Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cheers to Muscat And the Most Beautiful People!

A calm and peaceful evening at work, we were just 5 of us on the floor and I waited restlessly to get back to the hotel - mainly for 2 reasons - I was bored and the AC in office was too much for me ;) While Tom was diligently working hard to cover up for a day's delay, I was lost in thoughts thinking about this beautiful city and the really sweet people I have met in these 2 days. It was 6:30 PM and I was done for the day, I knew my brain was saturated and so I decided to stop working and did a few funny things like opening the drawers of the desk I was sitting at, walking a hundred times to the water dispenser to fill water and almost everything I could think of to kill my boredom. While I opened the drawer, I saw a few postcards with famous tourist places painted on them, I was looking at them and trying to make a mental list of places that we can visit over the weekend. During this time, we had a kind gentleman from Jabalpur, India who was attracted to our cubicle by the pack of Mysore Pak lying on the table. He quickly jumped in, took a piece of it and with a big smile on his face he said - "the value of these delicacies is what people here don’t know". The happy look on his face showed how much he loved and enjoyed eating the Mysore pak. He walked back again a few minutes later and saw some of it left in the box. He did not hesitate to take that last bit and walked away with a smile and thank you. In a few minutes, more than half of the office was dark, as the lights worked on sensors, i.e. no people in an area = no lights in that area. Since Tom and I were working, our bay was completely lit with all the lights.
Thursday evening (when the weekend begins here) 3 PM we were back to the hotel. After a fruitful day at work, we decided to get back early and relax for a while. We reached the hotel and had a 20-minute discussion about the work done and decided to take the weekend off for ourselves. We rested for a while and stepped out at 6 PM to head towards Matrah Souk – a very beautiful colorful market in Muscat. We booked a taxi with the help of one of the hotel receptionist (who was a Gujju, yea I was very happy to meet a Gujju in Muscat) and it costed us 6 OMR from our hotel Park Inn by Radisson to Matrah Souk. 

We reached there in about 20 minutes and it was a spectacular sight – so bright, vibrant and colorful that for a few moments we were lost in thoughts and were unable to decide which way to proceed. After a few minutes, we decided to proceed and started walking in the narrow lanes of this local market – we saw lot of gold, silver, ather, perfume, cosmetics, clothes, incense burners, Incense Sticks and many food shops. Many of them were owned and run by local Omanis but an equal number of them were run by Indians (from Kerala especially) and Tom being from Kerala did all the talking at the shops we stopped by. In fact, Tom found his Keralite friends almost everywhere we went – at our office, malls, markets, coffee shops, petrol bunks and every other place. We spent more than an hour walking through these streets, stopping by at some shops and just enjoying the place. After 8 PM we decided to walk by the harbor which was so beautifully illuminated by the numerous lights on many huge ships.

It was a peaceful walk along this harbor like Marine drive in Mumbai (but with much lesser number of people 😉). 
We spotted the Al Mirani fort from this walkway and decided to visit the fort during the weekend. Both Tom and I enjoyed the freedom and peace within while we walked here and continued to walk without realizing the time or distance we had walked. After a while we checked google maps to find our way back to the hotel and then realized it would be best to go back to the market area and get a cab back from there. As we reached the market, we immediately saw a cab driver who agreed to take us to the hotel for 6 OMR and we reached the hotel within no time. Since it was Friday the next day (weekend here) we decided to wake up at leisure and have a late breakfast 😊
My weekend here started with lazing around, having a big breakfast and lot of relaxation. It was 11 AM when we finished our breakfast and we decided to go see the fort as the mosque we wanted to see (Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque) was closed for visitors on Friday. After getting back to our rooms we called off that plan and decided to step out only in the evening and stay indoors till then to avoid the sun. I chose to do my favorite thing and slept right after breakfast for 2 hours. 
Sultan Al Qabos Grand Mosque
Friday evening – 6 PM while we were walking around the Muscat Avenues mall behind our hotel, our host in Oman sent a text asking if we were ready. He offered to take us to the Muscat Festival going on in the city at multiple locations. We were a little hesitant as it was weekend and we would be interfering in his personal or family time, but since he insisted we agreed to go to the festival with him. We were very grateful to him for the wonderful hospitality we had been receiving starting from day 1 in Oman. The hospitality that Omanis offer is incomparable to any other place I have seen. In India we are very happy and sometimes proud of our hospitality, but Omanis can easily beat us in this. Every minute that we were out our host ensured we were extremely comfortable and were enjoying our time in Oman. I had no words to express my gratitude as I knew, had I been in his place it would have been difficult for me to do the same if I had a guest in India. It was almost like he had taken charge of both of our happiness for the duration of our stay in Oman and in case we did not enjoy this time it would be an insult to him and to the place. He did his best to make every moment of our stay here a pleasant one. 

