Category Archives: UAE

10 must-dos on your Dubai holiday

Once upon a time, Dubai was one of those places that rarely featured on people’s travel bucket lists. Then, as more and more Indians began to set up base in this glittering Arabian city and the wheels of its publicity began spinning, the world started waking up to its many attractions. We are all well acquainted with the urban paradise that is the commercial centre of the United Arab Emirates. But what really sets a holiday in Dubai apart is its potential for adventure, discovery and inimitable experiences. It also helps that getting a Dubai visa is a breeze for Indian nationals.

1. Swim with the dolphins
It’s not easy on the pocket (13000 rupees onwards) but where else are you going to get a chance to get so up, close and personal with dolphins? Dolphin Bay at Atlantis The Palm is a beautiful lagoon surrounded by palms, where you can swim with adorable dolphins and indulge in various water sports. Getting clicked with the dolphins will put you back by a few more rupees though the memories are worth treasuring. If the water baby in you is still not satisfied, head to Wild Wadi Water Park and try every one of those roller coasters, wave pools and gulp-inducing water slides!

2. Go for a desert safari
Dubai is in the Middle-East after all, which is synonymous with large expanses of strangely hypnotic deserts. And no amount of civilisation can take away the primitive appeal of spending a day in one of nature’s most trying landscapes and ending with a star-studded luxury desert camp. To get your adrenalin pumping, go dune bashing, ride a camel or enjoy a four-wheel-drive safari that ends with belly dancers, desert barbeque and cocktails in the setting sun. And did we mention that you can get an Arabian style mehendi done as well? At around 6000 rupees, this one’s not too expensive either.

3. Ride a hot-air balloon
This one’s for those who simply can’t get enough of the desert. Personally, I think a hot air balloon is just the right amount of adventure. Unlike bungee jumping, you get to stand comfortably and enjoy the sandy panorama around you. And you also have other people with you to make it less forbidding. You’ll have to wake up before the birds do for a truly memorable hot air balloon ride, because then you get to see the sun rise over the horizon of the Sahara desert and capture some truly breath-taking photographs. An hour in the balloon will cost you around 18000 rupees.

4. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at Burj Khalifa
You haven’t really seen a city until you’ve looked down upon its urban jewels from up above. A must-do while in Dubai is a visit to the observatory deck at Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s tallest building at 828 metres. Prices begin at 125 dirham (2300 rupees) and you can choose between the 124th and 148th floors. End your experience with a drink at their restaurant bar on the 122nd floor. Since this is a sought after experience in Dubai, it is advisable to book your tickets well in advance. Both the day-time and night-time views are equally spectacular.

5. Shop till you drop (and a lot more) at Dubai Mall
Dubai seems to excel at building the world’s record-breaking architectural marvels. With 1200 stores, Dubai Mall has the distinction of being the world’s largest mall and it’s safe to say that there isn’t a single luxury brand you won’t find here. The best part is that there’s so much to do apart from shopping! You can go skating at a giant ice rink and peek at fishes in the aquarium. Kids will also be wowed by the dinosaur skeleton on display and indoor theme parks. When you get hungry after all that shopping, there are 150 food outlets to choose from.

6. Stay at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah
I have just two words to recommend this Burj Al Arab and they should be enough – seven star. Sure, a stay at Burj Al Arab might involve mortgaging your house and everyone in it but imagine scoffing at five star hotels and telling them you’ve seen better. Although seven star hotels are not really verified, the exceptional restaurants at Burj Al Arab make a visit here worthwhile. You can also spend a couple of nights at Madinat Jumeirah for an authentic Arabian experience. It’s a replica of a traditional Arab village with souqs (markets), palm-ringed canals and romantic villas and hotels.
And in case you cannot afford it for your entire duration of travel (it can get really expensive!), make sure you book Dubai hotels in advance since there is always a certain rush. Planning your travel can also help you save on airfare, with multiple providers like flydubai offering economical prices, which means you don’t have to string out your accommodation, food or shopping!

7. Get off your high horse and dig into street food at 2nd of December Street
Enough with all these expensive indulgences, we say. Sink your teeth into some refreshingly cheap street food with the locals at this lane, earlier known as Al Dhiyafah Road. Here you will find tasty treats from Iran, Lebanon and India. The grilled lamb and couscous salads come highly recommended. For a filling meal, try the seafood at Pars Iranian Kitchen and home-style fare at Ravi Restaurant. As per regulations, these restaurants cannot serve alcohol but a meal here will only put you back by around 1500 rupees.

8. Walk down history lane
And get a dose of art and culture too, while you’re at it. Dubai was once a quiet fishing village and remnants of its serene past can be found at Al Fahidi Historic District and the endearing Basta Art Cafe. At the erstwhile Bastakia Quarter, you can walk through a maze of tiny lanes that are dotted with museums and art galleries. Notable among these are XVA Gallery for contemporary art and Majlis Gallery for Middle-Eastern art. Shop for fabric at the textile souk and then treat yourself to a scenic tour in a water taxi. The Dubai Museum is also worth a visit for history lovers.

9. Play a game of golf
In case you didn’t know, the folks of Dubai are quite crazy about golf. At the golf courses designed by Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, you might bump into a known face or two. The most famous courses are the Emirates Golf Club which hosts the Dubai Desert Classic tournament and the excellently designed Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. Tiger Woods is also set to launch a stunning golf course this year after an earlier failed attempt.

10. Let your hair down at Pacha Ibiza Dubai
What’s a Dubai trip without a night of revelry? Pacha is the name of everyone’s lips when it comes to nightclubs that stand a foot apart from the rest. And the Dubai chapter is as impressive as the rest, with groovy house music and amazing acrobatic displays. Located at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, the club comes with a Main Room, Red Room and Rooftop spread across three floors. Too expensive, you say? Well, you can afford to splurge a little since your flight tickets came so cheap!

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Dubai: The fog, the fort & the desert

I’ve been feeling uneasy about my travel articles lately. I keep asking myself – why should you, the reader, have any interest in what I have to say? As far as this post goes, I’m going to treat you to views of Dubai city, wrapped in thick clouds of morning fog. I’ll try to bring to life the wonder and excitement that courses through you during a desert safari. And I want to talk to you about why I loved Old Dubai and its fort-turned-museum so much. If that sounds interesting, please read on. Else, the mini-guide at the end of this post should help plan your trip to Dubai. I’m assuming that’s the reason you’re here. If not, please leave a comment and tell me what brought you to this article!

The fog

Fog at Crowne Plaza Dubai

I was in Dubai with friends to bring in 2017. The thick fog delayed our flight by over five hours, leaving us tired, sleepy and cranky when we arrived into the golden metropolis. But the silver lining to this was, I knew I was in for a rare treat in the morning. I made sure I hit the sack at a decent time on my first day in Dubai. At 7 AM the next morning, my friend and I descended the stairs of Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road in our pyjamas, camera and yawns in tow. But all our drowsiness vanished once we found ourselves in the nippy outdoors. The temperature was lovely – around 20 degree celsius. And the metro rail in the distance seemed to disappear into nothingness – so dense was the fog! But the biggest jolt we received was when we looked up – the top of our hotel and all the neighbouring buildings were shrouded in dreamy white fog. I’d never witnessed anything like it. Fog is something I associate with mountains and hill-stations – not bustling cities like Dubai. Go to Dubai in the peak of winter for the blankets of fog and the dipping thermometer.

Fog in Dubai

The fog was present well until mid-morning. When we reached Open Beach at Jumeirah at around 11am, the top of Burj Al Arab had been claimed by the fog. And that’s the only picture I might have captured, had the fog not eventually relented. Even so, there’s an ethereal glow to all my pictures of the Burj. And I’m not complaining.

Burj Al Arab at Open Beach, Dubai

The fort

I love museums and I knew had to go to Dubai Museum, housed within the 18th century Al Fahidi Fort and the oldest structure in the entire city. The moment we exited Al Fahidi metro station, I realised this was a Dubai I could learn to love. The sandstone streets of Old Dubai greeted my eye, lined with beautiful buildings sporting latticed walls. It was 10:30 AM in the morning and I was happy as only a traveller who has chanced upon a dear destination can be. It was a short walk to the museum and on the way, I spotted quaint grocery stores fragrant with the smell of Arabic coffee and dates.

Dhow outside Dubai Museum
This mahogany dhow stood tall outside the museum
Artifacts at Dubai Museum
While inside, we peeked into the life of the Bedouins.

Constructed from sea rocks and gypsum, the fort was originally built to defend Dubai and serve as a residence for the ruler. Restoration work on the fort was completed by 1994.

Dubai Museum
At the museum, lifelike men
Dubai Museum
and winged creatures
Dubai Museum
plunged us into the past.

The desert

You don’t realise just how unimaginably vast and magnificent the desert is, until you’re at its very core, your feet upon those countless grains of sand. In my travels, I’ve romanced mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and beaches galore. But never had I confronted the mystical beauty of the desert until Dubai. All my childhood memories of the Arabian Nights, ephemeral oases and genies swam before my eyes as I watched a herd of camels move leisurely in the distance.

Camels in the desert during desert safari at Dubai

But this was when I was standing on my own two feet. Just moments ago, I was being hurtled in all directions in a Toyota Land Cruiser, courtesy my very first desert safari. If you think roller coasters are scary, wait till you experience a desert safari. As the vehicle navigates the slopes and dunes of the desert, you’ll find the sky beneath you and the sands above you. Because direction and gravity are rendered meaningless in the course of dune bashing.

