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Comprising a string of 36 palm-covered, white-sand-skirted coral islands 300km off the Kerala coast, Lakshadweep (India's smallest Union Territory) is as stunning as it is isolated. Only 10 of these islands are inhabited, mostly by Sunni Muslim fishers. With fishing and coir production the main sources of income, local life here remains highly traditional, and a caste system divides islanders between Koya (land owners), Malmi (sailors) and Melachery (farmers). The archipelago's administrative centre is Kavaratti island, and most islanders speak a dialect of Malayalam.

At the time of writing, foreigners were only allowed to stay on a few islands: Kadmat, Kavaratti, Bangaram, Thinnakara, Agatti and Minicoy, effectively from mid-September to mid-May. During monsoon months, while most resorts remain open, transport can be difficult.

Lakshadweep's real attraction lies underwater: the 4200 sq km of pristine archipelago lagoons, unspoilt coral reefs and warm waters are a magnet for scuba divers and snorkellers.

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