Many years ago I stood near the southernmost point of India at Kanyakumari gazing out over the Indian Ocean. Somewhere over that horizon lay the Maldives, an isolated collection of atolls laid out like a string of gems some 400 miles away.
They’d been pulling at me since I first encountered them on a globe many years before and I’d traveled there many times in my imagination. Standing in the tropical breeze that day I knew I couldn’t visit them this time, but was certain I’d get there one day.
That day still hasn’t arrived, but I’ve started thinking about them again. On October 28 the Maldives held its first ever multiparty elections and tossed out the incumbent president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the country for the last 30 years. The new president, Mohamed Nasheed, had been a political prisoner for part of that time, imprisoned by the president he defeated.
It’s the beginning of a new era, and one of Nasheed’s first promises was to open up the entire archipelago to tourism. Currently foreigners are allowed only on specific atolls developed for tourism and in the capital, Malé. The restrictions were put in place to protect the Maldives’ Islamic culture from Western influences, but Nasheed believes the ban is out of touch with today’s world.
Maybe when I do go I’ll be able to see and do a lot more than would have been possible otherwise. Or maybe I should hurry, before the islands draw too many more people who dream of the Maldives, like me.