Watching the sunset on these spectacular islands is a real sensory treat(Kalyani Chawla)
Watching the sunset on these spectacular islands is a real sensory treat(Kalyani Chawla)

Travel: Mermaids in the Maldives

A mother-daughter bonding trip turns into a happy, and a rather telling travelogue
By Kalyani Chawla | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUN 02, 2019 12:19 AM IST

That one sentence “I am bored” is a constant for any parent bringing up an only child. The Easter holidays were coming up, and my daughter Tahira had a month off. I desperately wanted her to come home, but knew it would be a battle which had to be won by pure manipulation. I had to lure her with travel.

This is an inherited disease – like mother, like daughter! We’ve been travelling together since she was one year old and we have loved every second of it. Now it’s a great way to bond with my teenage daughter while discovering new places, exploring local sights and food, and experiencing all the things offered by our destination.

These Easter holidays coincided with Holi in India, which Tahira Tara had not experienced in many, many years. So, coming back to India seemed a good idea. But what about the rest of the holidays, “so boring”? I began planning a travel schedule in a frenzy.

Holi was a fabulous experience in Jaisalmer, and then in Jaipur for the young Maharaja Padmanabh ‘Pacho’ Singh’s exotic tribal-themed party this year. With three more weeks to go, I had to top this with something very special. Maldives was the magic word. I had been there many years ago and it was one of my best memories, which I always wanted to revisit.

Go fish

We headed to the southern-most part of the Maldives. The journey is a bit tedious: we stopped in Trivandrum after taking off at an unearthly hour of 5am from Delhi, but a quick flight later, we landed at Male airport where the hotel staff assisted us in checking into the domestic flight to Gan Airport. As we flew into the Shangri-La Resort, we were presented with a certificate showing that we had crossed the equator. Then there was a 15-minute boat ride, and then many hours of travel fatigue dissipated as soon as we walked up the ramp into the resort and our spectacular villa.

The writer’s daughter Tahira Tara Chawla enjoying delicious seafood (Kalyani Chawla )
The writer’s daughter Tahira Tara Chawla enjoying delicious seafood (Kalyani Chawla )

I think I birthed a fish. Tahira Tara Chawla loves the water. And after almost eight years, I was waking up to a rap music alarm to shower and change for breakfast with my daughter who never wakes for breakfast at home since she is sleep deprived, I am told, in the torture camp called school!

We sat on the beach, ate fresh fruit, muesli and scrambled eggs and bacon every morning, enjoying the lashing waves and the swaying palm trees. Phones were taken out only to take pictures: every frame is Instagram-worthy.

“I think I birthed a fish. Tahira Tara loves the water”

Tahira and I love speed, especially on the sea. An hour of jet skiing and racing on the Arabian Sea, losing the sight of the shore while the sun set in the horizon, being teased by show-off dolphins leaping out in double somersaults and following us for miles... this was possibly one of the most unforgettable experiences in our lives so far.

Dinner was at one of the oldest restaurants in the island, at a candlelit table for two on the beach front. We were served delicious seafood, fresh from the nets of the fishermen. No carbs, only protein and the heathiest grilled fish we have had in the longest time!

Going under

Back at the villa, we sat on the deck outside, listening to the waves. Then we moved to the hammock, which is on the water, lying side by side and staring up at the sky to see the stars staring down at us, so bright, so many, so near. It was a cosmic moment of sheer magic. I had to thank the universe for the many wonders that life offers me, and looking at my daughter, I knew that life is indeed so very beautiful.

Snorkeling is a popular water sport in the Maldives (Kalyani Chawla )
Snorkeling is a popular water sport in the Maldives (Kalyani Chawla )

The hip-hop alarm woke me up from the best sleep I had had after a long, long time, and we raced to the beach after breakfast to swim in the blue waters, which stretched knee- deep for miles.

“Facing one’s fear of water, seeing who tans better and waking up to a hip-hop alarm...things mothers do on holiday with teenage daughters! ”

Deep-sea diving came next. After a training period with the apparatus, we dived into the ocean. It is not rocket science, and once you focus and get over the fear, it’s really quite easy. Tahira is a natural in the water. She is a quick learner, and was the first to earn the instructor’s praise. I had dived the last time I visited the Maldives, but my fear of water surfaced again. Because I wanted to make this a good time for Tahira, I went in with a brave face and a bit of a quivering heart.

My daughter stretched out, her hand holding mine while we watched the corals and the wonders of the sea turtles and the schools of fish oblivious to us humans. That world down there is a world of its own, fascinating and breathtakingly beautiful. Nothing you ever expect, no matter what you may have seen in pictures or movies or documentaries. To experience it personally is incomparable.

Harbour boats next to Male airport (Kalyani Chawla )
Harbour boats next to Male airport (Kalyani Chawla )

All tanned now (we have competed to see who tans better!), we shower and change, and there’s serious dressing up for dinner because we’re headed for the resort’s fine dining restaurant. Being starved for good meats, I have the best steak and salad while sitting on the beach under a sky full of stars and chatting with Tahira about everything. We return to the villa with half a bottle of wine which I continue to consume, sitting on the deck and listening to Barry White while Tahira reads. Sleep comes quickly, with happy exhaustion like never before.

Cultivating corals

The next day, we snorkelled. At the resort, it’s a mix of fun and environmental protection: the villas are built on stilts standing firm on the seabed; after some learning about corals, we dived in and planted corals beneath the waves. We’ll be updated about the health of these corals via the eco centre, so we’ll be forever attached to this particular bit of seabed.

After deep-sea diving, this was a lark, and I found myself swimming with a fellow who kept following me: an odd ball with huge eyes who kept brushing over me with funny big lips. Who knows, maybe this was a water prince!

Exploring local sights, like this fresh fruits and vegetables market in Male, is a great way to bond with teenage children (Kalyani Chawla )
Exploring local sights, like this fresh fruits and vegetables market in Male, is a great way to bond with teenage children (Kalyani Chawla )

Our last day we spent swimming in the bluest of water; despite the slight damper of rain in the morning, the sun shone on us, turning our skins a golden tan.

Cycling back to our villa, we watched the last sunset on this spectacular island before heading off in our finest beachwear for our last supper, which was specially set up by the resort for us at a secret location. We got off the buggy to a candlelit pathway, and were greeted by our personal server and the chef who was preparing us a meal that we won’t forget in a hurry. The canopied tent with a hundred candles around us, a full moon, music from a boom box and my daughter and I… there was little else I could have asked for.

According to the author, who has been travelling with her daughter, this [travelling] is an inherited disease – like mother, like daughter!
According to the author, who has been travelling with her daughter, this [travelling] is an inherited disease – like mother, like daughter!

I would go back to the Maldives in a heartbeat. It’s a place spectacular for its obvious beauty and surroundings, but it’s mainly the locals who call me back. Such kind, peaceful souls. The many Indians and Sri Lankans who work for the various hotel chains make it a comfort zone. Three nights was too short a trip, and when we returned home, it all seemed like a dream. One of the best mother-daughter trips we have had, this one is certainly for the archives. Maldives, we will be back!

(The writer is a fashion entrepreneur who is passionate about art and also loves travelling with her daughter, Tahira)

From HT Brunch, June2, 2019

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