Sometimes the presumed “obvious” can be misleading, and delving deep into a place can reveal remarkable opportunities, and so Maldives – beyond the beaches present with some stunning tourist interests. Pristine white sand beaches, palm fringed islands and turquoise blue expanse of the Indian Ocean would be the first (and maybe the only) thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Maldives. But I am here to tell you about a different Maldives, buzzing with innumerable experiences, Maldives – beyond the beaches. After all, how many of us would know that Maldives before the 12th century was a Buddhist regime!There are a plethora of things to see and do in Maldives other than vegetating on fine white sand.
Air India and Spicejet have direct flights to Male from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. Flights from any other city in India have to be via one of these airports.
Best Time to Visit December to April
The country follows a Visa on arrival policy provided the tourists have valid passports, proof of accommodation and return tickets
Things to know
Tourists are not supposed to carry idols, alcohol, pork meat or any other religious paraphernalia other than Islam, to Maldives. Tourists are frisked judiciously at the airport while entering and leaving the country.
The capital city of Male doesn’t really show any signs of a 1400 year old Buddhist past. Although 35 mosques can be found in this seemingly expeditiously built colourful settlement, vestiges of the bygone era can still be traced to the most famous and tallest monument of Male – The Old Friday Mosque, built on a Buddhist Temple. With around 100000 people, the roads are almost crowded with scooters and mopeds. The colorful crisscrossing by-lanes are better to explore the city with every attraction being at an arm’s length. Another interesting fact about Maldives is that no other religion other than Islam can be practiced here, with the entire population being Sunni Muslim. Male presents with the best option of exploring the truest spirit of Maldives.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
The National Museum is a structure made up of steel and glass, and is a gift from China under a bilateral agreement, and was completed recently in 2010. The impressive part about this two floored building is the display of famous lacquer work boxes, age old cannons, broken pieces of Buddhist and Hindu idols, images of political events, and most importantly a replica of the pen that was used to sign the ‘Declaration of Independence’ from the British Empire. The tour begins downstairs with the galleries showcasing Maldivian history; they have items such as, weapons, religious items, and household items. The display on the second floor of the building is mostly from the modern period, and is a great eye opener to Maldivian history and culture. A particularly fascinating piece on display is the 6 m long skeleton of the Longman’s Beaked Whale, which is so rare that it is yet to be seen alive in the sea.
THE FRIDAY MOSQUE
In the 12th century A.D., Abu al Barakat visited Maldives which was then a Buddhist regime. He convinced the Sultan to embrace Islam and the rest is history. The mosque is supposedly built on a Buddhist temple, and has been renovated couple of times, the last being in 1656. Coral made door and window frames adorn this venerable structure. Those wishing to visit this beautiful mosque, must seek permission from a Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ officer, but it has been noted that those who are well-dressed and respectful may gain access on the spot. One can find a cemetery on the mosque grounds, located on one side; it is dotted with carved tombstones.
The beauty of Maldives is best experienced with its sunset cruises, as the stunning hues of the sky come alive during this time. The evenings in Maldives more often than not seem to be created by an errant painter who runs amok with a palette of colours in a quest to master the form of modern art. The calmness of the evening sea, pampering by the wine and dine options of the resort boat, and watching the sun bid adieu with a spectacular colour riot of different shades of crimson are precisely the reasons why a sunset cruise into the open waters is a must do in Maldives.
Dating back to 11th century, it is the traditional dance form of Maldives. Performed by a group of 15 or more, it consists of one lead singer and lots of drums apart from variety of thumping instruments. The pace of the music and dance gradually picks up, and usually at the end of it the spectators would be dancing along with the group. The songs and dance styles are similar to the ones found in East and South West Africa giving rise to speculation that these might have been introduced to this tiny island nation by sailors from the African continent. Check out resorts which have the option of treating you with one such evening of Boduberu dance. In the night, by the beach side, under the sparkling stars you will be transferred to a different world altogether.
Get away from the coastlines, and explore the islands of Maldives. Maldives on backpacker’s budget was unheard of a few years ago, as it was always meant to cater to luxury travel. Swanky high end resorts with jaw dropping infinity pools, hedonistic spas and international cuisine to satisfy varied palates never gave any reason to look anywhere else. Maldives, whose economy depends entirely on tourism has now opened its arms to backpackers and budget travellers by giving them access to many local islands, such as Maafushi, Fulidhoo and Guraidhoo. Here one can find many guesthouses with an average of $60/night. By staying on these local islands, one can gain an insight into Maldivian life. The downside to these islands is that they are governed under Sharia law like the rest of the country. So unlike the privately owned resort islands, strict dress code would be the norm here which may be a deal-breaker when one is visiting any island. To counter this, the Government has recently designated a few beaches on these islands as “tourist beaches” where the dress code would not be applied.