We return from the country of islands, sorely missing the startling shades of blue, the plunge pool, the schools of fish and twinkling stars that kept us company .
They have a Garbage Island, an Airport Island, a Jail Island, and even a Picnic Island, all — as the names suggest — officially earmarked for the purpose. Now, they hope to have a Studio Island for film shoots, and may be, even a Stadium Island to promote football.
Well, when you have 1,192 islands in your country, with about 200 of them still uninhabited, you can even afford to have one dedicated just to take your dog for a walk (only, dogs aren't allowed into Maldives!).
So, it's no surprise Maldives' USP is “one-island one-resort”.
Maldives has 97 island resorts with 19,000 beds. “Another 64 resorts are under construction. We'll then have 1,44,000 beds,” Mohamed Mihaad, managing director of Maldives Tourism Development Corporation, informs us.
“Last year, about 15,850 Indians visited the Maldives. This year, about 13,000 have come in by June.”
As Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay, the High Commissioner of India in Maldives, observes: “Indian culture is deeply ingrained in many aspects of Maldivian society. In fact, the name Maldives is derived from Sanskrit for ‘Chain of Islands' (mala dweep).”
During a recent interaction with journalists from India, the new Tourism Minister, Thoyyid Mohamed, said India has been identified as a potential market.
Though China leads the tourist inflow into Maldives, the resorts are looking to woo the Indian traveller — apparently, here, Indians spend more than any traveller from around the world.
“The Chinese barely spend,” Satyeash Pai, a tour operator with Shades of Maldives, observes. “The Europeans are long-stay travellers, and live on a budget. Indians usually spend not over four or five nights, unless they are staying in two different resorts. Indians bargain a lot for the best ticket rates and tariff, but once on holiday mode, we splurge.”
The Water Villa
Imagine staying in a luxury villa over water! That's what the ‘Water Villa' (or ‘Ocean Villa') concept is all about.
Ever since the first resort came up in Maldives on Bandos Island in the 1970s, tourists have been increasingly fascinated by the concept.
You not only have a private plunge pool and Jacuzzi, you get your own ‘Blue Lagoon' experience too — just descend down the deck of your villa! Put on your snorkeling gear and take a dip, or just go for a swim in picture-perfect shades of blue, or just walk on the softest white sand on this side of the planet.
The Adaaran Resorts on Hudhuran Fushi and Vadoo Islands where we stay, offers the experience from $300 a night.
Once you check in at the scenic Hudhuran Fushi Resort, you get the first brush of holiday excitement when the private butler manoeuvres the club car along the narrow wooden pathway with rehearsed precision. “We've been doing it for many years now; the buggy has never fallen into the water.” Or, so we are told!
“Vadoo caters to travellers who look for luxury, comfort and privacy of a five-star resort, while the four-star Hudhuran Fushi is for those who want the varied facilities, comfort, entertainment and excursions at an affordable price,” says M.U. Lantra, general manager, Marketing, Adaaran Resorts.
At Vadoo, you can see fish below from the bathroom floor, and there's no better feeling than sinking into the plunge pool at the edge of the deck jutting into the ocean. You can stay up all night watching the stars, with just the soothing sound of the ocean and the vast expanse of sky and sea for company.
Oh! A special mention about the food.
Adaaran tosses up deliciously innovative fusion cuisine (they claim it's Maldivian, but hey, a gulab jamun stuffed inside a kulfi is as Indian as it gets, so what if it's presented with a crunchy biscuit dipped in raspberry sauce!) while Taj Exotica offers an authentic Indian range for those craving for kathi rolls or pav baaji.
Be warned, though. A four-course meal is well-spaced out (with almost half-hour intervals between each), and immaculately presented at Taj Exotica. “The bigger the group, the longer it takes between courses, because each meal, each plate, needs to be presented special,” says Bjorn, who runs the F&B at Taj Exotica. And, the desserts are consistently divine at Adaaran and the Taj.
The great leveller
Though all resorts offer Water Villas and Beach Villas, there's accommodation available from $150 to $15,000.
At the end of a week-long holiday, what we miss the most is the water — the surreal colours of blue, and the thousands of fish for company.
Make your trip, Ahoy!
MakeMyTrip, in association with the Tourism Ministry of Maldives, will present holiday packages to the island from Rs. 29,999 a person between October 2010 and February 2011. The package covers airfare (ex-Mumbai), all transfers including boat rides, three nights' stay at Herathera Resort in Addu (south of Maldives) and food. Visa is free, and given on arrival
MakeMyTrip also has a four-day package for Adaaran Resorts, from Rs. 37,000 a person (ex-Bangalore)
“Maldives has been relatively inaccessible to Indians, as it's been perceived as an expensive holiday destination. And, connectivity has been an issue. With these chartered trips, we are striving to bring the costs down,” says Keyur Joshi, Co-founder and COO of MakeMyTrip.