The Lakshadweep Islands: Clear Water, White Sand Beaches, and Coral Reefs
An archipelago of around 40 islands and islets, Lakshadweep lies approximately 300 kilometers off the Indian state of Kerala in the Arabian Sea. India’s smallest union territory, Lakshadweep is as scenic as it is isolated: only 10 of its islands are populated, mostly by families who earn their living by fishing. Though the islands number only a few dozen, Lakshadweep translates to “one lakh islands” or one hundred thousand islands.
For outsiders, the islands provide the perfect destination for a tranquil, nature-oriented tropical vacation. Palm trees line white-sand beaches with clear, turquoise-blue water, while coral reefs make Lakshadweep a mecca for scuba divers.
A history marked by trade, invasion, and female rule
Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have inhabited the islands since around 1500 BCE, but the islands have also been known to sailors for at least 2,000 years.
The Lakshadweep Islands were first mentioned in the first century CE by a Greek sailor, who cited them as a source of tortoise shells. Muslim missionaries were active throughout the region in the seventh century, persuading the islanders to convert to Islam, according to local legend.
During the 11th century, control of Lakshadweep was seized by a Tamil maritime empire called the Chola as they conquered Kerala. The islands subsequently formed part of the Kingdom of Kannur and were an important center for trade in the Indian Ocean throughout the medieval period, due to their prime location on the principal trade route connecting the Middle East with India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Lakshadweep was annexed by a small Hindu kingdom on India’s Malabar Coast sometime before 1100. Following the fall of Kerala’s Kulashekhara dynasty in 1102, the Lakshadweep Islands passed to another small Hindu dynasty called the Kolathiris.
There is some speculation that the islands’ first European visitor was the Italian explorer Marco Polo. Some historians speculate that the “female island” mentioned in his travelogues was Minicoy Island.
In the late 1400s, the Portuguese ruled the seas throughout the region, taking control of Lakshadweep. They built fortifications and snatched control of trade, particularly a burgeoning industry built on the production of coir, the coarse fiber on the outer shell of the coconut.
In 1545, the islanders overthrew the Portuguese invaders, and Lakshadweep subsequently was ruled by a succession of female rulers called bibis, until control passed to the Sultan of Mysore on mainland India. The British took control of the Amindivis, part of the archipelago, when the sultan died.
However, they agreed that the bibi and her husband could retain the other islands and keep the income they generated in exchange for an annual payment to the British. When India achieved independence in 1947, Lakshadweep became a federally governed territory.
A clear-water paradise for divers
Today, scuba diving is one of the most popular activities among visitors to the Lakshadweep Islands. Bangaram, Kavaratti, Kadmat and Minicoy each boast some exceptional dive sites. The waters here are warm, clear, and home to a diverse array of vibrant corals and marine life, including sea turtles, several types of shark, rays, and giant grouper. With just a handful of dive operators operating locally and limited accommodation, it is important for visiting divers to book in advance to secure a spot.
Lakshadweep’s calm surf and moderate current make it an ideal destination for new divers. However, with its reefs, rich marine biodiversity, and relatively low international profile, there is also plenty to tempt experienced divers. Dive sites throughout the region cover a diverse range of terrain, from sloping reefs, overhangs, and shipwrecks to coral gardens, caves, and drift dives.
The most popular islands among divers are Kavaratti and Bangaram, while Minicoy and Kadmat are quieter and more remote. While there are caves to explore just off Kavaratti, both Minicoy and Bangaram offer wreck dives.
From a diver’s perspective, the best time to visit the Lakshadweep Islands is between October and May, while the waters are calmest, and the weather is favorable. At this time of year, divers can expect to enjoy excellent visibility, which can stretch to up to 45 meters, and temperate waters, hovering at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. June, July, and August are the rainiest months and bring rough seas and monsoon winds.
Beaches, wildlife, and tropical sunsets
Agatti Island is one of the Lakshadweep’s most popular destinations and it’s easy to see why. Home to the archipelago’s only airport, tiny Agatti creates a memorable impression on arriving visitors, ringed by palm trees, powder-white beaches, and glittering aquamarine waves.
Bangaram Island is another popular destination, and is the only place in the Lakshadweep where consumption of alcohol is permitted. In addition to scuba diving, visitors to Bangaram Island can also enjoy several other watersports, including kayaking, sailing. and windsurfing.
When visiting Kalpeni Island, taking a short boat ride to Pitti Island Bird Sanctuary is well worth it. Here, greater crested tern, sooty tern, and brown noddy birds nest side by side on the dry coral rubble. With 75 seabird species found on the island, it is one of India’s most famous birdwatching sanctuaries.
Meanwhile, Kavaratti is the most developed of the islands and functions as their administrative capital. Kavaratti is home to an aquarium and dozens of mosques, some with carved wooden pillars and roofs. The island is also popular with nature lovers and anyone who enjoys simply sitting back and taking in the tropical scenery. It’s an ideal location to watch the sun slip down past the horizon.