Maldives into the deep end of paradise

At exactly this time last year, when we could barely travel across states, if you looked at Instagram, you’d have thought that Maldives was a part of India. The whole of Bollywood seemed to have descended on the island republic in the Indian Ocean.
Maldives opened up for tourism much before other countries did. The caveat, though, was that if you tested positive for Covid while there or before it, you had to go into leaving quarantine – at your own cost. Not the best option given how expensive most resorts in Maldives are.

Social media was flooded with news of despondent-looking Beautiful People who’d decided to fly to Maldives during peak-pandemic, only to find that instead of spending a week in this island by the sun with lapping azure blue ocean water, they now had to spend three weeks extra paying top dollar. It was like being incarcerated in paradise while having to pay for drinking the finest of champagnes. The first world Covid woes of the Lalwanis and Chopras made for reality TV gold.

But the pandemic has finally fled our shores. If Pammi from the Pind can go to the Maldives even though she can’t swim to save her soul, so jolly well then can I. With no more Covid restrictions, there’s no good reason not to visit. Indians have now replaced Russians as the largest contingent of tourists to visit Maldives. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the sheer number of Indian travellers has surpassed that from all other countries.
Maldives and its 26 atolls with 1,192 islands that stretch along a length of 871 km is like a painting. The most magnificent aquamarine waters surround Velana Airport in the capital Male – the accent in the name is critical, les you think I’m being patriarchal – when you land, after a barely 3-hour flight from Mumbai. Which explains why the whole of Juhu and Film Studios seemed to be in Maldives all the time. It’s quicker to get there from Juhu, than it is to get to SoBo.

Male’s airport would put most of our airports to shame, given how organised and clean it is despite the throngs from India descending on it. This is a landscape that not only Harry Belafonte sings about in Island in the Sun, but also a place may have had in mind John Lennon in his invitation to imagine a borderless world, with ‘above us, only sky’ upon arrival. There is no visa charge, or papers to fill up, and you have 30 days to soak yourself in the sea, sun and breathe in the fresh air.

We were staying at the remote Huvadhoo Atoll, the farthest from Male. To reach Huvadhoo, we had to hitch a ride on a Maldivian Airlines flight, followed by a James Bondesque speedboat ride. The Maldivians seem to have mastered tourism. Which is why Indians – lousy travelers, great tourists – love them and their country: you don’t need to do a thing.

In the airport itself, there’s someone to take your bags, your passports, handle immigration, take you to the lounge, put you on the flight, spoon-feed you if you ask not even nicely. This will warm the cockles of every Indian’s heart, who typically expects an attendant to press the buttons of a coffee machine or food machine when they need to drink or snack.

Maldives hospitality redux. From the moment you set foot in Male to when you leave your resort, you’re cared for in the most non-intrusive manner. The last loud Indian in their baba suits and totally inappropriate stilettoes become a distant memory. Just the sight of no shouting families, waters you can swim in for kilometers on end while looking down at a coral reef can make you realise why all Indians who can flock to Maldives, do flock to the Maldives.

For me, it turned out to be not just a holiday, but also a social anthropological study: on why Maldives is the hotspot for Indians with a large disposable income. And caddy issues.