At 6:30 PM we exited the mall parking and headed towards the first venue of the festival – Naseem Gardens. We saw some traffic on the way which was mainly caused due to an accident, but it was cleared soon. There were a good number of cars going towards the festival. It was well organized with the police helping with the traffic regulation and despite the huge crowd there was no problem in getting in. There was a nominal entry fee to enter the festival which again our host did not allow us to pay and whenever we offered to pay he would refuse kindly & say – “Please, you are my guest”. As we walked in, the excitement and curiosity inside me was building up and I couldn’t wait to see what this beautiful festival had to offer. The first thing we saw was a group of children performing on stage – 3 cute little girls dancing to an Omani number. We watched them for a few seconds and then headed in. Next, we saw a mini amusement park – with at least 10 land rides and a few water rides for children. The smiles, laughter and joy on everyone’s faces here was so pleasing. Everyone from children to adults were enjoying themselves to the fullest, children running around with candies in their hands, parents either running after them or relaxing themselves on the mats that each family had got with them and spread on the different areas of the garden. We saw some beautiful glimpses of fireworks, circus, live stunt shows of motor bikers riding in a metallic sphere and spent a few minutes enjoying a live music concert in the local language. We walked into the small stalls throughout the garden where clothes, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, toys, chocolates, traditional sweets and lots more was sold. While walking through these stalls, I was lost in some of my fondest childhood memories of how much I enjoyed these local melas with my friends and family. It was surprising to see that though India and Oman are miles apart there were so many similarities in the culture – the family-oriented culture we see in India was a common trait here as well. In India women work in various sectors and Oman also is seeing this change where many women are coming forward to work and support themselves and their families financially.
After having a good time for an hour, we walked out towards the car, with some delicious traditional sweets of Muscat and lots of colorful memories of the festival. We thanked our host again for the wonderful experience and headed to the second venue of the festival which was a showcase of best bikes and bikers in the city and their skills. Unfortunately, we were late for this and so we drove to a restaurant nearby, which had many vegetarian options (as chosen specially by our host who ensured that I get to eat the best food even though my food options were restricted to vegetarian only). We spoke a lot about our cultures, working hours, work culture and our host shared some stories of his two children, while we drove to the restaurant – The Grill House. He also inquired about various pay scales in different domains in IT as he was looking at hiring some people from India to start his own IT business here. We were happy to exchange information and get to know more about each other’s culture while we enjoyed the yummy food at this restaurant. After a beautiful evening and dinner, we got back to our hotel with our stomach full of great food and heart full of memories of this mesmerizing place and the most beautiful people.
Saturday evening at 5:30 PM after another relaxing day at the hotel we took a cab to a nearby beach – Al Quram Beach. 
This was open to public and was located very close to our hotel. We reached the beach and walked inside till knee deep water. The weather was extremely pleasant and so was our experience. We spent some time here sauntering in the water, talking, laughing, clicking pictures and enjoying ourselves until sunset. The beach was calm and peaceful with a small number of people around. After sunset we walked out to Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee and got back to the hotel by cab (costed us 3 OMR). We decided to try some of the local cuisine for dinner and hence walked to a street near by which had a couple of restaurants. We chose cloud express and enjoyed some of the tastiest local food (fatayers – which looked like pizza – A must try!!) which was available both in veg and non-veg options.
3 working days of the week flew by and Tuesday evening Ammar offered to drop us to the hotel. While we were on our way he said I’ll take you to a place that you are going to love. I was eagerly waiting and within a few minutes we reached “KAMAT“. Back in India I would have never been so excited about going to KAMAT for a meal or snack, but when I saw it here, I was extremely happy and excited to indulge in the delicious Indian vegetarian food we were about to eat. Ammar told us that he studied in India and he ate at Kamat whenever he missed Indian food. We were quick to order and had a number of Indian dishes on the table – Pav bhaji, masala dosa,  sev puri and the best of all - pani puri 😊 I enjoyed every bite of the food and for once I enjoyed the luxury of being in a restaurant that offered everything vegetarian :) We had long conversations about work, India, Oman, our hobbies and many random things that we connected on. Well, like I said earlier, people in Oman are great at their hospitality and Ammar’s company just strengthen this belief 😊 We ended with Desserts – Ladoos, Ras Malai and Gulab Jamoon – just the perfect way to end an amazing meal!!  Ammar drove us to our hotel and while going to bed I could feel my stomach smiling and saying thank you for the yummy food 😊

