Discover a different Dubai

Discover a different Dubai

Dubai is a fast moving Arabian city that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf within a decade. The city became symbolic for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. Under the slogan \"big, bigger, biggest,\" complete new townships are being built and off-shore islands constructed. 

Dubai is a fast moving Arabian city that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf within a decade. The city became symbolic for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. Under the slogan "big, bigger, biggest," complete new townships are being built and off-shore islands constructed.

Exaggeration is made into an art form in Dubai: only superlatives apply. The sheer size, engineering, and architectural brilliance of these modern monuments - Burj Al-Arab Hotel (The tallest hotel in the world and the only one with seven stars),

the Palm Jumeirah (the world famous man-made island built in a shape of a date palm tree) and of course, the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building, leaves one wide-eyed in wonder and awe.

Dubai! The mere mention of this five letter word evokes stunning visuals of a colourful collage of swanky shopping malls, eclectic structures and ribbon- smooth extra wide roads. How about Dubai in new light?

With e-visa and affordable packages, the city is literally on the itineraries of everyone planning for a foreign trip. Many even make multiple trips to Dubai and indulge in endless mall hopping, happy to get drenched in all the glitz and glamour and live the high life.

But soon the magic starts wearing off and fatigue sets in. How many times can you visit Burj Khalifa and pretend you have achieved something really incredible by making it to the tallest building in the world?

How long can you really revel in the artificial ambience of the malls? You look for something earthier, more comforting.

Perhaps it is now time to give the malls a miss and instead head for the traditional souks where the smell of spice and fun of aggressive but lively bargaining can infuse new momentum in your Dubai vacation.

My recent trip to Dubai was aimed at just that - discovering the city from a different perspective.

I was filled with excitement as I watched, through my airplane window, the orange sunset envelop the city of Dubai, slowly turning it into a matrix of lights.

The next day, I explored the streets of old Bur Dubai and Deira on foot. A morning walk through the Bastakiya Quarter gives one an idea of how life was like in Dubai before oil was discovered.

Although the buildings have been refurbished, it was refreshing to walk along the narrow and calms lanes and squares, which offer a peaceful contrast away from the artificial hype and hoopla of modern Dubai.

The Dubai Creek has a very charming atmosphere of olden times, due to its old buildings, the old ‘port’, the shops, the creek itself, and the beautiful, wooden ‘abras’, meaning boats. At noon, we took the abra across creek, and explored the spice souk, textile souk and the gold souk.

A visit to the Dubai Museum housed in the Al Fahidi fort helps us learn about Dubai's history and also about what Dubai Creek meant and still means for Dubai. The Creek nowadays is a gate to a surrealist city with spectacular projects.

In Dubai only 20 per cent of the population is Emirati, the original inhabitants of the region. The remaining 80 per cent are comprised of many nationalities, who live together peacefully.

This time instead of staying at a regular hotel, we had opted for a home stay experience with an Indian gentleman, who runs a flourishing technology business and divides his time between Dubai and Bangalore.

The time spent with Vasu, our home stay host, gave us a better understanding of the local life in Dubai. For example, we learnt that the entire UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving.

You can be charged and imprisoned if caught with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system. There are numerous speed cameras on the roads and motorways. Fines in the UAE are also extremely heavy.

Along the busy 14-lane Sheikh Zayed highway stands the Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) which aims to be the tallest skyscraper in the world. At any cost, every week, two new floors are finished.

If in the meanwhile another country will build a taller skyscraper, additional floors will be added to Burj Dubai!

That perhaps speaks something about Dubai’s unconquerable spirit and also about the mindset of its ruler Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum, addressed as Sheikh Mo. Nothing is unthinkable for this man. If Sheikh Mo wants something, it will happen.

On the last day of our stay, we visited Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House, built in Arabian style; it looks out on Khor Dubai's estuary. This used to be a strategic spot, from where one could see ships enter the creek.

In the 19th century this was the seat of the government and also the residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the grandfather of the current Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

We enter a central courtyard, a big, sandy square surrounded by high walls and old wind towers. Emirati men wearing “dishdashas” (white flowing dresses) walk past us, their “shumaghs” (the red-and-white head scarf) sailing in the lifting breeze.

The wind towers look down on us. These wind towers, called barajeels, are precursors of modern air conditioning systems.

They offer protection from hot desert winds and are designed to direct even the slightest breeze to the courtyard. As I look up at the wind towers, I get the satisfying feel that I am really in a different land.

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