Guest Article #52: For the Joy of Sharing

Lakshadweep

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 95, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi

The author is from Coimbatore. He has been living in Delhi throughout life. He was employed with the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and retired as Director in 1986.


Introduction by Venkat
Reading this lovely travelogue would entice anyone – specifically Indians – to add Lakshadweep to their list of ‘must see’ destinations for a holiday. Lakshadweep is a Union Territory of India since 1956. While Lakshadweep literally means ‘a thousand islands’, it is a group of originally 36 (now 35) islands – part of the larger archipelago Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos group of islands. These are said to be the tops of a vast undersea mountain range. It has one of the 6 coral reefs around the Indian coasts. With a total area of about 32 square km and a population of about 64k, the people in Lakshadweep follow Islam and speak Malayalam. Their culture is same as that of a specific sect in Kerala, India. In his typical simple and warm style, Mr. C.I. Sivasubramanian recounts his travel with family at three of the main islands of Lakshadweep. The narrative is lively and rich in description. A nonagenarian now, his enthusiasm to write and share pieces of his vast experience is truly inspirational.

Discover the pristine beauty of virgin nature in this lovely family holiday experience in the words of Mr. C. I. Sivasubramanian.


Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep is not exactly a foreign country. It is part and parcel of India but situated, like Andaman and Nicobar islands, off the shores of India. People who are living in these islands look slightly different and follow their own culture and tradition. Kavaratti, Minicoy, Kalpeni! All Greek and Latin to us? It was to me also till the other day. They are actually islands in Lakshadweep, 200-400 km away Southwest of Kochi. The Lakshadweep islands used to be known as Laccadives and Minicoy islands during the British days, all part and parcel of India. They actually included, I believe, even Maldives. Maldives has since become independent.

Why, you may ask, this sudden interest in Lakshadweep; because we wanted to visit this exotic place on a tourist package. The tourist package included visit to three of the larger islands in Lakshadweep, namely the three islands mentioned above. We took a ship from Kochi and back. The Ship was a much-used 15-year old boat and had a capacity to carry 600 passengers. It had three types of accommodation: 1) Deck class where most of the passengers were accommodated – those who frequently travel to the islands. It is at the bottom of the ship, close to the engine room. It is very hot there and so most of the passengers spend their time – day and night – in the upper deck. 2) Second class, a large hall with reclining chairs, with A/cs. Here too it is difficult to sleep comfortably in the night and so many of them went to the upper deck and sprawled themselves there. Third, First Class, 4-bedded cabins with toilet and bath facilities, fully air-conditioned. It is in this class that we were accommodated. Though the cabin was very comfortable, my son-in-law spent most of the daytime in the upper deck.

The food in the Ship, which included both South Indian and North Indian fares, was palatable and sumptuous. The tourists included people from almost all the states in India: Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, etc. To many, this was the first experience in a cruise. My wife took every opportunity to narrate her past experiences in S.S. ‘Amra’ and S.S. ‘State of Bombay’ and the facilities and entertainment provided in those ships and people listened to her in awe. I learn that there are deluxe passenger cruises, running from Mumbai to Goa, Kochi and Lakshadweep which has the entertainment part but are more expensive.

Incidentally, though Lakshadweep is part and parcel of India, foreigners in India needed a special permit to travel to these islands, because of their strategic location. Though the islands are located in a vast area they are small and sparsely populated. In fact there are still many ‘virgin’ islands – no population at all! The islands are bestowed with large coconut groves and fine beaches. The economy is sustained by coconut/product sales, fishing, the money brought in by the young islanders who work as seamen overseas and, lately, by tourism. All the islands have Light Houses to guide Ships and boats calling on them. In big islands there are Schools with up to 12 classes. The literacy is quite high – almost as high as in Kerala. All of the islanders follow the Muslim faith. The women folk wear the traditional loose overalls and ‘hijabs’ the headscarves. It is amazing how this religion has pervaded far and wide.

The islands are governed by an Administrator, an IAS Officer, under the supervision of the Home Ministry in Delhi. He is located in Kavaratti Island. The unique and the most important feature of these islands are the fine beaches surrounding the islands. The water is shallow up to a kilometer from the shores and one could bathe, swim, row and do all sorts of water sports. It is a nice holiday and a break from the routine humdrum of city life. In between the times spent on the beaches the tour organizers provided some variety by showing one or two important places in the Island, gave us sumptuous lunch and entertained us with local folk dances. For example, we saw a model village house in Minicoy. It was well maintained and clean and neat. There were large rooms, broad ‘tinnais’ cushioned seats and what not. We saw the Light House, one of the oldest in these parts, and climbed the 170 odd steps up and had a grand view of the whole of the island. One could view the whole length and breadth of the island and its surroundings.

In Kavaratti, people were offered an experience in scuba diving. Only young people under 50 years of age were allowed. My daughter cut off a couple of years to be eligible and wore the mask and loaded herself with an oxygen cylinder and with the help of the coach went under the water and spent nearly half an hour! She said afterwards it was a thrilling experience for a mere Rs. 500! Meanwhile we were taken in a glass-bottomed boat a little interior into the waters and were shown colorful fishes in the deep waters and more particularly the coral reef, a rare phenomenon in these parts.

In Kalpeni, the last island in our tour, which is just about northwest of Kochi and not far from there, we were taken to a hosiery factory, a miniature one, an aquarium and yet to another island not far away where we could see water all around us. The island was so small that we could see only water all around. Before that we took a boat to a nearby island called ‘Thilakkam’ where the water was crystal clear and all of us, including my wife, bathed to our heart’s content. My daughter had another experience of ‘snorkeling’, a device by which you breathe through your mouth and go under the water. She says she could use it to advantage and saw a lot of colored fishes and other sea animals. Unfortunately I did not know how to use it and lost the opportunity. But I swam and swam and took my wife into deep waters and she enjoyed bathing along with fellow travelers.

Do you know my daughter took the risk of rowing a boat all by herself all the way from one island to the other, a distance of about 100 meters? She was not aware of the depth of the waters, the direction in which the boat was going nor did she know swimming! As luck would have it, she came straight to the other island where we had already landed.

Altogether it was a nice holiday and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It is worth a visit, it is not far off, not very expensive and is a good holiday.

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 95, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi

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