Let me start this with a question. What are the top 3 words you associate with Dubai? (Tall Buildings? Shopping? Rich Arabs? Habib- Habibi?)
Let me ask another question. What are the top 3 words you associate with vacation? (And this will obviously be different for everyone. Some would say mountains and jungles while others would say beaches and sun)
What I am trying to arrive at is the fact that Dubai isn’t your typical holiday destination. It doesn’t sit in the lap of nature (quite the opposite actually, it is in the middle of nowhere!), it doesn’t have the picturesque mountains and greenery and it clearly isn’t a calm place to find solace and rejuvenate your soul!
But talk about a bustling fast paced city, world class infrastructure, diverse population from around the globe, thriving businesses, glamour and exuberant lifestyle… Yes Sir, now you are talking Dubai! I was speaking to the manager of a restaurant in the hotel I stayed and he mentioned a beautiful thing about Dubai. He said, “If you’d fold the World map from the center, all you would get is Dubai!”
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Down to some geography basics, Dubai is situated in the country called United Arab Emirates. UAE comprises of 7 emirates which are all absolute monarchies ruled by the respective Emirs. As opposed to common belief, only about 5% of Dubai’s revenue comes from oil. It is not an oil based economy. It’s rich because it has transformed itself as a frontrunner in the spheres of tourism, aviation, transportation, real estate and financial services. Its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings are second to none. It hosts some of the biggest expos and sporting events.
1. Dubai Visa Requirements
Dubai requires Indians to have an e-visa. Essentially what that means is you can share the required documents with an agent and you will receive the visa fairly quickly. You don’t have to share your passport for stamping. In fact the visa you receive is a single page document/pdf that you can simply take a print of and carry along. However, there is another step involved here which is known as OK To Board. This OTB request needs to be raised by your visa agent with the airline and you need to make sure you receive it beforehand. Call up the airline and make sure OTB is being reflected at least a day or two prior to your travel. Do note that OTB is a must!
2. Currency Exchange – Getting Dirhams (AEDs)
Once you are done with the visa, your next chore is to get the foreign currency. This is a task I typically find most people screw up with. If you don’t want to get yourself a forex card (because they will work for specific countries and might be useless on your next international trip) you can always go with the old school cash. The moolah! No matter what you do, avoid exchanging money at the airports.
Here’s my detailed blog – How not to get ripped off while exchanging currency!
Let’s get to Dubai now. Dubai climate is hot. It is not as humid as you might imagine considering Dubai has an end that faces the sea. But you will find ACs everywhere you go so unless you plan to walk on the road the climate might not be that big of a deal.
People waiting at the entrance of Burj Khalifa
Dubai’s infrastructure is World class. Nothing that I write will justify why Dubai is amongst the best cities in the World. Tall buildings and skyscrapers are all that you will find wherever your head turns, specifically in areas like Dubai Marina (Video). Talking about skyscrapers, Burj Khalifa is a must see. If India has the Taj Mahal, Dubai has the Burj Khalifa. It’s one of the modern day Wonders of the World. Burj Khalifa can be ‘hasily’ (making up a word combining hazily and easily 😉) spotted from much of Dubai. Actually to be precise, I read that Burj Khalifa can be seen from 95 kms away which means if Burj Khalifa was in Amritsar it could have been easily seen from Lahore (Amritsar and Lahore are just 50 kms apart by the way). It goes on to show the mammoth that they have created to prove their engineering prowess and ensure Dubai is synonymous with the word infrastructure (Video). I believe I have sold much of Burj Khalifa to you. Make sure you book your tickets online or you will spend hours in the waiting queue. If you are in Dubai for one day, make sure experiencing the largest building in the World is in your list. (Video of At The Top)
Now that we are done with the largest building in the World, let’s talk about the largest mall in the World – The Dubai Mall. By the way, Burj Khalifa is a part of the Dubai Mall! The Dubai Mall also houses an underwater zoo which is quite an attraction. Again book your tickets online and avoid the hours of wait (Video). While we are still in the Dubai Mall let me tell you about the Dubai Fountain that is ready to awe you at 7.30 PM (Video). Oh and all this aside, Dubai Mall has a total of whopping 1200 stores! Apart from the Dubai Mall, I also visited the Dubai Marina Mall and the Mall of the Emirates. Both are worth your time if you are a mall rat like me. By the way, the Dubai airport is also a mall of sorts 😉
I cannot complete point number 4 about Dubai’s infrastructure without mentioning yet another Modern Day Wonder of the World – The Palm Jumeirah. I have been to Hulhumale (Maldives Travelogue) which is also a man-made island but Palm Jumeirah is something that isn’t just taking the concept to the next level, it is something that is in a different league altogether. It’s matchless to say the least. Take the monorail during day time and be awed for yourself. I believe there are chopper rides available too!
Amongst some of the construction companies you are bound to notice are Emaar and Damac. Their properties seem to have half the Dubai covered. Additionally, you may also notice loads of construction sites that includes everything from roads to flyovers to buildings to whatnot. There’s a fun fact about this – 20% of all cranes in the World are in Dubai!
5. Local Transport
When visiting another country, traffic is amongst the first things you notice if you are from Bangalore 😉. The second thing you notice (and this is applicable if you are from anywhere in India) is the lane discipline (Video).
Question – How many decades would it take for India to reach a point where everyone on the road follows lane discipline? Never?
The Dubai Metro covers many of the tourist attractions. The construction of Dubai Metro was actually completed in 18 months! (18 freakin’ months! Namma Metro, you listening?) If you want to, and I highly suggest you do, visit Palm Jumeirah, Metro is your best option. You need to get down at the Damac Properties Metro Station, catch the Tram to Palm Jumeirah (Damac Properties Metro Station is connected to the Tram station which is called Dubai Marina) and get down from the Tram to catch a Monorail. The Monorail will finally take you to Dubai Atlantis (which is the last stop) where you can roam around and then get back. The biggest advantage with Monorail is the kind of views you would get (video, another video). Palm Jumeirah is definitely an item for your must-see list. Afterall, its the World’s largest artificial island that houses 28 hotels and can be seen from space!
