Dubai Darshan

Famous for its shopping festival, this emirate is the ideal destination for those who have just a few days to spare for a break

Dubai

Dubai, the second largest of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, is a place tourists long to visit and once visited, promise to visit again.

What is it that makes Dubai alluring? It doesn't boast of the abundant lush green landscape of the West; it is not a haven of wildlife as in Africa nor does it provide a colourful variety of cultures as in India.

What makes Dubai delectable is its wholesome appeal as a tourist destination. It is a place that offers good hotels to suit all budgets, a variety of tours appealing to all tastes, a number of malls and bazaars selling almost everything and every kind of comfortable transport to make travelling a pleasure. No wonder around five million tourists visit Dubai every year!

This was our second visit to Dubai. We had visited the city first in 2005. At that time, we had gone around for half a day in a tourist van. This time [January 2008], we had a number of options to go round the city. There was the Big Bus full-day tour; then the Wonder Bus tour on land and water, and the city tour in a van.

We chose to take the Big Bus tour as it seemed a complete package for just $40. With a one-day ticket, we could travel on the Big Red Bus for the land tour, Big Blue Bus for the beach tour and the Arabian dhow cruise. Also we could take a walking tour from the Dubai museum to the Gold Souk [gold market]. The tour seemed to be of real value for the money paid.

From our hotel in Bur Dubai, we started at half past nine in the morning and took a walk to the Dubai Museum behind the old souk. Here the tour official gave us free entrance tickets to the museum. We had half an hour to go around the museum before taking the walking tour. So, we explored the history of ancient Dubai recast in the museum.

The museum beautifully recreates through models of ancient dhows, mud houses, wells and clay figures the life and occupation of the inhabitants of old Dubai. At 11 am, the bus guide led us on a walking tour through narrow alleys, mosques and temples to the old souk. It was as if we were passing through an ancient Arab town. We saw shops displaying a variety of fabrics.

Shopper's paradise

Dubai, indeed, is a shopper's paradise. And the old souk is the bazaar where you can shop for electronic goods as well as textiles. What a variety you find here! We picked up a travel kettle that we could not find anywhere else. In the textile bazaar, you can find embroidered cottons from India, shimmering silks from Indonesia and Thailand and brocaded textiles from Japan.

From the boat terminal, we boarded an abra, an ancient Arab boat to travel across to the Spice and Gold souks. For just one dirham, you can ride in this romantic boat, from where you can watch other boats speeding on the creek and also view the landscape of old Dubai with heritage mosques and monuments in the background.

Alighting from the boat, we headed towards the Spice Souk. The smell of the aromatic spices lured us to the shops selling a variety of spices and dry fruits. We picked up a few packets of spices and nuts, especially those coated with dates and chocolate. Our next destination was the Gold Souk, the choice destination of almost every tourist.

This shopper's paradise, with rows of shops displaying dazzling jewellery in 18 and 22 carat gold with Indian and Italian designs, is a great place to visit if you have fascination for the yellow metal. Just going around window shopping and viewing the sheer display of shimmering gold is exciting. You will find visitors crowding inside the shops to bargain and buy their choice piece.

The high price of gold doesn't seem to deter tourists from the lure of the metal. After all, very few women can resist the temptation of possessing a beautiful ornament. And Dubai is one place where you can shop for gold any time of the day and wear them too without any inhibitions.

The dhow and more shopping

Emirates towerWith a bag full of purchases, we decided to board the bus to reach the abra station to take the Arabian dhow cruise. From the station, where a number of boats are lined up, there are 45-minute cruises every hour from 11.30 am to 5.30 pm. We started our ride at 1 pm.

And it was a magnificent experience. Sitting comfortably on cosy diwans, we photographed the plush skyline of Dubai and spotted its many interesting sights even as we were hearing the commentary on the ear phone. It was also a pleasure to watch other cruises and abras passing by, especially, the Wonder Bus as it drove through the water!

After the soothing ride, it was time for us to catch a bus to the Dubai City Centre, one of the many super malls of the city where you get almost every branded product. Wafi City Mall is another posh mall built in an Egyptian style; the decor inside is as good as it is outside. We went swiftly round the mall before getting into the bus to take the beach tour.

As we sat on the top deck enjoying the cool breeze, we observed the date palms swaying all along the beach. We were passing through Deira, the commercial centre of Dubai where you can find plush high-rise buildings, malls and residential complexes. It was awesome to see the very tall buildings of the Emirates Office Tower, Emirates Hotel Tower and the much talked-about Burj Al Arab, 321 m high and the tallest hotel in the world.

You can finish a part of the tour here and take a bus from Wafi City Mall to drop you at your desired spot. We got down at Karama.

Karama is a huge bazaar where you can scout for souvenirs and ready -made garments at cheap prices, provided you bargain. We picked up framed pictures of the seven coloured sands of the UAE, musical camels, shirts and sweaters.

If you have more time, you can visit the Heritage village and the Festival city. The best way to travel in Dubai though is in the abra. You can avoid road traffic, enjoy a breezy ride on the creek and also reach your destination within minutes. We visited the Gold Souk again by travelling on the abra from the old souk. Visitors who throng the city during the shopping festival will find this mode of transport ideal.

Desert safari

Desert rideA visit to Dubai, however, is incomplete without a trip to the desert. The desert safari is popular, with thousands of people daily visiting the many desert camps to enjoy the feel of the sands and the Arabian culture. The tour lasting for six hours includes dune bashing, camel rides, henna painting, Arab tea and coffee, cold drinks, Arab costumes, magic show, belly dancing and a sumptuous dinner.

The most exciting part of the tour is the dune bashing or the rough ride on the sands in your sturdy van. I couldn't help but shriek as our driver went swirling up and down the sands hills. To sooth your nerves after the bumpy ride, climb on to a camel for a relaxing ride and catch an aerial view of the bedouin camp you are about to visit.

Inside, well-laid out diwans with roller cushions welcome you to stretch your legs and watch the sunset. You can have a hot cup of hot tea with fresh date fruits as you look around. Visit the costume stall to try out an Arabian outfit and get photographed with your partner. You can visit the henna stall too to get your hands painted with beautiful black designs.

Later in the evening, there is the magic show to entertain you. Otherwise, you can walk into the hookah stall to try the traditional puff. And before dinner, a bewitching Arabian beauty will entertain you with her belly dancing. By then, now you will be sufficiently hungry to move to the dining hall for a grand meal. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are served here. The desert breeze and the meal will lull you to sleep on your ride back home.

Dubai, just two and a half flying hours away from Mumbai, is an ideal destination if you have only a few days to spare. You can experience the Arabian desert, sail on the Dubai creek, look around the city and shop till you drop, all in a few days. To get the best out of the city, visit it during winter. You are bound to enjoy your stay and wish you come back again!

Fact File

Population 1 million
Climate Sub-tropical and arid
Temperature Between 10 and 48 degree Celsius
Currency Dirham [approximately Rs. 10]
How to reach Emirates flies almost every day from Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi to Dubai
Best time to visit December to March

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