We all cherish this dream of experiencing The Journey of a Lifetime sometime or the other in our lives. Now that India Inc. is on a roll and who doesn’t know the financial clout that India Inc. holds at the global platform! No wonder the very best of holiday options are right now at the doorsteps of India Inc. From Bengaluru based jet set software professionals to ultra rich diamond merchants of Surat, the biggest holiday brands are knocking at the doors of Indians. So very rightly, it’s party time in India. And why not?
Maldives, the emerald green island of the Indian Ocean has been a favourite holiday hotspot for Bollywood celebrities for decades now. And after being elected as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has been giving a lot of emphasis on reaching out to the neighbouring countries and his dignified presence at the swearing-in ceremony of Solih as the president of Maldives in November last year has further enhanced the Indo-Maldives bilateral relations.
Maldives with its white powdery beaches, graceful palm trees and endless stretches of white silvery sands offers some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs and a bewildering array of underwater sea life on planet earth. Today, it is a matter of pride for Indian tourists that the Maldivian government adheres to an “India First Policy.”
After a smooth touchdown at Malé international airport, the one hour speedboat ride to the majestic Taj Coral Reef Resort & Spa, easily one of Maldives’ top high-end luxury resort, was truly breathtaking.
Apart from being the capital of Maldives, Malé, I was told is also the most populous city with a population of 133,412 and spans beautifully across 5.8 square kilometres. The city is located strategically at the southern perimeter of Kaafu Atoll.
Legend has it that Malé once used to be the King's Island, and the royal family ruled from where the palace was located. In the ancient times Malé city used to be referred to as the Mahal in local parlance. The city used to be a walled city bounded by ramparts. The Palace (Gan'duvaru), the forts (koshi) and bastions (buruzu) were all razed down during the reign of President Ibrahim Nasir in the year 1968 after the obliteration of the monarchy. Nonetheless, the Malé Mosque still stands testimony to the island nation’s rich virile past.
The best part of holidaying in Maldives is that much of the archipelago remains unspoilt and with 1,190 coral islands dotting the landscape offers today’s discerning travellers with a bewildering array of tropical indulgences ranging from jet-skiing to wind surfing. The fact that Maldives is blessed with reefs and lagoons and with a climate that remains tropical all year round comes as a boon to visitors.
A vast majority of the Maldivian Islands are just six feet above sea level and for administrative purposes these islands have been arranged into nineteen exclusive administrative zones popularly referred to as the ‘Atolls’ in the local parlance. These Atolls are blessed with lush green vegetative cover, which somehow heightens the natural splendour.
There are Atolls, which have ingeniously been converted into romantic hideaways where there is nothing apart from the sun and surf. The choice is never easy and as many as ninety high-end resort islands vie for attention and almost all of them guarantee you with the freedom to explore this tropical paradise at your own pace.
Being an Indian, it was but natural, I would have a soft corner for a Resort which was truly Indian - the outstanding Taj Coral Reef Resort & Spa that offers absolute luxury in the mysterious Hembadhu Island with thatched-roof villas on the surreal backdrop of a tropical hideaway.
Maldives might be small in size but mark my words - per capita wise it happens to be the world’s busiest tourist area with half a million people descending here every year to discover paradise on earth.
The manner in which Tourism in Maldives have evolved ever since this sunrise sector was given the status of an industry has been nothing short of meteoric. Tourism was introduced in the year 1972 and the surge in tourist arrivals alongside the burgeoning growth of world class resorts all across this island nation over the last decade has meant that Maldives today has carved a niche for itself in the world tourism map.
I was taken by surprise when I got to know how this small island nation has been playing a pioneering role in creating awareness about the burning issue of Climate Change. Hmm, it isn’t just the Western nations that are vociferous when it comes to an issue as sensitive as Climate Change!
