I am very reluctantly back in the US after the most invigorating holiday I’ve taken in perhaps a whole decade. I visited my family in Dubai. While there, I could not help admiring the thought and planning that goes into making an inhospitable desert a place you would want to live in. The city has large expanses of greenery in state maintained parks, lots of trees and given that it is winter now, does not feel like a desert.
Just to give you a broad background of UAE. Seven emirates make up the UAE:
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman. The emirates unite and elect a Prime Minister and President primarily for Foreign Affairs, but within the UAE, each of these Emirates is ruled by their respective Sheikhs. There is an election to the council, but the election of the PM and President is based on the Economic wealth of the Emirate. Therefore, currently the Abu Dhabi ruler is the PM and the Dubai ruler is the President (or vice-versa!)
There are some things that I must mention with respect to Dubai. I can’t classify them as anything other than musings:
1) The buildings are all nice looking. Most of them by themselves look good, but collectively they don’t gel all the time. For example I saw cases where there was a Hawa mahal-like palace near a very swanky looking modern building. It was like Noor Jahan linking hands with Madonna – bad analogy, but you get the picture.
2) The tunnels or bypass roads have both sides of the walls lined with tiles. These tiles somehow give an illusion of driving through a rather large bathroom corridor, but that’s just me!
3) Dubai is one of the few cities in the Middle East where purdah (i.e. the portion covering the face) is banned in Government offices. The women you see clad in robes do so of their own accord in this city.
4) The Arab nationals wear a spotless, clean WHITE robe. I was amazed to see not one of them had a crease or a speck of dirt on them. Apparently, my sister had the same doubt, and she asked somebody who works in an Arab family how they manage that. The lady confessed it is a full-time occupation just to clean the robes and maintain it at that sterling white at all times. If you ask me, you could pay a maid a month’s salary just for that! I was also wondering why the men wore white robes, while the women wore black robes in a desert.
5) Dubai is undergoing growth pangs like any other city that has tripled its population in the last 5 years. The metro railway is under construction, and the city has been dug up through all major roads. The vision is to promote suburban areas, and encourage people to commute to Dubai for work. While this is being implemented, roads are clogged and parking is a nightmare.
6) Citation required here: Apparently, when the temperature hits 50 C, all construction workers need to be given the day off. Officially, the temperature had gone up to 49.2, but not 50 quite yet 🙂
Just a pic of a signboard!
Highlights of my trip (not necessarily in the order mentioned below)
Ibn Batuta Mall
Al Ain trip
Al Sooq Al Rasheed
The Ibn Batuta Mall:
The mall is built on a sprawling 1.6 million sq ft space with parking for 4000 cars available. The mall is themed after 6 different countries: China ,India ,Persia ,Egypt ,Tunisia , Andalusia. Walking proved enjoyable in the mall, but after a couple of hours we discovered we had only covered 4 countries, so we beat the retreat passing up the mall areas looking like the other countries.
Al Ain & Khor Fakkan:
The trip to both places involved driving through towns built around an oasis. The beauty of the place if definitely unlike any other I’ve seen, spotted with Arabian architecture (like huge lanterns, pots in the middle of the road!) The beach water is inviting and warm, and all of us had quite a time. It was at Khor Fakkan that we went jet-skiing for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday – the sea breeze, the salt water spray, and then getting hit by another scooter, and tumbling head first into the Arabian Sea!
Here is the one of the gems on the crown of my visit. This was so amazing that I fear I cannot do justice with mere words and a badly taken video. The drive through the dunes was in a regular 4 wheel drive vehicle. Right before we hit the sand, the driver coolly deflated the tires, and my brother helpfully explained that this was to increase the surface area of contact to avoid toppling over the dunes during fast turns – gulp! Thankfully, we had my sister in the car who isn’t frightfully fond of automobiles. She would rather take a horse buggy than a car to get from point A to B, so you can imagine how she was on the safari! That made life simple for me: I just swallowed my apprehension and put on a brave face to keep her alive.
While on the safari, you have to trust the ability of the driver. If not, you just cannot enjoy the ride. The jeeps keep together in a large convoy, and space themselves enough so that if the car ahead of them skids, it does not crash into the next one. We got chatting with our driver Salim, a young Pakistani national who does this everyday for a living. He explained that there are 3 dunes that are slightly taller than the rest. So, their job is to follow these larger dunes, and turn right once you cross the third dune. As usual, I had to ask him what happens if we turn left?
Ans: You are doomed to die, and will be devoured by vultures by sunset the next day, if your troop doesn’t realise you are missing. But of course they would realise, and you would be rescued via helicopter, as a family was 2 weeks ago at 1 a.m. five hours into their ordeal. I explained to him that I have a three year old waiting for me to come home that night, so let’s turn right at the dune.
“Yes Ma’am” , he earnestly replied. Every time the tires turned left to avoid a rock or something, I yelped- “Right Salim, Right!”
What happens when a sandstorm comes along, and the height of the dunes change? Apparently, they survey and study the landscape again, before opening the route out to tourists. While on the trip, I had to admire the tenacity of the generations of humans who lived and prospered in the Arabian desert with nothing but the stars to guide them.
We watched the sun set over the dunes, and then moved to a desert camp with henna stalls, drinks and a Belly Dancer! This belly dancer was hugely talented, and controlled not ony her movements and her body, but also the crowd with her breath. The Arabian music was scintillating, and the Lebanese dancer’s movements made it an exhilarating experience. It didn’t help my bachelor brother that he was watching this belly dance with his two married sisters – but hey, he invited us over didn’t he?!
Al Sooq Al Rasheed:
Arabic has a soft spot for Q – pronounced as ‘KH’. I found it quite amusing that English has so few words in Q, while every sign post has at least one word starting or ending with ‘Q’. I digress : this Sooq is the famous gold bazaar. The gold bazaar was brimming with people, and here is the thing: not a single store had metal shutters for protection! Gold shopping in Dubai is an experience by itself. I am not very fond of jewellery – or so I thought till I saw the patterns. You can imagine what would happen when a person who likes gold goes there.
Shopping is a pleasant mix of shopping in India and in the US. It was only when was I packing up to leave did I realise that I had shopped quite a bit!
A vacation with loved ones would have been fun if it had been in Alps or Ranganathan Street in Madras or a quaint village near Trichy. Nevertheless, I was immensely glad I took a vacation in Dubai. All I have to do is think back, and I smile instantly – now, that’s what I call a good vacation!