THE MAL­DIVES AD­DIC­TION

Beware: One trip to these is­lands in the In­dian Ocean, and you’ll want to re­turn over and over again

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Travel - By Swa­pan Seth

THE LIGHT GREEN, DARK GREEN, LIGHT BLUE, DARK BLUE OF THE SEA MERGE LIKE PANTONE PO­ETRY... PER­HAPS GOD WAS A WATERCOLOURIST

“It stopped and tilted its head, which was much like a field­stone with an eye in it, which was watch­ing me to see if I would go or change into some­thing else” The Grey Heron by Gal­way Kin­nell.

I n the Mal­dives, the grey heron cap­ti­vates you. It emerges un­ex­pect­edly. It sits by the pool. Then sud­denly, it de­cides to walk be­hind you on the pow­dery beaches. It stands sto­ically watch­ing a few manta rays swim by. It is very much there. But al­ways un­can­nily un­ob­tru­sive. Yet, you feel you are be­ing watched.

Much like my ho­tel’s ge­nial gen­eral man­ager.

He too emerges sud­denly. As your buggy drives down the prop­erty, he en­ters stage left from be­hind the trees. Or you bump into him dur­ing an un­planned stroll down the beach. They say great hote­liers al­ways watch. But they are never seen. They’re shy ex­tro­verts.

PO­ETRY IN PANTONES

The Air In­dia flight that takes one to Male via a 50-minute stop at Thiruvananthapuram is ev­ery bit pre­dictable. The arm­rests need rest. The food is fan­tas­tic. And they forget to hand over the Fast Track form that can trans­form get­ting into Mal­dives from a liv­ing hell into god’s own beach. Once you have the form, get­ting past im­mi­gra­tion is much like the breeze that em­braces the is­land.

We picked the rough-end of the weather stick. We were told that July came with rains as its brides­maid. The wa­ter would be rough. But the sun slyly showed its face through all the days we were there.

One is totally un­pre­pared to ex­pe­ri­ence the Mal­dives.

A ferry gets you to the re­sort from Male. It is one of the only re­sorts there that does not have to pan­der to the egos of sea­planes to get you to your va­ca­tion.

When you ar­rive, you are still a tad un­der­whelmed. But once you stand, fac­ing the beach, the hair be­gins to stand on end. Al­most in ap­plause.

The light green, dark green, light blue, and dark blue merge like Pantone po­etry. It is then that a thought flashes past your eyes – per­haps God was a watercolourist.

This im­age of the blue wa­ter, I was told, was a func­tion of the sun­light be­ing scat­tered by the wa­ter mol­e­cules. The phy­to­plank­tons were re­spon­si­ble for the greens. Tiny-sized al­gae, they use green chloro­phyll pig­ments to capture en­ergy from the sun. Physics and bi­ol­ogy. They live on a twin­shar­ing ba­sis in the Mal­dives.

As do the coral and the spec­tac­u­lar sea life.

Reef sharks, eye­brows raised, saunter past de­mure Madoo­gali reef. Sea cu­cum­bers chat with mo­ray eels. Friendly seals come vis­it­ing from sub-Antarc­tic waters. Stoned manta rays laze past gi­ant gui­tarfishes that are busk­ing in

the waters. Titan trig­ger­fish pout for a selfie, as a Pi­casso trig­ger­fish pho­to­bombs them.

Ev­ery one has a seat in the waters of the Mal­dives. It is an en­dear­ing democ­racy.

MEET YOUR­SELF

There are var­i­ous ways to ap­proach the Mal­dives. In her beau­ti­ful book,

The Mem­ory Of Love, Ami­natta Forna said, “A life, a his­tory, whole pat­terns of ex­is­tence al­tered, sim­ply by do­ing noth­ing. The silent lie. The act of omis­sion.”

You can choose to do sim­ply noth­ing at the Mal­dives. The Taj Ex­ot­ica, where I stayed, has a swing smack in the mid­dle of the ocean. I spent time with my playlist there. Lis­ten­ing to

Apoc­a­lypse by Cig­a­rettes Af­ter Sex, sur­rounded by wa­ter, was a mo­ment. It is a won­der­ful place to meet your­self.

But if that is not your cup of chamomile, the wa­ter sports are sim­ply awe­some. The re­sort has its own div­ing fa­cil­ity run with great knowl­edge and com­pas­sion by Ni­had. Why com­pas­sion, you may won­der. Be­cause you need that to en­cour­age a non-swim­mer like me to go deep-sea div­ing. Or snorkelling, where I en­coun­tered a reef shark. Ni­had is a won­der­ful source of dis­cov­er­ing seal­ife. He makes the Mal­dives spe­cial.

On one evening, I went para­sail­ing with Ni­had and his team. As we stared at the coral beam­ing at us from un­der the wa­ter, I felt dwarfed by na­ture. The breadth of its beauty and the length of its love­li­ness can­not be de­scribed.

Chuffed over my brazen bold­ness, I de­cided to jet-ski one morn­ing. On an­other day I tried my hand at wa­ter­ski­ing. Need­less to add, I was a mis­er­able fail­ure at both. But for teenagers and ad­ven­ture junkies it can be happy heroin.

But it’s the sun­sets that set the Mal­dives apart. The skies of the Mal­dives are ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ists. Jack­son Pol­lock­like, they drip colours on the can­vas of your sight. Blues, or­anges, pur­ples and even blacks are hurled at you.

You are blinded by the beauty.

The eye-opener at the re­sort is the food. Fresh meats, fish and veg­eta­bles. I had some of the finest steaks there. And the Chi­nese at the cof­fee shop is spec­tac­u­lar as well. Food needs a cer­tain fa­mil­iar­ity when you are on a date with the largely un­fa­mil­iar Mal­dives. That’s where the Taj kicks in, with chef Bhaskar con­duct­ing a phil­har­monic for the palate.

SWEET INTOXICATION

In other mat­ters… It is im­por­tant that you req­ui­si­tion the ser­vices of Nadeem, the but­ler there. He has an im­pres­sive Rolodex. And roy­alty and the rich on speed dial. He takes but­ler service to an­other level. Even un­der­wa­ter. He came snorkelling with us. I asked the gen­eral man­ager, what he most re­grets. The In­ter­net, he said. “I wish we didn’t have cel­lu­lar sig­nals and the In­ter­net here”. Ironic, given the fact that the busi­ness cen­tre there has state-of-the-art com­put­ers with screens as large as Jonathan Ive’s imag­i­na­tion. So when is a good time to go to the Mal­dives? We went in July. And we are al­ready booked to go again in Septem­ber. Clin­i­cally speak­ing, all drugs, from nico­tine to heroin, cause a par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful surge of dopamine in the nu­cleus ac­cum­bens. It is one of the three rea­sons for ad­dic­tion. That surge is in the surf of the waters of the Mal­dives. That surge is in the sands of its beaches. That surge is in its sun­rises and sun­sets. It is a won­der­ful ad­dic­tion. Vis­i­tors to the Mal­dives are not per­mit­ted to bring al­co­hol or drugs. Once you visit it, you un­der­stand why. It is an intoxication by it­self.

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

HOL­I­DAY HAPPY Swa­pan Seth and his wife Sreya en­joy the is­land life

BE­ING SPORTY Dis­cover sea life by para­sail­ing over the reefs beam­ing at you

TREASuRES Of THE OcEAN Ex­pe­ri­ence the beauty of the coral reef by deep-sea div­ing

DELISH DE­LIGHTS Be pre­pared to be bowled over by fresh seafood and meat in the Mal­dives

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