Next morning when we reached office, Sangeetha offered to take us to a Krishna Temple nearby, Tom and I agreed instantly. We visited the temple and a church opposite the temple and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent here. She drove us back through a different route which was full of mountains on both sides - a very serene scene, indeed! 

We couldn’t continue for long as we had a call scheduled at 10.30 AM and had to reach office in time for the call. I was very happy to visit the temple and church and got back to work with a great sense of fulfillment. We thanked her for taking us and she very kindly reciprocated the thank you saying that she was planning to visit the temple and it was because of us that she finally visited today.
Thursday morning – just like a Friday in Bangalore, was a relaxing start of the day to welcome the weekend. We reached office and did a couple of meetings till lunch and then went with Abhilash for lunch to Sarvana Bhavan! Again, a brilliant meal with authentic south Indian food 😊

I couldn’t be more thankful to Abhilash for offering to take us out for lunch. We had a great time and as we walked out of the restaurant he checked if we had a little time to take us around for a drive and we very quickly responded with a big YES 😊 He drove us to the city’s most beautiful view points and harbors. 

Beautiful view from harbor
We stopped by at some of the places to click a few pictures and a few other we just drove by. He also took us to the very famous Muscat Palace – another beautiful monument! We saw the Shiva temple of Muscat but couldn’t enter as it was closed during this time (around 2 PM). We thoroughly enjoyed this drive which was an impromptu decision and were absolutely amused by the spectacular views the mountains & sea offered to add to the beauty & charm of this scenic city!
Friday morning was another lazy morning with late breakfast and lot of relaxing time 
planned for the day. We decided to visit another venue of the Muscat festival that was closer to our hotel – Amrat Park. We booked a cab from our hotel – for 6 OMR and to our surprise the drive to the venue was like driving in the Ghats sections. Both Tom and I enjoyed the drive and were happy with the decision of visiting this venue of the festival. Well, the festival was almost the same as the other venue we visited last weekend, however we had a nice time walking around and experiencing the local culture. We shopped a little and while we were deciding to get back to the hotel we tried some of taxi apps used locally – Oman Taxi and Marhaba cabs. Marhaba cabs was a savior as we could get a cab easily, it was not very expensive (as compared to the hotel cabs) and the cabs were neat and tidy. After 2 weeks of staying here we realized we could have used this app earlier as well. Nevertheless, it was a lesson learnt. We ended the day with some great food at Muscat bakery – suggested by our food expert Ammar. We enjoyed pani puri and masala dosa and guess what, I also spotted Ajma Ghatia at the bakery – Gujjus I tell you, they did not leave Oman as well!
Next day started early in the morning as we had decided to walk to the Sultan Al Qaboos Grand Mosque (that was about 4 Kms from our hotel). The visiting hours at this mosque was 8 AM to 11 AM every day except Friday. We finished breakfast at 7:45 AM and started walking towards the mosque. On our way we stopped at a small shop called Tea Time for a tea/coffee break and by 8:45 AM we reached the grand mosque. The view of the mosque from the main road during the day was not as impressive as the night view – which was way too beautiful to be described in words. There was something very special about the way the lights were placed in each monument in this city which added to their beauty during night. 

