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Lakshadweep tourism takes baby steps in 12 islands

July 21, 2018 09:00 IST

If things go as planned, the Centre will develop 12 new Lakshadweep islands under its island development programme. But they will limit their access to ‘high-end’ serious adventure and fun tourists -- those who won’t mind spending more than Rs 15,000 for a one-night stay in some of the world’s most exotic and unexplored places.

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep. It is the capital of this union territory with a population of 11,210 as per Census 2011. The island is 3.9 sq km. The total population of the islands is 65,000. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons

Planning to spend a long weekend with family and friends in one of the newly-opened Lakshadweep islands?

Indian Navy participates in the tourist festival, National Minicoy Festival. Photograph: Indian Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

The Indian Navy participates in the tourist festival, National Minicoy Festival. Photograph: Indian Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

Be prepared to shell out a little more than you thought.

 

An ASI monument in Lakshadweep. Photograph: Laksh saini/Wikimedia Commons.

An ASI monument in Lakshadweep. The islands are famous for their pretty mosques. Kavaratti alone has 52 mosques. Photograph: Laksh saini/Wikimedia Commons.

If things go as planned, the Centre will develop 12 new Lakshadweep islands under its island development programme. But they will limit their access to ‘high-end’ serious adventure and fun tourists -- those who won’t mind spending more than Rs 15,000 for a one-night stay in some of the world’s most exotic and unexplored places.

Fisherman on Kavaratti. Photograph: Shafeeq Thamarasser/Wikimedia Commons.

Fishermen on Kavaratti. Fishing is main occupation of the islanders, with tuna and shark forming most of the catch. The islanders are also engaged in coconut cultivation. Photograph: Courtesy Shafeeq Thamarasser/Wikimedia Commons.

The number of tourists visiting these newly-opened spaces will also be planned and closely monitored to ensure the highly fragile ecology of these coral islands does not get harmed.

Lakshadweep islands. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons

A beach on one of the islands of the Lakshadweep group. Only ten of the islands are inhabited. The total surface area of the islands is 32 sq km. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons.

The visits will only be on a prior booking basis, and there will be no rooms available to those without reservations.

Moideen Mosque, Kalpeni. Photograph: Courtesy Vaikoovery/Wikimedia Commons.

Moideen Mosque on the Kalpeni atoll of the Lakshadweep islands dates back some 350 years. Photograph: Courtesy Vaikoovery/Wikimedia Commons.

According to senior officials, the movement of tourists will also be limited to a specific area in the newly-opened islands -- so that the privacy of locals and tribal people, many of whom have their own personal communities cut off from the outside world -- is maintained.

Agatti island. Photograph: Courtesy icultist/Wikimedia Commons.

Agatti island, Lakshadweep islands. Lakshadweep is derived from the Sanskrit word Lakshadwipa meaning one hundred thousand islands. Photograph: Courtesy icultist/Wikimedia Commons.

“We won’t allow this (opening of islands for tourists) to impact the much-cherished and highly fragile ecological and environmental characteristics of the Lakshadweep islands,” says Farooq Khan, administrator of the Lakshadweep islands.

Agatthiyatti Stones, Kalpeni, Lakshadweep. Photograph: Courtesy Vaikoovery/Wikimedia Commons.

Agatthiyatti Stones, Kalpeni, Lakshadweep islands. There is evidence to show that the islands had people settled on them as early as 1500 BC. Mariners seem have to have been aware of the archipelago from ancient times. There is an anonymous reference to the Lakshadweep islands in the first century AD in Greek-Roman manuscript Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Photograph: Courtesy Vaikoovery/Wikimedia Commons.

He said the Centre, in the first phase, planned to build around 150 rooms in the inhabited and uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep, in association with private parties. Of these, 84 rooms would be in the inhabited islands of Bangaram and Suheli.

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep. Photograph: Courtesy icultist/Wikimedia Commons.

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep islands. The islands are inhabited mainly by Malayalis and locals called Mahls. Malayalam, Mahl and Jeseri (called Dweep Bhasha are spoken on the islands). Photograph: Courtesy icultist/Wikimedia Commons.

Resort owners who exceed their allocated quota of rooms would be penalised and their licences would be cancelled to ensure that there is no crowding of resorts in the islands.

A manta ray caught on camera in the Lakshadweep islands. Photograph: Courtesy PoojaRathod/Wikimedia Commons.

