Let me clarify those who are wondering about the title. Nirlaksha = Negligence in Kannada (Would be Nirlakshya in Sanskrit) Dweepa = islands. This is my trip report to the Lakshadweep between 17th April to 21st. I, along with my family and 18 other friends spent some lovely time in a ship called M.V Kavaratti and visited 3 of the 36 odd islands of Lakshadweep Atoll. You will notice why I named the trip report in this fashion in the course of the narrative. Till then it would be a suspense.
Due to luggage constraints I chose to carry very little of my photographic gear but I have managed to get some great shots. My Main workhorse was Canon EOS 5D mark II with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens which produced some great wide angle shots. Canon EOS 7D with Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM used as backup. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM was great for the glass bottom boat shot when fitted on 5D mark II. It followed the boat floor without a hint of hunting on focus. All my gear was carried on Lowepro minitrekker bag. I will elaborate on gear as the report progresses. Let us jump to the trip report.
We started our Lakshadweep trip from Mangalore. Our Trip organizer Prasanna who has already posted his album on picassa here had arranged tickets in the AC 3 tier Coach in Malabar Express train which left at 6:15PM from Mangalore railway station on 16th and reached Ernakulam Junction at 3:30 AM on 17th. A transport via a Mahendra Pickup Van took us to a nearby Hotel Anatha Bhavan on MG Road of Ernakulam. We took much needed early morning sleep before refreshing ourselves with bath and breakfast at the hotel. We checked out at 10AM and asked the Van driver to take us to the ferry trip and Jews Synagogue visit as the ship was delayed and they had asked us to report only after lunch time.
The First stop was off the Fort Kochi near the famous Chinese nets. The Chinese fishing nets (Cheena vala) of Fort Kochi (Fort Cochin) in the City of Kochi (Cochin), in the Indian State of Kerala, are fixed land installations for an unusual form of fishing — shore operated lift nets. Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen.
The system is sufficiently balanced that the weight of a man walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a short time, possibly just a few minutes, before it is raised by pulling on ropes. The catch is usually modest: a few fish and crustaceans — these may be sold to passers by within minutes.
The system of counterweights is most ingenious. Rocks, each 30 cm or so in diameter are suspended from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised, some of the rocks one-by-one come to rest on a platform thereby keeping everything in balance. Each installation has a limited operating depth. Consequently, an individual net cannot be continually operated in tidal waters. Different installations will be operated depending on the state of the tide.
It is received wisdom that the nets are Chinese in origin. This is not as improbable as the 5,000 km distance from China might suggest — Kochi is a very important centre for the spice trade attracting traders from far and wide. Some suppose that the nets were introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He.
After visiting these Chinese nets we took a boat ride in Vembanad lake. Ferry took around the mouth of Vembanad lake which is largest back water lake of Kerala State. We saw several Common Terns, Whiskered terns, Gulls and Great egrets jostling for fish along the lake mouth. We also had luck of seeing Dolphins but from a great distance.
The Vembanad lake, the second largest wetland in India and the largest tropical wetland ecosystem on the country’s southwestern coast. It is recognised as a Ramsar site , a wetland of global importance as defined by the Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, and joined by India in 1981. Like many other permanent backwaters, its environmental condition is in a state of precipitous decline, representing a looming ecosystem crisis. There are plastic bottles everywhere you look. Other plastic and solid rubbish lines every shore and canal, regularly clogging motorboat engines. The water is more like slurry , you cannot see deeper than the first inch or two.
Along our trip we visited a fish market and saw many Houseboats (Kettuvallam) which are famous tourist attraction of this lake. We also saw our ship parked at Willington Island Bay close to Taj malabar Hotel. It was a short boat ride which dropped us off at the Jew Town on the bank of Vembanad lake.