Quad biking area at desert safari, Dubai

The first stop we made was simply to drink in the golden glory of the desert and of course, click a few pictures. The second was to try our hands at quad biking. These are four wheeled vehicles that anyone (even children) can ride, on a single or double seater basis, to get a first-hand feeling of navigating the desert. But be warned, it can be quite expensive. I gave it a miss in favour of watching a marvellous sunset.

Desert safari in Dubai

Our desert safari concluded with a huge live entertainment and buffet dinner set-up, where I saw some couples enjoying camel rides in the last of the daylight. For a fee, you could also get yourself clicked with an eagle on your shoulder. The belly dancing was all right, as was the Egyptian dance and fire show but the highlight of the evening for me was the excellently flavoured shisha and the chance to dress up like an Arabian woman. Do expect to be wedged between hundreds of people when you end up at the desert barbeque dinner but then you can’t really leave Dubai without witnessing a belly dance in the midst of the desert.

Shisha or hookah at desert safari in Dubai

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My Dubai New Year

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.

Dubai itinerary in four days, things to do in Dubai
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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!

New Year fireworks at Burj Khalifa, Dubai

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.

Dhow cruise Dubai

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.

Burj Al Arab, as seen from Open Beach, Dubai

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.

View from Burj Khalifa

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.

Dinosaur skeleton at Dubai Mall

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.

Desert safari Dubai

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:

Dubai mini guide
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Bid goodbye to singledom at Dubai

Whether it’s your own last dance on the wild side or your best friend’s, Dubai is one place you should definitely consider if a foreign locale is what you’re looking at. I never had a very high opinion of Dubai as a travel destination until I began listening to the stories of a colleague who trots over to Dubai every few months. We’d all wonder – what was it that she liked about Dubai so much? When this colleague’s friend recently organised an engagement party, guess where they headed? That’s right, to the land of Burj Khalifa, Atlantis and other glittering man-made marvels. So here are five reasons why Dubai can be a great venue for the next bachelorette party you organise.

  1. It’s only 3-4 hours away from Mumbai/Delhi

That’s less than some of the locations within our own country! A foreign bachelorette party doesn’t get easier than this. What’s more, the visa process is also usually a breeze and can be done in a matter of days. I don’t know about you but it’s difficult for me to take more than a few days off at work. And if the travelling time itself is say 12 hours, that chips away a lot from the holiday. So Dubai is closer than a Thailand or Singapore even.

  1. It has got the BEST nightlife ever

Night life in Dubai

Everyone knows about Dubai’s famed shopping festivals. This dazzling city in the United Arab Emirates is also known for its happening night life. If you do end up having a bachelorette party here, you can head to Boracay Nightclub for a night of unforgettable dance and revelry. You can also plan an evening at 101 Dining Lounge & Bar or 360° Restaurant and Nightspot, both of which offer splendid views, music that will draw you to the dance floor and an ambience that is guaranteed to make your bachelorette party a night to remember.

  1. You can have a beach party…

Beaches in Dubai

Dubai has a wonderful coastline that serves as the setting for numerous luxury and boutique resorts. You might want to try Barasti, awarded Dubai’s Best Outdoor Bar of 2014 by Time Out magazine. They have a house band and an all-night beachside DJ. If you and your friends are water babies, you will love Dubai’s selection of luxurious beach clubs. Eden Beach Club at Palm Jumeirah, Jetty Lounge at Al Sufouh Road and Zero Gravity at Dubai Marina will all be glad to arrange a party you’ll be raving about for weeks.

  1. …Or a desert safari

Desert safari in Dubai

Personally, I’d prefer an adventurous night out on the desert. Stay the night at a desert resort and explore its gourmet desert dining options. The golden wood-fire ovens, the live entertainment, the aroma of hookah smoke and barbecue dinners – they’ll set the mood like nothing else. ‘Glamping’ or glamorous camping is also something that should be on your itinerary. The next day, you can go dune bashing or sand boarding where you’ll navigate the desert the way swimmers navigate the sea.

  1. You can pamper yourself at luxe spas

A girl who’s about to get hitched deserves a healthy dose of pampering, doesn’t she? Dubai is famous for its hammams, beauty baths that will leave you feeling like a queen from the Turkish era. Schedule a session at the One&Only Oriental Hammam, Tips & Toes or Saray Spa and ensure an extra sparkle to your bridal glow. All this pampering might put you in the mood for a private yacht cruise on the Arabian Gulf or a royal stay at the Burj Al Arab’s luxury suites.

The only catch is that Dubai can be a little hard on your pocket, especially for the more luxurious experiences. But a bachelorette party doesn’t happen every day; so I think it’s all right to splurge a little.

Want more ideas for your bachelorette, honeymoon or annual holiday?

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