Off India's east and west coasts, pearl-like strings of islands are surrounded by opal waters and stunningly colorful coral reefs. To the west are the Lakshadweep Islands; to the east, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Around them, the sea is filled with turtles and fish -- from the smallest coral dweller to the world's largest shark, the 60-foot long whale shark. There are also the beautiful, birdlike manta rays, flying through the water on 20-foot-wide wings. On the sea floor beneath the soaring rays, colonies of garden eels poke their S-shaped bodies out of burrows in the sand, waving to and fro like fronds of grass. On nearby beaches, thousands of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles burst out of their buried eggs and struggle to the sea. Ironically, some are smashed along the way by a mammoth female turtle, coming back to the beach to lay more eggs. Most amazing of all, however, are the swimming elephants. The beasts of burden were brought to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to haul timber. But to do their work, they must occasionally commute, island-hopping with their trainers, called mahouts, riding astride their backs. Remarkably, the great beasts can swim a mile or more at a stretch and move through the water faster than a swimming person.
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