I have not unpacked yet. I have kept my bags zipped up and unruffled as if to retain the fragrance and reminiscences of my last travels to the Maldives, as if to embalm those aromas inside a closed suitcase which encapsulates the mixture of my perfume, clothes and the country from which I recently returned. The few days prior to my departure were jam packed with household chores, last minute shopping, a dozen errands, hectic city schedules and so, all the running around, had tired me out; but all the metro madness was about to melt away into serene, slow, island life as I gave in to daydreaming about my escapade to a piece heaven on earth.
There it was, at last, Friday May 16th. I arose before sunrise, at 5:30 a.m., bathed leisurely, had a cup of my Masala Chai and felt a simple calm wash over me, a feeling of relaxation I rarely had before departing on an international trip. The usual stress and anxiety which often precede my trips were nowhere to be found. At 7 a.m., I was downstairs with my luggage, ordering my building watchman to call for a Mumbai taxi or auto rickshaw. After he loaded my luggage into the rickshaw, I tipped him graciously and was off to Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport.
It is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and to some, by definition, the last remaining paradise on earth. To visit Maldives just once, if only to have a glance at its turquoise, electric blue, sea foam green and navy lagoons, is a privilege that so many dream of but only a few can attain in one’s lifetime. I have been one those fortunate few, still deeply blissful in my memories of those sultry gems, those waters where the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea collide, those isles, which to me, are jewels in the hues of emeralds, aquamarines, sapphires and pearls. This double chain of twenty-six atolls (groups of islands and isolated reefs), lies south-west of India and Sri Lanka, two of my most beloved countries.
The name, Maldives, has possibly derived from the Sanskrit words mālā (garland) and dvīpa (island) or Maala Divaina(“Necklace Islands”) in Sinhala. Going back over two thousand years, Maldives is believed to be originally populated by the Dravidians from South India. These coralline isles were once too dangerous to navigate but now are the most sought after tropical destination in the world, with Tahiti right there next at the top of the list. Ten years ago, scientists were saying that by 2013, these islands, like Atlantis, will have sunken below the seas, lost forever, due to the rising sea levels caused by global warming; and back then, when my first trip to Maldives was cancelled unexpectedly in 2003, I was devastated that I may never have the chance to experience this paradise, to see for myself, what all the desirous talk was about. But here I was, again, in the world’s most geographically dispersed nation where 192 of its 1,192 islands are populated and the rest are desert isles.
On my last journey here, I spent the first and final part of my stay in Male, the country’s capital city, which was once the ‘King’s Island’, home to Maldivian ancient royals. Male is a 10 minute ‘dhoni’ (ferry) ride from Hulhule Island, which houses the international & domestic airports as well as Hulhule Island Resort. Day 1 Friday May 16th I landed at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, on Hulhule Island, around lunchtime from Cochin, India via SpiceJet.
This time, I had a two hour leisurely lunch and cappuccino break at Moonima Lounge, Maldivian Airline’s First Class Lounge, before my Maldivian domestic connection which would take me to Dharavandhoo Island to board my speed boat to Kihaadufaru Island, home of Kihaad Maldives Resort. It was the perfect time for me to sit, lounge, enjoy the service and read travel magazines while I snacked on buttered Edam cheese. Whenever I visit a foreign land, one of the things I most treasure is the melody to my ears of that nation’s spoken language. Here in Maldives, it was Dhivehi, an Indo-Aryan language most similar to Sinhalese, a South Indian language. In fact, the word Shukhriya means ‘Thank You’ in both Dhivehi and Hindi. Language, cuisine and religion are the three elements which most precisely define a culture and here in the Maldives, Dhivehi is spoken, fish curries flavoured with coconut along with starches such as rice are most commonly eaten and Muslim is the sole religion.
Though you would never know it today, the Maldivians of ancient times were Buddhists and Hindus dating back to the 6th Century B.C. Until the 1970’s, this pearl of the Indian Ocean was unknown to world travelers but since then, has become one of the tourism capitals of the world, especially for honeymooners. And honeymooners were exactly what I was surrounded by, right, left, front and center on my international connection from India and at the lounge. They were everywhere, cuddling, snuggling and clinging to one another, it induced a feeling which was worse than air sickness. But what made me really appreciate my single status was what I observed at Moonima Lounge. As I sat on the soft leather lounge sofa through the transit hours, sipping Cappuccino, Diet Coke and Vanilla Creme Tea, I noticed one common factor among all the couples here: not one of them was paying any attention to their partner. Every one of them was busy on their phones: texting, chatting, doing God knows what. What was the point of escaping the daily routine of life with your loved one if this was the way it was spent? I quietly rejoiced and celebrated my sole travels and was suddenly even more delighted to be here on my own.
