As our 10th marriage anniversary was nearing, we decided to celebrate our decade long companionship with something we both like. Yes, to travel new places and we decided to start with our first foreign trip to the nearest and beautiful country Srilanka and then to gorgeous Maldives.
We took the late midnight flight to Colombo from Bangalore on board Sri Lankan Airlines, and were so excited to reciprocate the “Aayu bo wan” (meaning “Hello” in Sinhalese) of the staff with equally broad smile. It was an hours flight and the beautiful sunrise in the far horizon welcomed us to the Island nation of Srilanka. As it was December, the Christmas month, the Bandar Nayake International Airport was lit up with the Christmas trees, flowers and decorations, even our sleepy son started singing Jingle Bells at 6 am!!
After completing the required immigration procedures, we were welcomed by our tour co-ordinator, Mr. Surendra Jaysinghe, who then drove us to Negombo, a quaint beach town, our first stay and sight seeing place which is around 18 kms from Colombo.
Our itinerary covered the Western, Central and Southern Provinces of Sri Lanka.
Day 1 – Negombo:
After some rest we went to our first sight seeing place Dutch Fort and Church. The fort was originally built by Portugese to defend Colombo but, later was destroyed by Dutch and they again re-built it. The fort is near the lagoon and the inlet of the sea. Later English occupied it and today we can see only part of the walls and an arched gateway remains of the fort. Now it is used as a prison.
We visited the Church nearby which was well maintained. After visiting another church nearby we visited the Dutch Canal also called as Negombo canal. It is a 100 km man made canal built by the Dutch and used for transportation purpose in the olden days. It was evening and we decided to see the sunset from the Silvasa Beach which was walking distance from our Hotel. After watching the beautiful sunset in the Indian ocean we retired for the day.
Day 2 – Dambulla:
Our destination for the day was Dambulla, 140 kms from Negombo. Enroute we visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphange, where volunteers and caretakers provide shelter and take care of orphaned, abandoned and injured elephants from the jungle and within the park. It was exhilarating to watch so many elephants from the close vicinity. A lot of Chinese tourists were also visible, indicating the Chinese presence in Sri Lanka which is obviously strategically worrying India! We watched people feeding milk to baby elephants who gulp one bottle after another in under a minute. It was almost 1 pm and time for the gentle giants to do their favouite thing and that is to bathe in the nearby river. Its their routine here at Pinnawala to take the elephant herd to the nearby river where they spend all their free time and enjoy basking in the sun and playing in the waters. So we went to the river before hand to occupy a place from where we can easily see them. And indeed it was awesome to see around 200 elephants from the youngest to the oldest, coming in group navigated by the the mahouts and straight away plunge in to the river.
On our way back to the vehicle, we paid a visit to the store where everything from jewellery to showpieces were made of elephant dung!!!! Highly ecofriendly!
Our next stop was at an elephant ride, which was very expensive for an hours ride (about SL Rs. 4000 equivalent to INR 1900 per head!) and we decided not to take it. It was nothing new to us since we have been seeing elephants in India since childhood and had taken an elephant ride in Kerala. But westerners find elephants very interesting and go for the ride…moneywise as well as…. the actual ride. From there we headed to Sigiriya near Dambulla which was our next stay.
Day 3 – Sigiriya:
Sigiriya is a UNESCO listed world heritage site. Sigiriya also means Lions Rock in Sinhala language, is a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, the site was selected by King Kasyapa for his new capital, who seized the throne from King Dhatusena. But, the rightful heir, Moggallana, who fled to South India fearing for his life, built an army in India and subsequently defeated King Kasyapa in Sigiriya.
The rock can be climbed to the top, which takes over 2500 steps. But, unfortunately predicted weather report didn’t go wrong this time around, and there was rain the whole day, which coerced us see the rock from far and miss a golden opportunity of climbing the rock fortress and witnessing the surreal view from the top. Don’t get me wrong but this rock fortress is the highlight of Sri Lanka tourism. We spent the day in our hotel Sigiriya Village Resort from where we have the towering view of this massive rock.
