A couple of years ago, I visited Seychelles on an assignment. One of the places on the itinerary was a tiny private island known as Denis. Guests fly in on a small 16-seater twin-propeller plane and there’s a strict limit on the luggage each passenger can bring in. Since the photographer accompanying me had a lot of equipment, our personal luggage was limited. My duffel only had a swimsuit, one dress, shorts and a T-shirt.

From the moment we landed, until we left, we walked about barefoot. It was as though we had left behind the normal framework of life. There was no thought given to dressing appropriately or choosing accessories; instead, the decisions were all about which beach to swim at, or whether to go snorkelling or birdwatching. For two days, that tiny 1.4 sq. km island and the handful of people on it were my entire world.

I remember a moment when I was lying in the hammock outside my cottage, watching fairy-like white terns float in the warm air. Everything seemed to have slowed down: the waves, the fluttering leaves, my own heartbeat. Like the birds suspended in the current, I felt suspended in time, away from its urgencies and demands. To this day, it is a moment of island magic that I tap into whenever my days get too intense. It helps me reboot instantly.

This Travel Special is a collection of such moments of island magic that we hope will inspire memorable journeys. Scientist and photojournalist Britt Basel’s piece about the Cuban festival Fiesta del Fuego celebrates the vibrancy of the Caribbean, whereas Vidya Balachander writes about the contemplative spaces islands offer in a piece from her island home Sri Lanka . Check our list of affordable private island getaways to help you plan your own vacation. Closer home, we tell you about Indian islands , in rivers, lakes and along the coastline, that you may never have heard of.

Other stories in this issue evoke some of my favourite memories. In his piece exploring just what makes islands so special , Vivek Menezes mentions Tobago, a joy-filled Caribbean island I visited in 2014. It boggled my mind with the surprising Nylon Pool, a sandbank bang in the middle of the ocean, where the water is like a lagoon. Visitors can hop off the boat and stand on its white sand in waist-deep warm water, while just a few metres away its edge drops into the bottomless ocean. In typical island fashion, it is a popular party spot, where boats play soca music and serve chilled beer and rum punch.

Wildlife photographer extraordinaire Dhritiman Mukherjee’s photo essay is about another island surprise: the enchanting birds of paradise found on one tiny isle among the thousands that comprise the island nation of Indonesia.

And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a quick dive into the literature and art that islands have inspired . For that is the truly surprising thing about islands: They may be small in size, and limited in options, but they are big on inspiration.

Neha Dara, Issue editor

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