Travelogue - Maldives, a reminder that 70% of Earth is Water

Maldives is essentially a group of very small islands. When I say very small, I mean so small that the airport of the capital of Maldives i.e. Male is out of Male on another island also known as Hulhule. So basically when you arrive in Maldives, you are on an island which is just the airport. From there you need to take a ferry ride to whichever island (some of them are privately owned and turned into resorts) you have planned to spend your vacation at.
Male, as seen on Google Maps
Maldives is the smallest, in terms of land area, and the least populated Asian country. The average height of Maldivian islands is 1.5 meters above the sea level. Now that means if the polar ice was to melt and the sea level was to rise by 1.5 meters most of the country would be under water!

I had a chance to see a lot of stuff, from the capital city to a rare natural Maldivian beach and from a man-made island to an island that has a ban on motorized vehicles and two-wheelers! I will keep this blog to a few pointers which would be helpful if you are visiting the place or just looking for an overview. Let's go,

1. Indians, like many other nationalities, have visa on arrival in Maldives which means you don't have to apply for it beforehand. Just make sure you are carrying a valid passport, hotel booking confirmation and the return tickets as immigration officer will be asking for it. Also, like I mentioned earlier, the Male airport is a separate island so it's always better to make sure someone from the hotel/resort is there at the airport to pick you up to keep the start of your holidays hassles free

2. Currency conversion is almost always cheaper at the destination than in India. But there is always a risk of Indian Rupees not being easily accepted in the country you are flying to. That is why most travelers prefer doing the exchange beforehand. In the case of Maldives, although Indian Rupees are not easily accepted, we have a State Bank of India branch in Male! Like a boss! In fact, I also saw a couple of SBI ATMs. Alternatively, USD is commonly accepted especially on the airport

PS - Your SBI debit card from India cannot be used to draw Rufiyaas though :(

State Bank of India branch in Male
3. The climate is obviously humid and relatively hot. It occasionally rains in non-rainy seasons as well

4. Infrastructure is something that will elicit interest. Since the land is limited, the heavily populated Male has tall residential buildings, narrow pavements (they call them roads) half of which are occupied with two-wheeler parking and you will notice slow moving traffic only when you use a cab. Trucks are small and there aren't any SUVs. Needless to say its difficult to find any empty piece of land except for maybe this one ;-)
Chancery Building coming soon!
Infrastructure's other extreme is a man-made island (made by land reclamation which is basically turning the sea into land for living) by the name Hulhumale. It is connected to the airport island via link road. It has wide tar roads, city buses deployed and houses built by the government encouraging people to relocate from Male to keep the population and traffic in check in the capital city. It is basically everything the Maldivian government has learned from the mistakes made in Male. Hulhumale is well planned and gives the feeling of a fresh start

5. Whether you find local transport easy or difficult depends on where you want to go. Roaming around in Male is best if you decide to take a walk and know the directions. A thumbs up for the Nokia Here Maps app. It can be used to download maps for offline usage. There are several taxis running in Male but how they charge remains a mystery. If you are planning to go to different islands from Male there are ferries which carry about 50 people at once and are frequently available. Think of ferries as local city buses, it's just that these run between islands.

But then if you are on an island like Vilimale, motorized vehicles are banned and rightly so. The island is very small and one can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. I saw one licensed taxi and a couple of battery-powered minivans carrying passengers. I even saw a Sea Ambulance from the Vilimale beach!

6. Bollywood and Hindi TV channels are popular in Maldives. The biggest fan club of Shah Rukh Khan (@srkuniverse) came into being from Maldives and the TV in the hotel had all the popular Hindi channels (with English subtitles). This explains the popularity Hindi film and TV industry enjoys in Maldives
A DVD shop showcases the latest Hindi movies
7. Maldives is a Muslim country and Islam is the state religion. Women are mostly seen sporting hijabs. Food is strictly halal and alcohol is banned (except in a few privately owned resorts). Most of the shops are closed during prayer timings and there are plenty of mosques. Some mosques are so beautiful that they are tourist spots
Local shop timings
8. Fishing and tourism industry are naturally the main sources of income. People of Maldives are used to seeing tourists and are courteous. Appropriate dressing is recommended considering Maldivian's traditional Muslim culture
Bikinis are not allowed on the beaches. Police do come around if they spot any
9. Dhivehi is the local language and it has its own script

10. Finally, beaches are what most people come to Maldives for. It should be noted that there aren't many natural beaches on Maldivian islands. But the ones that are there are beyond the word exquisite. It's very difficult to make out if a beach is natural or man-made. The water is turquoise and the tides from the Laccadive (Lakshadweep) Sea meeting the elegantly lavish white sand is something one can see for hours. Vilimale has a natural beach perfect for lazing around and some water sports while Hulhumale features a man-made one more suitable for scuba diving. Sunsets on the beach are beyond words can explain
Panorama of Male's man-made beach
The sea is so vast that someone coming from a city-life will be mesmerized at the sight of water as far as eyes can see. Maldives in the real sense is a reminder for the people living on the 'other side' that Earth is indeed 70% water and we occupy very less of it.
The infinite blue
If you are the thinking type, visiting Maldives will unquestionably get you thinking about man's relationship with nature. If you are not the thinking type you can relax, chill, enjoy and come back :)

Check out my second blog on Maldives that is a collection of some interesting photos - Maldives, a few more pics
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