Travel Bucket List: India – Lakshwadweep Islands Part 1

Lakshadweep is a group of islands in the Arabian sea, 200 to 440 km off the southwestern coast of India with the archipelago administered as a Union Territory of India. They were also known as the Laccadive Islands, although geographically this is only the name of the central subgroup of the group. Lakshadweep means one lakh island” in Sanskrit, and Malayalam is the most spoken language in the territory. The islands form the smallest Indian Union Territory and their total surface area is just 32 sq km and the lagoon area covering about 4,200 sq km. Kavaratti serves as the capital of the Union Territory and the region comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court. The islands are the northernmost of the Lakshadweep–Maldives–Chagos group of islands, which are the tops of a vast undersea mountain range, the Chagos-Lakshadweep Ridge. The Lakshadweep consisted of 36 islands, but currently there are 35 islands, as the Parali 1 island submerged in water due to sea erosion.

As the islands have no aboriginal inhabitants, scholars have suggested different histories for the settlement of these islands. Archaeological evidence supports the existence of human settlement in the region around 1500 BC and the islands have long been known to sailors, as indicated by an anonymous reference from the first century to the region in Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. The islands were also mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka stories of the sixth century while Islam was established when Muslims arrived around the seventh century. During the medieval period, the region was ruled by the Chola dynasty and the Kingdom of Cannanore. The Catholic Portuguese arrived around 1498 but were expelled by 1545. The region was then ruled by the Muslim house of Arakkal, followed by Tipu Sultan. On his death in 1799, most of the region passed on to the British and with their departure, the Union Territory was formed in 1956.

Lakshwadweep is made up of 12 atolls, 3 reefs and 5 submerged banks, with a total of about 39 islanfs and islets of which 10 islands are inhabited. The reefs are in fact also atolls, although mostly submerged, with only small unvegetated sand cays above the high-water mark. The submerged banks are sunken atolls. Almost all the atolls have a northeast–southwest orientation with the islands lying on the eastern rim, and a mostly submerged reef on the western rim, enclosing a lagoon. Other than the 10 inhabited islands, 17 islands are uninhabited or are attached islets, four are newly formed islets and five are submerged reefs. The main islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Minicoy, and Amini with Agatti having an airport with direct flights from Kochi.

The majority of the indigenous population is Muslim and most of them belong to the Shafi school of the Sunni sect. The islanders are ethnically similar to the Malayali people of the nearest Indian state of Kerala with most of the population speaking Malayalam with Mahl being the most spoken language in Minicoy island. The islands are served by an airport on Agatti Island. The main occupation of the people is fishing and coconut cultivation, with tuna being the main item of export. Everyone intending to visit Lakshadweep, including Indian nationals need a permit and once the permit is issued, Indians can visit all islands, while foreigners can only visit Agatti, Bangaram and Kadmat Islands. The archipelago is typically accessed from Kochi from where one can also get the permits.

Local traditions and legends attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala and the oldest inhabited islands in the group are Amini, Kalpeni Andrott, Kavaratti, and Agatti. Archaeological evidence suggests that Buddhism prevailed in the region during the 5th and 6th centuries and according to popular tradition, Islam was brought here by Ubaidullah whose grave is located on the island of Andrott, in 661. During the 11th century, the islands came under the rule of the Late Cholas and subsequently the Kingdom of Cannanore. In the 16th century, the Portuguese ruled the seas between Ormuz and the Malabar Coast and south to Ceylon. As early as 1498, they took control of the archipelago which was called Laquedivas by the Portuguese, to exploit coir production, until the islanders expelled them in 1545. In the 17th century, the islands came under the rule of the Ali Rajahs and the Arakkal Bheevi of Kannur, who received them as a gift from the Kolathiris with the islands also mentioned in great detail in the stories of the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta.

Let’s check out all the islands, islets and banks in the Lakshwadweeo starting from the northernmost and going all the way to the southernmost island.

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