The traveller in me hates letting a long weekend go by without a plan. I always try and make most of it. But, they can be stressful. While you want to make the most of it, there is always that sense of inertia to plan for travel. There are a lot of things you need to take into consideration – cost, travel time, time to experience the place you’re traveling to, the accommodation, itinerary and the list goes on. So, I’m going to make it easy for you by penning down a ready-reckoner itinerary. For anyone looking for a good quick vacation from India, UAE is a pretty good bet for 4-5 days.
Dubai, the capital of the Emirate of Dubai, is one of the seven Emirates that make up the country. While there are several theories for the name of the city, it is said to be derived from an Arabic proverb “Daba Dubai” that means “they come with a lot of money”, need I say anymore? A city with a meagre population of 20,000 as late as the 1950s struck their jackpot when they found oil in the 1960s. However, now their main source of income is Tourism and aviation and Oil barely constitutes 5% of their national income.
Since I was planning for a trip on my own, a lot of reservations came up on whether Dubai is a safe place for a solo women traveller, but rest assured that there are absolutely no concerns. Dubai is a city that is up until 3 am and as long as you respect their religion and laws, you have nothing to fear as a tourist.
The beauty about UAE is you get a glimpse of what to expect even before you land. The terrain and the landscape changes so dramatically that it gets you all piqued even before you touchdown.
Day 1: Old Dubai and Deira
On landing, I headed straight to the hotel to check in, dropped my bags, grabbed my camera, maps and was off on foot to explore the old Dubai. Staying in Bur Dubai, this part of town was closest and most accessible.
I started off with the Dubai Museum learning more about this history of the small tribe that was nothing but a mere trade hub. Learning interesting facts and exploring the Al Fahidi fort, I moved on to walk by the streets and came by the Grand Mosque. One thing to note is that not all mosques are open to tourists or women. So, I had to take my fill of this architecture from outside and I made my way in the generic direction of the Dubai creek.
Dubai and Deira are two districts on either side of the creek. While you can cab it up to the other side of the creek, if you are up for an adventure, there are 1 Dirham dhows (boats in Arabic) that ply from one side of the creek to another. I stumbled upon these dhows by mistake and before I knew where I was, I was ushered to take my seat in the dhow. It was a beautiful ride across the creek.
From the drop off, the gold souk is a good 1.5-2kms walk by the creek. The difference between the two districts is stark. Two minutes in Deira and you think you are walking in an isolated town, I later realised it could partially be because it was a Friday. But as I walked through those streets, it was a continuous feeling of maybe I shouldn’t be here. The feeling soon vanished when I reached the souks. Bustling with activities the souks are a delight to see even if you have no interest in purchasing what they have to offer. The jewellery shimmered in all colours of the precious stones. I slowly made my way to spice souk and was blown away by the sheer number of spices they had on display and this is an Indian talking. I made some purchases of Arabic coffee and delicious dates and made my way back to the hotel.
For the evening, I had booked the ‘Dhow Cruise’ a dinner on a cruise in the Marina for the night. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the start point of the cruise in the Marina. The cruise by Rayna tours was so shoddily managed that they had overbooked for the night with no tables available for guests. After that crisis was managed, we set sail on the Marina. They had a small entertainment arranged for the evening with a Tanoura Dancer (Read More about that here) and a buffet dinner. The cruise was beautiful with a lovely view of the scenic skyline in Dubai that puts you in awe.
Day 2: Al Bastakiya and Desert Safari
I had pre-booked a Desert Safari from the hotel that was to begin at 2 pm on my second day, so I decided to finish my round up of Old Dubai. Al Bastakiya is one of the most engaging beautiful neighbourhood in Dubai lined with merchant houses, art galleries and boutique cafes and restaurants. Known to have been set up as Trader’s marketplace for Traders from Bastak, Iran it gives a beautiful flavour of the Old Dubai architecture and their ways of life. Coincidentally the day I visited Al Bastakiya was the first day of Sikka Art Fair in Dubai and I had the opportunity to meet the best artists from across the globe displaying their beautiful masterpieces. I almost didn’t want to leave the quarters.
