For Maldivians, who love a good story, it is somehow fitting that the early history of the country is protected 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 challenge the monster and forbid him from coming into the Maldives.
There is the story of “BoduThakurufaanu”, well-known for its length, who saved the Maldives from Portuguese Raiders. 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 traveled 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
1153 - Maldives converts to Islam
1558 - The Portuguese invade the Maldives
1573 - Mohamed Thakurufaanu liberates the Maldives from the Portuguese
1752 - The Malabars invade the Maldives for three months
1887 - Protectorate signed with Great Britain
1932 - The first Constitution of the Republic of Maldives enacted
1953 - The first Republic with Mohamed Ameen as President
1954 - End of the first Republic as Ameen is ousted; the Maldives reverts to Sultanate with Mohamed Fareed as ruler
1965 - Independence from the British
1968 - End of the Sultanate; second Republic begins with Ibrahim Nasir as President
1972 - The first island resort is developed; tourists begin arriving to the Maldives
IMPORTANT PLACES TO VISIT
The Hukuru Miskiyy, (Friday Mosque) built in 1656 contains finely fluted coral block walls, and intricately engraved beams; Mulee-aage, the current Presidential residence was built right before the First World War and overlooks the Friday Mosque; the Islamic Centre that was built in1984 and has a lovely, geometric stretch of white steps leading up-to the grand mosque; the sultan park and national museum that are housed in the same compound,the latter consists of an intimate collection housed in a quaint building surrounded by trees; and the artificial beach, and swimming track, both ideal for a refreshing swim.
Another interesting aspect of Male' are the names of houses. From names that pay tribute to island culture, like 'Sea-Breeze', and 'Sunshine Lodge', there are also slightly eccentric variations, like 'Forget-Me-Not', and ‘Always Happy House’. A quintessentially Maldivian feature, it provides an amusing accompaniment to a walk around Male' and an insight into the mindsets of the Maldivian people.
The Male' surf point Raalhugandu and the artificial beach lie on the south-eastern side of Male'. The area comes to life in the late afternoons and evenings, with hundreds of Male' dwellers coming out to relax and enjoy the fresh sea air and the day's end. The surf-huts overlooking Raalhugandu, built by local surfers and residents of neighbouring houses provide a vantage point for watching the waves. Whether you are there to see the surfers expertly guide their boards over the waves, or the strong curls of the waves themselves, the sight will not disappoint.
Male' also hosts a wide range of shops that sell every imaginable good including supermarkets, chemists, electronics, books,clothes, footwear, and jewellery.
Notable shopping areas of Male’ include the two markets, one which sells local agricultural produce, and another that sells fish.
The local market stocks agricultural produce from all Maldivian islands. It is located on the northern side of Male', and distinguished by the sight of hanging clusters of bright yellow bananas throughout the market. The market is favoured by locals and expatriates alike, mainly because of the availability of fresh, local fruit and vegetable produce at inexpensive prices.
The fish market is located a mere two blocks away from the local market. The main feature of the market is its unmissable odour of freshly caught fish. Once your nostrils adjust to the strong smell, the market is a veritable delight of colour and energy. The best time to visit the fish market would be in the late-afternoons, when the local fishermen bring in their catch. Make sure you see the fish-cutters at work, with their practised blades slicing and dicing the fish neatly.
Slightly off the usual tourist track are the plentiful textile shops dotted around Male'. Favoured by local women who often get their clothes tailored instead of bought ready-made, these shops number in the hundreds and offer fabric of every imaginable texture, design and colour. Air-conditioned and well-maintained, these shops are well worth a visit if only to get a glimpse of local women in their element. Any tour guide will be able to point you in the direction of the larger textile shops, and you will come across a dozen stores on a walk along the main roads of Male'.
Male’ also has a range of bookstores, where you purchase stationery as well as a range of popular fiction, non-fiction and self-help books.
To take back memories of your holiday in a more material form, the souvenir shops on the northern end Chandhanee Magu provide the perfect outlet. Wooden ashtrays, turtle shaped salt and pepper shakers, shell necklaces and packs of playing cards, these shops offer kitsch of every kind and shape for the discerning traveler.
