Sinking paradise

Sinking paradise

Sinking paradise

“If we fail to act now, there will not be any living coral in the Maldives within 30 years, and the Maldives themselves will be wiped off the map by the end of this century,” warns Mark Lynas, an eminent English environmental activist and author. He is right.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of Maldives lives today as an unfortunate victim of climate change. The nation’s total area is around 90,000 sq km, but more than 99 per cent of it is underwater. Unless drastic measures are undertaken, ecological pundits loudly claim that this paradise on earth will be totally swallowed by water, sooner than later.
However, this verdict acts as a blessing in disguise for the Maldives Tourism Board, as it inspires many, like me, to step on its land before it vanishes, and get soaked by its unmatched natural splendour and warm hospitality.

Maldives is a series of ancient coral reefs that surfaced around the sides of prehistoric volcanoes. Those immense structures have since sunk into the ocean, leaving behind 1,190 tiny coral islands, each of incredible natural beauty. A population of 3,50,000 inhabit 200 islands, about half of which have been developed into exotic resorts for tourists seeking their own hideaway, veiled from all the hectic hustle and bustle of urban life.

Arriving in Maldives is as exhilarating as the destination itself. The airport is located in one of the islands and when touching ground, you only see turquoise blue in all directions and feel like landing on water. And once outside, after immigration and customs, there are no taxis around; instead, you take a boat to rush to your hotel or resort.

Male, the capital, spreads on an isolated island. Being the political and commercial hub, it’s generally bypassed by tourists. However, a day there is rewarding to gather some idea about the nation’s history and culture and to rub shoulders with friendly locals. Life bustles in Male along its waterfront promenade, flanked on one side with key administrative buildings including the President’s office and dotted on the other with several jetties from where boats depart for the airport and other islands. At one end of the stretch is the main market selling local produce, while on the other rests an artificial beach, a favourite spot for locals to swim, chill out or play impromptu football matches. Some other sites of interest are the National Museum, Grand Friday Mosque, Old Friday Mosque and the flower-filled Sultan Park.

However, it’s in these world famous Maldivian resorts that visitors experience the vacation of their lifetime. These hideouts are confined to a ‘one island, one resort’ policy which also restricts the height of a building not exceeding the tallest palm tree.

Accommodation at the resorts ranges from water bungalows to seafront villas. With no exception, all resorts offer lush tropical vegetation, white sandy beaches and translucent clear lagoons engulfed by house reefs populated with a variety of marine flora and fauna. An array of recreational activities ranging from swimming, beach walking and tennis to rejuvenating spa treatments keep guests busy. As dusk sets on the ocean in a sunset full of blazing yellow and red, it’s time for either a quiet moment with a sun downer or to make new friends while chilling out with others guests at one of the seaside bars. This is followed by a choice of degustation experiences from candle-light dinners to grand buffets. Many resorts offer a distinguishing class of their own that proclaim nothing but the epitome of luxury.

A major lure of Maldives is its incredible submarine scenery. The warm sea around the islands has high visibility throughout the year. At times, it’s clear enough to spot something 50 m away underwater and this feature makes this a Mecca for experiencing Serengeti-like safari, except it’s underwater. Aqua fanatics from far and wide rush here to don their masks and fins and safely swim in the tepid waters, among giant manta rays, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles and schools of colourful fish and other unknown marine life, moving around myriad coral reef formations.

However, you don’t have to be a professional diver to enjoy this grand spectacle. All you need to know is swimming. Most resorts offer hands-on training and diving gears to anyone keen on testing the waters. If diving is too scary, then the option of snorkeling is available. Beginners are adequately trained on the techniques of floating and breathing underwater in one of the resort’s swimming pools before being escorted into the sea for a memorable experience.

Maldives is undoubtedly a pricey destination, but it’s money well spent when you think of being somewhere described by 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo as the “Flower of the Indies”, and by 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta as “One of the Wonders of the World.”