A bright crescent moon greeted us as we stepped out from the airport onto the land of the thousand and one nights. It was as if Sheikh Mohammad had himself ordered the Celestials to give us a traditional ‘Arabic’ welcome, because, as we all know, what Sheikh Mohammad wants, Sheikh Mohammad gets.
The first feel of Dubai was in sharp contrast to what we Indians have come to expect from big metropolitan cities. The roads were quiet, peaceful and clean and the drivers were impeccable in their lane following. Queues are followed everywhere and a fear of the law is evident in the undertones of people’s actions and their words. But as you delve deeper into the heart of city the realization hits you with a bang that the place is really filled up with about sixty percent Indians, and as brilliant as the Sheikh is revered to be, the driverless metro that he designed to run in the veins of the city hardly seems sufficient to cater to the needs of the mile long lines teaming with South Asians on New Year’s Eve.
There is a small backwater stream that separates the old Dubai from the new one and is very ingeniously call “The Creek”. It is a beautiful vantage point to differentiate the old, pre-modern, mostly residential Dubai from the new, metropolitan ‘Bur’ Dubai with its ever-increasing world records of the tallest, the biggest, the longest, the costliest and, well you get the picture. Our cruise on board a chartered Abra – much like the Shikaras of Srinagar – gave us a beautiful view of the city and was a perfect place to learn about the past of Dubai and how the Sheiks ruling over the years have transformed this dusty old land of pearl hunters into a sprawling mega structure which witnesses the world’s wealth change hands at an ever quickening pace. With the wind in our hair and bright glowing lights in our eyes we watched as cruise after cruise of tourist ‘Dhows’ crossed us with their brightly glowing ship decks and lavishly spread buffets which were an indication of how this city has transcended the meaning of luxury to an unprecedented level. The city thrives on people who wish to be treated like royalty for every second of their stay there, and for a city which has made grand palaces out of dust, it is a mighty feat to achieve. The view of the Dubai skyline across the creek at night from the seaside deck of QD’s, located at the Dubai Creek Club, is a sight that will forever stay in our minds. The dark ambience of the al fresco restaurant coupled with the ever morphing Bello light and the thick clouds of smoke hanging all around make for a psychedelic atmosphere that makes conversations run smooth and fast forges friendships thick as a knight’s armor.
Having conquered the sights of the luxurious city we changed port to its wealthier cousin and the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Having made a fortune selling oil at triple its cost Abu Dhabi has amassed itself a gold pot which makes Dubai’s treasury seem like a pauper’s vault. That they spend most of that money buying the tallest towers in Dubai is a different story all together.
As one approaches the Sheikh Zaid Mosque, its mere size and the amount of pure white marble gazing down at you inspires awe and greatness for the beautiful monument and instant comparisons are made between the old Taj Mahal and the new mosque. The calmness and serenity of the white monument in the beautiful yellow glow of soft lights equals if not betters the beautiful glowing view of the Taj surrounded by its own melee of lights. But the comparisons soon end as you enter the mosque to find the simplicity and the sobriety giving way to loud and audacious carvings and inlay work with the imperfections of the modern times which can never hope to compete with beauty and perseverance of age. Abu Dhabi tries hard to become as tourist friendly as its sister, but the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi are as stark as those between Mumbai and New Delhi respectively. Dubai has a young pulse, racing a new path every day to quench an ever-increasing thirst whereas Abu Dhabi smells of a city roasted in age, tradition and religion.
Having sneaked our way into one of the costliest new year parties of the middle east (if not the world) we welcomed the new year with a brightly lit colorful sky and looked back upon and year which for all of us was one of the most important years of our lives. For this was the year that saw us leaving behind the best four years of our lives in search of even better years in our future. Those bright lights flying across the new year sky were like the millions hopes and dreams we all carry in our hearts for the coming years of our lives.
We looked at the last golden view of the Arabian city from the tallest building in the world like knights looking out from over their fort walls and final moments of the darkness before the sunrise were like the last notes of a beautiful song. As the morning sun rose to showcase us the city that brought a dessert to life, its beautiful hues of yellow, orange and red filled us with warmth and joy and hope and friendship for what else is the point of a beautiful sunrise unless you have friends to share it with.