The Maldives is frequently associated with images of lush islands, crystal-clear seas, and opulent overwater bungalows. However, a nation of islands with a rich and distinct history, language, and culture can be found outside the luxurious resorts.
The refreshing smell of the ocean envelopes me as I set foot off on the docks. Maldives consists of 26 natural atolls, each with its own charming palm tree-lined island. A unique vacation destination surrounded by lagoons with pure water, Maldives offers a wide range of lovely lodging alternatives, from floating resorts to charming guesthouses.
A warm, chatty guide in his mid-twenties led my partner and I to the floating reception of the villa check-in. Large, pink and white Hyacinth flowers at the entrance set the vibes for a warm welcome with its signature robust and earthy scent. I know that our relaxing vacation has just begun.
The receptionist informs us that our villa will only be ready in a few hours. We know that it was no fault of theirs, as we have arrived at the villa much earlier than the check in-time. She graciously offers us some apple slices and grapefruit juice, explaining that they were commonly traded fruits in the past.
The Maldives once formed a stop along the spice trade route that connected East Asia with the Arab world. Due to its historical significance as a major intersection, this trade hub developed itself, albeit with influences from India, Sri Lanka, Arabia, Persia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Africa. Over the years, Maldivians have incorporated these influences and developed a unique cultural identity like no other.
While enjoying the tranquillity of Maldives, one can tour the local handicrafts, historical monuments, and villages, and visit a local spa, the receptionist explained whimsically as she handed us a brochure. The idea of a local spa catches our attention, so we proceed to store our bags at the check-in and head to Alif Alif Atoll, a 20 minute Dhoni ride away.
Over the years, the Maldivian Dhoni (a traditional multi-purpose wooden sail vessel with a motor or lateen sails) has undergone refinement. The Lakudi (Sandalwood), depicted above, is a modern take on this traditional design with a prow that was skillfully built. A wooden boat, retrofitted with a Perkins Sabre 360 HP engine. Private snorkelling excursions, transport to other atolls, sunset cruises are all available to guests at our resort on this boat ride. Stepping onto the Dhoni, the arboraceous smell from the cabin removes all my doubt as to if it is worthy of its name.
The spa is another relaxing haven altogether. I opt for the traditional oil massage. In a few moments, the masseuse, together with her violet leave oils and nimble fingers, proceed to alleviate the neck pains from our long journey here, away. I enter a state of total relaxation.
Outside the resort, It is interestingly different. Maldivians, who are primarily Muslims, are highly conservative and dress traditionally. Males dress in a sarong and a white cotton shirt, and females don the customary libaa, a long dress embroidered with gold and silver thread. Additionally, even while swimming at a designated bikini beach, visitors must be totally covered while swimming in beaches on the mainland.
A great portion of the locals earn their keep by selling handicrafts to travellers like myself. The fundamental techniques utilised in lacquer works, one of the most recognizable arts and crafts of the Maldives, have scarcely changed over time. Modern dyes have replaced traditional colouring pigments in hand-drawn spinners that were used to create items. The sculpted pieces are covered in layers of lacquer, and using only basic equipment and no preconceived drawings, elaborate patterns are carved on them.
The peaceful period shortly before twilight falls. After a spectacular exhibition of vivid hues, tints, and colours combined with the striking patterns and silhouettes of the clouds, the golden orb of the setting sun has fallen below the western horizon. It's a beautiful sight to behold, standing by the ocean, with my life problems fading away by the reflection on the waterways. I become fully immersed in the experience.