Flying and Boating into the Maldives
As the aircraft took off from Trivandrum I realized I’d left back my sunglasses at the Bangalore hotel. The kind of glaring overexposure I was headed to needed protection for the eyes almost all along as long as the sun was up.
Its quite amazing how these pilots head out to the open skies with the unending ocean below with a compass as a guide as by the time you’ve just started surfing through a few inflight readables and trying to settle down proper, the aircraft starts loosing altitude and it’s time to land.
40 minutes and the blue scape below started changing with the torquoise atolls of various shapes emerging all across the ocean below.
Sunglasses or not the sight was breathtaking not knowing though what was in store for me later, I wondered if I could get a closer look at these breathtaking blue lagoons in the middle of the ocean or better even could dive into one of them.
At the equator, almost a stone’s throw from the south west edge of India,1190 islands, 200 inhabited, rest beautifully sculptured by nature but all slowly going beneath the sea with passing time as the sea level rises.
Maldives is one of those rare exotic paradises on earth which is fast vanishing from the face of it and not much is what the human race can do to save it So if you haven’t yet, try and make a visit to this unbelievable place before it’s all as blue as the Indian Ocean.
Hulhule is the airport island where the far end of a not so long runway gets submerged under high tide several times in a day. An amazing stretch of land which almost ends before it starts.
Pilots are extremely careful I’m sure with their landing formulas and calculations and it’s a treat for the passengers with their faces glued to the windows to get a wide angle of the airport & adjacent sea from their seats Hulhule to Male, the capital of Maldives, is a 10 minute speedboat ride. Maldives is a Muslim country with strict norms on alcohol & dress code at least in Male. With a population of 1,40,000 it’s a bustling city with some fine buildings all on a sandy island which can be covered in a 30=minute walk.
Visa on Arrival
It’s a visa on arrival country, but security is strict on drugs & alcohol. Male is a strictly dry zone but tourists are offered every drink of their choice at the island resorts.
Maldives is truly not about just it’s capital. The real Maldives which it’s so famous worldwide are it’s secluded islands in the different atolls.
An atoll is a group of islands with a reef that nearly or entirely encloses a ring like lagoon. Maldives has 26 of these atolls all of which are natural and are further subdivided into 20 administrative ones.
The airport transfer takes you to a nearby jetty where to my disbelief I found a red & white sea plane waiting for us with a smiling male attendant in shorts & sandals. The man greeted us as he helped the passengers get on to the wobbly floating aircraft.
The pilot and his co pilot were in shorts & sandals too which I figured was their uniform being a sea faring vehicle. As the door was shut the engines got into full throttle with the aircraft moving ahead on water and in no time we were airborne. Within minutes the scene within the aircraft & beneath us changed.
Passengers got glued to their windows as the water beneath us changed from grey to turquoise to blue and the show started. Numerous atolls emerged out of the sea as if hand crafted some with sparkling blur lagoons between them.
Small islands with designed stretches of water villas into the sea. Uninhabited islands with greenery and some with white sand and nothing else floated by below. The landing on water was another experience and quite bumpy I must say, but the ever smiling shorts clad crew made it just perfect.
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 which looked so like a floating sandwich from the sky. The water taxi pier was a bit far from the main resort jetty in the middle of the lagoon.
The brief ride to the resort jetty was quite amusing with flying fish all around us swimming & flying along with the boat as we sped ahead. Crystal blue waters surrounded us in the middle of the Indian ocean with the white sand ocean floor was visible from the boat
I knew this was it, this is what you call paradise. A fleet of battery powered buggies picked up our baggage along with us from the jetty & transported us to the reception area of the resort as we were greeted with a cold towel & a welcome coconut drink.
While planning a trip to Maldives one must keep a few things in mind. Firstly keeping to one’s taste & what one wants to do in Maldives it’s always advisable to choose an island which is close to the airport.
The speed boat transfers from the airport or Male to the resort islands are quite costly and the air taxis ever more.
All resort islands are premium quality with different categories to choose depending on one’s budget. Unless you are booked under a non Maldavian branded resort like the Taj or Hilton etc where the deals are all inclusive or packaged, while booking one must keep in mind that you are not allowed to carry any food or drinks to the islands and you need to buy everything including activities at the islands.
Not to scare the tourist, the same happens at most resorts around the world but here it’s about an island and there’s no checking out & checking into the neighborring resort like on land. While booking try to get an all inclusive deal for best buys with three basics prepaid for — all meals, stay & airport transfers.
Right after the checkin’ process the buggies take you to your rooms. If it’s the beach bungalows they generally drop you at the door step other wise you can walk up the wooden ramp to the water bungalows if that’s your preference. The water villas are one of its kind here.
