn flip-flops of Imran, cramps on to everyone’s hands – our sacrifices seemed to satisfy the Fire God and finally we were able to put off the fire πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ . We relaxed for some more time sipping fresh coconut water and exchanging few words with Fathima’s family before we bid them a bye!

We explored a bit more of Thinnakara before we started moving towards another set of uninhabited islands – Parali 1 and Parali 2 which are famous for sea turtles. Locals often say that these islands should be visited on a full moon night as thousands of turtles come to the island to lay eggs. Probably they might come on other nights too. But perhaps the beauty of these creatures along with the beauty of the full-moon and the lagoon around the island might be surreal. Once we get a feel of any one of the islands in the Lakshadweep Archipelago, it would be the same with the other islands too.

We started back to Agatti by 14.00 hrs and tried our hands again at fishing and this time too we didn’t get a single fish 😦 . I retired to sleep after a refreshing shower and a hearty meal. Though aunty tried a lot to wake me up from my sleep in the evening, I didn’t and she gave up. Jaleel, Imran, Aunty and Uncle went to have a walk along the beach before I woke up! Lemme sleep for some more time πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Time for some more adventure…

17.01.2016:

After the diving session, we spent some more time swimming in the lagoon and lazing around. Time to move. While we were coming to this island, we saw a piece of land at the end of the lagoon and made a point that we should go to that piece of land. So, lets go there now πŸ˜‰ . We started walking through the coconut groves and made our way towards the Helipad. We didn’t have a solid breakfast and it started taking it’s toll on us! We are too tired and exhausted when Jaleel came like an angel with some fresh coconuts. We finished off some coconuts and moved towards the lagoon!

I think the sight of the lagoon and that small patch of land itself has made uncle a bit nervous πŸ˜€ . Again he denied coming with us even after Imran telling him that it won’t be that deep and not at all risky! Leaving uncle behind, we, Imran, Jaleel, Aunty and I got into the lagoon. The water was lukewarm, not so deep, turquoise blue in color and mild in currents – a good thing. It was almost as if we were walking on a road chit-chatting with each other. While Imran was explaining about the islanders and their lifestyle, aunty listening to him keenly while Jaleel was having a lazy swim every now and then and I was so curious to see what’s there on that land!

The distance from the island to this patch of land is around 800 metres. After a stressful walk through the waters for about 600 meters, we got the first real sight of it. There might be around 500 seagulls taking rest and chirping among them. That was a postcard pic with the deep blue sea behind them, the white silvery sand patch of land, the turquoise blue lagoon infront and the white seagulls πŸ™‚ . While we were nearing the land, they sensed the alien presence of ours and started flying away and that gave me a reason to regret for not having a camera with me to capture those moments! 😦

The scene found it’s place in the memories of my heart and mind. The vivid colors of all the elements around me and the various reflections of the water on the plumage of those tiny sea-gulls when they started flying off from the land is an enticing scene! Thanks to Bangaram for such wonderful eye feasts πŸ™‚ The moment we touched the land, Jaleel and Imran went in search of the eggs of those seagulls, while aunty went for some coral remains and shells and I asusual walking along the stretch. After their futile attempts, Imran came up with an idea of a running race and started running followed by aunty and me. After having enough fun, I laid down there with my entire body into the water and just the head out into the sun!

I was not worried about getting tanned anymore. I was there to enjoy each and absorb each and every moment into my mind. After all, this is not a common place which we can visit whenever we like πŸ™‚ . After a while, we started walking back to the island, but this time time currents were not mild and it took a lot of effort to overcome them and walk or swim at times. Once out of the waters, we ventured again into the lagoon for snorkeling with the snorkeling gear brought by Jaleel from Agatti. There was a small rock with a passage and I was able to find a fish in that narrow passage. And I went around to find some more, but I could find nothing! 😦

But so far it was good!

