Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Emirates Old and New + Random Photos

The first time I visited the Emirates four years ago, I asked my sister, "what's old here?"

I have heard of the Emirates', especially Dubai's infrastructure reputation, as ultra-modern and hi-tech. Seeing and experiencing it was a visual proof of what a vast amount of space, money, and architectural expertise import can do.

Monumental buildings with state-of-the-art lifts that can transport me from the 1st to the 124th floor in 60 seconds is absolutely impressive, but I'm an old soul and moved by structures and sights steeped in history.

My family took me to Old Dubai in 2010, and I revisited Dubai museum on my recent trip. The fort was built to protect the natives from invading neighbouring tribes. The oldest surviving tower in the fort was built in 1787. 

Nothing has changed in the galleries since the last time I was there, so I will be posting a separate feature in the future to share the experience with you.

Courtyard of Al Fahidi Fort

A model house featuring a wind tower used for air conditioning

Before the oil trade, Dubai's economy relied on pearling industry, which collapsed in the 1930s due to the Japanese invention of cultured pearls. With the discovery of oil in 1966, Dubai began granting concessions to international oil companies. Dubai is 2012's 22nd most expensive city in the world, and the most expensive in the Middle East.

Inside a model house was a comfortable minimalist bedroom which is a far cry from the luxurious amenities today's Emiratis can afford.

The woman in black at Dubai museum. She seemed to have been moved since I last saw her in 2010. Tell me, are those boots she's wearing?

Where the Al Maktoum dynasty arose...

Al Ras Metro station is designed in the traditional Emirati home style with the tall wind tower. I prefer this over the below typical Metro station in downtown Dubai which I find very flashy and futiristic.


As telegrams were done before, this signage didn't bother with punctuation marks or full stop.

Traditional abras or Emirati boats stationed at Bur Dubai that ferry passengers across the creek to Al Sabkha on the Deira side. The fare is 1 Dirham or roughly 20 pence.  I bet you could only imagine locals cruising in their top-of-the-range cars.

My sister took a selfie of us while waiting for our boat to leave for Dubai museum

I don't know how this part of the boat was called, but it was rusty. Had it snapped and hit me, my travel insurer would have to pay for my tetanus treatment. I must say though that I enjoyed the ride on an abra as much as I enjoyed the lift ride to Burj Khalifa, for much much less--a Dirham against 125.

Only men seemed to be going into this building. Could be a mosque? Spotted while walking towards Dubai museum.

Al Majaz Waterfront in Sharjah at night

I was told the waterfront was carved to let the sea water in.

In here, it's always Friday.

These policies haven't caught up with modern times. Above is a signage outside a blacked out women's salon down the building where my sister and brother-in-law live. Below is a reminder on a bus to Abu Dhabi from Sharjah that the front seats are to be occupied by women only. It means that even if there are empty seats in the front area, the men will have to squeeze themselves at the back. Here, chivalry isn't dead as it is still always ladies first.

A view of the waterfront from the park

The mosque and fountain at the entrance of the park

Just a few minutes drive from my family's home, the waterfront park is ideal for recreation, dinner, and just to watch the fountain display at night.

The Blue Souq in Sharjah where gold and local products are sold.I love haggling here.

Built in the 70s, the Blue Souq is called as such because of the blue tiles which adorn its exterior.

Borrowed yet again from my sister's Instagram account. She captioned it as #bluesouk #bluesky #blueskirt

Almost like a cathedral

Various sizes of lamps sold in the souq. Why did I bring a weekend suitcase?

Yet more floors to climb at Burj Khalifa, as seen from the 124th floor observation deck

Snapshots of the waiting area at the Cheesecake Factory at the Mall of the Emirates

Part of the ceiling at Burjuman Centre

Part of the ceiling at the food court of Burjuman Centre

The dome at Mall of the Emirates. I love ceilings, did you say? I particularly favour ones that allow the use of natural light.

This has nothing to do with the rest but thought I'd include it. I went in to a women-only salon in another part of Sharjah and I was given this set to choose my nail colour from (the brand is Orly by the way). I like everything organised so this appeals to me. I picked the red shade on the upper left side.

So this was how the first month of the year has gone by for me. How was yours?

If you missed my first two posts about Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi, please click 'Dubai, from the Burj Khalifa' AND 'Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi'.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

One reason why we're apprehensive about taking public transportation in a foreign country is the language barrier. Although my mother still understands and speaks some Arabic, it's useless when you take a taxi or bus and have to converse or give instructions. Drivers are usually South Asians, and with all due respect to their degree of fluency in the English language (matched by my absolutely nil grasp of Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and many others), it is most often a challenge to understand each other. 

But that didn't deter me, my sister, and mother, from taking the bus for a nearly two-hour ride to the UAE's capital Abu Dhabi from Sharjah to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. With our version of halting English, we made it to our destination as any other clueless tourist would have.

The 40,000-capacity Grand Mosque's back view, which the bus driver reluctantly agreed with me as the point to alight. Should you ever decide to visit the mosque, please take a taxi from the main bus station. That will set you back roughly 60 Dirhams (£10 or USD 16) return.

Let's start again, at the front.

The front side featuring the water mirror, columns, and one of the four minarets that lead to the entrance and inner courtyard. The unique lighting system reflects the phases of the moon.

This view is even more spectacular at night due to the lighting design, so go and visit during that time if you can.

The north/east minaret serves as a community library which holds books and publications about Islamic subjects and studies.

The main entrance that leads to the inner courtyard and the prayer room

The main entrance's dome which features lacy floral pattern and calligraphy

To the water mirror and columns....

A ceramic wall décor at the main entrance sets off the floral motif of the Grand Mosque.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007, and inspired by Arab, Persian, Mughal, and Moorish architecture. The 8th largest mosque in the world, its design influences are the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.

The sprawling inner courtyard, measuring 17,000 sq metres (180,000 sq ft), is said to be the largest marble mosaic construction in the world.

My first ever selfie, and my smile scrawls how unsure I was with what I was doing. I'd choose a proper abaya and shayla anytime over the above required little black riding hood.

Looking out from the vestibule of the main prayer hall, where all visitors had to take off their shoes before entering.

Vestibule chandelier. This is one of the seven German-made chandeliers that used millions of Swarovski crystals.

Panoramic shot of the vestibule

The Qibla wall greets you at the main dome of the main prayer hall. The Qibla directs Muslims to where they should face during salat or formal worship.

The third largest chandelier in the world

The Syrian chair with lectern on the left, and the minbar at the right, where the Imam delivers sermons. I thought the minbar was a very modest fixture against the majestic backdrop.

The grandiose main prayer hall that can hold up to 7,000 worshipers. There are two smaller ones, both of which can accommodate 1,500 individuals, with the other solely for female mosque-goers.

The Islamic clock showing prayer times

Adjacent ceilings of different designs separated by an arch

Mother-of-pearl inlaid pillars

Glass crystal mosaic looks out through the courtyard

Flower mosaic on the wall, made of semi-precious stones

The Grand Mosque's carpet is the largest ever made by Iran Carpet Company. At 5,627 sq metres (60,570 sq ft), the maker employed up to 1,300 carpet knotters to finish the job within two years. The carpet pieces were flown into Abu Dhabi via two airplanes, and were hand-stitched by artisans for the final fitting. It was so plush on my feet, each piece deserved its own first class seat.

Now, what was I thinking when I was secretly hoping for a café in the mosque premises? The peace and quiet, and the beautiful weather (22 degrees Celsius, tops) were conducive for sitting down and enjoying a cuppa.

If Dubai aims to impress via her gargantuan ultra-modern infrastructures, Abu Dhabi takes the more conservative route and builds up the cultural and religious background of the Emirates. 

If you live in London or other European cities where a studio flat is the size of one toilet cubicle in a mall in Dubai, anything bigger is striking. So, go on, book a flight and be awestruck.

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