Within thirty minutes since the commencement of the flight, I had gotten to know my co-passengers, a middle-aged couple, returning from a ‘shandar’ (extravagant) second trip to Dubai, totally bowled over by the tarakki (progress) of their son-in-law, mesmerized by his etiquettes and so full of aashirwad (blessings) for such a good ‘beta’ (son) that everyone should get. It’s amusing that their conversation had little mention of a daughter- is that not a prerequisite for a son-in-law? I wondered.
Anyhow, I could have totally gone on with their conversation which could make a blockbuster Balaji Telefilms soap (if they are still being produced), but for the time that when I was so engrossed in eavesdropping and building on a plot to blog on, that I caught the good ol’ man staring at my screen trying to read what I had composed. Twas’ about time before he’d realise and be elated about his shandar son-in-law featuring on this blog post that made me stop.
Back from a family vacation, I had deliberately chosen this seat, away from my family members (and the familiar noise) to be able to pen down the rich experiences and glorious memories of the last few days. Well, I won’t say I was disappointed with my companions. Three hours down I was completely familiar with the good vs. bad members of their family, who was exploiting whom, their native place, etcetera etcetera; all this without even exchanging a single word. And if nothing else, they totally equipped me with ‘life skills’, or shall I say, life-saving skills for the future. So if I refuse to marry just about anyone anytime, for lack of a shandar son-in-law for my parents, you know who raised the bar so high!
That’s the charm about travelling. Everyone, whether returning back home or starting their onward journey, is so full of stories, radiating from their faces. With little effort, these stories, excitement, mental makeup can be transmitted to the onlooker. So much so that travel can never be boring. Interesting places, interesting people and even if neither, highly interesting experiences.
I too am returning from one such journey. A journey to the land of the seven emirates comprising what we know as UAE. Out of the seven, I had the opportunity of visiting the two more popular destinations, Abu Dhabi (the capital) and Dubai (the tourist capital) and what follows is a brief travelogue on the same.
A confession before I begin. When Dad floated the idea of a visit to Dubai, I was highly sceptical of what kind of a ‘vacation’ to expect in a place that is only (or so I ignorantly let myself to believe) touted for its gigantic shopping malls or the delicious khajoors (date fruit), neither of which were of any interest to me, or to the major part of my family, that too at a time when Delhi itself was burning like a desert to be excited about visiting a real life desert. Yet, since it was a new country, I could not get myself to veto a vacation to a foreign land that was coming my way after an exile of fourteen long years. Little did I know, that what lay ahead, would totally wash aside my pre-conceived notions and mark an incredibly adventurous journey to the land of the Burjs and the Khalifa.
As our plane began to descend, the vast expanse of the blue of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, gave way to the brown of the Registan (desert). Incredible how so much development could take place on a barren land, attributed by the locals to the vision of their beloved King, Late Sheikh Zayad, after whom the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi is built and the main street in Dubai named.
I still can’t get myself to blur the first site that greeted me in this land of Amirs- rows upon rows of Porsche, Range Rover, Limousine, Beetle and other fancy cars parked at the airport and flying on the roads. I am not that car savvy, a person, but those beauties were hard to miss, especially on the unwinding smooth roads they were plying on.
The first feature on our itinerary was a visit to the pride of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, an 828-metre long engineering marvel and the world’s tallest building. Named after the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Khalifa, this 163-floor building stands tall in the heart of the city and is one of those sites which will greet you daily from anywhere in this city. Later, we took a brief ride on the monorail towards the Atlantis Aqua venture in order to get to the beautiful Palm Jumeirah, overlooking the skyline of the city; a vibrant boardwalk to spend a quality evening with family, especially when the weather is good.
Later at night, we went to the rear of the Dubai Mall to catch a glimpse of the famed Dubai fountain, set on the 30-acre manmade Burj Khalifa Lake; choreographed to music that shoots water as high as 500 feet, every thirty minutes, this is a site to behold. After dining at Al Karama, the Dubai downtown, home to a number of eating joints, especially Indian, we retired for the day.
Next day began with a morning walk at the Jumeirah Beach on the Persian Gulf, which hosts the famous seven-star Burj-Al-Arab at its heart, a site in itself. This was followed by a visit to the Dubai water canal, an artificial canal and waterfall, beautifully constructed by the diverting water from the sea.
