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Welcome to the Maldives, 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 their arms.
In ancient times, the shores of the Maldives welcomed lost travelers. Still welcoming, these shores remain, providing a tranquil haven for visitors.
Maldives has deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. It is also a place full of character, where its people have long spent their days languishing in the very essence of idyll living. While it is the perfect place to sit on a beach and watch a sunset with a cocktail balanced on your hand, it is also a geographical marvel, knowing that there are thousands of fish swimming around the vivid corals just a few feet away from where you sit.
The Maldives lies in two rows of atolls in the Indian Ocean, just across the equator. The country is made up of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometres. These atolls structures are formed upon a sharp ridge rising from the ocean, making way for their secluded uniqueness.
Each atoll in the Maldives is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. A string of islands take their places among this atoll ring; each island has its own reef encircling the island lagoon. The reefs of the islands, alive with countless types of underwater creatures and vibrant corals, protect the islands from wind and wave action of the surrounding vast oceans. This unique structure of reefs and channels makes navigation almost impossible for the passer-by without sufficient information about these waters.
Ninety-nine per cent of the Maldives is made up of sea. The people of the islands are widely dispersed across the atolls, with about 200 inhabited islands. About 90 islands are developed as tourist resort and the rest are uninhabited or used for agriculture and other livelihood purposes.
For Maldivians, who love a good story, it is somehow fitting that the early history of the country is enshrined in myth and legend. There is the story of the Rannamaari, a tale about a sea monster than demands a virgin sacrifice every full moon, until a brave man from Morocco, Mr Abdul Barakaath-Ul Barbary decides to confront the monster and prohibit him from coming into the Maldives.
There is the story of Bodu Thakurufaanu, renowned for its length, which saved the Maldives from Portuguese Invaders. These stories, while very much anecdotal, are based on the real facts that form the history of the country. Written accounts portray a Maldives whose people have travelled far and wide, adventurers whose geographical isolation had not limited the boundaries of their world. Maldives today remains very much like it had then – small, but not lacking; Isolated, but not invisible.
1st Century AD – The Roman manual of Navigation, the Periplus Maris Erythraei mentions islands that are assumed to be the Maldives
2nd Century AD – Ptolemy refers to the Maldives in his geography 362 AD Roman historian records a visit of a Maldivian delegation to Rome, bearing gifts to emperor Julian 662 AD a historical Chinese document records that the King of the Maldives sent gifts to the Chinese Emperor Kao-Tsung of Tang Dynasty
The islands of Maldives appear in-between the trading route of the Indian Ocean. Thus settlers and visitors from neighbouring regions and around the world have come in contact with the islands for as long as history has been recorded. Such is the to-and-fro flow of people and their cultures that a marked effect has been left in the Maldivian people, the language, beliefs, arts, and attitudes.
The looks of the Maldivian people may differ from one atoll to the other, attributing to the genes passed on by South and Southeast Asians, Africans, and Arabians. The language, Dhivehi, differs in dialect in some regions in the south of Maldives, possibly due to the secluded nature and subsistent ways of island life. Maldivian beliefs have been very much based around religion and superstition, often used together in matters of significance but given separate positions in society. In matters of faith, Islam dominates, but influence of the supernatural still continues to play a major role in most island communities, possibly giving credit to the folklores and Buddhist traditions of the islands’ first settlers before conversion to Islam in 1153 AD.
The mixing of cultures is very much seen in Maldivian arts. The music played with the local bodu-beru (big-drum) resembles that of African drumming. The dhoni (a unique Maldivian sailboat) is an art form itself built with skilled craftsmanship, with significant similarities to the Arabian dows. The fine artistry of Maldivians, seen in the intricate details on wooden beams in antique mosques, represents what we have gained from Southeast Asian architecture. Then there is the undefined: the distinct geometric designs used in mats woven from local materials, the embroidered neckline of women’s traditional dresses and their ornaments too, expose another story brought in from an unknown culture that has seeped in to Maldivian society.
Maldivians are quite open to adaptation and are generally welcoming to outside inspiration. The culture has always continued to evolve with the times. Locals still eat fish and fishermen still spend days out at sea, but tourism now takes a standing prominence. Most Maldivians still want to believe in upholding unity and oneness in faith, but recent waves of reform in the country have created a whole new culture of new ideas and attitudes. The effects of the modern world are now embraced, while still striving to uphold the people’s identity, traditions and beliefs.
The Maldivian President who dived underwater with his cabinet has given a new light to the association between Maldives and ‘environment’. The world now knows how dependent the Maldives is on its natural environment.
The environment has a direct effect on all facets of a Maldivian’s life. The islands are protected by thousands of reefs that need to be alive for this unique archipelago to exist in future. The corals on our reefs need its countless inhabitants to feed on them for the corals to re-grow. Locals need the fish in the water for livelihood and they depend on the beauty of its reefs and islands to sustain our tourism industry. Most importantly, the Maldives needs its citizens and visitors to take care of its wonderful natural environment in order to survive as one of the most magical places on earth.
Several government regulations have been set up to enable a system to provide natural protection for the otherwise fragile 1,190 islands of Maldives. Important marine areas are selected as protected regions, starting from 1995. Endangered marine species like the whale shark, turtles, dolphins as well as corals are also protected by law. Hanifaru, a bay like lagoon in Baa atoll of Maldives, is among the most recently protected marine areas. This area is home to rays from around the Maldives that gather here to feast on the masses of planktons brought into the lagoon by water currents.
The weather in the Maldives is usually picture perfect: sunlit days, breezy nights, balmy mornings, and iridescent sunsets. The temperature hardly ever changes – which makes packing for your holiday an easy task (see what to pack). 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. Throughout the day, the sun will make itself known, ensuring that it will be remembered and missed, like an old friend, as you pack up your suitcases to leave.
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. Cloudy skies and slate grey seas, and crashing thunder makes up for lovely reading weather. The warm temperatures will allow you to go for a walk in the rain, a verdant, wet, thoroughly enjoyable experience. For extra exhilaration, take a swim in the rain – the sea will be extra warm.