Monday, March 16, 2009

Transport in the Maldives

You would expect plenty of boats in the Maldives...
Rightly so! The Maldives cannot survive without boats and there are many. Let us first look at the few.

The star performer is the traditional Dhoni. Each traditional dhoni is a unique vessel hand-built by a master craftsman even though a mass-produced fiberglass version has recently been introduced. Built of strong wooden planks, shaped round a strong wooden frame, the dhoni is built to sail in all seas. They are used fishing vessels and as inter-island ferries throughout the Maldives. Traditionally sporting a versatile lateen sail, the dhoni has also married well with the marine diesel engine and has become the workhorse of even the tourism industry.

Then there is a powerboat. In a country where the international airport is on an island all by itself, where the entire tourist resorts are on separate islands, the speedboat reigns king. It also performs well in recreation.

Getting around in the Maldives is not restricted to a boat though. Sea planes offer an even faster and scenic alternative.

On some of the bigger islands, especially on the capital island of the Male the latest sports cars compete with motorcycles, scooters and the sedate taxi. And it is quite probable that the world record for bicycle=per-capita is held by the Maldives!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Arriving in the Maldives

What you should expect on arrival?

The first surprise: Male International Airport is an island by itself! Next , your holiday starts right there. A 30-day tourist visa is granted on arrival. If Port health is satisfied that you have not been through any countries with serious contagion, you are in.

After luggage retrieval, do note that there is no Green Channel. All passengers luggage is screened, normally electronically. Keep the keys handy in case a manual inspection is called for. You may be asked whether you have any movies or CD’s. Answer all questions in a straightforward manner.

After Immigrations and Customs proceed to arrivals. A representative of your host resort will normally receive you. If no one meets you, ask at the information counter. If you need a reservation, approach a properly identified representative of a local agency.

After reception a quick boat or seaplane will take to your adventure in the Maldives.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The People and the Language

It is not recorded when and by whom the Maldives was first settled. However , archeological evidence and a look at the only language spoken in the country (called Dhivehi) tell an interesting story!

The languages of the Maldives’ immediate neighbors are predominantly Dravidian (with the sole exception of Sinhala, which is spoken by the Singhalese community in Sri Lanka), the Dhivehi language is Sanskrit based. Linguistic evidence clearly indicates this.

Before conversion to Islam in 1153 AD, the predominant religion in the Maldives was Buddhism (again something shared with the Sinhala speakers of Sri Lanka, Sinhala being a Sanskrit-derived language as well). This along with folklore and legend, points strongly to an Aryan migration from the ancient civilizations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, at a time circa 500 BC.

Things never remained that simple. The Maldives is placed right at the traders crossroads of the Indian Ocean. Daring seafarers from all around the known world often find respite on these islands. Some never left. All made their own contributions to the society and the gene pool of the people.

As Maldivian themselves traveled far and wide, they brought home exotic productsand left behind the records of their visits. The documented visits made to the court of Roman Emperor Julian in 362 AD and visits to the court of the Tang Dynasty Emperor of China in 658 AD are good examples.

Maldivians later traveled to Bengal, Malaysia and the rest of Asia. This brought in strong influxes of these languages. Conversion to Islam brought in Arabic and Persian elements. The Portuguese who overcame the Maldives in the 16th century added theirs. Maldivians who sought education in Indian universities in the 18th century brought Urdu and Hindi. In the 19th century, the British Empire contributed English!

Maldivians have always welcomed and accommodate visitors who came in peace. Isolationism was never practiced. Cultural and other beneficial influences were assimilated. Only threats to independence were repelled.

The Maldives continues to remain a unified country with a unique culture and a unique language with its own script, literature and history.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sightseeing in Male

Hukuru Miskiiy
Hukuru Miskiiy is the oldest mosque in the country, dating from 1656. The exterior is protected by a corrugated-iron covering which doesn't look very attractive, but the coral-stone walls are intricately carved with patterns and Arabic script. The interior is superb and famed for its fine lacquer work and elaborate woodcarvings.

The significance of the 'Friday' in its name points to the importance of that day of the week, which is the day on which all males go for the main religious congregation of the week, at noon, and at which the Imam gives religious advice. In earlier times, the Hukuru Miskiyy was the main mosque where Friday's noon prayers were held.

The Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace, Theemuge is one of the most important attractions for those visiting Malé and is on the itinerary of any tour in Malé. The design and architecture of the palace combines the grandeur of local tradition with modernity. The palace is on Orchid Magu west of the main shopping area.

Mulee-aage was built just before the First World War by Sultan Shamsuddeen III for his son. The Sultan was deposed and his son never took office.In1953,duringtheFirstRepublicMulee-aage was designated as the Presidential Palace and was the official residence of the president until the new Presidential Palace was built.

The Islamic Centre

The Islamic Centre opened in 1984, is located between Meduziyaaraiy Magu and Ameeru Ahmed Magu. The Centre’s most important feature is the grand mosque, Masjidul Sultan Mohammad Thakurufaanu al A’zam which holds up to 5,000 people. In addition to the Grand Mosque, the Islamic Centre houses a conference hall, an Islamic library and classrooms.

Sultan Park & Museum
The Sultan Park and the National Museum are part of the old Sultan’s Palace and Palace grounds during the time of the monarchy. The Museum opened in 1952 and displays a large variety of objects and artifacts from times gone by. The collection comprises of relics from the pre-Islamic times to royal antiquities belonging to different monarchs. The Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. except Fridays and public holidays.

Just opposite the small park adjoining the Hukuru Miskiiy, is the tomb of Abu-al Barakaat, to whom the nation pays its respects for bringing to our shores the enlightenment of Islam in 1153.

The ‘Artificial Beach
It may sound strange in a country renowned for its beaches, however it is true that the residents of Malé get to enjoy an artificial beach built on the eastern side of the island. The beach is ideal for swimmers and those who cannot go to the nearby islands to enjoy the beach. There are food outlets and benches in the area where one can sit down and enjoy the scenery.