"Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it" ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Dubai - Arabian Nights & Dates

Rajiv Butalia is a tie-and-jacket executive, who lets his hair down during vacations to follow his soul to where it leads him. A one-time national swimmer, he is a trekking enthusiast who has tried his hand at power flying and river rafting and has a passion for SCUBA diving and what he calls "life experiences".

The Emirates flight from Mumbai takes off smoothly over the Arabian Sea and the captain announces that the airhostesses on board speak English, Hindi, French, Italian, Korean and Afrikaans. But it would not have been difficult to converse in the universal language of smiles with which they greet us. After a wonderful lunch of lamb accompanied by red wine we approach Dubai. It is night and through the small screen provided next to the sat phone I focus through the look down camera on the geometric perfection of the city lights below. The airport bustles with activity, since it is the start of the Dubai Shopping Festival, which draws thousands of visitors during the month of March each year.

Land of The Rising Sun
South by Virginia Wine

SCUBA Diving
An Introduction
Ocean of Joy

Adventure Activities
River Rafting
Rock Climbing

The Duty Free Area is enticing and stocked with some of the finest products. However I travel for the experience and not for shopping so I'm not tempted by the flashing display. Nonetheless I pause at the large liquor display and pick up something that I am sure will add flavour to the evenings.
An Abra ride across the creek takes one to Bur Dubai, the original city. This has a unique character with old buildings, atmospheric alleyways and numerous souks or marketplaces.

The gleaming Toyota taxi glides off towards the new city where I will be staying. Abdul, the driver is from Pakistan and we converse easily in Urdu and talk about the India Pakistan divide. We remark on how much history and tradition we share and curse the politics that keeps brothers apart. The glitter of lights, glass and hi-rises makes this into a Manhattan of the Mid-East. I find it difficult to imagine Dubai as it was only 40 years ago. A trading post that had no electricity, or piped water. For centuries it enjoyed the geographical advantage of one of the finest natural creeks in the Gulf from where the dhows would sail for eastern shores laden with pearl and gold to be exchanged for silk and spices.

Dubai would have continued this way had not oil been discovered in the 60's. After that fortuitous discovery there was no looking back. Sheikh Rashid was then a tribal ruler of a desert society who had himself led Bedouin raiding parties against Abu Dhabi. Dubai was twice blessed because the Sheikh was a visionary who seized the opportunity to transform Dubai with highways, offices, hotels, leisure and sports facilities and conference centres. His sons, led by led by Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid, now govern a modern society with the city becoming an aviation, trading and communication hub. Foreigners outnumber nationals by nine to one with a majority having arrived from the Indian sub continent.


The Arabs have a saying that all one needs is a few dates and some friends to share them with. My hosts shared this philosophy and we paid regular visits to the Deira Fish market and spending the days cooking and conversing. The market buzzes with activity at all hours with over 200 vendors selling every kind of seafood imaginable. Hammour, barracuda, lobsters, jumbo prawns, king fish, squid and cuttle fish.

New Dubai where I was staying is separated from the old city by the inland creek. I spent many hours each day walking around the city and sitting by the creek watching the sea gulls chase the dhows and the Abras, the small passenger ferries.

An Abra ride across the creek takes one to Bur Dubai, the original city. This has a unique character with old buildings, atmospheric alleyways and numerous souks or marketplaces. From there it's a short walk past the souks to the Al-Fahidi Fort, an historic fort that dates back to 1799. Much smaller in scale compared to the forts one sees in India it has now been converted to a museum. Here one can see old weapons and pearl diving outfits on display and some fascinating exhibits recovered from 3000 to 4000 year old graves at Al- Ghusais. I will never forget the sight of two buried skeletons that have been excavated; presumably a couple, that now lie entwined facing each other for eternity.


On one of the evenings I take a boat cruise on the creek while Bedouin music plays in the background. Lebanese food is being laid out while the smell of fresh kebabs wafts in the breeze. The Egyptian belly dancer has expressions and movements that speak of Arabian nights and times gone by.

No visit is complete without a Desert Safari to savour coffee, dates and dinner laid out in an oasis while the stars brighten up the desert sky. So one day I do just that and encourage my guide who is from Syria to do some serious dune bashing. This is a local sport and consists of insanely roaring the land cruiser up sand dunes at top speed and 80 degree angles. The cruiser bounces and speeds over the dunes and we do an adrenaline rush for the next hour till we both decide we wont be able to take it any more. He reveals that he totalled 3 cars in Syria on the roads and thus decided it is better he takes to the desert.


There are numerous ways to enjoy the atmosphere of a city but nothing beats walking and the taking local transport. I very much wanted to visit one of the smaller towns. Opposite the Gold Souk I spot a bus about to leave for the ancient fortressed village of Hatta located at a Wadi, a lush and attractive valley in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains. The city gives way to a golden brown desert and after some time we wind our way through hills of various colours, purple, red, brown and yellow. Around the village, the hills are a barren moonscape and I get off the bus and walk towards the highest point. I soon leave the town behind. The mosques in the valley below glisten pure white. There is a flight of pigeons and then nothing. Not a soul is in sight. The silence is suddenly broken by the sound of the Muezzin calling the noontime prayers. The air is suddenly suffused with a magical light and the air shimmers as if the Universe is just about to reveal a monumental secret. A falcon emerges from nowhere and hovers over me. I freeze as time stands still. Then suddenly the moment is gone and the world is normal again.

Back in Mumbai the official at customs asks me what I brought from the festival. Only the experience and some dates to share with friends I reply. I now think of that moment in Hatta and decide to write. Time to put on some Bedouin music and brew some strong Arabian coffee and maybe wait for a friend.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.