Now, don’t start getting ideas that this is going to be a tedious narrative about some antiquated era. 302 was just my apartment number and AD is an acronym I would like to use for Abu Dhabi. Although AUH was more helpful while boarding a plane from Mumbai to the island capital, I find AD so much more definitive of Abu Dhabi. And thus, the acronym remains through out my writings.
Few months after our wedding my husband’s project landed us in AD and followed after that were a few memorable months in the wonderful city. Here, I share some impressions as a first time traveler to AD.
Interestingly, Abu Dhabi literally means Father of Gazelle. No, I didn’t see any of them trotting on the streets of AD. But, we were fortunate enough to spot a jolly pack in the Al-Ain zoo, a three-hour drive from the city.
A distinctive feature of the city is how modernity and tradition mix here. The traditional Kahva cups (Arabian coffee served in small cups without handles) can be still spotted, Dhow boats still float the Arabian waters and camel races are still very popular in the festival season. The spiffy Marina Mall on AD breakwaters is built like what seems to be an enormous Arabian tent. In the evenings, the brilliant blue waters of the Corniche shine against the imposing skyscrapers of the city.
Another striking feature of the place is its compact size. Home was never more than 10 min away. In contrast with this is another Major City, Dubai, where new buildings seem to be growing like mushrooms in rain. If the two cities could be described as persons AD would be the systematized and sober elder brother of Dubai. Although Dubai is a great place for recreation, AD is the place where one would love to live. No traffic jams, lesser crowds in malls, more quiet, more calm, more organized, and richer. Ok, maybe the last adjective is not what makes a place exactly homely for many but it is true that the AD State owns most of the oil in the Emirates. These are the same qualities that makes AD predictable, so if you are staying here for a long time it is necessary to make friends around the place and build a good social group. For a weekend getaway and to have your share of the fun you can take a bus or a taxi which will drop you to Dubai in a couple of hours.
On weekends AD too offers a myriad of opportunity for enjoyment like walks on the Corniche. I am told that the sea has been artificially pulled towards the shore. That makes the waters look like a gigantic swimming pool. Parks are in abundance here. The family park at Khalidiya Street was one that we visited often (no, they didn’t debar me from entering without a family). The project my husband was working on was in full swing at this time and there were days when we would manage just enough time for an enjoyable dinner at the park, sometimes accompanied by friends. BBQ smoke, football, frothy fountains, large families and clusters of friends made it an zestful experience.
The Zayed Sports City appealed more to our gamely spirit. It is located off the Airport Rd. and is good place for bowling, billiards, table tennis and ice-skating. For us it even offered a good walk. We took a taxi to the place only to discover later that because of its out of the way location there were none to be found on our way back!
If you’re looking for a little bit more of adventure you can make a detour off the highway and drive across the dunes for some sand dashing. Of course, the safer way will be to hire a four-wheel drive and a driver who knows around the place by getting in touch with desert safari organizers, like we did:-), always trust the professionls! It was a real roller coaster ride across the dunes until the driver serpented his way to a camp, which was in the middle of…actually nowhere! The bumpy camel rides, sand skiing, “sandy” dinner and watching the serenity of the big, blazing ball set into the sand made us forget all about how the we would find our way back. There were absolutely no visible landmarks in the middle of the desert, more so in the dark and the dunes kept changing shape because of the winds. But our deep trust vested in the professionals was not betrayed. Our driver knew his way around and we finally drove back to AD City.
The oil business brings in a lot of wealth into the UAE. The traces of this can be seen splashed everywhere… cars, restaurants, malls, homes and even having bizarre hobbies like keeping falcons as pets and to have special passports for them while travelling. These passports have details like name, age, and breed of the falcon, complete with a dainty picture of the old chap. While strolling in downtown AD I’ve seen shops that sell falcon gear. Now don’t ask me what I mean by gear because I’ve never been inside these shops, the latest in falcon fashion imported right from Italy? Hmmm… maybe next time I should stop by and see if they have something my size. Who knows the UAE version of FTV might be Falcon television!
Both, my husband and I are in love with the Arabian cuisine, be it Humus, lamb tikka, Fetteh, shawerma, fattoush… the list of mouthwatering chow goes on. The Lebanese and Egyptian restaurants were good in particular authentic eats. Most of the local restaurants have the option to eat out, under the crystal studded sky. Now this might sound very tempting but don’t even think of trying it in the summers. Yeah, you might ask… “How hot can a desert get?” Well, to be modest, it reaches a to a sweltering 45 degrees Celsius. Air conditioning is a basic necessity in this part of the globe.
There can be many types of luxuries in the world but can there be anything more extravagant than having your groceries delivered to your door? It was possible for me in AD. All you had to do was just to give a buzz to the local grocery store and they would run an errand for you and have anything delivered to your door. Even if it has to be a couple of cucumbers that you need for the salad at lunch but missed out on your shopping list. Plaudits to AD’s local grocery stores. You might have to bicker with the rather obtuse taxi drivers but grocery stores provide great service, not to mention our local Video parlor!
Spending Ramadhan in AD was a treat for the soul. It is an auspicious month and its reverence in local life shows. Work and school hours are modified and Ramadhan decoration adorns buildings. The evening taravi prayers allowed us to explore the magnificent mosques around the city. The grand mosque, which is under construction at the outskirts of the city, is said to soon stand as the largest one in the world. There is always a neighborhood mosque, which you can walk to. No matter how big or small it is it mostly has a ladies section.
Seems like this turned out more to be chronicles of living outside apartment no. 302 rather than in. This is what happens you don’t put things on paper soon enough. Next time I write a travelogue, I’ll write it while traveling, just to keep the spontaneity alive. An appreciation expressed for all writers who write their accounts as they happen. Rather contrary to Mr. Wordsworth’s theory that emotions are best when recollected in tranquility!