Around 1342, when Western seafarers were swapping alehouse stories about mermaids and sea monsters, the famous North African adventurer Ibn Battuta sailed into Maldives and described it as one of the wonders of the world.
He seemingly spent two years on the islands where he made friends and acquaintances of important members of society and royalty, dispensed advice on religion and gained position as an Islamic jurist. Although he complained about his frustration in trying to get the stubborn females on the islands to cover up their nubile forms, the journal of his wandering lifestyle as a slave-owning expat male cum casual polygamist may stir unintended social media outrage in today’s woke-sensitized readers.
"On the 2nd of the month of Shawwal I agreed with the vezir Sulaiman Manayak to marry his daughter. Then I sent word to the grand vezir Jamal-ud-din with a request that the nuptials should take place in the palace in his presence. He gave his consent, and in accordance with the custom, betel as well as sandalwood was brought. The people assembled but vezir Sulaiman delayed. He was called but he did not come and when called a second time he excused himself on the ground that his daughter was ill. The grand vezir, however, said to me secretly, ' His daughter refuses to marry and she is absolutely free to have her own way. But since the people are now assembled, would you like to marry the step-mother of the sultana, the wife of her father—that is, the lady whose daughter was married to the vezir’s son. 'Yes', I answered. Then the qazi and witnesses were summoned, and the marriage was solemnized and the grand vezir paid the dower. After a few days she was brought to me. She was one of the best women and her society was delightful to such an extent that whenever I married another woman she showed the sweetness of her disposition still by anointing me with perfumed ointment and scenting my clothes, smiling all the time and betraying no ill humour. After this marriage the grand vezir Jamal-ud-din compelled me against my will to accept the qazi’s post." From The Travels (الرحلة, Rihla) or A Masterpiece to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling (تحفة النظار في غرائب الأمصار وعجائب الأسفار, Tuḥfat an-Nuẓẓār fī Gharāʾib al-Amṣār wa ʿAjāʾib al-Asfār)
With a bit of sailor’s luck, a present day castaway may find himself washed ashore, to one of its 1,190 islands and lagoons (only about 30% are inhabited) if he is shipwrecked halfway between the coasts of Sumatra and Somalia. The chains of coral reefs running two-by-two, that form the islands of Maldive are actually the tops of a giant undersea ridge that runs north from the Lakshadweep Islands off India’s Malabar Coast, to south at the Chagos Archipelago deep in the Indian Ocean.
The Maldives are like the tiniest ticks off the giant continental body of Asia. The physical size of all the 26 Maldivian atolls combined is a shade smaller than even Penang, but these fantasy islands sparkle and shine, like sprinkled glitter dust, scattered across a dreamy blue expanse of waters the area of Portugal.
Maldives is world-famous but a latecomer in tourism. The first tourists were Italians who came fifty years ago in 1972. Now almost everyone dreams of Maldives as a paradise of blue waters, white sands and romantic celebrity-type getaways. This image is true to a large degree, but Maldives is not just a cluster of luxury resorts but a real and authentic country. It is a nation of oceanic people with a unique history, culture and language called Dhivehi.
For a full and true taste of Maldives, staying and spending time on local inhabited islands is recommended. If you do, even a romantic and comfortable trip for two to Maldives can be fairly affordable with some planning.
To find cheaper accommodation (from $60 a night) go off-season during the months of choppier sea and cloudier skies from April to October. Island-hopping will significantly inflate costs, unless you travel within one to two atolls (there are 26 atolls in total spreading over 800 km north to south) using the slow and infrequent service of local ferries. You will need to travel by the more flexible and faster private speedboats at least once or twice during the trip but pop a seasick pill 30 minutes before the ride if the sea is rougher than 22 knots.
Download the traveller declaration Imuga before you arrive at Velana Airport to save time, hassle and avoid paying extortion roaming charges.
Maldives is a jaw-droppingly beautiful and amazingly friendly country. To experience this, dress sensibly, show humility and respect local customs, as you would anywhere. It is simply the best sea paradise there is, even for non-beach lovers (I am talking about me here). The time for Maldives is now, go sooner before the crowd gets bigger, when people fully and finally wake up to the truth about the pandemic flu.
In our trip we stayed at these lovely accommodations:
In Omadhoo at the Hudhuveli Maldives, http://www.hudhuvelimaldives.com. Please call Nihan +960-988-3886
In Mahibadhoo, at the Dhamana Beach, http://www.dhamanabeach.com. Please contact Enzo +960-7329-228
- All Pictures and Texts Copyright Kerk Boon Leng October 2022