A refreshing evening in Agatti

16.01.2017:

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We started moving towards the northern end of the island. Imran told us that life is very smooth in the island and there is no crime! We came across few mosques on our way where people were offering their prayers. There are a few antique Buddhist sculptures found in this island that show that the islanders once practiced Buddhism. But now, Islam is practiced exclusively. Women wears burqas while the girls wears scarves. Men are in either shirts and trousers or lungis! It took us around 10 minutes to reach the beach on the northern end of the island.

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The beach is full of activity. We parked our bicycles and walked through the powdery sand. There is a shack selling some refreshments and ladies were sitting together in small groups and discussing things while men were loitering here and there with the children. The cool breeze, calm beach and turquoise blue lagoon with a setting sun opposite to the scene is so enticing! Although there is lot of activity going around the beach and the crowd is not too less, the beach is quite clean πŸ™‚ . I started going around the beach while Imran started a conversation with an islander and uncle and aunt walked towards the sea.

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A few children were playing football after erecting a goal-post into the sand while some were running around hunting the hermit crabs, while some others were trying their hands at fishing! The common thing among all the islanders is the habit of fishing. No matter what the age of a person is, he will be always interested in fishing and sometimes I feel that it’s their favorite past time too πŸ™‚ . After clicking some photographs I too settled down along with uncle and aunt while Imran was still conversing with the islander.

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From the corner of my eye, I could see some creatures crawling on the wet sand, but when I turn to have a look at them, all I could see are some shells here and there. I asked uncle and aunt to remain silent and then these creatures started going around us with more vigor. These are the lower scale hermit crabs which try to deceive us by pulling back their bodies into their shells at the slightest hint of some activity around them. Aunty and uncle struggled a bit around them to make a video of their movements and finally satisfied, we let them go on their business while we returned to our business of clicking some photographs when Imran joined us finally!

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Finally at around 18.45 hrs, it became dark and we moved towards the shack named ‘Lagoon Beach Restaurant’ and occupied a table. We ordered some tea for uncle and aunt, I took some samosas and Imran some fish rolls. They tasted good πŸ™‚ . Spending some time here, we left for having our dinner at the same Al Mubarak restaurant. I ordered a Masala Dosa, while aunty and uncle ordered for some plain dosas and Imran excused himself as his non-vegetarian dinner was ready back at his room. Again, the dosa is too good. It’s fresh, crisp and less oily. Don’t miss a chance of tasting this tasty dosa, if you are here in Agatti!

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Time for shopping! Tomorrow we are leaving for the Bangaram Island. As there won’t be any food stuff available there, we have to get something to eat along with us. While Aunt and Uncle has gone for buying some snacks and all and Imran left to find an ATM, I went around some of the cloth shops to buy some beach-wear! After a lot of struggle with the extra large sizes available here, I managed to get a T-shirt for a price of Rs. 150 πŸ™‚ . Not bad πŸ˜‰ . Done with our shopping we left for our rooms.

21.00 hrs – We called it a day as we have to start early in the morning! Good Night πŸ™‚

Agatti Island – The Gateway to Lakshadweep!

16.01.2017:

Imran took us to our accommodation and informed us that we would go out for lunch in another hour or so. I excused myself for a shower while uncle and aunt were discussing things with Imran. The underground water is pumped into the tanks on top of the houses which will be serving the daily purposes. Never ever try to open your mouth while taking a shower unless you are a big fan of salt, b’coz the water here tastes too salty! The government of Lakshadweep however provides the localities desalinated water from the desalination plant which is located on the eastern side of Agatti Island.

Everyone else too refreshed themselves and were now ready to go for lunch. There are no big restaurants or hotels except few small ones to provide food in the island. However, the resorts which will be accommodating the tourists who opted the tourism packages would provide them with food, but they don’t provide for people like us who came through some known people in the island. There are only two modes of transport here in the absence of public transport like buses. Either we should go by an auto-rickshaw or ride a bicycle or go by a bike or car if we own one! Jamaal, a locality who works for Imran quickly arranged us four bicycles as aunt has insisted for them πŸ™‚

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We started riding our bicycles on the narrow concrete roads paved through the coconut grooves and Imran informed us that one should pre-book the meals in advance if they plan to eat it from outside and he booked them for us! Thanks to him, I am really hungry πŸ™‚ . After like a km ride, we reached the Hotel Al Mubarak. It is a small house which has got two partitions, most likely like the family partition and an ordinary one where in which people sit for a tea and a crunchy vada. The owner of the hotel guided us to the family partition and we comforted ourselves at a table. Imran order 3 vegetarian meals for uncle, aunt and me while he ordered himself a non-vegan.

