Lakshadweep, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands

The islands, which make up the Lakshadweep ('100,000 islands'), have superb beaches and beautiful lagoons. There are, despite the name, only 11 inhabited and 11 uninhabited islands making up the group. Minicoy, the southernmost island, is 183 km from Kalpeni, its nearest neighbour. Geologically they are the northernmost extensions of the chain of coral islands that extends from the far south of the Maldives. The atolls are formed of belts of coral rocks almost surrounding semi-circular lagoons, with none more than 4 m above sea level. They are rich in guano, deposits of centuries of bird droppings. The wealth of coral formations (including black coral) attracts a variety of tropical fish - angel, clown, butterfly, surgeon, sweetlip, snappers and groupers. There are also manta and sting rays, harmless sharks and green and hawksbill turtles. At the right time of the year you may be able to watch them laying eggs, arriving on the beach at night, each laying 100-200 eggs in the holes they make in the sand.

The islands

Kavaratti
, the administrative capital, is in the centre of the archipelago. The Ajjara and Jamath mosques (of the 52 on the island) have the best woodcarvings and the former has a particularly good ceiling carved out of driftwood; a well inside is believed to have medicinal water. The aquarium with tropical fish and corals, the lake nearby and the tombs are the other sights. The woodcarving in the Ajjara is by superb local craftsmen and masons.
Dak Bungalow
, basic, with two rooms and a
Rest House
with four rooms may be reserved through the Administrator, Union Territory of Lakshadweep, Kozhikode 1. Local food is available from
dhabas
. There is a bank here.

Some of the other islands in the group are
Andratti
, one of the largest which was first to be converted to Islam, and
Agatt
(the only one with an airport which neighbours Bangaram) and also has a beautiful lagoon and 20-bed
Tourist Complex
.

Barren, desolate and tiny,
Pitti
Island
comprises a square reef and sand bank at its south end. It is a crucially important nesting place for terns and has now been listed as a wildlife sanctuary. Conservation groups are pressing for a ban on the planting of trees and the mining of coral, but the main risk to the birds is from local fishermen who collect shells and the terns' eggs for food. Nearby
Cheriam
and
Kalpeni
have suffered most from storm damage.

Bangaram
is an uninhabited island where
CGH Earth
runs the
Bangaram Island Resort
.
Kalpeni
, with its group of three smaller uninhabited satellite islands, is surrounded by a lagoon rich in corals, which offers excellent snorkelling and diving. The raised coral banks on the southeast and eastern shores are remains of a violent storm in 1847; the Moidin Mosque to the south has walls made of coral. The islands are reputedly free from crime; the women dress in wrap-around
lungis
(sarongs), wearing heavy gold ornaments here without any fear. Villagers entertain tourists with traditional dances,
Kolkali
and
Parichakkali
, illustrating themes drawn from folk and religious legends and accompanied by music and singing.

Minicoy
(Maliku), the southernmost and largest, is interesting because of its unique
Maldivian character, having become a part of the archipelago more recently. Most people speak
Mahl
(similar to
Dhivehi
; the script is written right to left) and follow many of their customs. The ancient seafaring people have been sailing long distances for centuries and the consequential dominance by women may have led Marco Polo to call this a 'female island'. Each of the nine closely knit matrilineal communities lives in an
athir
(village) and is
headed by a
Moopan
. The village houses are colourfully furnished with carved wooden furniture.
Tuna fishing is a major activity and the island has a cannery and ice storage. The superb lagoon of the palm-fringed crescent-shaped island is enclosed by coral reefs. Good
views from the top of the 50-m lighthouse built by the British.

The
Amindivi
group consists of the northern islands of
Chetlat
,
Bitra
(the smallest, heavily populated by birds, for a long time a rich source of birds' eggs),
Kiltan
where ships from Aden called en route to Colombo,
Kadmat
and the densely populated
Amini
, rich in coconut palms, which was occupied by the Portuguese.
Kadmat
, an inhabited island 9 km long and only 200 m wide, has a beach and lagoon to the east and west, ideal for swimming and diving. The
Tourist Huts
shaded by palms are away from the local village. The Water Sports Institute has experienced, qualified instructors.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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