Sunday, March 30, 2014

Abu Dhabi 2014

For my official trip to Bentonville, our office travel agent told me that the cheapest airline that i can use is Etihad airways. I had not tried Etihad before and as always I was open to try it out. A quick check at its website showed that they are sponsoring a free 96 hr visa. I immediately signed up for a quick two day visit during my return journey.

To begin with, the free 96 hr thing was a trap as they only had couple of hotel options to book and both were incredibly expensive. Nevertheless, i was in this now and i went ahead. I picked the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Abu Dhabi which boasts of an 18 degree incline. See pic -

The question that comes to my mind is Why? Because We can- Is this answer good enough? As I was to discover, this was a recurring question during my stay at Abu Dhabi. Since i had not planned my stay, i utilized my jet lag to research on things to do here. 

My day began by walking on the Promenade. It is a nice 6 km long board walk, next to a greenish blue bay and white sand, along with neatly trimmed trees, and a sky blue trail. UAE, all said and done, is an Islamic nation and it is indeed striking to see how they have blended their traditions with modernity. UAE has borrowed criminal law from United States but their civil law is the Sharia law. Their beaches are clean, roads broad and well planned. There is a rule of law and citizens respect it. Most of my cab drivers were Keralites and a huge Kerala population is visible. Their malls have all the brand outlets including Starbucks and a Victoria Secret store. As expected, i did not see any woman in Burkha in the mall but it was filled with tourists/westerners. They must be the intended audience.

Marina mall boasts of an ice skating rink inside it. An ice skating arena in a desert. Opulence is the operative word. Nobody who walks into the mall can be termed poor or even middle class. These guys have money and they are not afraid to throw it on things that they want to do. As I roamed the mall, i was hoping to get an autehntic Arabic cuisine for lunch but all i saw was pastas, stylish cafes and even Indian stalls. Finally, i found a persian restaurant on the top most floor and it was worth the effort.

Like a typical tourist, I signed up for the Desert Safari. Our first stop was a camel farm which is basically a 'tabela' where camels are kept. My co-tourists took out their cameras and started shooting these docile creatures from all angles as if they are about to be chosen for Miss Camel Universe competition. The next thing in the list was Dune Bashing, a fancy term where they drive Toyota Land Cruisers,  with deflated tires to increase friction, on the dunes of desert. Why o why? The desert is a beautiful landscape. Wind is always blowing and the landscape changes every day as winds rearrange the design of its living room. Dune bashing felt like an assault. Adventure ride it was for my co-passengers but to me, it was just driving on a road-less road. Hey, I have lived in Chattisgarh and have seen similar potholes in my life time for an adventure ride. Apparently, it is a spectacle that is enjoyed by many.

On the way to this Dune bashing event, some 85 kms outside the city limits, we saw a belt of green trees towards our right. The belt remained with us for about 50kms. On closer examination revealed big black hoses running parallel to us with an end point at every tree. This was an artificial forest where water was sent from Abu Dhabi. A colossal expenditure to see greenery. Sheikh has a lot of money. 

Our dinner was at a resort in the middle of a desert. I rejected quad biking, camel riding etc to climb the tallest dune in the vicinity. Climbing on sand is an interesting experience and it is not so easy either. Dinner was ok and was followed by a belly dancing performance. The weather that day was extraordinarily delightful. It even poured few drops of rain and cool mist winds were hitting our face. Belly dancing was cool. After the dance performance, the organizers switched off all the lights and asked us to experience the stillness of desert. This will remain as the most interesting highlight of this trip. With such cool winds, desert all around, pitch dark and silence, it was a meditative experience.

My next day was on a hop on hop off bus. Since it was a Friday, most of the shops were closed in the morning. I was also tired of traveling and hence went for a film instead. Crappy film. Hop op hop off bus showed me a lot of Abu Dhabi. Well maintained, money well spent, or atleast much better when compared to other Islamic nations. The heritage village with its ancient tents and artifacts was a nice way to end this visit. Grand Mosque was something that i had to miss because it was closed on Friday.

Overall, i may not visit this city again. Even with so much open spaces, proper town planning, law and order ,cafes, book shopes etc, I do not see myself living in this city. Something i learnt about myself. It is a city that asks you to be rich. Unfortunately, I do not have any such ambition, atleast not deliberate. 

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