For most of my trip to Dubai, I was struggling to make sense of the city. The dazzling lights of the skyscrapers and the hustling cities appeared to me like an attempt to a desperate call to the world – we have arrived, we are the city of the future, the city of business, the city of gold and so forth – the list to me seemed endless. But I was curious for more. Certainly it can’t be just that! I said to myself. I took it upon myself to discover Dubai beyond its malls, its hotels, and upscale restaurants. I wanted to understand the evolution of the city, and more importantly, its past and its cultural heritage.
I began my exploration with the Dhow Cruise Creek of Dubai. I was curious for anything traditional, and so a natural choice for me was the dhow – the traditional Arabic name for sailing vessels. Historians debate whether the dhow was originally invented by the Indians or by the Arabs. I would give to the Arabs, for the simple reason that they’ve managed to assert it as part of their identity more than us. The other choice one has in Dubai is to take the Dhow Cruise Marina which tours the relatively modern parts of Dubai.
And once upon the Dhow, I knew instinctively that I liked what I saw. The cruise offered me a chance to locate tradition in the corridors of Dubai’s skyscrapers. It gave me an entrance to the traditional gold markets or Dubai Gold Souks. Contrary to my Indian roots, I’m not fond of wearing gold but the sight of gold in the markets was breathtakingly beautiful.
I concluded my trip with a quick visit to the Dubai Museum housed in the Al Fahidi Fort of Dubai. Built in 1787, the fort stands to be the oldest building of Dubai.
It is in the Museum that I made sense of Dubai. Dubai chose to recall its history in simple way – Life before the discovery of oil and life after the discovery of oil. Before the discovery of oil, Dubai traditionally was a port, a gold trading hub and site for discovery of pearls. For most part there was unrest given the tribal fights for supremacy and foreign attacks. The Emirati national dance too is essentially a sword dance – a glimpse of what I saw in through a video in the museum. It was with the discovery of oil paved the way to Dubai as we know today.
The rest of the museum contains mannequins that depicted life in the old Dubai. It was quaint, relaxed and what seemed like really hospitable. A certain part of me almost prayed to be walking in on the streets of Dubai in the early 1900s to truly appreciate the time travel Dubai has endured.
As I concluded my solo tour, I was happy that I did. I had eventually managed to look beyond the corridors of the skyscrapers to find what I call the that part of Dubai that seemed to have got lost in the concrete – preserved albeit although only through mannequins.