On our way to India, we stopped over at Dubai for a couple of days this summer. Destination Dubai was chosen because we wanted to try out the brand new Emirates non-stop from Houston. Simple enough reason.. and unlike European cities (which typically is the other usual option when flying to India from the US), Dubai itself is small and compact enough to handle in a couple of days without rushing. Dubai, we found could be distinctly divided into two – the old and the new. Part 1 is going to be on old Dubai and we’ll write about new Dubai in part 2.
Old Dubai – If you want to hit the famed Gold Souk or the other Souks this is where you’ll head to. Dubai’s history is not that old and one of the things that struck us hard was the lack of historic buildings that we love. But there are quite a few things that made up for it.
The place to start Old Dubai expedition is Bastakiya along the Creek. The area comprises of everything from a Krishna temple to narrow alleys filled with shops to the Grand Mosque, the Ruler’s office and other administrative offices. The area showcases the wind-tower architecture which makes the whole area look so mystique and open.
Wind towers – architectural marvels from those days
We were in the area by 8am before the art galleries opened so we practically had the area to ourselves and spent quite sometime clicking photos and admiring the architecture. The Bastra Art Cafe and other galleries seemed like places we would have loved to visit but they were closed when we were there and these were small compromises we had to make when we wanted to beat the heat and visit the city fully.
The grand mosque
Walking along the creek is fun. One gets to witness the daily life of people -commuters hailing abbras and rushing to work, the pigeons flocking the courtyards, the pious at the temple and gurudwaras were some of the sights we enjoyed. Do walk down the creek early in the morning or late in the evening and enjoy Dubai life swish past you.
Our next destination was the Dubai museum housed at Al Fahidi fort build in 1880. This is also in the same area around the creek and it is quite interesting walk as you see so many mosques and interesting buildings as you walk down from Bastaikya to the museum, As previously mentioned the history of the city is relatively not much. But the museum sheds light about the life in deserts and the nomadic way of life. The whole museum should not take more than an hour of your time. Definitely not a must do in Dubai but fit-it-in-if-you-can kind of place. The museum opens at 10 and we had 15 minutes to kill before they opened so we headed to the Starbucks housed in the Arabian Court hotel for some refreshments and cooling down.
By the time we were done with the museum and heading out, it was around 11 and the souks had started coming to life. Prior to this trip, we had spent hours reading about Dubai in travel guides published by the leaders Fodors, Formmers, Rough guide etc. They all glorified the souks. But to me as an Indian it felt like walking in Burma bazar. We had gone dreaming about shopping in the textile souks and spice souks and it was a let down. The spice souks with spices filled in jute (saaku) bags displayed at the store front was so much like the maligai kadais (grocery stores) my granny used to frequent inside Gandhi market in Trichy. But ofcourse, today my family shops at Spencer’s Daily and More and Nilgiris and Kaveri so jute bags filled with exotic looking spices is a thing of past.. a memory… I am not sure if those stores exist still and I guess I need to make a trip down Gandhi market just to see what changes time and technology has brought in.
Early morning calm at the textile souk
One can very well understand why the Dubai souks fascinates the Westerner. Lanes and lanes of small shops that can unearth anything you dream of and offer you goods 50% or more less than what was quoted in the other store in the yonder is a thrill just like being on a roller coaster. The same reason why we shop at Westlife and Pantaloons and the Citi Center and then walk up and down Pondy Bazaar bargaining. Well at least, the women do it and women around the world are but the same when it comes to finding bargains. And to this I should add that the whole souk area is kept clean and trash is disposed off properly making shopping in streets as hygienic as possible. Ofcourse one cannot avoid the fine layer of desert sand that settles on virtually everything in Dubai.
Gold Souk is what T-Nagar with just jewelery shops. The biggest attraction personally is the lack of fear and assured safety Dubai offers for its gold shoppers. We could walk around without fear after major jewelry shopping. But then, watch out for these guys who walk beside you whispering copy watches for sir, copy bags madam, Gucci, Prada….if you are interested in fake goods follow these people through narrow alleys and small staircases equipped with the latest video monitoring devices and fake goods. And do not forget to bargain.
The Deira City Centre is probably the other place you might want to head out in the area. Though I would not call it Old Dubai it is the oldest mall in Dubai. The Carefour supermarket is a good place to pick gifts, food and bags (for those extra luggage)… The mall architecture is otherwise unimpressive (compared to other other malls in Dubai)… the children’s play area seemed to be huge and had many offerings. The food court was decent – very crowded around lunch time…
A good place to stay in old Dubai is the Bank Street area also called the Khalid Bin Walid Street. There are tons of hotels, apartment hotels in the area and it is quite close to Bastakiya area (you can walk to the area in 15 minutes, take an abbra across to the gold and spice souks). The hotels in these areas give good deals unlike the many hotels along the creek that tend to get expensive. Taxis are also easily available to get around Dubai. We walked a lot as we feel that is the way to experience the city and Dubai is very pedestrian friendly. But it does get hot, so remember to carry water, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
More on Dubai coming soon!