Maldivian atolls from the air By nadreg
There are a few overseas destinations that I wish to visit - Egypt, Maldives, Srilanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Bhutan, Peru, Columbia, Cuba, Indonesia…not necessarily in the same order.  In January 2003, we got 5 days off….and we thought it would be perfect for Bali in Indonesia or Maldives.  There are a bomb blast in Bali at that time, people advised us not to venture there, and hence Maldives was the obvious choice.

Truly a natural wonder, the islands rarely exceed two meters in height. The 1,190 islands, consisting of 26 atoll formations, are spread over an area of some 90,000 square kilometers.

There is historial and archeological evidence that the islands were first inhabited over 5,000 years ago. Maldives, being on an important trade route, was settled by people from all over the world, therefore the actual origins is not known.  

Divehi is the language of he locals and  is a mix of Sinhala, Tamil & Urdu and is  written in Thaana script, which looks like a cross between shorthand and Urdu.

If one wishes to go to Maldives, a 3 N / 4 D package is optimal.  There are no budget vacations possible in Maldives, coz all the hotels and resorts are run on the islands, and they  provide 5 star or 7 star facilites, at 5 or  7 star rates.  But the spending is worth it, as there is no place like Maldives in the world.   There may be others like Seychelles, Tahiti and in the Caribbean islands, but, Maldives’ proximity to India makes it the obvious choice.

There are 2 flight operators to Maldives.  Air Lanka and Air India.  Air Lanka operates flights from Chennai and Delhi via Colombo.  Air India operates flights out of Trivandrum.  Air Lanka gives the best flight rates, and we were in Chennai, so we flew Air Lanka.  

We were welcomed by the pleasant smile of the Sinhalese Airhostess with ‘Ai Bowan’.  It means welcome. The travel time to Colombo from Chennai is about 1 hr.  We left Chennai at 8 pm and reached Columbo at 9 pm.  The flight to Male was at 7 am the next morning.  The best option was in stay in the Colombo airport.  The airport gives rooms for US$ 10 per night, and they charge US$ 3 for a bathroom with shower facilities.  The Colombo airport is extremely comfortable and it is possible to spend the night there, if you wish to wait till the morning in the waiting area.  The duty free shops sell a wide range of articles liquors, wines, alcohol, chocolates, soft toys etc.  One can also go out of Colombo airport and spend a night in a hotel outside.  It would cost anywhere between US$ 35 to 40 per night.  The airport is about 1 and half hrs drive from the City, and hence we thought we would have to wake up really early to get the 7 am flight to Male.  Hence using the Airport accommodation was the wise option, plus it is cheaper.

The flight took off at 7 am the next morning as per the schedule.  We flew over crystal blue waters.  The travel tome to Male is about 1 hr.  About 30 mins into the journey, we could see several tiny islands on the surface of the sea.  They seemed to be a chain of pearls studded together with a string.  There were several of these that appeared.  As were got closer to Male, the flight was at lower altitude now, and we could see larger islands, but, none too large.  

Male is the capital of Maldives.  The airport runway is very uniquely constructed.  On both sides of the runway, you will find the sea and rough waves dashing against the constructed walls. This tiny single runway makes up for the airport.  It is a marvelous sight to see the flight landing in the runway with the sea on all sides, it is almost like landing at sea.  

As we stepped out of the airport, we were at a jetty where there are speedboats waiting to transfer us to our respective Resorts.  We had booked Kurumba Village for our stay at Maldives on Vihamanafushi Island.  Kurumba is close to Male, and takes about 20 mins to reach in a speed boat.  Our former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vaypayeeje had spend a few days here.  The ferry trip to the island and back is also included in the package.  So, we had to report at the Kurumba Village stall.  After all the guests to Kurumba came in,  were taken to Kurumba.  

The color of the sea water here is unique.  It is bright aquamarine blue throughout the day and it is most beautiful.  We reached Kurumba in 20 mins.  Kurumba resort has its very own dock, where the ferry stops.  We have to take about 50 steps to reach the actual island.

The Kurumba resort is spread out on a 30-acre circular island. It’s surprisingly green and my cottage had a small stretch of private beach. We were tired of exhausting as we had not slept well the previous night, but a private beach meant that we absolutely have to go for a quick swim. This sets the tone for the rest of the trip. When we were not eating or were not on a boat, we had to remain in the water. There are several coral reefs inside the bund area, each reef is a ecosystem by itself, it has beautiful colorful fish swimming around it.  One can keep walking into the sea and you are always in about 3 to 5 feet of water.  If you know to swin, you can have a great time.  We carried our chairs, placed it in the water, and sat there throughout the day.  So, we got soo tanned in the Maldivian sun shine that I took about a year and half to get back to my original skin tone.  And, we walked around the island in just 15 mins, Kurumba is that small.

