STEP INTO JUMEIRAH DHEVANAFUSHI, MALDIVES, WHERE YOUR PRIVACY IS GUARDED ZEALOUSLY AND THE ONLY COMPANY YOU HAVE IS SEA AND SKY SAYS PRACHI BHUCHAR
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
The Ocean Pearl villas are built over water and form an exclusive set of 16
took the Jumeirah group three-and-a-half years to create this elegant, private
The infinity pool at Dhevanafushi calls for endless hours of sunbathing and floating
The marine life just off Dhevanafushi make it ideal for snorkelling