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 was 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.  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! 🙂 🙂

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” 🙂 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 😉 We returned back around 07.00 hrs as I have to leave to the airport early! 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! 🙂 🙂

Hope you all would also be visiting these beautiful islands so soon 🙂

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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.. 🙂 🙂

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. SPORTS 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 🙂 . 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 🙂

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!!

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!

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 🙂 . 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 🙂 . 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 🙂 . 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 🙂 . Not bad 😉 . 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 🙂