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August - September 2009
The Maldives - Our Ruby Wedding Anniversary Holiday
by Aline Dobbie
For those of you who have been to The Maldives then you will know of what I write – azure limpid clear water, tepid and inviting lapping on a white coral sand beach on a small island in an atoll with coral reefs and a safe lagoon. We know and love The Maldives and decided to return to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We chose Chaaya Island Dhonveli because it is owned by the John Keells Group of Hotels and Resorts which is a Sri Lankan conglomerate. I have stayed in several of their resorts and hotels both in Sri Lanka and in The Maldives. Indeed, Hakuraa Huraa in which we stayed in 2004 was subsequently destroyed by the Tsunami of 2004 but has been subsequently rebuilt and improved and is now called Chaaya Lagoon Hakuraa Huraa.
We chose to fly by Emirates from Glasgow to Dubai and on to Male; this is the most efficient way to reach the islands and Sri Lankan airways also of course fly there as do others, but from UK certainly Emirates fills the bill. Holiday tour companies have their own aircraft which usually fly from Gatwick. On this occasion I had the help of Skylord Travel who found tickets for us for the days on which we chose to travel; Skylord have a significant tie up with Emirates and thus, though at short notice, they were able to find me two seats. Mind you I have had my challenges on Emirates when they managed to lose our luggage on two successive journeys out to Delhi and were not efficient or particularly helpful about returning it to us. Nevertheless having used Lufthansa out to Delhi this year which flew on time and did not lose our luggage they nevertheless are an unlovely airline with appalling food, ancient aircraft and cabin crew that lacked charm. As for boarding at Delhi – well it was a total inefficient joke and Frankfurt is a barn of an airport in which one is forced to waste time. So Emirates it was for us!!
Significantly the plane that departs daily from Glasgow is usually absolutely packed but on this occasion was not full and thus the service was good. I had requested a bottle of champagne for the outward journey and this duly arrived and we settled into a good flight with glasses of bubbly watching that lovely movie Mamma Mia – what could be better? In no time at all it seemed we arrived at Dubai’s Emirates terminal which is very nice and indeed beautiful. Sadly for Dubai it is no longer the King of Bling and the recession has caught up with the place but certainly the airport is amongst the best in the world for finish and comfort and shopping.
In a short space of time it seemed we were circling the blue ocean with its dots of atolls and swooped down from a blue sky and landed at the airport island. I find it amusing to watch others – mostly honeymooners who look around them at this relatively small island and the whole charm of a watery destination with the promise of bare feet, sunshine, sand, clear water and exotic fish. We arrived at the height of the swine flue alarm in early May but there was no problem despite the extra form filling.
Dhonveli is in the North Male Atoll which is about a half hour journey by boat from the international airport. When we went to Hakuraa Huraa that occasion involved a further seaplane journey lasting about 40 minutes to the southernmost atoll. This was hugely interesting of course and showed us the whole of The Maldives from the air. I recall looking at a sort of pontoon from the air and realising that the pilot intended to land and taxi up to this bit of floating wood which is the size of my sitting room, which he did several times to drop off other passengers. He operated the aircraft most efficiently in a uniform but with bare feet…what did I say earlier about bare feet?
The morning flight arrives at 0815 hours and we were at our hotel reception by 0950 and it might have been quicker had there not been a problem with the only luggage carousel. That is the way to start a holiday. We were shown to our water bungalow and on the short walk I spied all manner of exotic blue and turquoise fish. We donned our costumes immediately and entered the lagoon from our own private deck. Bliss pure bliss, and that pinch me feeling that less than 24 hours before I was in rather cold grey Scotland!!
It is a lovely resort with family facilities, which is not always the way with Maldivian resorts which in many cases only cater for couples. This resort has a swimming pool, play area, tennis courts, gym, spa and health centre and quite a lot of shady well maintained garden area. There are three excellent restaurants and three bars either attached to the restaurants or close by. Dhonveli is renowned for its surfing on the other side from the coral lagoon. Surfers from all over the world but particularly Australians come to surf here so as well as diving and snorkelling there is that extra interest.
