“We speak Jeseri, it has no script though,” says a mid-aged man who struck up a conversation with me as I was looking around a street that flanked the blue coastline of Kadmat Island. Having disembarked from ‘The Empress’, the cruise liner from Cordelia Cruises, I was feeling a little lost and this was a great way to break the ice with the locals.
As I had some time to head to the only resort in this coral island in the Amindivi subgroup of islands, I decided to make the most of my trip by walking around and interacting with the locals. “Don’t go too far inside though,” I was told as the resort where the action was could be only reached by a vehicle that was getting ready. I decided to stay close to the coast and was mesmerized by the stunning white sand beaches bordered by the turquoise blue waters and swaying palms here.
Naturally, I was shutter happy, clicking photos constantly trying to capture the beauty of the picturesque frame when I noticed a group of locals who I hesitantly smiled at. However, it was great to see that they started conversing with me in broken English. Making small talk, I asked them which language they spoke in, and he said Jeseri. Intrigued, I asked him to explain, and he mentioned that this was a dialect that resembled Malayalam and that was the script they used.
Interestingly the tear drop shaped Kadmat Island is tiny with an area of 25 square kilometers and is one of the islands that allows foreigners. Like with the rest of the union territory, an Inner line permit is mandatory to enter the island. Kadmat island is one of the three islands that is open for foreign tourists, Agatti and Bangaram being the others.
My vehicle arrived and I headed off to Kadmat Island Beach Resort, the only resort on the island to experience the water activities. The ten-minute ride to the resort is bumpy but offers a wonderful view of the sea and the languid pace of village life.
At the resort, I was welcomed with a traditional dance and headed to the activity section, where the buzz was palpable. The resort does all kinds of water sports from kayaking, snorkeling, canoeing, banana boat rides and scuba diving. However, I chose the glass-bottomed boat ride, which is a boat that has a glass bottom.
This boat has seating on both sides and a short ride into the ocean brings you up close to the star attraction – the corals. Our boatman Hussain guided the boat and soon enough all we had to do was to look down to see the wonderful corals. As I looked down and saw hundreds of coloured fish that swam in large shoals in and out of the corals, I knew this had to be one of my best travel memories. “These are live corals, and we have several of them here,” said Hussain.
As I walked back to the shore on the wobbly makeshift access, I decided to check out the local food, having been warned that there would hardly be any options for vegetarians. And true enough, there was a lineup of traditional food like fish biryani, neyyappam (rice based sweet fritters), kilaanji (thin crepe like dessert) and some options for vegetarians as well. I picked up a bottle of cold pressed coconut oil and banana chips, that was absolutely on point.
On my way back, I struck up a conversation with my driver, a young boy called Hashim with a hack I have learnt in recent times asking him how life has changed after the pandemic. “There is hardly any business as tourists no longer come like before. However, what has been distressing is that my mother was asked to leave her job of 30 years just a couple of days ago. She was working at the desiccated coconut unit, which has now shut.”
Hashim sounded despondent and told me he had a bachelor’s in fine arts and was working as a driver to make ends meet. Telling him to hang in there, I disembarked at the jetty and looked back one last time at Kadmat island. The swaying green palms made the perfect backdrop against the white sands and blue water. As I stood watching the waters, I noticed many tiny crabs that were scuttling across the white sands ducking the waves and surviving. It was fascinating to see them move deftly and maybe that reflected how the simple people here lead their lives.
A visit to Kadmat island may have ticked off an important destination from my travel bucket, but I learnt that travel is also about the people and how you can make a small difference to their lives when you visit their hometown.
All images courtesy of the author