The Royal Opera House - view at night
We continued to walk in and at the entrance, there was a lady who checked my attire to ensure I was adhering to the rules of the mosque – full sleeves shirt and head covered with a scarf or dupatta. Both the men & women had to adhere to the dress code of the mosque to be able to enter and in case it was not appropriate, they rented out the required attire at the entrance at a minimal price. After the security check we proceeded forward into the mosque and were welcomed with water fountains at multiple places, a variety of colorful flowers and a lot of greenery. We first sighted the woman’s prayer room and under the impression that Tom will not be allowed in we skipped that to go see the rest of the mosque. We continued to walk inside a pathway which was like a square corridor around the main prayer hall of the mosque. All the pillars here were beautifully decorated with various Islamic mosaics.  At one end of this corridor was a staircase of about 20 stairs. We climbed up and got a better view of the entire structure. Next, we walked into the men’s prayer room – which was open to everyone during the visiting hours only. The men’s prayer room is very well known for its huge central chandelier and when we entered we knew exactly why it so famous.
It was huge, very well-lit and was simply stunning. There were couple of other chandeliers as well and the entire set up added to the majestic look of the prayer room. We were asked to leave our shoes outside the prayer room and while doing so I noticed a board which had a few instructions to be followed inside including - children under the age of 10 are not allowed. We saw many Holy Qurans placed inside wall niches in the men’s prayer room. While we walked from here we realized that Tom should be allowed in the Women’s prayer room and hence we went there next. This was a smaller room and less majestic as compared to the men’s prayer room but was also made with a lot eye catching intricate designs. Both these prayer rooms had a very peaceful and calming effect in which we dwelled as we left from the mosque.
Our next plan for the day was the best part of the trip – Snorkeling in Bandar Khayran (a coastal town in northeastern Oman). At 11.15 AM we had a representative from Sidab sea tours waiting for us at the hotel lobby. We drove through the beautiful city with a lot excitement and reached the spot by 11:45 AM where we were to board our speedboats. We were asked to wait for 15 minutes for the others to join us. While we were waiting we enquired about the scuba diving courses PADI offered and the prices for each of them. After a few minutes we got into the boat with 4 other people (one couple from France and another from Austria). We spoke for a short while before the boat took off and once we started the journey each one of us just enjoyed the ride and were filled with a lot of excitement. 
While on the boat, we had water splashing on us slightly as the boat drove through the high currents in the sea. Every time the boat did a small jump all of us would unanimously shout out of joy and laugh out loud. It was a wonderful journey and I enjoyed every bit of it. We reached a sea shore for snorkeling and our driver handed the equipment to us.  We all jumped in with the equipment on and since this was the first time for Tom I was hoping he enjoys this experience. As soon as I jumped in a sense of serenity embraced me. After a few seconds of adjusting my mask I was lost in watching the corals & fish and even playing with them by swimming in their direction. It felt like we were playing hide and seek, and I enjoyed this game for the entire time I was underwater. I loved the freedom of swimming in any direction I wished to. We enjoyed 45 minutes of snorkeling with the most beautiful & colorful coral reefs and fish, after which we headed back to the speedboat. The speed boat had a tiny changing room and our driver offered us apples, cake, water and soft drinks as we started our return journey on the boat. Again, just like scuba diving this was a beautiful experience which filled me with an ultimate sense of calmness, joy and bliss.  On our return journey everyone was so overwhelmed with joy that we did not talk a word but chose to linger over the experience we had just got. We reached the shore, waved good byes to everyone on the boat and walked towards the van that was going to drop us at our hotel. Throughout this entire journey of 3 hours I had no control on my smile and it just wouldn’t stop even for a moment 😊
The coming week was our last week here and we had a couple of milestones to complete at work before we left for Bangalore. Everything was executed as per our schedule and we were ready to wrap up by Thursday. We had a couple of meetings planned with different stake holders here during the week and most of our time was utilized in preparing for these meetings. Few evenings we went out with our colleagues in Oman who offered to take us to different places like Ruwi street (a busy street for shopping) and many others, which ended with dinner at well-known places for local food.  
Thursday evening, it was finally time to bid good bye to the wonderful team here and thank them for the time and effort they put in during these 3 weeks just to ensure that we enjoy each moment of our stay in Oman. We packed some dates to take back home and by 4 PM we started from office. The entire team came to see us off and before we started we clicked a few selfies to carry the mesmerizing memories back with us. We waved good byes to everyone and started towards our hotel. I enjoyed my last day of stay in the hotel by relaxing and lazing around with a little of packing to get ready to leave by 1:30 AM to airport. Our flight to Bangalore was scheduled to depart at 4:20 AM and that pretty much meant no sleep night 😉
While we were on the airplane I had a whole list of all the wonderful places we visited, the beautiful people we met, the enchanting monuments we saw and the most delightful combination of nature (water and mountains) we were amidst for these 20 days, running endlessly in my head. I was filled with gratitude and couldn’t be more thankful to all the people for the all that they did for us. We had a huge bag of clothes & chocolates, but had a much bigger bag of the most beautiful memories of Muscat 😊

