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Male Beach, Maldives

There may not be much about Male that makes it extraordinary, but this capital city, previously known as Sultan's Island, is worth a dekko for its quaint charm. Small and densely settled, Male is not spectacular, but quite unique as a capital city. It is clean and tidy, with mosques, markets, a maze of small streets and a certain charm all its own. It may sometimes give the impression of a sleepy country town, but appearances can be deceiving.

The island of Male is about 2 km long and 1 km wide, and packed to the hilt with buildings, roads and a few well-used open spaces. The numbers in the record books show that the population is around 65,000 but it definitely feels like more. The size of the island has been more than doubled through land reclamation projects and nearby islands are used for the airport and other purposes. There are plans to develop other islands to reduce the pressure on Male.

The city has some modest attractions, nevertheless they are worth a dekko. One of the prime attractions of the city is the National Museum, which houses untidy exhibits of the sultan's belongings and a smattering of Thor Heyerdahl's archeological discoveries - many of the ancient stone carvings and figurines are featured in his book The Maldive Mystery. Near the museum is the pleasant Sultan Park, and the imposing white Islamic Centre & Grand Friday Mosque which is a prominent feature of the city's skyline.

Mosques feature prominently in Male's landscape, with more than 20 dotted all over the city, some little more than a coral room with an iron roof. The oldest mosque is the Hukuru Miski, famed for its delicate stone carvings. One long panel, carved in the 13th century, commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives, while outside a graveyard holds the tomb of Abu Al Barakat and the tombstones of former sultans.

The Grand Friday Mosque Masjid-al-Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu-al-A"z"am is the biggest mosque in the Maldives. It also includes the Islamic Centre. This grand mosque with its dominant golden dome decorates the facade of Male. It can accommodate over five thousand worshippers at a time. Nearly all visitors to Male take time to visit this magnificent landmark.

The old Friday Mosque with its unique minaret and the tombs of national heroes and members of royalty resting in the quietness of its compound gives the visitor a glimpse of the past. The art in the mosque and royal burial grounds are unique and invaluable.

Other sites in Male include the tombs of legendary saints Mulee-aage- the Presidential Palace and the National museum in the Sultan Park which shows the glories of a different era. All these are within a ten minute stroll.

Other sights include the Singapore Bazaar, a assortment of stores selling some quality local handicrafts and an collection of Maldivian and imported tourist knick-knackery. There are many other interesting shops selling home hardware, marine equipment, fishing gear and general merchandise for local villages. In the many small teahouses you will see Maldivian men enjoy `short eats' (small snack meals), smoking, chewing and talking.

Malé has inexpensive food and accommodation, but nightlife is confined to teahouses and a few western style restaurants. A couple cinemas show Hindi epics and Hollywood blockbusters. Malé's expatriates head to a nearby resort on their day off.

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