BARE­FOOT LUX­URY

STEP INTO JUMEIRAH DHE­VANA­FUSHI, MAL­DIVES, WHERE YOUR PRI­VACY IS GUARDED ZEAL­OUSLY AND THE ONLY COM­PANY YOU HAVE IS SEA AND SKY SAYS PRACHI BHUCHAR

India Today - - HOTEL -

Their skin colour pays trib­ute to the sun god. Shades of brown, caramelised and burnt in de­grees be­cause of the is­land na­tion’s equa­to­rial in­ti­macy. The glossy brochures have split the Mal­dives wide open and long be­fore you pack your two-by-two out­fits and pre­pare to delve into the in­cred­i­ble light­ness of be­ing, you know that clichés will abound on this trip. In the Mal­dives, you jug­gle ad­jec­tives like a shade card, hop­ing to zero in on the right tone of sub­lim­i­nal blue that is so haunt­ingly writ­ten of in trav­el­ogues.

Im­ages of cli­mate cru­saders from the tiny na­tion walk­ing around som­brely at the Copen­hagen cli­mate sum­mit in 2009 are still fresh. “The coun­try is sink­ing be­cause of global warm­ing,” was the dooms­day pre­dic­tion. And it is. Which is why, a jour­ney here bor­ders on his­toric. Ru­mour has it that their pres­i­dent is busy is­land-shop­ping to build a new coun­try for his peo­ple, but repli­cas are rarely true to the orig­i­nal and the added pathos draws more tourists here with, iron­i­cally, heav­ier car­bon foot­prints. But there’s not a rip­ple on the sur­face of this in­cred­i­bly earnest na­tion where al­most ev­ery ca­reer graph be­gins and ends in the tourism in­dus­try.

Alabaster pale is­lands dot an ocean that’s ridicu­lously clear; none of that hazy murk­i­ness and fath­om­less bot­tom gob­bledee­gook usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the sea. The lav­ish is­lands sun them­selves in the mid­dle of an ocean where spools of liq­uid sun­shine chase jewel bright fish that flit be­tween sleepy reefs.

The trou­ble with the Mal­dives is the des­per­a­tion with which tourists de­scend on it. Most of the Rus­sians and yuan-rich Chi­nese who make up the pop­u­la­tion at high-end re­sorts on the atolls or is­land clus­ters come here to lighten their wal­lets and re­build their souls. It is to es­cape these char­tered loads and other ea­ger hon­ey­moon­ers that Jumeirah Dhe­vana­fushi ex­ists in all its dewy new prom­ise.

When you’re go­ing to stay on a pri­vate is­land which is built on the premise of iso­la­tion, you’re al­lowed to be silly and in­dulge in Robin­son Cru­soe-ish role play. At Jumeirah Dhe­vana­fushi where vil­las start at $4,000 a night, you can role­play all you want and no one is go­ing to stop you.

It’s a two hour and $7,000 ride on

a sea plane from the Male air­port to the Gaafu Alifu atoll, 400 km south of the cap­i­tal city of Malé. You can also take a do­mes­tic flight from here to Kaad­ed­hd­hoo air­port, which is a bald strip of run­way ris­ing from the ocean to ac­com­mo­date these flights of fancy; from here, it’s a 20-minute speed­boat ride to the is­land.

Dhe­vana­fushi was cre­ated to al­low you to wrap your­self in an over­sized robe, or drop it and streak along your own por­tion of ocean. It’s where you pay for the sort of ex­clu­siv­ity and anonymity only money can buy. An is­land where Hol­ly­wood and Bol­ly­wood stars might be dis­ap­pointed, be­cause no one will whis­per about their last film or care about how long they plan to stay.

To jus­tify its stag­ger­ing price tag, Jumeirah cod­dles you from the mo­ment you step on the Male run­way. Your lug­gage dis­ap­pears and you are whisked into a lounge where you can nib­ble on sweets and savouries while you wait for your con­nec­tion to the is­land. The do­mes­tic planes are tiny and ba­sic, but Jumeirah is plan­ning to ac­quire its own jet to fly its first class cus­tomers from Male to Kaad­ed­hd­hoo.

The other thing you pay for here is round the clock ser­vice. The staff to guest ra­tio at Jumeirah Dhe­vana­fushi is a ridicu­lous five peo­ple to one villa. And yet, since the prop­erty is so re­mote and per­haps be­cause it’s still find­ing its feet, the ser­vice is far from im­pec­ca­ble. Let’s face it, for up­wards of $4,000 a night you have ev­ery right to de­mand top-notch ser­vice. Wet tow­els on floor hours af­ter you show­ered, or dirty tea cups long af­ter your early morn­ing cuppa are in­ex­cus­able signs of slip­ping stan­dards and the in­her­ent Mal­di­vian lazi­ness.

The pri­vate but­ler at­tached to each villa is the in­ter­face be­tween you and the is­land, and it’s his job to keep you en­ter­tained. As the head of op­er­a­tions, Chris Rys ex­plains, the idea be­hind Dhe­vana­fushi was to cre­ate a space where you got the most per­son­alised care. “We send out a com­pre­hen­sive ques­tion­naire to our cus­tomers be­fore they land here. The idea is to have a de­tailed idea of their likes and dis­likes, and pre­pare the villa ac­cord­ingly. They should feel com­pletely at home.” From

a maxi-bar in the villa with all your favourite tip­ples to lazy mas­sages and pri­vate din­ing within, it’s all pos­si­ble.