So at last, just as I was getting slightly bored lounging away, my Kihaad Airport Representative came to inform me that my Maldivian domestic carrier was ready to board for Dharavandhoo Island. She escorted me from the first class lounge to the Maldivian boarding gate, where I strolled out to the tiny craft and boarded for my tropical isle. I was thankful that this time, I did not have to suffer a nauseating sea plane ride. Maldivian Air Taxi and MEGA Maldives are two of the nation’s own domestic carriers and both offer friendly land service with many schedules to choose from.
The twenty minute Maldivian Aero flight went by quickly, as I made friends with the Chinese family seated in the row next to mine. Upon our arrival at Dharavandhoo, onward in the airport mini buggy to dock and on the 5 minute speed boat ride to Kihaad, the jittering Chinese family members, obligingly served as my photographers in transit.
By the time I arrived at the Kihaad Resort jetty, it was already 5:30 p.m. I had been up since 5:00 a.m. that morning and traveling since. Now, all I wanted to do, was retire to my Private Ocean View Beach Villa. The in house press team and photographer were at the jetty to greet me and photograph my arrival. It was a the first of many pictures which would be taken of me during my six day stay here at Kihaad. I was escorted to my villa, through a jungle walk by a team of three, including my on stay assigned assistant, Katerina. Just before bidding them farewell, Carlo Cravanzola, G.M., joined us to welcome me.
Before I was escorted into my villa, I wanted to make a few friends with the enchanting little creatures whom Kihaadufaaru, which originally means ‘Young Coconut Grove’, really belongs to: the bright khaki green and red-orange island lizards which play about all day, the loveable little white shell crabs which leisurely stroll into the bushes at sunset and the birds of paradise which make themselves known with their sweet calls. It was them, that I loved most and I would rejoice with each day when I they met me wherever I was on the island. The moment I entered my white washed, thatched roof Beach Villa, I felt as if I was home. Katerina showed me around and the moment I took off my loafers, the feeling of the cool wooden floor beneath my feet, relaxed me, almost instantly.
My guide left after giving me my welcome package which included television and Wi-Fi instructions. I am proud to say that I did not watch one minute of T.V. the entire week, although, Wi-Fi was an essential I simply could not live without. There were soft eggshell hued chiffon curtains draped over the three windows including the large bay window which boasted a view of my private sugary white sand beach, personal patio cabana, turquoise water and tropical trees outside. I loved the large French doors which whisked open with the creamy white curtains flowing in the island breeze out to the porch where a large day bed, complete with pillows and towels sat waiting with its comfortable provisions. Inside, I first noticed my grand dark wood canopy bed, with crisp white linens tucked in neatly, white chiffon drapes and mosquito nets, furthermore, as if that was not romantic enough, the bed was decorated in pieces of palm fronds and red hibiscus flowers spelling ‘Welcome To Kihaad’.
My fridge was stocked with essentials including my choice beverage, Diet Coke and later, the delicious sugar-free desserts which Chef Arun from Kerala would whip up for me every night. On one side of my villa interiors was a bay window with a day bed which I found perfect for penning my journals during my free hours that week. There was also a large vanity table which doubled as the generously stocked coffee bar inclusive of my prime choice cafe: Segafreddo Zanetti straight from Italia, which was only most appropriate since the theme of this place was entirely Italian.
But the best was awaiting me in my villa tour that evening, I wanted to refresh with a shower, whereupon I discovered the part of my villa which I absolutely fell in love with: my outdoor bathroom. It was an oasis of two outdoor showers, a large porcelain tub and double sink counter, ideal for all my toiletries. However, of these beautiful bathing quarters, my heart belonged to the open rainforest-waterfall shower, right under the tropical foliage, with fruit bats who would chirp in the trees above during my ritualistic starlit, moonlight showers every night after dinner. I reminisce on how I would look above to the crystal clear night sky, sparkling with galaxies, milky ways and the constellations so visible, that they almost put me in a trance of bliss while warm water poured relaxation over me. Still, those nights were yet to come, but I had just checked in and my first rinse would be in the covered outdoor shower just as dusk turned into early night, rain began to pour and the island lizards which were inescapable here, entertained me as they mated in the drizzle of raindrops.
Before long, I suddenly realized that I had a dinner date with the General Manager and so I hesitatingly, longingly, turned the shower knob to the left, watched the water droplets slowly stop dripping, and lounged dreamily back inside to my villa bedroom to dress for supper. With my hair still damp, I slipped on my blue silk slacks and a chocolate velveteen camisole, French Mother Of Pearl Watch, a spray of lavender parfum and then, a hint of raspberry hued lip stain as the finishing touch. It was apparent, the romance of these islands was already possessing me. I strolled out of my villa lazily with nothing but my camera and Villa 310 keys in hand. I felt empty handed and exceptionally light without my large Coach purse slung over my right shoulder but moreover, I felt free, like the white Bird of Paradise which frequents the tree tops here.
We began with cocktails (Iced Cappuccino in my case) at the Toddy Bar, lounging in large royal blue cushioned sofas on the beach while hypnotizing music played in the background. Then, dinner was at Hanifaru Bay, the main, all day dining restaurant, where a lovely buffet of delights was served with ample choices for even a discerning vegetarian such as myself.
But if you prefer a change of place, Kihaad Resort also has Spices and Sarong, two specialty restaurants to choose from with Asian-Moroccan Fusion cuisine. For couples, namely honeymooners, Kihaad offers private dining experiences customized for each taste. I dined here each day of my stay, breakfast, lunch and dinner, enjoying the wide array of cheeses, marinated vegetables, salads and soups. The theme of the cuisine is Italian but Asian options are aplenty. Nonetheless, the highlights to all my meals here were the decadent and divine sugar free desserts concocted by the very jolly and jovial pastry master, Chef Arun from Kerala, India. No matter where I travel, I find it a strange and wonderful comfort to have pieces of India with me; and here at Kihaad Maldives, there were plenty. I even had an assistant from Bangladesh during my stay who spoke Hindi.
Day 2-Saturday, May 17th
It was Saturday late morning when I woke in my unbelievably plush bed, where I, the night before, had slept a dreamless sleep, knowing that I had sunk into the ever inviting down mattress of my canopy bed while the cool white cotton sheets caressed my skin and my head submerged into the softness of the large fluffy pillows which I hugged into a deep slumber.
I rushed about that morning when I took notice of the fact that I had made plans to go feed Stingrays that came everyday to the jetty at 10:30 a.m. After a brisk shower, I skipped breakfast and went straight to the Toddy Bar for a much needed plunge into a caffeinated beverage, Italian style of course, before going on to visit my sea dwelling friends, the Stingray and the Sticker Fish which accompany them everywhere. One of the things I loved most here were are the critters and creatures who kept me company, they were truly my wild island companions. Afterwards, I was whisked off in one of the adorable little island buggies to the Water Villa Jetty Pavilion to enjoy a late morning photo session and just revel in the crystalline, jewel toned waters which I imagined to be a pool of melted Aquamarines and Blue Topaz gems.
By lunchtime, I was starving and after satiating my appetite, the afternoon 95 degree heat was wearing on me so I retired to my villa for a rest before the best part of my day was to come. I was booked for a deep tissue massage at Kihaad’s K-Spa, a much needed therapy for my torn and injured muscles. My body was literally aching for reprieve.
The K-Spa rub down was Asian inspired, as most spa treatments are in this part of the world, using one of my personally most preferred oils, Eucalyptus. After the massage, it was already 6 p.m. and the only thing I wanted was a long early evening nap, but there would be no such thing. I had a coffee date at Toddy Bar and if sleep was not going to be my evening pastime, sipping a caffeinated beverage, certainly was. The iced coffees (I do not remember how many I drank) did me good and I was perked up once more and very much in the mood to stroll leisurely along the island’s coralline white sugar sand beach before freshening up for dinner late that evening. Walks to and from my villa, around the island, with Italian coffee concoctions flowing through my veins like a saccharine drug became pastimes of the day which I soon could not imagine living without.
