The Edition visits isles across the Maldives on a bi-monthly schedule, discovering the intricacies of island life and amazing islanders residing in different atolls, taking our readers through a 'virtual' tour of the country.
The journey to Fuvahmulah kicked off with a 90-minute (give or take) flight from Velana International Airport. Owing to the late arrival, I wasn't able to catch much of the landmarks en route to our stay. But the sense of deja vu was undeniable, already rousing pangs of missing my home in the South.
To really explore Fuvahmulah's renowned hospitality, I decided to stay at not one but two guesthouses, the first of which happened to be Equator Residence.
Equator Residence is nestled away from the hustle of roads (not that there were hardly any, compared to the roads in Male), in a quiet lane. Stepping into the lobby while our hosts attended to the luggage, my first thoughts were as to how sophisticated the interior was.
Cozy garden chairs and lounges took up the lobby space leading out into a luscious garden with its own, picturesque pond. The beautiful taro plants were situated right across my bedroom window, a sight I couldn't wait to enjoy with a cup of tea!
Waking up to the euphony of birds chirping, the first thing I did was run to the window to click some Instagram-worthy shots of my view of the garden outside. After tucking in some breakfast, I ventured out to explore the island.
What makes Fuvahmulah special even in the beautiful Maldives, is that the vast island makes up an entire atoll. Its apparent disconnect from most of the Maldives means that the deep blue open comes crashing right at their reef, opening up opportunities for amazing underwater pelagic encounters, fantastic surfing and has gifted its people with some truly unique characteristics. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, let's take this journey a step at a time.
The island is unbelievably green, and many islanders display an affinity for botanical endeavours, as behind the low-lying walls lie colourful private gardens, a sight you get to enjoy every step of the way. The Islanders’ love for agriculture and the island’s fertility are well known since the days of World War II when the people of Fuvahmulah beat “Boduthadhu” (a period of famine in the Maldives during the War).
Our main hosts for the isle adventure, Fuvahmulah Dive School, were the most welcoming of all. In fact, after years of hesitation, I finally felt comfortable enough to jump into the water for my first dive experience.
I was already struggling to contain my excitement when the divers suggested we go to the "Tiger's Zoo" - a special Tiger Shark dive site. I hesitantly nodded when asked for my approval. I mean, after all, go big or go home, right?
Thanks to the unique geography of this Island-Atoll and patterns of ocean currents, the area is visited by a wide range of pelagic species, including tiger sharks, oceanic mantas and whale sharks, attracting divers from around the globe to come and earn a glorious check-mark off of their underwater bucket list!
Although it took me a minute to get used to breathing from the regulator and mouthpiece, once adjusted, I could not help but look around in wonder. Since I was a first-timer, my dive "buddy" was the most veteran diver in the group. He was exceedingly patient in guiding me throughout my dive.
To have been able to dive and witness such majestic beasts in their territory is an experience that I will never forget.
The boys from the Dive School decided that fishing and eating Fuvahmulah's special “Kattelhi” fish is a must-do activity as well. I was quite fascinated to know that this fish is caught using techniques unknown to other fishermen in the Maldives, learned and perfected over many years. The process involves dragging the line beyond a hundred meters, using a special kind of bait, and a certain way of reeling it in.
All the thoughts that perhaps the boys were exaggerating about the craze over this fish evaporated the moment I saw the crowd awaiting the day's catch. Dozens and dozens of people lined up near the harbour to purchase a relatively small creature for a whopping MVR 500.
Then came the time to try the dish. I'll be honest, I have seen more appealing fish. A deep-sea species, the protruding vampire teeth and a thick layer of slime I was sure did not bode well for my appetite.
However, once the 'Garudhiya' (a fish broth that is a staple throughout the country) is prepared, along with locally grown yams, some grated coconut, the other bits and pieces added to the usual 'Garudhiya and Yam' combo, made for a hearty, filling meal that was unexpectedly satisfying!
The next morning, we journeyed to the wetlands, a great pride of Fuvahmulah that really did live up to all my expectations. The swoon-worthy Instagram shots I'd seen before, it seems, had really been #nofilter.
Right after the nature park, is an even cooler local past time. One the rest of the Maldives happily attributes to the extraordinary beauty of Fuvahmulah women.
Wading through the wetlands, (Top Tip: Do not, I repeat DO NOT wear shorts when you trek your way through, the grass is pretty sharp!) until you reach a warm marshy pit, where locals enjoy mud baths. The calcified mud is said to have special minerals that once you let it dry and crack off (Another Top Tip: Do not wear your favourite outfit, this stuff is not easy to get out), reveals glossy, cleansed and, somehow, more radiant skin. I'm waiting for the day someone does an in-depth research and confirms how this works!
After a confidence boost thanks to the natural beauty remedies, I spent the rest of the day talking to the historians of Fuvahmulah, in between visiting incredible heritage sites. Listening to the tales of these local raconteurs was probably the highlight of my trip - after the diving of course!
Their stories of perseverance, of how entire populations were driven out of the island a couple of times, but made their way back home eventually, stories of great seamen who braved the incredibly rough seas out of the atoll to distant shores, and of a solitary queen who once reigned over Fuvahmulah.
The tales were brought to life with trips to the supposed locations given by the historians. From Gen Miskiy, a picturesque old mosque that was once a temple, to ruins of Hawittas and cemeteries with elaborately carved tombstones - Fuvahmulah is definitely a melting pot of Maldivian heritage.
The objective of our next day was to visit Bandaara Kilhi and Dhadimagu Kilhi, the two magnificent freshwater lakes of Fuvahmulah. By this day, I figured that the best way to get around the island was on a scooter, and found some local guides who were eager to help.
Although it involved a little bit of acrobatics to access the temporarily closed viewing hut of our first stop Bandaara Kilhi, the guides were insistent on getting me there. Trusting them was worth it when I caught sight of the purple water lilies and lily pads that dotted the beautiful reflective waters. It was a sight to behold. Fuvahmulah it seemed, was a treat to the eyes at every turn.
Next, we drove off to Dhadimagu Kilhi. Though this place was more accessible, the viewing platform was officially closed off that day for repairs. The views were just as breathtaking as the other Kilhi. The place was filled with music from the birds that kept flying overhead, adding to the beauty of it. We simply sat there and watched the evening sun light up the sky with hues of gold and crimson, a glorious sight to behold, increasing moment by moment in splendor.
A little done with bugs and exercise, I decided to visit some local craftsmen the following day. When asked about the traditional work Fuvahmulak-ians did best, coconut oil production came up several times. Being a girl who is nuts about coconuts (get it?!), I was curious to see how people here produced it.
Now, the local method of extracting coconut oil is a tedious, tasking process. Even though there are machines that reduce the manual process by miles, those who have been producing it for years insist that the best oil is extracted in the traditional way.
It was lovely to see the ladies make gorgeous batches of crystal clear coconut oil, and judging by their radiant faces, the claims that the oil did wonders for one's skin and hair seemed very plausible indeed.
During our oil hunt, we stumbled upon a young man called Hanima as well, who also took us through his process, a more modern method of extracting cold-pressed oil. In addition to coconut oil, he produces an oil using the fruit of Alexandrian Laurel-Wood trees, that works wonders for the skin and beard oil. Well known in the area, he exports his products to Male' and Addu.
So far, Fuvahmulah was turning out to be a place with an abundance of authentic Maldivian talent, as it was and hopefully will always be.
And yet everything here operates a little slower, urging you to relax and fall into a calmer, gentler rhythm of life.
It was time to move to another guesthouse, this time one called Veyli Residence. Walking into the spacious guesthouse, you are first faced with an enormous mango tree, the kind that make you wish for the fruit to be in season. In fact, nearly every single house in Fuvahmulah boasts one, as it is a great source of income for them.
Our hosts at Veyli were incredibly kind and efficient, and we were settled into our new accommodation in no time at all. Their hospitality and attentiveness will surely not be forgotten by any of their guests.
While continuing my talent-hunt more, I came across a medicine-woman who was trained in ayurvedic healing and Maldivian traditional methods, a blacksmith married to a lovely lady who makes the most aromatic curry spices, a man who sings 'raivaru' (a short song comprising of 3 or 6 verses that are sung in a distinct melody) about long-gone days and all the island has loved and lost, and more. If we stayed longer, who knows what more we could have uncovered.
Saving the best for last, I headed for a dip at the Fuvahmulah 'thundi', possibly THE most famous stretch of beach this side, south of Maldives. Trust me, this is not something to compromise on. You absolutely need to tick this off from your list of things to do in Fuvahmulah. Keep in mind to set a ride back home, as the beach is off-course nearly everything else on the island.
The little pebbles provided a subtle massage on the soles of my feet as I waded into the thrashing waves. I was given a heads-up by the guides, who by then were more my friends than just guides, not to go too far into the water. True to their warning, even experienced swimmers sometimes struggled to stay upright. Brave surfers sought to conquer the unforgiving waves, which were tall enough that their last kiss on the beach was adventure enough for me.
Still, swinging into the air and watching the locals have mini picnics by the beach amongst some glorious swells, it was incredibly beautiful and endlessly captivating.
Even as we headed back into the air, navigation set north, I felt a strange sense of longing to head back. Hopefully, someday not too soon, I will.
Still, I shall leave you with the biggest tip I could give anyone thinking of visiting - a week is simply not long enough to truly immerse yourself and appreciate all that is Fuvahmulah.
In fact, a single trip seems unlikely to appease one's curiosity at all. It is a special place that remains with you, and I think perhaps one will always want to come back to Fuvahmulah, no matter how many times you go...