The ship was still swaying. A green line of land is visible through the cabin window. Clockwork flashes from the light house illuminate the pre-dawn blue sea. Public address system told us that the passengers to be ready to disembark at Kalpeni. MV Kavarathi is anchored a mile or so off the coast, from where mechanized boats dart towards the ship. As the comforting air conditioned cabins of MV Kavaratty were lit by early morning sun I rushed after grabbing a quick morning tea to witness my first sunrise inside the sea. It was quite disappointing initially due to dense cloud covering the raising sun. Soon the disappointment vanished as the sun rose and lit the very dark blue Arabian sea all around us.
After leaving Kochi late in the evening this was the first glimpse of the sea. The color of the sea was just incredible. It is difficult to capture that color in photography due to limitation of sensors and monitors. That is why I recommend you to experience it live at least once in your lifetime by visiting these places. I have used High Dynamic range (HDR) photography to get you close to the feeling what I saw that day.
We disembarked the ship around 8 AM through smaller boats to reach the jetty on the eastern side of Kalpeni Island. Kalpeni is more known for its three satellite uninhabited isles named Tilakkam, Pitti, and Cheriyam. Kalpeni is 2.8 Km in length and 1.2 Km in width with Cheriyam island on the north, Tilakkam and Pitti on the south western side. Kalpeni has one of the largest lagoons in Lakshadweep archipelago. It is also quite shallow which makes it splendid for all kinds of water sports. Kalpeni has the distinction that it was the first of Lakshadweep islands where girls started going to school.
After stepping on to Kalpeni we were greeted by strange transport vehicle to take us to the SPORTS resort on the south western side of Kalpeni. These were small Piaggio Ape 3 wheeler pickup vans. Put 2 wooden benches on these pickup and this coconut carrier becomes luxury transport vehicle for us. The roads are narrow but fully concreted and runs along the length of this narrow island snaking their way though the coconut trees.
At the resort we were welcomed to the island by SPORTS guys with fresh and rejuvenating coconut water. This is a ritual they follow in all the 3 islands without fail. What I fail to understand is that this coconut is most welcome when we are really tired and thirsty, but is offered early in the day when we had our sumptuous breakfast in the ship.
Anyway it was no place for logic, so kept all my thoughts aside and wandered (wondered) around huge pool of very shallow water full of broken coral and sea life. Tide was very low and the boats were anchored almost in the middle of this lagoon and they made us wait for the sea to raise.
When it was sufficiently high they took us across to Tillakkam island for kayaking and Snorkeling. On the way to the island was quite interesting with several Huge black Sea cucumbers on the way. The huge lagoon was quite shallow (2-3 feet) and full of corals and rich in marine life and coral reefs. Since I lacked underwater camera you will miss that view I had in snorkeling. They give you the gear which can be used for snorkeling. We did it for almost 4 hours, there was a huge variety of corals and fishes. The life under water was just incredible. Water was crystal clear. there was no sand or rock what was underneath was powdery corals and broken corals in various shapes and sizes.
Initially I was overawed by he size of the things in water, and I swan cautiously, but as the first hour passed, all the cautiousness turned into curiosity and I was moving away with ease on the surface exploring the coral reefs and the marine life. I was overawed by the sight of ocean grass and corals spanning over large tracts of the ocean floor. initially all that looked scary and I stopped every now and then and stood on my feet.
If you know to swim, then you are at ease. If you don’t know how to swim, then make sure you walk on the white sand and only put your head in water when needed. Make sure you are around the instructor at all times, so that he can spot you in times of distress. There was plenty of refreshing lemon juice which rejuvenated us to explore more.
Around 12:30PM water started raising quite high as high tide was setting in. The pool slowly turned in a lake then almost became sea. We were feeling the tide and the wave along with current was pushing us around. The guides who were around us informed that it was time for departure from this lovely water heaven. With deep heart and sun burnt body we left the lagoon to have a lunch consisting of guess what Lagoon fish. I don’t know what grass eaters had but I sure know they missed lagoon fish which was yummy.
After lunch there was folk dance show conducted by the same set of guides who helped us in the morning. This was a dance of traditional Parichakkali and Kolkali dances of the Lakshadweep probably toned down to the tourists. After the dance we were taken on tour of the island. First stop was Government Hosiery factory where they make cotton vests. Isn’t it ironical as the word hosiery refers to leg-wear and what they sell are banyans (which was originally the name for loose nightgown of 18th century not the vests we wear under our shirts) We had a look at the rickety but still working knitting machine which produced yards of cotton material. Most of our co-passengers almost looted the whole place as the price was unbelievably low. I was left out of the crowd of buyers as they had never heard of XXL size T- shirts in those islands 😉
I asked the our guides to show a Masjid which was supposed to have been built by fairies. The story of this mosque goes like this: Long ago, people planned to construct a mosque here. They dug up the place to construct the basement. When the workers returned the next day they found the mosque at the same site. It was built overnight by the djinns, Miracles don’t end there. Of the seven ponds surrounding the masjid, one provides drinking water despite its proximity to the sea. Unfortunately they denied to show us as it was not part of our itinerary. What I was fortunate to find was one such fresh water pod nearby.
Later they took us to the north tip of the Kalpeni where we could if we wanted walk along the coral debris to the northern most uninhabited island Cheriyam. Cheriyam was once a part of Kalpeni and today is connected to the main Kalpeni by a bank of sea coral debris. The devastating storm of 1847 is said to have reshaped Kalpeni island and broke away Cheriyam from Kalpeni. And due to the storm Kalpeni has the distinction of not having a beach. We were exhausted by the swimming, snorkeling and kayaking for whole morning and Cheriyam did not look that attractive for our burning backs. So we took a small walk towards it and since the tide was high we returned back to the resort for a well deserved evening tea.
After the tea it was time to reach back to our ship. When we reached the jetty for the boat we could see a huge rush of passengers who want to travel in our ship to other islands along with us.
Before we caught the boat we took the mandatory group shot. Here you can see our whole group of 21 standing along the huge concrete boulders of the jetty and the MV Kavaratty in the background around a mile from the island anchored in the deep sea.
We reached the ship just in time to capture the setting sun and I had a blast with some beautiful sunset and post sunset shots which included the glorious sky with light from the lighthouse and crescent moon.
After a hearty dinner we left for the island of Minicoy. We were in for a surprise in the early hours of the morning next day. But that will be a suspense I’ll reserve for the narrative on Day 3.