There was only one indulgence that surpassed these sultry barefoot strolls around the island; my moonlight waterfall bathing ritual, which became not only a habitual rite but an intoxicating way to lull myself into late night bedtimes with nothing but the lullaby of crickets and flying foxes chirping in the midnight air.
The sub tropical monsoon here was a marvelous bequest. It poured every night of my stay, thunder clapped stridently and profoundly, the tropical thunderstorm, complete with those electric lightning bolts, lit up the mysterious midnight skies in striking flares of indigo and violet while I slept a dreamless sleep.
Day3-Sunday, May 18th
It was now halfway through my trip and island headiness had struck me full sweep. I was losing track of the days and hours, I had been warned about this. Island fever. I was not sure if time was passing me by all to slowly or far too quickly, but whichever it was, I was one with nature here, in a melodic dance with the Earth, Cerulean Blue skies, white sand, turquoise seas, glossy green trees and mango-peach sunsets.
Today, I was being accompanied by the Press Relations Team at Kihaad for my Villa Tour, where I would be filming a promotional mini advert for the best villa the resort had on offer. I toured the Palm Suite, a two bedroom bungalow, with a private beach and infinity pool on the East side of the island which boasted the promise of sunrise views.
Mid evening, I had some time to myself and of the little time I spent alone here at Kihaad, I cherished the quiet moments I had at my villa, lazily lounging about in my white cotton banyan, sitting restfully on my window side day bed, staring out at the lush greenery swaying in the island breeze, typing away on my Lappie, sipping Crema Cafe or Segafreddo Zanetti Espresso with cream and Tropicana Slim Sweetener in large wine goblets, like a princess in her palace.
Press tours for me, are the reason I do what I do, why I worship my work. Traveling the world, going where and how few are opportune enough to go, wandering the world all by myself and enjoying the fruits of my labor through experiences of a lifetime in places afar. My work gives me a reason to live and the best of it was yet to come on my 4th & 5th days here at Kihaad Maldives.
Day 4-Monday, May 19th
When my trip was seemingly as beautiful as it could possibly be, it was lifted up to another level.
Today was my shoot with Kihaad’s in house photographer, Niyaz as well as Calvin Klein China with one of Beijing’s best fashion photographer’s: Jing Yong (Jeff). My make-up artist, Johnny, an institution at CK Beauty China, also from Beijing, was a superlative talent who could make a beautiful face beyond magnetic. Together, we were an A+ team, paired with the Kihaad Maldives backdrop, it was unmistakably paradise both in the foreground and background. We were shooting mid-day to sunset on the beach, in my villa, at the spa, in the Toddy Bar and at all of Kihaad’s exceptional outdoor locations offered up in combination with mother nature and exceptional styling.
I had almost forgotten how much I loved being up at dawn and be preened all day long, skip meals, replace them with Iced Coffees and Diet Coke, be on outdoor shoots under the sun for so long that I forget my woes of sunburn and heatstroke, having assistants run behind me with water bottles, umbrellas and powder puffs; doing nothing but make-up, touch-ups, posing, running, dancing in the glitz of the camera, and alas, my beautiful life is such and I live for every minute of this hard work for the glorious results that ensue.
That night, we had a celebratory dinner where I was introduced to my next power team, the set from Travel Channel International-China. By the time we wrapped up our night cap, it was 11 p.m. and I felt ecstatic but also sad, knowing that I only had two more nights left here at Kihaad.
I arrived at my villa to what was one of my most favourite parts of the day: the evening turndown service. Each evening, after dinner, I would arrive to a room that was clean, fragrant with floral aromas, crisp linen tucked neatly into the four corners of my canopy bed, the blinds and curtains drawn, fresh water bottles placed on each of the two nightstands and the one touch I loved most, especially tonight, was a heart shaped flower arrangement on my bed composed of palm fronds, leaves and red island Hibiscus. What could be more romantic? This was the answer to why I did not need nor want a man in my life. With this kind of romance persisting, who would?
So upon returning and being serenaded at my villa with the nighttime service, my heart melting, I went back outside the bathroom, sat on the edge of the outdoor white porcelain bathtub in the verandah under the thatched roof, gazed up longingly and lovingly at the dark, blackish blue sky twinkling with a million diamond like stars splashed across its midnight canvas and had myself a good cry. I wept tears of thankfulness and sorrowfulness until the wee hours, simply, plainly absorbing every sense of the moment.