Things to do in Muscat ( Since I was on an official trip, this is not a comprehensive list, but will still list out a few)

1. Get an international driving license and drive around the city to experience the best of Oman - Abundance of nature - Mountains, Valleys, and Sea all around you. Hiring a self - driven car is much more economical than taking cabs.
2. Visit Bandar Khayran and Daymaniyat Islands for scuba diving and snorkeling (Swimming is not a mandate). Sidab sea tours arranged this very well for us, with pick up and drop facilities from the hotel.
3. Definitely try the local cuisine - humus and pita, falafel rolls, fatayers, shawarmas and all the non-vegetarian local dish (for all the non-vegetarians - Omanis local food is a feast)
4. Camp overnight in the desert (Dunes by Al Nahada) to enjoy the ultimate experience of being in a dessert. Also try quad biking in the desert.
5. Drive around the city and stop by the beaches - Al Quram beach was a pleasant one
6. Take a walk inside Matrah Souk to enjoy the local culture
7. Visit the Grand Mosque ( Sultan Qabos Grand Mosque) and Royal Opera House and get mesmerized by the beautiful architecture and art work all around these majestic monuments
8. Talk to the Omanis and enjoy spending time with them as they are one of most beautiful people at heart and extremely welcoming.
9. Many places will offer you local tea and dates - go for it without a thought and also bring  home the yummiest dates with you.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Maldives - Paradise on Earth

A spectacular scene from a few thousand feet above sea – a bird’s eye view of the cluster of islands that only got better as we descended. Nitin (my husband) and I had no control over our excitement as the airplane approached landing at this paradise known as Maldives. As we stepped out of the airplane and completed our immigration formalities, we were given the Visa on arrival for our stay. Exiting the airport, we were greeted by the crystal clear water all around us which was a great feast to our eyes. While we walked out we had 2 things in our to-do list – (i) to buy a local sim card (ii) find a bus that would drop us to our hotel in Hulhumale. Both were easy as the people here spoke English and were very helpful. We bought a sim card from the Dhiraagu store just outside the Airport for $15 that gave us 4GB data and 100 minutes of local calling. Within the next 5 minutes we got into a bus and they charged us $2 each to drop us at the Main stop in Hulhumale. Our hotel was about 300 meters from this stop. We boarded the bus and enjoyed the scenic views for 20 minutes until the bus arrived at our stop.


We got off at our bus stop and started walking towards our hotel. This brought us to a series of small compact hotels facing the sea shore and a chain of brightly lit restaurants along the sea shore. Each of these restaurants added to the beauty of the shore with its own colorful lights and charm. Although the hotel rooms were very compact, their proximity to the sea shore was an attraction. We checked in at 5:30 PM and then decided to walk around to explore Hulhumale. By 6:30 PM the local shops were closed – except for a few super markets. While walking back to our hotel a board that read “Floral Tea” at one of the restaurants attracted Nitin's attention and we walked in to find out what it was. To our surprise it was beautiful green tea that comprised of a small sphere which would bloom open into a flower when put in hot water. We enjoyed sipping this “beautiful” green tea along the sea shore as the sun set and later retired for the day.

