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Sahlan Wa Ahlan – Paris of the Gulf

Shambodeb Lahiri

In the good old days, the Middle East was known to be a deserted place amidst a mystic den of expats traveling from various parts of the world, especially from India and of course, people joked that ‘do not be surprised if you find camels crossing the road!’ The name United Arab Emirates was hardly known to anyone; however there was a slight recognition of a city called Dubai. Often referred to as the “Paris of the Gulf” the country marked its 46th year of Independence and is a land full of surprises every time you visit here.

Being brought up in India and done my college in Dubai, I refer to Dubai as my ‘second home’. The city-state offers you an eclectic mix of cultures; in fact, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam are the most spoken languages after Arabic (the national language).

A melting pot of various ethnic cuisines from all over the world, one would definitely get spoilt for choice. The country under the leadership of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has grown in leaps and bounds whether it be in the areas of infrastructure, commuting, shopping, dining or tourism.

When in Dubai, I prefer being located centrally and always stay at the Bay Central which oversees the Dubai Marina and is not too far from the main tourist spots of the city. Visiting the city after a few years I was taken aback by its speedy expansion.

                                                                                                                                                Photo Credit: Dubaicravings.com
The first place I stopped at was the Miracle Garden, which hosts one of the world’s largest collections of flowers. As it was scorching hot I decided to have a Jellab (a classic Arabic drink with a blend of grape molasses and rose water) to beat the heat. Exiting from a floral atmosphere I headed towards Academic City, a small township with that hosts some of the world’s best colleges and universities. Luckily, I got the chance to take a short walk down memory lane at the Heriot Watt University (my old college). From the Northside of the city I started to return to the south-side making a stop at Burj Dubai to make a reservation at Atmosphere − the world’s highest restaurant on the 122nd floor.

As the sun slowly set, I ambled over to the Buhaira Corniche (formerly Sharjah Corniche), the longest corniche of the UAE and stretches for about 5-6 kms and is an hour’s drive from Bur Dubai. Having taking a joy ride along the Corniche, the smoky smell of ‘Shawarmas’ wafted through the air which I decided to ignore and concentrated on my peaceful walk along the bay side. It felt like walking on cloud nine amidst the smell of the salty floor and the mesmerizing chants of prayer from the Al Noor Mosque (Sharjah’s first mosque which was open to tourists).

Dubai, can get chilly in the evenings, so I decided to wrap up for the day with a nice hot coffee from Starbucks and returned to my humble abode as I had to wake up early the next day to catch the sun from Al Jais (UAE’s highest point).

Photo Credit: Arabian business.com                                                                                       Photo Credit: localdubaitours.com
On the following morning, I had a very light meal as I had decided to do some adventure sports. Driving to my destination was an adventure in itself. The driving distance is about 170 kms from Dubai as you move up reaching an elevation point of 6,345 feet above sea level. As one would reach there you do have the option of taking the zip line to return back. It’s a shortcut to some hair-raising moments as you are made to hang on the world’s longest zip line travelling at a speed of 150 kph at a height of 1680 meters. Is this thrilling enough?

Completing this feat, I sat at the highest point waiting to catch the picturesque silhouette of the sun setting. However, what I did not know was that God had other plans for me for the return journey, when I experienced myself driving downhill in almost pitch-black visibility, with just my fog lights helping me guide through the hilly and curvy road. It almost took two hours to reach the main road. So folks, a small suggestion − when you to visit a visit here, make sure that you return while there is still light!
On the following day I visited the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa. Standing at 828 metres, the Burj Khalifa is not only the tallest structure in the world, but also was constructed in record time of just 3 years. It takes only 7 seconds to reach to the 124th floor, by which time your ears are totally blocked. As you exit out of the elevator, you enter a hall with huge sound-proof coated Guardian German glass which offers you a spectacular view of the entire city. I would definitely recommend an evening visit as the sun’s ray fall directly over the city giving it a ‘golden hue’. But the icing on the cake is the virtual tour. This allows you the opportunity to virtually play a super hero, defusing a bomb by climbing the tower from the ground floor and then throwing you down from there! This really requires nerves of steel!

Photo credit : timeoutdubai;                                                         Photo credit : closetcooking.com;

The excitement continued for me at Atmosphere, where you witness Dubai by the night over some Sutria Caviar followed with a stupendous array of cuisines which are curated from all over the world; especially the Poached Foie Grass and Blue Fin Tuna to the Chocolate Soufflé melted down. This was the perfect end to a thrilling day!

Photo credit : musandamtravels.com;                                      Photo credit : Sabriya Tekbilek

On the following morning, it was from ‘dessert to the desert’. Yeah! You could book your desert ride a day in advance. A bus takes you to the point which is again 150 kms outskirts of the city. You are then transferred to a 4x4 jeep. It’s an hour’s ride that will give you goose bumps as you would find yourself almost toppled at the edge of your seat by some real dare- devil skills by the local drivers, who would then drop you to their designated tour space. Usually, each tour offers wonderful shishas, authentic Arabic delicacies and not-to-miss belly dancing! As the cooling breeze settled itself, one could smell the Tangiers Shisha in the air as we ate the delicious Hamoos with Muttabel (Arabic Bread with Spicy Eggplant dip).

The following morning, I wanted to take things a little easy so I quickly popped into the Burjuman Centre, a mall very close to my heart as my father was the head of this project. It was one of the first malls in the UAE and continues be among one of the most frequently visited malls by tourists.

Photo credit : huffingtonpost.com;                                           Photo credit : jeraldinephneah.com

Taking a break from malls, I decided to go east, and therefore ended up at the world’s open Gold Market that not only holds over a 100 gold shops but is also a record holder for making the biggest wedding ring, The Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba) weighing 64 kgs and was worth over US $3million! Not very far from the Souq, is the Dubai Spice Souk an open-air spice market located on Baniyas Street – A must visit!
There’s more to Dubai than one can actually witness and having being raised in this country, there has always been something new to witness. While, it was a short trip, I managed to catch the Khor Fakkan and Fujairah, which are located approximately 150 kms from Dubai and probably one of the best places to witness a ‘sea-green’ colored ocean with tourists enjoying barbecues and beer!

Another place that is also worthy of a mention is the Dubai Festival City and The Global Village, the latter hosts about 30 different countries displaying their traditional handicrafts amidst constant fireworks, carnival dances and lots more to witness.

While, words can hardly describe this country, but all I can say is when you are in Dubai, you are in the Paris of Gulf!

Rihlat Jayida. Have a great journey!