The Is­land Re­vive villa I stayed in could have eas­ily ac­com­mo­dated six peo­ple. The dou­ble king size bed sur­rounded by white sheers is so vast that if there are just two peo­ple shar­ing it, chances are you won’t find each other within arm reach at night. A pri­vate pool, a li­brary, a gi­gan­tic bath with a mar­ble sunken tub, two rain show­ers and a day bed lead­ing up the sand path to your pri­vate beach, are just some of the trap­pings of this uber fancy set­ting. The honey-tim­ber coloured floor and ex­pan­sive, high roofs con­structed in Mal­di­vian style give these vil­las a per­son­al­ity that matches that of its high-fly­ing oc­cu­pants who are used to the best.

These vil­las aside, you have the even more exclusive Ocean Pearls which is made up of 16 water vil­las about 800m from the is­land. They start at $6,000 a night and are built on plat­forms that rise from the crys­tal bed of the ocean and are all glass and water.

It took the Jumeirah group three-and-a-half years to trans­form this de­serted is­land into Dhe­vana­fushi. Given the stature of guests who are ex­pected to hol­i­day here, the man­age­ment is pre­pared for all even­tu­al­i­ties and the kitchen is stocked to the hilt, mostly with pro­duce im­ported from Aus­tralia, Sri Lanka and Thai­land. It takes an av­er­age of three days by boat for sup­plies to get here from Male, an in­di­ca­tion of how re­mote the is­land is and how daunt­ing the task of run­ning the re­sort from this lo­ca­tion can be.

The Aus­trian ex­ec­u­tive chef who mans the food chain on this is­land truly makes eat­ing here a de­light­ful rit­ual. Azara, the all-day din­ing restau­rant is right on the beach and the fine-grained strip of sand be­fore it is trans­formed into a beach grill, Mu­mayaz, by night. The fish and other seafood smells and tastes of the ocean, and you never want to have canned tuna again. The beach bar, Khibar, is by the in­fin­ity pool where you can spend time end­lessly gaz­ing at the

cock­tail of colours that un­fold as the sun stretches and yawns. While the food is flaw­less and pre­sen­ta­tion at par with high-con­cept restau­rants around the world, given that there’s just one big menu, it can get bor­ing.

The is­land is mer­cu­rial; de­pend­ing on the di­rec­tion of the cur­rent, the beach shifts shape. So while you could have a wide beach be­fore your villa one morn­ing, the next, it could be re­duced to a thin, in­su­lar strip. It is this un­pre­dictable qual­ity that makes it that much more com­pelling as you wake up to a new morn­ing and walk out, the sand crunch­ing be­neath your bare feet.

Since you are on an is­land in one of the south­ern­most atolls, where tourism is still nascent, put your face to water and come up over­whelmed. You are likely to see schools of snap­pers, bar­racuda, tuna, sword­fish and other lesser-known but equally ex­cit­ing marine life. All you need to do is snorkel or dive off your is­land to ex­plore these reefs and be­friend the se­cret life housed within. The sheer clar­ity and di­ver­sity of marine life around this unique is­land makes the div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence so very spe­cial.

At Dhe­vana­fushi, the art of do­ing noth­ing is per­fected and the most work you’ll prob­a­bly do is in bed. Add to that a visit to the Talise spa and it’s the ul­ti­mate lazy-lux­ury va­ca­tion. At Talise you can flirt with fish through a shim­mer­ing glass box that’s level with your gaze as lie on your stom­ach, get­ting ev­ery kink un­rav­elled. Days, even weeks later, the ma­rooned-on-an-is­land mem­o­ries from Dhe­vana­fushi are tinted in shades of star­tling blue that even the best cam­eras can’t cap­ture. No won­der then that the 60-plus Bri­tish cou­ple drink­ing mo­ji­tos and play­ing backgam­mon ev­ery evening while we were there had been there for over three weeks, hum­bled by the ocean.

As our noisy 20-seater takes off from Kad­hd­he­doo at day break af­ter three days of vin­tage blue, the inky ex­panse of water and tex­tured sky merge into one un­for­get­table duet. The best of words or pic­tures fall short when it comes to bring­ing home the heart of Mal­dives.

The is­land on which Jumeirah Dhe­vana­fushi is lo­cated is in one of the south­ern most atolls

The vil­las come at­tached with a pri­vate pool, a gi­gan­tic bed and a se­cluded day bed

The guest to staff ra­tio is a stag­ger­ing one is to five, mak­ing the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence very

per­son­alised

The Ocean Pearl vil­las are built over water and form an exclusive set of 16

It

took the Jumeirah group three-and-a-half years to cre­ate this el­e­gant, pri­vate

re­treat

The in­fin­ity pool at Dhe­vana­fushi calls for end­less hours of sun­bathing and float­ing

The marine life just off Dhe­vana­fushi make it ideal for snorkelling

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.