Maldives

Of coral reefs and lagoons

Beaches & Sands

November 18, 2015

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Maldives

The rising ocean levels may pose a threat to the future of Madives, but its dazzling turquoise waters, soft white sands, kaleidoscopic reefs, varied marine life, exhilarating water sports and terrific hospitality will take you on a timeless journey.

As the aircraft took off from Thiruvananthapuram I realised I had left my sunglasses at the hotel in Bangalore. The kind of exposure I was headed to needed protection for eyes until the sunset. By the time one starts surfing through something to read and tries to settle down properly, it’s already time to land. In 40 minutes the blue oceanscape below changed to atolls of various shapes emerging all over. Not knowing what was in store for me, I wondered if I could get a closer look at the beautiful blue lagoons in the middle of the ocean or cherish diving into one of them.

 

Aerial view of one of the resort islands with water villas stratigically placed on the shallow waters

Aerial view of one of the resort islands with water villas stratigically placed on the shallow waters

Maldives is located very close to the equator and almost a stone’s throw away from the south western edge of India. It comprises of 1,190 islands of which only about 200, are inhabited. They are all, however, slowly sinking with the rising sea level. Maldives is one of those rare exotic paradises on earth which is vanishing thanks to global warming. Even the runways at the international airport on Hulhule Island get partially submerged under high tide twice a day. Pilots ought to be extremely careful with their landing. It’s a treat for passengers who keep their faces glued to the windows to get a wide angle view of the airport and the adjacent sea. Hulhule to Male, the capital of Maldives, is a 10 minute speedboat ride. With a population of 140,000, it’s a bustling city on a sandy island that can be covered in a 30 minute walk. Visa is on arrival for most nationalities, including Indians. Male is strictly a dry zone but tourists are offered alcoholic beverages of their choice at the island resorts. But Male is not all that Maldives is about. The real Maldives, famous across the world, lies in its secluded islands, spread over 26 atolls, each of which is surrounded by a reef that nearly or entirely encloses a ring like lagoon. The actual action lies in the smaller islands that have the luxury resorts. Islands with resorts are auctioned, the highest bidder gets to run it for a period of five years until the next bid. The country’s economy depends heavily on tourism with nearly 20 percent contribution to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The resort islands are spread across hundreds of kilometres and accessible either by sea planes, water taxis or speed boats. Most of the islands have water villas and beach bungalows. The kitchen and staff quarters are built on the island, the water villas are strategically placed on the shallow waters of the lagoons while the beach bungalows rest right on the beach. These are not very big islands and could be measured on foot in very short time.

The airport transfer took us to a nearby jetty where we found a red and white sea plane waiting for us with a smiling male attendant in shorts and sandals. The man greeted us as he helped the passengers get on to the wobbly floating aircraft. As door shut, the engines got into full throttle and the aircraft moved ahead on water and in no time we were airborne. Within minutes the scene within the aircraft and beneath us had changed. Passengers sat glued to their windows as the water underneath changed from grey to turquoise to blue. Numerous atolls emerged out of the sea as if hand crafted, with sparkling blue lagoons between them. The landing on water was quite bumpy. The sun outside was as equatorial as it could get and my new pair of shades seemed like a blessing. A small boat was waiting for us to take us to our resort. A fleet of battery powered buggies picked us and our baggage from the jetty and transported us to the reception area of the resort where we were greeted with cold towels and a welcome coconut drinks. While planning a trip to Maldives one must keep a few things in mind. Depending on one’s interests and what one wants to do in Maldives it’s always advisable to choose an island close to the airport. Speed boats that run from the airport or Male to resort islands are quite expensive while air taxis costlier. All island resorts are premium class with different categories to choose from as per one’s budget. Unless you are booked under a non Maldivian brand resort like Taj, Hilton etc. where the deals are all inclusive or packaged, while booking one must know that outside food and drinks are not allowed inside the islands. Everything including the water sports activities are to be bought right there. Being on an island restricts the option of checking into a different resort. While booking one must try to get an all-inclusive deal for best buys with three basics prepaid for-all meals, accommodation and airport transfers. Right after the check in, the buggies take the guests to the assigned rooms. The water villas are a fixture here. More or less all islands have water villas but they vary in design and luxury. The best ones have their private infinity pools with decks. Ours was one such villa among 20 others lined in a row.

 

A Maldivian sea plane landing near an island

A Maldivian sea plane landing near an island

The main door opened into a square living room with a sight of clear blue ocean through one of its all glass walls. The bedrooms had a rectangular central glass floor for view o f the ocean below. The private decks gave complete privacy with the infinity pool alongside. Steel stairs from the deck traversed directly to the lagoon. The waist high clear ocean with shoals of colourful sea life swimming around tempted one to dive in and I was no exception. The sand beneath was fine white, temperature of the water perfect while the glaring sun became irrelevant in this setting. Thousands of kilometres away from home, floating in the middle of a coral lagoon in a natural habitat makes one question the life in cities. Service was excellent despite the distance between villas and the room service hub or kitchen. The mini bars were well stacked. As soon as I got out of water, soft drinks and snacks were served. The man serving us could speak fluent Bengali. Majority of the staff at resorts in Maldives are from West Bengal and Bangladesh who are hired on contract. This makes the stay even more interesting. Syed Kamal, the man at service for our villa, was also the chosen one amongst the staff to feed manta rays and took tourists for night fishing. Lunch was served at the villa. As we were tired from the journey we decided to rest until the evening.

