I f you have to be stranded on an island, it had better be on one of the atolls of The Maldives. Thoughts such as these are easy to come by on the shore of the South Male atoll, where our resort the Taj Exotica is located. The tiny nation is ideal for the ocean tourist who wants no distractions of city life while basking under the sun by the sea. Island life here is languorous, and while there is enough to do during the day, it is also possible to spend time by yourself, doing nothing at all (like I did!).
After a comfortable flight on SriLankan Airlines (via Colombo), I am ushered into a boat in the capital Male. A 40-minute ride takes me to the Taj Coral Reef in the North Male atoll. The 25-year-old property, enveloped by trees, is a delight for nature lovers. It is visited by herons, friendly black-tip sharks and sting and eagle rays during a special feeding ritual during sunset. You can just stand at the shore and watch sharks and manta rays swim past, or even choose to push fresh food towards the gentle animals!
The rooms are modelled after traditional Maldivian huts and open out to private stretches of the beach that goes around the entire island. I spend a lazy day there before heading out on a speedboat to their other property, the Taj Exotica, on the South Male atoll. Aerial images of the island look surreal and I am excited to be there at the sprawling resort that promises all sorts of luxuries.
The much-talked about water villas (where rooms are built on stilts over water) are on either side of an eye-shaped dark wood walkway which looks down to shades of aquamarine. The resort is situated in the middle of a lagoon and the spectacular marine life is visible from the shores. The water is shallow and gentle, and allows for as many swims as one wants to take, or even a dip for those who can’t — or won’t — swim.
While the water villa suites are lovely, I end up in the ocean suite, a house facing the beautiful shallow part of the Indian Ocean. Champagne, fruits and chocolates are laid out in the drawing room that opens out into the ocean. There are hammocks to curl into, something I end up doing a lot during the course of my stay.
Herons are wont to visit you (some of them were born there) and peek into your book or peck at your snack, but are polite enough not to disturb you further. I hear they’re less kind to their fellow mates; fights for food can turn murderous.
For afternoons, there is the shaded day-bed swing which is perfect when the sun is too harsh. It is big enough for two people to curl into after a swim in the ocean or a dip in the private villa pool, when the weather outside is, well, a bit of a wet blanket. Coconut palms, ficus and casuarina trees form a significant part of the flora on these atolls on the ocean. Bright orchids grow out of coconut shells hanging from the palm trees, making leisurely walks a joy on the island.
A snorkelling trip to a nearby coral reef called The Coral Garden, organised by the resort’s own dive shop, is sobering: The sight of dead sea corals as a result of climate change that has led to the unusual warming of the ocean’s waters is horrifying. The resort has an ongoing project to restore the surrounding coral reefs. The last day of the trip is reserved for a dreamy barbecue under the stars. The open air ambience is such that even the brief rain adds to its appeal. Before we know it, it is time to go, and the only thing that can console me is the sumptuous rice and mutton curry, to say nothing of the aromatic Ceylon tea, served aboard the SriLankan Airlines flight on my way back.
(The author was there on invitation from Taj Coral Reef and Taj Exotica Maldives)
Payel Majumdar Upreti