Bye Bye Bangaram

18.01.2017:

We woke up before sunrise and refreshed ourselves and headed towards the eastern side of the island to get a glimpse of the sunrise. The beach is full of activity. People are cleaning the left-overs on the dining tables, clearing off the vessels, arranging tables etc; the fisher-folk and the divers are getting their equipment and boats ready to take the tourists for deep sea diving, fishing and angling; the locals were pulling out the fishes stuck to their nets in the lagoons and the tourists are lazing on the chairs waiting for the sun to rise from the horizon!

Bangaram is every photographer’s wet dream and yet, I find myself taking far fewer pictures than I usually do while travelling. Every where we can find a standard-issue desktop wallpaper 🙂 The island is a paradise, a tropical heaven on earth. It’s a piece of the planet that’s as manicured as it is naturally stunning. It draws divers, leisure swimmers, and beach bums. It does its best to soothe one’s soul with blushing sunsets, shallow ocean sightings and by sheathing us in luxury.

Though the process of getting permits is frustrating and the cost of the packages is high, it’s seems so justifying when we visit these islands. From a conservation point of view, the pressure of tourism isn’t yet visible on the reef. In other island destinations like Havelock, one see broken coral and the impact of pollution, but not so much in Lakshadweep. And that’s because tourism is so heavily regulated and in that sense, the regulation is a blessing. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, why these islands are still so stunningly beautiful!

While watching the sunrise, we sent Jaleel to give a word to our boat’s captain that we would be leaving in another 30 minutes. We headed back to our room and packed our luggage, prepared ourselves some instant noodles for our breakfast and left for the boat. Our next destination is another small island near to Bangaram. The word ‘Bangaram’ in Telugu language literally means ‘Gold’. And this ‘Bangaram Island’ is truly bangaram for me as it left me with some of the golden memories which I can cherish throughout my life 🙂

Bye Bye Bangaram.. 🙂 🙂

Let’s catch some fish!

17.01.2017:

Lakshadweep in Malayalam means ‘a hundred thousand islands’, though there are no 1000 islands literally. It is the smallest Union Territory of India and the archipelago covers an area of 32 sq.km which is surrounded by 4200 sq.km of Arabian Sea. It has 12 atolls, five submerged banks and 36 islands of which  Agatti, Amini, Andrott, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan, Bangaram and Minicoy are inhabited. Lakshadweep shot into the lime-light in the late 1980s after Rajiv Gandhi’s brief encounter with a whale in Bangaram. I don’t how far this is true frankly 😐

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The turquoise blue started disappearing and a dark blue color started engulfing the waters. Agatti island is vanishing in some distance and soon we were in middle of the deep Arabian Sea! Lakshadweep islands are a paradise of marine life with lots of foreign tourists dropping in for various water sports and adventure activities. And ofcourse, the Laccadive islands was just one of the several possibilities, if one scouts the right destination to start a new fishing operation. In fact, a group of 10 Germans boarded the same flight as I was with their fishing gear and it was their second visit to the islands it seems. So, one can understand how famous is fishing here!

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As I am a budget traveler and cannot afford a proper fishing expedition, I wanted to go along with the local way of fishing 🙂 . Fishing is the main occupation of the islanders with tuna being the main fish. And it’s a true adventure too. The fishing season starts in November and runs until mid-April. I told Jaleel to ask the boat owner to help us in our fishing adventure and he readily agreed with a smile on his face. He called up his two sons and asked us to make the necessary arrangements. After a thorough search from the large wooden box placed in our boat, the two guys emerged with two small card-boards which looked like small sized chopping boards.

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Each of these card-boards are wrapped with a nylon string of some 40 meters length with one end tied to the cardboard and the other end is tied to a fishing hook. The two youngsters gave me and aunt a cardboard each and explained us how to throw the fishing hook behind the boat and hold the string through our fingers. One has to be to cautious while holding this string as this can easily cut through the skin due to the momentum! Jaleel came and wrapped a hand-kerchief around my fingers to protect them from any injuries and I sat on the edge of our boat waiting eagerly for a fish to bite my fishing hook 🙂

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Time for some theory. Jaleel started explaining the various methods of fishing practiced by the islanders and some of these are unique to the islands. As I told earlier, tuna is the main fish occupying some 80% of the total landings out of which 60% will be exported and 40% will be consumed locally. The local fishermen practice a unique way of fishing. They catch small fishes (baitfish) near the island keep them alive in a container before proceeding out to the sea. Once they spot the tuna, the small fishes are released into the water and simultaneously water is sprayed with a small pump. This spray of water, apparently, fools the tuna into believing that there are a lot more small fishes.

The fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder on the rear deck bobbing long poles with barbless hooks into the spray, enticing the tuna to bite. As a tuna comes onto the line a skillful fisherman will use the momentum to lift the fish out of the water, arcing it overhead to land on the deck behind him while he flicks his line back out into the water, all in one smooth movement. Gradually the hold fills with tuna, and the bait well thins out. This is called the “Pole and Line” fishing, a unique fishing method for the exploitation of tuna and is only found in Lakshadweep in the Indian continent. He further added that the fishing conditions and results may naturally vary during the season.

But today no unique fishing techniques are being deployed :-p . In the meanwhile, Imran came to us saying that if I get a fish he would be cooking it for his lunch 🙂 . It was almost 30 minutes since I dropped my fishing hook, but no fish was caught so far. My curiosity started to disappear and I handed over the string to Imran. Imran too was bored within few minutes and he handed back the string to me. After 5 minutes, I suddenly felt a jerk in my hand. Hurrah! My string was being pulled away from me and I called Jaleel with excitement. Soon, Jaleel and the other two youngsters came to me to check whether there is something.

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To my surprise, they confirmed that the hook has struck something, but they were not sure whether that’s a rock or a fish. But soon, when they started pulling off the string, one of them confirmed that it is a fish and our boat was stopped. It was a fish and it took quite some effort to pull it, but to our utter disappointment when he was about to pull it off completely on board, the string got struck into the rear of our boat and got cut 😦 and the fish was lost along with the hook 😦 . I felt sorry for them as they lost their fishing hook and made a point that I would buy them a new one when we will be back on the island!

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Though the fishing part was a little disappointment, we were happy as we spotted some flying fishes and sea gulls following our boat for sometime. Soon, we spotted two islands and one of them is surrounded by a large lagoon and the captain announced that it’s our destination. We entered the lagoon and the water was crystal clear and one can see the undersea rocks and the sea bed so clearly. Never ever I thought that there would be such a beautiful place on this earth. The beauty of the island and the lagoon is beyond description!

Towards the Eastern Jetty..

17.01.2017:

06.00 hrs – After a tight sleep, I woke up only to find that uncle and Aunt were already up and ready. While aunty was packing her bag, uncle has gone out for a walk and don’t know what Imran was up to. With my sleepy eyes, I found out my tooth-brush, but was unwilling to brush – not because I don’t want to, but because of the salt-water in the pipes. Luckily, I found a bottle of desalinated water and brushed my teeth :B . I don’t want to take a shower as am going to jump into the water in few hours! Lol!!

I packed my bag the other night itself, so no packing for me and I went to look out for Imran. After ringing his door bell for couple of times, Imran was out sweating. He was exercising! He told us that he will be down-stairs in couple of minutes and we decided to walk along the beach instead of waiting for him! The sea-shore is just 100 meters walk from our room and there are some wooden benches separating our room from the sea. I will explain what these wooden benches are for in my upcoming posts.

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The beach is calm and serene, above all beautiful! If you are in hunt of an exotic beach, definitely add this to your list. The blue lagoon, silver sands or the natural beauty – all Indians there, if you are heading to some foreign locations for such experiences, then please do consider the option of Lakshadweep 🙂 Not far from our homes, here is the very own queen of islands, which is known as the ‘Jewel of South India’. Remote and isolated, Lakshadweep has perhaps the oldest recorded history among the islands here. Ibn Batuta, the African globetrotter, referred to it as Muluk.

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Time for some photography! After clicking some pics of the beach, the boats and the western jetty, I found a hole from where two eyes like mustard seeds were peeping at me. After playing hide and seek with me for a while and scrutinizing me, a colorful crab ventured out. I held my breath and was careful not to move so that I could get a good photograph of this scruffy creature 🙂 I don’t know whether he/she was confident enough that I am not going to harm him/her or he/she is enjoying my attention towards him/her, it stopped moving and became a bit like lifeless. Just as soon as I finished clicking a few pics of it, it vanished into its hole-home!

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Imran and Jaleel joined us and we made our way to the eastern jetty where our motor boat was waiting for us. The jetty is filled with people who came for a morning walk, fishing and few for casual exchange of pleasantries etc. Our boat was anchored next to a small size ship and it’s almost like jumping into our small motor boat from the medium-size ship. One wrong step, I will be into the sea! After carefully getting down into our small boat, we wished our boat driver/sailor and his two sons who neatly placed some towels on the wooden benches for us to sit. After settling down, engine coughed to life and started moving away into the deep waters.

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As I was moving away from the Agatti Island, dawn is breaking over Agatti and the island is putting on a well-rehearsed show. The sky is a mirage of pink, mauve, and orange. The ocean has cerulean glaze that would make a potter weak in the knees. Even the coconut trees are in on the act. The shimmy faintly to the gentle breeze that tickles the tendrils of hair at my nape. For what seems like the nth time, I shake my head in belief. It’s ridiculously beautiful, fake even. Some gall the Lakshadweep has, being this drop-dead gorgeous.

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I have fallen for this beauty!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

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 🙂 . 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 😉 . 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 🙂 . 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 🙂

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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. 🙂 🙂

Finally I am here – In one of my dream destinations! 🙂 🙂

A brief Sojourn…

Everyone would like a day out at a beach and I am no different. And the places like Maldives and Mauritius would be definitely present on the dream destination list of everyone. Even I want to visit those places, but before that I would like to search for such destinations in my beautiful country – India! There is no surprise in the fact that one can find any kind of terrain in India and if we search with heart, we can find even all the places that would resemble those on our dream destinations list! 🙂

Well my next destination after a wild road trip and an adventurous pilgrimage came as a result of such search 🙂 . And the destination is the Lakshadweep Archipelago – one of the two island groups of India, located in the Indian Ocean. Not much sought out destination like the Andaman and Nicobar islands due to the restrictions that were present to visit these islands and less heard too. When we speak about these islands and if someone comes up with the question “does those Islands belongs to India?”, there is no wonder. Yes, they are least explored and exposed!

Lucky to have a few friends there and after hearing a lot of interesting things about these Islands, I made up my mind to visit these soon and as usual I landed there for a short trip! 🙂 . I would be sharing all the details like obtaining the necessary entry permits, the details of Islands and the fun we had in detail. Hope everyone likes this sojourn of mine in these beautiful islands.

 

A walk around the iconic monuments of Mumbai..

11.11.2016:

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18.30 hrs – We started walking towards one of the most iconic monument of Mumbai, the Gateway of India. It is a world heritage site that is perpetually frequented by tourists and the locals alike. Built to commemorate George V and Queen Mary‘s visit to Mumbai, this compelling structure by the Arabian Sea is a ‘must visit’. The foundation was laid in 1911 by Sir George Sydenham Clarke, the then Governor of Bombay and the architectural design in the Indo-Saracenic style was fashioned by architect, George Wittet. The structural design of this monument is constituted of a large arch, with a height of 26 m. The monument is built in yellow basalt and indissoluble concrete.

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We walked around the structure and sat on a beach to watch the Arabian Sea with boats and cruises and the tourists and locals clicking selfies or getting instant Polaroid pictures with the iconic monument, and some returning from their visit to the near by Elephanta caves. There are also those Victorian style horse-driven carriages that are available at the Gateway on which we can hop and have a joy-ride. I don’t want to try one as I already tried it at the Victoria in Kolkata 🙂 . Also adjoining the gateway is another landmark of Mumbai, the Taj Palace hotel. One says that there is an interesting story behind the construction of this hotel.

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It is said that Jamshedji Tata (a pioneer Indian industrialist who founded the TATA group) built this hotel after he was refused entry to Mumbai’s grandest hotel then, the Watson’s on racial grounds (since he was not of white skin). It was then that he decided to build a hotel which would give stiff competition to the Watson’s and allow everyone (no matter what the color of the skin).  The original Indian architects were Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza, and the project was completed by an English engineer, W. A. Chambers.

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This hotel has numerous elements that were a first in India then – the main dome is made from the kind of steel that was used in the construction of Eiffel Tower, it had a  steam elevator, imported American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers. And today also, it still remains one of the most grandest hotels of Mumbai. There came a new wing of this hotel called the Taj Mahal tower just beside the Taj Mahal Palace.

