Maldives: the sunny side of life

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Updated 24 April 2013
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Maldives: the sunny side of life

 

Maldives is one of the destinations that I have always been dreaming of visiting, despite its popularity among honeymooners. I decided to challenge myself and see if I could enjoy the heavenly islands all by myself. To be honest, I had a great experience and found it to be the perfect place to unwind and quality time alone in an unrivaled beautiful setting. Maldives has 106 island resorts. However, the capital, which is the smallest city in the world, is known to be the place where locals live. You can move between the islands by a ferry or a speed boat but inside Male motorbikes are very popular; there’s an estimated 38,000 motorbikes as opposed to only 600 taxis.

Each Maldivian island is owned or rented by a each resort, which means visitors have a choice of 100 resorts to pick from. I was lucky enough to try the Taj resort because I visited their Mumbai property and I absolutely fell in love with it. The Taj exotica resort and spa did not fail me, it was everything I ever imagined if not more. To reach there you must take a 40-minute speedboat ride from the airport into the deep blue sea until you reach the resort. Upon arrival you are welcomed by a team of butlers, who adorn you with a beautiful white necklace, as a traditional Maldivian hospitality gesture. I was welcomed by one of the managers, Roby, a beautiful Filipina young who greeted me saying, “Welcome to paradise.” Her words still resonate till this day in my mind. Indeed paradise awaited me. One of the butlers escorted me to my lagoon villa, which offers a private sun deck with loungers, easy chairs, and ladders with direct access to the lagoon. As soon as I saw the sun deck I couldn’t hold myself back from plunging into the tranquil turquoise water. It’s very easy to get tempted to stay inside this nestle of lavish comforts and luxuries, however I decided to venture for a walk and discover the resort.

Soon enough I found myself heading to the Jiva spa, the perfect place to visit after a five-hour flight. The spa offers a range of millennia old Indian healing, wellness and beauty secrets. I decided to choose one of their signature treatments, exclusively created for and by Jiva Spa. The treatments are borrowed from royal traditions and ancient Indian spiritual remedies. Auspicious bath is an award-winning signature treatment at the spa. It was enjoyed only by the royalty of India in the days of yore and has been recreated especially for the Jiva spa guests. The royalty of Gwalior undertook this treatment before a coronation or wedding ceremony. It entails seven to nine various anointments followed by bathing rituals. Your body is pampered using age-old spices, herbs and oils to deeply cleanse, exfoliate and give you a calming massage.

This is followed by an imperial saffron bath, as saffron is an excellent body conditioner, using the rarest of all Indian spices. The exotic oil blend includes Mogra — Indian Jasmine, which is both sensual and spiritual and Gulheena to promote inner clarity. This lavish treatment ended with an auspicious henna hand design, as Indian brides usually apply. This is truly an experience to cherish. What to do on the resort:

Try to go on a fishing trip, which the hotel reception can assist you with. If you’re lucky you will catch a delicious fish and ask the chef to cook it for you in any manner you prefer for dinner. The resort also offers snorkeling trips, with the option of taking a trip close to the resort or via a boat into the sea, for the chance to witness a wider range of exotic underwater life. For the adventurous souls, you can accompany a trained diver from the resort and feed the baby sharks. All kinds of water activities are offered, from diving, parasailing, to riding jet skis or simply laying by the white sand to tan and unwind. The resort has two main restaurants however I personally enjoyed 24 Degrees Better, as the food is superb and you can eat with your feet in the sand, right at the shoreline, or you can go inside into an elevated setting and enjoy the marvelous view.

I fell in love with Maldives so much, that I asked the reception to book a local guide for me, so I can learn more about the islands. Yasar provided me with insight into the islands’ history, relaying how 700 years ago Maldivians were Buddhists, until a Moroccan trader called Abu Al Barakaath Yousef Al-Barbari, converted the island dwellers to Islam. My friendly and knowledgeable tour guide then took me to a famous outdoor café. Everything on the menu looked tempting, but I settled on a Maldivian surprise, a coconut-based smoothie, mixed with pineapples, bananas and melon sorbet, topped with fresh fruits; the perfect cooling beverage.

