A film inspired journey to the most beautiful place on earth
We were all on the top of the ship, waiting for the daybreak. What we saw was beyond words. We have never witnessed such a sight before... Nothing in view other than the endless expanse of the sea…And the mesmerizing sight of the rising sun.
I have always been super crazy about travel; and each one is an opportunity to know myself better. Each journey offers something new—different experiences, many a view, different people, different food, new languages, and many ways of dressing...
I had been toying with the idea of taking a break for quite some time, to flee from the bustle of the routine. So, when I started searching for an ideal place, luckily I chose the most beautiful place on Earth—Lakshadweep.
Lakshadweep had entered my bucket list ever since I watched the Malayalam movie Anarkali. An isolated place, but inhabited like the other areas on the planet; quiet and serene, caressed by the Arabia Sea from all the sides. The best place to understand the art, care, and imagination of God.
Since it is a union territory, reaching there is not an easy task. You have to pass many hurdles and bureaucratic procedures. The very first one is getting sponsored by someone from the island. Then only we will get the entry permit to visit Lakshadweep. It took me a long and strenuous search to get a sponsor.
The best season to visit the tropical archipelago is from September to April. Sea will be quiet. I chose February. But my preparations had started in December. The next step is to get a no-objection certificate from the nearest police station in our locality to prove that we don't have any criminal past.
Police rarely have to issue such certificates for tourism purposes. Once it is obtained, you should submit it at the Lakshadweep office in Wellington Island in Kochi. Within a week, these officials there will contact your police station via email. This is to ensure whether the police station had issued the no-objection certificates to the same person. The office at Wellington Island should receive a reply from the police station to get the permit. You also need to get a form from the island, fill it up and submit to the Kochi office. These are the most tedious procedures to complete. Only after getting the permit will you be able to book a ticket for the trip to the archipelago. Yet again, the natives of the island get priority in the ticket booking in the ship and it is not easy for a tourist to get tickets. Hence, it is always better to go by Kochi-Agatti flight. I chose this option. The only airliner in this route is Air India.
Thus, after all those tedious preparations and passing through the multilevel formalities, finally, the day arrived for my trip to the island. I, along with Toby sir—my teacher and friend—started to Kochi airport at six in the morning. After the routine security checks, we waited at the lounge. At sharp 8.45 in the morning, the plane was ready for the take off.
Before going to our seats, we clicked a few selfies. We had opted for the side seats. That was a small aircraft, with a capacity to carry 30 passengers and with that all small fans. The plane began to glide on the runway and it smoothly slid up in the air for a smooth take off. We glanced through the window to get a good view. Now, the flight is above the Arabian Sea. Only froth and foaming lines were visible below. First, we were not able to identify what all that was frothing down there. The whole of the sea had the same appearance from above in the flight. Soon came the announcement from the pilot. "We are moving some 24,000 feet above the earth." Everything was quiet. Within no time, the turquoise blue of the sea was covered by clouds that looked like bundles of cotton. After two hours journey, we were about to reach Lakshadweep, the most beautiful place on earth.
Our flight began to adjust its height for a landing; the sea appeared once again in our sight. Small uninhabited islands lay scattered across the sea. Finally, we landed in Agatti, a beautiful Island speckled with lagoons and coral reefs. A very small airport it is. Tourists to Lakshadweep separate permits for Agatti. But they cannot stay overnight there either. The tourists should leave for the place where they have been given the permit on the same day itself. After the security check, we stepped out of the airport. A friend of our sponsor was waiting for us there. He took us around Agatti Island.
It takes just a day to see around the whole of the Agatti Island because it is just over seven kilometers in length. We first went to a tourist cottage which had started functioning recently. It was a beautiful place with all that bee food trees. Where ever you turn beaches with sand as white as milk powder and sea as blue as clear crystal would fill your vision. There are no roars of waves—the waves gently slide over over the land now and then. This is mostly because of the coral reefs that surround the island for kilometers. The small coral mounds in the sea pacify the mighty waves. The coral reefs are the centre of attraction here. It looked like an ordinary coastal village in Kerala. Not many people were seen around. Only a few shops and hotels were there. The place was more crowded by officials and people who come here for other services.
By two in the afternoon, all the shops in the island would down the shutters. Most of the shop owners are Muslims, and they go home by the time of namaz. Another reason is that there are not many customers to cater to. It was 12 noon, we were tired from the journey which started early in the morning.
We walked into a restaurant. The menu was pretty much the same as in any Kerala restaurant—chappathi, porotta, biriyani, and fried rice among others. After lunch, we went to the see Golden Jubilee Museum. Ancient vessels and other artifacts were on display there. The museum, a two-storied building, would give a fairly good idea of the history of the various islands in the archipelago.
We resumed our journey through the interiors of Agatti. Goats and hens were there in almost all houses. The heap of coconuts in front of the houses was another common site. Coconut groves covered all the places. There is a diesel electricity plant which powers the lives of the people of the island. Our car reached the office of Marine Living Resources and Ecology which is functioning under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. That was a sea fish hatchery.
