black t shirt|
It’s the stuff dreams are made of. The deep blue of the sea punctuated with green and white islands in the sun, each surrounded by a ring of crystal clear water of an unbelievable turquoise hue. Each island can be circumvented in a few minutes, so while you’re there, you feel you’re a Robinson Crusoe lost in some wonderful dream you don’t ever want to wake up from. That’s the magic the Maldives spins on you.
A cluster of 2000 islands in the Indian Ocean, only 200 islands are occupied – so we were told – 20 of them by locals and a staggering 180 by resorts. A trip there and you won’t wonder why. It’s the perfect holiday getaway, whether you’re on your honeymoon, just getting away for a long-deserved break or, like us, setting off on the annual summer holiday with friends. If you’re the kind that firmly believes that going ‘abroad’ must be a place where you can shop till you drop, this isn’t the place for you. This is strictly for the lotus-eater, the pleasure-seeker, the beach-bum who wants to do nothing more tiring than eat, float on a calm sea and sleep.
How do you get to Paradise? You can fly from Trivandrum like we did – it’s a one-hour flight – or you could fly from Bombay or Delhi via Colombo. Make sure you get a window seat so you can gasp at your first sight of the islands. You land on an island near the capital, Male. (Just remember, the Maldives is a Muslim country so make sure you don’t carry any liquor or pork products. This rule of course does not apply to what is served at the resorts.) From there, the resort takes over. We had booked with the Taj Coral Reef. Their staff led us to a speedboat that looked like something out of a James Bond movie and that’s exactly how we felt a few minutes later as we were skimming over the sea, the wind in our hair, passing an island here and there on our way. It took us 50 minutes to get to the resort. A wonderful welcome drink later (an exotic combination of passion fruit and mango), we were led to our rooms. Beach villas they called them. You walked out your door and your feet crunched on the white sand with the water lapping at your feet. We couldn’t wait so it was on with our swimsuits and into the water, which was so clear you could see your toes! And, believe it or not, there’s a host of fish to welcome you in all shapes, sizes and colors. (Another piece of advice – take a pair of light canvas shoes along as you could get your feet cut by the bits of coral lying around.)
As always, the Taj chefs outdid themselves with the buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners. There was a gentle reminder that if we didn’t like the food we could ask for Indian fare. What was there not to like? And every meal ended with desserts fit for a king.
This feeling of being on Cloud Nine went on for the next six days. The kids always found plenty to do, the adults lazed in the sun, ate, drank and were merry. A one-day trip to Male was the only alteration in the routine. A city of cobble-stoned roads, fancy cars that drove carefully along the narrow streets never blowing their horns, friendly people and a fish market that was neat and tidy!
If you are a good swimmer, there’s a lot you can do at the resort. You can hire equipment and go snorkeling, hire canoes, go deep sea diving or wind surfing. Part of the package was a night fishing expedition. The coral around the island was interesting and we watched footage shot by the resort’s diving instructor that was equal to anything you would watch on the Discovery or National Geographic channels.
One interesting diversion every evening was the feeding of the stingray by the hotel staff. Without fail, these beautiful creatures would come an hour ahead of time to wait for their meal – black, gray, white, golden, speckled – gliding like angels in the shallow water, graceful as dancers.
The weather, like in all perfect holidays, was magical. A light drizzle now and then, but otherwise a perfectly blue sky to complement the wonderful color of the sea. As we sped back on the speedboat, our cheeks were wet with more than just the salty sea spray. It’s so hard to wave goodbye to something perfect. One could almost echo the sentiments of yore and say, ‘If ever there was a Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.’
write by Ethelbert