• Lavanya Nair

Dubai: Humble Beginnings to Bustling Metropolis

Acknowledged as one of the most luxurious cities in the world, Dubai boasts impressive sky scrapers, extravagant hotels and magnificent landscapes. It comes as no surprise that a high quantity of tourists seek the sweltering heat and sandy beaches complete with cerulean waters over the gloomy, torrential climate, for which the West, specifically the UK, is notorious. When one recalls this modern paradise, its arduous journey to develop from barren deserts to a highflying cosmopolitan haven, is frequently ignored. Fortunately, Dubai preserves their history through unique platforms that have been both informative as well as entertaining.

jensimon7 | Flickr

Pioneered by the Maktoum family in 1833, the Bani Yas tribe made the voyage across the UAE (later officially formed in 1971) and settled near the creek of Dubai. With its spacious square footage, coupled with natural resources, the concept of a harbor was thus conceived with fishing, pearling and sea trade forming its main exports. By the turn of the 20th century, the port had rapidly gained exposure, with over 350 marketplaces setting up in the vicinity. Approximately 20,000 of the population were in fact, expatriates, proving that Dubai has always acted as a diverse getaway, enticing foreigners with its economic stability and lax laws surrounding taxes. The city was able to strengthen its position as a central hub when the creek was eventually dredged in the 1950’s by the late ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. The fortunate discovery of oil in 1966, ultimately led to the construction of safer infrastructure, schools, hospitals and the expansion of the Dubai international airport.

Many can immerse themselves in the history of Dubai by visiting one of its oldest buildings, The Bastakia Quarter; a respected cultural heritage site that was constructed during the 19th century by the Persians. Hence the name, taken from the eponymous town in southern Iran. The picturesque monuments have since been declared a conservation site where tourists can now roam the pedestrianized alleys and admire several restored buildings featuring wind towers, an ingenious creation that functioned as a ventilation system. The sandy edifices are homes to a select few; however, others have been exposed to the public. These include the Dubai Museum, an aromatic Arabian tea house, and galleries showcasing the most obscure yet breathtaking masterpieces from artists all over the world.

Ideal for those in awe of the culture, customs and religion that dominate the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding strives to spread awareness of these concepts by offering an impressive range of lectures and exhibits, all focusing on the topics of Islam and the UAE while sampling a traditional Arabic breakfast and listening to natives demystify certain cultural customs. They operate under the philosophy and motto ‘Open doors, open minds,’ allowing people to curb that inquisition at an open Q&A discussion” Moreover, any female tourists can wear hijabs; the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women. This is the ideal opportunity to become culturally enlightened in an innovative manner, a definite motive for visiting the Bastakia Quarter.

Clémence Jacqueri | Wikimedia

Explore the traditional markets in Bur Dubai, known as Souks; home to an array of stores selling fabrics and footwear along with souvenirs and clothes. The shops in Bur Dubai’s Textile Souk are thought to be a treasure trove of textiles, exuberant bursts of color, textures and handmade weaves from around the world. Peruse the souk (Arabic word for market) and purchase ornate ornaments to adorn your shelves along with fascinating pieces of haberdashery including shimmering threads and velvety materials. With a lot to choose from, a customer’s options are limitless while the art of negotiation can easily be harnessed so as to secure the best price. Any travelers with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge will also flock to the informative site of the Dubai Heritage village, in search of the traditional ways of life and origins of this beautiful city. Built in 1997 at the Al Shindagha historic neighborhood, the village’s main aim was to display the traditional customs, traditions, professions and local craftsmanship of the country.

The Heritage Village is visited by many who have a great opportunity to live and familiarize themselves with the different styles of local life. Moreover, the visitors obtain an insight into how the different professions are practiced and carried out. The village is a host to a traditional medicine clinic during the tourist season between October and March allowing patients the chance to be treated by homeopathic doctors, retaining a legacy of experience and expertise. Don’t miss the chance to buy a handmade trinket from gifted craftsmen who dabble in whistle making, jewelry making and cotton trading. The visitors can also enjoy live performances of Arabian folklore such as Razfa, Ayyala, Harbeya and El-Dan, in addition to the dances that root back to Africa.

Over the years, Dubai has managed to undergo a complete metamorphosis with its greatest step forward, being the strategic move to enter the tourism industry. Since then the city continues to be a foreigner’s paradise with its lenient regulations on religion and dress codes, paradoxically standing out against the otherwise strict rules of its neighboring nations that make up the UAE.

Lavanya Nair

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