When the check arrived, Yassar told me that back in the days Maldivians used cowry shells as currency and people would spend hours and days searching for this special kind of shell to pay for their food and rent. We passed by the tomb of Mohammed Thakurufaanu, which is built in memory of Sultan Ghaazee Mohammed Thakurufaanu, the greatest and most revered of national heroes for his role in liberating the country from the Portuguese conquest that had occupied the land for 15 years. The main source of income in Maldives is tourism, followed by fishing and when Yassar took me for a visit to the local market, I understood the sheer vastness and rich fish produce as well as the fresh vegetables and fruits available.

I decided to end my tour and first-hand account of the islands by getting a taste of the authentic island food. The islands do not have any international food chains. Yassar and I chose to sit at a local café for a taste of what the local refer to as “short snacks”, which are finger fried food composed of fish and chicken, marinated with spices. After this long trip that took me around 5 hours, I was ready to go back to the hotel. As soon as I reached to my room I found my bathtub filled with bubbles and roses. Soaking in it was the perfect end to my hot, busy day. 

How to reach the heavenly destination: 

Fly Dubai has just launched a direct flight from Dubai to Male, the capital of Maldives with five flights per week starting at $470 for a round trip.

Best time to visit is from November through April. 

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Travel back in time at Jeddah’s cultural and heritage cafe

Cafe Magad is home to precious and rare historical antiques where tourists feel a strong sense of connection with historic Jeddah. AN photo
Updated 27 May 2018
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Travel back in time at Jeddah’s cultural and heritage cafe

  • The people of the historic area still hold their values and Ramadan traditions
  • Tourists can learn about the historical area over a cup of coffee

JEDDAH: Historic Jeddah is home to Cafe Magad, the cultural and heritage cafe. It holds many hidden treasures of the historical area. The owner and historical consultant Mazen Al-Saqaf explained how the cafe surfaced.

“It was created for visitors and tourists at the historical area of the city of Jeddah.
“Before we created the cafe, we looked at what visitors and tourists needed there, and we found that there was no restful place. Therefore we created a cafe that resembled the sitting rooms and salons in the old houses,” Al-Saqaf told Arab News.
Tourists can learn about the historical area over a cup of coffee, he said.
“It includes a small library that has books on historic Jeddah in Arabic, English and French, for tourists.”
It is also a popular destination among intellectuals and scholars. “Many historians, thinkers and literary scholars are quite fond of this cafe. They enjoy visiting it and writing about historic Jeddah,” Al-Saqaf said.
“I help historians who are writing about historic Jeddah. If anyone has a scientific paper on it, we assist them with rare photographs, rare documents, and rare books and sources,” he added.
“On the walls, you have old photographs of historic Jeddah. Visitors and tourists can see how the historic area was and how it is now. There are photographs of embassies: The American Embassy, the British Embassy, the French Embassy. When tourists visit, they can see their embassies. They used to be in these historic houses. There are also photographs of the Dutch Embassy and the Italian Embassy.
“And tourists feel some sort of connection between their history and historic Jeddah,” Al-Saqaf told Arab News.
The cafe is also home to precious and rare historical antiques.
“It holds rare antiques of historic Jeddah. For example, here we have a rare manuscript from the Mamluk period. It is from the year 800 H., and a telephone of King Farouk of Egypt, and a document of the first cheque in the Arabian Peninsula,” said Al-Saqaf.
“Every Saturday we hold a literary night, for historians, scholars and thinkers. We also have musical nights. We do all this to attract visitors from outside the historic area. We are contributing to enriching tourism,” Al-Saqaf told Arab News.
He explained that the cafe is relatively new, but the building is not: “The cafe is three years old, the building is over 400 years old.”
The people of the historic area still hold their values and Ramadan traditions.
“They gather here at the cultural and heritage cafe as one family. Each person brings a dish, and we experience Ramadan like the old days,” Al-Saqaf told Arab News.