Though the Lakshadweep archipelago may appear as a few insignificant dots on the map of India, it is, in fact, a sparkling diamond- and emerald-studded jewel adorning India's southwestern frontier. It is one of the few marvels left untouched by the encroaching hands of industrialization and progress.
The white beaches, the lagoons that wash its shores with the coral reefs which enclose it, and finally the deep blue sea-all these are symbiotically linked with each other. And, when all these are added up, Lakshadweep is no longer the tiniest of India's territories but the largest!
While the total area of the 35 islands is a mere 32 sq km and the area of the lagoons enclosed by the coral reef about 700 sq km, the extended sea zone is more than 7,00,000 sq km! This almost makes it the size of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh put together!
Out of the 12 atolls with 35 islands, only one island in each of them is inhabited. All the islands are shaped like a boat with their backs resting on the reef in the east and lagoons washing their shores on the west side. The lagoons are shallow, never more than a couple of meters deep. Just as the sands on the beaches are pure white and sugary, the waters of the lagoons are crystal clear and clean.
It is obvious that land animals and plants have not made these islands popular with nature lovers; the real beauty and variety lies in the underwater zone, just as it is to be found in the changing color of the sky above.
The creator of all the underwater beauty is the polyp that is truly the architect and engineer of the coral reef. It secretes a cup-like calcareous skeleton into which it can withdraw. Multiplying by successive budding, an intricate structure of polyp cups is eventually formed and is attached to a submerged rock platform. The colony grows whenever the depth is short enough for light to pierce, a condition, which prevails in shallow lagoons.
Eventually reefs are formed and these enclose shallow saltwater lakes called lagoons. Soon the decayed and dead coral is broken into fragments and sediments of decaying organic matter, which, along with droppings of birds, combine with it on the reef to give a fertile soil.
Since the rate of nutrient turnover is high, the variety of animal life that establishes itself in the atoll environment is indeed vast. Coral reefs and lagoons shelter the most complex and organized community of living creatures of the sea.
It is impossible to forget the sight of the shoals of tiny but colorful fish darting in and out of coral branches or languid anemones. Lakshadweep reefs abound in more than a thousand species of fish, all dazzling in color and weird in pattern and shape.
To heighten the sense of adventure of a skin diver, deadly rays are often seen on the shallows of reef flats. These, along with the poisonous stonefish, camouflage themselves so effectively on coral ledges and rocks that they are almost impossible to make out.
Seashells are a constant source of delight for a visitor. The reef flats are almost totally exposed except for shallow tide pools at low tide. A trip to them is immediately rewarding: attached to rocks or stones are the hydroids, sponges, corals and sea anemones. Trapped between the tides, taking shelter under boulders or in shallow pools, are bottom dwelling marine invertebrates like sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars and sea cucumbers.
HOW TO REACH
Cochin in the south Indian state of Kerala is the ideal point from where one ventures for Lakshadweep. The only mode of transportation is by means of ships, which have fixed departure dates and timings. Cochin is around 200 miles away from Lakshadweep.
WHERE TO STAY
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