Day 4 – Kandy:
It was a clear and beautiful day with sunshine and no clouds or rain. But, we had to leave for our next destination Kandy or else we would be missing other places on our itinerary (that’s the problem with fixed itineraries, Oh! How Nikhil hates it). Though un-happy for the earlier day, we once again visited the Sigiriya rock, sans climbing, we also wanted to take some pictures which we could not due to the heavy rains the earlier day. After posing for the camera, we went to see the Dambulla cave temple, which we were supposed to cover earlier day. Dambulla cave temple is also a World heritage site. It is the largest and best preserved cave temple in Srilanka. As we were running short of time, we again dropped witnessing the caves which again involves some climbing to do, but, decided to see the museum run by the temple. The museum hosts the pictures, statues and write ups about the history of Buddhism and also depicts the carvings and statues present in the caves.
After going through the museum, we left for our next destination Kandy. As we started to climb the hills, so begin the tea estates and we took a halt to visit one of the tea estates. A staff of the tea factory (Glenloch) took us around the process of tea powder making and a tour of the factory. After going through this and visiting a small museum maintained by the estate where we could see the evolution of tea making from older day machinery to the new one, we sat for a fresh cup of tea. After purchasing some speciality tea powders of Srilanka, we left for Kandy.
It was a uphill journey so we took a break at a road side joint for lunch, unlike India every small hotel in Srilanka are very clean. The washrooms too are spic and span.
We reached Kandy by evening and our first destination was Tooth Relic temple before retiring for the day. Kandy is a very beautiful city and the weather was perfect.
The Tooth Relic Temple is located in the Royal Palace complex, near a beautiful lake. It takes a long walk through the lawns to the temple. Tooth Relic temple is the sacred place for Buddhist. It is believed that after the death of Lord Buddha, one of his tooth was retrieved and worshipped as sacred. We cannot actually see the Tooth relic as it is covered and protected. As told by our guide, only once in a year it is taken out during the festive time. Behind the main temple is the World Buddhism museum. This museum contains lots of photographs, models and displays illustrating Buddism.
Behind this main building where the Temple of Tooth Relic is the Audience hall, which is a open air pavillion with stone columns, which actually looks like wooden pillars. Adjacent to this hall we can see the stuffed remains of Raja, the elephant, highly regarded in Sri Lanka for the services that the gentle giant rendered to the Kingdom during its lifetime.
Outside the temple there is a beautiful garden where we can see some really old antique stone carved pieces. The temple is so peaceful that you will never know how much time one spent there in the quite surroundings. After taking in the peacefulness of the temple, we went to our hotel, Richmond house, perched on the top of a hill in picturesque Kandy.
This was one of the best hotels we stayed. It was a thrill, to reach this hotels entrance from the road as it was situated at a highly elevated level from the road. The hotel kept a tuk tuk to carry the luggage and guests since even our vehicle couldn’t revv up. The place was very exquisite and pleasing. The suites were spacious, stately and elegantly furnished. The balcony provided a splendid view of the lush green hill city of Kandy.
Day 5 – Kandy:
My favourite day. Why? We started our day with the visit to Gem factory followed by gem store. Srilanka is famous for its precious and semi precious stones. On entering the gem store, we were greeted by the guide who first showed us a video about, what gem varieties are found in Srilanka and how they are mined. From the video we could see that mining gems is a manual job and sometimes can be dangerous too, as the mine workers excavate places where they assume gems can be found and then support the place with bamboo or wood and climb down and excavate the muddy soil, in which there can be gems!!
Thereafter we went to the place which was like a small museum, where we saw different kinds of precious and semi precious stones, some in their raw shape and size. There were rubies, emeralds and variety of sapphires on display.
We were led downstairs to the jewellery shop where there were incredible pieces of gem jewellery on display. After some purchases, we left for the next sight seeing place the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peredeniya.