The meal is simple. They served us some white rice, with Avial (a preparation with all varieties of vegetables), thoran (mix of boiled green gram and coconut), sambar, curd and a papad. The non-vegan meal consists of fish curry and fish fry instead of our green gram thoran! The food tasted good. Done with our meal, we cycled back to our room and laid down for sometime before setting out to explore the island. After a good sleep of about 2 hours, we ventured out to see the beauty of the Agatti Island.

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Agatti island is 10 km long and 6 km wide at the broadest point. Importantly, the only airport which serves the entire archipelago is situated here. This is also the transit point for the people who choose to go to the island Bangaram. We chose the bicycles again and started following Imran who is guiding us. The island is absolutely peaceful as there was no much traffic for that matter no big motors like trucks, buses and lorries etc. Mostly all the people here uses bicycles, some motor bikes, others auto-rickshaws and a car here and there! Limited tourist infrastructure here makes for an unusual but good experience. A ride of around 3 kms took us to the port officer’s office from where one can get the ship tickets for his/her voyage.

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There is a long bridge which connected us to the jetty from the island. At the entrance of the bridge, there is a board warning us that collection, destruction or selling away any kind of corals and turtles is a punishable offence under the Wildlife Protection Act and we made a mental note of it. This is the eastern jetty where the cargo ship ‘Sagar Yuvraj’ is loading offΒ the barrels of diesel which is the source of generation of electricity in the island. Agatti has one of the most beautiful lagoons in the Lakshadweep archipelago. The lagoon on the island side and the deep blue sea on the jetty side is a postcard scene! One can see the desalination plant from here.

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The jetty was full of activity. People sitting on the walls talking among themselves and wishing the others who passes by, while few people were fishing with their fishing rods, probably for a fish or two to cook in the evening, and the crew of the ship off-loading the barrels of fuel and people like us clicking photographs and doing all crazy stuff! In all, the life in island is simple. Everyone knows everyone else in the island and it’s like a close-knitted family πŸ™‚

Agatti Aerodrome – One of world’s scariest

16.01.2017:

I reached the Kochi Airport around 11.30 pm on 15.01.2017. Uncle and Aunt would be joining me the next day and I have to spend all night in the airport 😦 . But, it’s ok! Am quite excited about my onward journey from here πŸ™‚ . When we thought of going to Lakshadweep, Aunt asked me whether we can go on a ship, but I denied! Firstly, ship schedules are tight, reservations needs to be done early; secondly, the journey would consume more time, which I cannot afford at any cost πŸ˜‰ . So, it was a flight obviously!

But, let me unearth the truth behind me choosing a flight to a ship. It is all about the Agatti Airport! The first thing that came to my notice when I was surfing the internet about Lakshadweep is the Agatti Aerodrome. It is listed in various lists like the most beautiful airports in the world, world’s scariest airports etc. When I saw the images of this airport, the thing which attracted me the most is the airstrip. And, so.. I wanted to try a flight journey to this beautiful archipelago.

Uncle and Aunt joined me at the Kochi airport around 8.30 hrs on 16.01.2017. When approached the check-in staff of Air India, they asked us our entry permits and we produced the same and they in turn gave us our tickets. Done with the first check! In the meanwhile, I remember Avinash saying me to carry some food stuff as there is a slight problem for food in the islands and hence Aunt and I went to buy some instant soup mixes, cup noodles and chips etc. In the meanwhile, the boarding was announced and we made our way to the boarding gate.

