I had written this after our return from Dubai in 2010. Since then many friends and relatives have asked me to email it to them, especially if they are planning to visit Dubai. So, I decided to put it up on my blog and share it will all those who would like to know a bit more about Dubai than its Shopping Festival, Gold Souk and Burj Khalifa.
DUBAI REVISITED November 2010
“The east is east and the west is west, and the twain shall not meet.”
This may be true of the times when Rudyard Kipling lived. But certainly not true today. And it certainly doesn’t apply to Dubai! Dubai is a wondrous blend of modern western & Japanese technology and eastern enterprise & labour.
Dubai has risen virtually from a sand dune some 40 years ago to one of the most modern metropolises and free ports, not only in the Middle East but in the world as well. Much of this change has taken place in the last 15 years, with most of it happening post 2002. Built with Arab money (never mind if most of it was borrowed), British and American town planning & administration, Japanese & Korean construction & engineering, Asian labour, and above all, the vision of one man: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Makhtoum, the current Sheikh of Dubai.
Dubai of 1998, when we visited last, has totally changed. And changed for the better!
We had heard and read so much about the construction boom in Dubai, the 7 star hotel and the tallest building coming up there, that Shefali and I decided that the next destination on our trip planner would be Dubai. I had also read about its new Airport Terminal 3 which was exclusive to Emirates Airlines, so we decided that Emirates is what we would fly to Dubai.
Next, was the choice of accommodation. We decided to try out a studio apartment instead of the usual hotel room. Here I must give full credit to Google Earth for helping us choose the Grand Midwest Hotel Apartment in downtown Bur Dubai. With its proximity to the Metro station, the bus stops and the ease in hailing a cab, commuting from the Grand Midwest to any place in Dubai was quick n easy. Besides, it is very well maintained with good facilities and reasonably priced vegetarian food, if one chose not to cook.
We began our 8 day trip on Sunday, 31st October 2010 with a delayed flight, but were thankfully in time for the desert safari scheduled that afternoon. After stopping for a photo-op at a camel farm, we headed for a Bedouin village styled desert camp where we were welcomed with tiny cups of strong Arabic black coffee and dates. But the most awaited program that night was the belly dance. Surprisingly, it was not sensual (may be because many young children come for these safaris).
The notable feature about our city tour the next day was the Serbian guide, Dejan. He not only gave us a glimpse of the city but also of its history, culture and politics. But the day wasn’t done and best was yet to come – Ski Dubai. Just imagine, snow in the desert! Akshay & I had great fun there though we did not ski. Instead we came sliding down the snow in rubber tubes & flat plastic trolleys. I was amazed to see young Emirati kids ski down the slopes like pros. Come to think of it; these kids have snow throughout the year to practice on, whilst those poor blokes in Switzerland and Austria have to make do with just 3 months of snow on the mountains! It has a 400 mts long slope with a ropeway taking skiers up to the top. Ski Dubai is in the Mall of the Emirates which is one of the largest malls in the world!
The next day, our 3rd, we set off for Abu Dhabi. And our first stop was the breathtakingly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Built using the finest of materials, be it marble from Greece and Italy, precious and semi precious stones from around the world, stunning chandeliers from Germany, endless one piece carpets, all put together by equally fine craftsmen of different nationalities, all creating a modern masterpiece. A guided tour of the mosque made the visit all the more interesting.
The next stop was Yas Island which is poised to host the 1st FI motor race in the Emirates on 14th of November. The Yas Marina Resort too, is a very fine Hotel only to be outdone in its opulence by the Emirates Palace Hotel in down town Abu Dhabi. This hotel is dripping in opulence. Sadly, we could not take the guided tour but were able to move around in the Hotel and have a glimpse of its suites via the LCD displays kept in the lobby. After a wrap of the citycovering the Corniche, the creek, the Heritage village and the Marina Mall, we headed to a friend's home for dinner. We returned to Dubai by the intercity bus that night covering a distance of about 200 kms in 1hr.45mins.
Back in Dubai, we went up the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, to its viewing gallery on the 128th floor in the world’s fastest lift, climbing at the rate of 10mts per second, reaching there in 60 seconds flat. The viewing gallery offers a 360˚view. And you can see the curvature of the earth on the horizon 9.5 kms away! We also visited the breathtakingly beautiful 7 star hotel built in the sea, the Burj Al Arab. But what we enjoyed the most was Aquaventure at the Atlantis Hotel. It brings out the child in you. We floated in flowing water in tubes, swirled in the rapids and torrents, took ‘Leaps of Faith’ and went through the shark tank. After 4½ hours of nonstop fun, though tired, we had to reluctantly drag ourselves out for lunch. The adjacent Lost Chambers and the Ambassador Lagoon are nothing to write home about. We then went around window shopping in the Atlantis Hotel, gaping wide eyed at those exclusive but very expensive branded watches, jewellery, porcelain and apparels. But we did some hard core shopping at Festival City, the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates.
From the Atlantis Hotel we took a return trip on the monorail which offers a wonderful overview of the Palm Jumeirah and its famed fronds. Then we spent the evening at Palm Jumeirah with our friend and enjoyed a stroll on the Jumeirah walk that night.
We went around old Dubai too: the souks, Meena Bazaar and the Museum. When I last visited the museum in 1998, history of Dubai went back to about 200 years. But recent archaeological excavations have revealed much earlier settlements. And many artefacts dating back to over 2000 years are now displayed. We also had the good fortune of visiting the Krishna Temple (Haveli) on Diwali Day. Dubai, when it comes to religious freedom, is more liberal as compared to the other six emirates.
Like Singapore, Dubai has a well integrated, modern and efficient transport system. The metro and the buses complement each other very well. There is also the very reasonably priced inter-emirate bus service. I used this to travel to Sharjah.
Sharjah is a poor cousin of Dubai. Yes, there are pockets of affluence but overall unimpressive. It is neither as clean nor as modern as Dubai. Sharjah too has its own creek, museum & cultural centre, souks and Qannat al Qasaba, its hotspot. As accommodation is cheaper in Sharjah, many people stay there and work in Dubai.
Our 8 day stay in the UAE afforded us the time to visit friends. We met up with our friends over lunch and dinner. It afforded us an opportunity to see homes in Dubai and the lifestyles of people living there. However, there is a vast difference between the lifestyles of the expat and the Emirati Arab. With a very low native population of 950,000 in the entire UAE, most of whom stay in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, the government cares for them from cradle to grave. Education and healthcare are virtually free, generous grants for marriage & accommodation and to top it all, assured jobs with generous pay packets for those who wish to work. And for those who don’t, they can be ‘sleeping’ partners of expats wanting to do business in Dubai. How very convenient!
Our visits to Singapore and Dubai made me realise that if there is a visionary at the helm of affairs in the government, it makes such a vast difference. A small fishing settlement has grown into a modern metropolis attracting trade and tourism from the world over. Of the over 1.6 million residents of Dubai, more than 80% are expats controlling over 70% of the businesses.
Sadly, due to lack of vision in another part of the world, a global city has been ‘ruralized’.
What we saw on this trip was not just Dubai city. But Brand Dubai. And Brands are Expensive!