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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ˜ฆ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Bye Bye Bangaram.. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Welcome to the world of SPORTS!

17.01.2017:

It is around 08.30 hrs when we reached the Bangaram Island. As I told earlier, the Island is too beautiful. It’s almost as if I am into a different world altogether. It is an uninhabited island and it contains more marine life than the other islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago. We got down from our boat and made our way towards the island. There are a few resorts, a restaurant, dive center with the gear and equipment on display and some sun-bath chairs. It’s a white sand beach with a turquoise blue lagoon surrounding it and coconut groves occupying the middle part of the island.

Jaleel along with a person who works at the resorts took us to a room where we were intended to stay. He showed us two rooms out of which we chose the better one. To be frank, they are well-maintained and the washroom is too clean and has a running water tap. While we were enjoying the ambiance of the room and the surroundings, the person told us that it has not power supply and we were utterly surprised. It was at this time I learnt about the monopoly that was being enjoyed by an agency called SPORTS. I heard this word quite many a times from Imran and Avinash, but I thought that this is a word simply being used as the agency takes care of all water-sports and activities in the islands.

In Lakshadweep, two major private organizations are in-charge of managing and handling all the water sports activities. They are known as Lakshadweep institute of Water Sports and SPORTS (Society for promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports). These two bodies hold regular camps for the tourists all through the year. SPORTSย enjoys a monopoly on the entire tourist trade in the islands of Bangaram and Thinnakara. If one doesn’t have friends in Lakshadweep, the only option is to book their trips to the islands solely through SPORTS and the permit formalities of bonafide tourists will be taken care by them.

The person told us that earlier those rooms which we have seen were also used, but as it has been decided later that the power would be supplied only to the resorts owned by SPORTS, these became non-functional. For that moment, we were not bothered about the power supply or about how we are going to spend the night in the island, but we were bothered about our lunch and dinner. As for our breakfast today, aunty, uncle and I had some snacks which aunty has brought along with her and Jaleel and Imran had some boiled eggs and coconuts during our boat journey.

Jaleel left to see if he can find someone whom he knew, while Imran and I left to meet the manager of the SPORTS resorts on the island. We approached him and told that we were to spend a night in the island and we need some food and we were ready to pay. He considered our request and spoke with his restaurant people who agreed to provide us the lunch and dinner and we were happy ๐Ÿ™‚ . They made a point that the lunch would cost Rs. 300 per person and dinner Rs. 400 per person. We happily agreed! After all it’s better to spend some money on food rather than starving ๐Ÿ™‚

All settled, we left our bags in the room and moved towards the dive center. Bangaram is famous for it’s water-sports. Besides swimming, there is a lot to explore here. Bangaram is the exact stop for experiencing snorkeling and deep sea fishing. Experts who help people from all age groups with these activities realize the potential of the sport. Apart from the usual sport activities like snorkeling, canoeing, deep sea fishing, tourists can also indulge in varied other activities like scuba diving, deep sea diving, wind glassed bottom boat sailing, surfing and so on in this island.

Welcome to the world of SPORTS!!

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . Not bad ๐Ÿ˜‰ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ˜ฆ . But, it’s ok! Am quite excited about my onward journey from here ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Finally I am here – In one of my dream destinations! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ . 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 websiteย 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,ย Indira Gandhi Rd, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682003. Trust me, it is truly a frustratingย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Well my next destination after a wild road trip and an adventurous pilgrimage came as a result of such search ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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! ๐Ÿ™‚ . 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.

 

โ€œMini Indiaโ€ Port Blair :)

Day 1:

Though I hail from South India, I took a flight to Port Blair from Kolkata, so that I can spend some two days in Kolkata too. We boarded the flight around 10 am in the morning. Though I got a window seat, I was asleep for most part of the journey ๐Ÿ˜€ as I was tired from the previous day shopping in Kolkata :p , but as we were just nearing our destination, the pilot started to go around the archipelago, of course every flight offers this service, the service of providing an aerial view of the beautiful islands ๐Ÿ™‚ . Swati woke me up asking me to have a look at the pristine beach waters below. Every one of us peeped through the windows to have a glance at the spell-bound scene beneath.

Soon we were on the runway. It was around 12.30 when we stepped into the Veer Sarvarkar Airport or the Port Blair Airport. Yes, the airport is named after the Indian freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Sarvarkar. Sahil, Swatiโ€™s brother was waiting for us by the time we reached. We grabbed our baggage and headed to Swatiโ€™s home. Aunty and uncle welcomed us all and after the greetings we had our lunch and rested for some time.

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An Archipelago of 572 islands adrift in the Bay of Bengal, the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar islands, also known as the Emerald islands offers us breath taking colors of the sea. Port Blair, named after the naval surveyor Lieutenant Archibald Blair, was colonized in the late 18th century by the British. The capital city of Andaman and Nicobar islands, is a charming island town with stunning views of the Andaman sea. With its bustling atmosphere, the city is called โ€œMini Indiaโ€ as one can find Bengalis, Tamils, Telugus, Mallus, Nicobarese and Burmese living in this city.

It was around 4 pm , we set out to go around the city. The plan is to catch up the music and light show at the historical monument โ€œCellular Jailโ€. But, itโ€™s too early, the show would start up only by 7 or 7.30 pm. So, we thought of having a drive through the roads of Port Blair. Our first halt is the Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex, which offers Safe water sports activities as well as Adventure water sports. We just paid a visit. Important thing is try eating the egg rolls that are offered just outside the complex, trust me they were so yummy ๐Ÿ˜‰

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We just spent a couple of moments there and headed to the Joggersโ€™ Park on the VIP road. This is a must see place in Port Blair, especially if we just want to take some time off and watch the world go by. This is one of the highest points in the city and truly breath-taking after the sunset. The view from the benches overlooking an illuminated city and the sight of the lit runway of the adjacent airport are nothing short of magical.

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Soon, we were at the Cellular Jail. The light show started after we took our chairs. The structure soon came into life with the lights lit, the colors representing the tri-color. We strictly adhered to the rules of not taking snaps of the show as instructed. It was the tree which took the voice of our Om Puri ji, narrating the stories that were all related with the tortures meted out to the freedom fighters. Am sure that everyone will get goose bumps while listening to the narration, also a part of this contains the conversation between Veer Damodar Savarkar and the cruel jailer David Barry. It fills our hearts with patriotism. I salute them!

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The show is hardly for 45 mins or one hour. We headed to the local beach and thereafter called it a day ๐Ÿ™‚