It is a 42 seater ATR-42 plane and Air India runs a daily flight to Agatti from Kochi except on Sundays. As usual people started clicking selfies while waiting for their turn to board the flight. I made a special request to the check-in staff to allot window seats for all three of us so that we may get a chance to see the beauty hidden this archipelago and they did. We comforted ourselves in the seats that were allotted to us and were about to fly. I watched the vast expanse of Arabian Sea under us and the massive ships looking like tiny ants on a blue floor πŸ™‚ . Soon, the air hostess came with some refreshments. Once done with the small spinach corn sandwich and some fruit salad, I retired for a small nap.

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I woke up when the Captain made his announcement that we would be landing in another 15 minutes. I saw an island though I am not sure which one was that (my guess is Kalpeni), and within no time a jetty and a desalination plant. Yeah this is Agatti. Looking like nothing more than just a strip of land protruding out of the heavenly blue waters, this is the only one serving in the Lakshadweep islands. The Airport is located on the southern end of the island and is spread over an area of over 46 acres. The airstrip was constructed during the year 1987-88 and the airport was inaugurated in 1988. The aerial view of the airstrip is breathtaking, but overshoot the runway and we will be straight into the sea πŸ™‚

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Once out of the plane, the soft sea breeze caressed us and the scenic beauty of the airstrip which is almost like dividing the sea into two and the blue lagoon surrounding it offered a feast for the eyes. The airport is a small one which can accommodate around 50 passengers and there was Imran waiting for us! After exchanging pleasantries and the security check of our entry permits and all, we walked out where an auto-rickshaw was waiting for us. The area surrounding the airport is a vast stretch of silver sand beach with coconut groves and some bushes. And it was too hot! Imran took us to the local police station where in which we have to get our entry permits stamped from the Station House Officer.

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We went to the station which is located in the 2nd floor of the building and came to know that the SHO was not in the station and we can collect the permits at a later point of time. Without any more delay we went to our accommodation. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Finally I am here – In one of my dream destinations! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Go.. Grab the Entry Permits first!

Visiting Lakshadweep is not as easy as visiting the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. When I first discussed my plan of visiting Lakshadweep with my friend Avinash, he told me that I need to get some permits in order to visit those islands. All visitors, both Indian and foreign nationals, must have a visa-like entry permit to travel to the Lakshadweep islands. Usually there are two ways in order to get these permits, we can either approach the Lakshadweep Tourism Department and book a package so that they would take care of everything or do everything by your own provided you know any islander!

I chose the later for two reasons: Firstly, a package is a costly affair and secondly, I know few islanders πŸ˜‰ . The first important thing in this process is to get a No Objection Certificate or a Police Clearance Certificate from the Commissioner/Superintendent of Police of the place where you are staying stating that I don’t have any criminal cases against me as per their records. I got mine after verification of my address and all. Then the next step is to fill the application form for obtaining a permit. For further details and forms one can visit this websiteΒ http://lakshadweephomestay.com/

While my friend Avinash gave me the declaration that should be given by an islander, I submitted my application along with the NOC and other identity proofs at the Lakshadweep Administration Office,Β Indira Gandhi Rd, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682003. Trust me, it is truly a frustratingΒ process, as we need to apply for this at least 45 days before the date of your journey and wait till the last moment, as there is no guarantee that they would be issuing the permits. For your info, this is only for the people who would be applying directly like me, but not for those who will be booking a package πŸ™‚

Tourism is restricted in order to preserve and protect Lakshadweep’s fragile bio-ecological environment and prevent overcrowding. With the tourism board taking charge of water sports, underwater adventures in Lakshadweep are now restricted to the four main islands – Kadamat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti and Minicoy. Tourism is monitored by the local administration in close concert with the Lakshadweep Island Development Authority with the sole objective of protecting the interests of the islands. Scarcity of potable water and accommodation is a major constraint. The administration is wary that indiscriminate tourism promotion would lead to depletion of potable water for the islanders.

At last I got my entry permit on 13.01.2017 while my tickets for Agatti are booked for 16.01.2017. Ritu Aunt and Jit Uncle are going to accompany me, but the sad part is Avinash is going for some training and he won’t be accompanying us there in the islands. He gave the responsibility of us to a friend of his – Imran, who is also going to become a very good friend of mine πŸ™‚