Due to some bad planning from my end, I had to wait in Male for two days before availing the speedboat transfer to Fenfushi. For a city, the size of my neighbourhood, two days seemed too long and for the lack of no other option, I explored the local life in Male. Maldives’s capital city seemed to me like home with a difference. Noisy, dusty, chaotic, and with an unbelievable frenetic pace, it was like a slice of urban India on the Indian Ocean. Its name is derived from the subcontinent, and the Maldives technically means “garland of islands”. Supposedly hailing from the Sanskrit (ancient Indian language) words mala (garland) and dvipa (islands), Maldives is the anglicized version of the name. The British had called it the Maldive Islands. Interestingly, the name inscribed in the scroll of the Maldives national emblem is Mahal Dibiyat and it was used by the medieval travellers like Ibn Batuta.
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The local life in Male is one big cultural smorgasbord
In my eyes, the Indian connection of the Maldives did not end there and linguistic studies of Dhivehi, their national language indicate that the first settlers of the islands had hailed from Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India. To me, the islands seemed like a hodgepodge of all the subcontinent flavours put together and the Maldivian culture also bore strong Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) and Arab influences. Although the Maldives is now a strict Islamic nation, Buddhism had once been rampantly practised there and it was spread by the Indian Buddhist King Ashoka. Its Islamic ties came from the Arab past and thus the local life in Male is one big cultural smorgasbord.
The Maldivian language, Dhivehi is a mix of its rich history
I discovered all these and more during my two days stay in the city and the local life in Male gave me a sense of displacement. Familiar scenes, songs, smells, and words rang through the Maldivian air and even the Dhivehi language sounded familiar. Closely related to Sinhalese (Sri Lankan language) it is generously peppered with Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic words and my favourite pastime was to naughtily eavesdrop on conversations to understand their gist. While many of their words were completely understandable, the sense of the sentences always eluded me and Dhivehi seemed like a secret code made by twisting up of familiar words.
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Dhivehi was developed as a secret code for writing magical spells
Coincidentally, linguists believe that Dhivehi was created by the Islanders, as a secret code for writing magical formulas so that outsiders would not be able to decipher them and their unique, hybrid Thaana script is written from right to left. The script uses Arabic vowel signs along with Arabic and Indic numbers as the base of the alphabets and the ordering of Thaana alphabets are completely random. It was an intriguing glimpse of the lesser-known aspect of the Maldives and the popular archipelago seemed to be a treasure box of secrets waiting to be explored.
Discovering the local life in Male came with bad food and high prices
Discovering Maldives’ secrets was not been tough and my explorations on foot made it easier. During my walks, I interacted with many residents and they all added to my local life in Male experience. From pilots, bankers, politicians, students, illegal fishermen, adulterous housewives and diplomats, they were a mixed bag of Male faces and my interactions with them helped me overlook all the disappointments, the city threw at me. Food, in my opinion, was Male’s biggest drawback and it was limited in variety, expensive and awful in taste. I ate at quite a few restaurants there and while the local food gave me heartburn, the Western fare served was a dry thread like spaghetti, cardboard tasting fish and electric green “toothpasty” liquid dished out as the virgin mojito. Even the fancy coffee shop called Shellbean on the main promenade was extremely disappointing and these food forays left me quite broke. Thus, being forced into an extreme budget, I frequented a small Nepalese restaurant for all my meals and spent most of my time in the wet markets.
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The local life in Male revolves around its wet markets
I love wet markets and the local life in Male revolve around them. Its bazaars glisten with all kinds of exotic seafood and every morning and evening, the promenade was lined with returning fishermen’s catches. Fins, scales, tentacles, shells, and claws peeped out from neon coloured plastic boxes and colonies of fishing trawlers crowded the shore. I loved walking past the technicolour markets and taking in the bombardment of shrill cries, busy commerce and crude conversations. The loading/unloading area was always busy and it gave off the strongest mixed odours of fish, flowers and spices.
You can see Indian glimpses in the local life in Male
Coconuts of all colours, shapes and sizes piled in mounds and exotic vegetables spilt like jewels. Incense sticks emanated familiar fragrances and grocery shops overflowed with goods bearing brand names from India. It was an interesting glimpse into the local life in Male and how the archipelago sadly lacked in most resources in the world. The Maldives is one of the world’s largest importer of household goods and the island nation has only fishing and coir industries to call its own. Tourism is the biggest cash cow and that’s why the Maldives imposes hefty tax and surcharges on everything purchased by tourists. Vacations to this island paradise burn holes in the pockets and resorts always mint money on the exclusives, mentioned in fine print.
Travel Tip for a budget Maldives Vacation
Load up on water, snacks and fruits from the market in Male. That way you get to sample the local life in Male and can save a lot of money that way. Most hotels and guesthouses have luggage storing facility and you can keep your extra unwanted things there, instead of hauling them all the way to your island destinations. Carry, instead foodstuffs and essentials, because most all inclusive or full/half board resort packages do not include water or any kind of beverage. Confirm beforehand because there have been too many incidents of tourists getting scalped by these extra costs at the time of checkout.
Spend a day or two to discover the local life in Male
The rest of Male, apart from its markets was pretty undramatic and the city’s biggest landmark, the Grand Friday mosque loomed over the bustling island. The heavily guarded Mulee Agee (the presidential residence) welcomed tourists to take photos and the quaint Old Friday Mosque held some intricate interiors. I found some repressed street art splashed here and there and Male’s narrow streets were always traffic choked. High fashion, in fact, was a huge trend in Male and while the men were more dandy than in most countries, their women were beautifully modest. Fashion stores and boutiques drew biggest crowds and some of them featured risque window dressings of feathered boas and transparent slips. It was a strange mix of religious restrictions with social liberation and Male’s extremes always left me a bit open-mouthed.
The last evening indulgence in Male
On my last evening, I had dinner at the beautiful Sala Thai restaurant and it surprisingly served good coffee. With all the sights, sounds and smells leaving me displaced at every moment, it had felt nice to unwind in its ocean facing veranda. I had lounged there alone for a long time, until the Male night had deepened into inky blackness and an incandescent moon had shone brightly. In the watery distance, fishing boats had twinkled in lit up pin points and I had looked forward to my Flyme flight to Mamigili the next morning. I had been headed for Fenfushi Island, my next destination in Maldives and for once had been glad to get out of the deja vu called Male.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE