Lakshadweep Islands: From a traveller’s perspective

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I being a constant traveller love to explore new places and learn new stuff. My journey to Lakshadweep Islands, back in 2019 is one of my best experiences so far. I was awed by the beauty of the place. Sun kissed beaches lined up with white sand, turquoise shaded transparent sea water, beautiful corals, minimal human interference and activity. If this doesn’t qualify for an individual’s version of a paradise then I don’t know what does.

One of the smallest Union Territories that India has, Lakshadweep Islands, lying in the Arabian Sea, is a cluster of islands and a fascinating tourist spot for many coast lovers from around the world. It is an archipelago of 36 islands and each one of them has something unique to offer. When it comes to places to visit in Lakshadweep, one will end up with a long list, from clean beaches and well-managed resorts to abundant greenery and peaceful vibes. The isolation from the mainland, outstanding scenic appeal, super-rich marine life, beautiful coral reefs, stunning beaches, and accessibility of adventurous water sports, makes Lakshadweep Islands one of the incredible tourist destinations across the globe. Ministry of Shipping has identified 10 locations in the Union Territory to be developed in the phase-I of its Lighthouse Tourism Initiative.

The islands are well connected with 10 minor ports and an airport in Agatti. Out of 36 islands only 10 are inhabited, namely, Kavaratti, Agatti, Andrott, Bitra, Amini, Chetlat, Kalpeni, Kadmat, Minicoy, and Kiltan. The tourists are allowed to visit only a few islands including Kavaratti (capital city), Agatti, Bangaram, Kadmat, Kalpeni, and Minicoy. However, special permission from the Government of the UT is mandatory for this purpose.

A trip to Lakshadweep is one of its kind, thanks to all the planning and several things to have in mind before the final countdown to the trip. Plan well in advance and ensure you have a good 45 days before you take your flight or ship onward from Kochi. It needs a lot of paper trail and effort in order to clear the entry formalities. Lakshadweep is one of the few places in India that requires a visitor’s entry permit. This is one such trip where I thought that the precursor to the trip is as exciting as the trip itself, a lot of planning and prepping isn’t always good, but as I said, the trip to Lakshadweep is one of a kind! There is also an option to skip this entire procedure and book your trip with the government authorised tourism department named SPORTS, Lakshadweep Tourism which is a part of Lakshadweep Government. They will issue a permit which is in total accordance with your itinerary, and guess what, you don’t require to submit any document whatsoever if you book through them. They have access and internal contacts everywhere (Boats, any special requirements etc.). The food, service, and their will to always welcome people are simply brilliant. So please be well informed that visiting Lakshadweep and experiencing it through SPORTS, is another way possible. Booking through SPORTS is costly, but worth because of the beautiful properties they own in each of the islands.

Alliance Air, the regional wing of Air India, operates the only flight to Agatti Island. This is a morning flight from Kochi. Landing on the Agatti airstrip is an experience in itself, because the tiny ATR which is loaded with only about 80% of its entire capacity lands on a 1200 metre runway, making it the one of the most difficult places to land in the world!!! Get yourself booked on window seats for the best experience preferably in the first half of the aircraft. Please keep in mind, that the connectivity is limited to Airtel and BSNL in Agatti, Kavaratti and Bangaram, and only BSNL in all other islands. Do not expect anything over 2G internet.

According to the 2011 Census, Lakshadweep has a population of 64429 persons. More than 93% of the population who are indigenous, are Muslims and majority of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect. Malayalam is spoken in all the islands except Minicoy where people speak Mahl which is written in Divehi script and is spoken in Maldives also. The entire indigenous population has been classified as Scheduled Tribes because of their economic and social backwardness.

With lagoon area of about 4,200 sq. kms, Territorial waters of 20,000 sq. km, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 4,00,000 sq. kms and coastal line of approximately 132 kms, Lakshadweep Islands have a high scope of the fisheries sector. The sea around Lakshadweep is rich in fishery resources and the main resource in the islands are Tuna. The estimated marine fishery potential resources in the sea around Lakshadweep is about one lakh tonnes of tuna and tuna like fishes and about an equal quantity of Shark. The islanders use the traditional methods for fishing and are reluctant to modernize their methods. Unlike the mainland fishermen, the islanders are reluctant to leave the island for longer period for fishing so as to obtain sufficient catch. Common storage facility for surplus fish catch is not available and the available facilities in canning factory is inadequate, so, the surplus fish catch is usually sold at a very low price. This is one of the reasons discourages fishermen in catching maximum quantity of fish in the peak season. Therefore, there is ample scope for development of Tuna Fish Cluster providing supporting measures in the UT of Lakshadweep. The islands have a high presence of food products, beverage manufacturing, furniture and wood-based products manufacturing MSME units. Abundant production of coconuts also provides investment opportunities in coconut-based products such as coconut oil, coir yarn etc. Small scale service industries such as engineering workshops, Information Technology Enabled Services (ITeS) and auto-servicing, which do not pollute the lagoons are best suited on the islands. Concurrently, the islands have a very small but significant presence of local handicrafts.

It has neither large-scale industries nor medium scale industries. There are also no public sector units. The main reason being non proximity to raw materials required, technical institutions and lack of skilled manpower. The islanders depend heavily on mainland for everything except for fish and coconut. There is ample scope for export of the processed fish from the UT of Lakshadweep.

The UT of Lakshadweep faces many infrastructural constraints, which is blocking its development. However, certain industries mainly based on the local resources such as agriculture and marine potential have scope of their further expansion. In addition to the same, a sound marketing structure to undertake marketing of high-quality processed fishes needs to be established. The marketing structure should also explore the possibility of exporting coconut and coconut-based products, apart from domestic marketing.

Tourism in the Lakshadweep Islands has always been coral-like: small, fragile, vulnerable. Though it has not been developed as yet, however there is potential of developed it in the form of developing it as Eco-tourism to maintain the sanctity of the area.

Perhaps the charm of Lakshadweep islands lies in their remoteness. Far off the beaten track, they attract no hordes of merrymakers to their shores. The islands, though all equally mystical and beautiful, each offers a unique blend of tourist spots. Some islands have been promoted for diving and water sports, still, others have been developed so that people enjoy the charm of relaxation.

 

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Ritika Karan

Ritika Karan

A frequent commentator on issues of contemporary importance, Ritika studies Economics at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Jammu