The sinking paradise

One of the world’s favourite holiday destinations, the Maldives is sinking rapidly. This is probably your last chance to see these magical islands. Go pack your bags.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay        Print Edition: January 27, 2008

Maldives
Head for the Maldives
Atlantis sank, but we weren’t around then to mourn its disappearance. Chances are you will be witness to a tragedy of far greater proportion in 25 years when one of the world’s favourite holiday hot spots—the Maldives—is literally swallowed by the Indian Ocean.

A string of coral islands in the Indian Ocean, south-west of India, the Maldives is renowned for its exotic marine life, relaxing beaches and luxurious resorts. But rising sea levels mean that this island country may well cease to exist soon. Three of the archipelago’s 280 inhabited islands have already been evacuated, and oceanologists predict most of the Maldives will be washed away within 2037 A.D.

Why you should visit it now

So grim is the future, that the local tourism department is now considering adopting the motto: Come see us while we’re still here. “We can’t stop the sea rising,” the director of the Environmental Research Centre in Male, Mohamed Ali is reported to have said. Apparently it would cost the Maldives $1.2 billion (the country’s current GDP) just to protect a quarter of the inhabited islands with walls and a breakwater.

The best beaches

Building tomorrow


This may read like a futuristic novel, but it’s exactly what over
1,50,000 citizens of Maldives are gearing up for—a brand new
man-made island they will soon call home.

Hulhumale, or New Male, is the size of a gigantic football field made of shredded coral on top of an underwater reef—an artificial island which is being built to accommodate some 1,50,000 people when their own country sinks into the sea. Apparently more than $60 million has been spent to create this landmass. When completed in 15 years, it should house half the country's current population of 340,000. 

Two of the best beaches in the Indian Ocean are located here. Sun Island in Nalaguraidhoo, located just 100 km from Male airport, is also known as the ‘flower of the Indies’. The barrier reef starts close enough to swim to but you can see the reef right from the beach as well.

Veligandu Island is 80 metres long and is one of the cleanest sand beaches in the Indian Ocean. Just offshore one can find the Atoll with a spectacular reef full of the most colourful fish.

The best diving facilities in Maldives are available here.

Shop till you drop

The Majeedhee Magu, the main road in Male, has shops selling virtually everything you can think of, including garments, cosmetics, jewellery, watches or electronics. All shops are open until 11 p.m.

In adjacent Chaandhanee Magu, one can buy souvenir items. Best buys include the ‘thudu kuna’ the Maldivian mat woven with local natural fibres. Attractive too are the wooden miniature ‘dhonis’.

The magical coral islands

The magical coral islands
Coral reef
Read on to find out why you should visit Maldives while it’s still there.

Maldives is located to the south-west of Sri Lanka, on the equator. It is a string of 1,190 coral islands, forming an archipelago. Of these, 202 are inhabited and 87 are exclusive resort islands.

What to do

Getting to Male

Indian flies daily to Male, the capital of Maldives. Most international airlines will also fly to Maldives from India. All tourists are given a 30-day free visa on arrival at Male as long as they provide valid travel documents. The Maldivian currency is the Rufiyaa. The exchange rate for the US dollar is around 11 to a dollar.

Where to stay

Bandos Island Resort
www.bandosmaldives.com

Mirihi Island Resort
www.mirihi.com

Angsana Resort & Spa Maldives Ihuru
www.angsana.com

Local travel agents

Aqua Maldives Tours
www.aquamaldives.com

Intour Maldives Pvt Ltd
www.intourmaldives.com

Star Tours Maldives
Email: info@startoursmaldives.com.mv

Help at hand

Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB) has an information counter inside the airport for tourists. Information on the Maldives, hotels and rates are provided by the MTPB staff at the counter.

The language

Be a good tourist and pick up some key phrases in the local language.

Hello:Assalaamu Alaikum
How are you?Haalu Kihineh?
Yes:Aan
No:Noon
Goodbye: Dhanee
Thank you:Shukuriyaa
What island is that?E-ee kon rasheh?
What is the price?Agu kihaavareh?

Besides lazing on the sun-kissed beaches for hours on end, one can indulge in scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing or even hitch a submarine ride. Surfing is a seasonal activity, but scuba diving and snorkeling can be done all year round.

A ‘fishy’ diet

As the Maldives comprises more sea than land, it is only natural that fish (mainly tuna) have always been the most prominent element of Maldivian food. However, with travellers from different parts of the world, new seasonings and vegetables were introduced into the country. Thus, Maldivian cuisine now comprises Arabic, Indian, Sri Lanka and Oriental tastes blended into a unique cuisine that embodies a culinary identity of its own.

What to see

Huskuru Miskiiy: Built in the 17th century, the Huskuru Miskiiy or Friday Mosque is a masterpiece of coral curving and traditional workmanship. Mulee-aage: Right in front of the Hukuru Miskiiy is Mulee-aage, a palace built in 1906 by Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen III. At present, Mulee-aage houses the President’s Office.

The National Museum: This is one of the few remaining buildings of the former Sultan’s Palace. It is an Edwardian colonial-style building. Articles on display range from thrones and palanquins used by former Sultans to the first printing press in the country and statues dating from the 11th century.

Other vanishing wonders

Global warming, bad planning from governments and too many tourists have ensured that some of the most amazing sights in the world will soon be relegated to history books.

The great barrier reef

Great barrier reef
The Great Barrier Reef will lose most of its coral cover by the middle of this century, inflicting up to A$8 billion in damages on Australia’s tourism and fishing industries within 16 years. Australia faces losing not just the A$8 billion but also 12,000 jobs by 2020 as a result. The Great Barrier Reef has been called the largest living organism known.

Kilimanjaro’s ice cap

Kilimanjaro’s ice cap
The ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the most famous landmarks of Africa, but it may be gone in less than 20 years.

About onethird of Kilimanjaro’s icefield has disappeared in the last 12 years.

While some argue that global warming is not to blame for this tragedy, tourists would do better to visit and climb the peak fast.

The dead sea

The dead sea
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth (1,400 feet below sea level) and for being so salty that humans naturally float on top of it.

But in recent years, it is evaporating and receding by about three feet each year.

To really understand the phenomenon, one needs to visit the Ein Gedi Spa. When it opened 20 years ago, you could step out of the back door and be within a few feet of the salty water. Today, a trek to its shore is a one-mile hike.

Mexico city

Mexico city
Mexico City is going underground. Originally built on a lake, the Spanish conquerors extended the city limits by draining the lake and building an European style city in the empty basin.

This was a poor idea as foundations sank into the soft clay and left buildings tilting. As population rose during the 20th century, the government pumped the city’s water supply out of the underground aquifer that had once fed the lake.

As the aquifer emptied, the soft clay above sank deeper. In the past 70 years, Mexico City has sunk more than 30 feet.

Nauru

This tiny island in the South Pacific may soon be completely uninhabitable. Since the turn of the 20th century, Nauru has been one of the world’s prime sources for phosphate. Phosphate mining made Nauru rich, and at one point, the island boasted the world’s secondhighest per capita GDP. All mining has now ceased and the last few traces of the mineral excavated in 2006. Most of the island is ravaged and no crops can grow. Nor can one inhabit it.

Tuvalu

Tuvalu
Tuvalu is the fourth-smallest country in the world, made up of nine islands dotted across the South Pacific.

The islands, six feet above sea level, are at risk of sinking as a result of the rising waters caused by global warming.

The people—who have lived in Tuvalu for 2,000 years—are now beginning to leave for the likes of New Zealand.

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