Words by Daniel Bosley; Pictures by Aishath Naj
You can bird watch in Addu, whale watch in Dhigurah, and watch fish almost everywhere, but Male’s new number-one pastime is bridge-watching.
Anyone can take part, all you need is a ride to Raalhugandu where, if you stand very still, you might get a glimpse of the lesser spotted China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.
Regular spotters can see the rapid rate of the bridge’s growth as it begin to reach across the rough channel from the tip of the airport island. While not expected to reach full maturity before the election season in late 2018, glimpses of the structure can already be seen amidst rolling waves and barges bigger than many of the nation’s 1,192 islands.
A member of the Chinese OBOR (One Belt One Road) subspecies, the fledgling faalan* is being brought to life by a small army of Chinese builders, temporarily housed in the Usfasgandu area, Henveiru prefecture.
Once completed, the 760 metre bridge is expected to have a lifespan of 100 years.
A long-fabled project that few believed would ever happen, the site has become a regular haunt for Male residents who gather and gape. In a city altered beyond recognition over the past two decades, the bridge still represents the most dramatic change to the island’s landscape.
The service jetty alone – creeping tentatively into the channel – overshadows any other man-made view in the country, and is often mistaken for the bridge itself as its scale is lost in the flawless Indian Ocean beyond.
Perhaps the best spot (‘bridge hide’) for viewing the activity is the Tuscaloosa cafe opposite, though its usual clientele of surfers have been replaced with graffiti protests at the loss of Male’s only local surf break. Closed for business.
In a city short on entertainment, it’s definitely worth a look; and in a place changing so quickly, it’s a chance to spot Maldivian history being made.
It is the largest infrastructure project in the nation’s history, and perhaps the world’s most stunning building site.
*Our dictionary says ‘faalan = bridge’, but this word is normally referred to jetties, as the Dhivehi language has never had much of a need for the word before (we submit the word ‘Dhigufaalan’ – ‘long jetty’ to the Dhivehi academy!!).