What we noticed in Srilanka (as in India) is that the entry fees varies for local citizens, foreigners and foreigners from Saarc countries. After buying the tickets, we entered the huge botanical garden finely maintained. A signboard at the entrance with a map feature a numbered circuit from 1 to 30. These corresponding numbers are placed at every strategic points, so that we can stroll around the garden without getting lost. There was a artificial lake shaped in the form of Srilanka map with many water plants icluding giant lillies. Varieties of plants and trees, many of which we see in India too. The garden covers 147 acres of land. A river runs through the side of the garden and there is a suspension bridge constructed over it. We rested for sometime beside the huge and lush green lawns. The Royal Botanical garden is famous for its collection of variety of orchids. We could only see some of the orchid flowers as it was non orchid season. There are variety of trees, flora and fauna, chinese bamboos, palm trees, fig tree, spice garden, ferns etc. We strolled around the campus at leisure, in the shades of huge trees taking rest now and then. It took us almost 3 to 4 hours to take a round tour. The garden has so much to offer that one could easily spend a whole day here.
It was afternoon and we were all famished after the long walk so we decided to go to our hotel for lunch and some rest.
Evening time was for the Kandyan cultural dance performance which was scheduled at 6 pm. We went through the well maintained and clean curvy roads of the city to the Kandyan Arts Association which was situated near the Kandy lake. We reached in time to get our tickets and took our seats at the very first row. We were given the programme sheet which helped us to know some information about the significance behind each performance. There were different dancing and drumming performances, which took us through the culture of Srilanka. At the end there was fire eating and on top of it was barefoot charcoal fire walking which they dedicate to Sita of Ramayana. We didn’t realise how the one hour flew with the power packed performances of artists. We were told that there were two or three halls where simultaneously performances goes on by different artists.
It was dark and drizzling when we came out of the hall. We walked through the sidewalk of Kandy lake to our parked vehicle and retired for the day.
Day 6 – Nuwara Eliya (Capital City of King Ravana):
After having our break fast we headed to one of the most fascinating hill stations of Srilanka, Nuwara Eliya. We saw water falls gracefully coming down the hills, on the hilly roads towards our destination. We stopped at a hotel for a tea break from where we had a beautiful valley view and falls namely Devon falls, St. Claire falls. Nature here was really delightful, fresh, green and clean through out our journey. By afternoon we reached “Little England” of Srilanka, Nuwara Eliya. We checked in to our Hotel, Hotel Stamford Star and after freshening up, went to see the wonderful Gregory lake.
It was almost sun set time when we went to the lake, so first we decided to take a boat ride before dark and took the private boat ride, only three of us peddling the boat, our son in centre with our life jackets on. It was very cold out there specially as we were on the lake, after half an hour of peddling, took a walk around the well lit lake garden amidst food stalls and ice cream parlours. We sat on the bench for sometime enjoying the beauty of the lake in the dusk and sparkling waters and the sun set over the lake. We came back to the hotel and after dinner, retired for the day.
Day 7 – Nuwara Eliya:
First place of our visit today was Sita Eliya. Sita Eliya is one of the most important and holy place related to Ramayana as we know in India. It is said that this is the place where Sita was held captive by Ravan, also called as Ashoka Vatika as there still is the tree which is called Ashok Tree where Sita used to sit. This is the place where Hanuman met Sita Devi with the message of Lord Rama. We can see huge foot prints on the rocks supposed to be his foot marks!! Very scenic place with the thick forest behind the temple, river Sita flowing, exactly depicted in the epic. There are two temples dedicated to Sri Rama Sita and one for Lord Hanuman. We enquired the place where Ravana’s palace was situated, and the guide and also the person who did pooja at the temple showed us a huge mountain on the top of which the palace was situated, which was of course as said, made of gold and used to shine. (Here I recommend you to read our post, “Were Hindu Gods none other than ancient aliens”). We also learnt that he has this flying machine, by which he came to India and kidnapped queen Sita. And mythology also says Nuwara Eliya once was Ravana’s capital city, which according to Ramayana, Lord Hanuman burnt with his tail !!! Because of this arson, many people believe that the soil of Nuwara Eliya is dark black in colour as compared to soil in surrounding parts. Some people say this is the only temple dedicated to Sita in the world. I asked our guide what does the Srilankan legend say about Ravana, but interestingly Ravana is known to be a Good and able ruler of Srilanka and nothing much has been said other than this. Sri Lanka flourished under his able leadership and kidnapping Sita was his only misdeed.
