Maldivian Mystique

The Maldives is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list, as is scuba diving. But Sheryl’s plans were a bit bigger. She wanted to become a certified scuba diver, and this is how she went about making her dream a reality.

Becoming a certified scuba diver was at the top of my bucket list. When I was looking at options, I thought of starting with one of the most beautiful sites. And boy, am I glad I chose it! From the moment I caught my first glimpse of the Maldives,
I was under the spell of the island nation’s turquoise waters.


 
After landing, we decided to spend the day in the capital city of Malé. We did the usual sightseeing: the Grand Mosque, the Sultan’s Palace, and the Sultan’s Gardens. We also paid a visit to the fish market which, as far as fish markets go, was surprisingly hygienic. We did a lot of walking, something you can’t escape in the Maldives. One of my favourite places in Malé was the pier hut – you can enjoy the activity of the port and the tranquillity of the sea, all from the comfort of shade.
 
On day two, we took a ferry to the island of Maafushi. We stayed at Ocean Vista, a very well-maintained resort. They only had a few rooms, so we got to enjoy our privacy while still having company to swap stories with during mealtime. Our home for five days, Ocean Vista was perfect in part because it faced the ocean. My travel companion and friend was already a certified diver, so we would head out every day on separate boats (dhonis in the local language), to explore the magical and extraordinary ocean world.

To realise my dream of becoming a certified diver, I had to take both theoretical and practical lessons. It all ended with a final, which I am very proud to have passed with flying colours! The next few days took a laidback turn. After waking up to a lovely and large breakfast, we’d head out on the dhoni until we saw nothing but water for miles around. From here, we would do 45-minute dives in beautiful lagoons near paradisiacal beaches. It was just perfect! We would return in the afternoon, bursting with excitement, tired and hungry. Over lunch, we’d share our experiences before a much-needed siesta to re-energise for snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing.
 
The Maldives is a great place for water activities like banana-boat rides, fishing and surfing. I loved every moment of my time on the islands. From diving to conversing with the friendly locals to the food (which was simply delicious!), it was all amazing. The cuisine in the Maldives is a blend of several styles. You can get European fare just as easily as Indian grub. We were adventurous enough to try a number of delightful local dishes. Maldivian food (not surprisingly) is heavy on seafood, especially tuna. It can be quite spicy, and vegetarian options are limited. A traditional meal consists of rice, fish curry and salad. My favourite breakfast was roshi (it’s like a roti) served with shredded smoked fish, grated coconut and onion, and a dash of lime.

Back to the ocean! I did a total of four open-water dives, each at a different site. One was a lagoon with waters so crystal-clear that it was hard to believe I was just 15 metres deep. And as luck would have it, I caught a glimpse of a huge eagle ray on my first dive! My next dive was around the local reef teeming with millions of species of marine life – butterfly fish, cuttlefish, batfish and starfish. On my third dive, I went much deeper into the ocean and got to swim with white-tip reef sharks! Before I began, I was quite worried about running into a shark; when I did, I was in too much awe to feel any fear. Thankfully, the sharks did not reciprocate my interest and kept swimming above me. My fourth dive was inside ocean caves full of colourful corals, where I got to witness brilliant hues, beautifully camouflaged stonefish, octopi, moray eels, and a host of other aquatic life.

During each dive, the ocean cast a spell on me. It’s a different world down there, so beautiful that I felt humbled and at peace with everything. I was incandescently happy. One of my most memorable moments was after a 45-minute dive, when I was on my way to the surface. At my six-metre safety stop, I heard some sounds. Behind me were three baby dolphins! I was so enchanted by their happiness as they played around that I didn’t want the moment to end.

The Maldives is a peaceful paradise, but it is undoubtedly expensive. Do the right research and plan your trip well to get some great deals. It’s a breathtaking place, and I can’t wait to go back. I want to explore a different island, dive further into the deep, and get (figuratively) lost in the ocean waters. Let me end with a Rumi quote that aptly describes how I feel: “Don’t wait any longer. Dive in the ocean. Leave and let the sea be you.”     – as told to Saloni