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Discover the Island of Hope.

Byline: ARK

As beautiful as it is culturally rich, Minicoy, one of Lakshadweep's many coral islands, is also an example of a democracy in motion

"It's a large island ...over 10 km long," a friend said about Minicoy, one of the islands in the Lakshadweep. Obviously, my concept of large and his were two entirely different things: large to me was Australia. "It's also very beautiful and interesting," he added. That clinched it, as the perfect holiday destination.

Located some 400 km from Kochi, Minicoy, or Maliku in the local language, is usually not reached directly. Instead, tourists fly into Agatti and then take a leisurely boat ride to Minicoy, the southernmost of the group, separate from the rest and the second longest after Androth. It's also very different from the others: the populace is a mix of Maldivian and south Indian; the locals speak Mahl, a derivative of Divehi, a descendant of the Indo-Aryan group of languages and is written right to left; and it also has a very unique culture, more in sync with Maldives than India. Besides which, the people are avid seafarers and employed on sea-going vessels all over the world.

At first sight though, it's none of these that meet the eye. Instead, the azure blue waters and light coloured sand fringed by thick groves of swaying palms are truly awe-inspiring. But more fascinating, is another indigenous institution: democracy in motion.

It is believed that much before democracy and women's empowerment became buzz words, Minicoy had internalised it. In fact, Minicoy is called the 'Women's Island', owing to the fact that women enjoy a dominant position in society and children carry the maternal surname. The other theory goes that the great traveller Marco Polo, on his famous sojourn arrived at Minicoy and found only women, the men away at sea, and named it the female island. Be that as it may, every village has a male and a female mayor, and issues are settled at village meetings. Lucky visitors can even get to see this rare aspect of the island.

But no matter where you are on Minicoy, the magic of the villages and the charm of swaying coconut palms are never far away. Everything is set in this picture perfect background. Take the tuna canning factory for instance, which is approached through thick vegetation and groves of coconut and palm trees. Minicoy is an important tuna fishing centre and the factory processes almost all the catch. You can see rows of women who handle all the stages in the canning and it is fascinating to watch the process. From here, the famous lighthouse, built by the British in 1885, is just a few minutes away. An impressive structure, rising 300 ft into the sky, it makes for a stark image. It is still operational and the Tricolour flies on the top each day.

As darkness falls, the simple but industrious villagers, unwind for the day with a heavy dose of culture. A treat to watch is the lava dance. Clad in red trousers and with scarves around their waist, the men perform the dance to the rhythm of drums. It is a compelling sight, and the haunting thuds of the drums has enough firepower to hold the audience spellbound. As the music winds down and the movements die, it is time to retire. The only sound is that of the waves lashing against the shore and occasional chirp of a nocturnal insect or the flapping of a night bird. And long after one has come away, the sights and sounds are bound to be etched in the mind.

Good to know

Agatti is connected with flights from Kochi. Four passenger ships also offer passage to Lakshadweep from Kochi. It is best to visit Lakshadweep between December and May.

--ARK

TOP 5 MUST-SEEs

In Lakshadweep

Lighthouse at Minicoy, built in 1885 by the British, and still operational; the Indian Tricolour is hoisted here everyday.

Folk dances like Kolkali and Parichakali across the islands and Lava in Minicoy.

Bitra Island, the smallest in the group and the breeding ground for sea birds.

Juma'at Mosque on Androth, containing the tomb of Saint Ubaidullah who is believed to be responsible for converting people to Islam.

Marine museum and aquarium at Kavaratti, which is both informative and educative, hosting a variety of rare marine animals and related artefacts.

TOP 5 MUST-DOs

In Lakshadweep

Coral gazing at Agatti, which has an abundance of coral growth and multi-hued coral fishes.

Kayaking and yacht sailing on Kavaratti, as well as fish gazing through glass-bottomed boat.

Scuba diving at Kadmat, a lagoon with beautiful beaches and an amazing variety of marine life.

Reef walking at Kalpeni, a beautiful island with a shallow lagoon and strange storm bank of coral debris.

Sunbathing on Bangaram, a beautiful and secluded island with azure blue waters and white sands stretching for miles.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:823
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