After this, we headed towards the City Centre, which hosts a gaming arcade and the most popular IFLY DUBAI, UAE’s first indoor sky-diving experience where you can defy gravity, I quote, “with skill, style and courage.” An unforgettable experience, this is sure to peak your adrenaline to the top. Remember Matthew McConaughey floating in zero gravity in Nolan’s Interstellar- well it isn’t as easy as it appears. The team at ifly proudly “guarantees that you’ll be smiling from cheek to cheek after you experience the thrill of indoor body flight”, and I’ll just add that this is not an exaggeration. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is sure to stay with you for the rest of your life.
Guessing that the adventure for the day was over, we were in for a grand surprise at the Desert Safari, later that evening. The incredible dune bashing, a real off-loading in the spectacular desert by racing the car in the sand- this was another thrilling highlight of our trip. One of the most ‘authentic’ experiences that Dubai has for offer, Desert Safari offers a complete glimpse of the desert ecosystem, starting from driving in the dunes, to camel rides, and later, showcasing the traditional Arabic tanoura dance and belly dance, set in the heart of an Arabic desert camp.
Day three was reserved for a visit to the capital, Abu Dhabi; a one and half hour road journey from Dubai. Beginning our day with a stop at the Yas Island, located on the outskirts of the city, that is home to the famous adventure park – Ferrari World, a theme park all about speed, thrill and obviously Ferrari. It claims to have the fastest rides in the world like Formula Rossa and Flying Aces. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for my sister and Dad, my mother couldn’t accompany us to Abu Dhabi, and therefore in the peer pressure of the available company I was made to sit through Flying Aces, which I like to call, ‘the mother of all roller coasters.’ It was scary enough when they asked us to empty out our pockets, take off our shoes before mounting on the flyer, but when the ride began, what started as paralysing fear (for not just a person like me who is not too fond of roller coasters but even other ‘stud’ people), beginning to transform into thrill due to the sheer speed, eventually into horror over the upside down turn, and relief at finally dismounting. All in all, I am never going to do it again, but one of those must do before you die rides, for sure. Apart from the numerous “high adrenaline rides, state-of-the-art simulators and an inspiring treasure of racing memorabilia, Ferrari World celebrates Italian culinary tradition, making the the place to live the true Ferrari experience.”
Later in the day, we proceeded towards the city and headed to the Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque. Well, there is a reason for the ‘grand’ in the name. Not just architecturally overwhelming, there is a certain serenity about this iconic structure. The interiors are as stunning as the exterior. The only low point was while women were made to wear a traditional, but beautiful gown called ‘abaya’ before entering the mosque, the fact that men were just about free to roam around in anything, wasn’t very appetizing for me. Respect for culture must go hand in hand with equality, what say?
Overall Abu Dhabi, deserves a special mention for such careful planning of the entire city which makes it simple, yet beautiful.
And with that came the last day of our mini vacation- day four, back in Dubai. In the morning we boarded the Wonder Bus, a wonder because it travels not just on land, but also in water. The highpoint of the tour was the scintillating view of the Dubai creek and the hilariously engaging guide of the bus who kept on questioning us passengers on the little trivia about the UAE.
Before bidding a final adieu to this city, we spent the afternoon in Ibn Battuta Mall, finally a mall but hey, architecturally, not so much! It is not one of the biggest and most popular malls in Dubai, but it is one of the most beautifully designed places. With artificial ceilings and culturally rich interiors, it is not fair to call it a mall, since it is much more beautiful and unique than just a complex housing international shopping brands. And with that, we finally hit the road to the airport, full of prized memories of an incredible vacation, shattering all myths about Dubai being just the shopping paradise and a desert with no adventure to offer.
Back in the flight, sitting next to the in-laws of that shandar son-in-law, I could not help but think fondly about my shandar vacation. Thinking what made it so special and one of the best, I have ever had.
Well, I couldn’t get myself to end this travelogue without thanking the person who planned the itinerary so thoroughly, packing it with so much adventure. That’s my God Brother, without whose insight, this trip could not have been so much fun.