by in Maldives

Maldives vue d'avion
Tourist Beach at Maafushi
Eagle-Rays !
Curious fish, close-up with the GoPro
Maldives kids playing in the sea, on Maafushi island

Aaah the Maldives ! Of course everybody dream of it… Desert islands, turquoise sea, submarine life incredible, luxury hotels with bungalows over the sea. The postal card is perfect, but the problem is, it’s a bit out of reach when you look at the prices. Hotels rates are over $200/night minimum, speed-boat transfers will cost you again $200/person. So of course, it’s bringing down the appeal for this dreamy destination. Not to forget that once on those island-hotels, you’ll find yourself a bit like a prisoner of a little piece of earth in the middle of nowhere.
Maldives though, are just an hour and a half away from Bangalore by plane, so we had a second look at it and found out that more than island-hotels, some “local islands” were existing and that it was possible to stay there. Those islands are inhabited all year long by Maldivians and are starting to open up to tourism with affordable guest-houses and small hotels. Those islands are also connected to the only city-island of the country, Malé with regular ferrys which will cost you no more than $2-3 one way. So even if those islands are not exactly matching the perfect postal card, we thought we could give it a try.
In Maldives, amazement is starting right in the plane. While approaching the airport, we had a great view over atolls, small islands spread out like confetti in the sea. It’s sumptuous and it’s a first sign showing that we’re landing in an other world. A world where everything is an island, a kind of Waterworld in real life or a Sim City game quite extreme. The airport-island from where you’ll already need a ferry to reach the city-capital-island, Malé. Or there’s also the garbage-island or the industrial-island for example!
After crossing the surprisingly busy but pretty unworried Malé, we took a ferry to the “local island” we chose, Maafushi. Before welcoming some tourists, the island is the place hosting… the biggest prison of the country with 500 inmates! It’s also the place where live 3000 inhabitants, practising islam like the rest of the population of the country. So no alcohol, forbidden to swim with a bikini for girls all over the island except on the “tourist beach”. So the postal card is not exactly the one you have in mind when thinking about the Maldives. But it’s also a good opportunity to experience the real life of local people and discover the “behind the scene” life of the paradise for tourists. A life flowing with prayer calls, ferry’s arrivals, chat on benches made of fishing net and cans of ernergy drink…
Apart from that, “Tourist Beach” is really magnificent and the sea is shockingly blue turquoise all around the island. It’s certainly the most beautiful sea we’ve ever seen. Then comes the under-water life… fascinating, surprising and sometimes majestic!
No more than a few centimetres deep, on the shore of the beach, we were able to see dozens of coloured fishes, rays and baby-sharks! 20 meters furthers, the slope, enigmatic (the floor is diving suddenly to disappear in the dark), is bringing its lots of fishes and some rare specimens like murens, turtles and even eagle-rays whom swim is more bringing the image of a big bird flying (Nicolas thought at first it was the famous Ray-Mantas). Because Maafushi is also more than anything else a great starting point for excursions bringing you to nearby reefs, deserted islands where you’ll continue to discover this colored submarine life.
So yes, we validate the plan “Maldives – local island”! It’s really an other world and it worth it to make a detour there.
What about the prices? even if it’s less expensive than the island-hotels, don’t expect to pay there the price you pay in India. We had to pay $170 for 3 nights in our hotel for example. Food is also pretty affordable even if not very tasty… so it’s even better to try the local snacks, kind of samosa filled with fish and curry.

A leap forward ?

19 Mar
2014
by in Bangalore

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We’re used to criticize: in India, nothing really improves, infrastructures are rotten, there is always a paper missing to move forward, corruption is everywhere… All this can be true but sometimes, waving a magic wand is enough to make us lie. For 2 months, this magic wand is named “election” would say the more sceptic people (general election will be held during the month of may). But whatever, here is everything that has changed for Bangaloreans those recent days:

> the new airport is finished: twice as big as the previous one, full of new shops (even a French Café Noir), new waiting spaces very nicely done… We almost don’t recognize it! How we hope that it will attract new airlines companies!

> the road to go the airport is now completed: since we arrived, 2 years ago, this road was a nightmare. The flyovers were in progress, so we had to go through dust, pote holes, fields of peddles… Now it’s like flying above the city and it’s much faster!

> 10 new metro stations have opened : now the West part of the city can use the metro too. Ok, they are not connected to the 6 stations in the East which were already working but still, it proves us that the construction site is still on and that’s good news!

> For 2 weeks, almost all roads have been renovated at a very good speed. It has been done far too fast to be well done but still, for the moment it’s lasting. Well, this didn’t prevent us from falling in a deep pot hole last week with our Ambassador and break a part of the wheel bar… We have to remain vigilant after all!

> Last but not least: now we can party until 1am on friday and saturday nights (initially it was 23h30)! and during all the week in some restaurants in Bangalore (we didn’t understand which ones yet). This was really unexpected and it’s good news for us!

India can be very slow but nothing is frozen here. Things go on at a different pace, that’s it.
Unfortunately, we are tempted to say that, when politicians want to be re-elected, they FINALLY use the public money for public issues….

Golden Buddhas in Bylakuppe
Monks in Bylakuppe monastery
Old lady portrait in Bylakuppe
On the road again!
Wayanad rice plantation

There are some days like that when we just want to ride our motorcycle and leave for nowhere. Eating asphalt and dust, going beyond just to see something else. Playing once more our long road-trip during a few days at least. Filling our eyes with new landscapes… getting our ass used to the long route once more.
The good thing about living in India is that we just need to get out of Bangalore to be amazed by new landscapes, people, wildlife. And as week-ends in Bangalore aren’t very exciting, we’re easily get motivated to exit the city.
Without any real plans, we decided to head towards the Tibetan community of Bylakuppe. The pitch: in the 60s, Tibetan refugees came to settle in the south of India. Being offered acres of land by the government of India as “an act of kindness”, they stayed there and cultivated the fields, built monasteries etc… They tried to replicate their lifestyle in this pretty exotic place for them.
Starting at 3pm by a sweet Friday afternoon, arriving around Mysore at dusk, we continued as long as we could stand before stopping on a road-side hotel just 40 kms before Bylakuppe. Those kind of hotels in India follow a pretty particular concept: liquor shop and sometimes restaurant at the ground floor, rooms on elevated floors. Doesn’t sound too special right? but we quickly discovered that rooms are actually used mainly for the liquor shops customers who prefer to enjoy their drinks in private. It leads to a loud and sometimes gloomy atmosphere…
After this half sleep night, we reached the curious village of Bylakuppe and its ubiquitous Tibetan community . Prayer flags flying in the streets, gates with Tibetan symbols, monks with maroon robes, we felt being transferred instantly in an other world. The main tourist attraction there is the Namdroling monastery also known as the “Golden temple” as it hosts three massive buddha statues covered with the precious metal. It’s also a real and lively monastery where many monks of all ages are living. A peaceful place only animated by the sound of monks’ prayers feed by tea or… Coke :)
After a mandatory stop inside the village of Bylakuppe to fill our hunger for delicious momos and thukpas, we headed towards the South and the Wayanad park. Riding through the magnificent roads of Coorg and the Nargarhole park (where we could spot dears and semi-wild elephants), we reached the rice plantation of the Pepper Green Village homestay. The paddy field was a sort of small valley and the “cottages” were hung on the side, giving us the feeling we were in a kind of theatre with local rural life and nature were playing the main roles.
We’ll have to come back as the day after, we couldn’t stay long and had a long day riding back to Bangalore.

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