Amazing Abu Dhabi
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, same difference; the uninitiated would think. But no! Abu Dhabi, the capital to the largest of the seven emirates (UAE), Emirate of Abu Dhabi, is the political and cultural centre that has successfully managed to keep its traditional roots intact even while embracing modernity.
One can travel to Abu Dhabi directly by flight or by road from Dubai; either ways one of the first things that you notice is the greenery – the trees lining up the roads, that have been transported and conserved with water from the treatment plans, and if you happen to travel along the corniche, the sight of the resplendent greenery of the natural mangroves comes along, beyond the backwaters dotted with yachts and paddle boats, surely not a sight common to a desert. No wonder, Abu Dhabi boasts of some amazing watersports, and boat rides for the tourists.
On one side is a tradition that is striking an amicable balance with the modern. The abaya-clad lady pulling up an XUV into the parking lot of the ultra-luxe Jumeirah Etihad Towers mirrors the way old world ways are followed with due respect even while embracing modernity. On the other side is an advancement in technology finding application in preserving what emirates treasure – heritage and history, along-side industry, and not to mention the architecture.
That said, the Jumeirah Hotel at Etihad Towers with its spacious well-designed lobby oozing classy luxury along the western corniche also throws some interesting view of the waters and ships on one side, especially from one of its restaurants, Rosewater that by the way has some amazing Middle Eastern spread including the mezze and breads on its buffet. Once you are here, a good thing not to miss is the Observation Deck at 300 on the 74th floor offering a 360-degree view of the city with some high tea and nibbles. You wouldn't want to leave the deck if it weren't for so much more that this amazing city has to offer. And not to mention, the bunch of islands, each offering unique entertainment and touristy choices.
Yas Island: The noted entertainment avenues here are the Ferrari World and the Warner Brothers World – the former with Formula 1-based rides and the largest rollercoaster for the brave hearts. The huge space is dotted with Ferraris of all times and other paraphernalia that thrill motorsport lovers to no end. Warner Bros, on the other hand, brings out the child in you as you enjoy the fun rides. The amazing sky screen that if you are at the right time, will project scenes from Warner movies, and the fictional world from Batman to Superman, Tom and Jerry and 'The Flintstones', etc are delightful, to say the least. Yas Water World is yet another stopover for loads of fun.
Saadiyat Island: Is the cultural district where there is now the Louvre – Abu Dhabi. The stunning dome of Louvre is designed taking inspiration from the palm trees, using contemporary geometric pattern of stars through which when sunlight passes, it creates what is known as 'Rain of Light'. And, it houses hundreds of original artworks, some on loan from the original Louvre Paris and a few acquired by the museum itself. One of the best curations of archaeological excavations, pre and postmodern sculptures, paintings, representing art as it emerged through ages, master painters and their much-treasured masterpieces, digital interactive consoles enhancing the experience. For the art lovers, a tour of Louvre takes up the majority of the day and leaves them ecstatic after viewing the best of the world art. Going forward the art district will have more world-class museums.
Al Ain: The Oasis and its irrigation system bringing water from boreholes to palm plantations goes back thousands of years and is a UN World Heritage site. The temperature drops down by a few degrees as you enter this green space full of palm trees and an operational irrigation system where water comes from far (30km), and through tanks en route reaches the man-made waterways guiding water to the life-sustaining palm trees. One can also see the many varieties and all stages of dates as they ripen. A drive down the oasis (walking through the space is ideal), the path flanked on both sides by the farms, dotted with old-style houses, mosques, resting areas, gives a glimpse of how Bedouins were probably trotting along the same pathways inspecting their palm trees on their camels. The National Museum on one side showcases the ancient art and craft, which is being preserved till day. The fort on the western side has been converted into a museum as well. The Al Jahili fort was built by late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of UAE. His belongings, rooms, the zenana (quarters of the womenfolk, all give a glimpse of the lifestyle of the royalty of the desert.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Falcon Hospital and Qasr Al Hosn: Yet another marvel that one must not miss during their visit is the resplendent Sheikh Zayed Mosque, that was built during the reign of Sheikh Zayed. Built in marble sourced from all over the world including India, this is one example of the finest of architecture. Falcons are the dearest pets of Emirati men, helping them hunt in the yore. Today, they are just pets. And the Falcon Hospital here is unique as it is a speciality facility dedicated to the upkeep of Falcons, to treat the ill, to periodically check them; you even get to hold a Falcon and feed it here. The oldest stone building in the city, Qasr Al-Hosn is renovated and houses a photo exhibition showcasing the life of Sheikh Zayed, artefacts that represent the livelihood and lifestyle of the people back in time, and above all an amazing resolve to preserve history.
In Abu Dhabi, it is interesting how the government focuses on restoring old structures, forts, and thereby protecting what they value the most, heritage, even while constantly building modern edifices, each with a character and story of its own. The date markets, the fish market, malls, forts, the corniche, mangroves, food, the camel races of Al Wathba, camel rides and sand dune bashing – there are too many experiences to be had in Abu Dhabi; and, like the Arabic coffee and the dates that are served as a welcome gesture at all places, the city grows on you and you begin to enjoy both the new and the old world charm it represents.