But since all good things had to come to an end, I made my back to the hotel for the most coveted “Desert Safari”. We were picked up by a driver and a group of 6 of us headed out to the desert which was approximately 1.5 hours away from the city. In no time the landscape changed from skyscrapers so sand dunes as far and wide as the eyes could see. We stopped over at a pitstop where the air from the land cruisers tyres were removed to reduce resistance from the soft sands before we headed out into the desert. We had a tumultuous ride up and down the dunes for a good hour that can make a normal non-motion sick person queasy. It was thoroughly enjoyable, better than most roller coasters I must say. We were then taken to a desert camp where we watched a beautiful sunset followed by campfire, more Tanoura and belly dancing. A completely fulfilling day I must say
Day 3: Jumeirah, Dubai Mall & The Burj Khalifa
Enough of the old Dubai, it was time to visit Dubai for the places it has become popular for I said on the third day. I quickly made my way beginning with Mall of the Emirates then over to Madinat Jumeriah. Madinat Jumeirah was a manmade shopping arcade created to look like Venice. It was a confluence of the Arabic and Venetian architecture and what more you could take a Gondola from one side to the other to shop more.
I picked up most of our souvenirs here for a reasonable bargain and headed to the Jumeirah beach. It was a beautiful shore line with the Burj Al Arab standing tall in the background.
I then made my way back to the Metro to reach Dubai Mall in time to go up to the Burj Khalifa. I had purchased tickets for the sunset time to the 125th floor also known as At the Top. While all during the three days, I could see glimpses of the tower from all part of the city, I was curious to see what the view offered from the top. I made it to the long lift lines and was up 125 floors within 60 seconds as propagated. The ride up is smooth and you wouldn’t even realise the ascent if it weren’t for your ears popping out every third floor. The 360-degree observatory was on the 124th floor and you could see the whole skyline from out there. Very honestly, the view was substandard, the cruise gave you a better view of the skyline than this. You could see under construction buildings far and beyond, the Burj Al Arab again and more buildings by EMAAR group. I watched the setting sun slip by the tall buildings and made my way back to the Dubai Mall in an hour and a half.
The mall is just like other things in Dubai, man-made, massive and obscenely huge. They have an underwater aquarium in the mall where people can go diving, so you get the picture. There will not be one brand you can name that was not available there. Be it accessories, clothes, footwear, bags, every brand from every part of the world is available in this mall.
As I got exhausted with the shopping bags and the swiping of the credit cards, I made my way to the ground floor of the mall to catch the sound and light show at the fountain. And that’s when I saw the Burj Khalifa standing so tall you had to strain your neck to see the tip of the tower shimmer between the clouds. It was a magnificent view that leaves you spellbound. The fountain show is a brief 10 minute spectacle every twenty minutes that only adds to the glitz and the glamour of the Khalifa.
Day 4: Jumeirah Mosque and More shopping
The thing about small vacations is that they get over before you know it. I was to leave by the evening flight and I had only the morning to spare for more sightseeing, I decided to take the tour of the Jumeirah Mosque run by the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding every morning at 10 AM. You do not need to register in advance, you can just reach the mosque 15-20 minutes before and get the ticket. The volunteers at the center take you through the Mosque and the Islamic rituals and the architecture of the mosque for 90 minutes. It is an interesting experience for sure. After last minute shopping, it was time to bid farewell to the action-packed adventurous trip to Dubai.
Things that I could not cover:
- Palm Jumeirah and the Monorail to Atlantis
- Miracle Garden
- Wild Wadi Park and
- Other Emirates including Abu Dhabi
Tentative Cost Breakdown
Things to remember in Dubai:
- Cabs are cheaper than Uber. Always use RTA cabs
- The Metro is quite expensive if you are travelling across zones. For shorter distances, it is equivalent to cabs as the minimum ticket is 8 dirhams
- Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere so you need to carry around very limited cash
- There are simply no liquor shops in the city. So, if you enjoy a drink, it is recommended you buy from the Duty free for the duration of your stay
- For those travelling from India, shopping in malls is expensive. Most brands are available at much lower deals in India. However, the range available is huge so take time out to find things not available here to make it worth the price
- Food for vegetarians is not a problem. Many Indian restaurants can be found in almost all tourist places
- Activities are quite expensive and must be booked in prior notice. So, make sure you plan your itinerary before-hand.
- Beware of Knock-offs. Dubai is known for cheap knockoffs of all brands under the sun