The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is a federation of seven emirates situated in the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula and lies partially on the Arabian Gulf and partially on the Gulf of Oman. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates and the others are Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. The country attained independence in 1971. Since then the UAE has grown from strength to strength, and year after year the global visitor finds new landmarks to visit. The dunes, the camels, the creeks and wadis have always been there but the malls, the Atlantis, the Dubai Marina, the Palm Jumeirah (an artificial archipelago shaped like a palm tree) and the Burj al Arab, the iconic seven star hotel , all these have appeared one by one on the desert scene.
The Burj Khalifa at 829.8 metres the tallest man-made structure in the world, constructed at the peak of the global recession at a cost of $1.5 billion, proudly proclaims the confidence of the rulers in the future of the nation. The Dubai Metro was also completed during that phase, in 2009 to be precise. The driverless rail network is a boon to the citizens as it makes travel a lot easier and cost effective. The metro stations are world class.
On my last visit to the UAE a fortnight ago, I made two spectacular discoveries - the Miracle Garden in Dubai and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The Grand Mosque is other-worldly in its design, and is maintained with superhuman devotion.
I had to wear the abhaya to be allowed entry. Since I had a dupatta I was given an abhaya without the mandatory hoodie. ‘Just cover your head,’ they advised me. It was the UAE National Day and I had to stand in queue for a good 20 minutes to collect the abhaya. I think if my kurta had had full sleeves they would have let me go in without the abhaya. I’ll remember that next time.
The mosque is all white marble and gold with opulent inlays of leaves and petals. The world’s largest carpet is laid out here. The chandeliers are stunning. The cameras and air-conditioner vents are invisible. The lighting is perfect. The central courtyard is all marble.
Arabic inscriptions are all over the place. On a wall with many hexagonal flowery patterns there is only one blank hexagon, while the others have something written on them. They say you have to look at the blank hexagon and pray – and your wish is sure to be granted. I did just that. I’ll let you know when the boon is granted.
The grand mosque is closed on Fridays. On other days it's open to all. No discrimination on the basis of religion or gender.
Dubai’s Miracle Garden is really a miracle. You have to see it to believe it. Right there in the middle of the Arabian Desert is a sprawling garden with the most exotic flowers of all hues and sizes. How they manage to grow and maintain the plants in the blazing heat is a real wonder.
It was so hot (in December!) that we found it hard to stand out in the sun and look at the flowers. To tell the truth we rushed around as quickly as we could and left the place within an hour because we couldn’t bear the heat. So how do those delicate flowers, those exquisite creations of god, survive in the intense heat? Your guess is as good as mine.