Blue lagoons, coral reefs, pristine beaches, The Maldives offers an unforgettable experience of beauty and adventure…

Back as a child, the book The Coral Island spun a fascinating story of an isolated island of coral reef on which three young boys learned to survive. Last week, I visited similar coral islands whose beauty is hard to describe, and a sheer delight to experience. The Maldives is an island-country nestled in the Indian Ocean, about 600 km southwest of Sri Lanka.

The country comprises 1,190 islands arranged in 26 atolls. Each atoll is an island of coral that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. Out of the 1190, 201 are native inhabited islands and about 80 have been turned into island resorts.

When seen from up above, the islands appear to be many raised, white-and-green pearl drops surrounded by surf and light blue waters set in an backdrop of a deep blue ocean. Pictures taken even higher from outer space have been described as representations of one of the most beautiful atolls on the planet.

Perfect setting

The Maldivian archipelago of low-lying coral islands sports perfect tropical weather all year round. The waters are the palest blue in the cove of the island and turn into a deep blue further ashore. The sands are a virgin white, the waters are totally transparent — looking down you can see all the way down to coral reef ocean floor.

This is a haven for marine life — you never know what school of fish you might get treated to at any given time. Looking down into the clear-as-glass waters, your eyes can feast on blue and yellow surgeonfish (remember Dori from “Finding Nemo?”), butterfly fish, angelfish and silvery translucent fish always swimming together in large groups. No need to go snorkeling; the fish swim to you from everywhere, tame as they come. Sometimes you see huge plankton-eating manta rays and at other times baby reef sharks swim below the jetty bridge.

Far out into the sea, families of dolphins call this their home. They entertain boats of travellers, swimming alongside the boat and then under it. The more energetic ones rise high above the waters and twirl in the air before nose-diving down again back into the waters.

Owing to the many beautiful diving grounds of the numerous atolls, this country is known as a prime destination for scuba divers world wide. Many accurate and detailed guides and maps of the best diving spots are easily available. Divers have sighted tiger sharks and hammer head sharks and a vast variety of rays and turtles. And notably, in the 24 years of the scuba diving school on my resort, there were no reported incidents of shark attacks.

The water sports in every resort are numerous and for all skill levels. Jet skiing, surfing, scuba diving, para-sailing, wind sailing, canoeing and snorkelling. From the expert to the novice, from the brave to the fainthearted, from seniors to tiny tots, there's something for everybody.

Deep into the ocean where the waves are bigger and higher, lone surfers can be seen riding the waves.

There's fishing by day or by night. At night, red and white snappers, barracuda or groupers bite your bait and in the day expert fisherman spool tuna from the deep seas. We went night fishing at the stroke of dusk. Our boat sped along the waters in the dim twilight and the shadows of other companion boats got longer and longer. When we reached our destination out at sea, the fishermen threw out the anchor and gave each of us a string with a hook and bait. With this rudimentary fishing equipment (no rod), we set out to fish. Our boat was the lucky one that night and we caught two white snappers which we took back to the island and handed over to the Italian restaurant chef to cook. Dinner that night was barbequed white snappers eaten on the patio of the Italian restaurant overlooking a calm sea.

Our resort offered an hour long submarine ride 100 ft deep into the ocean. The submarine took seconds to make the plunge and we docked at the depth of the ocean floor where we saw a coral reef of many colours which was the breeding ground of all kinds of marine life.

Our resort had beach villas and water bungalows. The beach villas have back doors opening out into a private beach area. The water bungalows stand in shallow water and one can climb down from them directly into the ocean. The water is always warm and inviting for wading or swimming. In a world where the beaches are over-used, crowded and commercialised, the purity, serenity and calm of Maldives beaches still give the impression of untouched natural pristine beauty. Eight million tourists come here every year, and this tiny island country handles them without ostentatious crowding or littering or pollution. This is best summarised by the famous 13{+t}{+h} century Moroccan world traveller Ibn Battuta who described Maldives as One of the Wonders of the World.

Lurking threat

Maldives is one of the world's smallest as well as the least-populated countries. It is also the lowest point in the world — 1.5 meters above sea level. Which is why there is a growing concern among the people of Maldives that if the sea levels continue to rise as they have, the country will soon be submerged under the ocean. Maldives' recently-elected Prime Minister has been working hard these past few weeks trying to get the world to take notice and address climate change. On our last day on the islands, the Maldivian cabinet had a historic underwater cabinet meeting to underscore the need for global action to combat climate change. So let this be a shout-out to everyone out there — Let's be environmentally conscientious and save our planet! Let's make these coral islands a lasting Utopia for divers, beach lovers and young kids with a taste for adventure.

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