Dubai – just thinking about it makes me smile for so many reasons. It’s a place I’ve visited many times – 29 and counting – as my brother and sister lived and worked there.
I first went to Dubai in 1989, first stopping in Abu Dhabi where my siblings lived. Flights to Dubai via Emirates are the best. They have some great deals, especially during the annual festival, when you can go shopping in Dubai.
Dubai Through The Years
I remember being completely overawed by desert sands. The road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai was straight as an arrow. Then, there were no high rise buildings, and the Jumbo Electronics in Bur Dubai was one of the tallest ones! Most of the others were 3-4 storey buildings, villas and vast empty spaces. I went shopping at the Al Ghurair Center which only had some 10 shops. We went crazy buying country cassettes (which I still have even though I don’t have a cassette player anymore), clothes, and perfumed soap. Like true Mangaloreans, we even went to the famous fish market to buy fish.
As the years went by (I visited almost every year), I saw this sleepy little place morph into a bustling city! As we approached Dubai in the mid 90’s, we could see a few high rise buildings – this was our signal that Dubai was fast changing. Then, we shopped at Lamcy Plaza – those of you who live there or have visited will remember the clown puppet who went up and down a wire in the main atrium – and the Burjuman and City Center. There was not much else to do other than shop in those days. We went crazy shopping for dress materials, perfumes, food items like dates and spices, saris, kitchen things.
Since then, Dubai has grown exponentially. All the buildings are now skyscrapers – both residential and office blocks like the DIFC. The transport system is nothing short of magnificent. It’s simply amazing how this desert land has been transformed. In the days of yore, transport was limited – now you have flyovers, metro rail, cabs, buses, walkways, ferries etc to get around. They have even reclaimed some parts of the sea and built the famous Jumeirah Palms! It truly is a modern day wonder!
Shopping in the City in the Desert
Shopping in Dubai is magical (like something out of Aladdin) and the days pass by in a complete whirl. You can go to Dragon Mart and shop for reasonably priced items – this mall is built in the shape of a dragon. Amble along and stop to have a chai, Thai fruit or an ice cream along the way. They have different sections for furniture, electrical items, clothes etc.
Malls abound – Mirdiff, Ibn Battuta (a themed mall with sections like India, Egypt, Tunisia, Persia etc), Mercato, Mall of the Emirates, Souq Madinat (a traditional one), Wafi, Festival City (which houses my favourite store Ikea), Dubai Mall (more on this later), and many many more. You don’t even have to buy anything – you can wander around and there are always good bargains. Splurge if you have to! You can go to most of these malls using the Metro which in most cases, has a station inside the mall itself.
There are also many activities for kids – swimming with dolphins at the Atlantis in Palm Jumeirah, the Wild Wadi water park, Ski Dubai and penguins at Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Museum and much more. The list is almost endless and can be quite exhausting for parents!
The Massive Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is equivalent in size to 50 football fields and houses over 1200 stores. I know as I’ve traversed end to end many times. The huge aquarium is a must see. You can buy some caramel popcorn at Garrett (opp the tank), go to Level 1 and perch on the window sill there and mindlessly watch the fish. It’s soothing and totally mesmerizing.
The Dubai fountain outside the Mall with water jets going up-to 500 feet, is a huge tourist attraction. Different tunes are played at each display (Bollywood, Arabic, classical, pop) and it gets crowded. Try and go at least 10 minutes before it’s slotted to start. You can check timings with the Information Desk. I always watch from the bridge – has the best view!
Book tickets and go up the Burj Khalifa – at 829.8m, it’s the world’s tallest structure. Completed in 2009, it attracts millions of visitors the year round. Towering benignly over Dubai, the view from the deck is par excellence. Check that the day is clear and not cloudy though.
Every single 5-star hotel in the world has a presence in Dubai and they are almost always sold out. Hilton, Sheraton, Ritz, Marriott, Westin, Conrad, Hyatt, Grosvenor to name a few. The most famous one is, of course, the Burj Al Arab. Extremely expensive and a once in a lifetime experience, I hope to at least have a chai there one day. It’s built like the sail of a ship and has an underwater restaurant. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel next to it is shaped like a wave. From afar, it’s a great sight to behold, as Dubai has the tallest hotels in the world.
A schoolmate of mine took me to PappaRoti on Level 1. You must have tea and the famous buns here if you can. The coffee coated bun with its delicious filling is a dream. Don’t worry about calories – you can easily burn those off with all the walking you have to do to see this massive building! They have a skating rink and numerous other attractions for adults and kids alike.
The Souks of Dubai Creek
Another favorite place of mine to go shopping in Dubai is the Gold Souk. The glimmering and glinting gold hypnotises me. I’m not much of a gold lover, but go to the store I will! The Spice Souk is also pretty amazing and the smell of spices will assail your senses.
A friend of mine and me used to love to go to the many restaurants that abound the Dubai creek. Attraction being the Hookah and Shisha places. You can enjoy Arabic food, smoke the hookah and just relax. It’s balmy, but lots of fun.
A Desert Safari
If you go on a desert safari, have a good breakfast, and skip lunch! The four-wheel drive vehicles will take you out into the deep desert. Then it’s a complete roller coaster ride. I went on one many years ago and lost some years of my life. I opened my mouth to scream and never stopped! It was the most wonderful thing.
We climbed on sand dunes that were over 2-3 storeys high. Then the driver would look at me and say, “Ok now you scream,” and let go of the brake. We would hurtle down at great speed. I realized it was ok, as we were strapped in tight and even if I did fall out it was the softest desert sand ever! We followed this with sand boarding, a camel ride, belly dancing, delicious barbeque food, and some Suleiman chai to wash it down – it was an adventure I’ll never forget.
Eating My Way through Dubai
Now onto my favourite subject – food! There is no food you will not get in Dubai. Indian (every state is represented by various restaurants), Iranian, Arabic, French, Chinese, Continental, Thai etc.
But let’s talk about Arabic food. There is a Lebanese influence on the food, so you don’t forget to try Shawarma rolls. Accompany that with Khuboos bread, hummus dip, baba ganoush, or tabouleh. They use a lot of garlic, olive oil and Za’atar (a local spice). I like to sprinkle za’atar on hot buttered toast or a roti. Very yum.
Sweets like Kanafa (cheese pastry in sugar syrup), Baklava (layers of filo pastry stuffed with nuts and held together with a syrup) and Basbousa (cooked semolina and coconut cake) are also famous. The good thing is that you can eat as much as you want with no fear of adding to the waistline (remember the walking in malls!) – my rationale for gorging! And this is just the tip of the iceberg with delicious middle eastern desserts.
I’ve seen Dubai change through the years and for the better! It’s an amazing city to visit and trust me, there will not be a single minute of boredom. There is just so much to do. In my opinion, even a month is too short!