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December 2004 - January 2005
by Aline Dobbie
Sitting in my study this windy wet October evening I can hardly believe that a month ago I was in The Maldives on a ten day holiday with my husband Graham. We had taken the Emirates flight from Glasgow to Dubai, and then on to Male, the capital of this amazing collection of tiny islands set in an azure ocean with wonderful coral reefs. Indeed The Maldives means ‘garland of islands’ and it has occupied a special place in the hearts of its visitors, one of whom was Marco Polo who considered it ‘the flowers of the Indies’.
The Maldives has one of the most delicate environments on earth. The reef structures that form the Maldives protects the islands from storms and waves. Archeologically records indicate that the first visitors to the Maldives stepped ashore over 5000 years ago; it was first colonized according to folklore by an Indo-Aryan race. Except for a 17-year period of Portuguese rule in the 16th century and three months during 1782 the Maldives remained independent throughout recorded history. The country was a British Protectorate from 1887 to 1965. The Maldives has been a republic since 1968.
Most of us who visit the Maldives stay in one of the 87 resort islands that offer comfortable accommodation, a variety of water sports, incomparable diving and above all, sun, sea and sand. A single resort occupies the whole island. While the rooms are individual or semi-detached bungalows are built around the island facing the beach, or built over water in the lagoon, the other facilities on the island may be built in a centralized area or scattered around the island to give each of them an individual and distinctive feel.
Every resort in the Maldives caters for scuba divers and international certificates of all types are accepted. The dive schools are well equipped. We were particularly impressed with the standard of tuition and training at the Dive School: Dive & Sail at the Hakuraa Club in Meemu Atoll. Graham had dived in an elementary fashion previously in Mexico on the Mayan Riviera, but he considered the thoroughness of the Maldivian Dive School far superior. He went on to do three dives which gave him, he considers some of the most wonderful experiences of his life. Huge Manta Rays, Sharks, Turtles and a host of other marine life was his to visually feast on under careful supervision. I snorkel but do not dive and was also most fortunate in what I saw. Our resort the Hakuraa Club, a John Keells Group resort has free snorkelling morning and afternoon on nearby reefs which one reaches by boat. It was enormously exhilarating and to be recommended.
For all those learning to dive, all resorts conduct open water and advanced courses. Many also offer specialized courses such as night diving, rescue diving and underwater photography. Courses such as naturalist and shark specialist courses have proved most popular due the growing interest in the marine environment. Courses are conducted in English, German, Italian, French and Japanese in most of the resorts.
One of the highlights of the holiday for us both was the sea plane journey to and from the resort; in our case that lasted about 40 minutes and was so interesting and enjoyable. One lands to drop off or collect passengers and finally reaches one’s own destination. The little plane descends and suddenly lands with a splash and then taxis to a pontoon which acts as a landing stage. One disembarks and is collected by boat for transport to the resort which of course is close by.
There is a nice relaxed atmosphere and a warm welcome and then one finds oneself in a water bungalow. This was enchanting and almost immediately I could see beautiful blue fish in the shallow lagoon beneath us. Quite often a trio of rays would swim by. The water is really shallow and not at all threatening to those who might be less confident in water. I do recommend having water shoes however to protect your feet from sharp stones and rough edges. Graham and I just loved it and I went to sleep with the sound of the ocean thumping down on the edge of the reef. In our case the rooms were really well equipped with everything one could want and the hotel staff replenished the soft drinks in the bedroom fridge daily. The bathroom was very spacious with good hot water and there was a laundry service if required. I requested an iron which was brought to the room.
Early morning is a wonderful time in the East and I liked to sit on the private decking and watch the sun come up and survey the water for its inhabitants. A nice comforting cup of tea watching the horizon was such a relaxed way to start the day. Equally the setting sun and the change of colours is also a peaceful end to the day with perhaps a soft drink in hand and the promise of a good dinner ahead. Walking to the restaurant on well swept discreetly lit paths is a pleasure, and sometimes a giant fruit bat flies by. The wildlife is of course mostly birds, but they are not at all afraid if approached carefully. The all inclusive hotel package was good with excellent food in three huge meals plus a sort of high tea at 4.00 pm taken in the bar. Then apparently there was also a snack available near midnight. I cannot imagine how anyone had any room to eat any more by that stage. The rooms have television with international programmes. Quite a few of the alcoholic drinks are included but various famous named brands of liquor are charged. There was wine with the meal or beer or soft drinks included, but if one ordered a specific bottle that too was charged. The A la carte choice was good and we tried that twice with a choice of seafood, and on the third occasion, our last night, chose the Gala dinner that takes place in the coffee shop which is situated on another part of the island; this only occurs on a Saturday night and is quickly booked up. We thought it was thoughtfully laid out in tables of two and the service was efficient and friendly and the food was outstanding, with fairy lights in the nearby trees and candles on the tables; considering the limitations of a tiny island on an atoll in the middle of the ocean, at least 40 minutes flying from anywhere sophisticated I thought it very good value!
The John Keells Group of hotels is based in Sri Lanka and I had experienced their flagship hotel earlier in the year at The Lodge, Habarana, which is a wonderful hub for Sri Lanka’s old capitals and citadels, plus wildlife parks. I consider they train their staff well who are always friendly and helpful but not in any way subservient. Quite frankly a two week holiday divided between a week in Sri Lanka and a week in The Maldives would be perfect and the way to travel is with Emirates or Sri Lankan Airlines, which liaises with Emirates, who own a percentage of the company. The guests were a mixed group of Westerners and Orientals and there were a lot of honeymooners. Indeed, our own son and his wife to be have booked a Maldives honeymoon for later this year. Providing one enjoys small islands, water, clean white sand, nature, peace and tranquillity plus good food and drink available almost continuously, and a comfortable suite a wonderful time will be had.
Male, the capital we experienced on our last day; we dined with the Indian High Commissioner in the evening which was enjoyable and interesting, but we took a room at one of the local hotels which proved very comfortable. Male is not a big island and it has about 77,000 inhabitants which makes it quite a high density population. Everything is very ordered as one would expect in an Islamic Republic, and strictly no liquor is available in the capital in public. We walked around and ate lunch at a charming restaurant and watched the traffic in the busy harbour. The airport is located on its own island and one takes a water taxi to reach the capital and then transfers back for the flight out.
We had flown Business Class with Emirates and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish. I am confident that Emirates are going to scoop the majority of travellers in the near future with so many flights from regional airports in the UK flying directly to Dubai. We had spent some time very enjoyably in Dubai last Christmas staying at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, before embarking on the very exclusive little cruise ship M.V. Hebridean Spirit on which I was the Guest Speaker on India for their Christmas Cruise. On that occasion we visited Oman as well as India and Sri Lanka…but then that is the subject for another story!!
your holiday, take care.