The heat of the white sand hit my bare feet as I stepped off the little blue raft that carried guests from boat to beach. Just a few steps brought us to a palm-thatched bar. The shade was welcome, as was the drink from a freshly opened coconut while we checked in.
Bangaram Island is a model tropical island: white sand, turquoise lagoon, green coconut palm trees, coral reefs and thatched-roof cottages. Less than a square mile in area, it’s part of the Lakshadweep group of islands in the Arabian Sea, about 200 miles west of the state of Kerala in southern India. Bangaram Island Resort is run by CGH Earth Hotels, a group that aims to provide high-quality vacations with minimal environmental impact.
Hammocks hang between the coco-nut palms and cottages line a beach that’s ideal for swimming or snorkeling, often with sea turtles. A wellness center offers massage, meditation and traditional Indian Ayurvedic treatments. Evening meals are served beneath the stars. There are locally inspired dishes laid out buffet-style over small heaters fueled by coconut husk, or one can combine salad with succulent prawns or meat from a barbecue.
The coral reef beckoned my partner and me, so we headed to the well-appointed dive center. Equipment loaded, the boat motored across the lagoon and outside of the fringing reef. We kitted up and back-rolled off the boat, descending to swim over the coral, cameras in hand. Elegant black-and-yellow bannerfish picked algae from among the coral polyps. Giant clams opened, revealing fantastical colors and patterns. Large groupers and sweetlips hung motionless over cleaning stations of small neon-blue wrasse and transparent shrimps. A hawksbill turtle appeared, undisturbed by our presence. Returning to our hut, we were pleased to find a reliable supply of solar-generated electricity to feed the laptop while we downloaded pictures.
As the sun set, we joined fellow divers for a drink back at the small beach bar. (Alcohol is allowed on Bangaram as a concession to visitors, but prohibition is in force on the other islands.)
An Island’s Commitments
Bangaram Island Resort has drawn a green line in the sand. The cottages are built from local, mainly biodegradable materials. Spacious and comfortable, they are equipped with ceiling fans but no air conditioners. Water for the resort is harvested during the monsoon. Rain runs off the roofs into a collection and filtration system and is stored in concrete tanks. All the lighting uses low-energy bulbs and solar power provides electricity for 18 hours a day. With a hardworking staff, human power often replaces machinery. Baggage is lifted off the boat and rolled to the cottages on a handcart: There are no motor vehicles on the island. Paths and beaches are swept and tidied by hand. Use of plastic is kept to an absolute minimum.
Another environmental issue is the impact of tourism on local people. In fact, Bangaram Island was uninhabited when the resort was developed, but the land belongs to people on the larger nearby island of Agatti. They lease the land to the resort owner, and continue to visit to collect firewood and coconuts from the island’s trees, and to fish off its shores.