Paradise from a different perspective: Maldives is more than just turquoise waters and sandy beaches!

Published: July 7, 2018
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We were lucky to visit during the local holiday season, as the tiny capital was less crowded then.

Whenever the phrase ‘vacation to the Maldives’ rings our ears, turquoise waters and luxurious resorts instantly flash into our minds. In order to fully utilise their vacations, the general preference of tourists is to spend time relaxing and soaking in the beauty of beaches. 

Land of clear waters. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem

Turquoise waters. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem

Conversely, my idea of traveling and vacationing is slightly different, for my chief aim is always to explore the historical and cultural aspects of different places.

Therefore, my very brief yet unique trip to the land of the clear blue waters – the Maldives – persuaded me to pen down and share my experience of a wonderland from a different perspective.

In pursuance of one of my uncountable goals in life – to visit the island country at least once in my life before it vanishes from the world due to prospective global environmental effects – I, along with my parents, undertook the much anticipated journey via Karachi to Colombo, and from there we made our way to the Hulhulé Island (Airport Island of the Maldives).

Waiting for take off. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Taking off. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

The Maldives. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem

To my extreme disappointment, we landed in Maldives during a night of the crescent moon, hence there was no extraordinarily picturesque landing.

Our immigration process was relatively prompt. We were received by our hotel representative at the airport, who led us to our ferry. It took us 10-15 minutes to reach the island of Malé, from where we took a five-minute bus ride to our cosy and comfortable hotel.

As mentioned earlier, since our preference was to explore Maldives as a country and not spend our vacation at some picturesque or serene spot, we chose a mediocre yet ideally situated hotel with a spectacular view of the ocean and landing airplanes, within the main capital city of Malé, in order to better understand the cultural and social order of the country. However, it is pertinent to mention here that after interacting with the locals, we realised we were lucky to visit during the local holiday season, as the tiny capital was less crowded then.

The view from our hotel. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

A cloudy view. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

We were informed by our hotel staff that Malé is the world’s smallest capital, and that its total area is about five kilometres only. The climate is tropical, and the temperature hovers between 25 to 33 degrees around the year. However, according to my observation and from the local perspective, this uniformity of weather, climate and terrain can create an unpleasant monotony.

I would add here that despite the non-severity of the heated weather, the water of the ocean at the three islands I experienced was lukewarm, unlike the seawater of Karachi, which is cold even when the temperature outside is 42 degrees.

We also came to discover that throughout Malé, the taxis, irrespective of the distance (be it one kilometre or five) would charge a fixed fare of 25 Rufiyaa, which in my view is a good policy preventing the exploitation of innocent tourists.

Malé. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Generally, the public with whom we interacted, such as taxi drivers, hotel staff, children and common people travelling with us in ferries or people I met at my favourite spot, the Artificial Beach, all were unhappy with the hustle bustle and crowded environment of the capital city, and would prefer to live in their native islands, which they suggested were less crowded and more peaceful.

Here I feel obliged to describe my aforementioned favourite spot, the Artificial Beach! Since Malé does not have any beach of its own, this beach has been humanly crafted out of the reclaimed land of sea in order to fill the gap.

To continue, how can the cultural exploration of any land be complete without tasting its local cuisine? However, as none of us are real foodies, our focus was not on trying popular Maldivian seafood or local dishes. Instead, being fruit-lovers, we preferred spending on local fruits such as Jackfruit, Rambutan, locally grown bananas and pineapples, which we don’t find in Pakistan.

Jackfruit. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Rambutan. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

We also had ice cream from the famous Seagull Café. Here I feel worth mentioning the subway-like bun we bought from a roadside restaurant called ‘Submarine’, which was huge and really delicious.

Since the roads in Malé are non-spacious and streets are narrow, scooties and cycles are more commonly spotted than luxurious cars, and people often choose to walk to cover the small distances.

Narrow streets of Male. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

The market area. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

I noticed that, unlike the rest of the commonwealth nations, Maldivians are more fond of football than of cricket, and we spotted plenty of football grounds in the city. Indian culture is also visibly dominant in their eating habits, language and daily activities.

We also happened to visit a number of attractions within the capital. The first was the National Museum of Maldives, where the guide introduced us to the Buddhist era, the rise of Islam, and the colonial as well as modern Maldivian history and culture.

Next up was the Old Friday Mosque, constructed in 1656, as well as the Grand Friday Mosque situated nearby. However, since in Muslim culture women are not encouraged to enter mosques, my mother and I were not allowed to offer prayers inside.

