Land of the water

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Maldives, perhaps, is the most sought after destination for pandemic-weary travellers. If you are a nature lover, particularly of the marine kinds, there is a lot for you to do in terms of activities. NAVNEET MENDIRATTA shares her experience from her recent travel

Whenthe whole world and its governments shut their borders, owing to the highly contagious Covid-19 pandemic that continues to rage even now, Maldives opened its doors to the tourists as soon as they logistically could. The island nation, comprising over 1,200 islands, south and west to India and Sri Lanka in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean, is counted among the topmost luxury travel destinations. The Maldivian Archipelago is the richest in the marine eco-system and forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos Archipelago and Lakshadweep. The country’s concept of one island one resort offers the exclusivity sought the most by those who wish to isolate themselves in a tropical paradise.

Turquoise waters, white sands, beautiful sunrises and perfect sunsets, life moves at a leisurely pace on these islands. For a human weary of the toll — physical and mental — that the pandemic has taken, it makes for a perfect international getaway, when there are few other options available. Lucrative packages encouraging family travel is another considerable shift in the Indian traveller perception. So if you have had the Maldives on your bucket list, this is the time to plan a trip.

A perfect vacation

There is something magical about the sand in the Maldives, I had heard. It was only when I walked along the beach that I realised how soft it felt beneath the feet… and cool. The sand here is largely made of pulverized coral and coral pieces that have been excreted by parrotfish (the sand they don’t want to eat comes out in the form of fine powder!) and it does not heat up to the scorching afternoon temperatures. They say each fish is responsible for roughly one ton of sand every year.

The clear water can put an aqua shade card to shame with the range of blue and green that it reflects. Sun glistens hard, making you realise that you are much closer to the equator now. This makes frequent slathering of sunscreen must, lest you end up with burnt and peeling skin. I was quite intrigued by the little holes in the sand, which I am told are created by ghost crabs for different purposes, including protection from predation and from drying out, storing food, and many others.

Most resorts comprise villas that open into the sea and most of the villas come with their private pools and steps that take you down into the lagoon. You can choose one with a plunge pool and spend an entire day doing just about nothing! The Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, where I stayed was a five-star resort perfect for a luxury secluded escape with sea-plane transfers that set the mood.

My gorgeous villa had a spacious deck that I happily converted into a work-from-vacay station, resting my sight — from time to time — by peering into the deep sea that extended as far as the eyes could see. If you are lucky, you may even sight dolphins as I did quite by chance while enjoying my morning cuppa. The view was simply magical.

A rich marine life surrounds the island resort making it a part of a much larger eco-system. To see baby sharks swimming is perhaps the most common sight around. The resort even has a spot where you can feed the fish at a certain time. A rare stingray can also be seen swimming around along with a variety of other beautiful fish.

Outside, there are plenty of activities that one can participate in including riding the bicycles to go around the island, beach activities, including ball games, a kids zone, non-motorised water sports and much more. I was happy to be able to paddle my way around like I did when I was a child.

Water kingdom

Maldivesis known to be a divers’ paradise. Counted among the top diving sites in the world, Maldives has an overwhelming diversity of marine life with over 250 species of corals and 2,000-plus species of fish. Serious divers can even go for liveaboard diving trips, where you stay on a vessel for one or more nights, going from one site to another.

For others, there is scuba diving, snorkelling and a whole lot of water activities, such as dolphin cruise; fishing on traditional Dhoni boats (Dhoni is a local fishing community in the Maldives that fishes using traditional methods) and non-motorised water sports such as standing paddle boat, kayaking and ride on the catamaran.

While scuba diving is for good swimmers, non-swimmers like me can take a shot at snorkelling. Each resort has its diving centre or may be attached to a diving centre based on a nearby island. There are as many as 32 diving points around the islands and each offers different underwater vistas and depth. I went snorkelling in the deep waters of Makunudu with Euro-Divers, stationed at Kagi Maldives Spa Island. This point is perfect for relaxed divers and is especially known for turtle-spotting. It is a protected house reef and home to eagle rays and harmless nurse sharks, among others. Even Manta rays occasionally pass by.

Careful following of instructions and faith in my instructor are what I needed to take that peek below for my first ever snorkelling experience in the deep seas. The world is magical underwater. Watching the colourful fish swim along coral reefs underneath is a sight to behold. A giant turtle swam past nonchalantly, making my trip even more memorable.

A spa-cation for wellness lovers

Spa and wellness are the two other highlights for those visiting the Maldives. You need to completely detox and unwind after a good water activity day. For a lot of leisure travellers, it’s their main itinerary. Little wonder that many resorts are exploring unique spa concepts to offer an even more immersive programme for their stay. Kagi Maldives Island resort, for one, is promoting itself as an exclusive wellness luxury stay. A five-star retreat in North Male Atoll, with 50 villas, it is the destination’s first dedicated wellness haven with a focus on restorative health, fitness and nourishing menus.

Specially curated food menus are coupled with wellness activities on this very quiet and eco-conscious island. The spa therapies are designed to rejuvenate the body and mind and can be developed into a full-fledged itinerary by wellness seekers.

For instance, their sound spa session reminded me of Naad Aradhana that I have experienced nearer home in the past. Similar in concept, but using different sound instruments from around the world and sound vibrations — all gentle — the therapist nudges one to focus within, helping you relax deeply. Something like a spa for the soul. Opt for an evening session that coincides with the sunset for greater impact.

Travel with caution

This is not to say that the pandemic does not exist. Lest you throw caution to the winds and to keep its people safe, the Maldivian government has strict rules in place for the visitors. For starters, all travellers must present a certificate of a negative PCR test carried out within 96 hours before departure, clearly showing the name and address of the laboratory, as well as the date of the sample taken.

You also have to complete a health declaration form and upload your negative test result within 24 hours of your departure flight. Once you do that, you are issued a QR code that allows airport officials to verify your information and approve your stay in the Maldives. Some resorts ask for online check-ins and seek a better understanding of their guests through apps or digital questionnaires.

For those opting to stay in more than one resort, an additional RTPCR test may be required before they check-in. Indians are required to get another certificate of a negative PCR test to regain entry into the country. The Maldives has strict contact tracing, quarantine norms and other Covid-19 related procedures in place. The travellers must read the fine print carefully before setting out. One must be prepared if caught in a situation, albeit accidentally.

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