Where does Hollywood superstar Richard Gere go when he wants to get away from all the glitz and glamour, the hype and the hoopla? The answer is Bangaram, the heart of the Lakshadweep archipelago, where its group of 32 islands are scattered like emeralds in a sea of aquamarine and deepest sapphire blue 250 miles off the coast of Kerala in the Arabian Sea.
Bangaram is slowly becoming the destination of choice for the rich and famous in search of sun, sea and sand with a touch of paradise. Like all the islands in the chain, Bangaram is a coral atoll shaped like a ring that encircles a staggeringly beautiful emerald-blue lagoon.
Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the islands of Lakshadweep are mainly a diving and snorkeling destination. The Lakshadweep reefs abound with more than a thousand species of fish, all dazzling in their colors and variety of patterns and shapes. Diving in the warm waters or sailing in a glass-bottomed boat, visitors can see flat-bodied, bright yellow butterfly fish and blue-spotted sting-rays, angel fish and sturgeon fish, snappers and moral eels.
For landlubbers, there are luxury cruises around the islands, where some of the places worth visiting are the wood-carvings in the Ujra Mosque at Kavaratti, the tomb of Hazrat Ubaidullah at Andrott, the Buddhist archaeological remains at Andrott, and the famous lighthouse at Minicoy. International tourists in particular will also enjoy the splendors of Cheriyam, Suheli, Valiyakara and Tinakara.
Lakshadweep, a Union Territory of India, means "Hundred Thousand Islands" in both Malayalam. It is generally believed that the first settlement on these islands was made by Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala, following a shipwreck on the stormy Arabian seas. But the historical record shows that, around the 7th century, a Muslim saint was shipwrecked on the island of Amini. He converted the island people to Islam, and to this day, 90 percent of the 52,000 people who live on the islands of Lakshadweep follow Islam.
Although the sovereignty remained in the hands of the Hindu Raja of Chirakkal, it eventually passed to the Ali Raja of Cannanore (Kannur) in the 16th century, the only Muslim royal family of Kerala, and later, in 1783 to Tipu Sultan. Following the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British, at Srirangapattanam in 1799, the islands were annexed by the East India Company. It remained with the British until Independence, when it was made a Union territory of the Indian Union in 1956.
Of the 36 islands in Lakshadweep, only 10 are inhabited, mainly due to lack of drinking water on the other islands. The people, a mixture of Arab and Hindu descent, akin to the Moplahs of Malaba, are warm and friendly. Malayalam is spoken in all the islands except Minicoy, the largest island of the group, where the people speak Mahl, a dialect of the ancient Singhalese.
The climatic conditions are similar to that of the Kerala coast, with March, April and May being the hottest months of the year. Before making travel arrangements, all tourists need permission to visit Lakshadweep. Four of the inhabited islands (Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Minicoy and Kadmath) are open to Indian tourists and Bangaram is open to both domestic and foreign tourists.
Those visiting Bangaram who enjoy living in style wherever they go should stay at the Casino Hotel, the only resort on the island where the caliber of the accommodations and service will be nothing less than five-star for $200 a night.
With capacity for only 60 guests, the hotel offers 30 chalet-style rooms that are tastefully furnished, fan cooled and have attached bathrooms. There are also other star and non-star hotels as well as restaurants and cafés which cater to the needs of the traveler wishing to bask in the quiet on an enchanted island paradise.
- Courtesy India Life and Style