For the rest of the city, metro trains are available every 3 minutes and are very convenient and tourist friendly. However, not everything is covered by the metro. You would need a taxi for places like the Public Beach (that has the best view of the Dubai Al-Arab hotel in the background). Taxis are easily available and they are cheaper than Uber. However, ‘cheaper than Uber’ doesn’t really mean cheaper in general because taxis are comparatively expensive. You are going to notice how they come with different colored roofs but they all charge the same. From what I could gather, all that means is to distinguish taxis that are government, private or driven by women drivers (also known as family taxis, they have a pink roof!). By the way (out of the blue), Uber offers Chopper from the airport! For someone coming from Bangalore that is such a good (and very expensive) solution to beat the traffic!
Speaking about traffic, the heavy traffic could be a pain especially during the office hours (Dubai’s weekend is Friday and Saturday). You are going to observe the rush in the metro as well. The traffic though is not caused by the traffic signals. Infact you are definitely going to notice how the infrastructure has been scaled up to ensure signals can be avoided (Video)
I could also spot Pulsar, Honda and Hero bikes being driven by the food delivery folks. On the cars front, SUVs seem to win the majority.
6. Subcontinent Diaspora
Indians are an easy find. Go to Gold Souq and you can actually have conversations in Hindi because almost everyone is from the subcontinent. People from the subcontinent make up for the highest contributors in low paying jobs from janitors to waiters to construction site workers to salesmen to taxi drivers. This is also a stark reminder of the jobs and education scenario in our country. Uneducated and out-of-work Indian villagers can be easily spotted in the immigration queue being literally imported to Dubai. I couldn’t hold myself from writing a hindi blog.
Obviously people from other nationalities can also be easily spotted. In fact the local Emiratis are a minority! Gold Souq is one place I would suggest visiting if you are missing India. Yeah, Gold Souq is the gold market and you are going to find many Indians, even the shopkeepers speak Hindi! Do add gold jewelry shopping in your travel budget because you are most likely going to end up buying something. Even if you don’t want to spend on jewelry, the gold souq is still worth checking out. I was told that roughly 40% of World’s gold is traded in Dubai!
I met an Iranian shopkeeper in the Gold Souq who spoke garbled Hindi trying to upsell his chocolates and dates and also trying to convince me that he was an Indian 😀. When I correctly guessed his nationality (he was an Iranian), he offered me a 2 AED discount, free chocolates and water bottles! Shukraan!
Islam is the official state religion of the UAE. Emirati men wear a full body Qandura and headscarf. Emirati women wear Abaya. Strictly halal food is served everywhere. Unlike Maldives, alcohol isn’t banned. Azaan can be heard in malls and prayer rooms can be easily located everywhere. I stayed in Hyatt Regency and it had a copy of the Quran.
On a side note, a shout out to Hyatt Regency for such a comforting service. I always try to budget for higher end hotels. They have beds with super comfortable mattresses and duck feather pillows that will soothe and relieve you from the kms of walking and wandering you would do as a tourist.
Arabic is the official language of UAE. The Emiratis speak Arabic. Signboards, announcements (in metro trains, airport etc) are in both Arabic and English.
9. Final Thoughts
There are two types of rich that you may know. The Rich and the Super Rich but there’s a third type that you would find in Dubai – the Arabs! Visit the Palm Jumeirah and you will observe it for yourself.
Marketing is one thing Dubai is quite ahead at. It has projected itself as the center of the World where the east and the west meets for business as well as leisure. Hospitality, Infrastructure, Banking and Finance are some of the predominant industrial sectors of Dubai. You would definitely notice professionals formally dressed in suits. That’s one thing the Urban Purush in me truly appreciates!
Dubai is pretty safe even at late nights with near 0% crime rates. So a late night stroll (something yours truly is pretty fond of especially while visiting unknown territories) is not an issue.
There are no taxes. You basically pay the prices you see on the menu. Something you would definitely appreciate especially coming from a country where we pay taxes left, right and center. And while we are at it, I would like to add that the food portions you get at the restaurants are quite large and overwhelming.
With all the malls and positive reinforcement for shopping you are likely to end up getting back with a heavier baggage. In fact, like I mentioned earlier, the Dubai airport is also a mall of sorts. But do note that Indigo (if you are flying with them) has a strict 7 kg weight limit for cabin baggage (which includes duty free items that you may pick up at the airport) and you might end up paying dirhams for every extra kg. Travel light or try Emirates.
With smartphones at our behest it has become very easy to browse the World. My suggested apps would be – Google Trips, Headout (has great deals as well), Zomato and even Instagram to see what’s happening at the happening places!
I somehow felt that Dubai signifies what vacation in the 21st century mean. It is truly a global city with so many nationalities you would lose count. It might not be your typical vacation spot but look at its infrastructure and amenities and it definitely is a city every city-dweller across the World would consider living in. I boarded a taxi and the driver told me how he had driven cabs in 8 countries in the last 20 years before settling down in Dubai. The reason – Dubai is worth it.
For the thinking types (and this happened to me once on a metro ride) you may wonder – Is democracy a façade? How can a monarch be so far sighted and committed to the growth of his territory? How can a monarch provide the best in class living comforts to the citizens without them paying any taxes in return? And that’s when I heard – Al abwabu tughlaq (Doors Closing) and I wished I could get down from the metro at a random station, roam around and soak some more of Dubai.
Dubai Travelogue Playlist –