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The Indian Ocean has island territories such as Maldives and Seychelles that fiercely compete for tourists all the way to incredibly liberal visa policies. Then there is the Indian entrant: Lakshadweep.
Visitors, Indian and foreign, need a permit issued by the local Society for
Prevention Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS). A confirmed tour package is required. It is possible to deal with SPORTS directly, and with constant emails and calls you might get your permit a few days before arrival. Or you can work with a licensed travel agent, maybe get a better price, have them do the chasing, though you still will probably get the permit at the last minute.
I had a last-minute request, only a week out, and contacted a number of companies. The options are limited, more on that next, so all were about the same. Most professional and responsive was Royal Indian Holidays. Their responded to my specific 2-day/1-night inquiry rather than sending generic info, and their first price was fair. They pushed and pushed to get my permit and finally got it on the Saturday before my Monday departure.
Access is by Air India flight from Kochi (Cochin), daily except Sunday, or various ferries. This is an improvement since in recent years foreigners at times were not allowed to fly, because the airport is on Agatti Island, and foreigners currently are prohibited from staying on Agatti. Airfare from Delhi is consistently US$375 roundtrip from Delhi. Air India Flying Returns requires you to have completed flights to check award availability so my friend Ajay of Live from a Lounge checked and none of my dates showed any space for Kochin – Agatti. I even checked their award partners Lufthansa and Singaporean to see if something might pop up. No luck. It seems their partners have added issues about booking Air India Express flights.
You see there is a long-running dispute, now stuck in the courts for 4 years and counting, where SPORTS got into a dispute with the company running the official resorts. SPORTS ordered them out, they did not pull out, so now the main resorts are all padlocked, frozen for the eternity of Indian court cases.
In their place, several islands now have simple tent resorts, such as mine on Bangaram Island, built right in front of the shuttered resorts. The ‘VIP rooms’ are not open to regular tourists. These islands take boats transfers from 30 minutes to several hours. I chose Bangaram because it is closest to Agatti. It is uninhabited except for the small resort staff. The local head said I was their first American visitor, though he noted Finns are frequent arrivals. Helicopter transfer is available for high flyers, and politicos were using it for election campaigning. Arrival immigration takes a bit of time for so few people so after the midday arrival, you have a new passport stamp but half the afternoon gone.
Is all this hassle worth it? Only for those fascinated by the quirks of India or members of the Travelers’ Century Club. Not by coincidence, the only other non-Indian on my flight was a fellow Traveler’s Century Club member, Markus. He has nearly completed the list, been to every UN country once and over 140 twice. He was working on every state of India when I met him.
We did encounter a British couple on a true beach holiday. They were having a good time unsuccessfully turtle-spotting. To Markus and I, there are many islands much better and much less hassle, but few as oddball.