Discover Dubai, the desert sheikhdom in the Gulf, which has emerged as one of the most vibrant cities in the region and extremely popular among Indian visitors.
Text & pics courtesy: Kunal&Tamanna Patel – www.worldwidewandererz.com
Background:Dubai is a city that I have had the opportunity of visiting many a time over the past two decades and during this period vast areas of this buzzing modern city-state have sprung up right in front of my eyes. One of the seven emirates constituting the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the country’s most populous city.
Unlike most large cities of the world, which have existed on the world map since many centuries and have grown organically and slowly with the passage of time, Dubai is one of the few modern cities which have been literally `put on the map’. Its transformation from a small fishing village in the 18th century to a sprawling metropolis today has largely been `engineered’.
Though evidence of this area being a mangrove swamp around 7000 BC, before the coastline retreated leaving behind sandy desert stretches and pre-Islamic ceramics dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries have been discovered in the area, the earliest mention of Dubai is only in 1095 in the `Book of Geography’ by Abu Abdullah al Bakri – an Andalusian – Arab geographer.
Like Singapore and Hong Kong, Dubai’s geographical location has attracted traders and merchants since the 19th century. Sensing the natural advantage that Dubai had over the other cities of the region, the emir of Dubai introduced an array of tax benefits and financial incentives which lured businesses away from the likes of Sharjah and Bandar Lengeh.
The revenue from the trade was used to build high quality infrastructure which included
roads, trunk services, bridges, schools, hospitals, a deep water port and a huge airport. Though oil was discovered in 1966 in Dubai’s territorial waters, it was in far smaller quantities, compared to other discoveries in the region. Itled to concessions to international oil companies being granted and this in turn led to the first influx of foreign workers, mainly from India and Pakistan resulting in the city’s population tripling between 1968 and 1975.
The revenue from oil supported Dubai’s infrastructural growth and propelled its transformation from a small settlement to a buzzing city spread over 1,600 square miles before its meagre oil reserves depleted, constituting only 2% of its GDP in 2004. But by this time Dubai was already a cosmopolitan metropolis growing steadily to become a global city and a business, tourism and cultural hub of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Dubai has always been synonymous with `first’, `biggest’, `largest’ construction projects over the past 1 ½ decades. Today Dubai boasts of the world’s tallest building in BurjKhalifa, the world’s most exotic hotels in Atlantis and Burj Al Arab, one of the world’s most unique exclusive residential projects in the Palm Island, one of the world’s busiest airports as well as sea ports.
It almost appears to me that Dubai is a city which is constantly competing with itself trying to attract businessmen and tourists with a promise of an almost fairytale world of unmatched luxury and mind-blowing attractions.
BurjKhalifais one of Dubai’s most popular attractions. Designed as the centerpiece of the Master Plan for a large-scale mixed-use development of 19 residential towers, 9 hotels, a12 hectare man-made lake and 3 hectares of Parkland, BurjKhalifa was one of the projects that heralded the shift of Dubai’s economy from an oil based one to one that focused on services and tourism.
Standing 829.8 meters tall, this iconic structure is designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill as a modern interpretation of the patterning systems embodied in traditional Islamic architecture. An engineering master-piece the buttressed core structural system consists of a hexagonal core reinforced by three `Y’ shaped buttresses that enable the building to support the massive height and keeps it from twisting in the high velocity desert winds.
A bank of 57 elevators takes you upto the viewing deck for a breath-taking view on the 124th floor, a once in a lifetime experience that is a must. Not only is it a treat to watch the city of Dubai from here, the viewing deck is also the best place to watch the Dubai fountain – the world’s largest choreographed fountain system laid out on the 30 acre BurjKhalifa lake, as it shoots water 500 feet into the air and 6,600 lights alongwith 25 colour projectors orchestrate to contemporary Arabic and world music.
Another unique man-made feature of Dubai are the Palm islands – 2 artificial islands Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali. Designed in the shape of a palm tree and created using dredged sand from the bottom of the Persian Gulf, these islands host a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment blocks.
Consisting of a crown with as many as 16 fronds, protected by a crescent shaped break water the Palm islands were considered to be a premiere residential and hospitality address especially with the opening of the Atlantis The Palm – a 1500 room hotel and resort. The complex consisting of a 23 storey hotel and a water park was inaugurated by Priyanka Chopra chosen to portray the Goddess of Atlantis for the opening ceremony.
Apart from its glitzy and iconic structures, Dubai is also known for its mega malls, with the traditional `Souks’ giving way to enormous malls that make Dubai the `shopping capital of the Middle East’. Hosting not only global brands of retail and personal care, the world’s largest man-made aquarium in the Dubai Malland the large indoor snowpark in Ski Dubai are attractions that ensure that the footfall in these malls remain high, luring both locals and tourists.
Dubai hosts 2 huge annual shopping festivals which lure millions of visitors annually, turning its mega malls into beehives of activity humming with the timeless bargain hunter.
The construction and real estate boom brought in a large number of expatriates who worked or settled here. This led to the population of Dubai reaching almost 1.8 million and resulted in severe stress on it roads and meagre public transportation system.
Another notorious `first’ for Dubai is the fact that it has the highest number of car owners per 1000 population. This figure exceeds that of New York, London and
Singapore. The high amount of traffic congestion on its roads was relieved by the introduction of the Dubai Metro – operating 2 lines with 29 stations as well as the strengthening of the Dubai Bus network. Despite of this, commuters sometimes have to wait more than an hour before they can board a bus.
With the opening of new urban areas of Dubai Financial City, Dubai Internet City, Jebel Ali, International City and new attractions like the Dubai Miracle Garden – a 72,000 square metre flower garden that is the world’s largest and uses waste water through drip irrigation, Dubai continues to expand and grow both physically as well as in terms of hype.
Over the 15 years since my first flight here, the Dubai Airport has grown to the largest hub in the Middle East home base to its flag carrierEmirates. With 3 terminals and the 4th one under advanced stages of construction, Dubai airport is spread over 2,900 hectares and boasts of 8,000 weekly flights operated by 140 airlines to over 270 destinations spread over the 6 inhabited continents of the world.
With a total annual capacity of 75 million passengers, the airport also boasts of one of the world’s largest Duty Free Shopping areas. Though prices here are not much lower that what one is able to find during the bargains of the shopping festivals here, the euphoria of shopping at the Dubai Duty Free is only to be experienced. Not exactly a shopaholic, there have been many moments spent between flights here, sitting quietly
while sipping on my coffee and watching the frenzied passengers spend their currency on everything from glittering gold ornaments and premiere watch brands to delicious chocolates and exotic cosmetics.
Despite all its gloss and glitz, Dubai’s mega structures have invited criticism from environmentalists, marine biologists and global warming experts. While no modern city can be insulated from being in the centre of such debates, like is the case with many Chinese cities, it is perhaps the speed with which Dubai has grown over the past three decades, that it has drawn this attention onto itself.
While its construction projects have also drawn flak from human rights activists for the conditions of its labour colonies, Dubai also has very strict local laws for health and hygiene safeguarding its population.
The work and investment incentives offered by this truly unique city have attracted people from all parts of the world to come here to work or settle. This has resulted in a cosmopolitan culture in this truly global city. While one gets overawed by modern Dubai, its traditional roots can still be seen in its mosques and its people.
While Dubai safeguards its traditional practices, it allows for other cultures to breathe, a rarity in the conservative Arab world. Today Dubai has succeeded in emerging as a cosmopolitan metropolis that has grown steadily to become a business and tourist hub of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.