At a very short distance from Sita Eliya, was our next stop Hakgala Botanical Gardens, this is the second largest botanical garden in Srilanka. There are many different parts which were very beautiful and highly recomended such as flower garden, Rock garden, Fern forest, rose garden and spice garden to mention a few. The garden is very well maintained and cool in the sunny day too. The walk takes a slight up hill some places which may be little tiring, but otherwise it is covered with trees so one can rest and continue. We could see a natural Red coloured tree, which in Buddhist belief, the next incarnation of Buddha will take below this or such similar tree. It is also believed that the next Buddha incarnation will take place in Sri Lanka, because as of date, Sri Lanka is the only truly Buddhist country in the world. It took us around 2 or 3 hours to walk through the garden of course albeit taking breather breaks. It was worth a visit.
It was almost noon and this was all on our intinerary today, so we left for our hotel. On our way, we saw bike racing taking place behind the Gregory lake which was one of the attractions of that day. As there was still time, Nikhil decided to take a trek on one of the hills near our hotel called Single Tree Hill of Nuwara Eliya, as this place is frequented by trekkers. As detailed by him, the view from the top was breathtaking as the entire Nuwara Eliya town can be viewed from the top along with Gregory Lake surrounded by mountains. The trek flowed through the tea estates. We rested for the day at our hotel.
Day 8 – Bentota:
Today after breakfast we bid farewell to the most beautiful hill station and started to descend mountains enroute Horton Plains National Park, Peak Wilderness Sanctuary and Sinharaja Forest Reserve, to Bentota the western beach town, 220 kms from Nuwara Eliya. Wow, Sri Lanka has so much to offer and what a picturesque forest cover unlike any we have seen!!! It was a long long journey down hill, amidst splendid tea gardens on both the sides. The road seemed never ending as we stopped twice to see two different water falls on our way, both were gorgeous in their own way. Those were the most needed stops through the curvy roads as some of our stomachs were also rumbling. The roads are good throughout Srilanka and clean at the same time. Nature was at its best, Srilanka is Tea growing country so throughout the mountainous road, we could see tea gardens very similar to Munnar in Kerala, India. The landscape is so reminiscent of Kerala, but on a more grander scale here in Sri Lanka.
By the time we reached Bentota, it was evening, as we checked into the hotel it started to rain with thunder storms. We freshened up and spent rest of the evening watching rains from our hotel lobby, the sea food dinner consisting of red snapper, prawns and crabs was sumptuous at the hotel. The sea food was ordered from a well known Amal Restaurant. We enjoyed our dinner amidst heavy rainfall outside, It was pouring almost till midnight. From our room we could hear the roar of the sea.
Day 9 – Bentota and Galle
Next morning, we woke up to the sunny and very clear morning as if no thunderstorm had happened the previous night. After finishing our breakfast we left to see the Turtle harchery.
It is a place where they buy eggs of turtles and keep them in sand till they hatch and safely leave them in the sea so they can survive in their natural habitat. We got a guided tour of the place where the guide explained to us the varieties of turtles. For the first time I came to know the difference between tortoise and turtle. In Srilanka we can see 5 of the 7 species of turtles in the world. The guide showed us the different varieties in the small ponds or tanks maintained specially to show to the visitors and tourists. We could hold and click pictures with the small and big ones too. The guide said that turtles live up to 300 to 350 years !! There was one huge turtle around 80 years which had lost one of its wings and could not survive in the ocean, so the hatchery takes care of the turtle. Our son really enjoyed seeing those small baby turtles like him in the tanks. Then off we were on backwater safari.
Every entry fee in Srilanka is costly compared to India. So don’t compare, just enjoy the beauty of the place you are visiting else you will miss good places. So are the fees for the mangrove cave river safari. The boat ride or safari as they say took us through the mangrove tree shadows, then they showed us where the river met the ocean, an abandoned temple in the midst of the river. The main attraction was the fish foot massage. Partitions and cubicles are made on one side of the river and there are hundreds of small orange coloured fishes kept in each cubicle. We have to immerse our bare feet in these waters and the orange fish will eat the dead skin off your feet. It was a weird kind of experience though. Initially reluctant as the fish may bite we slowly put our feet in the water and these fish with their tiny soft teeth clear the skin. It was a very tickling experience sitting there in the sun and allowing fish to eat our dead skin. But the fact is we enjoyed it and our feets looked so clean like pedicured in a salon!! The feeling is like a group of people are cleaning our feet with a hard toothbrushes!