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19.15 hrs – Time to relax! What else could be more relaxing than a cool off at the beach? After a long day of journey, shopping and sightseeing, it’s time to sit and enjoy a evening snack 🙂 . We asked the cab driver to leave us at yet another place in Mumbai that reveal its stunning coastline. It’s the Marine Drive – the ideal antidote for sore legs, watch the marine drive transform itself into the ‘Queen’s Necklace’ at night and have a seat while listening to the claiming rhythm of the sea. We walked along the promenade which was occupied by couples, friends and the evening walkers. We also took a seat and watched how the promenade arches into a semicircle of shimmering lights creating a sight that is called the ‘Queen’s Necklace’.

Backwater Beauty – Alleppy

A weekend in Alleppy..

Who will miss the famous houseboat ride when they are in Kerala? And that too when a person like me who is based in Trivandrum which is just 3 hours away from Alappuzzha? And that too when a friend like Mythri who will be ever ready to join me? 🙂 🙂 . It’s time to soak in the beauty of the backwaters and lush green and palm fringed landscape while on a houseboat in Kerala. I called up my uncle and aunt who stays in Alleppy and told them that I am gonna visit them and we wanna explore the city a little. As planned Mythri and I landed there a night before and enjoyed a good meal prepared by my aunt.

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The next day we started off around 8.00 hrs in the morning and headed towards a jetty from where we can get onto a houseboat. A friend of my uncle has arranged the boat for us and we set on our boat ride at 9.00 hrs. As it was only me, my uncle and aunt, and Mythri we hired a boat of small size and we cut short the ride to only 5 to 6 hours. One can move around in traditional thatched roof houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppy, one of the best places to hire a boat in the state.

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Known as Kettuvalam, these boats were traditionally used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to the market towns and have now been converted into floating hotels made by tying huge planks of jackwood together, great amount of skill and precision is required to make these houseboats. Interestingly, not a single iron nail is used in their construction (they say so, I didn’t observe it so keenly ;-)). Earlier, an entire clan of artisans was dedicated to make these houseboats. But today, these have become an innovative way of holidaying and very proudly represent the unique culture of the southern state.

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Uncle started us explaining the various things about Alleppy and some facts about the backwaters of Kerala which are a crisscrossed network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers. Generally a private houseboat travels around 40-50 kms through the backwaters in a single day. As our boat passed through the canals we got to experience the local life and laze around while gazing at coconut palms, jackfruits, papayas and mango groves. The fisher-folk catching the fishes in their small boats and going around the canals to sell those and the women washing their clothes or the fish for the lunch, the ducks and gooses swimming around, it’s a must visit place to know how well the people’s lives were in-glove with the vast stretches of waters around them.

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We were about to enter the lake Vembanadu. My uncle showed us the way to reach Kottayam and Cochin which were connected by these backwaters. Vembanad is the most accessible backwaters where the Vembanad lake opens to sea at the Cochin Harbor, dotted with interconnected islands that adorn the Queen of the Arabian Sea. The southern Vembanad Lake is known for its large expanse of water, sandwiched between districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam.

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It was noon when we stopped at a toddy shop with a food joint, which are one of the common sights along the backwaters. By the time we stopped here, there was another big houseboat which is full of youngsters, who were probably on a weekend trip and stopped at this toddy shop to enjoy some toddy and were dancing to the hilt. Though I couldn’t read what was going in my uncle and aunt’s mind, I was happy to see so many happy faces enjoying in middle of no-where and as if they were not connected to this world anymore 🙂 😀

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Though you can’t get a large variety of food items here, the list of fresh sea food items is long. The interesting thing is that one can choose the kind of fish or prawns from the display list and they cook it and serve hot on your plates 🙂 . As we row along the small villages on the coast, we came across some resorts, houses and churches. We can anchor our boat somewhere on one of the banks and take a stroll among the white-washed homes and churches. But what I noticed is that a house-boat ride will be too good and enjoyable when there is a large group of people especially family and friends and trust me the fun will be unlimited 🙂 🙂

The ride came to an end at 15.00 hrs just when it started to drizzle a little and then started to rain heavily :). Typical Kerala’s climate! The boat dropped us at the jetty where we started and we really enjoyed this cruise of a lifetime!