Maldives: A Paradise on the Brink


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The water villas are built on a lagoon. 

(Published first in Mail Today, Feb 2016)


You won’t find Maldives on an average sized world map. On a large atlas, the archipelago looks like iron fillings strew vertically southwest of Sri Lanka on the Indian ocean.

It’s a short 75 minute flight from Colombo with the ocean obscured by wisps of gossamer clouds for most of the journey.  The pilot announces the descent, and as if in a delicious conspiracy, the clouds suddenly vanish, and we get a glimpse of the most astonishing sight we have ever seen. Florescent pools of blue, dot the almost black brooding ocean.  These are the coral reefs. They are ring-like with the bright blue lagoon in the middle. On their fringes are beaches, from whom extend cottages built on stilts.   These pools, some of them with a smidgen of green, extend far into the horizon that you can only guess at.

Remember when you are flying into Maldives it pays to grab a window seat.

Maldives airport is tiny and with corrugated iron on its walls it has an appearance of a factory from which swarm different nationalities, only to be quickly whisked to the pools of blue that you see from the skies.

  Maldives is an archipelago of 1190 coral islands, out of which  200 are inhabited and 105 are luxury island resorts. These resorts are fully sufficient, insulated and built for ultimate indulgence; so much so that it takes a supreme effort of will to step out of these hedonistic cocoons.

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The water-breakers may stop the waves but not the rising ocean. 

And it suits the Maldivians well because ever since the 1980’s, when tourism took firm root in Maldives,   the effort has been to shield the locals from the tourists. Maldives is an Islamic country and intends to stay that way. There are some inhabited island, that now allow travellers to get a cheaper guesthouse accommodation,  but  the tourist beaches are fenced off so that the five time namaz praying and the  hijab donning Maldivians don’t get corrupted by the typical tourist debaucheries of wining, dining,  hand-holding and swimsuit sunbathing.

Going by the epicurean Maldivian standards, Meeru Island Resort, where I am staying is not top notch. But it is difficult to imagine how one could improve on the extravagances on offer here.

The roofs are intricate and vaulted from which hang artsy lamps. The restaurants are labyrinthine sprawls with elaborate menus to suit every palate. There are two sand floor receptions. One football field. Three capacious swimming pools ; one for children and one only for adults where women  can’t go topless  but can saunter in wearing a string bikini if they are so inclined.

The water villas on stilts have a jacuzzi for two. The bathrooms open to the skies and the balcony has stairs that dip down into a shimmering lagoon.

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Maldives is only one percent land and 99 percent water. 

But to take all this for Maldives is to take the wood for the trees. Lulled by the luxuries, it’s often a mistake many tourists make. For, after all, Maldives is only 1 percent land and 99 percent water.

And despite all the man made extravaganzas on land, they are no match to the splendor of what the ocean hides.

I first hop on a dolphin sighting safari but its often a,  you- blink- and- you -miss -it affair.  After two hours of keeping our eyes peeled, we see a blur of a dorsal fin.

What is avoidable is  the fishing safari. It’s a pretty contrived touristy affair where a boat, all polished and primed takes you to catch fish, not for food but entertainment.  The fish wriggles pathetically on the hook after which it is cast back into the ocean. Ironically,  in our group, the only fish caught is  by someone, who describes herself as a pure vegetarian.

The water in the tropics is nutrient deficient making it transparent and therefore excellent for any under water activity. Face down on a wobbly ocean for my first snorkeling experience, I wonder, as a whole new universe opens up below me, why I never thought of doing this before. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the deep.  I understand now why Charles Darwin said they,  “rank high amongst the wonderful objects in the world”. There are warrens in the reef that lead to formidable darkness. The iridescent corals shimmer and occasionally small colorful fish sheltered in them wriggle out.

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Once islands like Maldives were home to countless bird species. Today they are replaced by countless luxury resorts. 

 Marine life in Maldives is famously non aggressive.  Small but fully formed sharks and   sting rays, that frequent the  shallows, are completely harmless.

However, if the global temperature keep rising, this paradise would be lost forever. Maldives is the lowest lying country in the world (the average height is 1.8 meters above sea level). Scientists estimate that melting polar ice caps could raise the ocean level by about 2 meters by the end of this century. This would swallow Maldives whole making its inhabitants the world’s first environment refugees. The rising temperatures would also destroy the corals leading to what is called ‘coral bleaching’. Maldives under the charismatic ex president Mohamed Nasheed, pledged to become fully carbon neural by 2019. But the rest of the world has to follow, else the iron fillings would be erased forever from every atlas.

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Marine life including sharks in Maldives is surprisingly non aggressive. 


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Maldives has some of the finest resorts in the world.


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Dolphin sighting is a blink-and-you-miss-it-affair, so the tourists turn their cameras on one another. 

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The beaches are beautiful but nothing compares with the marvels the ocean hides.


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Snorkeling  or scuba diving, the island provides very good sighting of  corals reefs.

One Response to “Maldives: A Paradise on the Brink”

  1. Farah khan says:

    Maldives…. Really its clean and beautiful… Awesome pictures

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