Next point on the safari is cinammon spice garden were we can see how the cinnamon is processed and we can buy cinnamon, cinamon powder at a “low cost”. After going through the process we went through the remaining part of the cruise watching the birds fly, crossing the overhead bridge which was really low that we have to completely bend else we may get hurt, watching blue blue water all the way. The safari was about one and a half hours. Altogether it was a exhilarating experience.
After this we went to Galle (pronounced as Gaul), cricket lovers must have heard this name as this houses one of the Cricket stadiums of Srilanka.
There is a small Tsunami museum on the main road from Bentota to Galle. It is a must visit as Srilanka was one of the worst hit nation by Tsunami in December 2004. This museum is very near to the Tsunami Memorial. It is housed in a small hut which was also hit by tsunami but the owner survived as they were not living there at that time. It has loads of pictures taken by people and newspaper cuttings and pictures of people missing and paintings by children whose fate changed forever on that worst day. I really could not go through everything as my eyes got moist and i decided to come out of there praying in mind for those who survived and for those who are still in the hope to find their beloved. The next was the Tsunami memorial built at the very place where a train with 1000 people on board swept away, and the engine ended up 5 kms inland. Such was the impact!! It was the 10th anniversary on 26th December 2014, just 3-4 days from our visit.
Through out our way to Galle we could see Tsunami ruined houses, buildings some under repair, some abandoned without owners and some rebuilt. We reached Galle in the afternoon.
Galle is a very beautiful city near the southwestern tip of Srilanka. Covered by ocean at all sides and the main attraction of the city is the Galle Fort. Built by Dutch in the beginning of the year 1660, most part is covered by ocean on three sides. In the Fort, there is also a great little café called The Pedler’s Inn on Pedler Street. The milkshakes are a must for a hot day, and the sandwiches are pretty good, too!. We just loitered around the place through the small and clean roads. There are administrative offices, courts, many boutique shops in the complex. There is a light house, a mosque and a beautiful church in the premises of the old fort. We climbed the fort to witness the sun set in the Indian ocean and other side was the Galle International Cricket Stadium. There’s also a maritime museum but it was closed for the day. Really beautiful city in its literal meaning, so clean and well maintained.
After watching the sun set and roaming through the streets watching different antique and boutique shops, we left to Bentota and retired for the day.
Day 10 – Colombo:
Today was our last day in Sri Lanka, in Colombo.
Trivia: What is the Capital City of Sri Lanka? Colombo? No!! It is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (or in short, Kotte) which is a suburb situated within Colombo.
We left Bentota after breakfast. On our way we stopped at Kalutara, one of the main cities of Srilanka. On reaching Kalutara we could see a huge Stupa from a distance. Our guide took us to the place which is called Kalutara Bodhiya. This is located next to river Kaluganga. This place is worshipped by Buddhist. On one side is the Bodhi tree under which there are statues of Buddha in different postures. People were worshipping, chanting and offering sweets to the god. At another side is the Tagoba, the big white stupa or Pagoda. Speciality of this stupa is that we can actually walk in side it and there is one more small stupa under the huge one and there are lot of pictures depicting the life of Buddha and also of his different incarnations. A very calm and peaceful place and a must visit.
After spending some time inside the temple we left for Colombo. Colombo is the commercial capital and the largest city of Srilanka. The first place we stopped was Galle Face Green. On our way along the coast, we saw the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse’s official residence, few embassies including Indian and US embassy. Galle Face Green reminds us of the Queens necklace Marine Drive Mumbai. It is a 5 hectre ribbon strip of land between Galle Road and Indian ocean, now it is the largest open space in Colombo. This is a popular place for outdoor activities with small eatery stalls beside the roads. Well maintained lawn and benches are available to sit and relax watching the ocean. It was afternoon and sun was burning over our heads, so we just took a quick walk near the ocean and some pictures and went to the vehicle for the next city tour.
