The year is 2007- our first visit to the granary of wealth in the world – Abu Dhabi– the Capital of the United Arab Emirates. In less than an hour’s drive from the periphery of Dubai cruising at over 120 miles speed on the black carpet dotted with white lines laced with the giant chandelier ( type) lights and bordered on both sides with the golden colored sand dunes- a straight lift from the Arabian Nights story! We three – daughter, wife and I were visiting my sister and b-in-law and were going to spend the weekend with them. Our closest pals in Dubai-the 3S’s (refer my blog on Dubai) drove us down.
It was dusk and the sun was hitting the horizon and we could see from a distance the glitter of the lights in the city ahead of us. No sooner we crossed the AD Intl. airport, we entered the city- a very unassuming place for the Capital of a kingdom- a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Dubai. The landmark that was told to us was a particular road and the house was situated near HSBC Bank and Etisalat. Believe me, it is not an exaggeration, every four, five blocks had either a HSBC Bank or an Etisalat- remember it was the time when GPS was either not in vogue or in a primitive stage or unheard of by me. True as a gentleman, I agree. It was the third option! Ignorance is a bliss- oh. What a maxim? I was thoroughly enjoying the ride and it was the driver who had to search out for the place which we ultimately reached. Not much later, after a good supper, we hit the sack.
As if my mission at AD was to eat, eat all the time, the next couple of days went on in eating spree at home, various joints, restaurants. My sister and B-i-L introduced to me the array of breads in the pride of AD-the Marina Mall. It was there I had the first taste of croissant and ever since, I am a great fan of it. I would have gobbled hundreds of its cousins in any part of the globe from then on, but the first taste still lingers in my mouth! The sea adjacent to the mall – a shallow, calm, pristine, greenish-bluish or was it bluish-greenish water, warm sun combined with a cool breeze (?!!) and the adjoining creek- what a ‘wow’ experience!
The under construction massive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a revered place of worship for the Islam brethren was upcoming in right earnest.
An hour’s drive towards Oman zooming down the freeway, sand dunes and palm-lined greenways along the flat desert plains suddenly gives way to a rocky mountain rising spectacularly out of the flatness- the second highest mountain peak of U.A.E.-the Jebel Hafeet– shows its first appearance. What amazes is the drive on the mountain-certainly we can play Jenga inside the car while travelling-such is the perfection! The greatest road I have seen till date in all these years of crisscrossing many parts of the world-the precision is that one will never feel the long snaking ascent. This is where most of the car chasing sequence in the Hindi movie ‘Race’ was filmed.
The mountain straddles the borders of neighboring Oman. The rays of the evening sun reflect on the slopes of the mountain and makes it glitter like gold. Watching the sunset from the summit in the chattering cold (remember deserts are hot during days and chill during nights) is an extraordinary experience -the sun will turn orange, orangeee, orangeeeee and suddenly dark red and when you are thinking that you’ll witness it go down in the distant horizon, it will suddenly wane from 1/4th of a distance from the horizon and disappear! Not much activities on the top. While returning to the base, yet another surprise awaited us in Green Mubazzarah-the play park created around the natural hot springs that is channelized through the length and breadth of the area. It is beyond expression how the hot water soothes the skin after exposure to the chillness on the mountain.
In my latest visit to Abu Dhabi a couple of years back much more changes were visible. The traffic was much dense …the Etihad planes were seen lined up in more numbers than ever. The name etched on the aircrafts in golden color remind us that we are in the land of the Midas touch – all that is ventured in this place turns massive wealth!!
The Ferrari world-a theme park in Abu Dhabi is a new addition in the past few years and is the world’s largest! All around the place is a lush greenery-and we are in the middle of a desert where temperature hovers 105 degrees on a normal sunny day!! The Italians have their way of showcasing their products-the big red dome matching their prestigious car, Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster which touches 60 miles/hour in 2 seconds after it blasts from its den. Even watching it brought my heart out and for once I was convinced that I really had my grey matter working perfectly in choosing not to “ride the lightning”!!
If the Italians have their way, will the French be left behind? Wondering what? The French has brought in what they love the most- you have guessed it right!! It is the Arts. Our hosts had planned for a trip to the prestigious Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. Honestly, I was not very keen in visiting the place as I had spent hours together in Musée du Louvre -Paris a few years earlier. I vividly remember my embarrassed daughter kept chiding me for chain-linked yawning (?!!) – at one point of time she shook me up vehemently to wake me up (!!!) I seemed to have snoozed-off in my standing posture – a real competition to a horse. All the while, the French artist-who was our tour guide in Louvre-Paris was enthralled in his own world of explaining the finesse of art. So that much is my love for arts and painting!!!
As usual I was vetoed down. and as a good lad I proceeded on to L-AD.
As the first outpost of Louvre outside France, the Louvre Abu Dhabi stands on the water front of the man-made Saadiyat island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. The WOW amazement begins there! Somebody keeps busy always to delight the rest of his brethren. A huge silvery tortoise hood-shaped structure gleaming in the desert sun was visible from a distance. As we neared and neared the magnificence also grew. It is a dome built in Middle-East style. It is not just a random structure. Lots of geometric theories are involved in it…I will skip the technical details as it is over my head. Two things I understood on the whole was that : First : when sunlight filters through, it creates a moving ‘rain of light’ beneath the dome, reminiscent of the overlapping palm trees in the UAE’s oasis and would bring cool breeze inside. Second: No scientific details will filter into the walnut-like substance I have on my top!
Visitors will be able to walk through the promenades overlooking the sea beneath the museum’s 180-metre dome, comprised of almost 8,000 unique metal stars set in a complex geometric pattern dome. An engineering marvel indeed. The inside of the sprawling one lakh square meter museum brims with planetary cultures beyond the seas and centuries. These span the entirety of human existence: from prehistorical objects to commissioned contemporary artworks, highlighting universal themes and ideas and marking a departure from traditional museography that often separates according to origin. That much for a museum.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque had opened its massive doors for believers of other faiths also on specific times in a day. Only persons with visionary thinking can even plan such a mammoth project-how it has been executed is another amazement. The tall minarets, the h..i..g..h domes, the huge, elegant, multi-colored embossed glass panes, the cushioning carpets laid for several square meters-it has a class in everything. The ‘noisiest” noise in the premises is when our diaphragm contracts and relaxes!!
Many things would have changed, new things would have come, some may be non-existent now-this is just a summarization of the Gulf I know for the past 14 years or so. When I read through the above ,I feel what I have left out to record here is plenty than what I have covered….Had I been a good editor,I would have pruned it..but as what enormous the Dubai and the rest of UAE is, I am letting it untouched!!
Till I lace up for the next…