Outside the mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Old Friday Mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Outside the Grand Mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

We later visited a number of parks, as well as the National Football Stadium. We also got the opportunity to briefly visit the neighbouring islands of Villingili (approximately a five-minute ferry ride from Malé) and Hulhumalé (approximately a 15-minute ferry ride and 10-minute speedboat ride from Malé). The latter is an artificial island built to meet industrial, housing and commercial requirements; it is also connected via the causeway to the Airport Island.

Hulhumalé Island. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

Boats at the Hulhumalé Island. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar

My deepest regret out of the entire trip, however, was not getting enough time to visit the popular underwater Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, situated at the Rangali Island.

To sum up, I would strongly recommend everyone interested in or planning to visit the Maldives, to reserve at least a few days to explore the generally ignored cultural and historical aspect of this beautiful island nation. For me, it was indeed a memorable journey, not only filled with pleasure and relaxation, but also with intellectual enrichment. Lastly, I wish to formally thank my parents who helped turn a long-awaited dream into a pleasant and memorable reality.

Sara Aslam Basar

Sara Aslam Basar

The writer is a lawyer by profession.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • 19640909rk .

    ” However, since in Muslim culture women are not encouraged to enter mosques, my mother and I were not allowed to offer prayers inside”……… This is not right in many ways. I would call it discrimination.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read ….. There have been a few write ups on the Maldives on this site but this one gave me a more realistic picture……and I loved the photographs.Recommend

  • fahad shehzad

    Maldives is out of this world.Indeed a place to visit.Recommend

  • Saleem Kapoorwala

    my first visit was in 86 , when Male had no roads and simply sand strips , loved the peopleRecommend

  • Sara Aslam Basar

    Thank you so much :)Recommend

  • Sara Aslam Basar

    Well, I had intended to write ‘in the Maldivian culture’, but probably it was rephrased by the editorial desk this way.Recommend

  • Kaynat Rehmat

    Could you also please share your total budget and duration of your stay.Recommend

  • Patwari

    But women are not allowed inside Hindu temples either.
    That’s the kettle calling the pot black? Hmmnn…
    There was a big movement in your Hindustan started by
    Muslim and Hindu women. Who formed a coalition against
    this practice and led marches and even filed a court case.
    It was started in Bombay. Which is now called Bumbai?
    Bambui? Bhrambay?…oh well.
    Just as Calcutta is now known as Koolkotta. And Madras
    became Chennai.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Never been to Maldives. Seems like an interesting affordable place that
    can fit many vacation budgets, easily. Would love to visit there.
    Love ‘thali’ dishes. Seems like Bharati thali food is easily available. Great.
    And yes, global warming is a direct dire threat to Maldives. Because of
    rising sea levels due to glaciers and polar caps meltingRecommend

  • Patwari

    Hopefully the author will respond. Would love to get an estimate, specially the hotel
    rate, where she stayed in Male.
    Depending on where you live;
    Currently [hopefully this helps a little bit]
    Pk Rs.8 =1 Maldivian Rufiyaa
    $1 = 15:50 Maldivian RufiyaaRecommend

  • Sara Aslam Basar

    Well, unfortunately the stay was only for five days, we stayed in a 3-star hotel, However, I would not be able to give you any accurate estimates due to a number of reasons: our trip to Maldives was coupled with Sri Lanka so we made combine payments; we did not take any tour package (which is relatively inexpensive and properly scheduled); we also made a mistake of visiting during winter vacations when charges are generally higher than usual; plus, we did not make our bookings through online websites (where you find good discounts) and booked through our travel agent. So in a way these are some useful tips whereby you could cut-down your trip expenses.Recommend

  • Sara Aslam Basar

    Yes, Indian food, particularly South Indian food is easily available throughout Male; However, since Maldivian currency is much stronger than ours, so it is not very cheep but not even unreasonably expensive either. On the other hand, if you book a Resort along with your desired package (that includes food, activities), book your flight and ferry/speed boat, etc. then you can pre-plan your stay according to your budget.Recommend

  • Patwari

    That is true. Get a package deal that includes meals and transportation.
    No doubt more safe, secure. With no hidden unexpected costs.
    Or be adventurous and decide what exploring you will do, or where you
    will go, each day. Definitely expensive this way. More for guys travelling
    alone.
    Seems like all kind of options are available. Just planning required.Recommend

  • Hammad Mian

    Sunni/Hanafi school of thought doesn’t permit the women to enter the mosques however Ahlehadith school of thought encourages the women to go to mosque for their prayers.Recommend