Pointing out through the window of his living room, G said, See that building there, the one with all the cranes…. that is going to be the tallest building in the world. I am guessing the look on my face said ‘how interesting, yaaaaawn’. Dubai is suddenly obsessed with being and building the largest, the biggest, the mostest, he explained. The new airport coming up is supposed to be the largest in the world. There we go again, I thought.
The next day, on the open top hop-on-hop-off bus, the guide shreiked into the mike at intervals of five minutes, pointing and waving franctically (she was in a state of feverish excitement, you must understand) – this building you see is going to be the tallest in the world when it is completed in 2009. And she added, there is provision on the top to add on more floors in case any other building in the world overtakes this one, so our Dubai always has the tallest building in the world. How reassuring.
Then we were treated to the sight of the eighth tallest building in the world, the guide trilling on with the names and exact heights of each of the seven taller than this one. No, I do not exaggerate. The heights, down to the last inch or whatever it takes to be on that list.
This is a land obsessed with creating. And why not? the city itself was created out of nothingness – this lot of buildings here, this was just sand two years ago… And to think I found Singapore fake. Everything in Dubai is created to attract attention – snow and ski slopes inside a shopping mall, Christmasy decorations and teddy bears (or were they polar bears?) in red coats singing Merry Christmas in an Islamic country, a hotel built on reclaimed land to resemble a sail-boat (this, the Burj Al Arab, incidentally is not among the -est buildings, but it does happen to be the only seven star hotel in the world. So there).
But I am not complaining. I loved it all… Camels in pink and yellow, the dumb looks on their faces intact in The Camel Company. Breath-taking sunsets along the beach, the sails of the Burj Al Arab hotel, magically opening up to the sun in front of your eyes.
The creek with its traditional abras (tiny taxi boats) ferrying locals in a hurry and tourists with all the time on their hands across. Old and new mosques with tall minarets reaching to the very skies, the sun sitting like the flame on top of a candle, and beautful detailing in blue on the walls (with a lift inside to get to the top floor!)
I cheerfully gave the desert safari a miss, keeping my tender back in mind. Instead, I hopped on to the tour bus and spent the day riding around the city, taking in the smells and sounds. And the unexpected bursts of colors everywhere in the desert city. And shivering slightly in the chilly breeze in the middle of the day. I spent the evenings at eating places by the creek, watching the city lights twinkle in the distance, looking up suddenly to catch the fireworks that go off in the city every night during the DSF.
Dubai is full of these surprises. Ignore the obvious, the cliches that Dubai has been selling hard and fast for a long time now – yes, even the shopping – scratch a little deeper and there is a surprisingly modest and fun Dubai.
Note : Did I say ignore the shopping? Expect my next post Dubai or not to buy up on Itchy Feet as soon as I find the time for it.
Update : Read Jai Arjun’s Dubai Nuggets for more on Dubai’s state of perpetual wannabeness. …This is bizarrely appropriate, for more than anything else Dubai gives the impression of being perpetually in labour, straining to produce one of the great metropolises-cum-tourist centres.
One more note : as promised – Dubai or not to buy? finally on Itchy Feet…