|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Flower of the Indies
Welcome to the Maldives, Flower of the Indies, where sands are white as the smiles of the locals, where fish swim happily in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, where the weather is a dream, and the deep rays of the sun wait to engulf you in their arms.
The Republic of the Maldives is a chain of around 1200 tiny islands grouped into ring shaped reefs called atolls in the Indian Ocean. Only 200 islands are inhabited and 88 islands have been developed as tourist regions, the remaining islands are uninhabited.
Each atoll is made up of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. The reefs are alive with countless types of underwater creatures and vibrant corals, protect the islands from wind and wave action of the surrounding vast oceans.
These small, picturesque islands have dense tropical vegetation, including shrubs flowering plants and tall coconut palms surrounded by blindingly white beaches; crystalline lagoons that exhibit all shades of blue is the combination that has acclaimed the Maldives as Paradise on Earth.
While there are 26 atolls tourists can only be accommodated on registered tourist islands with quite strict regulations governing tourist visits to uninhabited and fishing islands. The tourist development area has been restricted to the seven atolls of North Male, South Male, Ari Felidhu, Baa, Lhaviiyani and Addu Atoll. In 1997 the Government announced the proposed envelopment of 14 new islands opening the atolls of Meemu, Faafu, Dxhaalu and Raa to tourism.
The weather in the Maldives is usually picture perfect: sunlit days, breezy nights, balmy mornings, and iridescent sunsets. The temperature hardly ever changes. With the average temperature at about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, the sun is a constant on most days, shining through treetops, creating lacy patterns on your feet, healing cold-bones with its warmth.
Maldives has two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March and the latter from mid-May to November. The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives (especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun.For extra exhilaration, take a swim in the rain - the sea will be extra warm.
The warm seas of Maldives have high visibility throughout the year; with water clear enough to see the passing fish as far as fifty meters away at times. Over a thousand species of fish and other underwater creatures inhabit the Maldivian waters.
The Maldives is one of the few destinations in the world that presents more than what it promises. Your first view of the country as your plane approaches the runway is magical. From the air it is a dreamlike picture of a thousand gems scattered on a bed of blue velvet, fading into the distance as the sea merges with the sky. The shallow turquoise lagoons surrounding the glistening beaches of so many randomly dotted islands portray a scene unique only to the Maldives.
Paradise awaits you... If your idea of paradise is a pristine tropical island with swaying palm trees and pure white beaches surrounded by crystalline lagoons of varying shades of blue then the Maldives Islands will definitely fit the bill. Sunny, unique and unspoiled, the islands of Maldives offers you sunshine, no matter what time of the year you decide to visit the Maldives islands that are truly heaven on Earth.
North Male Atoll is the principal atoll, located in the middle of the atoll chain, and includes Male, the capital of the Maldives. The administrative capital is the island of Thulusdhoo, a small island buzzing with the sounds and activities of more than 150,000 people, which is more than one third of the population; it is the seat of government and centre of trade, commerce, business, health and education.
Male would certainly count as one of the smallest capitals in the world in terms of its physical size. Different from any other island in the country, Male is a city of high-rise buildings and paved roads. While the government offices are located in one area, the main streets are lined with shops and offices. In the old bazaar area, which still houses the country's hub of wholesale and retail trade, the lanes are so narrow that a single vehicle would find it difficult to navigate through, especially with its throngs of busy people. There are no beaches on Male; instead seawalls surround all its sides.
The Islamic Centre is not only the most famous architectural landmark in Male, but also houses one of the biggest and finest mosques in the Southeast Asian region. The Hukuru Miskiy(Friday Mosque) is another fascinating mosque that is an essential stop on any tour of Male. There a number of ancient tombstones erected in memory of past sultans, heroes and nobles, in the mosques compound.
There are 50 islands, eight are inhabited and the rest uninhabited, in North Male Atoll and several small islets. Many resort islands are close enough to the airport for transfers to be made by traditional Dhoni's, but those more distant ones usually use speedboats and seaplanes to save time.
South Male Atoll has 30 islands of which three are inhabited, 10 are uninhabited and 17 are resorts. The capital of the atoll is Maafushi. The atoll is separated from North Male Atoll by the 4.5 km wide Vaadhoo Kandu. Transfers from the airport to the resorts are mostly by speedboat but some of the closer ones still use engine Dhoni's. Rough seas can sometimes be experienced in the Vaadhoo Kand.
Before reaching the Addu Atoll and Gan you will have a flight from Male to Gan and that is something you will never forget. You will see all kinds of beautiful atolls, islands and of course the blue ocean beneath you passing by - this one hour flight takes you to the southern tip of Maldives.
Specks of emerald green enveloped by dazzling turquoise waters like scattered beads in the ocean; white powdery beaches, tall palms lean on towards the sea, crystalline white sands giving way to crystal clear waters, shades of turquoise blend flawlessly with deeper hues of blue; pristine coral reefs and some of the most incredible underwater life on our planet. Rising from the deep blue of the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean are more than a thousand islands and thousands more reefs that form the Maldives.
Addoo Atoll is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives and one of two that lie on the south of the Equator. The islands are only on the rim of the atoll and the islands on the western side have been joined together to form the longest stretch of land in the country, measuring 18 km.
Addu is the 'second city' of the Maldives, and if you have been to the Maldives before, forget everything about the Maldives, when you chose to visit the Addu Atoll you will see, it is totally different from everything you have experienced before. The Addu people are fiercely independent speak differently from folk in the capital and at one time even tried to secede from the republic.
The population of 17,000 lives on four islands, with 10,000 living on Hithadhoo the capital. Hithadhoo is a bustling town, only second to Male, with its own hospital, secondary school and streets lined with shops. This is the only atoll where you can ride a bicycle through the towns and meet the locals.
