I fall sideways, backwards and forwards. I lurch until my foot is in the air and then I scream as the world turns upside down. No, I’m not in the midst of a roller coaster ride. I’m in a Toyota Land Cruiser navigating the golden, undulating Arabian desert. And I’ve never been more exhilarated.
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be ushering in 2017 in a chilly open ground near Dubai Mall with hundreds of locals and tourists, I’d have scoffed at you. But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it? As the clock struck 12, all of us stood after hours of waiting, to see the fireworks light up the entire length of Burj Khalifa. It was magical not because of the scale of the fireworks ( slightly underwhelming) but because we found ourselves sharing a special moment with so many foreigners. Of course, given that a majority of the crowd was Indian or Pakistani, it didn’t really strike home at that time!
I have to be honest though – the day (or night?) we saw the fireworks was my second day in Dubai and I was still waiting for that one ‘wow’ experience that would define this trip for the rest of my life. Our first day had a rocky start due to a five hour flight delay, courtesy the incredibly beautiful but also inconvenient morning fog in Dubai. We had to abandon a Sharjah city tour and head directly for a late lunch. The Dhow cruise that night was a mixed bag. We were on a wooden boat and the entertainment was erratic though the food was excellent. Kids enjoyed the magic show but the malfunctioning music system and the hour long delay in departing tried our already frayed nerves. Nevertheless, the view from the boat was marvellous and the reflections of passing luxury ships was like something out of a dream. My advice – try and be on one of those larger boats for the cruise.
The city tour on the second day turned out to be a whirlwind where we didn’t see much of anything save a short pit-stop at the breath-taking Open Beach with a wonderful view of the Burj Al Arab. The entire drive along the Jumeirah stretch was a pleasure and it was then that I realised Dubai is a golden metropolis – not just because of the gold markets but also because the hue pervades everything from the desert to the beaches and the sand-hued buildings. The water was an impossibly bright and unblemished turquoise blue at Open Beach and in the distance, the top of Burj Al Arab was still obscured by the remnants of the fog. Then, we proceeded for a quick lunch as we had a 2 o clock appointment to go to the top of Burj Khalifa.
I had a sense of deja vu when we reached the 127th floor of the Burj Khalifa, made all the more dramatic by a countdown film during the astonishingly short elevator ride. The fact of the matter is, the Burj at 2,722 feet is too tall to offer a great view of Dubai. It’s more like an extreme bird’s eye view with all the buildings dwarfed tremendously though the water on the horizon looks mesmerising. I visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the afternoon as well and on this occasion too, the harsh sunlight reduced the romance of being atop the world’s tallest building. But we had no choice because on that day, the viewing was being stopped at 4pm to make arrangements for the New Year fireworks. If you can, go during sunset or night time for an altogether different view.
Our ticket came with a free coffee and snack at the cafe downstairs. Both the coffee and the cookie were exceedingly good and put us in a great mood to explore the gigantic Dubai Mall. While the mall is replete with attractions of all kinds and too huge to be explored in a single visit, we encountered the 360 degree aquarium and real dinosaur skeleton during our time there. You can spend at least half an hour walking around the aquarium and admiring the various species of fish and other marine creatures. For a price, one can also go diving inside the underwater zoo. When you look up, you’ll see a night sky sprinkled with glittering stars. The dinosaur skeleton outside the Shoe Mall is the diplodocus longus, discovered in 2008 in Wyoming, USA and belonging to the Late Jurassic era.
From 6pm to midnight, we were camped in the grounds outside Dubai Mall due to traffic blockades everywhere and to get the perfect view of the fireworks. The waiting nearly drove us crazy and I made some bad purchases at Carrefour (tip: you can always get better deals in the souks) in between to pass the time. Was it worth it in the end? I guess so. It’s not every year that you get to witness the Burj Khalifa New Year fireworks in person and with your best friend in tow. But it left us exhausted – especially given the hour long walk we had to undertake to return to our hotel at 2 AM! The next day was my favourite day in Dubai and began with a visit to Dubai Museum in the Old Town and ended with a glorious desert safari and outdoor dinner. I’m going to dedicate an entire post to this day but here’s a glimpse of the safari.
Our last day was spent shopping at Naif Souk (the best place for perfumes and abayas if you wear them though gadgets were a bit of a let-down) and Meena Bazaar (you’ll also find the budget store Edo in the area – great for gifts and knick-knacks though you have to be mindful of quality). In the Meena Bazaar area, you’ll also find local chocolate shops and gold shops owned by Indians. We were accosted by a man claiming to sell first copies of branded bags but didn’t take him up on his offer. In conclusion, minarets pierce the sky in the desert even as Dubai city plays host to the tallest of the tall edifices. The modern and the primitive – they offer an entrancing contrast in this golden Arabian metropolis. Thank you Cox & Kings for helping me experience it so well.
And because I want you to have as great a time in Dubai as I did, here is a mini-guide that you can pin, save or share with your friends and family: