Emaar’s flagship project, the Burj Khalifa tower, was officially opened on January 4, 2010 on the anniversary of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s accession. It tops out above 800m tall – making it now the world’s tallest tower, this image I shot opening night. Some 10,000 fireworks helped mark the topping-off of the $1.5 billion reflective-glass tower designed by Adrian Smith of Chicago-based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Originally named Burj Dubai, it was rechristened Burj Khalifa on opening night, in honor of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi.
As residents, we sometimes just don’t notice it any more, $400,000 Rolls-Royce Phantoms cruising confidently down Sheikh Zayed Rd, construction workers in dirty blue coveralls, who wait in packs by the side of the road for the buses that take them deep into the desert each night to the camps they call home, seven star hotels, Gold-Dispensing ATM Machines, hardly cause for a second glance in Dubai.
But Burj Khalifa, is worth a second look.
The tower and the downtown area billed as the as ‘the most prestigious square kilometer on earth’ (it’s first tenant the one and only Armani Hotel) is really quite a sight.
Drive through downtown, early morning, before the sun is high and you can see armies of labourers, scrubbing the pavement edges with soap and water and tickling the plants and road posts with their feather dusters. The area doesn’t really have character, but there is something… Neighbours say ‘hi’ to each other – a real community feel (rare in Dubai), Art Gallerys have opened, pretty road side cafés are springing up and the new Pavillion - the city’s newest dedicated non-profit contemporary art space, just across the road from BK providing a place to view, discuss and participate in works by local and international artists. You can have lunch there, or just open up your mac and sit and work there for the day (forgotten your power cord, no problem, there will be at least 20 or more other people more than willing to lend you one, need to make a phone call, just take a stroll and admire the art whilst you talk), it is a restaurant, a cinema, a library, an espresso bar, a shisha café and lounge, a place to network, or simply a nice place to just sit and look at the most impressive tallest building in the world.
Abra’s will take you across Dubai Creek for a Dirham! Historically, the creek divided the city into two main sections – Deira and Bur Dubai. It was along the Bur Dubai creek area that members of the Bani Yas tribe first settled in the 19th century, establishing the Al Maktoum dynasty in the city. Whilst parking near to Bur Dubai can be a little bit tricky, it’s well worth it. The abra stations are a hustle and bustle of people and the ride across takes a few minutes but you’ll get to see a great view of the Creek, you’ll mingle with locals of all nationalities and the odd tourist and you will save time trying to get across one of the cities busy bridges. Try it, it’s fun and gives you a great excuse to visit the spice souk or gold souq, or just to have a walk around Deira to take in the sights. Close to Bur Dubai Abra station is the Creekside market and a few minutes further along – Bastakiya, in the opposite direction, is the heritage area which currently is being renovated and restored just close to the big Carrefour store – you can have a lovely sunset walk here at the side of the Creek and see some of the original houses from the times before oil and money. Try a romantic Abra sunset ride, just you and the driver, you won’t regret it.
If you’ve ever wondered around the lovely Bastakiyah area, near the Creek, you will most definitely have come across the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. It is a non-profit organisation established to increase awareness and understanding between the various cultures that live in Dubai. Operating under the banner of ’Open doors, Open Minds’ the SMCCU strives to remove barriers between people of different nationalities and raise awareness of the local culture, customs and religion of the United Arab Emirates.
Keep your eye on the website as there are many great activities you can get involved in, most popular is the Jumeirah Mosque visit, the Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai which is open to the public and dedicated to receiving non-Muslim guests. It is a unique opportunity to learn about Emirati culture and religion in a relaxed, casual and open atmosphere at this landmark mosque. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10am.
Also, try the traditional Emirati breakfast or lunch in the ambience of the Bastakiya house, a typical original old wind tower house. If you do you will meet my good friend Nasif – the General Manager… You will enjoy a meal with local flair while chatting with an Emirati host about UAE culture, customs and religion. Breakfasts are hosted every Monday and Wednesday at 10am, and lunches are hosted every Sunday and Tuesday at 1pm – these are particularly enjoyable.
However, the reason for my post – Cultural Iftar. During the Holy Month of Ramadan, which is going to be upon us very soon, you can join SMCCU for a Cultural Iftar, held in the courtyard of the wind-tower house in the heart of historical Bastakiya, Old Bur Dubai, the evening will commence after the athan (the call to prayer) at sunset. Break the fast with your Emirati hosts and enjoy Arabic coffee and dates, then take a moment to watch your hosts pray before Iftar is served. You are invited to ask any questions you may have about Ramadan, the culture or the traditions of the UAE. After Iftar, a visit to the Bastakiya Mosque, before returning to SMCCU house for dessert and Arabic coffee. The event will commence approximately 15 minutes before the call to prayer every night from Friday 5th August until Monday 29th August. Let me know if you go, would love to hear your feedback.
Grass growing wild, natural running water, palm trees left to grow any which way, dates hanging, nearly ready for harvest, where could it be?!!?
Certainly not Dubai, the grass would be all the same length, the palm trees would be perfectly tall and straight.
Drive out of Al AIn towards Dubai and Hili Oasis is the last Oasis you will see in the garden city on your right – it is located north east of downtown Al Ain. Starting from Bin Rayeh al Darmaki Tower (Rumailah Tower) on Mohammed bin Khalifa Street between Bani Yas and Al Athar Streets. Just last week Unesco has named Al Ain as a world heritage site because of its oases, its traditional falaj irrigation system and its historical and archaeological importance. The National Council for Tourism and Antiquities (NCTA) and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), have announced the registration of Al Ain as the first Emirati site on the World Heritage List. Mohammad Khalaf Al Mazroui, Director-General of ADACH, said work is underway to preserve several fortresses and historical places, including the Jahili mosque and fortress, and Bin Hadi House in the Hili Oasis, along with dozens of other archaeological sites and historical buildings. He said work is also underway to revive the original use of the buildings and to re-dedicate them to their original purposes (such as the old traditional market in Al Qattarah). Al Mazroui underlined that Al Ain residents maintain old social customs and examples of these include the wedding celebrations, Bedouin hospitality, falconry and camel races. ”The rapid development of this nation does not prevent the preservation of its heritage,” the ADACH director-general said.
Water has shaped the oasis culture of the Hili Oasis and allowed the civilisation around it to thrive for millennia. Through a vast and complex water management system, large extensions of land were farmed, larger populations were sustained, and surplus crops were traded, thus establishing Al Ain as a major crossing point in trade routes between Persia, Arabia, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.
Hili is the second largest oasis in Al Ain covering a surface area of about 62 hectares. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Hili region has been inhabited and farmed since the Iron Age (1200 BCE). Not only were palm trees grown but also vegetables, fruits, and cereals. The oasis and its falaj system were of such importance to the families living there that they built two defensive watchtowers for protection. A number of historic mud brick buildings also survive within the oasis.
Sit for a while in Hili Oasis, under a date palm tree. I honestly think it is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places i have ever visited in the Emirates.
No road noise, no buildings, nobody!
Beware though, your peace may be interrupted, by a date dropping on your head!
Jazirat Al Hamra, a haunted village - an undisturbed picture of life before oil.
It appears that few people these days know about Jazirat Al Hamra, the little deserted village south of Ras Al Khaimah town. It’s the ancestral home of the Zaabi family (or tribe) who left Ras Al Khaimah following an ongoing dispute with the ruler and were given housing in Abu Dhabi by Sheikh Zayed. Living in Abu Dhabi, the family still retained title to their houses, which stand today in the middle of the huge Al Hamra tourism and leisure development, surrounded by big hotels, golf courses and man-made lagoons. It’s a sort of Freej moment, the little single-story houses surrounded by towering development. It’s rumoured that everyone stays away from Jazirat Al Hamra because of the djinn.
The coastal village is a delight to wander around, old style coral and adobe houses with their rooms all leading off a central courtyard, often with a henna tree at its centre. There’s an old mosque there, its minaret a dumpy little thing in which the muezzin would stand and sing out above the rooftops.
We left before sunset fearing the djinn.