Sand,sun and Sore legs
First Week of June. Dubai. A sudden visit. Panicked : no time for the prelims. But, an Emirates return ticket made life so easy. Absolutely no hassles in getting visa. A minimalistic, zero documentary supported application form submitted to the DVPC got us e-mailed visas on the third day and off we went.
Immigration there was a breeze in. A swipe on the barcode reader, a rubber stamp ,done ! No forms to fill ? For a dyed- in- the- wool Form filling Indian, this was The Brave New World !
Surprise surprise !
The emirates' main source of income is NOT petrol and natural gas - that brings in only 5 % of its lolly. Real Estate, Financial Services and Tourism are the mega earners. Dubai builds in a frenzy. The skyline keeps changing almost every month ,with architectural wonders in the weirdest of shapes and sizes springing up with amazing regularity. Check this out : A project to start next year is The Swirling Skyscraper or Dynamic Tower, with the floors revolving around the core so that its shape does not remain constant. ( wonder if the occupants will be immunised against motion sickness ?)
No surprise : the heavy influx of cheap labour from the Indian subcontinent .Indians.Pakistanis.Bangladeshis.Srilankans. South East Asia supplies domestic help and shop floor workers. This has created the strange situation of immigrants outnumbering natives.
1. Greening of the sandy wasteland. Old photographs show that less than 70 years ago, the place was a moonscape. Today it has lush gardens, fountains galore and wooded parks ! All thanks to efficient water management. Desalination . Treatment of used water. And proper use of the springwells.
2. Channelising petro dollars into developing the country. All that black gold could have easily gone into lining the pockets of westward bound sheiks. But there was The Vision of the emir. From a dowdy dates and pearl trading camel shed, the place bloomed ( and boomed) into this glitzy , futuristic megapolis only because that one man had this burning vision to put his land before his pocket. And no dream was too fantastic for him to achieve .
3. A public Library exclusively for children.
4. All houses in residential areas painted in soothing pastel shades like cream, white, beige and coffee, so that they blend well with the land. No flourescent paint eyesores. The streets are unblemished ; pavements broad and pedestrian friendly ( only, hardly any pedestrians in this scorching season :-)
5. The clean and sparkling beach at Jumeirah, with the famous Burj Al Arab rising like the giant sail of a dhow at one end of it. The Bicycle lane and the springy rubberised jogging lane, running the length of the beach, are wonderful amenities. Not a shred of paper or plastic anywhere. (But then, no bhel puri carts either.)
6. The Dubai Museum. Installed inside the repaired and rebuilt ruins of Al Fahidi Fort (1799). The artefacts are well exhibited and captioned. Galleries of beautiful dioramas and film shows provide all the info. you ever wanted about the history, geography, anthroplology and economics of the little emirate. Sigh, why no comparable museum in our mahan bharath with a hundred times more variety and antiquity in everything ? Lack of imagination ?
Close to the museum is the old city : Bastakia Quarters, with the strange looking Wind Towers, the traditional design for ventilation and cooling of houses.
7. The Lost Treasures of Atlantis. ( Inside the Resort "Atlantis", on the man made Palm Island) A maze of caverns and tunnels, recreating the fantasy of Atlantis, around a mega aquarium housing about 250 species of marine life including sharks . Its a great experience to see flocks of Rays swinging by so close and to touch and feel littoral crustaceans.
The importance of Airconditioning. AC is god. Without it, the place is good as burnt offering ! Everything except the beach is airconditioned. Yes, even bus stops. So, even though the mercury sat at 42C throughout last week, we scarcely felt it. All that aircon. activity could leave the ozone layer in tatters, no doubt, but curiously, the proud citizens point out that they are getting more rains than the place originally came with because of the greening of the land, which in turn was made possible only because of exchange earning tourism and real estate highs that thrive majorly because of the blanket airconditioning. Something doesn't quite add up. But there it is.