Several beautiful fish species, including the one that resembled the famous cartoon character Nemo (Finding Nemo), many types of prawns, and other rare ones were on display at the specially built aquariums. It was quite an experience to get to see the beauties of the sea up-close. It was about four in the afternoon by then, we had to catch the vessel to Kavaratti. So we headed towards the jetty. We thanked our host, who graciously came with us and showed us everything around, even though we did not know each other before. We waited there for the vessel.
We reached Kavaratty after an hour. This is the island which is shown in the movie Anarkali—a very beautiful place. Through a pier, we walked towards the entrance to the island. Ameen, our sponsor, was waiting for us there. From the pier, we could spot very big fishes moving under the water. For a moment, I felt that it was a swimming pool. It was just like we had reached a pristine village. There were people all over there, chatting and whiling away time in groups. Very innocent people. Ameen took us to a nearby lodge. That lodge, facing the sea, was in the centre of the island. After a quick fresh-up, we went outside. It was high tide and the water level in the sea had swelled. We walked on the shore as if we were just kids who were seeing the sea for the first time. I felt like calling back home, but there was no signal in my mobile phone. BSNL is the only telephone provider with network coverage in Kavaratti. But, that too is very weak. Sometimes, there won’t be any signal at all for days, the islanders complain.
While we were walking on the seashore, we met an old man. He was fishing. When we started a conversation about the place, his face beamed up. Born and brought up in the island, he felt that the land was true gift of God. "This island had never gone under water. You dig anywhere in the island, you will get good drinkable water, though the land is surrounded by saline water,” he said. Another specialty of the island, the people here intermarry, so everybody knows each other.
We spotted a hotel, a recently opened one. They had a lot of seafood varieties on the menu. We decided to try all of them. The man who runs the hotel is from Kozhikkode. The outsiders who come there for jobs are his main customers, he said. Even though, sometimes, the natives would also walk in for get-togethers. The hotel was faring good, he added.
Ameen joined us soon. While walking back to the lodge he talked a lot about the island. The islanders don't like tourists much, he said. They believe that tourists and people from outside will destroy their way of life and culture. The islanders love their quiet, secluded life, he said. There is an island called Bangaram, which is dedicated to tourists. Foreign tourists mainly visit that island, he added.
It was around ten in the night. The town slowly slipped into sleep. We also went back to the lodge and charted our schedule for the next day. Ameen asked us about the plans for the return trip. Actually, we didn't want to return home. Transportation is the most difficult part of the people's life there. One cannot just get out of the island whenever he/she wants. One should wait for the next ship charted. We also had to book a ticket. As the internet connection was very slow, booking tickets online was next to impossible.
Ameen had already checked ship charting. As per the schedule, there was a ship to Kochi the next day. If we are not boarding it, then the next one is five days after. As we couldn't stay away from the work for so long, we decided to catch the very next ship bound to Kochi.
When in Lakshadweep, never ever miss Scuba diving. Anvar had arranged everything for our scuba diving before he had left the place. We also slowly slipped into deep sleep.
That was a very unique experience—the sight of the sun slowly rising above the sea and the cool breeze over the water. Early morning, we went to book a ticket. The queue was long. Everybody was either traveling from one island to another or to Kochi. While we were standing in the queue, we heard that we could book the ticket online. Then I rang up my wife and booked the tickets. We had breakfast from the hotel nearby and went straight ahead to the police station. All the tourists coming here had to go to the police station and complete the verification process. So, we reached the police station in the morning itself. The station and its premises were calm and almost deserted. A jail was also seen adjacent to the station, but that functions only in the namesake. As the criminal cases are very rare, the jail room is used as a storage to keep guns and other things. We signed in a register in the station before started off to the government agency which runs the water sports.
Each tourist here likes Scuba diving. Going into the deep sea and seeing the inhabitants down in the water face to face is quite an experience. The diving actually took only 15 minutes though we had to spend almost two hours in preparation. While diving deep into the sea, some people may feel discomfort due to pressure variation. They also gave instructions on the sign language to communicate with the trainer while deep in the water. Then we got oxygen masks and safety dresses. After wearing the scuba gear, we were taken aboard on a boat to the deep sea. When we reach the mid sea, the trainer will take one by one for the diving.
It was my turn. I suddenly I felt that all the courage I mustered had drained away. Nevertheless, I took the plunge. That experience is beyond explanation! Fish moving in large schools! No aquarium can display such variety of fish. Coral reefs were as big as small hillocks, starfish, olive ridleys, sea horses ... I saw several sea creatures while standing on the sea bed. It was simply awesome. We all enjoyed Scuba diving. Never ever miss it, if you visit Lakshadweep.
By the time we were back on the shores, Ameen was waiting for us with a motorcycle. We also got the information that our ship would reach there by 4.30 PM. Ameen was planning to take us for a quick ride in the island. We went on the bike from one end to the other of the island. Every inch of the island was beautiful—a typical village with rich greenery. One thing we noticed there was that the raw materials for almost all the construction work were done by coral reefs and seashells. Unlike in our place, all the construction materials need to be brought from outside by ship. As we went a little bit ahead, we saw another pier. In the rainy season, ships would come near this pier to take people on board. There we saw a ship grounded, and almost worn out. We were told that the ship had met with the accident in its very first trip, as its captain was not familiar with the route. It rammed against the coral reef and all the efforts to salvage the ship went in vain. Thus the ship had to be abandoned. It was near one end of the island. The offices of Navy and helipad are close by.
