Travel Bucket List: India – Lakshwadweep Islands Part 3

The Laccadive subgroup had been known earlier as the Cannanore Islands after the coastal town of Cannanore or Kannur are one of the three island subgroups in the archipelago. The name originated in the fact that while the northern group of Amindivi had in 1784 stopped being a vassal state of the Cannanore or the Arakkal kingdom in exchange to fealty to Tippu Sultan’s kingdom of Mysore, the southern group remained loyal to Cannanore. The Laccadive subgroup includes the island of Agatti, with the Agatti airport, the only airport in Lakshadweep, as well as Bangaram Atoll which has a tourist resort in Bangaram, its largest island. The islands of Agatti, Androth, Kavaratti and Kalpeni are inhabited and Islam is the main religion of the islanders. The Laccadive Islands subgroup is the central subgroup of the Lakswadweep consists mostly of atolls with islands, as well as part of one submerged bank. The Amindivi and the Laccadive subgroups have a submarine connection between them through Pitti Bank, a largely sunken atoll. The Laccadive subgroup is separated from the Amindivi Islands subgroup roughly by the 11th parallel north and from the atoll of Minicoy far to the south by the 9 Degree or Mamala Channel.

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In the same manner as the Amindivi Islands further north, the islands of the Laccadive subgroup were settled from ancient times by people of nearby Kerala to which were added later people of Arab descent. Vasco da Gama visited these islands around 1498 and in the mid 16th century, all the inhabited islands of the Lakshadweep put themselves under the rule of the Arakkal kingdom in order to obtain protection from the Portuguese. In 1697, the notorious pirate Captain Kidd and his crew brought their ship, the Adventure Galley, to the Laccadive Islands, chopped up local boats for firewood and raped local women. When the locals retaliated by killing the ship’s cooper, the pirates attacked the village and beat up the people who lived there. Almost 100 years later, in 1784, the Amindivi group of islands rejected the protection of Cannanore and became a vassal state of the Kingdom of Mysore while the southern group remained loyal to the rule of Cannanore. Following the defeat of Tippu Sultan and the 1792 treaty of Srirangapatam, the southern subgroup was permitted by the East India Company to remain under the rule of the Cannanore Kingdom in exchange for a yearly tribute of INR 15,000. Since the tributary payments were often in arrears, the islands were put under direct rule of the British Government, first between 1855 and 1860, and then finally annexed in 1877 by virtue of the doctrine of lapse and became attached to the Malabar district.

One of the most habited islands of Lakshadweep; Amindivi is a group of islands lying in North Lakshadweep and is famous for its coir products, but due to government regulations, foreign tourists are not allowed to visit this island.

Agatti Island is situated on a coral atoll called Agatti atoll with another island, Kalpatti located at the southern end on the same reef. Agatti is one of the Lakshadweep islands open to tourism with visitors only allowed on the Island under certain restrictions, including an Entry Permit from the Lakshadweep Administration for entering or visiting the island. Entry Permits are issued based on the visitor having a confirmed place to stay as there are only two hotels or resorts in Agatti, Agatti Island Beach Resort and Sea Shells Beach Resort. A road runs through the island, which can be best enjoyed by hiring a bicycle available at many places. Stretching over an area of 8 km, the island is sparsely populated with around 8000 inhabitants. The Agatti airport, the only one in the archipeglo, is located in the southwestern part of the island. The locals mostly speak English and Malayalam, and Islam is the main religion with the primary occupation of the people being fishing.

The island has splendid beaches with the tropical climate apt for sunbathing. One can also go on long strolls on the beach which are fringed with tall coconut trees. Adventure enthusiasts can indulge in water sports such as snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, kayaking, and water skiing and one can even give deep sea fishing a go. Scuba diving and glass bottom boat rides are very popular and are a must-try while on the island. The best time to visit Agatti Island between October and March as the weather stays pleasant throughout the months and the sea stays calm making it safe to explore the island. During summers, between April and May, the temperature goes as high as 35 degrees celcius and the island receives intermittent to heavy rainfall during the monsoons. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited on the islands and only Indian nationals are allowed to visit and stay on Agatti Island with foreigners permitted to stay on Bangaram, Minicoy and Thinnikara Islands.

Bangaram is an atoll which is roughly rectangular shape northeast of Agatti island connected to the reef of Agatti through a shallow submarine ridge. Bangaram Island is the largest island in the atoll with a long brackish pond in the center of the island fringed by screwpine and coconut palms. South Bangaram Cay is a small sand cay and Thinnakara is another large island in the atoll. Parali 1, Parali 2 and Parali 3 are three small islets at the eastern fringe of the reef, but Parali 1 was washed away in 2017. The Bangaram Island Beach Resort was opened to tourists in 1974, but lack of commercial flights made access difficult. Tourism took off after the Agatti airport on the nearby Agatti island was commissioned and regular commercial flights from Kochi were established. Current alcohol regulations in Lakshadweep allow consumption of alcoholic drinks only on Bangaram Atoll. Thinnakara offers numerous adventure activities, including scuba diving, snorkelling, deep sea fishing beside white sand beaches, a calm lagoon and a sparkling, clear coral reef. The Atoll has numerous species of tropical birds found on the island. Bangaram Island forms a part of the terrestrial ecoregion of the Lakshadweep archipelago with many species of marine, terrestrial and aerial living beings including fishes, crabs, lobsters, gastropods, bivalves, turtles, seaweed and birds . It is also a region of ecological importance due to the presence of the coral reef around the island. The best time to visit Bangaram Island is between October and March as the weather is pleasant and the sea is calm most of the times. Tourists need a special permit to enter the island. If one cannot get space at the only resort at Bangaram Island, the best way to explore this island is by arranging a stay at one the hotels on Agatti island and visiting Bangaram as a day trip.