We wanted to see the Jew Synagogue but unfortunately it is closed on Fridays and Saturdays. So we walked along the street which leads to the Paradesi Jew Synagogue and all the antique shops along the sides of the street. These shops sport huge collection of antiques expecting to sell them to foreign tourists who throng these places. Kerala which proclaims itself as God’s own country attarcts huge number of foreign tourists for whom Kochi is one of the main attraction.
After window shopping in sweltering heat at the Jew Town, we left to the Kochi port to have lunch. We had a sumptuous and tasty vegetarian plantain leaf lunch at BTH restaurant inside the port.
At around 1:30PM we went to the check in counter of SPORTS office which is checking in site for our trip to Lakshdweep. The Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS) is the organization which conducts this Lakshadweep Samudram Package is a Five-days cruise to visit the islands of Kavaratti, Kalpeni and Minicoy by ship- M.V Kavaratti.
We collected the boarding passes from the SPORTS office. From there, they arrange transport to the jetty for boarding. Now, this place resembled a war torn country area where people were lining up for free food. It surely resembled a refugee camp. Picture this, a small walled area of about 200 sqft and about a 100 odd people waiting to rush in through a small door.
Everyone had luggage, but we were stunned when we saw the islanders. They generally travel from Kochi, which is their only source of shopping. Everything from vegetables to blankets to cartons full of provisions to LCD tvs were lined up as luggage.
There is no separate line for tourists. You need to jostle your way through. or like what we did is to wait patiently for all the passengers to finish their check before entering the queue. Just then, the small door opened and one by one, all the luggage belonging to the islanders was put in.
The staff was efficient, but fell short for the volume of the work they need to do. If only they had managed the crowd outside the counter too in an humane and efficient way it would have been great.
Then we got our luggage scanned and we were quickly taken to the jetty via a bus. There stood the impressive MV Kavaratti. Majestic from the outside, we expected it to be the same from inside as well. Even though we were told that luggage is supposed to be transported by porters, since we did not seen any one around it was our turn to carry our luggage up the dicey ladder leading to 4th floor deck of the ship.
The ship then waited for I don’t know what… by the time it started moving, it was 5 pm. The first class cabin allotted to us was quite nice, it had bunker beds, a table, a fan, cupboards, an attached bath and was air conditioned. 21 of us were allotted 11 rooms. Even though it was half rate for kids they were given a separate bunker.
Few of us who were allotted rooms on the 4th deck were cramped compared to the ones in the 5th deck. There was hardly a space to climb on to the top bunker bed in the 4th Deck. On the last day of the trip we found out that this was a trick SPORTS kept on doing on all the gullible tourists who have opted for Samudram package. 10 cabins in the 4th deck were really 1st class AC cabins meant for the 1st class passengers who opted for 1 day trip from Kochi to Kalpeni island, but instead allotted to us for full 5 days. So if you have choice of selecting cabins or you are booking via travel agent insist one from 5th Deck. They are spacious and the port window is open-able to let in fresh air. Also if you are booking rooms in group notice all the odd number of cabins are on the right side of the ship ( starboard in the nautical term) and all even number of cabins are left side of the ship (port in the nautical term).
Now, there are constant announcements on the ship which are audible in each of the cabins. Food was served at a very punctual rigid time schedule which needed a great discipline to follow. One important info about the food. The food at best can be termed decent in good quantity but bland for the our taste buds.The food court was divided into Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian. Menu was identical on both side except an extra non veg item for meat eaters, curds for grass eaters.
We set sail from the Kochi harbor at around 5PM and left for the great sea in search of first destination which is Kalpeni islands of Lakshdweep Atolls. The journey out of the port on to the great sea was uneventful we could feel the gentle side to side motion of the ship inside the cabin. Sea sick feeling was there but I did not see anybody grossly affected by it.
Wait for my next blog for the day 2 where we reach first of Lakshdweep island – Kalpeni.
P.S My good friend GN Ashokavardhan who accompanied us on this trip has posted his version of day 1 at his blog ಸಾವಿರ ಕೊಟ್ಟು ಲಕ್ಷಗಳಿಸುವ ಯೋಗ.