If statistics are anything to go by, in the hyper-competitive European market, Maldives ranks amongst the most preferred tropical tourist destination. The Maldivian government too has come out with a slew of packages to augment eco-tourism alongside its policy to protect the fragile ecosystem and underwater life. No wonder that today anyone travelling to Maldives is absolutely taken aback by the bewildering variety of water sports, unmatched diving spots and snorkelling options.
Maldives today offers every imaginable marine sports and the choice is never easy. From canoeing in a hideaway lagoon to being tossed up high on the sea by the surging waves is what drives travellers to come on a voyage to this tropical paradise. Needless to say, almost all resorts in Maldives and islands that are admired by tourists have their own exclusive water-sports hubs equipped with the latest marine gadgets like wakeboards, windsurfing boards, sails etc...
However, bear in mind that there are resorts that do not permit motorised water-sports due largely to the fact that they pollute the ecosystem and disturb the quietude of the surroundings.
Water-sports aside, Maldives offers a whole lot more in terms of culture and it is highly recommended that you embark on an exploratory tour of the island villages that are rich in handicrafts, indulge in the local Maldivian cuisine or perhaps even spending some time watching a culturally stimulative dance recital.
Bear in mind, Maldives has been for centuries a meeting point for African, Arab, Malay and Indonesian sea traders and you will find a whiff of this in the laidback Maldivian lifestyle. Bodu Beru - the most popular musical expression, for instance, is every bit African and was introduced in Maldives by the 19th century by African slaves, while the Thaara form of music is distinctly from the Middle East. The average Maldivian is pretty skilled in terms of craftsmanship and these find expressions in the form of dexterous coral stone carvings at Hukuru Miskiiy, the lacquer paintings, magically woven mats by womenfolk of Fioari. For calligraphic splendours, you just need to visit the mosques that are spread out all across this island nation.
Maldivian music and dance is the spontaneous expression of the local islanders’ lifestyle and has been tenderly handed down for several generations, so much so that these unique dance forms are routinely practised in schools even today just to keep the traditional nature of these otherwise dying dance forms from vanishing.
Maldives as a nation is unique in terms of indigenous culture which is well reflected in the attires worn by the simple village folks. Their clothes are dexterity personified.
I was witness to a few dance recitals by local troupes and … Oh God! Weren’t they awesome? The hour long Dhandi Jehun dance recital involving 30 dancers moving in a spellbinding harmony was truly enticing. The Bolimalaafath Neshun on the other hand was so graceful, it would put to shame our modern day Master of Ceremony experts. The manner in which the sultans of yesteryears were presented with gifts is what the Bolimalaafath Neshun is all about. For an exclusive ‘women only’ stuff, the Maafathi Neshun is truly beguiling and one in which the Indian essence is pretty distinctive.
Traveler’s Fact File
Maldives is well connected by air from Southeast Asia, Middle East and Europe. Journey time from Mumbai to Malé is 2 hrs. 20 min., from Delhi 6 hrs. 45 min., from Chennai 4 hrs. 45 min.; Colombo is an hour’s journey. While from Singapore and Dubai it takes around four hours, from Europe journey time varies 9 to 11 hrs.
Customs & Health
All tourists to Maldives are issued a 30-day tourist visa on arrival. For visa extensions, one has to apply to the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Drugs, firearms, pornography and idols are strictly prohibited. Dogs, pigs, and pork products too are strictly prohibited. Inoculation against yellow fever and cholera is required by visitors.
A variety of accommodation options are available in Maldives, ranging from luxury to budget hotels and resorts. Apart from Malé, the capital, top-end hospitality options in the form of guest houses are readily available in neighbouring islands of Hulhumalé and Villingili that are well connected by routine ferry boats and speed launches.
Popular 5 star hotels in Maldives are: Kanuhura Maldives, Sun Island Resort & SPA Maldives; Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & SPA; Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru; Jumeirah Vittaveli, Maldives; Taj Coral Reef Resort & SPA Maldives; Taj Exotica Resort and SPA.