Thursday, March 22, 2007

Paradise Found

Paradise exists in a cluster of coral atolls a few hundred miles west of Sri Lanka. In the equatorial archipelago of the Maldives, marine life abounds just off the white sand beaches and palm fringed coast line of nearly 2000 islands.

My direct flight from Bangalore on Indian Airways landed me in the capital city of Malé, a densely populated muslim city housing around 300,000 sardine-packed into small alleyways and streets. The fifth ward, not New Orleans but Malé, is actually a separate island accessible only by ferry across the turquoise water.

According to the Economist, Malé is the most densely populated city on the planet, and is riddled with poverty, squalor, and saddness. What I found in the capital city was quite the contrary. Friendly, relaxed individuals ambled through streets that, by comparison with India, seemed empty, clean, and tranquil. Those with whom we spoke had a calm ease, and did not seem worried by over-population or global warming. Our travel agent spoke about 'consulting the Google God for answers,' the latest NBA scores, where Madonna stays when she frequents the Maldives, and why he admires Steve Jobs for creating beautiful machines. Abbu, introduced himself in jest as 'having the same name as the monkey in Aladdin,' a '90s Disney movie.

The people we met in Malé were traditional in dress, relaxed in spirit, and cosmopolitan in view. They had exposure to composite culture through their resort status, and seemed to make the most of such adoption in an admirable global perspective. Abbu works in a travel agency, but owns two power macs, an ipod, does web-consulting, and is building his own home. He frequents coffee shops alongside the coastal football pitches in the evenings, measures distance in the number of cigarettes it takes, and explained that an island taxi operates on a flat rate. Abbu was not exactly what I expected from the Economist article, but he's demonstrative of another side to Malé in the Maldives.

Outside Malé, we stayed at a resort called Lohifushi, now renamed Hudhuran Fushi. About 40 minutes North of Malé by speed boat, aside Club Med and Four Seasons islands, the all-inclusive resort is stunning. Turquoise and blue water laps at white sand on all sides, and palms nestle with thatch-roofed beach bungalos. The island hosts beautiful house reef and thousands of butterfly, sun, and parrot fish. Snorkeling, we saw two black-tip reef sharks about 3-feet in length, with fins and shape to make you think twice about following them around. On two scuba dives, we dove to 12m off an open-ocean coral shelf, and were able to see inside a small cave.

We also endeavored on a surfing expedition to Sultans and Honkeys, a beautiful point break hosting both a left and right, just outside Lohifushi. We surfed the 4-6 footers, bantered with a group of local sea-plane pilots, and confronted one of our ship-mates on her surfing ability only to find out she was the European Champion. After getting caught inside, battling through the chop to re-board the dhoni, I gnawed on a bit of coconut and enjoyed the placid waters that are truly host to paradise. With salty skin, board upright aside, coconut milk on my hands, I gazed into the green and watched a large Moray Eel slithered its way through a glittering rainbow of fish just below the surface.

1 comment:

Jon said...

This looks like quite the vacation destination.