A manta ray, one of 600 plus species of fish found in these waters, caught on camera in the Lakshadweep islands. Photograph: Courtesy PoojaRathod/Wikimedia Commons.

Of the 12 identified islands in Lakshadweep, for which permission has been granted to develop as tourism destinations, the work in the first phase will start on 10 -- Minicoy, Kadmat, Agatti, Chetlat, Bitra, Bangaram, Thinakarra, Cheriyan, Suheli and Kalpeni. Among these, the first five are inhabited and the remaining not.

Lakshadweep islands. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons

Locals, Lakshadweep islands. Some 101 species of birds are found in the archipelago. Photograph: Courtesy Thejas/Wikimedia Commons.

Lakshwadeep is an archipelago of 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks, with a total of about thirty-nine islands and islets. Of these, fewer than half are inhabited.

Sunset viewed from the eastern embarkation jetty, Kavaratti Island. Photograph: Courtesy Salahpoomalika/Wikimedia Commons

Sunset viewed from the eastern embarkation jetty, Kavaratti, Lakshwadeep islands. Kochi is 403 km way from Kavaratti. Photograph: Courtesy Salahpoomalika/Wikimedia Commons.

Development of the new islands in Lakshadweep is part of the Centre’s ambitious programme of holistic development of 26 islands in Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar, for which it formed an Island Development Agency in June last year.

A Lakshadweep atoll. Photograph: Courtesy Lakshwadeep Tourism/Facebook.

A Lakshadweep atoll. Atolls area ring-shaped reefs or chain of islands formed from coral. Seventy-eight species of coral are found in these waters. The archipelago has 36 islands and 12 atolls. Photograph: Courtesy Lakshwadeep Tourism/Facebook.

Along with the NITI Aayog, the government plans to develop these islands into tourist attractions on the lines of popular Southeast Asian beach destinations.

Kavaratti Island, Lakshadweep. Photograph: Courtesy The.chhayachitrakar/Wikimedia Commons

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep islands. Economically the Lakshadweep islands are homogeneous. Poverty is uncommon. Photograph: Courtesy The.chhayachitrakar/Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting on island development and asked the Aayog and others to expedite the development of all the 26 islands with a special emphasis on energy self-sufficiency.

Kavaratti island. Photograph: Courtesy Salahpoomalika/Wikimedia Commons

Kavaratti, Lakshadweep islands. The islands are linked by boat services and helicopters. Alcohol is not permitted on the island except on Bangaram. Photograph: Courtesy Salahpoomalika/Wikimedia Commons.

In the case of Lakshadweep, officials said, the government was planning to soon invite potential resort owners, hoteliers and tourism industry players and showcase the tourism potential of these islands.

A giant clam. Photograph: Courtesy PoojaRathod/Wikimedia Commons

A giant clam on the ocean floor at the Lakshadweep islands. The islands have 52 types of crabs, two types of lobsters, 48 species of gastropods (snails, slugs etc) and 12 types of bivalves (clam family). Sea turtles are also found. Whales and dolphins too. Photograph: Courtesy PoojaRathod/Wikimedia Commons.

“We want the best players in the world to participate in the bidding process to build the resorts,” says Khan. These should be only those operators who can ensure power from self-generated solar stations, along with a proper waste-disposal plan and RO plants to provide clean drinking water to residents.

Maliku Atoll with Minicoy Island. Photograph: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

A satellite image of Maliku Atoll and Minicoy Island. The Lakshadweep islands are a single Indian district and are governed as one. Photograph: Courtesy NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to the development of tourist resorts, the government was also identifying lagoons alongside the new island, where sea planes could be operated, so that tourists could be transported, he says.

Indian Navy participates in the tourist festival, National Minicoy Festival. Photograph: Indian Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

Indian Navy participates in the tourist festival, National Minicoy Festival. Photograph: Indian Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

Also, a new airport was being built along with the Indian Air Force in Minicoy to provide an alternative landing facility for the tourists, adds Khan.

Agatti aerodrome, Lakshadweep. Photograph: Courtesy Julio/Wikimedia Commons.

Agatti aerodrome is the only airstrip on Lakshadweep island and became operational in 1988. The runway is just 1,200 metres long. Photograph: Courtesy Julio/Wikimedia Commons.

“We are highly cautious while throwing open these islands for tourists and would not want to repeat the mistakes that such initiatives in the Maldives and other places faced,” explains Khan.

Sanjeeb Mukherjee
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