Dream vacay: Take the deep dive off the world's end at OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli, in Maldives
The first snail that I chanced upon in Maldives, at the dreamscape island resort of OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli, left me frozen like an icicle in a deep freezer.
It was like, I’d walked around a corner, and suddenly stood up against a distant childhood memory. Or better yet, like turning around a corridor bend, stumbling into a space vortex, and plummeting into a rabbit hole of an older era and time zone...
The snail itself held me in a momentary trance. Yes, it was quite alive.
And, it was lumbering ponderously and painstakingly over little sand ripples, like they were massive dunes, determined to reach the ocean — in a way that instantly gave me shuddering boyhood visions of lugging oversized schoolbags up and down the lengths of the most boring, longest days ever possible. Thankfully, I was here on holiday.
Looking around, I had to realise, the entire stretch of beach at this dainty tropical island of Helengeli was crawling with millions of tiny, almost unnoticeable (until you step on them) shells and crustaceans of different sizes and colours — mostly white, pink, green, blue and pleasantly disposed — all scrambling about on their teensy weensy, itty bitty legs.
The sight is far from creepy, and most definitely the cutest — more so, for young kids of any faith or persuasion. For Indians, meanwhile, this is bound to be reason for unexpected alarm.
You’d even hear couples make the rather odd observation, “Back home, all the crabs and shells on the beaches are dead. But not here!”
Matter of fact, playing truant with sticks and stones, venturing schoolboy-like close-up investigations, I found every upturned shell, crab and blistering barnacle in Maldives to be right, royal pink in colour — flush in health, almost stout and plump — like the happiest creatures on Earth ought to be.
As white as white can be
Take a step back, and the canvas is instantly laid out in front of your eyes. Nowhere else in the world are you likely to find sand so white that the beaches look like crinkly sheets of paper — never brown or dusty, and smeared with only the slightest hints of grey and off-white.
These are sands unlike anywhere else, you have to constantly remind yourself; miles of pure sand, if you like. Like sand off the beard of the supreme lord himself.
Sands that would fit perfectly in the background of pearly gate scenes. Sands that instantly transport you, from right under your feet, to someplace far from the Earth we call our own.
Not flaky snow nor driving sleet nor visions of cotton fields on a bright day. Just white, virgin, pristine, spotless, untouched stretches of sand.
Like sand from outer space; by all odds other-worldly, and certainly not from around parts of the planet that we’re familiar with.
The water out here too is so crystal clear that when you’re six feet under snorkelling, you’d actually feel like you’re swimming in a glass of sparkling water, or in a freshly filled fishbowl.
The visibility underwater is as transparent and lucid as that of God at the beginning of Genesis, Chapter One.
That is to say, at OBLU — you do tend to feel very blessed.
And, that’s with or without the floating breakfasts served to your personal in-suite private pool, before you slink off for a little scuba fun by yourself, with your personal set of flippers, goggles, masks and snorkels.
Earth inner peace
Soon enough, you come to realise that the dirt, tar, sweat, smoke and pollution of the whole wide planet — not to forget the frustrations, anxieties and everyday pesky affairs and troubles — have not yet reached these shores, and are unlikely to be washed ashore here in a hurry.
Without a second thought or hurried moment of doubt, you latch onto the feeling — like crab claws clamping around a bug — of this once-in-a-lifetime experience of paradise that you’ve always dreamt about.
You might even hear the ocean say, “Maldives is your oyster, little one,” if you hold up a shell close to your ear (just make sure it isn’t alive!).
The impression you get is really of being blissfully free.
And when you’re down there, swimming by one of the world’s most prized and unspoilt coral reefs discovered by mankind — for a still moment, suspended animatedly like a twisted man-fish with a curly breathing device, holding off an awkward subaquatic yoga asana — just for the heck of it! — you’d have to believe, this is the equivalent of ultimate salvation.
Quite simply, this is how sublime and virtuous nirvana ought to feel. If you’d like just one word, try: immaculate.
At OBLU, the word immaculate serves to describe everything — right from the reception of local musicians in native attire with traditional drums, bells and bamboo percussion instruments at the private wharf, to the first serving of a wet towel and glass of refreshment, to every beachside platter of grills and cocktails, and in fact every single greeting that you wave past, by the friendly resort staff.
Immaculate is what you get in an even more heightened sense — almost proving that such a thing is humanly possible — at the in-resort specialty Elena garden spa by Atmosphere, where you’re lavished upon with indoor or outdoor choices, and a range of massage treatments that sound as divine as they can possibly get; consider the ‘Earth Inner Peace’ treatment from the ‘Signature Elements Ritual’ section of the spa menu, or the ‘Fire Intense Body Balance’ package and the ‘Water Lifting & Tone’ therapy.
