Dubai slowly earned my respect and the more time I spent in the city, the better I liked it there. The foresight of its rulers and their strict business sense were its biggest boons and I liked the tolerance which in general seemingly existed there. The rulers governed with a velvet glove clad iron hand and there was an orderliness in everything that was visible to the outside world.
Although I had heard of too many murky stories of inhuman labour system prevailing in that area, the taxi radio in my presence announced official mandatory afternoon respite for manual labourers, especially during summer. The city respected hard work and paid back bountifully to those who worked with dedication and/or with smartness. The local Emiratis did not usually work in the public/private sectors except for holding plum positions in government institutions and enjoyed loads of benefits given out by their ruling family.
Among the expats, a strict layered hierarchy existed and the Westerners (read white) held the cushiony topmost helm, with skilled Asians working underneath them and the bottom rung consisted of mostly sub continental manual labourers who toiled in the desert heat (who supposedly were quite often victims of illegal work ethics). Unbelievable amount of wealth existed there and sleek and glossy downtown Dubai took my breath away each time I saw it. It was in fact, one of my favourite Dubai sights and I loved the way the downtown descended upon me every time I approached it. Huge, powerful, sharply angular and glittering like diamonds, the buildings spiraled into the sky in an intoxicating competition of tall, taller and the tallest.
A strange paradox of mishmash of fortunes, tastes and lifestyles seamlessly blended in Dubai which can be best described as beautifully bizarre. In no other place had I swung so manically (and in a matter of an hour maximum) between uber expensive pleasures of Jumeirah and Palm and earthy delights of Deira and Bur Dubai. My most unusual times in Dubai were spent at the Atlantis at the world famous artificial island the Palm, its iconic resort hotel and thrilling aquapark. Atlantis was nothing short of a class in itself and housed the stunning Underwater Suites, apart from regular luxurious guest rooms and suites. The Lost City of Atlantis themed aquariums were quite unique and held an incredible array of ocean life. The Dolphin Bay conservation area and swimming with lively sea mammals was most popular (and very expensive) among the Aquaventure park visitors but it was the sight of divers feeding the sea creatures of the deep in the aquarium chambers in the middle of a hotel which I found to be most bizarre.
TRAVEL TIP – Apart from swimming with the dolphins and sea lions, Atlantis Aquaventure Park offer boat cruises (for best photo opportunities of the iconic hotel) and thrilling dives. At the Atlantis, one can dive into the Ambassador Lagoon in midst of manta rays, sharks, guitar fishes etc and experience shark dive at its personalized best. These dives are done under the guidance of Al Boom Diving and they also offer numerous wreck dives around Dubai coastline. Atlantis also has an enviable array of shopping options like Tiffany, Chopard etc, world class restaurants like Nobu and a gold ATM. It is not the most pocket friendly place to visit and the nearest metro station is the Marina. A taxi from the Marina is the easiest (and at times the only) way to the monorail station called the Gateway, from where an expensive train ride takes you to Atlantis. The monorail goes through the incredible Palm (where likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt own homes) and the elevated views of the artificial island and the Atlantis hotel are pretty awesome.
My Dubai evenings were always full and revolved around the downtown area. Sheikh Zayed Road held loads of coffee shops, restaurants and pubs and my favourite haunt was the Irish Pub opposite the Ibis. Post music and dancing, Burak and I always headed to the Jumeirah beach or on real mad moments drove all the way to Sharjah and back. The Jumeirah beach was my favourite place in Dubai and I loved it the most night. I had enjoyed many hazy sunsets at its silky crowded sands and watched Burj Al Arab billow out like a sail at nights. Dubai night walks are spectacular and the lit up avenue around the Palace Downtown Hotel was most romantic.
The most romantic place in Dubai in my eyes however is the 360 Degrees Bar of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. A little walkway lead to the island like bar and surrounded by a sea of darkness, from a distance it looked like a marooned lighthouse. I loved lounging at its open deck and blissfully surrendering to the magic of Dubai nights. A huge endless sea sky canvased over and around me and sea breeze played with my hair. Music floated into a dark eternity and I liked licking sea salt off my lips whenever the spray kissed them gently. Lights of ships twinkled in the distance and Burj Al Arab loomed against a hazy Dubai skyline. Gleaming luxury yachts lined the walkway and more than once I had gone up close to the beautiful vessels and chatted with their owners/guards who had showed me around. Sleek, powerful and smooth, the yachts reeked of unbelievable wealth, but I always left them without any twinge of wanting.
Even with so much of wealthy pursuits available (and some enjoyed), my best Dubai moments had been spent at Deira and Bur Dubai. I loved the small but interesting Dubai Museum, complete with canons, traditional dhows, showcase of the city’s rags to riches story and glimpses of traditional Emirati culture but it was the quiet emptiness of Bastakiya which tugged at my heart. Beautifully preserved and extremely picturesque, Bastakiya was established in the 19th century by prosperous pearl and textile merchants from Bastak, Iran. Old traditional merchant houses, labyrinthine lanes, wind watchers/towers (traditional natural air conditioning system), lovely little courtyards and the last remaining portion of the Old City Wall had been lovingly restored and the tiny historic neighbourhood was like an oasis of peace in the middle of bustling Bur Dubai. Made from gypsum and coral, the defensive Wall was constructed in 1800 and in the past used to surround the old town of Bur Dubai, which included Al Fahidi Fort and the old Grand Mosque.
Pigeons cooed from intricate wooden lattices, sun peeped through decorative grilles and lanterns swung outside carved wooden doors with heavy brass knockers. A beautiful walk around lead to the graceful modern mosque in white and the Creek murmured ahead. It was the most beautiful part of Bur Dubai and although a busy road ran in front of it, complete peace existed inside Bastakiya. The waterfront in front of Bastakiya was equally picturesque and an omnipresent crowd of bobbing old wooden dhows completed the pretty scene. Heavily pregnant date palms lined in rows and netted baskets around the clusters collected ripe fruits and prevented spillage. 2nd and 3rd tier expat workers hung out there in the evenings and while it was a far cry from the Jumeirah crowd, it was also quintessentially Dubai. Traditional, vintage, uber luxe and modern my Dubai moments were a collection of kaleidoscopic moments.
TRAVEL TIP – Bastakiya nowadays houses art galleries, boutique hotels, restaurants and cafes. The SMCCU (Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding) stood at its center and it is one the few places in Dubai which offered traditional full course Arabian meals. SMCCU offers an excellent tours and their Heritage tour of Bastakiya is pretty enriching. It begins with a traditional breakfast and the rare opportunity to meet Emiratis and learn about their culture and values. SMCCU also offers cultural Emirati meals, Jumeirah mosque tours along with a host of other interesting activities. For more check out http://www.cultures.ae/
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE