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Castaway on the Maldives

The sun, the sand and the sea …. a corny line from a Navy ad on television, and also my idea of a perfect getaway from the chiller compartment I call office.

Which is why I was excited at the prospect of three days of bliss in the Maldives. The Maldives is made up of over 1,200 coral islands, southwest of Sri Lanka, stretching 1,200 km from north to south in the Indian Ocean.

The Taj Exotica Resort & Spa is sited on Emboodhu Finolhu island, once known as “Three Coconut Island”. It is located in one of the largest lagoons the heart of the Maldives archipelago, in the South Atoll.

My wife, Ruku and I were told we would experience life the way Robinson Crusoe would have lived it. Well, Crusoe-like or not, we arrived in the Maldives in comfort.

The Sri Lankan airlines flight lived up to its excellent service status and landed at the Male International Airport, situated in an island adjacent to Male, the capital of Maldives.

Most international flights land at night. But the process was made painless and swift by the resort hosts. Half an hour after clearing customs, we were pampered with bottled water and cold scented towels, and shipped off to Emboodhu Finolhu. Turns out it is just 20 minutes by speedboat from the airport.

Even in dim light, the 64 circular villas with their thatch roofs are a pretty architectural sight. The lagoon villas are set on stilts, and accessible by a wooden platform that stretch out in a fan shape.

But it was when I woke up the next morning that real breathless wonder hit. Swinging open the villa’s shutter doors, I found myself looking at the sea stretching out behind our lagoon villa and felt immediately at one with nature.

In the distance, the clear blue of the sea – dotted green here and there by neighbouring islands – was matched by the sky, both forming a canvas of hues stretching into the horizon. A sanctuary for the senses is an apt subtitle to the brand name of the Taj resorts.

The picturesque and tiny little island, which is but a 10-minute walk around, is indeed a visual delight. Trees and plants, nurtured painstakingly by the 150 staff here, provide relief from the brilliant sun rays. We gave our senses a treat here, by luxuriating in crystal-clear sea water, powdery soft sand and warm sunshine.

All over the island, the air is thick with the sweet scents of essential oils, burning candles and incense. And there is no need for shoes or sandals here. Your feet will love shuffling through the soft, fine, powdery white sand. The au natural sand floor of the restaurant means one can go to dinner barefoot and not have the maitre d’ send you off with a frown.

Unlike most resorts there is no buffet spread. The food choices are loving prepared on order. The lamb briyani (saffron rice) is especially good. You can choose to eat in the restaurant or have the food served in the privacy of your villa.

The feeding of the senses will not be complete without the pleasures of the spa treatments provided by the Taj Spa run by Mandara from Indonesia. From basic back rubs to a three-day package that gives you the body works tip to toe, there is plenty to chose from. It is advisable to book your appointments early, even before you travel.

With its rustic, romantic ambience, the resort is a favourite with honeymooners or couples willing to splurge on quality time together. For those who will rather take part in water sports, the crystal-clear water and diverse marine life of the Maldives are perfect for diving and snorkelling.

But if flippers and scuba gear are not your thing, the good news is you do not have to get your feet wet to see marine life. The glass-bottom boat tour is a delightful way to see the marine life and coral structures.

While the Taj resort is truly a sanctuary to relax the body and mind, there are also activities to keep the young and restless happy. The lounge has a billiards table, or you can play table tennis. There is also a well stocked library with a chaise lounge for reclining while reading.

One of the delights is the sunset cruise. The resort speedboat whisks you away to a handsome wooden boat, or dhoni which drifts along. An occasion that calls for champagne, well certainly, bubbly is served on board.

To satisfy any misplaced penchant for shopping, you can arrange a half-day city tour to the Maldivian capital, Male. But unless you have a weakness for collecting tacky, over-priced souvenirs – everything is sold to tourists in US dollars – don’t bother taking the tour.

After all, Emboodhu Finolhu has all the sights, sounds and smells you need for a perfect holiday.

Set amid such tranquillity and nestled in nature, we began to see why a trip to the Maldives is often described as a vacation with that Robinson Crusoe feel. But then, Robinson Crusoe never had it so good.

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