We know ocean sunsets are dramatic and rare, but the ones here are mesmerising. The regular staff here is quite indifferent to it as they see it every day but to us it felt like yet another dream. We decided to take a stroll on the beach where we saw Syed at work in knee deep water feeding around 15 – 20 huge manta rays. The sight was so stunning we completely froze at the man’s guts but later found out that these creatures are completely harmless and have been coming to the very spot for years around the same time of the day. The spotless white sand beach curved at the end of this small island taking us to the other side with more beach bungalows. A small detour of the island brought us to the same place we started. The soft drizzles were indicators for us to get inside the villa. Weather in Maldives fluctuates between being bright and sunny and sudden rains all year long. The temperature, meanwhile, remains the same. A poolside barbeque on our private deck was awaiting us to our delight. Syed, with a helper, had organised a fancy evening with our choice of wine and c hampagne. A part from the regular chicken, meat and lamb; scallops, squids, lobsters and various other seafood were on the grill. The sky cleared as we continued through the evening and ended it with dinner at the bay restaurant.

We spent the next few days doing some wonderful things. In our all inclusive package we got a free sunset fishing t rip that we signed up for on our second day on the island. We left the jetty around 5 pm and went in an open boat with about eight people in it. After about 30 minutes we dropped the anchor to start fishing. We got a line with a hook with bait and a small weight that we dropped in the ocean. In the beginning, the bait would just get plucked off the hook but eventually people started pulling out fishes and we got the biggest among all, a nice big red snapper. The sunset was amazing and it turned the sky into a firework of colours. Later, we got back to the island for dinner where the big fish was grilled and served with some salad and drinks. The other thing that we dared ourselves to do was snorkelling in the lagoon and learning scuba diving at a nearby diving spot where we went with the instructor from the resort. Diving is quite an exclusive and serious sport here with brilliant views of the reef and marine life. Unfortunately we were not trained enough for the same nor did we have the time for it so we chose to do just the basics. Lots of lazing and lots of peaceful floating is what we ended up doing and enjoyed the exquisite Maldivian cuisine to the core. Bicycles were available to ride around the resort. Maldives is as close to earth’s most beautiful side one can get in the lap of manmade luxury. Embrace it once before it is all lost to the waves.

Scuba Diving in Maldives

Maldives is a favourite destination of diving lovers from around the world. Its rich marine life, spread all along the coral reefs that surround the islands, combined with its natural beauty has been attracting divers for a while. Manta rays and whale sharks are some of the creatures that attract the divers.

 

Scuba Diving in Maldives

Scuba Diving in Maldives

The islands of the Maldives, 65 million years ago, were part of a volcanic mountain range. These volcanoes began sinking at a rate slow enough for coral formations on their rims. In due course, they formed fringing reefs of the atolls. The depth of coral on the fringing reef is as much as 2,100 metres. The oceanic currents have eroded the atolls’ rims and created channels
that offer extraordinary diving experiences. Tides from Indian Ocean bring with them millions of microscopic plant cells, tiny marine animals and larvae to these channels. As a result, bigger creatures are attracted from the ocean in prospect of food, thus, forming a rich and diverse marine community, much to the delight of scuba divers. Some of the best diving spots are on submerged reefs called thilas, usually located in the middle of a channels.

Best time for Scuba diving on the west side of the atoll is from April to November. Temperature of water during this season is usually one or two degrees lower that the usual 28º C. This affects both-the behaviour and sightings of marine life particularly the grey reef sharks, hammerheads and eagle rays that assemble in large numbers in shallow water at this time of year. The eastern side of atolls experience a large number of manta rays and whale sharks during this time.

 

Dinner serving freshly caught lobster

Dinner serving freshly caught lobster

From January to March, pelagic species such as shark are found on the eastern side of the atoll. Manta rays and whale sharks, however, are only found on the western side during this time. Most of the resort islands offer the facility of scuba diving with an instructor for fine and safe diving experiences. Maafushi Dive Centre is one of the famous diving centres known for providing excellent underwater diving expeditions. These islands also have schools that run training courses for the diving enthusiast!

Navigation Box

• Male is the capital of the island nation, so all air tickets are to be bought for Male
• Air India and SpiceJet offer daily direct flights, from Thiruvanthapuram and Kochi respectively. The island is also well serviced by other international carriers.
• The International Airport is on an island called Hulhule which is a long sand bank, just as long as the runway and big enough to have a small terminal which is about a 10 minute boat ride from the capital city of Male.
• As you come out of the terminal you are on water. All airport transfers are either by speed boats or by sea planes
• Every island has one resort as the islands are quite small and usually in the middle of the lagoons
• 30 day visa on arrival
• Pre-booking necessary for Island resorts
• Plenty of choices as per individual budget with Full and Half Board accommodation available
• search @ Maldives Tourism Promotion Board
• http://www.visitmaldives.com/Where_to_stay/all-resorts.php
• All major cards accepted at resorts
• All major currencies exchanged & accepted, though USD is the first preference here
• Airport transfers by Boat & Air Taxis (twin otter sea planes)
• Full cell phone networks / internet connectivity available at all major resorts

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