Friday, January 06, 2017

Exploring Lakshadweep with the Samudram Package

The Samudram package of the Lakshadweep Tourism makes it possible for the average Indian to experience a cruise holiday. It’s not extravagantly costly and is right here in India. It is the only of its kind cruise vacation available in India both for Indians and foreigners.

My father had been planning this trip for well over a year and had done the booking months in advance. Yes, it is rarely possible to get tickets for the Samudram package at the last minute. (There were tourists with us who had paid higher rates to travel agents to book the package. Direct booking with Lakshadweep Tourism by calling or contacting them online is the best way and offers the cheapest rates)

Lakshadweep has restricted tourism and one needs to obtain permits in advance to enter any of the islands. We had booked directly with the Lakshadweep Tourism office and all our permits were taken care of by them. It was to be a 5 day 4 night cruise vacation from Kochi to 3 coral islands of Lakshadweep and back.

Early morning view of Kalpeni, Lakshadweep Islands, from the deck of MV Kavaratti

As the sailing dates came close, our excitement was building up. We had reached Kochi and got on-board MV Kavaratti, the huge cruise ship and our home for the next few days. (Read: My First Time on a Cruise Ship- Onboard MV KavarattiWe went around exploring the ship before the briefing session with the Tour Manager. Jafar is a very friendly and helpful guy, and guided us through the entire plan as per the package.

‘This is the first sailing of the ship after the monsoons and so, when you arrive at the Lakshadweep Islands, you will be the first tourists there in months,’ Jafar informed us. We were going to Kavaratti, Kadmat and Kalpeni islands.

‘But what about Minicoy?’ someone asked.

‘It’s not part of this particular voyage, although that’s usually the island we go to and not Kadmat,’ Jafar told us. The Samudram package takes tourists to 3 islands and it is only when the sailing schedules come out (usually just days before the first voyage of the season), the actual islands that a particular trip will be covering are disclosed. This is because MV Kavaratti is one of 5 ships that work as passenger transit ships for the locals between the islands of Lakshadweep and all the schedules are made to facilitate that.

Jafar, the tour manager of the Lakshadweep Samudram Package aboard MV Kavaratti during the briefing session

Beauty of the Lakshadweep islands

Every morning when we would wake up, MV Kavaratti would be standing next to a different island. Each island has its own unique features but what is common is what you see right from the distance- loads and loads of coconut trees dotting every inch of the island. The ship stood a little away from the islands in deep waters and we were transported to the islands in smaller speed boats after disembarking from the cruise with our lifejackets on.

‘You will literally see the sea changing colour as you go from the ship to the islands,’ Jafar told us. It indeed was a magical experience to see the sea changing from dark blue to sky blue to green and to transparent as we moved on the small boats.

The untouched and virgin white sand beaches would welcome us once we arrived on the islands. No living soul had touched these for months. No pieces of plastic or junk could be seen anywhere. What was ironic and sad was- the very tourists with us who were proudly talking about how unpolluted the beaches are, were the ones who were not using the dustbins. The next batch of tourists probably wouldn’t have the chance of giving the compliment.

Another view of the Kalpeni Island, Lakshadweep from MV Kavaratti. Samudram Package


See the changing colours of the sea as you go closer to land, Kavaratti Island, Lakshadweep


Arriving at Kavaratti Island, Lakshadweep. Samudram Package


Kadmat island is absolutely untouched and serenely beautiful with its white sand, transparent water, palm trees. Lakshadweep Islands, Samudram Package


Tourists on the Samudram Package indulge in kayaking and other water sports at Kadmat island.
Lakshadweep Islands, Samudram Package

‘What about the water sports activities on the islands?’

‘All water sports are available at almost all 3 islands but if they are functioning or not depends on the particular day and demand,’ Jafar said.

As part of the package, there are designated activities at each of the islands during the day tours.

Kavaratti Island- Glass-bottom boat ride, Musuem visit and Drive around the island

Kadmat Island- Kayaking, snorkeling and Village visit

Kalpeni Island- Hosiery Factory and Visit to North tip of island

Scuba diving and other water sports are available at all the islands on extra payment. Apart from what was in the schedule, I opted for jet-skiing at Kavaratti (Rs.500) and scuba-diving at Kalpeni (Rs.2000).

Being on-board a cruise

The Samudram package is as much about the cruise ship experience as it is about exploring the Lakshadweep islands. While you spend the day time exploring the islands, nights are spent in the cruise and it definitely is an experience to go for. The swaying motion of the ship as it makes its way cutting through the sea water is exactly like sleeping in a train minus the frequent movements and sound of running wheels. Some people, including my mom, got sea-sickness on the first day.

‘It’s quite common,’ Jafar told us, ‘There is nothing to worry. You will get used to the sea by tomorrow and will be fine.’