We found our water bungalow very spacious and comfortable and the water suites are even bigger. There are many beach bungalows and also some more modest accommodation in studios. My advice would be to book a holiday which is all inclusive and that means that everything you eat and drink is included – alcoholic drinks as well. That way one never has to worry about how the bill might be increasing! The food is good with a selection of Indian/Sri Lankan and Chinese and European dishes. The chefs try hard and appreciate one’s compliments and pleasure. The waiting staff are friendly young men and generally the junior management is very helpful. For our anniversary we were given a most wonderful beach seafood barbeque and the staff had carved Happy Anniversary in the wet sand and placed little candles in the carving which made it look beautiful. It was a very special night with the full moon shining down on us.
Our idea of bliss is to wake up early at about 06.30 and have a cup of tea on our deck and then change into swimwear and walk down to the lagoon and just walk in to the water slowly and carefully by 0700 hours. There are so few people about if indeed there is anybody else, the sands are being swept and the place made ready for the day. With the lagoon calm and still and clear in the early morning sunshine it is wonderful to go and watch the house reef fishes. Very soon they are unafraid and swim amongst you. In no time we had given various fish nicknames and they are so curious that they swim through one’s legs or just near one’s fingers. Snorkelling at this stage is not necessary one can just look down and see them in that morning clarity. Towards the edge of a certain part of the beach one will see rays and must be careful not to step on them and receive a sting. If you are respectful of them they leave you alone as do the small reef sharks in the outer lagoon. Graham did not go diving on this occasion because the pound dollar conversion was still adverse to us and thus the diving seemed as expensive as a return air ticket to Delhi from Glasgow! He did however go out on a snorkelling expedition by boat which he enjoyed; however five years ago he had dived and had the most wonderful experience of seeing three huge mature Manta Rays at close quarters which was the highlight for him. Hakuraa Huraa is famed for the Mantas at September/October time – these three rays were huge but harmless of course and just swam over him and his diving partner in silence – he considers that one of the most awesome experiences of his life. This time however I had the good fortune to see a baby Manta Ray just near our water bungalow and managed to photograph it. We saw a lovely octopus, several other types of rays, wonderful fish and some harmless sharks. The coel bird called every morning, which is a sound known to those who have lived in India! Thank goodness the ‘brain fever’ bird was not also present – he really does give you brain fever! In the early morning and evening the makaana bird which is a form of huge heron would come in for his breakfast and supper. The sunsets are particularly spectacular and I loved to watch him as the red sky deepened in colour and the water grew dark and he was there in silhouette form against the crimson background.
We spent eleven happy days at Dhonveli and I most heartily recommend the resort and the islands as a holiday destination. Swimming, relaxing, snorkelling, reading and eating good food is a lovely way to holiday in a beautiful place. For my reading material I had taken A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I had had the pleasure of meeting Vikram at The London Book Fair in the company of Krishan and Vijay Ralleigh. I have owned the book for ages but had never read it. This was the time. Well, it is the most wonderful book and I loved it. For me it had a special resonance because it was placed in the year 1951/52 when I was a child of five and I can recall the India of my childhood clearly. There it all was, Calcutta as I knew it and even his fictional up country town was reminiscent of various places that we had also lived in because of my late Father’s work with ITC, after he left the Indian Army. I finished the book on the last day and its characters stayed with me for at least 48 hours – the mark of a great story.
Flying home I saw that someone else was watching the film Mamma Mia and I reflected that 30 years ago when Abba was a huge force in popular music our little sons loved Waterloo and Nina Pretty Ballerina and the car tape deck churned these songs out endlessly for the little ones…as for Graham and me ‘we had a dream’ ….. And that dream has come true for us…and we know and feel grateful for the fact that we are very blessed forty years on. www.thepeacockscall.co.uk has my first article on The Maldives http://picasaweb.google.com/alinedobbie shows a full gallery of my photographs of The Maldives and my journeys in India.