The history of the atoll is quite unique too. With the outbreak of World War II, the atoll became a key hub for British troop movements in the Indian Ocean region and a British RAF base was built in Gan. In 1956 a Royal Air Force base was developed as a strategic Cold War outpost. In 1976 the British pulled out and the tourist industry commenced.
A resort has been established in the old RAF building but it is not a typical Maldives tropical paradise resort, but the old military base is a unique feature. Gan is linked by causeways to the adjacent islands.
Baa Atoll has ten inhabited islands and forty one uninhabited islands with Eydhasfushi the atoll capital. Weaving and fishing are the principal occupations of the islanders.
Olhugiri is the most southern island of South Maalhosmadulu Atoll and lies 13 km north of Goidhoo Atoll. It has three inhabited islands and three small uninhabited islands, and offers a secure anchorage near the islands in the north-east monsoon.
Lhaaviyani Atoll is a small atoll and lies 120 km north of Male. It is comprised of 50 islands out of which five are inhabited. Most of the islands in the atoll are large and densely vegetated and unusually they are all situated on the outer rim of the atoll.
Lhaviyani Atoll is home to about 8,000 people. Almost half of the population lives on the island of Naifaru, the atoll capital. Except for Hinnavaru and Naifaru the other villages are sparsely populated. The main occupation of the people of the atoll is fishing and even today they are renowned fishermen
For administrative purposes, Ari Atoll is divided into North Ari Atoll, which includes Rasdhoo Atoll and the tiny atoll of Thoddoo, and South Ari Atoll. The capital of North Ari Atoll is Rasdhoo and South Ari Atoll is Mahibadhoo. There are a total of 70 islands in Ari Atoll and many sand banks, some of which are becoming islands while others are being washed away. There are a total of 18 inhabited islands in Ari Atoll with a total population of over 7500. There are a further 52 uninhabited islands of which 26 are resorts.
The principal occupation of Ari Atoll islanders used to be catching turtles, weaving sails, coral collecting and coral carving, but they are good fishermen and are traditionally renowned for their shark catching to produce oil for the timbers of dhoanis.
Although it is the isolation of the islanders from rest of the world that has left an intriguing history which is still being unravelled, lying at the crossroads of east-west maritime trade, the islands have been a melting pot for different races and cultures. This has created a nation with a unique culture and tradition, and a language they can call their own.
There is more to the Maldives than exotic, secluded island resorts that promise heavenly tranquillity. Cruising vessels, diving and snorkelling, surfing, wide range of water sports, world-class spas and a rich, intriguing culture are among the many other attractions of this unique country.
An island-hopping excursion would take you to another resort, an uninhabited island and an inhabited island all in a day-tour designed to give you a taste of the country. You would also get the opportunity to snorkel in the clear waters of a desert island and experience a barbecue on the beach.
The best way to experience the life of an ordinary Maldivian is to travel to an inhabited island. Some of these islands are slightly more modern: with brightly painted house walls and harbour areas. There are also the quiet fishing villages with lots of tree-shade, swings, and the traditional wooden holhuashi.
A holhuashi is rather like an island-version of a gazebo, build with hollow wooden trunks tied together forming the large, bench-like seat, and often with a thatched roof. They are conveniently set up on beaches, often where the boats come in, and are a place where islanders wind off after a day's work, exchanging news, telling stories, playing cards, and listening to local radio.
Fishing, agriculture, and fish related manufacturing is what most people in the islands do for work while some go away to find jobs in tourism and trading. Some islands are also good places to buy local handcrafts. It is a typical island custom that everyone finish their work by late afternoon, take their daily showers or bath near their wells, dress the children in fresh clothes and go for a stroll in the island, visiting friends and relatives, delivering small bowls of fresh homemade curry, or taking some time to relax at the beach side, watching the late afternoon sun while the children play around at the beach.
A day-time trip to a desert island is an experience of its own. The raw, unspoiled vegetation surrounded by blinding beaches and dazzling sunbeam-lined waters are like a phantasm; everything feels imagined, and you are the only person in this beautiful universe.
The Maldives has been a crossroads for sea traders for many centuries and the origin of the people of the country is mixed. Not much is known of the early history of the island people but the language and some archaeological finds of Buddhist relics indicate that the early settlers were from the southern Indian continent and the Buddhist Singalese from Sri Lanka. Now, of course, the Maldives population of 240,000 is entirely Muslim.
The close-knit island communities practice mutual aid to survive difficult circumstances. A system of extended families provide a safety net for members of a family going through a difficult period. In addition to the parents other members of the family also contribute in the care of children. Traditionally men go out fishing during the day and women are responsible to look after the affairs of the family and vary often the community. This remains so even today in smaller island communities.
The beautifully carved tombstones in some of the old cemeteries and the fine stone carving of the Hukuru Miskiiy in Male bear witness to the intricate skills of Maldivian stone carvers of the past. Maldivians are deft craftsman producing beautifully crafted pieces mostly out of what is available locally.
Beautiful red mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous of which are those that are woven by the women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. The women of Gadhdhoo collect the reeds called haa from the nearby island of Fioari. They are dried in the sun and stained with natural dyes, the colour varying from fawn to black. These mats with their intricate abstract designs are woven on a hand loom according to the imagination and skill of the weaver.
Although the tools used in the building of dhonis have changed, little has changed of its basic design. As in the past, the boats are still being built without a documented plan. Dhonis are mainly used for fishing and provide the livelihood for a large proportion of the population.
To leave these beautiful islands is very hard but maybe the words of this Old Maldivian Folk Song will help.
"In horizon of the vast Indian Ocean grow green palms
This is my homeland, this is the Maldives
From the clear blue seas, we grow like pearls,
This is my homeland, this is the Maldives.