Pakshipitti where pakshi means bird in Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil, is an uninhabited coral islet, devoid of vegetation, about 24 km north of Kavaratti. The island is low and arid and lacks adequate anchorage points and is difficult to access. There is another island with the same name part of the Kalpeni Atoll. There is a dark rock on the eastern side and several stone cairns. Pakshipitti is an important nesting place for birds such as the sooty tern, the greater crested tern and the brown noddy. The birds nest side by side, but not intermixed, on the dry coral rubble. Since it has no protecting reef surrounding it, the islet is periodically rinsed by wave action and there is no accumulation of guano on it.

Paksipitti Bank is located at the southern end of Pakshipitti Bank and is a largely submerged atoll on the same bank as Amini Island. It may be considered a largely submerged and sunken atoll with just the two islands Amini and Paksipitti remaining at its opposite ends.

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Also known as Androth, Andrott Island is a small inhabited island known as Divanduru in the past, a name that is found in some old French maps. Unlike other islands, Andretti islands are orientated in the east-west direction. Today, it is a protected territory and not a tourist destination. Andrott Island is the nearest to the mainland among all the islands in the group as well as the longest and the biggest. Most of the inhabitants are Muslims with a Hindu minority. The saint Ubaidullah who is believed to have preached Islam in Lakshadweep Islands, died here and his remains are entombed in the Jumah mosque. The island also houses several Buddhist archaeological remains.

Kavaratti is the capital of Lakshadweep and also the name of the atoll upon which the town stands. Well known for its pristine white sand beaches and calm lagoons, it is a popular tourist destination with the calm lagoons on the island ideal for water sports and swimming. The waters around the coral atoll are rich in diverse marine life and the Kavaratti Aquarium has a rich collection of corals and a vast collection of tropical fish specimens. The other major industries on the island are fisheries and agriculture with coconut the dominant crop. The island is home to 12 atolls, five submerged banks, and three coral reefs. On the island, one can also visit the Urja mosque, the only sacred place on the island of a sculptor of the 17th century.

Also known as Koefaini, Kalpeni is an inhabited atoll 71 km south of Andrott and 201 km north-northeast of Minicoy, with the broad Nine Degree Channel between them. The islands are a group of three islands and is one of the most picturesque areas of Lakshadweep. It forms a single coral atoll along with the uninhabited islands of Cheriyam, Tilakkam, Kodithala and Pitti islet with the eastern and southern shorelines of the island having accumulations of coral debris, the result of a violent storm that hit the area in 1847. Kalpeni is the main island, with Kodithala immediately to the north and Cheriyam the northernmost island, the largest of Kalpeni’s satellite islands. The Tilakkam group are a group of islands off the west of Kalpeni and Koomel is a small islet off the west tip of Kalpeni. Kalpeni was the first island in the Union Territory where women were allowed to go to school and get an education. There is a beach at the northern tip of the island called Tip Beach where one snorkel, sea bathw and kayak. Because of the coral reefs present in the sea near the beach, the water is shallow and calm, making it an excellent spot for beach activities. There is a 37-metre-high lighthouse in Kalpeni from which top one can see a bird’s eye view of the island, the lagoon with the smaller islands, the reef and the surrounding ocean.

Suheli Par is a coral atoll in an oval shape surrounded by a zone of rich marine fauna. There are three islands on the reef encircling the lagoon. Valiyakara is located at the northern end of the lagoon and has retained most of its original vegetation. It has also has some largely stunted, unkempt coconut trees and is visited occasionally by workers who collect the coconuts. Hermit crabs are found in abundance and there is a lighthouse on this island. Cheriyakara is located on the southeastern side of the lagoon and slightly smaller than Valiyakara. It has a large coconut plantation. Between mid-October and mid-April, fishermen of Agatti and Kavaratti stay in temporary settlements on this island when they catch tuna in the surrounding waters of the atoll and process it on the island. Indira-Shastri Dweep is a long sandbank located between the two islands and was used as a breeding ground by terns. The grey heron and the black-capped kingfisher have been observed in this atoll and owing to the rich marine life there was a proposal to declare Suheli Par a marine national park. In 2006 a ship from Seychelles ran aground on this atoll, but there was no oil spill reported.

In the next part, our last part for this series, we’ll explore the Minicoy Atoll.

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