Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dubai Diary II

The wait is over - the next installment of Dubai Diary is here!! I'm going to mix it up a little in this post - instead of doing a blow-by-blow account of our time in Dubai, I'm going to write about the must-sees and must-dos in Dubai, and my impressions about the ones that I actually saw and did! That way, not only will I save myself the trouble of thinking up a bunch of new opening phrases - using 'and then we...' does get really monotonous, doesn't it? - but, I also don't have to worry about being chronologically correct all the time! With the added benefit, that this will (hopefully) make for a crisper, more interesting post! Win-win all around, the way I look at it!

First of all, a little background about Dubai. For the longest time, I've thought of Dubai in the vaguest terms - everyone knows it is in the Middle East, but is it a city or a country or maybe both like Singapore, exactly what is Dubai?? Well, Dubai is neither a city or a country - but an emirate, which means a kingdom, and is ruled by a Sheik. The country it belongs to is the UAE - United Arab Emirates, which is a federation of 7 Emirates, the most prominent being Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Traditionally, the Sheik of Abu Dhabi is the President of the UAE, and the Vice-President position belongs to the Sheik of Dubai. Made me feel so much better to know all this - one more nugget of information to use when I'm in the hot seat of KBC!! Anyway, moving on...

Desert Safari
One thing you cannot miss in Dubai is the Desert Safari! There are a number of companies to choose from, and most hotels will also arrange this for you. We had booked with Oasis Palm Tours, chosen absolutely at random, nevertheless, I would definitely recommend going with them! We were picked up very punctually at our hotel, and then it was about an hour's drive out to the desert. The desert is absolutely gorgeous - literally a sea of sand, tinted pinkish golden by the sun, the sand dunes like frozen waves, a few bushes struggling to keep their heads up. Barren desolation, yes - but also, breathtakingly beautiful!

Dune bashing is the main attraction of these tours - riding over the immense sand dunes in a 4WD Land Cruiser - felt like an out-of-control, unpredictable roller-coaster! To be very honest, while the novelty made it fun - sand spraying over the windows, the sudden dips and turns - I was quite happy when we were done! Quick stop to take pictures and maybe have a go at sand boarding, and then we were off the campsite for the rest of the evening. We were served coffee/tea and snacks (what else - samosas and pakoras!) - and various forms of entertainment like a henna counter, a little stall where you could try on authentic Bedouin clothes for a photo, a hookah corner, camel rides - almost like a little fairground! The barbecue dinner was decent - plenty of vegetarian food (mostly Indian) and a good mix of Western and Arabic food. The highlight of the evening was the belly dancing and the twirling dance (don't remember the name, unfortunately!) - really great way to end the evening! If only it hadn't got that cold...

Image courtesy: wikipedia
Next on the list is undoubtedly the Burj Khalifa - the tallest man-made structure in the world! My fear of heights notwithstanding, I can never resist going up to the observation decks of these tall towers! Keep in mind, that tickets to go up to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa can and should be booked in advance for a particular day and time-slot. Not only is this cheaper, but limited availability makes it almost impossible to get tickets at the last minute. I really loved the interactive display in the lobby which placed the Burj Khalifa amidst the skylines of various other cities, for a side-by-side comparison with other famous towers! The observation deck, however - didn't really live up to expectations! For one thing, the Burj Khalifa absolutely towers over the rest of the Dubai - so the view from the top is the desert on one side, and the network of roads and the sea on the other - nothing really spectacular! The celebrated 'Palm' islands cannot be seen clearly, neither can the 'World Map' islands. 10 minutes at the top, and I was done! They do have interesting displays about the actual construction of the building, and the engineering that has gone in to make this tower feasible - that was pretty cool! I won't say give it a miss, but realistically, a check on the list is all that should be expected here!!

Shadow of the Burj Khalifa

At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall - can this be anything other than the biggest mall in the world? Dubai is known to be a shopping heaven - and I've always wondered what people buy here! Yes, Dubai Mall is huge - why, it even boasts of an ice rink and a whale of an aquarium - but at the end of the day, isn't it just like any other mall? Restaurants and name-brand stores - seriously, what do people buy here? Another big attraction in Dubai is the Mall of Emirates - the USP here is an entire ski resort smack dab in the middle of the mall! Now this has to be seen to be believed - ski runs with chair lifts and all, sledding and tobogganing for kids, and temperatures of -3degC. There are a number of restaurants overlooking this winter wonderland, so you can have a leisurely meal, and pretend you're in Switzerland!

The Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates are the two biggest malls in Dubai, but that's not the end of the list! I have never been much of a mall person - window shopping is definitely not my thing! So here's what I would recommend - after you've mall-hopped to your heart's content, head to the Karama Center market for some real shopping! This place is not as posh as some of the other malls, but here you will find everything you need to take back from your vacation - mainly, clothes, souvenirs like magnets and replicas of the Burj Khalifa and even gold (more about that later)!! I was delighted to find a store which sold T-shirts with the logos of different IPL cricket teams - perfect gifts for my little nephews!

Spice market at Global Village
To round off the shopping in Dubai, Global Village cannot be missed! This is a huge outdoor world market which runs 6 months of the year - vendors from different countries set up their stalls with national specialities. Handicrafts, food, jewellery, clothes - everything under the sun! Most of the Middle East is represented here, India has one of the largest booths and there is a sprinkling of European and other Asian countries. Conspicuously absent is the USA booth - no surprises there! I absolutely regret not buying saffron here - this is the first time in my life that I have seen enormous piles of saffron - oh the fragrance! The spice markets were also quite interesting - huge sticks of cinnamon, almost looked like small tree trunks! Ironically, most of our shopping was in the India booth!

Shopping done, what's next? The best is yet to come - with yet another installment of the Dubai Diary! What's that proverb - good things come to those who wait? So don't miss the third and final Dubai post - coming very soon! Signing off until then!!

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