A few social media uploads at the dawn of the New Year nearly brought two nations to the brink of a diplomatic crisis, but it also opened the world’s eyes to the tourist potential of a beauteous sun-kissed archipelago in the Arabian Sea.

Visuals of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi soaking in the serene beaches of Lakshadweep and snorkelling amid its coral reefs sparked a spike in Google searches for the islands. Comparisons with tourist magnet Maldives provoked controversial comments against Modi from some Maldivian leaders, leading to a backlash from scores of Indians. Online travel company EaseMyTrip suspended flight bookings to Maldives and began promoting Lakshadweep instead.

While the social media war gradually let up, the spotlight didn’t budge from Lakshadweep

In fact, it figured prominently in the Indian government’s interim budget (2024-25) proposal for the creation of port connectivity, tourism infrastructure, and amenities across a host of islands.

Lakshadweep’s proximity to international shipping routes confers on it the potential to become a logistics hub.

Business links

Of Lakshadweep’s 36 coral islands and reefs, 10 are inhabited. Amini, Kadamat, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan and Agatti islands are closer to Mangaluru. Andorth, Kavaratti and Kalpeni islands are closer to Kozhikode, and Minicoy is closer to Kochi in Kerala.

Coastal Karnataka is keen to tap the proximity and historical links between Lakshadweep and Mangaluru.

Many Lakshadweep residents rely on supplies from Mangaluru for their daily living.

This business link is centuries-old, says GG Mohandas Prabhu, an animal feed trader from the Old Mangalore Port area.

With the islands now grabbing the attention of the tourism world, Yatish Baikampady, a coastal tourism promoter, suggests making Mangaluru their gateway and mainland partner for all logistical and tourism needs.

His comments hold significance given that the islands were administered from Mangaluru during British rule. After Independence, the administrative headquarters was first shifted to Kozhikode and, later, Kavaratti in 1964.

Regional growth

Ananthesh V Prabhu, president of Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the budget proposal for the development of Lakshadweep islands and its port connectivity would benefit Mangaluru too.

He calls for improved connectivity to Mangaluru from other parts of the country as part of the efforts to develop the tourist potential of Lakshadweep islands.

Mangaluru could serve as an embarkation point for cruise vessels heading to Lakshadweep from Mumbai and Goa, says Vathika Pai, head of operations at Nirmala Travels in the city.

This would help boost the tourism potential of both Lakshadweep and Mangaluru, given their locational advantage, she says. If Mangaluru becomes the boarding point for cruises to Lakshadweep, then the voyagers would also be inclined to explore the surrounding region. Any decision to develop Lakshadweep cannot overlook the fact that Mangaluru is the nearest boarding point, she says.

Cargo traffic

Beyond tourist facilities, there is a need to develop the region’s cargo handling infrastructure, says Mohandas Prabhu. He points out that the overall volume of animal feed supplied from Mangaluru to Lakshadweep had dropped by half due to lack of infrastructure at Old Mangalore Port; this is also driving away much of the region’s cargo traffic to other centres in Kerala, he adds.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka government has proposed building a dedicated jetty for Lakshadweep, with allied infrastructure for cargo and cruise terminal, at Old Mangalore Port at a cost of ₹65 crore under the Sagarmala project. It intends to establish a sea-trade route with Lakshadweep and, as part of the cruise terminal, create waterways travel facilities for locals.

Eco-sensitive zone

It must be remembered that Lakshadweep islands are designated as restricted area and an ‘entry permit’ is required to visit them. The permit system was introduced to maintain security and prevent overcrowding.

Given the ecological importance of the islands, Baikampady suggests that, rather than building large infrastructure on the islands, arrangements can be made to anchor cruise vessels at sea, allowing visitors to tour the island and return to the vessels. “We don’t have to make it another concrete jungle. Our initiatives should help the people there, and prove a win-win for all,” he says.