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Maldives, Indian Ocean

July 14th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

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Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island nation consisting of a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south of Lakshadweep group of islands of India, about 700 kilometers (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka. The 26 atolls encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, roughly 200 of which are inhabited by people. The country's name may stand for "Mountain Islands" (from mala in Malayalam / malai in Tamil, meaning "mountain" and dtivu in Tamil meaning "island"). It might mean "a thousand islands." Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands". Others believe the name means "Palace" (from al-Mahal in Arabic). Following the introduction of Islam in 1153, the islands later became a Portuguese (1558), Dutch (1654), and British (1887) colonial possession. In 1965, Maldives declared its independence from Britain, and in 1968 the Sultanate was replaced by a theoretical Republic. However, in 38 years, the Maldives have had only two Presidents, though political restrictions have loosened somewhat recently.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. The early inhabitants of Maldives were from present day Kerala and probably spoke an archaic form of Tamil, a Dravidian language . In fact people in the neighbouring Lakshadweep islands speak a form of Malayalam that is an off shoot of archaic Tamil. But by the fourth century A.D., Theravada Buddhism originating from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands".

In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta (Dhivehi: ހަވިއްތަ) by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum on Malé.

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2000 B.C., Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. This was evident then in many mosques facing the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples. Heyerdahl's early mosques have now in large part been converted to face Mecca, as Islam gained solidarity in Maldives, in the earlier half of the modern Republic.

According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named Koimala was stranded with his bride — daughter of the king of Sri Lanka — in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan from the House of Theemuge. Prior to that Malé had belonged a group of people today called as Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils (Tamilas).

According to Clarence Maloney, a noted anthropologist, "There is a clear Tamil substratum in the language, which also appears in place names, kin terms, poetry, dance, and religious beliefs. This is actually Tamil-Malayalam, as, up to about the 10th century when the Malayalam language acquired a separate identity, what is now Kerala was considered to be part of the Tamil area. There are numerous references in the Tamil Sangam (1st–3rd century) and medieval literature to kings of Kerala having ships, conducting invasions by sea, and ruling the northern part of Sri Lanka. People of Kerala settled the Lakshadvip Islands, and evidently viewed the Maldives as an extension of them. There is a Maldivian epic about Koimala, who is said to have come from Sri Lanka, bringing with him his royal lineage, landing on a northern atoll, and then making Malé his capital. But the name koi is from Malayalam koya, son of the prince, which is also the name of a high caste group in the Lakshadvip Islands. Koimala has now become a generalized eponymous ancestor of the pre-Muslim Divehis. The medieval settlements from Sri Lanka were strongest in the southern islands, and this gave rise to the Divehi language, Buddhism, and the ideals of kinship."

The Maldivians followed Buddhism before they converted to Islam and the conversion is explained in a controversial mythological story about the demon Rannamaari.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean littorals. Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast — present-day Kerala state in India — harassed the islands.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history from 1153 to 1968, Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959 objecting to Nasir’s changes, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected a president, Abdulla Afeef Didi.

After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another 3 years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a republic, and the country assumed its present name. Tourism and fishing are now being developed on the archipelago.

In November 1988, Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka invaded the Maldives. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, India launched a military campaign to throw the mercenaries out of Maldives. On the night of November 3 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation showcased the capability of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy in what was labelled Operation Cactus.

On 26 December 2004 the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The absence of land mass against which waves could be built up reduced the destructive impact, preventing the waves from reaching much more than 1.2 - 1.5 meters (4–5 ft) in height . Despite this, the archipelago's low lying nature (one of the lowest lying countries on Earth) meant that nearly all of the country was swamped. At least 75 people perished, including six foreigners, and all infrastructure was lost on 13 of the inhabited islands and 29 of the resort islands.

Maldives holds the record for being the flattest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 metres (7½ ft), though in areas where construction exists this has been increased to several metres. Sea levels are at the lowest since the Permo-triassic boundary about 250 million years ago. Over the last century, sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters (8 in). The ocean is likely to continue rising and this threatens the existence of Maldives.

A tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused parts of Maldives to be covered by sea water and left many people homeless. After the disaster, cartographers are planning to redraw the maps of the islands due to alterations by the tsunami. The people and government are worried that Maldives could be wiped from the map eventually.

The first resort was developed only in 1972, in an uninhabited island near the capital, Malé. The resort, known as Vihamanaafushi(Kurumba Village)in Mal'e Atoll, only had accommodation for about 60 guests. The second resort was Bandos in Mal'e Atoll, with about 280 beds. The services in the two resorts were quite basic compared to that of others in the region. The food was mainly local and the transportation quite slow. It was also a time when air travel to the Maldives was only available on Air Ceylon which operated a small Avero aircraft. This plane carried only 48 passengers and took two hours to reach Malé from Colombo. Despite all these constraints, more than a thousand pioneer tourists came to the Maldives in 1972 to experience the natural beauty of the islands and the resorts with their local touch. These pioneers introduced the Maldives to the future world of holidaymakers.

In 2003 the Maldives consists of more than 80 resorts, and over 500,000 visitors from all over the world.

Overview of a tropical resort

A typical tourist resort in the Maldives is a hotel on its own island. It is the only establishment on the island and everyone on the island either works at the resort or is a guest.

Islands are typically 800 by 200 metres in size and are formed of sand and coral to a maximum height of about 2 metres above the sea. They are covered in coconut palms and bushes. In addition to its own private beach, which goes all the way round the island, each island has its own encircling "house reef" which serves as a coral garden and natural aquarium for SCUBA divers and snorkelers. The shallow waters enclosed by the house reef serves as a large natural swimming pool and protects swimmers from the ocean waves and strong tidal currents outside the house reef.

The only buildings on the typical resort are the rooms and suites reserved for use by its guests, the buildings housing restaurants, cafes, shops, lounges, bars, discos, diving schools and the like. A part of island also contains staff lodgings and housing for support services such as power generators, laundry, catering and sewerage plant.

The visitor may find it unusual that they see no local people or villages on the resort island. It may be possible to take excursions to other islands to see local living conditions and culture. Also, many of the resort staff are not from the Maldives.

Most resorts offer air conditioning, hot and cold fresh water around the clock. A toilet, mini bar and private telephone in the guests' rooms is more the norm than the exception. They also have restaurants, coffee shops and bars. On-island shops offer a wide range of products, especially souvenirs and artifacts.

A wide variety of activities ranging, for example aerobics, volleyball and table tennis, are on offer for the conventional sports enthusiast. Aquatic activities starting from the more conventional wind surfing and water skiing to parasailing are also on offer.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

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