My favourite pastime on the ship was being on the top deck and looking out at the vast expanse of sea. After dinner on the second night I was sitting there, the wind hitting hard on my face, the lights of Kavaratti going further away every moment and I looked up at the sky- millions of twinkling lights stared back at me. It was absolutely beautiful and magical.

For an adventure filled tour like this, I had imagined it would be filled with youngsters. There were a good number of youngsters out of the total 182 tourists on board, but what was surprising was the huge number of old people. And yes, they were all equally enthusiastic about the water sports as well.

A magnificent view of MV Kavaratti at the Lakshadweep islands taken from a motor boat ferrying tourists to the island.
Samudram Package


The Dining Hall on-board MV Kavaratti serves some good food and is similar to any good restaurant.
Samudram Package, Lakshadweep Islands

‘The food on the cruise also has to cater to the locals of Lakshadweep, and so may be a little bland for your taste,’ Jafar had warned us beforehand.

The tourists were people from across India. Our lunches were at the islands and the food there was very good- mostly North Indian with local delicacies. (Anyways we used to be too tired and hungry after the water sports). The food on-board the cruise was not as good, although not bad.

Even now the only two things on which the life of Lakshadweep residents depend are the coconut trees and fish- so both of them were plentifully available throughout the trip.

‘As guests of the Samudram package, you have access to the Bridge as well although only during daylight hours,’ we had been told. This was one part of the ship I definitely wanted to see and our experience of interacting with the crew including the Chief of Officers Krishna was very good.

On the last day as MV Kavaratti docked at Willingdon Island in the port at Cochin, Jafar made the goodbye announcement. Even getting to know his story had been surprising. He is a native of Lakshadweep and way back in the late 90s, he was the first Lakshadweep resident to opt for a hotel management course and go to Andamans. Apart from that he is a diver and has done modeling as well.

We thanked him for the great time we had and clicked photos with him. I told him I would write about the trip on the blog and he should read it. He said he definitely would and shared his number so I could keep him posted. I looked for Krishna as well but couldn’t find him.

A picture with Jafar, the tour manager, on board MV Kavaratti. Look at our tanned faces!
Samudram Package, Lakshadweep Islands

We got down from the ship soon enough. The dream vacation on board a cruise had come to an end. We could feel the swaying motion of the ship for a day or two. The skin tan and sun burn healed over a few weeks. What remained were the beautiful memories of the trip and the picture perfect sights at every turn- the first glimpse at the ship, the pristine and untouched beaches, the clear blue waters, the colourful fish and corals, the walk on the sea bed and the sun setting into the sea.

We were on board MV Kavaratti for 5 days- 4 nights in 2016. The MV Kavaratti usually runs between September-January and then March-May for the Samudram package. You can check out upcoming sailing schedules and book your trip to Lakshadweep on the Lakshadweep Tourism website. In case you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I will try my best to answer them. And in case you have been on the Samudram Package, do share your experience here.

The upcoming posts would see the detailed and interesting stories of the naiveness and curiosity of an explorer aboard MV Kavaratti and swimming with the fish in the hidden coral gems of Lakshadweep.

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14 comments :

  1. Replies
    1. Hey, thanks Amit!
      And just to add here: They were all taken on my phone and are uploaded here without any editing. #NoFliters whatsover are required for the natural beauty that Lakshadweep is :)

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  2. Would love to visit after go through your post! Thanks for the information.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely a must-see Indian destination thanks to it not being polluted with huge tourism yet. More posts coming in the following days :)

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  3. Nice stuff..😤😤
    I have also presented lakshadweep from my angle.
    Visit khubsuratlamhe.wordpress.com
    Its my blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Checked your blog Arjun. That's a nice summarised account :)

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  4. awesome...first time saw such organised travel through government tourism :) awesome account.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frankly that was surprising. Hope other states and UTs follow suit too :)

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  5. Hi Antarik,

    Nice write up. I am looking forward to travel during march'17.
    Regarding scuba diving I have few questions:

    1.How is it organized. What is the duration of a dive.
    2. Is advance booking available.

    Regarding snorkeling do we need to carry any specific gear(s)?

    Thanks in advance,
    Balaji

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are scuba diving facilities in all the islands and you don't need to book in advance (I doubt if there is any provision to do that); just reach the island and head to the dive centre and register yourself. The complete training to dive can take as much as 3 hours. The actual dive is for a few minutes only, till as long as you are comfortable underwater. And you don't need any equipments or gears- everything is provided at the island. I would suggest go for snorkelling before scuba, as it would help in acclimatising to breathing with the mouth and you would know exactly what to expect during scuba. I will be posting my detailed blog about the scuba experience here in a few days; do have a look.

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  6. This will be my first trip in a ship. What would be your recommendations.

    ReplyDelete

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