The Real Maldives

The Real Maldives
Published On: 24-Feb-2024

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The Maldives, often associated with pristine beaches and luxurious resorts, is a nation that goes beyond its idyllic façade. While it's true that the Maldives is a tourist paradise with its 1200 atolls, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life, delving into the heart of this island nation reveals a rich culture, a unique history, and a vibrant local life that coexists with its booming tourism industry.

Situated in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a picturesque archipelago formed by a succession of atolls, totaling 26 islands. With the equator passing just to its south, the Maldives spans an area of 300 square kilometers and has a population of approximately 55,000. The capital, Male, is renowned for being the most densely populated island globally, prompting the construction of Hulhumale Island to alleviate congestion.

The Maldives boasts a population that is 100% Muslim, and its Islamic roots trace back to the 12th century when Abou Al Barakat Al Barbari arrived from Morocco, imparting the teachings of the Qur'an to the Maldivian people. The Juba Mosque, also known as the coral stone mosque, stands as a testament to this heritage. Classified as a World Heritage site, it was built 350 years ago during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar. The mosque, constructed predominantly from coral stone, remains a sacred space where people continue to gather for prayers.

The Maldivian economy revolves around tourism and fishing, with 28% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) derived from the tourism sector. Visitor-friendly islands, adorned with luxurious resorts, cater to tourists seeking an escape to paradise. However, the real charm lies in understanding the local way of life. While staying at a five-star hotel, visitors are treated to local produce sourced from bustling markets, where 95% of the products are fresh and locally produced.

Fishing, the second-largest contributor to the GDP, is a vital part of Maldivian life. Renowned for their tuna expertise, the Maldives competes with Japan in the international fish market. A visit to the fish market reveals a vibrant scene where locals showcase their freshly caught fish, particularly tuna. The culinary scene is dominated by local delicacies such as "short eats," a popular snack that combines grated coconut, spices, and dough with delicious tuna.

The Maldivian language, influenced by Arabic, is written from right to left, akin to Arabic script. The presence of Arabic words and letters in everyday life, coupled with a writing style reminiscent of Arabic, reflects the historical ties and cultural fusion between the Maldives and the Arab world.

To accommodate its growing population, Male saw the creation of Hulhumale Island, connected by a bridge built by China. This expansion showcases stunning architecture, including a golden mosque and vibrant playgrounds. Boats that ferry visitors to five-star islands dot the harbors, providing a glimpse into the coexistence of local life and the booming tourist industry.

In essence, the real Maldives goes beyond the postcard-perfect images of overwater bungalows and pristine beaches. It is a nation rooted in a rich Islamic heritage, sustained by its economic pillars of tourism and fishing, and characterized by a unique blend of cultural influences. Exploring the real Maldives offers travelers an opportunity to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between traditional island life and the allure of a tropical paradise.

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