The Maldives or the Maldive Islands officially the Republic of Maldives, is an island country consisting of a group of atolls stretching south of India's Lakshadweep islands between Minicoy Island and the Chagos Archipelago, and about seven hundred kilometres south west of Sri Lanka in the Laccadive Sea of Indian Ocean.
The twenty-six atolls of Maldives encompass a territory featuring 1,192 islets, of which two hundred islands are inhabited. The original inhabitants were Buddhist, probably since Ashoka's period in the 3rd century BC. Islam was introduced in 1153. The Maldives then came under the influence of the Portuguese (1558) and the Dutch (1654) seaborne empires. In 1887 it became a British protectorate. In 1965, the Maldives obtained independence from Britain originally under the name "Maldives Islands" and in 1968 the Sultanate was replaced by a Republic. The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in terms of both population and area; it is the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world.
With an average ground level of 1.5 metres above sea level. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world, at 2.3 metres. Perhaps the ultimate in long haul luxury, the Maldives is currently enjoying incredible growth again having bounced back from a series of disasters in the past few years including the coral bleaching wrought by el Nino and the horror of the 2004 tsunami. Indeed, so superior are its beaches, so cobalt blue its waters and so warm its welcome that the country has become a byword for paradise whether it be for honeymooners, sun worshippers or divers.
A geological eccentricity nestled in the middle of the Indian Ocean the Maldivesare a series of ancient coral reefs that grew up around the sides of towering prehistoric volcanoes. These immense structures have long since sunk into the ocean, leaving behind coral islands of incredible natural beauty, now themselves being colonised by travellers seeking unbridled pampering and romance, from the modernity of Male' to the idyllic paradise of the Southern Atolls.
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