You could also try the ‘Air Immune Recovery’ or ‘Plant Harmony’ treatments, or give the Tibetan Singing Bowl a shot from the ‘Healing Wellness’ segment, though we have to confess, throughout, we were only eyeing the luxury manicure and pedicure packages.
Of course, none of it is inexpensive, even if your partner is footing the bill.
On a side note, OBLU is set to mark its 4th anniversary, as the four-star property first opened its magnificent ocean-facing glass-wall doors on November 1, 2015 — so, you’d do well to check for special packages this season.
The middle of the ocean
At OBLU, with the Indian Ocean lapping at your feet, you’re always given the luxury of tracking as many snails as you’d like, right through every glorious, kind day.
Basking in a lounge chair, barely a few feet away from an expanse that seems to rise from your toe-nails to the horizon, and into a constantly sweeping celestial painting (especially at sunrises and sunsets) — you’re likely to imagine angelic cherubs hovering about, stringing lutes and serving you grapes in the mouth.
As for the hermits among us, like me, given every real-world luxury of the destination, you’re likely to be given into visions of incomparable, unearthly grandeur, to consider Maldives as the provided paradise for angels, one that might not entirely be meant for mere mortals... But that would be getting ahead of yourself.
The journey itself into the alcove at Helengeli island, in the North Male Atoll, was exhilarating. At the airport, after you’re handed highly stimulating promises of ‘The ultimate divers’ paradise’ at OBLU, you set off on a 50-minute speedboat ride — bouncing and gliding at an even clip over the placid waters of the Indian Ocean.
At one point, my GPS actually prompted my map location as ‘The Middle of the Indian Ocean!’ — complete with an exclamation mark.
Now, that’s a fancy spot to post an Instagram picture from!
The views all around — as far as you can see, in every direction — are so open and liberating, you’d think you could actually reach out, grab the glowing ball of the sun, and make it your own.
I know, for a fact, of at least a handful of honeymooners and newlyweds living that exact fantasy.
From then on, pretty much to the very end of your vacay, and (inevitably depressing) return to over-familiar civilisation — your stay at OBLU is entirely swathed in natural colours so bright and vibrant, you’d feel like you’ve been bestowed with a new set of eyes.
From the fluffiest blue tufts of clouds, and the brightest hues of marine blues, to the most fiery yellows and burning oranges that drape the sun’s everyday race around the globe, Maldives is a lesson to be had in exquisite living; this is the life beautiful, where you’d only feel more alive to be human.
That, in itself, is the biggest reward to be had.
Sea, sand, skies above
For the itinerant Bohemian with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, there’s plenty of fun and fanfare to dance around to, in Maldives.
A special boat ride out to a native village will also give you first-hand encounters of life in these secluded tropical isles.
You could also head out on a dolphin cruise, or for a spot of sunset fishing, while a recommended spotlight activity is a Night Dive snorkelling expedition, to really raise the bar on this aquatic vacation.
(You have options of renting underwater cameras, bubble selfie cams and even drone videos to capture your personal moments of underwater glory.)
The villas are straight out of a fashion photographer’s dream, complete with open-air baths, plunge pools, sunloungers and private decks that lead directly into the island’s most serene turquoise lagoon, and glass fronts that afford you endless beach views directly from the scented pillow on your bed.
For the adventurous, all the action surrounds the Helengeli House Reef, one that’s been much written-about, as it sits at an entrance to the atoll, bang in the middle of a channel, thereby allowing for a bubbling abundance of fish and aquatic life.
You’d have to make a dive or two to be convinced that Maldives was naturally created for humankind to savour and celebrate nature.
Once you’ve been there, you’d always have the privilege of having swum in the wild, deep blue with giant sea turtles, the most peachy lobsters, schools of barracuda and assorted piscine life (all glistening in the rays of the sun that shine directly through the calm waters), octopi that seem straight out of the sets of a pirate film, elusive seahorses, gliding manta rays (entirely harmless) and white sharks too.
(Even the sharks are white here! And none of them are given to attack humans, we’re reassured — mainly as the fish are yet to experience humans fishing!)
For every evening ever after, you’d be wont to curl into bed and lull yourself to sleep, flooding your mind with air-bubble visions from the deep end of the world. It doesn’t get any better than that in this mortal life.
Seasonal package details available online. The writer was in Maldives by invitation.