The facilities on the island are world class.  There are single room cottages and pent houses for larger families.  All the cottages / penthouses are on the coast and hence you have a private beach.  All around the island, there is huge bund constructed to prevent the sea water to get in during the high tides, also to prevent the predatory fishes. The Resort has about 200 cottages / penthouses, and also water houses ( houses in the water ), a multi-cuisine restaurant which serves variety of food starting from Rice gruel to Vada, Sambar, Upma, corn flakes, American breakfast, Continental , Chinese..every cuisine and every other cuisine possible. The Maldivian fish curry is tasty and is worth a try.   There is a bar, a gym, a few tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, beach side barbeque restaurant, beach side bar, open air hall for live band, pool side restaurant, and it has other adventure sports facilities for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, wind surfing etc.  One can learn snorkeling or scuba diving here.  Submarine rides are available in Male and there are several operators.  The duration of the dive is about 1 hr, and it costs about US$ 100 per head.  Very steep eh !

Kurumba also arranges a whole lot of activities at extra cost.  Dolphin cruises, Male Excursion, Glass boat ride, Island hopping,  Snokelling etc.  The cost for all of these is about US$ 15 per person.  There is usually a board at the reception.  You need to write your name across the activity.  The resort requires a minimum of 8 people in all to be able to organize it for you.  We could go to Male coz a lot of people opted for it.  We had to cancel the rest as there were not many people who wanted to do the same thing, or the waters were choppy and hence it was advised that we do not venture into the sea.

The nights at Kurumba are full of fun.  You can decide to dance to the tunes of the local pop performer.  They sing the most popular dance hits and you can have a great time dancing.  Or you can order the most exotic meal at the beach side grill / barbeque.  

One afternoon we went to Male.  Male is a very small island of about 2 kms lengh and is packed with an odd mix of old and new buildings.  You will find that the people here have the trendiest of sports cars and bikes, but the speed limit here is just 20 kms per hr.  There is restriction on constructions beyond 2 floors.  It is said that the island cannot take the weight.  The only wide-open space is the main Republic or Jumhoori Square. Within an hour you can walk through all the sights you need to catch. The  Golden Domed old Hukuru Miski mosque with its coral gravestones is across the corner from the brand-new Grand Friday mosque. If you went to  National Museum, Sultan Park and the fish and fruit market, then it means you’ve seen all of Male’.  In the fruit market, pick up the coconut and jaggery  sweet that is packed in a unique traditional coconut leaf packaging.

Island Hopping is another excursion that can be undertaken.  You will be taken in a Sea Plane and will be dropped on a island.  You will be left alone on the island with a fruit basket and some wine.  You will be  picked up in the evening.  Most honeymooners try this.  The high cost of the sea plane and the island is prohibitive.

Kuda Bandos, is a deserted island popular with local kids and tourists. We wanted to pick up a few gift items for our friends, but they were too expensive.  A bottle of mineral water costs US$ 2.  

For the two of us, we had spend INR 75,000.  The charges per day was US$ 199 inclusive of breakfast and dinner alone.  We spend separately for the lunch, Male trip and the other aquatic sports.  Over all it was a great experience.

I am told that the Maldives island are going to go under water in another 10 years.  I wish to go back to this place once again.  

Getting there :  Air Lanka from Chennai and Delhi to Male via Colombo.  Air India flight to Male from Trivandrum

Visa : Its easy. A valid passport with do.  Visa is given in Maldives on arrival.

Best time : December to April.  But the entire trip will cost to less than half during the off season.

Trip duration :  3 N / 4 days

Where to stay :

The Maldives tourism model isn’t geared towards backpackers or budget travellers. Your best, and usually only, options are resorts which are on Islands.

The official tourism website www.visitmaldives.com has useful information. In Male’ contact the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board on 12, Boduthakurufaanu Magu or call 0960-323228. North Male’ Atoll: This atoll is closest to the airport and has the highest concentration of resorts. Kurumba, is 15km from the airport, transfers take 15 minutes by speedboat. Rates are US$ 160 to 2000. Baros Resort is 15 kms from airpot, transfers take 20 mins by speedboat. Rates : US$  $180.   Contact : Both properties owned by   Universal Resorts. Contact: 0960-323080 or www.unisurf.com/village/intro.htm

South Male’ Atoll: Laguna Beach Resort – Transfer from airport takes 20 mins, Rates US$ 130.   Contact: 0960-445906, lgr@dhivehinet.net.mv.   Taj Exotica Resort & Spa is also a 20-minute speedboat ride away.  Rates begin at  $397. Contact +0960-442200, www.tajhotels.com

Ari Atoll: Kuramathi Village : 1.5km Kurumathi Island, 70km from Male’ airport. Rates are  $130- 270                                                                         Kuramathi Cottage : US$ 155 Blue Lagoon : US$ 155 Contact: 0960-450527 or www.unisurf.com/village/intro.htm

It is not really advisable to stay at Male, and the trips to the islands ie the ferry charges are high.