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PHOTO: Pristine Parelli islands off the coast of Kerala, India

12 Magical Moments in Lakshadweep islands

Bangaram Island sunrise in the Lakshadweep islands, India's authentic Maldives islands

The Lakshadweep islands are India’s jewels, tucked far away from prying eyes. Getting there from the mainland is journey by itself, and with the majority of islands being uninhabited, its population density the anti-thesis to mainland India’s.

1. First sight of Agatti islands

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To get there, you have to fly to Bangalore or Chennai in the south. Once you’re there, you switch from a wide-bodied jet plane to a small turboprop which tells you that you’re going to a destination that is truly off the beaten path. From Chennai to Kochi is a fairly routine hop, with the spectacle beginning once you leave the shores. For a while the flight is uneventful. The beautiful stewardesses do their best to keep you satisfied, serving drinks, even a hot meal for an hour long flight from Kochi. The steady drone of the plane and the afternoon snack may lull you into a slumber but its impossible to miss the islands.

A gasp, an animated voice, and you know that the islands have been spotted. The whole plane of not more than 50 people comes alive. Commotion abounds as cameras click away desperately, kids shout to their parents, couples hold hands and wear big smiles. The sense of joy is infectious,everyone is smiling, pointing, laughing. Its like we’ve all become kids.

At first you glimpses of the islands through the puffy (?) clouds. Then one island is sighted with a lagoon far larger than the island itself, The another, and soon the Agatti atoll is in view, The slim green forested islands and their white sandy beaches offer a sharp contrast to the wide shallow lagoons that surround them. And the small airport at Agatti itself consumes the full width of the island.

The turboprop lands smoothly and your journey through customs is a fast, pleasant affair. Your bags are automatically collected, and if you’re staying at the nearby Agatti island resort, delivered to the main office. The resort is less than a stone’s throw away, about a two minute walk.

2. Swim with sea turtles

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Every island has a welcoming tradition. In Hawaii, you get lei’d. In the …… In Lakshadweep islands it is a refreshing coconut water. But the real treasure awaits in the water off the small pier. Giant sea turtles have made this pier at Agatti resorts their relaxation spot and lazily swim around for hours, and dare I say it, pose for pictures by coming up for air more often than they need. Olive Ridely, Green and Hawksbill turtles are the most common species of sea turtles in the lagoon.

While you’re not quite able to touch them as they effortlessly glide around you, its a thrill no welcome drink or lei can come close to. As you finally make it to your bungalow, your jumbled brain filled with countless knots is already beginning to unwind. This is going to be good.

3. Explore Lakshadweep’s lagoons on a local fishing boat

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The island resort bungalows sit on the beach island facing the water and feature double doors on two sides that allow the salty breeze to waft through the room. Sad grains make little patterns on the porch as the breeze shifts them around. The combination of humidity, the seductive salty breeze and the whispering palm trees make you sleepier and lazier even as you sit on the couch, planning every minute of your short stay.

When you wake, the tide has gone out on the other side of the island, and the concierge suggests gently that it may be the right time to walk around in the tide pool and discover treasures. The tide pool extends more than a mile protected by a reef where the sea waves relentlessly crash into.

As you walk through the tide pool, fish hurry or just wait for the next wave to carry them to the next spot. Starfish and sea anemone? When you’ve had your fill, its time to walk back to the beach and get a drink (non-alcoholic) from the fresh fruit stand on the beach

4. Watch a serene romantic sunset from Agatti island

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There are two resorts in Agatti. One on the island, the other a 45 minute boat ride away on Bangaram island. Both are excellent resorts in their own way. Agatti island resort offers sea turtles, a long tide pool, and a vibrant fishing community steeped in culture.

Bangaram island is peerless when it comes to solitude. Only a tiny part of the island is taken up by the resort – the rest is forested with a white beach. Stroll around the island and you’ll find brilliant fish, porcupines, parrots, puffer fishes, hermit crabs and seabirds on the vast 120 acres of lush coconut groves in Bangaram

Dining on the beach is a leisurely, romantic affair. Open seating on the beach surrounded by lanterns.

