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Maldives Travel

The beach is littered with coral and shells. Collecting them is prohibited by law and there’s a reason why. A certain kind of shell – the Cowry (Cypraea moneta) – used to be highly coveted by travelers and traders of yore. In fact, cowries were so prized that they were used as currency in the 13th century. The writings of the African traveler Ibn Batuta reveal that in one year the Maldives exported 40 ships loaded with cowries. In modern times, cowries are still hunted by collectors. As for corals, they are illegally collected and the Maldives is party to a global moratorium on the illegal collection of red corals.

The Maldives in happier times

The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 coral atolls (of which 200 are inhabited), is the smallest Asian nation. These islands, barely a few meters above sea level, are a magnet for wealthy tourists and scuba-divers: the former flock to their pristine beaches, the latter come to experience their wealth of stunningly beautiful coral reefs and marine wildlife. Over the last week, the Maldives, an Islamic nation, made international headlines for violent street protests culminating in a coup d’état that overthrew its elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, who has held office since 2008. The political situation is worrying for the Maldives’ economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. Not long ago, the Maldives were the happy isles of the Indian Ocean. Reminiscing on a visit he made to the Maldives in 2010, Yahoo! India’s Travel Editor BIJOY VENUGOPAL presents a dramatic photo-essay of a happy-go-lucky yet strangely troubled island nation