Zarin Khan, the Pakistani national who drove us around Dubai during our three-day stay in the city, looked genuinely happy in our company and chatted with us on subjects ranging from Hindi film songs to Indian and Pakistani cricketers and even Talibanis!
But I think what we really bonded over was the lunch at Sarhad Durbar, a modest restaurant known for Asian cuisine which he recommended. He could sense our craving for some typically spicy Asian food and drove us there, and our satiated souls blessed him.
Zarin is just one of the lakhs of expats who constitute almost 70 per cent of Dubai’s population today. South Indians, Filipinos, Africans, Chinese and other world communities have made this desert city their home over the years. As one of our companions put it, “If you want to see the world population at one place, Dubai’s the place.”
So what attracts people to Dubai? Well, many things — the best shopping destination tag that it carries, the job opportunities it offers in plenty while it’s hurtling towards growth, its real cosmopolitan culture, great law and order situation, and its ever-increasing attractions. Even as tourists on invitation from Dubai Tourism Department, we were spoilt for choice in terms of destinations.
For most, Dubai means Burj Khalifa, the awe-inspiring structure that holds various world records — the Tallest building in the world (828 metre or 2,716.5 feet tall), the Tallest free-standing structure in the world, the Highest number of storeys in the world (more than 160 storeys), Highest occupied floor in the world, etc. Although it was last on our itinerary, we had seen its various avatars throughout our trip — a miniature version at Legoland, an inverted version in the Dubai Mall itself and so on.
All this had made us very eager to enter the structure and get to the top. We were taken to the 148th floor — till where special guests are allowed. Seeing some very tall structures turn into miniatures from there gave us a real high.
The Dubai Mall
At the base of Burj Khalifa is the sprawling Dubai Mall, the world’s largest retail and entertainment destination which welcomes millions of visitors every year.
With over 1,200 retail outlets showcasing some of the premium international brands and over 200 food and beverage outlets, The Dubai Mall offers various world-class dining and entertainment options. Though, in March when we visited it, there were more visitors than shoppers, our companion Clara Menezes told us that during the Dubai Shopping Festival (which is usually held end of December and January), one would find people shopping loads and loads of apparel, perfumes et al from the mall. There are huge and genuine discounts offered. As if to validate her statement, we saw a window showcasing a dress from an international brand worth AED 5,900 being sold for AED 590!
There is a lot to gape at and as much to sniff — precious stone jewellery, colourful apparel, perfumes, freshly-brewed coffee and just off-the-oven confectioneries. The Dubai Mall is a treat for the senses.
Apart from shopping and dining, the Mall is known for its underground aquarium called Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, which houses more than 30,000 marine animals — from star fish, sting rays to sharks and so on. Cameras go clicking and people look at the marine animals in awe. However, the aquarium in The Atlantis the Palm surpasses this one, we realised on visiting the 5-star hotel later that night. There are more than 65,000 marine animals in Atlantis aquarium and a special suite amidst it all which is available on rent at a premium price for tourists.
Coming back to The Dubai Mall, you can’t leave without watching its Fountain Show. Situated on the 30-acre Burj Lake, The Dubai Fountain, a water, music and light spectacle, is illuminated by 6,600 lights and 25 coloured projectors. It is 275 m (902 ft) long and shoots water up to 500 ft (152.4 m) into the air accompanied by a range of classical to contemporary Arabic and world music.
With a huge emphasis on tourism, Dubai is constantly coming up with newer attractions to lure visitors, who are mainly from the West. Over the last two years, various theme parks have been added to its attractions. Riverland on Sheikh Zayed Road is the gateway to Dubai Parks & Resorts, and the largest integrated theme park here. Consisting of Legoland (Lego-themed adventures for families with children aged 2-12), Bollywood Park and Motiongate, it has something for every type of visitor.
Legoland, as the name suggests, features over 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions and 15,000 Lego model structures made from over 60 million Lego bricks.
Motiongate, the flagship theme park in Dubai Parks and Resorts, is the largest Hollywood-inspired theme park in the Middle East, featuring 27 thrilling key rides and attractions inspired by 13 of Hollywood’s most memorable live action and animated films including Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Hotel Transylvania, Ghostbusters, The Smurfs and The Hunger Games.
Indians obviously flock in large numbers to Bollywood Park which offers Indian and international meals and fast-food options, cinematic rides and paisa vasool entertainment. We admired a Shah Rukh Khan clone teaching passers-by some signature Bollywood dance moves as also dance performances on the street by a few Indian youngsters. But what we enjoyed the most was sitting in a jeep and playing a VR (Virtual Reality) Sholay game, killing as many of Gabbar’s gangster boys as we could with toy pistols.
IMG Worlds of Adventure, chiefly for kids, offers innumerable rides and fun experiences through Marvel Zone, Dinosaur Adventure Zone, Cartoon Network Zone, IMG Boulevard Zone, and The Haunted Hotel. The last one is quite scary but worth ‘checking out’. Just for fun, we also took a toy cable car ride which covered the entire Cartoon Network area. It felt like revisiting childhood.
IMG Worlds of Adventure has more than 20 retail and f&b outlets, adding to the fun.
In animal land
While cartoons and virtual reality are great attractions, everyone knows that the real fun is in the wild, and Dubai Safari Park offers loads of it. Spread over 119 hectares, the park provides visitors a close encounter with over 250 species of animals through four villages — African, Asian, Arabian and open Safari Village. Although it is aiming to have the Big 5 of African safaris, currently it has lions, tigers, rhinos, nilgai, gorillas, gibbons, lemurs, many species of birds and some species of reptiles. The park opened to public a few months ago and is in the process of importing more animals but it’s heartwarming to see how it has successfully managed to maintain and even increase its current animal population.
Water is a premium product in this desert destination. But that doesn’t mean Dubai won’t allow people to play in water. Wild Wadi, a waterpark located on Jumeirah Beach Road, has been attracting visitors, especially from the US and European countries, for the last few years. The 13 interconnected rides give you great adrenaline rush, pushing, swirling and throwing you in and out of water. The entire place is clean and at once welcoming yet non-interfering. A must-have on the itinerary.