Next morning, we were ready to leave to Guraidhoo – a local island and our destination for scuba diving. We took a taxi (costed us 100 Rufiyaas) from our hotel to the harbor at Male where we were to board our speed boat - "Moon speed" that would take us to Guraidhoo. Abbo, from Manta divers had booked two seats for us on the speed boat which was to start at 12:30 PM from Male. We chose to take a speed boat as there were no morning ferries to Guraidhoo. The ferry runs daily (except Fridays) at 2:30 PM from Male, costs $2 per person and takes approximately 2 and half hours to Guraidhoo while the speed boat costed us $25 per person and took 35 minutes to reach. Since, we wanted to do a dive in the afternoon, we chose the speedboat even with the extra cost. After an amazing speed boat ride through the waters, we reached Guraidhoo and were welcomed by 2 gentlemen – Hassan(our caretaker at the Raakani Villas Resort) and Shahute (our dive instructor at Manta Divers).
As soon as we stepped out of the boat a wave of happiness hit us and these two gentlemen who received us added to this wonderful feeling by making sure we felt extremely comfortable. As we walked to our rooms Hassan offered to help us with our bags and Shahute said – “please pick up anything you want from anywhere at any time and feel at home.” “Wooooow”, I thought to myself, what a wonderful place and such lovely people. Engrossed in these happy thoughts, we checked in and decided to freshen up for our first dive at 2:00 PM. We were doing the Discover scuba diving course since this was our first dive. We reached the dive center (a 2 minute walk from our hotel) and were requested to check our diving equipment - Wet-suit, mask, regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD) and fins to ensure they fit us well. We were asked to fill a few forms and watch a video on safety measures to take note of while diving. We walked to the sea shore with our equipment loaded on a wooden trolley. Shahute and Samee accompanied us as dive masters.
Finally, that moment we had been waiting for had arrived. We walked in to the sea from the shore where our dive instructors showed us some basic actions for communication under water and two primary skills that are needed while diving – (i) how to clear the face mask in case water trickles in (ii) how to carefully place the regulator back in the mouth in case it falls off.
They demonstrated these skills to us and asked us to follow. Once we were comfortable, we went further ahead and began the dive. This was called the house reef dive and it was stunning. As we moved inside this beautiful world we observed the infinite number of fish swim by us. We were amidst innumerable colors, species and sizes of fish, turtles, corals etc. and we couldn’t get enough of them. We continued to move ahead, holding on to our trainers and following them uninhibitedly.  The next forty minutes passed by very quickly and we were soon back to the shore. We did snorkeling for a short while and swam back to end the dive for the day.
The next three days started early with enjoying the sun on our sun bathing chairs, sometimes accompanied with a cup of coffee. Nitin and I enjoyed spending time on these relaxing chairs for hours, without feeling the need to talk and just experiencing the beauty of this paradise with each other and being lost in beautiful thoughts. While I would sit longer at the beach and watch the locals do their chore of fishing early in the morning, Nitin would walk around, explore the place and experiment with his new camera. We chose the morning dives instead of noon to get clear visibility underwater. On our next dive, the focus was on improving the two skills before we began the dive. We continued with the dive after a few trials of the skills.
The next two dives were boat dives wherein we were taken to a reef in mid sea by a boat and had to jump into the water with our equipment on. We were very excited about this boat dive and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our instructors jumped in first and we followed. These dives were even more beautiful, fun and exciting and it exposed us to different areas of the sea. While I was underwater, I had left everything behind and was just enjoying each moment spent in this magical marine world, feeling as a free fish myself.
No limits, no inhibitions, no judgement, just pure bliss. My mind was blank, without any thoughts and my smile knew no end. Our instructors made sure we were extremely comfortable and did a regular check during the dive to ensure everything was okay. Soon after the boat dive we would climb back on the boat with the help of a small ladder and go straight to the upper deck to soak some sun and cherish the beautiful moments spent under water.
Each day after the dive we would have lunch in a restaurant called “FOOD” nearby – again with veg rice being the only vegetarian meal option here. After lunch we would walk to the other beaches and continue exploring the island. On one of the days we chose to have lunch at another cafe called “Amore” which was further away and had a good number of vegetarian options like pizza, pasta, nachos etc. Our evenings would be a combination of some time spent with our dive center friends and enjoying the local colorful market set up in Guraidhoo on the shore. It was a spectacular scene to see the transformation of a place from a sunny plain land in the morning to a bustling market in the evening.

On the third day of our stay, we walked to a beach called ‘Bikini Beach” that was named so, since earlier foreigners were not allowed to wear bikinis on all public beaches with this one as an exception. However, things are different now. The locals are tolerant to different kinds of dressing, but I would say it is good to respect the culture of the place while you stay there and follow certain norms that are expected out of tourists.
After spending four days of complete bliss here in Guraidhoo, it was time to bid goodbye to Guraidhoo for a day and move ahead to Olhuveli – an entire island turned into a huge resort. While we were leaving Guraidhoo a gracious and gentle Lady with whom we exchanged smiles and a few words while we walked to our dive center each day, walked to us with a broad smile and handed two tiny glass bottles of sea shells and the word “Maldives” painted on it. While handing it to us she said – “Present for you”. I was so touched by this kind gesture that my love for this beautiful island grew stronger.


Shahute arranged a speed boat for us from Guraidhoo and within 15 minutes we reached Olhuveli. The resorts generally arrange the transfers, but our dive center got it arranged for us for one-fourth the price that the resort charged. As we stepped out of our speed boat we had one of the resort representative greet us and walk us to the resort area, that was across a beautiful bridge which looked even more beautiful at night with a perfect sequence of lights. The resort was spread across the entire island and as we reached the reception we were welcomed with a refreshing drink. One of their staff – Aisham brought a buggy to take us to our room – Beach villa with a private pool. Of course, it sounded very fancy, but it looked much more than just “fancy”. We were awestruck when we entered the room. The room had a large seating area in the restroom, a big living room, a dressing room, two dining areas – one attached to the room and another by the pool, and a beautiful private pool 😊.