More or less all islands have water villas but they do vary in design and luxury. The best ones have their private infinity pools with decks. Ours was one of these villas in a row of twenty. It’s hard to measure what you are in for while entering the villa from the ramp side. As the main door is opened you get into this squarish living room and then it hits you as you see the clear blue ocean at a distance through one of it’s all glass walls.
Fit for the royals the bedrooms have a rectangular central glass floor for you to see the ocean beneath 24 hours a day.The private decks give you complete privacy with the infinity pool alongside and the best part is the steel stairs from the deck directly to the lagoon from your deck.
Jump in anytime in the waist high clear ocean and have a ball with the shoals of colorful sea life swimming around. I was speechless for a while. What is this place I wondered to myself.
This initial pangs of joy fills every stomach I’m sure as you see the full villa for the first time and by the time it subsides you would have changed into your trunks and have jumped into the ocean from your deck to get a feel of the real thing.
I was no exception. The sand beneath was fine white, temperature of the water perfect, the only problem was the glaring sun but that becomes irrelevant as reality hits you.
Middle of the Indian Ocean thousands of kilometers from home floating in the middle of a coral lagoon with natural habitat of the place all around you.
Is this what you sweat it out yearlong in the busy cities around the world ? Service is excellent in spite of the distance of the villas from the main room service hub or kitchen. The mini-bars were stacked. As soon as I got out of water soft drinks & snacks were served and to my disbelief I found the man serving us speaking fluent Bengali.
Majority of the staff at the resorts in Maldives are from districts of West Bengal & Bangladesh who are on contract and that makes your stay even more interesting. Syed Kamal, man for our villa, amongst other expertise was also the chosen one amongst the staff to feed manta rays and take tourists on night fishing.
All amazing things suddenly put together was getting me a bit dizzy. Lunch was served at the villa as we were a bit tired from the journey and we decided to rest a while till we started the evening.
We know ocean sunsets are dramatic and rare, but the ones here would mesmerize you if you know what I’m talking about. The regular staff here are quite indifferent to it as they see it every day maybe but for us it was another dream that started unfolding as the sun started going down behind the horizon
We decided to take a stroll on the beach in the aftermath of the sunset and walked the ramp down to the beach. There we saw Syed at work already in knee deep water feeding around 15 – 20 huge manta rays.
The sight was so stunning we completely froze, but later came to know the 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 the 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 from and it was time to get back to the villa as it started drizzling softly with heavy clouds covering the sky out of nowhere
Weather in Maldives is like this bright & sunny & the next moment you can get rain with not much fluctuation in temperatures between day & night or in fact year long. A poolside barbeque on our private deck was awaiting us to our delight. Syed with a helper had organized the fancy evening with our aforementioned choice of wine & some champagne.
Mine was not a honeymoon but it definitely felt like why we didn’t do it here. I noticed at the air taxi bay & at the lobby of the resort that there were quite a few families ruling out the thought that this was meant to be just for romancing honeymooners.
We spend the next few days doing some wonderful things. In our all inclusive package we got a free sunset fishing trip and we signed up for this on our second day on the island.
We left the jetty around 5 pm and we went out in an open boat with about 8 people in it. After about 30 minutes we dropped the anchor to start the fishing. We got a line each with a hook with bait and a small weight and we dropped it in the ocean.
To start with the bait was just plucked off the hook and we also lost quite a few hooks because we got stuck on the sea bed. But when it started getting darker, people started pulling up fish and my wife actually got the biggest one of them all…a nice big red snapper. Not bad for somebody who never went fishing before.
The sunset was amazing and it turned the sky into a firework of colors. In the horizon we could see one cloud with an internal thunderstorm which lit up the cloud itself. It was quite peaceful and the one thing that could have turned this into a perfect trip was some cold drinks.
We were gone for like three hours and we didn’t bring any water and I got quite thirsty in the heat. At about 8 pm we got back to the island for our dinner where the big fish was grilled and served with some salad and some drinks.
The other thing that we braved ourselves to do was snorkeling in the lagoon & learning some scuba diving at a nearby diving spot which the resort instructor took us to.
Diving is quite an exclusive & serious sport here with brilliant views of the reef & marine life. Unfortunately we were not trained enough for the same nor did we have the time for it so we stuck to just the prelims.
Lots of lazing and lots of peaceful floating is what we ended up doing not missing the exquisite Maldavian cuisine we tasted in every meal.
Bicycles are available to ride around the resort if you choose to but walking for me was easier & more enjoyable.
For any fellow traveler all I can say is Maldives is as close to mother earth’s most beautiful side, as you can get in the lap of man made luxury, so do it before it all goes beneath the waves.
Anupam Chanda is a travel writer/photographer from India with many articles published in leading publications across the globe. Since 20 years in the services industry with extensive on-job & personal travel, the writer has taken his hobby one step ahead my writing & documenting his experiences.
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