From there, we went to the sparsely inhabited areas of the island. We also collected some beautiful coral reefs from there. It is illegal to take away these reefs from here, since it is the natural asset of the island. Sometimes, there would be checking in the port o to prevent this trafficking of these items.
Ameen took us to his home. (In fact, it was Ameen's wife's place. He is from Kalpeni Island. As per the custom of the island, once married, the groom should shift to the place of the bride. Paternal assets would go to the girl child. Ameen's wife and children were there in the house. They cooked some special dishes of the island. Then we went for shopping and bought dried tuna and some other special items of the island, including coconut products. It was about four in the afternoon, when we returned to the lodge. We checked out of the room, bid good bye to them and headed towards the port. The ship hadn't reached. The ship will reach Kavaratti only after taking all the other passengers from other islands. At five in the afternoon, we heard a whistle from afar. We saw the ship anchored at quite a distance away from the place where we were standing. Because of the coral reefs, the ship couldn't come close. The authorities informed us through an announcement that all the passengers should to reach the ship. We all boarded on a boat and went to the ship. The boat went close to the ship and was tied on to the big vessel. They were swaying in the sea waves. It was very uncomfortable and a bit scary too. Somehow, everyone managed to get into the ship with the help of other passengers.
MV Lagoon is as high as a five-storied building and 100 meters long. It was the first experience on board a ship for both of us. The ship was fully air-conditioned. We entered into the first storey of the ship. From there we were taken to our seats on the second floor through intricate alleyways. As in the train, first-class and sleeper class tickets were available. We took sleeper class tickets. The ticket fare was just Rs 320 from Lakshadweep to Kochi—quite affordable. Hence, the islanders mostly depend on the ship for their travel. In each floor of the ship, we could see sign boards indicating different parts of the ship. So, it was easy to understand how to reach different places. It is just like we have reached a five-star hotel. There are lifts and hospitals for the travelers. The services of a doctor is also available round the clock.
We climbed to the top of the ship. That was a very vast open area with chairs arranged for those who wish to sit back and enjoy the sights. The sea is all around. It was enjoyable to couch down and enjoy the cool sea breeze. A glance down to the water will give us an idea of the power of the ship which was piercing through the mighty sea waves. It was a spectacle to watch the frothy trail left by the ship. There was also a helipad to use in case of an emergency. On top of it, there were the cabins of captain and the crews. After spending a while watching the beauty of waters, we returned to our berths. Sleeper ticket holders had common bathrooms. We decided to take a shower. There was a long row of bathrooms arranged separately for ladies and gents. The bathrooms were beautiful and made of stainless steel. All were neat and clean as those in a good hotel.
The ship uses purified seawater. When I turned on the tap, water poured down as if in a torrent. The pressure of the water was unbelievable. While we were still adapting to the environment in the ship, the announcement for the dinner came. The mess hall was like a hotel with chairs and tables arranged neatly. At one end is a counter where orders can be placed and on the other we can sit have the food. Chappathi, chicken curry, kuruma, biriyani, fish curry; the menu was rich. The food was quite affordable too. After the dinner, went to bed and slipped into slumber by scrolling the photos we had taken from the islands. It was a comfortable sleep as if we were sleeping at home or just like while we are traveling in a sleeper coach of a train.
Before the sun was up, we had reached the top of the ship to watch the sight. We had never seen sunrise from the deck of a ship before and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing other than the endless expanse of the sea all around… That was only broken by sweeping of seagulls or sometimes other birds, that also very rarely. As we were still enjoying the beauty of the dawn, the announcement for breakfast came. First, we went to the mess and had food. After that, we decided to see the ship around. We went to the kitchen first. It is a big one, with facilities to cook for a 100 or 1000 of people at a time. After taking permission from the chef, we entered the kitchen. There were rice, vegetables, and other necessary items in big quantity. Around 10 -15 people were engaged in cooking. There were machinery for washing dishes and cooking.
From there we reached the information desk. We introduced ourselves to the officer who was in charge and asked for a chance to meet the captain. It was denied at first. However, when we requested again, they talked to the captain over the phone and were given the permission. Then we were taken to the captain's room at the top of the ship. It was a well-furnished room with all the facility to control and monitor the ship. After exchanging a few words, he took us to the cockpit in the front of the ship. It was a big room. The crew controls the ship from there. Captain talked about each and every machine there and also about the responsibilities of each hand.
After a long journey of about 18 hours, we reached Wellington Island in Kochi. We thanked god for the two beautiful days to cherish forever while coming out of the ship. Toby sir, who was with me in this adventure (just kidding) through the sky, water, and land, bid Salam (Goodbye).
Till the next trip do us unite once again! Amen!
(Translated by Madhuvan Geeth)