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South Asia: 5 stunning beaches for a unique retreat

By Fashila Kanakka 13 December 2021

Header image courtesy of @richardderuijter (via Unsplash)

As the largest continent, Asia encompasses indefinite tropical islands where one can find true paradise. Surely enough, when one thinks about picturesque turquoise waters and soft, silky sand, the mind would typically wander to the island nations of the Philippines or Indonesia. While these countries are no doubt heaven for beach bums across the globe, Asia has so much more to offer, and in this article, we are taking you to five beautiful beaches on the Indian subcontinent. That’s right, folks—South Asian countries have enticing emerald coasts, too, lined with palm trees, local vendors, and fishing boats.

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Astola Beach—Astola Island, Pakistan

Astola Island is Pakistan’s largest offshore island, also known as the “Island of the Seven Hills” given its unique geology. It is home to several naturally formed caves and coves in the Arabian Sea. Being uninhabited has given leeway to several endangered species to thrive in the environment. One can find green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles nesting on the beach by the shoreline. Astola Island is also a breeding ground for beautiful sea birds; coursers, curlews, and sanderlings. But that’s not all—explorers have also come across the venomous Astola viper here.

Tours are offered for groups to go camping and snorkelling at Astola—just imagine what the night sky would look like in this secluded island. The island is located in the Balochistan Province in West Pakistan. To get to this island, you’ll need to hop aboard a motorised boat from Pasni (in Gwadar District)—the journey to the island takes about five hours.

St Martin’s Island West Beach—St Martin’s Island, Bangladesh

Looking much like a teardrop of Bangladesh, St Martin’s Island is located just about eight kilometres from Myanmar and is the only island in Bangladesh where you can dive and find beautiful corals. Arabian sailors first settled on this mini-paradise some 250 years ago and named it “Jazeera,” which directly translates to “Island.” Later, when the Brits arrived, the name changed to St Martin’s Island—named after the then-deputy commissioner of Chittagong. There are roughly 5,500 inhabitants (mainly fishermen) living amongst the nine villages on the island.

St Martin’s Island has become a famous alternative tourist spot to Cox’s Bazar, as one can go snorkelling and come face-to-face with endangered corals, unique fish (which are not found elsewhere in the sub-continent), and also sea turtles. One can also devour freshly cooked fish right by the sea—caught and prepared right in front of your eyes. To get to St Martin’s Island, you’ll have to travel by boat or ship from either Cox’s Bazar or Teknaf.

Traveller’s note: The best time to go island-hopping to St Martin’s Island is between November and February. Cyclones can strike between March all the way to October—travelling here during these months can be hazardous.

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Dhanushkodi Beach—Pamban Island, India

Pamban Island, located in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, borders Sri Lanka, and on its southeasternmost tip lies the serene, abandoned town of Dhanushkodi. Once a bustling town, it was left uninhabited after the Rameswaram Cyclone in 1964, during which a patch of land was submerged. The island further shrunk due to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. What remains from these devastating incidents is a beautiful, low-lying tip of land with soft sand and crystal-clear waters. Dhanushkodi is not well-known amongst both locals and tourists, making it clean and undisturbed. What’s even more stunning is that the farthest end of Dhanushkodi is where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian Ocean!

Walking around the abandoned town sure gives you an eerie feeling (it’s even nicknamed as a “ghost town”). There’s an abandoned church, temple, and parts of a railway station. During the day, locals who live in neighbouring Rameswaram set up small shops selling handmade goodies made from seashells, ranging from mirrors and accessories to showpieces. Entrance to Dhanushkodi is not allowed after 6 pm due to high tides.

Dhanushkodi is entirely accessible on road. Upon reaching Rameswaram, you arrive at Pamban Island and go over the Pamban Bridge (India’s first sea-crossing bridge) to reach Dhanushkodi. Other areas of Pamban Island offer different water sports, such as scuba diving, snorkelling, and banana boating. You can also hop on a ferry ride to get an unobstructed view of Agni Teertham, a place of holy pilgrimage to Hindus.

Mirissa Beach—Mirissa, Sri Lanka

No list of stunning South Asian beaches would be complete without a mention of this island nation! Sri Lanka is known for its lush palm trees, clear and clean waters, and fresh seafood. Mirissa is a rather long beach and is among one of the less crowded ones in Sri Lanka. Slip into a hammock and sip on that coconut for the ultimate beach experience in South Asia. 

The occasional large waves make for perfect opportunities for surfing and snorkelling is quite common in this beach as well. There are a number of cafés and restaurants to indulge in amazing seafood. After sunset, restaurants lay out chairs by the beach and light up candles and lanterns whilst serving seafood barbecue—how romantic does that sound?

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Mirissa is located in Matara District and has the largest port on the southern coast. There are boat tours from Mirissa that take you to watch whales and dolphins, and one can even spot majestic blue whales here! Boat tours are mindful about protecting these friendly sea animals and passengers aboard the boats are advised to be mindful as well. The best time for catching more than just a glimpse of these mammals range from November to April.

To get to Mirissa, a car ride would take about four hours from Colombo. An alternative route is hopping on a train to Galle (from Colombo) and then renting a car or auto-rickshaw to get to Mirissa.

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Fashila Kanakka

Contributor

Fashila was born in India but raised in Hong Kong and shares a strong bond with both her home and birth land. She loves hunting for hidden gems and finding the road less travelled. When she’s not breaking her back from educating and shaping little earthlings, you can find her loading up on succulents at the Flower Market, buying yet another book to rest on the shelf, or making calories come to life by baking.

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