India has more than 1,200 islands, but few know of the rich cultures and ecosystems they cradle. Some are mere specks in the waters, but have 16th-century monastic centres, glorious caves, or rare wildlife species. Others are larger, with thriving communities and towering temples. Here are ten little-known islands scattered across the country.
Many faiths and legends converge at the 13-kilometre-long strip of Beyt Dwarka in the Gulf of Kutch. Centuries-old temples, a shrine of an Iranian Sufi saint, and a gurdwara draw the pious and the curious to its shores. A great treat? Almost everyone spots dolphins in the waters near Dunny Point beach.
Getting There Beyt Dwarka is a 15-min ferry ride (₹15 one-way) from Okha jetty, which is 30 km/40 min north of Dwarka. Jamnagar airport is 130 km/2.5 hr east of Dwarka. Regular buses connect Dwarka, Jamnagar, and Ahmedabad.
Visitors to Elephanta Island find themselves in a time warp, back in the fifth and sixth centuries when the Hindu and Buddhist Elephanta Caves were carved. The main cave of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is spread over 89 square feet. Its highlight is a 23-foot-tall, three-headed sculpture of Shiva.
Getting There Ferries to Elephanta Island depart from the waterfront in Colaba, near south Mumbai’s historic monument, Gateway of India (₹120 return). Colaba is 30 km/1.5 hr south of Mumbai airport.
Goa opens its arms to backpackers and beach parties, but Divar keeps the world out. Old Portuguese villas dot the snoozing lanes of Piedade village. A hike up the hilltop where the Church of Our Lady of Compassion stands, offers panoramic views of the Mandovi River.
Getting There There are regular ferries to Divar from Viceroy’s Arch in Old Goa (3 min; ₹10 one-way), Bicholim in north Goa (3 min; ₹10 one-way), and Ribandar near Panjim (8 min; ₹10 one3-way).
4 Srirangapatna, the capital of Mysore’s Wodeyar dynasty and then Tipu Sultan’s empire, witnessed bloody battles in the 17th and 18th centuries. Built on an island on the Cauvery River, the fort town has the centuries-old Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tipu Sultan’s opulent summer palace, and the Gumbaz, his mausoleum. Each has a timeless story to tell.
Getting There Srirangapatna is connected to the Bangalore-Mysore Highway (SH17) via a bridge. It lies 20 km/30 min northeast of Mysore (taxi ₹1,500 return) and 128 km/2.5 hr southwest of Bengaluru (taxi ₹3,000 return).
Munroe Island is Kerala at its bucolic best. Boat rides along its criss-crossing canals give visitors glimpses of Munroe village’s locals weaving coir and tapping toddy. Kingfishers, egrets, and woodpeckers keep birdwatchers engrossed.
Getting There Munroe Island, near Kollam city, is accessible by road. It is an 80 km/2.15-hr drive northwest of Trivandrum airport(www.dtpckollam.com/intinerary; canal cruises by District Tourism Promotion Council Kollam ₹500 per person).
On Pamban Bridge, which connects Pamban Island to the town of Mandapam, travellers only have to look at the clear waters below to see clusters of psychedelic corals. These waters are part of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park stretching between Rameswaram Island and the port city of Tuticorin. Kayak around Rameswaram, the island’s biggest town, to spot sea turtles and dolphins.
Getting There The closest airport to Rameswaram is Madurai (150 km/2.5 hr). Rameswaram is well-connected to Chennai by train and bus (www.rameshwaram.info/#/kayak-trips; kayaking from ₹507.
About 240 kilometres northeast of Port Blair in the Andamans, Narcondam Island looms out of the Andaman Sea like a dream. And it is. Scuba divers on select liveaboards can travel to the remote island, which is the only home of the endemic and endangered Narcondam hornbill. The water around Narcondam holds spectacular coral reefs.
Getting There Infinti Live-Aboard takes divers to Narcondam and allows them to explore it on foot (www.infinitiliveaboard.com/all_trips; ₹2,29,999 plus tax per person for eight nights).
The meditative expanse of Chilika Lake lures birdwatchers and solitude seekers, but few explore the islands scattered across Asia’s largest brackish water lake. Every January, Kalijai Island thrums with pilgrims during the Makar Sankranti fair. It’s equally fascinating to watch Kailijai’s morning rituals, like locals fishing with traditional bamboo baskets and nets.
Getting There Boats to Kalijai Island depart from Barkul jetty, 105 km/2 hr from Bhubaneshwar airport (www.orissatourism.gov.in/chilika.html; boat ₹970 return).
Boats noiselessly glide along the waterways of the Sunderbans. Legends of man-eaters abound in the world’s largest mangroves. Spread over a cluster of islands, the park is inhabited by endangered species like the tiger, estuarine crocodile, and the river terrapin, an endemic turtle.
Getting There Ferries to all Sunderbans islands depart from Godkhali in South 24 Parganas district, which is 120 km/3 hr from Kolkata airport (entry fee for Sunderbans Tiger Reserve at Sajnekhali island ₹60; boat and guide ₹800; Help Tourism Pvt. Ltd. tours ₹3,000-5,000 per day per person; 0353-2433683).
In the mighty Brahmaputra River floats India’s largest riverine island, Majuli. Its lush rice fields are punctuated by centuries-old satras or Vaishnavite monastic centres. At some of these centres, craftsmen make religious masks of bamboo and clay; several other satras stage dramas and spiritual music recitals.
Getting There Ferries ply between Majuli’s Kamalabari Ghat and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat, Assam’s second-largest city (1.5 hr). Jorhat airport is located 7 km/15 min southwest of the city centre.
Kareena Gianani is the former Commissioning Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.
Gaurav Ogale is a visual chronicler and storyteller who works for a leading branding agency in Bombay. When he is not designing for brands, he is either traveling around with his drawing journals or cooking up nostalgic stories in the kitchen.