Dune Bashing and Sand Boarding during the Desert Safari. Experience well worth the fare. The expertise of the drivers negotiating the sheer cliffs, deathly drops and razor thin ridges of the dunes at maniacal speed is astounding. They are specially trained and specially licensed of course. The sight of the other SUVs , before and behind us, that seem to fly off the dunes is more scary than actually being inside one that is also doing the same hurtling around.The wind patterned reddish dunes are a sight to behold especially at dusk. But The " Desert Camp" programme at the culmination of the safari was just so so. The artificial oasis camp was too tacky, the music ( " Mouja re Mouja ! " -uff-ho !- among other arabic beats !) too loud, the henna woman too grumpy and the food, just passable. But the lovely Russian belly dancer, clad in diaphanous white strips that passed off as a skirt, made up for everything.
The sight of busloads of helmeted labourers from the subcontinent disembarking at construction sites in treeless Deira , bundled away from their cramped, airless dormitories in sub human settlements to work beastly shifts at dizzying heights and depths just so that dazzling Dubai may entice gracious western guests to its 7 and 8 star facilities. Exploitation is rampant while human rights is on paper only ( if at all). Any demand for better working and living conditions elicits mass imprisonment and deportation, as a group of Indian workers found out not so long ago.
The City's fascination for the superlatives. Dubai is home to 38 buildings taller than 200mts. The pencil thin Burj Dubai, 2685ft. tall and still growing, is the tallest freestanding man made structure ever built. The Rose Tower , with a magnificent facade, is the tallest all hotel building in the world. The Dubai Mall (12 million Sq.ft)is the largest shopping mall on the planet. Within it are 12 distinct Malls, A Marine Discovery Centre with a walk through aquarium, an ice skating rink and a 22 screen Cineplex. The yet to be completed , but already operating, Dragon Mart is a 1.4 Km. long marketplace, a part of the ambitious Dubai International City Project. Speaking of ambitious, the proposed Nakheel Tower plans to be 1400 m (4593 ft.) tall. It is currently put on hold for reworking of nitty gritties, because of its proximity to the newly emerging Al Makhtoum International Airport - which is to be The Largest Passenger and Cargo Hub in The World. ( can it afford to be anything else but ?)
1. The road rage exhibited by impatient drivers even in traffic that, compared to Indian Metro Standards , is almost saintly ! All that honking ! But one chilling fact is that in case of a mishap, the Native is always right.
2. The fascination for Bollywood. Shahrukh is definitely King Khan. His mug shots are all over the place , plugging the second largest mobile network service provider in the emirate.
3. A spawling bungalow , well hidden behind high , fortress like, black compound walls, enthusisatically pointed out by the hosts as the alleged residence of Dawood Ibrahim. Why alleged ? Thats the way it is. No sure statements about Bhai folk. Everything is always kept in the "alleged" category.
The inordinate profusion of Cosmetic Surgery ( incl. aesthetic dentistry)clinics in uptown areas. Counted 11 clinics in one street alone.
( One of the goodies advertised : An All- Gold orthodontic brace with diamond implants.)
Pooped out by:
Malls, Malls and more malls. Either i am too old to appreciate the sheik given bounty or i have started falling in line with Socrates who famously remarked that he went to the market not to buy but to see how many things he dint need in life. However that may be, did go malling. The one i liked the most is Ibn Battuta Mall, which is a shopping experience cum history lesson. The installations about Ibn Battuta's life , journeys, discoveries and writing are very interesting. The Mall itself is divided into plazas called " Courts" , each done up as representative of a culture related to Battuta. China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andulasia. There are battery powered buggies to transport the weary plodders from court to court. The centre piece in the Indian plaza is a working model reproduction of the famous water clock in the shape of a caprisoned elephant designed by the 12th Cent. scientist Al Jazari.
What tickled me most were the huge signs hanging everywhere : " Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." Brazen or tongue-in-cheek ! When those malls are promoting nothing but the very antithesis of this philosophy.
The much touted Gold Souk left me cold. It was nothing more fabulous than Bangalore's Avenue Road or Chennai's Ranganathan Street. Mostly Mallu and Gujju names with the same stuff they peddle here in India. The Spice Souk by the wharf was a shade more exciting, though it reminded me of Mysore's beloved Devaraja Market.
Souvenirs ? The Camel motif reigns supreme. But all knick knacks - keychains, magnets, pens, cellphone straps, pouches, caps, pocketbooks, coffee mugs,candle holders - are either "Made In China" or "Made in India".
Maybe that's why most people settle for Dates, the only authentic " Made In Dubai " !
(pictures by son and daughter)