Next to the Galle Face Green, we can see the harbour of Colombo. Heavy serious construction work aided by Chinese and Koreans (South…not North ;-)) was under progress. You could see cranes and other buildings equipments on sky scrapers under construction. On the way we saw the old Parliament, in front of which were the statues of the freedom fighter of Sri Lanka. Next was the Twin Towers of World Trade Centre of Sri Lanka, the tallest building in the country. The 32 floor high glass covered buildings were looking outstanding reflecting the sun rays. We could not stop anywhere here as there is no permission, so we saw everything from our slow moving vehicle and took photos wherever we could. Then through the city we saw a beautiful garden, a white building, the Town Hall building which looks like White House of USA.
We stopped at a famous and beautiful Buddhist temple in the island of Beira lake. Its a Pagoda style of construction, A wooden bridge takes us to the shrine. Inside of the temple was peaceful and no visitiors when we went there. Outside the temple there are many statutes of Buddhas in His various incarnations. It started to drizzle by now and the cold breeze was blowing from the lake. The lake is quite huge and very clean too.
Actually by this time it was late afternoon and we went to a hotel situated near the floating market or in the centre of the lake. The rains too started and after having our food we had nothing to do much so we retired for the day as the next day we were leaving to another of our dream destination “The Maldives”.
For snapshots of our Sri Lanka Tour, check this Facebook public link
Some quick observations about Sri Lanka:
- Earlier plagued by LTTE terrorism, then wiped out entirely by Sri Lankan armed forces, the country is now safe for tourism except as informed to us, some areas in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, including some parts of Jaffna and Trincomalee, which are cordoned off by the Army due to risk of landmines planted by the LTTE till they are cleared off!!
- We noticed that we recognized the Hindi film melodies of the Sinhala songs playing on taxi radios and noticed that Sri Lankan politicians are as un-photogenic and as poster-hungry as ours, and discover that the Tata and Airtel and Reliance (as well as Ariel and Colgate and Lux) brands are as visibly ubiquitous as in India.
- At the time of our visit to Sri Lanka, the forex rate was 1 INR = 2.17 SLR. But trust me Sri Lanka is a very expensive destination lest you intend to go backpacking. At least double the rates we pay in India for things. Ex: A 1 ltr. bottle of mineral water in India costs INR 15 but in Sri Lanka, it costs INR 36 (SLR 75). No wonder, the per capita income of a Sri Lankan is almost double that of an Indian. An average one time meal for a person costs about INR 1,000 in Sri Lanka. But that may also depend on which hotels you visit, I guess. So plan well in advance.
- Though a small island, Sri Lanka has varied climate throughout the provinces. It may be raining in Central Province but there may be bright sunshine on the Western Province. So plan in advance, which places you want to visit to get good climate.
How is Sri Lanka different from India:
The most common myth is that Sri Lanka is an extended India. While it is true in some sense, as an Indian in Sri Lanka will not feel disoriented, but following are the differences we came across:
- The country has high literacy rates and excellent health coupled with excellent public services for health and education.
- First of all (and dearest to my own heart) is the ease and joy with which women traverse public spaces. Even in the densest crowds, there is adequate space for women. Also women smile pleasantly at strangers, male strangers included, as my dear husband happily discovers.
- Public places are unreasonably clean. No plastic bags and household garbage strewn on the roads, no paan spit (though I think Sri Lankans don’t eat paan), no dogs, pigs and other rodents in sight
- There are no signs of stark poverty anywhere, no rampant beggars, which is still a mystery to me. May be that there is income equality in Sri Lanka, meaning there is no extreme poverty nor extremely rich people whereas in India, that gap is huge.
- Sri Lankan cuisine centers around boiled or steamed rice served with a curry of fish, chicken, beef, mutton or goat, along with other curries made with vegetables, lentils or fruit. Common sights of food include Kottu, Hoppers, String Hoppers similar to Appam and Idiyappam in India. It will get a little being used to for the Indian taste buds to acquaint with the Sri Lankan Masala, but once you get acquainted, you will start liking it. And use of pepper instead of chilli is evident.
