Emirati Escapades - Dubai
A quiet desert sun hangs suspended in a cloudless sky, painting an industrious town below in the colour of warmth. A clutch of old rickety, wooden boats, sway gently by the pier. A smattering of young buildings, and a clock tower that stands on the fringes of the town, covered in dust and sand.
This is Dubai! Or was, just over a few decades ago. Since then, it has meticulously grown, to become a mega city, dripping in opulence. While a lot of travelers give this one a miss, not wanting spend time on what appears to be a gigantic amusement park, there is actually lot to experience in Dubai.
Dubai does everything extra, it is the proverbial genie in the lamp, fulfilling wildest dreams like villas that rotate so you have a different view every day, infinity pools in the middle of the desert, and ATMs that dispense Gold Bars. The rest of the world may say why, but Dubai says Why Not!
Witnessing the efficient non-stop cogs of Dubai, is remarkable by itself. Six hours before our return flight to India, I left a cell phone in a cab. Of course, it was the phone that I used to book the cab, so I couldn’t simply contact the cabbie directly. A friend suggested we call RTA – the Road Transport Authority. Having no better idea, short of maniacally running behind the cab, I skeptically made the call. Incredulously, 45 minutes, using only my phone number and the drop off details, they managed to reach out to our cab driver, and have him meet us back at our hotel, with the phone!
Dubai is shoppers’ paradise, but if that’s not priority for your trip, there’s plenty to pack your day with. Keep in mind that the sun can be impossibly harsh during the day, so start late, and stay out late for a more pleasant experience. If you must be out during the day, don’t attempt walking and using the metro, stick to cabs.
When afternoon fades, head to the Creek Harbour, for a gorgeous view of the city, glistening at dusk. As the lights come on like infinite jewels in every direction, get a taste of Dubai’s vibrant night life at the beach clubs near Jumeirah Beach Residence, with the Dubai eye in its background, or the elite restaurants at La Mer. Check out WhatsOn Dubai for full lists of recommendations and updates!
Burj Khalifa demands an evening in itself. Currently the tallest building in the world, she makes her presence known even before you land, easily visible through the clouds as you descend. You will catch glimpses of the iconic, thin, spindle like top as you weave through the roads of downtown Dubai.
To reach the observation deck, follow a complex ( and I will admit, distracting) route right through the Dubai mall. One of the observation decks on Level 125 and Level 124 is open air, so don’t worry if the narrow, dim light entrance, packed with eager tourists starts to feel claustrophobic. If you time your visit correctly you can catch a birds-eye view of the spectacular fountains in the Burj Khalifa Lake. Fun fact, the company that designed this fountain was also responsible for creating the Bellagio’s fountains!
To experience more local culture, and influences of Persian and Lebanese flavours on Dubai’s palate, head towards the Oud Mehta or Karama, and get your fill of juicy kebabs. There are plenty of options for vegetarians too. We accidentally stumbled upon a local cult favourite Al Ustad – a tiny little kebab joint near the Sharaf DG Metro. You will realize just how far and wide it’s fanbase runs, when you observe the walls – every square inch is papered with photographs of celebrities who have dined here over the years
One of our most favourite things to do, was ambling about Al Fahidi. An old Persian neighbourhood, dating back to the 1900s, this settlement in Bur Dubai has been preserved and carefully gentrified. You can take a self- paced walking tour starting at the famous Arabian tea house. Under the quiet, cool, shadows of the sand-coloured buildings, explore the art galleries and museums, and various art exhibits, stop for a quick coffee or buy a souvenir.
To complete your dose of culture, head to the souks in Deira. Terribly well laid out and organized, the souks sell everyday household articles. But where the magic happens, is when you walk into the lanes selling spices and herbs. Dull yellow spires of Turmeric, powdered chilli in every hue of red, heaps of Sumac, Cardamom, Indigo, Frankincense, dried rose petals all piled into vivid displays on either side of the road, beckon you to stay a little longer, and let the intoxicating smells fill you up.
Adjoining the Spice Souk, is another fascinating landmark – the Gold Souk. Irrespective of whether you plan to buy anything, you must drop by to gape at shop windows, where a careless wealth of gold jewellery is on display - from heavy layered necklaces reaching till the waist, to gold bangles, cuffs, buttons, and even a full-length gown. And you can take as many pictures as you want, no fears of copyright infringement here
Day Trips from Dubai – Abu Dhabi
Dubai’s Emirati cousin Abu Dhabi, despite the bad press courtesy Sex and the City 2, is vibrant city, little over an hour’s drive from Dubai. While there is lot to see in Abu Dhabi, notably the Yas Marina Grand Prix track, since we had just half a day to spare, we headed to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Entry to the mosque is free, everyone is welcome, but be prepared to shell out for scarves, or gloves if you are not dressed appropriately.
The sophisticated icy, white marble exterior is in sharp contrast with the resplendent interior, bejewelled with Swarovski Chandeliers and pillars and domes with inlaid crystals are in sharp contrast. The mosque is home to the world’s largest carpet, crafted by 1200 weavers, into magnificent motifs in yellow and green.
For a fabulous panoramic view of the mosque in the evening, Wahat al Karama war memorial just across the road.
As you drive out to the desert, the glitzy buildings start to thin out giving way to a more barren, rugged terrain.
There are a number of ways to explore to the desert - spend a few queasy hours indulging in dune bashing – hold tight as your 4-wheel drive jeep rides the dunes, almost like surfing. Or opt for overnight experiences of desert camping in luxurious desert resorts or makeshift camps.
We stayed at Bab- AL Shams, a stunning luxurious resort 45 minutes from Dubai. Translated from Arabic, the name means Gateway to the Sun – and it truly lives up to the moniker. The resort, designed to resemble an Arabic fort, in blissful harmony with its ecosystem offers refreshing hospitality. Fountains and streams, brightly coloured flowering shrubs, heated infinity pools great you as you make your way to the living quarter. The rooms, in their Bedouin inspired décor dominated by earthy colours sporting colourful awnings and tapestries and antique brass fixtures, will leave you feeling so contented, that you will have to work yourself up to stepping out to explore their decadent restaurants and bars.
We drove out in the early hours of the morning, into the desert towards the dunes. Being the first to arrive, we were able to witness the full splendour of the dunes, unspoilt, lovingly caressed by the wind into ridges and ripples. Stay alert to catch sightings of gazelle and the indigenous native Arabian oryx.
Dubai lives by the motto Go Big or Go Home, and it is easy to get swept up in what feels like a role model city, kept going by a driven population, dressed to the nines even in the scorching sun, accessorized with luxury cars and luxury labels. A city deprived of chaos, where even the trees are proudly programmed to shed at a specific angle. A city that belongs to nobody, and a city that belongs to everybody
Above all, a city that is undeniably fun! The city that boasts of dozens of superlatives – tallest, largest, lowest, fanciest in practically any context. Of all the delightful things I learnt about the city, here is a random compilation of the top three, two truths and a lie
Number of Salons for men far outnumbers the number of particles of sand on Jumeriah beach.
The average speed of cars in a kilometre long traffic jam is 50 kmph
Over 90% of the inhabitants are expats
Let me know if you think if you’ve correctly spotted the lie (almost, well let’s say half- truth)!