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.
|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's dome which features lacy floral pattern and calligraphy|
|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|
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.