Thursday, October 08, 2009

Living jewels of the Arabian Sea


-By Swetha Amit
We have often wanted to have a Maldives experience without travelling outside of India. A little net surfing and we spotted pictures of the Lakshadweep islands, which looked to be exactly what we wanted – a quiet, seaside getaway. And when we finally managed to vacation there, we were certainly not disappointed; Lakshadweep has all the ideal elements of a great beach holiday — gleaming corals, shimmering sand, and fantastic underwater experiences.

We landed on Agatti Island, and were greeted by the gentle sound of restless waves in the lagoon, smiling resort staff, and offerings of tender coconut water. The resort, owned by island locals, consisted of not more than 19 rooms and provided a pleasing contrast to the crush and crowds of city life. Our rooms overlooked the sea which was an exquisite green in colour.

We didn't know too much about the islands except what had appeared in our school geography textbooks. Extremely curious, we looked forward to exploring the area. And what we found was that what lay above the waters of the Arabian Sea, could not compare to the treasure we found beneath the surface.

An enchanting underwater world: Our expedition began with an exciting ‘Discover scuba diving’ experience offered by the Diveline centre in Agatti. Diveline offers certified courses for diving that are conducted by a German couple. For novices like us, this was a great opportunity to learn the skill.

The instructors started the diving lessons by teaching us breathing techniques and how to handle the equipment. Then we were taken into the shallow waters of the lagoon, where for 40 minutes we swam among the colourful corals and brightly hued fish. We were lucky enough to spot a turtle too! It was a wonderful experience and not very difficult once we got used to the rules for breathing.

The swim along the shore gave us far more confidence and we decided to venture into deeper waters. We were taken by boat to a diving site in the deep ocean where we had to change into wet suits. When the boat halted, we plunged into the sea and swam down towards the anchor on the bed of the ocean. As we were just beginners, this was a hand-in-hand dive with the professionals.

The next one hour was enthralling. We were in a different world altogether, experiencing for the first time the feeling of being deep underwater and moving amongst the unusual fish, coral reefs, sting rays, etc. A fairytale experience almost, and well worth the price of Rs4,800. (More details can be found at the website:
www.divelineagatti.com)

We came away convinced that Lakshadweep indeed is one of the best places in India for scuba diving.

An island left to nature: Another unique experience was Kapitti Island, a place where nature has been left to rule without any interference from man. This was an ideal adventure for city souls like us. We organised a boat from the water sports centre at Agatti at Rs500 per person for a two-hour excursion and reached the island within 30 minutes. First we cruised around the entire island, and then landed among the shrubs and towering trees that shielded us from the glare of the sun. Walking along the shore, we saw zillions of hermit crabs of different shapes, sizes and colours. All around, the sea lashed at the rocks, giving one the feeling of being away from civilisation and at nature's mercy. Holidaymakers have the option of spending a whole day here or even a night stay in tents, for Rs1,000 and Rs2,500 per person respectively.

Island hopping: Lakshadweep is home to the Bangaram Island Resort, a 5-star property about an hour-and-a-half away from Agatti and accessible by speedboat. The resort has an ayurvedic spa and about 39 rooms for guests. A tour of the resort costs about Rs1,000 per person and includes the Bangaram lake that is surrounded by coconut trees, and is open for snorkelling and swimming (equipment provided by the water sports centre). Bangaram also has a scuba diving centre with courses for beginners.

In the vicinity of the Bangaram Island are two more uninhabited islands called Parali I and Parali II. On a full moon night, one can visit these islands to watch turtles come to the shore to lay eggs. The night excursion costs around Rs2,000 per person.

Life by the sea: Staying on Agatti island gives nature lovers the opportunity to relax by the ocean. One can occasionally spot a turtle coming up to the surface for a breath of fresh air. The water sports centre offers attractions such as glass-bottomed boat rides for Rs500, water-skiing at Rs800, water scooter rides for Rs 500, and fishing in the lagoon and deep sea fishing for Rs500 and Rs2,000 respectively. And then there is always the chance to simply laze in a hammock, catch up on a good book, float under the sun in the clear blue water, or play football on the sandy beach. The resort also has bicycles for rent at Rs100 per person to cycle around the island and down to the village.

The local language is known as Jesseri, a mix of Tamil and Malayalam. Visitors can get by with either language, English or even a little bit of Hindi. Although the resort offers a range of fine home-cooked meals (Indian, continental and Chinese) included in the room package, liquor is banned on the island. Those keen on sampling cocktails can find them at the Bangaram Island resort. The island is inhabited by Muslims and requires visitors to be decently covered when out of the resort premises.

On the whole, Lakshadweep provides an ideal holiday for those looking for a little tranquillity and unspoilt surroundings.

Getting there:
By air: Take a flight to Cochin for a connecting flight to Agatti Island. Air India flies from Cochin to Agatti on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; Kingfisher Airlines flies the route on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

By sea: Take a ship from Cochin. The cruise covers the islands of Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Minicoy, Androth and Agatti and then back to Cochin. Schedules may be subject to change.

NOTE: A permit is necessary to visit the islands. The permit is issued in Cochin, or can be arranged by a travel agent.

When to visit: The best time to visit Lakshadweep is from November to March/early April. The rest of the year, the islands are affected by the monsoons, making it difficult to travel from one island to another.
Written for www.domain-b.com

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5 Comments:

Blogger A New Beginning said...

Thanks for the beautifully informative post Swetha:)

8:14 PM  
Blogger Whirlwind said...

Thank you.:-)

9:07 PM  
Blogger manivannan said...

Glad you'd a wonderful experience Swetha!

Your scuba diving reminds me of Luc Besson's wonderful movie The Big Blue :-)

1:41 AM  
Blogger Whirlwind said...

Thanks Mani.:-) Really?? Should watch that movie!!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Rejina Prashanth said...

Nice Post. Bangaram Island Resort is a beautiful resort in the island of Bangaram which is a part of the Lakshadweep Archipelago.Planning honey moon here is a best option as Bangaram Island Resort is not crowded and not known much.

2:25 AM  

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