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  • Dhiraj D Sharma

The Saga of the Great Indian Islands!!

The Tribe!

Over a couple of weeks, we first traveled to Lakshadweep from 18th to 25th Dec and 28th Dec to 07th Jan to the Andaman Islands I've had the opportunity to visit the most beautiful places on earth that belong to India, a piece of land that floats across the distance between the oceans. The group of Lakshadweep islands lies in the Arabian Sea on the west coast and the Andaman Islands lie to the east of the Bay of Bengal. The islands aren't just a place where people have an ocean of opportunity but the ocean itself is an opportunity. My exploration of Andaman islands started way back in the year 2019 when we decided we wanted to host an event in the islands where we would cycle from Portblair to Diglipur covering the entire islands called the Tour of Andaman now in its 5th edition and when people call me to register I still have this common question from the participants if they need a passport to fly down to the islands.

Our recent exploration of Lakshadweep islands was no less than an adventure, it all started from a classroom discussion where I was trying to explain the rich biodiversity of our country and a student felt very connected and happy as I spoke about the group of islands that belong to India, she was so happy that she made it possible for us to go explore this beautiful place without a hassle, but can anyone visit and enjoy these places like us?

Why do people ask me if they need a passport to fly to the islands? I would now think of our schools when we had to draw the Indian Map would we ever represent the islands? I don’t remember a day that I ever thought about this in my class but I wouldn’t do the same when I had the opportunity to take classes now. Srilanka would come for free when we bought the India map but the islands were just out of place most of the time.

I'm happy our Hon. Prime Minister took time to visit the islands first to the Andaman's and then to the Lakshadweep. I'm happy at the outset that a political statement from the president of Maldives has triggered ways to talk about the Indian islands… That’s a feeling for me and an emotion as I've invested so much time, energy, and effort over the years in making the tours happen in the islands, I'm happy more and more people will now know about these places of Indian territory that are so pristine but will it help us all in any way? Will that help the islanders in any way? Is there a way forward for these islands to promote responsible tourism and conservational efforts?

Beautiful islands through the lens of Chaitanya

Read more as I express my journey further… A couple of years ago the longest bridge connecting South Andaman to Middle Andaman was inaugurated by our Home Minister it was amazing to see a 1.97 km long bridge but the roads immediately after the bridge disappeared and collapsed to the sea and stream nearby. The living conditions of people are not to be taken for granted, they don’t even get to taste, fresh veggies, fruits, or even fresh milk. There would just be a ferry to connect from one island to another and time as per the sea. I was just keeping my fingers crossed at the Kochi Airport seeking a positive response from the airlines even after getting the boarding passes in hand, the weather forecast determines the flight schedule and even after you carry on there was no guarantee that we would land in the islands and there would be no other flights for the day and all the tickets would be sold out for the session and then return home just like that…

As we saw Agatti island

We don’t need a passport to visit the Lakshadweep islands but a permit that takes the same effort to obtain a passport, police verification, and an islander who will then help you with the permit process. There have been a lot of changes in the islands ever since our PM set his feet on the roads less taken, last year I saw a wonderful airport coming up in the Andaman islands but the roads remain the same. I stand at this junction as I share my thought with a heavy heart to postpone the Great Andaman Triathlon:  scheduled to happen in Feb. due to the road conditions we have to call it off. The airport has less to celebrate with just about a few fights and very few connecting flights between the islands and the mainland. The cost of fights would go up eventually with fewer flights. People would now think twice about visiting the islands at the same cost they would have the opportunity to visit other countries too. I've friends who got married recently and went on to celebrate their honeymoon in Maldives, the same ocean water that surrounds the Lakshadweep but why would someone travel with so much hassle to take care of so much of uncertainties to handle around? Why would they want to visit the Andamans with the same cost of flights taking them to Maldives, I was reading a few posts and stories with images shared by celebrities of Maldives mistaking it for Lakshadweep in the name of being Patriot. Still, when people of Lakshadweep faced problems none came to stay by them. I would say if there was anything to be patriotic ask what it takes to be an islander from an islander and spend a week along with the locals to see if there is any reason for them to cheer after all their difficulties and challenges. Both places have a shortage of resources to the extent that the hotels run on diesel generators in Andaman and the entire islands run on Diesel in Lakshadweep.

View from the Kavaratti Light House, Lakshadweep!!

My recent visit to the Andaman cost me 33,000 INR two & fro and just to my surprise the fights have drastically come down now but will you spend so much and still go explore the islands? I would see an islander just carry the child just about a week old back to the islands or an injured person flying for further treatment to the mainland on the same flight that I was flying. If you ever see an islander traveling back to the islands, you will find them carrying back basic things, their daily essentials to lead their life including the veggies… People would fight for their rights here but they would never be heard of, a 10,000 Crore project that doesn’t exist in reality? A single flight with a carrying capacity of not more than  150 to Lakshadweep is what you will find. Most of the islanders have never come out from the islands even once in their lifetime. It’s a challenge for them to also travel and access the mainland in emergencies and a ferry journey with a considerable amount will take 3 Days to travel to Chennai from Andaman and similarly a day from Lakshadweep to Kochi.

The underwater bliss at Lakshadweep!!

A development plan to make Nicobar look like Singapore will only make the fragile ecosystem loose its charm or to build a port in the name of security will only be a blunder with the ongoing Climatic change in place. What an island needs is real attention when the whole of Lakshadweep was in rage none responded and now just don’t brand yourself as a patriot and post a Maldives pic and say we will go to Lakshadweep. Our Islands need good roads, drinking water, schools & colleges, hospitals, networks, and better connectivity by flight and sea…

A conservation effort that promotes responsible tourism and not the Taj has a niche customer base.

I wonder if these groups of islands belonged to any other country they would certainly do well, not losing hope after all an islander will greet you with a smile but end here by sharing my thoughts through traveling these islands over the years.

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