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svetlana baghawan maverickbirdI can be quite a little hypocrite at times and my strange attraction for Dubai results from this. Although I had frequented the city way too times to be even remotely funny anymore, I had never bothered to experience it beyond the luxuries my airline provided. It basically meant that I wallowed in obscenely luxe and expensive serviced apartment, made full use of the crew discounts and shopped till I had enough clothes, accessories and perfumes to open a mini mall of my own. UAE is naturally a pretty breathtaking place, but only once had I ventured to experience its beauty.

I had enjoyed a Massandam bay cruise with some friends and even that was spent in complete party mood. We had sailed, snorkeled, gorged on seafood and been complete beach bums. Apart from that, I had zipped around the glamourous desert city in expensive cars of local and expat friends, dined on finest food, sported expensive labels and partied like no tomorrow. Dubai indeed is like no place on earth and it is in Dubai, that the smell of money is most intoxicating. If there is any place on earth where money could buy something similar to happiness, it could only be Dubai.

After so much of Dubai life in the fast lane, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I chanced upon the real side of this desert city recently. I am not ashamed to reveal that when this desert fantasy slowly unfolded its characteristic young history and quiet cultural beauty, it opened my greedy eyes, blew my mind and made me a fan of its tenacious prudent spirit.

Having said all that, all the riches in the world could not have rectified one of my biggest travel mistakes ever, and that was to visit the UAE in summer. Before I landed there, this travel idea did not remotely thrill me and the deadly combination of desert summer nearly made me head back to the misty hills of Darjeeling. The truth was that while my heart yearned for the hills, I had to visit UAE for work and Dubai once again successfully lured me with money. All the previous OTT Dubai memories came rushing back as I tried getting some sleep in the overcrowded Emirates flight and to my surprise I still remembered the city vividly. Artificial and ostentatious the image of Dubai at that time was based on my own personal previous experiences and it had seemed to me the perfect example of the city of the nouveau rich.

A seemingly expensive playground of the super rich Arabs, Dubai is their favourite experiment, their prestige and symbol of their wealth. They have crammed it with every possible wonders in the world, even recreated natural environments and patronized it in hordes to play, shop, dine and generally let their hair down. It is a brash modern creation and symbolized human love for ostentatious at its best. All these thoughts made me Dubai wary and as our airplane descended over the sprawling city, I wondered if any traces of the oasis loving Emirati roots still prevailed amidst that bustle.

I was there to rediscover its fishing roots, its quiet wetlands, bustling food culture and rich wildlife- to understand Dubai beyond its facade and slowly unmask its pearl like beauty. But as the city stared up to my aerial eyes, all I could see were stretches of desert riddled with buildings (and more under construction) and suddenly my task seemed extremely daunting.

Was I chasing a mirage in reality-a forgotten dream? Or was there a real Dubai which peeped at the world from behind its veil of wealth?-I wondered about this diligently as I entered the chilled cavernous interiors of the Dubai International Airport and immediately got swallowed by humanity. Sleep deprived and with a headache raging, all I could do was silently curse as the first ugly shock welcomed me to Dubai.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

A desert fantasy

A desert fantasy

A forgotten culture

A forgotten culture

Or a wily city wearing masks

Or a wily city wearing masks

Understanding Dubai

Understanding Dubai

And its roots

And its roots

Was not an easy task

Was not an easy task

But once revealed

But once revealed

Dubai was indeed

Dubai was indeed

Like no place

Like no place

On earth

On earth

Needless to say I love Dubai

Needless to say I love Dubai