DINE AT MALE'
Open from early morning till 1 am in the night,the Male' restaurants aim to please. Menus ranging from Thai, Italian, Indian and other international, regional and local cuisine. They are served in a range of restaurants, from the cool air-conditioned bistros to the laid-back open-air cafes. For a truly Maldivian dining experience, try the fish, preferably whilelistening to the waves at a waterfront restaurant.
The local version of fast-food are served at what are known as Sai-Hotaas (teashops). In chatter-filled environment, these hotaas serve ‘short-eats’: a variety of (often deep-fried) sweet and savoury finger-food, mostly fish and coconut based, as well as local bread ‘roshi’ to be eaten with a variety of side dishes. Hotaas have a robust clientele, and serve food on communal tables.The atmosphere is extremely informal and should you want to engage in conversation with a friendly local, this may very well be the place to do so.
Cafés are big with the locals of ages and sexes in Male’. Over cups of steaming coffee, tea and hot chocolate, friends catch up on the day’s affairs and business deals are conducted. In addition to various beverages, cafés also serve snacks and smalls in an environment more tempered than that of the hotaas. Ranging from the cozy and air-conditioned to water-front and laid back,they are the perfect place to satiate a caffeine fix or to quench dry throats with a fresh juice.
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 subsistence 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 folklore's 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) resemble 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 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 people of the Maldives are its own unique character. They are a small,kindred society unified by common history, the Dhivehi language, and the Islamic faith. Islam has given strength to the society and the faith is taken very seriously. The ties and obligations felt by individuals to their community, to their President, to a whole nation reflects the tradition of strong family ties. Intelligent, as well as devout, the people of The Maldives are tolerant and respectful of each other and of visitors to the country.
Maldivians have been able to blend tradition and modernity. Hardworking, but unhurried, playful and respectful, Maldivians have been able to blend tradition and modernity. All Maldivians have open access to education. All have the opportunity to play significant roles in the economic life of the nation.
Great respect is felt for the head of the national 'family' as well as for the head of each household. The family unit is strong.
Maldives people a population of little over 300,000 people is spread over the islands with over a quarter of them living in Male’, the capital. To foreigners the village people on some islands may seem shy. Curious of outsiders, they prefer to observe newcomers from a distance at first. One soon learns of their hospitality when the island chief provides a cold coconut drink and a healthy snack, usually made of seafood.
Athletic, the Maldivians are either soccer players or soccer fans, natural swimmers and divers, aggressive players in tennis, cricket, or badminton, the young people are encouraged to develop physically as well as intellectually and morally. Friendliness and honesty are taken for granted in The Maldives where old customs and Muslim traditions are respected.
The government is dedicated to improving the life of the people on the islands.Young people are encouraged to strive for higher education. Under government sponsorship young students are given grants to study abroad and they return to The Maldives to give service to the country.
Brilliant young women hold key positions in the government, working tirelessly to serve their country and people. Fishermen unload their silvery haul. Women attired in traditional dress sweep the grounds of a school readying it for a special Independence Day celebration. Five times a day finds a nation expressing religious devotion in prayer at one of the many mosques. Festivals give way to fun-loving, talented men and women singing and dancing.
As per historical records, the first inhabitants of the country were the Naga and the Yakka people who migrated from SriLanka and came over here. History also says that the Dravidians from South India also came and settled over here,thereby becoming the early inhabitants of the country.
The people of the country are dark skinned and have an athletic built. Most of them are either football players or excellent divers. Young citizens of Maldives are encouraged to take part in sports and other games. Education is given a lot of importance in the country and everybody is encouraged to go for higher education.
The people of Maldives are simple people and are extremely family oriented.They give a lot of respect to one another, especially to the visitors. The majority of the people in this country are Muslims. They give a lot of importance to their families. The people of the country are extremely shy, but friendly. The people are extremely spiritual and religious minded. People of this country are however extremely superstitious.
The Maldives society has strong social divisions, Women are expected to stay at home and take cares of the household, while the men takes all the major decisions and is the bread earner of the family.
The Maldives people are known for their simplicity and friendly nature. One would surely like to mix with them and know more about them
Although geographically isolated, the Maldives is easily accessible by air from anywhere in Southeast Asia, Middle East and Europe, hence is served by all major scheduled airlines in the region in addition to several charter flights from Europe and Scandinavian countries.
The Maldives is forty five minutes from Colombo, three hours from Dubai, four hours from Singapore and nine to eleven hours from London.
Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is located on a geographically separate island named Hulhulé – Hulule Island is 2km (1.2 miles) from Malé (travel time by boat – 15 minutes). Boats from the various island resorts meet each arriving plane to take visitors to their accommodation.
There is no scheduled transfer from Hulule Island to the other islands. .Transfers to resorts would be arranged prior to arrival by your resorts/tour operators via speedboat or sea plane. Airport facilities include left luggage, first aid, bank, duty free shops,snack bar, post office and restaurant
No prior visa is required to enter the Maldives and a free 30-day visa is granted to all visitors who meet immigration requirements upon arrival.
However an entry permit does not permit visitors to take up employment set up any business or conduct any professional activities (paid or unpaid) except with the consent of the government and in compliance with pertinent laws and regulations of the Maldives
Pornographic literature, idols of worship, pork products and certain other animal products, explosives and weapons, alcoholic beverages and drugs are strictly prohibited. The penalty for importing drugs for personal or other use is life imprisonment. Animals require a veterinary certificate (dogs not allowed).
The following may not be exported in any form: tortoise and turtle shells and products made of turtle shell (the Government has banned the killing of turtles), and black coral in whole form.
The following goods may be imported into the Maldives Republic without incurring customs duty:
A reasonable amount of cigarettes, cigars and tobacco; a reasonable number of gifts.
Visitors of all nationalities in possession of the following would be granted entry into the Maldives:
An international certificate of inoculation against yellow fever and cholera is required by visitors arriving from infected countries.
If you have a booking with a resort, transfer is usually arranged prior to your arrival. The options of speedboat or seaplane transfer where available is for you to choose from. For transfer to the resorts close to the airport, motor boator dhoni transfer is quite convenient. You can also may be transferred to the resort, by domestic air transfer upon the location of the resort.
Departure tax- None if airport tax has been paid before; otherwise, US$12.
The Maldives is 5 hours ahead of the GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). To offer holiday makers the optimum use of the tropical sun most resorts have their clocks put forward one hour to GMT+
Dress is informal, but locals who are Muslim will be offended by nudity or scanty clothing in public places, and the Government rigidly enforces these standards. Bikinis and other scanty beachwear are not acceptable in Malé or on any other inhabited island. When entering a mosque, the legs and the body, but not the neck and the face, should be covered. Handshaking is the most common form of greeting. The indigenous population not involved in the tourist trade lives in isolated island communities maintaining almost total privacy. A large number of locals smoke, but smoking and eating during Ramadan is discouraged.
It's common to head a list of activities with a selection of Must Do's. Such is not the case with the Maldives, where visitors are compelled to do nothing more than enjoy themselves, which could be easily accomplished by wandering the few steps from their villa to a beach side hammock.
That said, the diving in the Maldives has few parallels anywhere in the world, abd the same applies to most marine activities. Spa treatments form the gilt on a very tasty slice of gingerbread; and there can be few more quirky national capitals than Malé, a mirage-like conurbation bypassed by the majority of sun-sand-sea-and-scuba-fixated visitors. It's small wonder that the Maldives are often first choice for honeymooners; in a similar vein, it is difficult to write an introduction such as this without resorting to the word "paradise".
You don't have to travel very far in the Maldives to come across that beach you saw in the brochure, a calendar, or on a postcard: then you realise it wasn't Photo Shopped!
And then all the clichés - crystal clear azure waters, powder white sand, one step short of heaven - suddenly hit home with extra resonance. There's rarely a scrap of litter to disturb the idyll, and fish swim right up to the water's edge.
Visitors could well be forgiven for spending their entire holiday on the strand, though the tropical sun's effects on human skin are well documented. Use sunscreen and common sense.
There are whales around the Maldives, but the most accessible marine spectator sport is watching dolphins, usually the utterly acrobatic Spinner variety.
