Three hours post arriving in Dubai, I was depressed. Why the hell is the traffic so orderly? Why is everything so clean? It felt eerily robotic. If I was supposed to behave this way, I wasn’t ready for it. As an Indian, it was almost as if my free will had been stolen from me.
I walked into my hotel lobby and heard a bunch of Chinese tourists yammering. The receptionist shouted to the security person “Abbe inn logon ko chup karwa” (Ask these guys to shut up). This is when I realised two things - one, a large part of the Dubai workforce is Indian. Two, there are a lot of Chinese tourists. How do I know they were Chinese and not Japanese or Taiwanese or Korean? Moving on.
So, quick intro- Dubai is one of the seven states of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Abu Dhabi is the biggest and richest state of UAE and also the capital. Dubai? The second largest, second richest. Rest five? You’re not going to remember it anyway so let’s not delve into it. When the UAE was being formed in 1971, two states opted not to join - they were Bahrain and Qatar.
December 7 2016: Day 1 on my itinerary was to have dinner on a traditional boat called a Dhow. Dubai is divided into two parts - Bur and Deira by the Dubai creek which is where the Dhow cruise operates. Though nothing exceptional, it is worth a casual visit. Watch out for the pesky photographers.
Dubai is the city of the rich. But before 1966 it wasn’t. The founding fathers - who were fishermen and pearl divers - decided to settle close to sea to keep watch for incoming intruder ships. On day 2, I visited the Dubai Museum and noticed it’s small size. Small is not usually a word you’d associate with Dubai. Compared to India, the cultural history is essentially inexistent. It was just a bunch of fishing villages, with a bunch of good people, which a bunch of bad guys used to keep attacking - regular stuff.
Before I continue I would like to lay to rest one myth about Dubai which several people (including my tour guide) are guilty of perpetuating. The price of water is NOT higher than that of oil. I was able to purchase a 1.5L bottle of packaged drinking water for 1.5 AED (about 30 INR) - this is similar to the rates in any other country. I went to a petrol pump and petrol was selling for 1.68 AED a litre while diesel was 1.81 AED a litre. So there you are folks.
Just a regular tall building
Dubai is home to some iconic buildings which I witnessed on my city tour (also day 2). The Jumeirah beach is right next to the Burj Al Arab - an exceptionally fancy hotel. Legend has it that Sheikh Mohammed was unimpressed with the existing 5 star hotel on the beach front. So he called his construction company, “Can I have a better hotel on the beach? Make it tall. Yeah, tallest in the world tall is fine. Now what do I colour the walls? Forget it, just cover it with gold. Oh, and put that on an artificial island 300m from the shore.”
In Dubai you have malls every 500m. It has been ensured that in case you get a sudden urge to splurge, you won’t be left hanging. So where’s Burj Khalifa? It’s right next to the world’s biggest mall of course. The Dubai Mall has an area of more than 1 million sq.m (that’s 1km square) and the store of probably every brand in existence. There are 5 Starbucks outlets and you need a map to navigate.
Another tall building, but with a twist
My last stop for Day 2 was At The Top, Burj Khalifa - which disappointingly, is not at the top. It is at the 124th floor. The elevator is FAST and your ears will pop from the sudden pressure change. The view from the top is beautiful. Despite the height, it doesn’t “feel” tall. It is like being in an aeroplane. Though an airplane is not something you want to see close by when you’re there. I asked my sister to keep watch for any incoming planes while I went to find an engineer to enquire about the melting point of the steel beams used in the construction.
The Khalifa, for all it’s sophistication, couldn’t rid itself of those annoying Chinese salesmen and women who keep shouting “SAAAAR PHOTO!!!” Seriously guys? I just paid $50 for entry to this thing and now..? Nevermind, I’ll just write an angry review somewhere and pretend my opinion matters. If you plan to visit, book in advance for an evening slot (post 6pm). Then wait for the Dubai Fountain show which takes place every half an hour and looks even better from the top.
Ye Burj Khalifa hai Mia
The entirety of Day 3 was spent exploring the waterpark at Atlantis Hotel on Palm Island. 10/10 would do again.
Coming back to the oil. That’s where UAE gets the money from. The rates are almost half we have in India. This is why cars are something Dubai loves. I prepared a list of the most common cars I saw on the roads -
- Toyota Corolla: Most common taxi. You will realise why it is the largest selling car in the world when you see their number on Dubai’s roads.
- Toyota Land Cruiser: This is logical because even with a small nuclear family of two wives and two kids from each, a guy would need a car with 7 seats to accommodate them. This is where the third row seating of the Land Cruiser comes in handy.
- Land Rover: When you’re rich with a small nuclear family but don’t want to go the mainstream Land Cruiser way. This is also the car used in the Desert Safari. (Day 4 for me).
- American muscle cars (Dodge Challenger/Charger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro): Quite common. When you’re kinda rich but not rich enough to afford a real sports car.
- Hatchbacks: Small is not a word associated with Dubai. This is also the reason why there are almost no hatchbacks.
A large part of the credit for the success of UAE goes to the rulers. The President (who is always from Abu Dhabi) is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, while the Prime Minister (who is always from Dubai) is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Their family basically owns the whole country, and they command everything while sitting in palaces of gold. Yet unlike a lot of rich kids, they had the sense to use the money to develop the country as a tourist destination to ensure their relevance when the oil runs out. YOLO - hence responsible future planning. While the Sheikh and his family are indeed rich beyond imagination, they have done quite a bit to share some of the prosperity with their brethren. And as is required for tourism, they also graciously allowed in immigrants to work, setup their own companies, practise their own religion. There are caveats though. You can only own land if you’re a citizen, oh, and it’s impossible to get citizenship. And if you’re looking to setup a business in Dubai, an LLC, you need a local sponsor. Despite the name, he will not invest anything in your company but you need to pay him several thousand dollars a year for no reason. Undeterred by the strict laws, Indians love it. There are several Hindi TV and radio channels. Bollywood actors are often seen in advertisements on hoardings and Indian companies are everywhere.
Finally to recap the itinerary (Dec 7-11 2016) along with my ratings for each -
- Day 1: Arrival in afternoon, Dhow cruise dinner (3.5/5)
- Day 2: City tour (including Dubai museum, Jumeirah Beach)(2.5/5), Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa(4/5)
- Day 3: Lost Chambers aquarium and Aquaventure waterpark @ Atlantis The Palm (4.5/5)
- Day 4: Desert Safari in Sharjah followed by entertainment and dinner in desert camp (3/5)
- Day 5: Return
- Cost: 60k and above (depending on itenerary)
So would I recommend visiting this place to anyone? Definitely. Yes, it’s artificial. But it’s fabulous. See what man can make out of nothing (with a bit of money for motivation). Come and witness it while it lasts.