I jumped with joy and Nitin couldn’t wait any longer to get into the pool. We spent the next 4 hours alternating between the pool, beach and sun bathing chairs. It was an amazing experience and we couldn’t get enough of it. Nitin used his new camera in the pool and also captured the most beautiful sunset, while I enjoyed spending ”me” time on the sun-bathing chairs, watching the sunset. After sunset we finally decided to get out of water and take a stroll in the resort. We checked the different kinds of rooms the resort had, just to realize that we probably had chosen the best room. We enjoyed sitting at the  “Manta View Point” which was a big wooden plank with two sofas and two flood lights to attract plankton and Manta rays, which feed on the plankton. We then explored some more of the resort, walked back to the room and called it a day.
The next morning we woke up just in time for breakfast with a spectacular view  right from the bed.
The breakfast here was a huge feast and served people with delicacies from multiple geographic areas. A large spread with numerous choices and great taste. Specially after the basic breakfast we had been eating at the local islands this was a huge contrast and we enjoyed it undeniably. Soon after breakfast I spent some time on the swing in the reception area and Nitin chose to head to our private pool. An hour later, our speed boat had arrived to take us back to Guraidhoo. We chose to go back to Guraidhoo instead of checking in to our hotel in Hulhumale, as we wanted to spend the last few hours with our friends from Manta Divers - Shatute, Samee, Eddy and Mary. As our speed boat arrived at Guraidhoo, a comforting feeling of getting back home embraced us and were welcomed with smiling faces at the dive center. We spent the next 4 hours relaxing in the dive center while most of them went for prayers as it was Friday. Once they returned, we went to “FOOD” for a coffee and spent an hour talking, laughing and cherishing the last few hours together.
It was time to say good bye to Guraidhoo (Of course, we did not want to!). A speed boat was arranged to take us to Maafushi (another local island known for water sports) from where we were to board another boat to Male. We had to reach Male on the previous day of our flight as we had a morning flight back to India. However, we decided to stay in Hulhumale again and the next morning after breakfast we took a bus to the airport from the main stop at Hulhumale. After our check-in and immigration formalities, and just outside the boarding area, we enjoyed delicious ice cream from Dairy queen, post which we boarded the airplane. The satisfaction and fulfillment of a wonderful holiday couldn’t be better than what we were experiencing on our return journey. I captured a few last pictures of the island as our airplane took off and bagged beautiful memories back home with us.


Carry a spare phone or a phone with dual sim as it’s a good option to buy a local sim instead of availing international roaming.

If you have an extra day, take a ferry ($2/150 minutes) from Male to Guraidhoo, reach by evening and start diving from next morning. This can be an economic alternative to speed boat transfer ($25/35-40 minutes).

The restaurants here include service charge in the bill and hence an additional tip is not mandatory.
Flight booking – choose an onward flight that gets you to Maldives in the morning (you can take a sea plane/speedboat/ferry from airport to the island you are staying at) and a return flight that starts from Maldives in the noon (on the day of your return you can reach airport directly from the your island). This way the stay at Male or Hulhumale can be avoided.

The butter in most of the hotels in local islands is unsalted, in case you don’t like it, carry your own!
If you are a vegetarian, most of the small – medium sized hotels have bread, unsalted butter, jam, fruits and a fruity drink for breakfast and hence would suggest carrying some instant veg food. However, non-vegetarians have few more options.

I would recommend scuba diving with Manta Divers for a wonderful experience in terms of hospitality, expertise, safety, professionalism and an overall blissful experience. You can also do a certificate course (open water diver) in scuba diving if you are staying for four-five days.

At the Olhuveli resort, I would recommend choosing rooms facing the beach and with a private pool (Beach Villa with a private pool) instead of the water villa as these rooms offer more privacy, are more spacious and are newly added to the property.

Make sure you grab a Blizzard of your choice - yummy ice cream at an ice cream parlor called Dairy Queen at the airport.

Most importantly, leave everything aside and enjoy every moment you spend in this paradise to experience eternal bliss.