Day 5-Tuesday, May 20th
I woke around 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning and just as I emerged from the shower, clean and refreshed, my telephone rang. It was Shane Zhang, the China Relations Manager at Kihaad, calling to remind me of my shoot scheduled with the team from Travel Channel China for ‘Perfect Travel’.
Travel Channel China’s team has asked me to appear as a Guest Star on their celebrity show with two Chinese stars on their production, ‘Perfect Travel’ and there could be no better paradise than Kihaad Maldives as a shoot location.
It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the pearl white sand reflected every ounce of sunshine to accentuate the heat, so I selected my attire accordingly. I dressed in my floral taupe silk skirt, off white silk camisole, both light as air, tied my hair into a neat ponytail and was prepared for a fabulous shoot on the beach.
But first, I needed a glass of that very special Italian Espresso, array of fresh papaya and sliced pineapple from Hanifaru Bay to perk up for a day’s work. At breakfast, I was prematurely greeted by the ‘Perfect Travel’ Director: Yang Ming Xu (Eve), who later became one of my biggest fans and is now a good friend. Eve and I walked to the Kihaad white sand lobby, structured with dark wood, flowing with creamy chiffon curtains, decorated with antique wicker furniture where the rest of the crew was awaiting our arrival.
After the fantastic beach shoot, I wanted to meet a very special resident here at Kihaad, whom I had been waiting to spend time with since before my arrival. His name is Gunty and he is the type of creature I love most: green, chirpy and one of nature’s gift to us mere humans. Gunty is the in house love bird here at the resort and the little one is a pure delight. I did not get to hold him because he kept flying away but nonetheless, it was an especially enchanting encounter.
Tonight would be my last at Kihaad and I was already feeling very blue at the thought of leaving. That afternoon, after a solitary lunch, I brought together the entire restaurant and reception teams for photo ops, a welcome video and staff ‘thank you’ reel.
I took the rest of the day for myself and dressed for dinner early that evening so that I could go out for one last photo and video session, one last evening sunset stroll and one last rendezvous with the jungle, the grains of sand that would make their way into my shoes, the singing birds in the treetops, the bats frittering about in the foliage and all my island critter friends whom I would so dearly miss.
At dinner, I dined in solitude, staring out at the dark ocean from the cover of my mini cabana which was lit with mellow yellow candles and surrounded by large white lanterns glowing with the soft yellow flicker of candlelight.
I enjoyed my final evening meal of cheese and vegetables at Hanifaru Bay, appreciating my last moments on this island. And just as I was feeling quite alone, a feeling I rarely ever feel, Chef Arun came to me with something so extravagantly sweet, an air of joy suddenly engulfed me. He had, upon my prior request, baked for me, a Sugar-Free Black Forest Gateaux which was so delectable, my only regret was not being able to eat the entire cake. It was gorgeous. That cake, which still brings me mouthwatering memories, was a beauty to delight in and heaven to indulge in. Dark chocolate, Maraschino cherries, whipped cream, milk chocolate flakes, cherry coulisse drenched cake layers. This cake was right in line with the decadent Sugar-Free Chocolate Mousse Chef Arun had been whipping up for me everyday this past week. After dessert, I went inside to the main restaurant for a quick photo with my cake and its creator before bidding the staff goodnight.
Around 9 p.m., I took off my heels and walked barefoot across the beach toward my villa. Just before going in, I sat on my private beach lounge chair, stared up at the serene night sky, which was glittering and glowing with stars, and allowed the scene to envelop me. I languidly went into my ‘house’ and just as I was about to change, the doorbell rang.
It was a surprise from Chef Arun. He had sent the very last bowl of Sugar Free Chocolate Mousse to me via room service. It was the sweetest end to the most delicious week here in Maldives.
As it is, I am no good with goodbyes, so I will spare you the details of my departure and return to the city which left me feeling dismal after coming down from the elation of a week full of endorphin saturated moments.
Ancient scribes once wrote that explorers from lands afar would journey thousands of miles in search of the spices on tropical isles which were said to be aphrodisiacs; but in a place like this, who needs an aphrodisiac?
“I love my ‘Out of the Suitcase’ life.”~Kanksha
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