Hence, in this article, I will try my best to marry my own experience of the trip to the logistics and cost of everything. Alright, so let’s start from the beginning of the tour!
On October 7 this year, my parents and I set out at 8 am in the morning to catch our 12:05 Mihin Lanka flight to Maldives. Several hours, multiple check ins and many selfies later, we boarded the flight. I’ll be honest. It was a very small plane and there was virtually no leg room. My mum graciously offered me the window seat, which surprised me a bit, because we usually have a bit of a scuffle about it – but I didn’t make much of it. This was mostly because I was primarily worried about how I was going to spend three and a half hours crammed between the seats. After those three and a half hours, there'd be an hour transit at Colombo, and then I’d have to board a similar plane for another hour to land at Maldives. For a return flight of this profile (time, stoppage and all), it did indeed have a hefty price of about Tk40,000. A bit annoyed, I waited for the plane to take off. I remember zooming past the concrete cocoon we call home before I drifted into a deep slumber.
The convenient thing about Maldives is that they provide visa on arrival for all foreign nationals. But, one must fill out the name of the hotel they are staying in on the immigration card or they will NOT let you through
I woke up only after we reached Colombo. The airport was a good one, but we didn’t have much time to explore it. After freshening up a bit, making a few calls to Bangladesh, and of course- taking multiple selfies and updating check ins, we boarded our plane to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Hulhule, Maldives. This plane was identical to the last. However, this time my mother claimed the window seat, and I didn’t argue at all since she gave me the previous window seat. I had had a pretty good rest on the last flight, so I took out Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
and immersed myself in it. Half way into the flight, I felt a slight nudge on my shoulder. It was my mum. I realised why my mother had taken the window seat on this plane. As someone who teaches geography, she knew what was waiting. Beyond her window, was paradise. There were all these islands of different sizes and shapes, surrounded by layers of dissimilar shades of blue. It was the most beautiful scene I had ever seen.
Once the plane landed, we had to get off on the tarmac since the airport is so small. We made our way to the immigration officer, and cleared all the formalities. The convenient thing about Maldives is that they provide visa on arrival for all foreign nationals. But, one must fill out the name of the hotel they are staying in on the immigration card or they will NOT let you through. Once we were out of the gates, we found Abdul Faththaah waiting for us. Faththaah bhai is a friend of my dad’s colleague, more notably; he is a Maldivian celebrity filmmaker and show host. He hosts a show called Vattafaalhi in Maldives, which is a lifestyle show which everyone should watch before going to Maldives because then they can list what they want to visit. So, Faththaah bhai was gracious enough to show us around his country and we were overjoyed to have him with us. We exchanged our pleasantries and headed for dinner in Hulhule, the town the airport is in. We took an airport bus shuttle, and as you’d expect on an island town, the road was beside the ocean, and we enjoyed the sunset from the bus. When we reached the restaurant, which conveniently didn’t have a roof and was on the beach, the sky had started to fill up with stars. To our surprise, we discovered most of the people working in the restaurant including the chef were Bangladeshi. This was going to be a common theme in Maldives. After we had a nice sea food dinner costing about US$200 dollars, roughly Tk4000 per person, we went to catch our domestic flight to Dharavandhoo, a small island in Baa atoll (a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands formed of coral). This internal return flight cost US$190 per person, and was a 20 minute flight. So about 20 minutes later we landed in an even smaller airport, and made our way to “Aveyla Manta Village”, a guesthouse, you guessed it, on the beach! We met Rafaal, a guy in his mid-twenties, who showed us to our rooms which had a big bed, an AC, a good clean restroom and basically everything a standard hotel has. I went to sleep almost immediately because of the fatigue from three flights.
A piece of paradise
When I made my way to my balcony the following morning, I was awestruck! I could not estimate on the previous night how close to the ocean my second story wooden room was. Just 40 feet away from my balcony was the Indian Ocean, in all its glory, with all its shades of blue. And in those 40 feet was pearl dust – white, grainy sand that seemed no less than pearl dust. I was actually standing on one of the islands I had mistaken for paradise from my plane!
After breakfast, Faththaah bhai joined us, and we went for a stroll to explore Dharavandhoo. It is an island with a population of 800, and the only notable buildings are a courthouse, three restaurants, the airport and a mosque. The island is no more than 1.2 square kilometres. Once we returned to the hotel, Faththaah bhai and I went snorkelling and kayaking in the crystal clear water. It was soon time for lunch and after that we would indulge in the most popular activity in Dharavandoo, ie go Manta Ray Fish watching.
About 20 people including us, boarded a big speed boat and set sail for Hanifaru bay, a UNESCO protected biosphere for manta rays. As we ripped through the water, we passed a number of small islands and those omnipresent different shades of blue caused by the discrepancies in the depth of the ocean. In no time, we reached Hanifaru bay and everyone went into the water with snorkelling equipment to interact with the wild mantas. I decided to take my chances at seeing mantas from the boat as I was not a strong swimmer, and indeed I did see quite a few of them. About 40 minutes later, everyone got on board, and we headed back. After a little rest in our rooms, we were prepared for the most memorable thing we would do on Maldivian soil: enjoy the sunset from Kihaad Island Resort.
Kihaad is an island resort a 10 minute speed boat ride from our hotel. We got there just before sunset and we were able to watch it from the beach, lying on sofa-like chairs, just embracing the silence. This trip came at an amazing time for me personally, as all my academics were taken care of and I had literally not a worry in the world. I was so content being on that island! It was finally time for dinner. All you can eat buffets at Kihaad cost almost UD$100 per head, including tax and everything, so we went with the four-course set menus which cost US$55 per head. The whole Kihaad experience including the speed boat ride came to a grand total of about Tk40,000. If, however, I was asked the value of the experience, I’d have to say it was priceless!
After breakfast, the following day, Rafaal came to us with a bill of about US$1400, which included the manta trip, snorkelling and kayaking, our meals at Aveyla etc. Once paid, we checked out and flew back to Hulhule, the international airport. We still had an hour to kill before our international flight, and we used it to have lunch at HIH, a 5 star hotel in Hulhumale, near the airport. Including this lunch, our total expenditure for two nights in Maldives came to about US$2000 for three people. Faththaah bhai told me one can spend a week in Maldives, backpacker style, within US$1000. I told him I’d be back one day.
On our way back to the airport, we said our goodbyes to Faththaah bhai, who I promised to meet again somewhere in the world. We exchanged contact information and that was it. It was almost time for us to board our plane, and we did so in haste. This time, I grabbed the window seat, and my mom obliged. As I sat there, I recollected all that I had seen. A solemn sadness overcame me as I realized the fact I was probably never going back there. The famous Dr Seuss quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” was only starting to circle in my head when I realised I had more than one reason to smile. Reason one being I had just finished visiting Maldives, which was the best country I had ever visited, and reason two being my flight was headed for Sri Lanka, which I would explore for 5 days before I headed home to Dhaka. My Indian Ocean adventure had only just begun. But that’s a story for another day!