Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dubai Impressions

My first impressions of Dubai came from a TV serial called Dastaan that used to play on Zee TV in early 90s. It was a drama rooted in the conflict between two business tycoons played by Parmeet Sethi and Ashish Vidyarthi. The impressions were augmented by newspaper reports of how rich it was (as if gold biscuits littered the roads) and  how it was a safe haven for notorious gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim.

Having been there last week, I can now vouch how true or untrue those impressions were.

When I first stepped out of Dubai airport, I was amazed by the sheer openness of it all – as in the skies were vast and clear and so blue. And there was barely any green to be seen. If there was any, it was dusty and not the lush or verdant vegetation that my eyes are accustomed to.

I was also struck by the fact that beyond the airports, there were hardly any Arabs (at least in traditional dresses) to be seen. It is almost completely an expat country – a mini UN like almost no other. My uncle, who works with Emirates, told me that the company had people from nearly 80 countries working at Dubai!

So, I saw plenty of Asians – both from the sub-continent and the East – along with Europeans, Americans, North Africans. You name the nationality – they were there.

There were plenty of tourists who were staying at my hotel. At 9 in the morning, there used to be complimentary transfers to the beaches. I used to wait in the hotel lobby for my office car to pick me up and there were these hordes of foreigners, ready with their beachwear, hopping on these buses to bask  in the sun that blazed mercilessly at 45 degree Celsius!

On the way to meetings, I saw all the steel and chrome and metal that is the chic skyline of Dubai. Most of the buildings scoff at the idea of straight lines (I can almost imagine Howard Roark seeing them with cool disdain) – they are either twisted or pyramidical or round or tetragonical. They gleam and glitter in the sun, almost blinding you, as you approach them, if the perennial sandy dust does not obscure them. These swanky business towers, malls and even apartment buildings reminded me of a more arid Gurgaon. An amalgamation of so many things, but none its own. That may necessarily not be a bad thing – being a melting pot – but I got no sense of its own culture, beyond the big brands, the svelte cars, the smooth roads (those I envied – drive @ 140 kmph and not feel a hitch) and the perception of gold being cheaper.

I asked if there were any local markets or crafts. None. So, all you can shop for our famous brands, which are available now almost everywhere.

My uncle took me to see the Burz Khalifa lighted up at the night. I had seen it during the day and it didn’t impress me much. It seemed to me more like a nail, driven into the ground upside down with its pointed side reaching into the skies. But at night, very clever lighting makes it look like a stunning futuristic Christmas tree. And you have to say wow. 
Burz Khalifa at Night

I did not try and go up into the tower. Two reasons – I did not have the time and I wasn’t too sure I wanted to, since I do not like looking down from great man-made heights. And anyway, you can buy a (pretty expensive) ticket only to the 138th floor, I believe and not to the summit.

Another wow for me was the light and sound fountain show that takes place every evening next to the Khalifa and Dubai Mall in the evenings. It has to be seen to be believed. In fact, Dubai at night – all lit up like Diwali nights – is far more attractive than the day. The fountain show reminded me of fireworks swaying to music. Simply wow.

Dubai Mall also has a huge aquarium (where sharks swim with other fish – I wondered if the sharks were vegetarian) and a black sky shimmering with golden sky. It also has my favourite among all the stores that I saw there – Candylicious. As the name suggests, it is a candy store but unlike any other I have seen. It is colourful and bright. Happiness here comes in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. Even the store ceiling is decorated by huge lollipops and candy canes. If I were a kid, I would never want to get out of there!

Corniche @ midnight
But my favourite moment was standing in the gently lapping waters of the corniche at midnight. So peaceful and magical, with the lights of buildings on the shore across lending a diamante quality to the salty sea water, harnessed here by man. A couple of families out on the sandy beach even at this late hour. Children squealing in delight. And the music of night.

All in all, I was glad that I was there and I would like to visit some more to see and do things that I couldn’t do this time. But, Dubai would be far low on my bucket list.

Until next time, ciao.