Nothing can adequately prepare you for your first glimpse of Maldives from the skies. An archipelago of a thousand tiny island lagoons, scattered like gems over an exquisite ocean, as if a giant hand had dispersed them in these foaming waters.
A palette of vibrant colours
The Indian Ocean is a throbbing curtain of colour here—the most stunning turquoise blue and emerald green, swirling amidst powder white sands. The air is moist and warm; it’s breath like a perfumed caress of dozens of exotic blooms, as though it were specially created to invigorate the jaded city soul.
As twilight envelopes the islands, patches of violet, even deep orange stain the waters, like a cubist painting. I am so overwhelmed by the beauty and I can understand how Maldives became synonymous with peace, serenity and calm.
This is perhaps the only destination in the world in which one has to take a ferry boat from the airport to reach the hotel, instead of a taxi. The ride is picturesque, to say the least. The speedboat chops its way through the still waters and within minutes, we land at our hotel, which is a series of independent villas built across a shallow lagoon.
For miles, as far as the eye can see, the waters are a crystal blue and so clear that you can view the ocean bed. Bits of coral wash up on the powdery clean sands.
Beautiful creatures everywhere
As I arrive at my hotel and alight from my boat, I catch sight of a baby shark, swimming close to the shores. The baby sharks are harmless, the boatmen tell us, as we glance at the tiny black fin in trepidation. They love the shallow waters but shun human company. Within minutes, the fish melts away into the shadows.
Later, playing in the sandbox that is adjacent to our villa, my daughter is excited as she spots a huge white pelican, its beak heavily laid down with a fat fish.
As we gaze at the sea, colourful tropical fish swim by in schools, their movements as rapid as quicksilver as they dart through the waters. Swordfish, with their quaint snouts, so thin and sharp, dart around us. There is a raw primal energy about Maldives that will captivate you. It could be the presence of a whole new world underwater that is so alluring, or the fact that the islands are bewitching, almost as if you’ve crossed the threshold to another magical realm.
Wellness is in the air
As we relax in the lounge of our resort, before we are taken to our rooms, I can feel the stillness of the island and its calm beauty seep into my soul. Everywhere I turn, there are swaying palms and lustrous white sands. Maldives is a rejuvenating retreat, unlike any other—and not just because of the natural beauty of its surroundings.
The very atmosphere of the island nation is conducive for a wellness holiday. Hurry, worry and curry have often been credited to cause all the illnesses characteristic of our era. However, this is conspicuously absent in the Maldives culture. Here, everyone has a sense of purpose, but there isn’t that tearing need to rush. The result is refreshing—a glorious laid back land, filled with efficient and industrious people.
Himanyu, our butler, seems an ideal example of this. I ask him for his surname, but he shakes his head and smiles. Most Maldivians, I learn, are referred to only by their first names, so much so, that the surname is never required. This, I understand, is an indication of the utterly informal atmosphere that widely prevails here. It’s also a strong statement of individuality.
Time seems to have slowed down considerably amidst these glowing white sands. And perhaps because of this, you feel a true Robinson Crusoe-like connection with the sea.
Every minute on this island strengthens and rejuvenates. Our days are spent indulging in spa treatments, enjoying the great variety of watersports and sipping exotic mocktails by the beachfront.
Ayurveda is practiced extensively on most of these islands, perhaps because of the proximity to Trivandrum [a 50-minute flight away from Male’s Hulhule International Airport]. These sand bars have also provided the ideal setting for many a popular yoga sequence on video.
Vinyasa yoga [swift movements that are co-ordinated with the natural flow of your breathing,] is especially ideal in this natural setting. Harmonising the inner flow of our beings with the greater Universe around us is so much easier to comprehend when surrounded by the vast ocean of water and sand, spread out before a crystal clear sky.
The best treatments by far at the hotel spa are the Indian head massage, called the Champi [which makes generous use of Ayurvedic oils with deft and deeply relaxing strokes], and the pada mardana or the Indian foot massage, a sublime massage performed on the soles of your feet, which are said to activate the principles of reflexology.
Other islands in Maldives offer unique therapies as well. We heard of the new sleep spa concept introduced by the Iru Fushi Beach & Spa resort. The programme, entitled ‘Sweet Dreams’ was created with the single-minded goal of helping you relax and re-discover your natural sleep rhythms while on holiday. All treatments have been designed to put guests in a deeper state of relaxation.
Aromatherapy is widely practiced on the island, one of the tenets that are believed to promote well-being of both body and mind. At my resort, I am delighted to discover bottles of sea moss, perfect for a hot bath. The label encourages me to transform my bath into a “marine hydrotherapy experience.”
Guaranteed to relieve me of stress and cure me of any aches and pains, it was made of a host of natural ingredients from the sea—red and brown seaweed, horse chestnut extracts, clay from the ocean bed, minerals and vitamins—all of which help flush out the toxins and rejuvenate the skin.
It is soon obvious that most experiences in the Maldives are attuned to promoting wellness and relieving you of stress.
Waves of pleasure
One activity that is common to all the islands in the Maldives is the exquisite water sports and nothing else can quite bring back one’s zest for life!
Catamaraning is an exciting option, and as luck would have it, the sea was smooth as glass when we ventured out. I understand it can get pretty rough and tumble on some days, like a rollercoaster without the seat belts or safety bars! Our boatman manipulated the waves with great ease and expertise—you can see how much dexterity and skill goes into this sport as the sails have to be adjusted every few minutes in order to effectively catch the wind so that you can ride the waves.
As the catamaran glides comfortably in the waters, I am fascinated because I can see right down to the bottom of the shallow ocean bed. The tropical fish are oblivious of our existence, but they are a part of the rich tapestry of these waters.
I am anxious to explore further. So that afternoon, we take a joy ride on a submarine.
An unforgettable experience
Once you’ve reached the small submarine base and purchased tickets, you’ll be in for a treat of a lifetime. The powerful submarine can hold over 60 people. As we plunge into the underbelly of the ocean, I am reminded of all the sci-fi thrillers, in which man explores an alternative habitat after the world has been polluted beyond recognition!
And indeed, the ocean world seems a prospective option, so full of freshness and promise. For nearly an hour, our submarine explores the clear oceans as we gradually sink over 100ft into the deep. It’s a surreal experience. Through a large glass window, we see the most alluring rainbow medley of corals—pink, purple, green and yellow. What is even more breathtaking is the life that these corals support.
Tiny fish dressed in unusual colours, lush tropical plants, sea anemones and mini-octopus, with their glowing tentacles, even a sea snake that glides by menacingly, but at the last moment, decides to dart back into its crevice; these are the plethora of images, the treasures of the Maldivian sea that are forever etched in my memory.
If you’re feeling adventurous, savour the amazing snorkelling and deep sea diving experience and you’ll have a chance to witness this fascinating underwater world more up close. Though the waters may appear serene, don’t be deceived. You’ll still need to heed the safety instructions carefully and wear your life support gear.
As I head back, I take home many things [see box]. But most important of them all are memories of an exotic paradise, with wellbeing and rejuvenation the heartbeat of its very existence.
How to get there: Flights leave from Trivandrum International Airport to Male. Be sure to carry your hotel reservations, including your return ticket along with your passport when you disembark.
What you should know: The Maldivian local currency is Rufiyaa but because of the booming tourism industry, US dollars are widely accepted and most hotels charge in US dollars. Book your hotel in advance, especially if you are travelling during the peak tourist season in December.
How is the climate: The temperature ranges between 24 degrees and 33 degrees, throughout the year. There is a constant sea breeze that belies the heat. Don’t forget your sunscreen as you can get deeply sunburnt here!
What to eat: The food is fresh and for non-vegetarians, seafood specialties are highly recommended. However, vegetarian and Indian food is available in plenty. The meals are lightly spiced, the rice prepared over traditional clay stoves for flavour. Exotic fresh juices are another speciality.
How’s the culture: Maldives is a curious mix of great cultural ethos and hedonistic pleasure. I’m surprised to learn that it is a proud Muslim nation. The residents are devout Muslims. Originally, Hinduism and Buddhism were widely practiced here. But Arabs became increasingly influential as traders in the Indian Ocean during the 12th century their influence was seen as one of the reasons for the country’s conversion to Islam.
What to take back: Load up on beautiful handmade paper and albums, writing implements carved from bark, hand painted T-shirts, souvenirs that hold the pristine white beach sands with a selection of colourful shells in tiny glass bottles. You can also pack home essential oils for your aromatherapy kit.
This was first published in the October 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.