5. Wake up for a pink sunrise from an island sandbar

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If you’re a photographer, you’re spoiled for choice. You can photograph the swaying palm trees on a white beach against the golden light, of the water, continually changing colors of the sky, people from the local community, underwater coral, sting rays, reef sharks…the list is virtually endless here. Likewise there are a multitude of options to shoot sunrise from – my favorite is a sandbar just outside of Bangaram island. Visible only during the dawn low-tide. Seeing the sun rise and the first fisherman cast their nests in the hope a fish will rise are moments that transform a vacation into one you can’t stop telling your friends and family about.

6. Kayak from Paralli to Tinnakara, Lakshadweep’s pristine islands at first light

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Once the morning comes, it is time to get in a kayak and explore the wonderful islands of Parelli and Tinnakara. At low tide, the water is so low, that you can walk across the islands. Hundreds of birds and crabs teem about on the island. And even in peak season, don’t be surprised to find yourself the only one about.

7. Chase crabs on uninhabited Parelli island

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If you want to play, you’ll want to park your kayak on the long sandbar at the end of the island. Then walk the long beach and watch as crabs scurry about. That’s when the 10 year old in you comes alive as you chase crabs into the sand, where they sit burying their heads in the sand. Alternatively you can do a standoff with a seafaring crab on its way from the ocean back to its nest. Just don’t harm the crabs by poking or otherwise physically interacting with them. And no, you can’t catch them for dinner.

8. Snorkel and dive in your choice of lagoons

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A hearty breakfast from a sumptuous buffet later, it is time to indulge in some water sports. Snorkeling, diving, swimming and kayaking are the options on the menu, along with beach volleyball, football. The resort can help you organize this.

If you go for a dive, you’ll see plenty of corals, schools of brilliantly colorful fishes unique to the area, stingrays, sharks, turtles and ship wrecks.

9. Stumble upon and preserve Ridley sea turtle eggs on Tinnakara island

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The Lakshadweep, Maldives and Chagos islands are part of a continuous submarine archipelago, and provide important nesting and feeding habitats for sea turtles.Green and hawksbill turtles are the most common species of sea turtles in the islands’ lagoons. While the olive ridley is reported to be rare in the lagoon, it nests more frequently than hawksbill turtles. In addition to having significant nesting, the Lakshadweep islands is also thought to be important provider of developmental and feeding habitats for turtles that nest elsewhere in the region.

Tourism related activities along the coast are becoming increasingly predominant threats. Locals are aware of this and educate visitors on the importance of walking carefully on the beaches, since the eggs laid are quite shallow and exposed during low tide. Conversely the presence of tourists is having a beneficial impact by keeping illegal poaching at bay.

10. Play football with the kids

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In the late afternoon, when school is over, the island of Agatti comes alive with the sounds and laughter of kids. The beach becomes a vast playground where the boys play football, kabaddi and cricket while the girls play badminton.

And you will be nothing short of a celebrity if you join the game and start playing with them. Unlike most kids they’re not likely to make demands for money or pens, but they are very agreeable to be bribed with chocolate. And don’t forget to shake hands and take pictures of the kids.

11. Attend a costume competition at Agatti island’s school as the main guest

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There is one big school at Agatti island that routinely hosts events and the big one every year is the costume contest. And the costumes are truly international, albeit with a very strong Indian flavor. The Army commando is flanked by Charlie Chaplin and a terrorist on either side. Another boy dresses up as a snake, while yet another portrays the grisly effect of smoking and chewing tobacco. Quite remarkable considering the boys and girls wearing it are 12 years or younger

12. Understand global warming first-hand from researchers

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The hard corals of Porites species, found in abundance in the blue-water lagoons of the picturesque Lakshadweep islands, are facing a threat to their existence. Global warming caused by high CO2 levels has retarded the growth of these corals, leading to fears that they might eventually disappear. Graduate students look at kelp density and abundance as a metric to measure the effect of global warming, since kelp only tend to grow in cold water. The evidence for them is clear, every year they test, the density decreases. They don’t need fancy equations to see the effect of global warming, it is visible to them.

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