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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Honeymoon

I had a lot to write on the honeymoon in the Maldives and Colombo...but was warned against giving out a few details. So I've done something better...written a travelogue for Mumbai Mirror.


By Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Tuesday, January 06, 2009 at 12:52:33 PM

Pristine beaches, clear waters, rich marine life and scuba diving -- for most honeymooners, Maldives provides the ultimate sun-and-sand experience. With a land area that makes up just four per cent of the country (the rest is water), Maldives doesn't have much of a population to boast about, which makes it a perfect destination for those who want to escape the hustle-bustle of city life. While Mauritius, which lies further west in the Indian Ocean has become a regular for Bollywood shoots and Indian holidaymakers, Maldives remains surprisinglyyp untouchced. "Indians don't come to Maldives primarily because of the food and the cost factor," an official of the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board, Male points out as he expresses surprise at our nationality. But if you are ready to explore a new culture (not to mention cuisine) and eager enough to shell out the money, then Maldives can offer much more than you've bargained for.

Nearly 1,000 islands make up the country, out of which around 99 are resort islands (there's one resort per island), another 200 islands are inhabited by the locals and around 700 islands are uninhabited. Kuramathi, an island resort that spans 2.5 kms in length, is one of the largest islands in the Alifu Alifu Atoll (an atoll is a group of islands) in north Maldives. The beach resort has cottages lined up on the seafront just 10 metres from the shoreline and water bungalows on stilts near the sea.
How to get there: A two-hour ferry-ride from the airport at Male that costs 10 Maldivian Rufiaah ($1).
Activities: The main activity at Kuramathi is scuba diving. Aspiring divers (mostly from Europe) attend the five-day diving certification course here that costs around $700 (all prices at the resort are quoted only in American dollars). Snorkelling is the next big activity. While a snorkelling trip to the reef costs around $50, most snorkellers prefer to explore the reef on their own near the island. A 500 metre-long coral reef connects Kuramathi with two other smaller uninhabted islands. You can hire snorkelling gear for around $20 a day from the resort shop. Besides, the resort has a spa, a swimming pool, gymnasium, water sports centre (that offers catamaran sunset cruises, banana boat rides and kayaking facilities). The resort also offers day-trips to other atolls such as Rasdhoo (for shopping) and Velidhu (an uninhabited island).
What you see: Corals in all shades of red, blue, green and yellow. Fishes - from bright coloured rays and angel fishes to huge sting rays that are about three feet wide each. If fishes are all you want to see, you don't even need to go more than two to three metres away from the shoreline where you'll find curious baby sharks and yellow-fin tuna.
Food: The islands cater mainly to European tourists so food is essentially a mix of continental cuisines. Maldivian food is also served in the buffet. Most local dishes are very similar to coastal food in western India - such as roshi (roti), dhal curry, samosa and fish curry. Tuna is the staple fish here so if you're looking for the typical pomfrets, you may be a bit disappointed. Vegetarian fare is rare, so it is advisable to carry along some dry food packages.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink: Drinking water is very expensive in Kuramathi and even in the rest of the Maldives. It's more expensive than fresh fruit juice. A bottle of 1.5 litre of water costs around $4 so do account for it when you plan your trip.

While Kuramathi is the idyllic village resort just like its Mediterranean counterparts, capital Male resembles a north African town with its bright coloured buildings and crude architecture. The contrast is so striking that few tourists actually come to visit Male. Most use it as a sleep-over destination so that they can come out of their jet lag before heading to the resort islands.
How to get there: You can fly via Thiruvanathapuram or via Colombo.
Activities: Male is the administrative centre. There are sightseeing tours from the city to the neighbouring islands but there are few choices in the city. Diving courses conducted by Japanese expats are quite popular.
Heritage gaze: Male, unfortunately, doesn't have too many heritage buildings, except for the President's house, the palace and a few mosques. A visit to the National Museum Medhuziyaarai Magu costs $3 per head but proves to be quite a dampener, especially after you've been to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai. The museum is literally a shack with several objects simply tagged with 'This piece was brought from the palace' sign. There are some remnants of the clothing of the sultans who ruled Maldives since it was converted to Islam from Buddhism in the 12th century. There are also several 2500-year-old Buddha relics that have been unearthed from some of the atolls. There is also the Friday Mosque with its Golden dome and the Sultan's tomb.
Shopping: For most locals, Male is the ultimate shopping destination. Walk down the main street Majeedhee Magu and you'll see a line of clothes and shoe shops with signboards in Dhivehi (the local language with a script that resembles Arabic) and English. From shops selling bright North African hijab scarves to traditional reed mats and coconut shell rings, there are few typical Maldivian souvenir choices. Dollars are more readily accepted than the local currency Rufiyaa (12.75 Rufiyaa = $1), so much so that you can get your dollars changed at the local tea shop. Shops close five times a day during namaaz in this 100 per cent Muslim-populated country.
Food: There are limited choices for Maldivian food in Male but Jade Bistro near the State Bank of India Boduthakurufaanu Magu is a good option for local food. Besides, there are several Indian restaurants and even tandoor joints which serve small portions of Maldivian food.

What not to do in the Maldives:
  • Bathe naked
  • Expect someone to offer you a glass of water for free
  • Expect a cabbie to take you to your destination directly
  • Stand on the corals while snorkelling as you can get gashed
  • Venture out without sunblock (buy one with the highest SPF because you are sure to get sunburns)

Check it out:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

More than the travelogue, the picture credit was of interest :P