The Spinners usually obligingly feed around sunset, allowing resorts to load up a dhoni with paying guests and some sort of on board bar. Kodak moments apart, this is a lovely excursion, romantic even, as the sun descends into the ocean and the scores of dolphins cavort above and below the waves. Visitors especially keen on dolphin watching should check with their resort how far they have to travel to take in the spectacle, and may wish to book accordingly.
FISHING IN THE MALDIVES
Dorado, tuna, jackfish, shark, marlin, barracuda - the Maldives is 99 per cent sea and much of it swarms with veritable academies of fish. This is a pricey sport, though you can offset the expense by asking the resort chef to cook up your catch at the end of the day.
Crews are usually highly experienced and enthusiastic, and can bring radar technology to bear in a slightly one-sided contest. This might be said to be the quintessential Maldives expedition - marine-oriented, rather expensive and conducted against a suitably stunning backdrop.
Devoted game-fishers should check with their prospective resorts about equipment available.
Counting the precise number of islands in the Maldives, which is spread over 90,000 square kilometres, is complicated by the fact that many of them disappear at high tide. Official estimates hover at around 1,190.
Island hopping is less popular than might be supposed; those outside the tourist zone are off-limits to foreigners, and those within it are very much interchangeable. Seaplanes and speedboats bridge the gaps for anyone sparked by wanderlust.
Note that some resorts reserve an offshore island for honeymooners and those of a similar mindset, ferrying them out there in the morning and arranging a pick-up in the afternoon. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden before the Fall are inescapable. There's no need for fig leaves either.
Dive is actually the local word for "island", so Maldives means "the islands of Malé"; and the archipelago could scarcely be more fortuitously named.
Thousands of divers flock here every year, drawn by superb underwater visibility, glorious coral, and a range of marine life that's not bested even by the world's top aquariums.
The dive spots are as attractive to beginners as they are to hardened veterans, and even common-or-coral-garden snorkelers can catch superb vistas only a few metres from the beach.
Truly dedicated divers sign up for diving safaris, cruising the atolls for the creme-de-la-crème, hardly bothering to set foot on dry land.
SHOPPING IN MALDIVES
Retail options are rather limited in the Maldives, being divided between the capital, the airport, and the resorts. Unless you're shopping for food, Malé provides little in the way of original souvenirs. The exception is thudu kuna - locally woven mats,
Tourist-oriented shops clustering together offer much the same (slightly tacky) wares, many of which may have been imported. There's a slightly broader selection at the airport, while resort boutiques often carry some unique designer jewellery and similar items (with prices to match).
Note that the export of anything made of pearl oyster shell, or black or red coral is prohibited.
Few Maldivian resorts are without a spa in some form or another; and there are few better places in the world to indulge in a prolonged pampering session - after all, the archipelago is naturally suggestive of luxuriating, and what could be more appropriate than a lingering scrub and massage in blissfully designed surrounds?
But be aware that just about every visitor is thinking along the same lines, and few think to seek out their favourite treatments and book ahead.
Prices are on the high side - booking a half- or full-day's treatment may work out to be more economical than three or four separate slots.
SURFING IN THE MALDIVES
This is by no means a mainstream sport, but it's showing strong signs of developing. Catching a wave in the Maldives takes some effort, but is more than worth it.
The season runs roughly from March to November, and only a few good surf spots are actually in the tourism zone. Surfers need to pick a resort near a reputable break, or hire a live-aboard to cruise around.
It's heartening to report that occasional international surf contests are now being staged in the Maldives, and that young locals have taken to the sport with alacrity, bridging the cultural gap between tourist and resident.
Almost all Maldivian resorts provide water sports facilities, though it is worth checking ahead if you are devoted to something in particular.
Kayaks, dinghies and windsurfers are pretty much a given; water skiing, kite boarding and banana boats are catching on fast; and the more exotic (if less eco-friendly) aquatic pastimes such as jet skis lurk at more up-market places.
Basic equipment is usually free of hire charges - but expect to pay handsomely for anything that consumes fuel. The above warning about ultra violet rays is repeated here, as they bounce off the water onto unprotected skin, possibly unnoticed until it's too late due to the cooling sea breezes.