Dubai and I

I, me, myself is a lot of fun, I realized when I started traveling alone. I go where I want, I do what pleases me, eat and drink what I like. I am responsible only for myself. All I care about is me having a good time. The usually reserved Me, talks to strangers, picks up small talk, smiles at the compliments of random ushers or photographers. Trust me, not many things can beat the joy and excitement of traveling alone and you will never know it unless you have tried it at least once.

My first step was Udaipur which a nervous me took hesitantly. The experience emboldened me and led to an excited Dubai. This was a longer 6-day solo trip. The image that Dubai evokes is of an ultra-modern city with tall skyscrapers, swanky cars, malls, and shopping arcades housing luxury brands. People are sometimes not aware that it is a city where the old blends into the new and lend a unique flavour.

My first taste of old or Arab heritage was at the Desert Safari. High sand dunes and fine white sand (that is from crushed shells and coral I am told) mark the Dubai Desert. After quad biking and dune bashing, we were driven to a Desert Camp. During the one-hour drive through almost empty roads, I noticed that the barren land (but for date palm trees here and there) was dotted with white houses. ‘Arabs like to live closer to the desert. They don’t like cities,’ said the Arab guide.

The camp had all the elements of Arab heritage – the clothes, the décor, the food and the sheesha (or hookah). After dinner they put up performances of traditional fire dance, tanoura dance and Khaleesi dance. Enjoying a meal of kebabs and biriyani sitting on a low table laid on the sand on a starlit night and swaying to the rhythm of Arabic beats transported me to a different world. Of course, it is curated for tourists, but very well done indeed.

The day after the Safari I headed to experience old Dubai. For my last two days in Dubai, I booked my stay in Howard Johnson Plaza in Deira Dubai. The hotel is just 10 minutes away in a cab from the creek and Souk, the traditional Arab market. Dubai’s oldest mall, Al Ghurair Centre is 10 minute’s walk from the hotel. As the cab crossed the bridge and entered the Deira area the buildings changed suddenly giving the feel of a city that has been around for ages and evolved with time.

On my first day, I decided to explore the Souk area by the creek. Unlike the high malls, the one-storied shops here are arranged in lanes. The Spice Souk with a range of fresh spices and dried petals spread out was an experience indeed. I walked through the lanes, picked up sumac and Arabian chili, loads of dates and white chocolate. Sumac, a Turkish spice, adds to the flavour of kebabs or salad, I was told.

Gold Souk took my breath away. I even entered a few shops to check the prices and designs. The heavy gold jewelry suited neither my taste nor my pocket. Instead, I walked into a small shop and picked up a pair of pearl studs and a pretty garnet earring set in silver. Perfume Souk I avoided as I cannot smell at all. I was already embarrassed by people from perfume kiosks in the malls chasing me with a bottle, ‘Ma’am please smell once.’ It’s not easy to make people understand that I can’t smell.

On my second day in Deira, I headed to Al Ghurair Centre. Though the exterior of the mall retains the middle eastern charm, inside it houses all the luxury brands. After window shopping and a little bit of shopping, I headed for lunch to an Iraqi restaurant. While in Dubai I tried different kinds of middle eastern cuisine. Will have to dedicate a post to the food.

In the evening I headed to Meena Bazaar, the only place that disappointed me in Dubai. Most of the shops there are from India. And if you are looking for glitter our Meena Bazaar is so much better. I struggled to hail a cab in the evening and even got stuck in the jam.

At night, I headed to the Sheesha Bar on the rooftop of the hotel to enjoy my last drink in Dubai, a blue margarita,  under the starlit night sky!

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