I never had the Robinson Crusoe fantasy, until I laid eyes on Thinnakara, a tiny coral island in the Lakshadweep islands, 200 kms off the Keralan coast.
The Lakshadweep islands are the Maldives without the intensive tourism. They form the northern tip of the same chain of coral islands and atolls and were known as the Laccadives until 1973. You can still see this name on the small monument that sits, incongruously, in the middle of a palm grove on the uninhabited island of Parali 1, inside the Thinnakara lagoon.
Only a couple of the islands are open to tourists from overseas, with a few more open to domestic visitors, and the only access by plane is a 1.5 hour flight from Cochin (Kochi) to Agatti. There’s also an overnight boat to Agatti from Cochin if you have time and good sea legs.
You need a permit to visit the Lakshadweep Islands, which can be applied for as part of the package you can book from one of the tour operators approved by SPORTS, the island’s tourist authority.
Thinnakara definitely won’t offer the type of accommodation you find on the Maldives, but the large tents with camp beds are fine. Walking barefoot along the beach and straight into the warm lagoon is something you can’t put a price on.
Aside from walking around the island, which is uninhabited save for a couple of small fishing huts occasionally used by local families, you can hire sea kayaks, snorkel and play volleyball with the guys on the beach every evening.
Snorkelling isn’t something that comes easy to me – the last time I tried it in Kenya was an epic fail. So being able to snorkel a small shipwreck in the lagoon, with a lot of encouragement from the guys, was an unexpected success. The coral-encrusted wreck was circled by blue sturgeon, tiny irridescent fish, others striped black and white. Something I’ll never forget, but the highlight of the whole trip was still to come. Idly trying to keep our sea kayak in a straight line close to shore one morning, a green sea turtle popped his head up to join us. Amazing to see, he stayed with us for about ten minutes.
Useful info: Lakshadweep is a great addition to any trip to Kerala – we stayed for 3 nights at a cost of £225 p.p. including 3 meals a day, accomodation, permit and boat transfer from Agatti to the island. Kayak hire is around £8 a day. You must have a permit to visit Lakshadweep – try and arrange this a couple of months before your trip. Foreign tourists must show proof of booked accommodation for a permit.