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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dubai - Day 1 part 1

Viv and I love to travel – mostly to places of scenic beauty. Of all the places we've vacationed at, New Zealand remains my favourite. The entire country has so much natural beauty it's almost overwhelming. (Of course Pakistan remains amongst the top on my list too but purely for emotional reasons.) Man-made beauty just doesn't do it.

So what on earth made us plan a holiday to Dubai, a concrete jungle constructed over a barren desert, when we're neither fascinated by skyscrapers nor attracted by malls? The answer is: the presence of two of our dearest friends who, perhaps alarmed at the fact that one fine day they found themselves actually laughing while watching Singapore sitcoms (inside joke), promptly abandoned the island before it was too late, and set sail for Dubai. The kind of comfort level Viv and I have with these friends is second to none - they're perhaps our only friends in front of whom we can have a fight. A proper fight. (Contrary to popular belief, Viv and I can really get on each other's nerves.)

A bit about these two friends R and A then. He's a manager in one of Dubai's two telecom companies by day, and a DSLR-wielding photographer by night. She is an economist, perhaps the only one I'm familiar with other than Amartya Sen. But then I prefer the former, since I highly doubt that Amartya Sen could make the kind of spicy chicken curry that she makes. And these two amazing people being married to each other is simply the icing on the cake.

So we decided to make a trip to Dubai, meet our old (by friendship, not age) friends and spend winter in a country that, contrary to Singapore, actually has winter.

But planning the trip wasn't as smooth a ride as we'd thought it would be. As I have gathered by now, when it comes to muslim countries, my visa is kinda jinxed. If I started writing about the visa woes we faced for the Dubai trip, it would take up pages. Dubai is not exactly open to the idea of foreign women visiting their land, and so while Viv had no problems getting his visa, I was almost denied mine. After many many chakkars by our friends, we finally had our visas in place.


Changi airport - all set to fly!

The flight was six long hours, making us very very glad about flying Singapore Airlines. I kept myself occupied with Bheja Fry, Heyy Baby and various sitcoms, while Viv had a back-to-back marathon screening of the three Bourne movies. I was at the last part of Heyy Babyy when the pilot announced that we were about to land. So I decided I'd watch the ending on the way back.


Amazing view from the airplane window


Finally we landed at Sheikh Rashid terminal.

Before anyone else asks me this - no, I was not handed a burqa as soon as I stepped out of the airport. Dubai is way way way more modern than I (and many others) thought.

Our friends had registered us for the Marhaba 'meet and greet' service, which meant we did not have to stand in the extra-long queues, but just had to report to the Marhaba counter and their staff ensured that we were out of the airport in no time at all. Our friends were waiting for us, and we hopped into a cab to make our way home.


A typical Dubai cab


Ads in Arabic


Fancy buildings opposite our friends' place

Even though Dubai is only 4 hours behind Singapore, I was kinda jet-lagged so after a sumptious home-cooked dinner plonked myself to sleep so I could wake up fresh - the holiday was starting the next day, after all!

A bit about Dubai now. Dubai is one of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the eastern Arabian Peninsula. It is the second largest emirate after Abu Dhabi.


Dubai's location on the world map (see red star)

Oil was discovered in Dubai in 1966, but that's not what puts Dubai on the map. What puts Dubai on the map is what Dubai puts on the map...


...things like this!

The Palm islands is a series of artificial islands and the world's largest land reclamation projects. Commissioned by the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in order to boost tourism, three such islands are in progress - Palm Deira, Palm Jumeirah (shown in the picture above) and Palm Jebel Ali. The islands are formed in the shape of palm trees, by spraying sand dredged from the bottom of the Persian Gulf, and contain a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment centres.

And just when you thought nothing could be fancier, these guys went and constructed...


...the world!

'The World, Dubai' is a man-made cluster of 300 islands in the shape of the world map currently being built 4 km off the Dubai coast. The only access to the islands forming the world is by air or sea. According to the National Geographic Channel, the world is priced at 14 billion US dollars, with each individual island costing anything between 15 and 45 million dollars. One of the islands was presented by the Dubai ruler to Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher on occasion of his final Grand Prix. This gives new meaning to the phrase 'lives in his own world', eh? :P A long list of celebrities have been linked with purchases of the different 'countries' on the world, including David Beckham, Rod Stewart, Tommy Lee (apparently he bought 'Greece' for Pamela Anderson). Brat Pitt and Angelina Jolie have apparently purchased the Ethiopia island. Methinks they should have bought the whole damn thing, considering the 'international' background of their children.

Really fancy stuff (or 'Let's build for fun!' as Viv likes to call it) aside, Dubai has embarked on many other ambitious projects, most of which involve crazy construction all over the place as we witnessed. As one of the tourist guides said, Dubai uses a BBT approach to construction - bigger, better and taller.

The malls are just part of this construction craze. And we decided to start off with the Mall of the Emirates (or MOTE as Viv likes to call it). MOTE is the largest shopping mall of the Middle East. However, the Dubai mall, under construction, is all set to take the top spot after completion with a projected total area of 12.1 million square feet. It is reported that it will take a person 48 hours or two whole days to walk around and cover the entire mall. Compared to that, the Mall of the Emirates is about half the size with an area of 6.5 million square feet.


The humble entrance of the mall leaves you totally unprepared...


...for the grandness of the interiors!


The mall also houses the Middle East's first indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai.


That's us, considering whether we should ski in a natural setting before we go for a fake one. We decided to wait it out.


Lunch comprised of a mix of Lebanese, Chinese and Indian food.


A and I pose in front of the Christmas decor in a store.


Yes, that's me sporting a camel cap! :P


The Al Jaber gallery - home to some really amazing pieces of Arabian art


Ornamental daggers on display


I wander around in wonder wishing I were a millionaire so I could just buy the place down!


Viv poses.


I really liked the Alladin ka chirag I'm holding here, I bought one for Dad later.


An ad outside a shop, contradicting Dubai's conservative image.


In fact, lingerie shops with mannequins on display are very common in almost all the malls.


No smoking signs in Arabic and English



On our way out, we spotted these fancy cars.


Of course, car-crazy Viv had to go on an inspection tour around them.

Stuff is expensive in Dubai, and while I did not find anything that fitted me and budget, Viv was quick to find a shirt and some wristbands for his cricket. In fact, I believe the Dubai trip brought out the shopper in him as he bought something or the other in almost every other mall!


This little pack of tic-tac was the only thing that was cheaper than in Singapore so Viv bought that too - as a souvenir!


On our way back we catch a glimpse of the Burj Al Arab, the world's only (self-acclaimed) seven-star hotel, designed to mimic the sail of a boat. It stands on an artificial island out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. At 321 metres, it's also the tallest building in the world that is used exclusively as a hotel. However, this title will soon be taken away by the Rose Tower with a height of 333 metres. And of course, Rose Tower is also in Dubai (BBT, remember?).


The Burj Al Arab is considered to be an icon that symbolises Dubai's urban transformation. More later!

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