Crystal clear blue waters, coral reef full of colorful fish, white sand beaches, coconut trees leaning towards the sea, a perfect recipe for paradise. This is what Lakshadweep Islands are like. Formerly known as Laccadive Islands, they are situated around 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the west coast of India in the Laccadive Sea (above the well known hot tourist spot - Maldives). The archipelago consists of twelve atolls with around forty islands and islets, ten of which are inhabited. The name "Lakshadweep" means one hundred thousand islands in Sanskrit. The islands are governed by India.
How to get to Lakshadweep Islands
Getting to Lakshadweep Islands is not easy. First, you have to put up with Indian bureaucracy and apply for the permission to stay on the islands. If you are not Indian, it's even more complicated, as the Indian Government does not issue permits to stay on Agatti Island (which is the gateway to other islands and the only island that has an airport) for foreigners anymore. Basically, now the only option is to stay on Kadmat Island. Most of the websites offering tourist packages to Lakshadweep Island are outdated and it's extremely difficult to find any information. The official website of the Indian Ministry of Tourism states that the entry to the islands is not allowed. However, it is possible to get the entry permit when you book accommodation with one of the Tourist Offices in Delhi or Kochi.
However, you have to be prepared to wait for at least two weeks. I was a bit lucky, because my friend is Indian and he had booked everything. Also, don't expect it to be cheap, and, the service will not be like in other well - developed countries. If you don't have the nerves and you're not prepared for uncomfortable conditions - choose Maldives instead. But I don't regret anything, it was the most crazily adventurous time I have ever had in my life.
As far as I know, the only airline that flies to Lakshadweep is Air India (from Kochi) as Kingfisher Airlines is not operating anymore. If you want to find out more about the entry permits and getting to the islands, the best option is to contact the tourist offices in Kochi.
Agatti Island is the only island with the airport. All flights from India get here. However, foreign tourists are not allowed to stay on the island, so Agatti is only used for transit to other islands (Kadmat). You can legally be there only for a few hours. The island is around 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) long and matches the description of paradise perfectly.
Landing in Agatti
When you land, the runway is situated on a very thin piece of land, so you see nothing but water and coral reefs until the plane touches down. The airport is basically an old barrack with no signs of modern technology at all. There were only a handful of passengers, but nonetheless, it took ages to get through the passport control. When we finally got our stamps in the passports and entered the island, we had a quick ride to the port to get a speedboat that was supposed to transfer us to another island (Kadmat) where we had our accommodation booked.
Full of coconut forests and the local people living as if without the touch of civilization, it looked very extraordinary. It seemed, however, much cleaner and more organized than the rest of India. From the port, while waiting for our speedboat we had a chance to admire huge sea turtles swimming in the turquoise waters of the lagoon. Pretty impressive sight.
Indian style boat ride
After one hour or so, the "speedboat" arrived. However, it didn't look like a speedboat at all. It turned out to be an old, wooden, fisherman boat, almost falling apart. Our guides were to be three local fishermen who spoke neither English nor Hindi (!). They look like pirates, one of them didn't have one eye. We were a bit skeptic about this means of transport as we were traveling with my Indian's friend family. His parents weren't too young and we were afraid they may have felt sick during such a journey in the scorching heat. But after we'd been assured by the men from the tourist office that the trip will take "only" around 3 hours, we got on the boat and headed towards Kadmat.
The conditions were far from comfortable, the wooden surface of the boat was filthy, full of splinters and we (six tourists + three locals) were stuck there in between our suitcases. The motor of the boat was so loud that there was no way to talk so we stayed silent. The first few hours were quite exciting, as it was something new for us. It was cool to watch flying fish and turtles along the way.
It stopped being funny however when the sun was to go down, and, after more than four hours since the departure from Agatti, we still saw nothing on the horizon, not a sight of any island. We knew that it takes at least another two hours to get to some island when it first appears in sight. We tried to ask the local men but they were unable to reply. So, after 5 hours had passed, we were still sitting in the boat in complete darkness when we saw dim lights on the horizon. We thought: Finally we're getting there! Or maybe we're getting kidnapped?
We got closer to the island with the lights but it turned out not to be our destination. So we kept on sailing. My friend's parents were really upset and his sister was suffering from seasickness. After six hours, strange thoughts were coming into my mind, maybe we are really getting kidnapped, we had all our cash and belongings on the boat with us after all and we were in the middle of the ocean relying only on the fishermen. Then, the boat started leaking but the men had a special pomp to remove water from the boat.
No food was provided except water, a few biscuits and strange juice the men offered us. Finally, after almost going mad because of hunger and the noise coming from the motor we saw the lights of Kadmat Island, the fishermen assured us it finally was our destination indeed by pointing at it and nodding their heads. After eight hours we reached Kadmat. We were safe but starving.
After spending all day without food, we reached Kadmat Island around 11 pm. We were transferred to our accommodation and felt lucky to discover that the buffet was still open. The food was delicious, not as spicy as in the rest of India, lots of seafood, fish, vegetables and fruit. The resort area on Kadmat consists of only a few little huts and all the rest of the Island is for you to explore. There were no fenced beaches, no crowds of tourists. Apart from us, there were only thirteen (!) tourists, including five non Indians.
Kadmat Island is tiny, only about 8 kilometers (5 miles) long and the maximum width of 0.5 kilometers (0.3 mile). It is possible to see the shores from any point of the island. Population is about 5,000. Local people make a living mainly from growing coconuts and fishing. Electricity is provided by solar power plants and fresh water is collected in special tanks. Lakshadweep people are Muslims, there are a few mosques and Muslim cemeteries on the islands. The tourist industry is not very well developed, but for me, that was actually an advantage. There's no modern high class services and no alcohol here, but also, there's no snobbery and crowds of western tourists. Perfect place for an adventure.
There are many activities to choose from in Kadmat Island. (Most of them are included in the package, except scuba diving). You can rent a bike and cycle through the whole island and meet the locals. You can stroll endlessly along the soft white sand beaches with water so clear that it seems that it shines with its own light. You can scuba dive, go snorkeling and take a glass bottom boat to watch the various shapes of coral reefs, colorful fish and turtles. It was the first time in my life when I tried scuba diving and the experience was so amazing. On the island, there is a hospital, schools, coconut factory and a little port.
Canceled flight and one more day in paradise
If you are non-Indian, you must register at the local police station that looks like a huge, wooden building from westerns. You will get a huge stamp in your passport saying "Police Station - Kadmat Island".
We were supposed to stay three days in Lakshadweep, however Kingfisher Airlines had suspended all the flights therefore we had to wait one more day on the island. I know that some tourists had problems with re-booking the flights and had to stay in Agatti for a couple of days longer without permit paying ridiculous money (a few hundred dollars per day).
Internet access is very limited on the islands. It worked only in the tourist office and it was really slow. In India, you must be prepared for everything and although our flights had been canceled, somehow I was happy that I had a chance to stay one more day in this place separated by the turquoise sea from the rest of the modern civilization.
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