From the Traditional to the Ultra-modern
Perhaps no other city in the world has so many appellations as the cosmopolitan city of Dubai, the commercial heart of the United Arab Emirates.
Due to its romantic setting on its Creek which is plied by abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing ships), some travellers label it ‘The Venice of the Gulf’; and, being the second gold trading centre in the world after Singapore, a number call it ‘A City of Gold’. In fact, Dubai enjoys the world’s highest per capita consumption of gold with an average of 36 grams per person.
Its modern, architecturally stunning buildings; urbane aura; and flower-filled parks have led to its other names: ‘Pearl of the Gulf’, ‘A Model of 21st Century Sophistication’, and lately ‘The Internet and Media City of the Gulf’. Yet, no matter what people call it, Dubai has a great deal to offer its visitors.
Persian Gulf Coast
Located on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, halfway between Europe and the Eastern Orient, the city has been a meeting place of people since ancient times.
There are today some 150 ethnic groups, hailing from the Far East to the Americas, all living and working without much friction in this tolerant urban centre.
One of the fastest developing commercial and tourism pivotal points in the world, Dubai, with a population of some 1,000,000, is throbbing with life, yet retains its relaxed and sophisticated ambience.
For centuries a leading trading hub, this once sleepy Persian Gulf town has been transformed in the past few decades into one of the most opulent and beautiful cities on earth. However, with a culture deeply rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia, Dubai still retains its unique Arab flavour and personality, which has evolved to reflect an international lifestyle.
The city is separated by a 14 km long natural salt water inlet called the Creek, which divides Dubai into two parts: Deira, the so-called new section (today, there are much more modern sections); and Bur Dubai, the old town.
Along its banks and waters, the ancient blends with the ultra-modern. Traditional souks (markets) and wind-towers called alfajas vie for attention with towering skyscrapers, elegant villas and lushly green parks. Today, Dubai is a kaleidoscope of contrasts and a decidedly refined urban centre.
As a result of government and private investment, Dubai boasts a wide range of state-of-the-art facilities, covering everything from world-class luxury hotels and other 21st-century structures to desalination plants and telecommunication systems.
The city’s skyline features some of the wildest architecture in the world like the fanciful buildings that seem to float in the air like the sails of an Arab dhow.
And Dubai’s stunning hotels offering first-class service have propelled the city to take off like no other tourist destination in modern times. In 2004 alone, 5 million visitors vacationed in the city.
As to the social field, the city is the home to world-class hospitals, schools, parks and all types of recreational facilities. The city also boasts magnificent public buildings, modern road networks, well-tended parks and ultra-modern sports facilities, creating an atmosphere that is appealing to inhabitant and traveller alike.
Touring by Abra
For visitors, a great way to begin exploring this city that is galloping into the future is to hire an abra and sail on the Creek, the historic focal feature in Dubai. There are about 150 abras plying the Creek. They take riders across for less than 30 cents or they can be hired by the hour.
The colourful scene of men loading and unloading hundreds of dhows, which still ply the ancient trade routes from India to East Africa, is like living in the past.
Creating a charming necklace hugging this scene are, on the Deira side, the broad paved promenade lined with stunning newly-built sky-reaching structures and the breath-taking Dubai Golf & Yacht Club, and on the Bur Dubai side, the extensive landscaped Creekside Park and the renovated historic area at the mouth of the Creek.
Opposite, on the Deira side, one can wander the narrow alleyways, which have survived the building boom of recent years.In the Spice Souk, the scents of the Orient can be savoured, and in the hundreds of Gold Souk shops, gold can be purchased at a very low price.
For modern-style shopping, the city is dotted with some 30 large shopping plazas, where sophisticated merchants offer name brands from around the world.
Annually, they put on a month-long ‘Shopping Festival’, from mid-January to mid-February, where all the merchandise is sold at a 50% discount.
The Festival not only draws shoppers from the neighbouring countries, but also from the Far East and Europe. Gold merchants keep alive the label of Dubai as a ‘City of Gold’ by giving away kilos of gold in prizes during the Festival.
When one tires of shopping, there are the historic sites – most of Bur or Old Dubai has been renovated as a ‘heritage district’. Leading the monuments from the past is the Dubai Museum, housed in the restored Al Fahidi Fort – a must for any traveller. Colourful and evocative dioramas complete with life-size figures and sound and lighting effects, vividly depict the atmosphere of everyday life in the pre-oil days.
Galleries recreate scenes from traditional Arab homes, mosques, souks, date gardens and the most spectacular of all – the portrayal of the underwater world of pearl diving.
Near the Museum is a concentration of traditional courtyard houses currently undergoing renovations and their wind-towers – the only means of air-conditioning before electricity.
Beyond these, toward the mouth of the Creek, is the restored Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House. This fine example of the region’s typical architecture houses displays of historic agreements, old coins and stamps.
A little further on are two rebuilt traditional villages, featuring among the many exhibits potters and weavers displaying their crafts.
These historic relics, with their exotic aura, are complemented by eight of the top gulf courses in the world and organized trips to the surrounding desert. Tour companies take tourists on safaris to ride the dunes, sand ski, camel ride, explore the wadis (dry river beds) and feast on local fare while being entertained under the starry desert sky.
Manmade Islands and Desert Snow Park
Crowning these activities, is a visit to one of the huge manmade islands being constructed in the shape of palms in the Gulf waters off Dubai from tons of sand, as well as enjoying all kinds of winter sports including Alpine skiing at the giant indoor ‘Ski Dubai Snow Park’.
The park, which extends over an amazing 22,500 square meters, is covered with real snow all year round. These and Dubai’s many other fantasy-inspired ongoing projects will ensure that, for years to come, tourists will be awed by this exotic yet ultra-modern destination.
Combining the magic of the East with the facilities and pleasures of the modern world, Dubai stands out as one of the world’s most prominent must-see places.