Getting to Lakshadweep isn’t as easy as taking a boat from Cochin. I need a permit to visit this Union Territory and Wellington Island is the place to apply for it. One of the most frustrating things is to arrive at the jetty and see the boat pulling out to the waters. So I have to wait another forty-five minutes for the next boat to Wellington Island. The 11.30 am service finally arrives and I board it.
It is a clear day. The sea is calm. The sun is out. The ride to Wellington Island, which the locals simply call “Island,” is rather short. As soon as I get off the jetty, I walk to the main road, turn left and within a few paces I spot the administrative offices of Lakshadweep. The governmental departments are spread across three or four levels. A board tells me that for tourism I have to head to the second level. The place is clean. The atmosphere is generally laidback. There is no rush in any of the departments. Yet under this apparent order there is chaos so typical of government offices.
I ask someone at the Department of Tourism for procedures to get to Lakshadweep. He directs me to another office across the landing. There I am redirected to a corner to get the necessary forms but no one is there in that room. Finally when someone appears after ten minutes, she says that it has be done at the Department of Tourism.
‘That’s where I asked first. They said I would get the form here,’ I complained.
‘You just wait here,’ she says and disappears. I am sure I won’t see her again. I find a senior officer at a desk filled with files and papers. I repeat my question to her. I am directed to a young girl in another corner. She is a pretty and chubby Keralan beauty. She is too young to have any experience and I suspect she is a temp under training. I tell her about requiring permit to visit Lakshadweep. Immediately she pulls out a stack of forms.
‘What’s your name?’ she asks and starts ruffling through the stack.
‘I haven’t applied yet for the permit. I need the form,’ I clarify matters.
‘You can get the form at the cashier’s desk,’ she points to the same corner where no one sits.
Finally, an older man comes to the rescue. He explains everything to me. The form costs Rs. 50 but to apply for a permit I need to be sponsored by someone living in Lakshadweep. Application cannot be done by post or online. It has to be done in person at this office. The process is long and it may take up to a week. The whole thing is a hassle if you are not living in Cochin.
‘What if I don’t know anyone in Lakshadweep?’ I ask.
Apparently I can still visit by booking myself on a package tour arranged by the Department of Tourism. I return to the Department of Tourism office and ask them about tours. Tours are of two types – you hop island to island and stay the night on a ship; or you visit one island and stay there at a resort. The cheapest is a 3-day hopping tour costing Rs. 12000 per person with bunk bed accommodation. That’s roughly how much I spend for an entire month of backpacking!
Tours start on October 1st. I collect some brochures for future reference. I am not going to be able to visit Lakshadweep anytime soon. I don’t expect the package tour to be well-organized or even enjoyable. Even at the point of sale, the officer lacked enthusiasm to sell the package. He was not forthcoming with any information. I had to ask lots of questions to get anything out of him. He answered my questions but only out of duty. He had no itinerary. All he had was dates of departure and the price tags. This is India. Don’t expect anything more.