Day 11 to Day 14 – Vilamendhoo Island in The Maldives:
We left Srilanka to Maldives. It was a emotional farewell to the beautiful island nation which was very warm to us all these days. Good natured people, sumptuous food and scenic nature and in all, a clean disciplined country. We enjoyed every bit of our stay here.
After bidding adieu to Surendra, our co-ordinator, guide, friend and Uncle to our son, we left to our another dream destination Maldives. It was an Hour flight to Male from Colombo over the Indian Ocean.
By 3 pm, we reached the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Male. Male the capital of Island nation Maldives. Maldives consists of more than 1000 islands of which around 200 are inhabitated and predominantly Muslim country. Since a Muslim country, there are some restrictions if you are visiting local towns like dressing moderately, restriction on liquor etc. In the resorts, there are no restrictions at all however, except dressing moderately at supper time. The Male airport was on one of the small islands. Maldives is called as “the tropical paradise” for reasons. Its beauty is none like other. Maldives is a tropical country with separated islands, which are separated by sea. Each island is surrounded by stunning white sandy beaches. It is a wonderful experience to visit and explore the beauty of the islands.
The sea covers about 99% of the Maldives and it is where most attractive things lie in. The natural beauty lies in the Maldivian sea beats no other. There are over five thousand coral reefs and plenty of reef fish, corals, marine mammals, and so many other marine lives. And hence a divers paradise.
It was like a Alice in wonderland experience. The airport is very small and has some unique feel about it. After passing through the required immigrations check, when we came out it was a different world together. There were stalls by island resorts outside the airport. Initially it took some time to understand how to proceed. We enquired at one of the counters and came to know about our resort stall. When we reported there, the concerned co-ordinator took us to the Trans Maldivian airline, the largest operators of Sea planes in the world. Our sea plane would take us from Male to Vilamendhoo Island Resort which is about 70 nautical miles away from Male. This was going to be an experience!! Our luggage was checked in and we were issued our boarding passes. A bus, yes an empty bus with only three of us took us through a 5 minute ride to the Sea plane terminal. A island with an airport. After reaching the terminus, a beautiful Maldivian lady welcomed us and escorted us to a lounge and as there was still an hour to board the plane we waited there. The air-conditioned lounge was beautifully furnished. We were offered complimentary beverages cold drinks, tea, coffee anything of our choice. Unlimited too. We could watch from the lounge, sea planes taking off and landing and the crystal clear blue and green sea waters and we were really excited and anxiously waiting to board one.
At the prescribed time, the lady escorted us to the terminal, where our pilot welcomed us on board. The sea plane was so small with only 15 passenger seats and hardly 5 ft high inside the cabin that we could not even stand straight. We saw our luggage was already on board behind the seats. We were altogether 12 passengers of different nationalities, viz: Nigerians, Chinese, Europeans on the plane with two pilots and one cabin staff. At 4.15 pm we took off to our destination. Once we took off it was a out of the world experience, In the midst of loud noise of the plane we can see below blue and green waters, islands, lagoons and many speed boats navigating the sea. We could see many island resorts situated below. It was an amazingly unique experience altogether. Traveling in a sea plane and watching the beautiful islands from the window is the most wonderful experience you could ever have. All the tourists inside the plane were scrambling to get great snaps from the planes windows. Islands are formed in a way that makes a round which is called as an atoll. When you see them from sea plane view, it will look like a chain of pearls.
After almost half an hour flight, the plane landed on the sea near our resort and onto a boat already waiting for us. Two beautiful Chinese girls welcomed us on to the boat. Coming out of the plane which is floating mid sea and crossing a wooden barge to climb the boat was a experience i can not forget all of my life. That too carrying my son. The staff is very helpful and caring, they hold your hands and let you safely in the boat. The staff transferred our luggage to the boat, everything happens so smooth, that one need not worry about anything at all. I was simply in awe of everything happening around me.
The boat ride of around 5 minutes took us to the dream destination The VilaMendhoo Resort and Spa. It is like one island one resort in Maldives. The resort has everything and is well stuffed for hundreds of guests. There must be about 100 villas in the island and all were full. But there was no chaos and everything seemed orderly. We were welcomed at the VilaMendhoo island with the passion fruit welcome drink, and a staff explained us everything about the island, the dos and donts and the activities we can take up etc. Then we headed to our Beach bunglow which was going to be our home for next 4 days.
The island had 3 different kinds of rooms the Beach villas, Jaccuzi Villas and Water Villas, Ours was Beach Villa which was hardly 50 feet from the sea. We checked in to the very beautiful room which had wooden interiors. Simple and elegant furniure. With in room bar and snacks and half roof bathroom. After freshening up, we sat on the portico and it was so silent as if only three of us on the island. At 8 pm, we went to the buffet area and oh my god, there were more than 500 people in there in the dining. We could see people from all over the world here, of every caste, skin, creed, religion, country, ethnicity. So was the food platter… for everyone’s taste buds… Food was full of different varieties, types and over all very authentic in each type and delicious. I have never see such an elaborate buffet. Very nicely organised and attractive tables. Everything is planned here, the table too with our room number already written on it. So that was going to be our table for the next 4 days! After having a sumptuous dinner we retired for the day.
We woke up to the noise of rain the next morning. The weather report sometimes is very accurate, I thought. It rained till noon and sea was clear after that. We walked the sea shore, bathed to our hearts extent in to the green coral sea, with various colored fish including baby sharks swimming beneath our feet. The Maldives is famous for its coral islands which extend to some feet near the shore. The waves here are very small like those of a calm river and the sea is very calm at the shore. Its green and crystal clear with white sands. Never have I seen such clear waters!! The shadow of a boat (called “Dhoni” in Maldives) could be clearly seen on the sand beneath the sea. You get a feeling that the boat is flying!!
The resort also has a Swimming pool, play area , a shop with clothes, jewellery, gift items etc. There is also a restaurant called Asian Wok where the food is prepared and served on special request or order. This is other than the restaurant where buffet service and cocktails is rendered. The resort also has a spa called Duniye spa. We had a complimentary spa treatment which was rejuvenating.
The resort also hosts different activities like one day excursions to nearby islands, sun set point etc. The islands of Maldives are very famous for their deep sea diving and snorkeling. As we both are non swimmers and also were not equipped with snorkeling gear, we decided not to venture the sea and enjoy the water from shore. We also learned, to avoid renting snorkeling gear as it is akin to renting a toothbrush! And the new gear costs about $ 120 on the island. So bring your own gear for water activities.
We were in VilaMendhoo resort for 4 days and all we did was enjoying the water, sun bathing on the beach beds, walking the beach, food, spa treatment, soaking in the natural display of beauty beyond comprehension and sleep. Every day brought us different hues of water and sky. If nature is an artist, then I feel Maldives is a canvas!!
Almost all the islands in Maldives are surrounded by beautiful pure white sandy beaches. Even if you have nothing else to do, I am sure you won’t get bored, because we sure didn’t, walking in the soft white sandy beaches and leaving your foot prints on.
Everything in resorts is very expensive. A one and half litre water bottle costs $ 4.50 and you have to live with it, because you can’t live without it. A cocktail costs minimum $ 10, which you can live without ….perhaps. The round trip sea plane transfers costs about $ 350 per person. So be prepared to splurge in the Maldives. If you really are on a budget but want to visit Maldives, there are some B&B home stays you can enjoy though not as luxurious. But hey! You can get the real taste of Maldivian way of life only in budget home stays. Budget booking can also be done on AirBnB.
After soaking in the beauty of Maldives, we returned to India viz. Male to Colombo to Bangalore. The return journey via boat to Male airport was meticulously planned by the resort and we had nothing to worry about.
Maldives is a top destination for “must-visit-before-you-die” and has always been included in top “All Inclusive Plan” resorts around the world by many top travel sites.
A truly “deserted island paradise”!!!
For snapshots of Maldives, check the following Facebook public link