Our safari driver pointed towards the vast desert vista through the windscreen of our safari Hummer H2 and said with typical native nonchalance –
‘This is what Dubai was about 35-40 years back.’
We had reached the safari venue in a 4×4, gliding over a smooth 6-lane freeway, driving past many exits, interchanges and cross-roads; along the way, we had come across numerous high-rise structures, 5-star hotels and shopping malls; and upon reaching there, we were face to face with people of many nationalities. During this entire journey, never for a minute had we considered the stark reality, which our safari driver highlighted. Pondering over the brief statement made by him, we became acutely aware of both – the irony and the reality of those few words.
Dubai, which today may be replacing some of the older and traditionally more colourful cities like London, as the new shopping capital of the world, was nothing but an endless stretch of desert till about 4 decades back. Today, this Emirate boasts of having the world’s largest shopping mall (Dubai Mall), world’s tallest man-made structure (Burj Khalifa), world’s largest flower garden (Dubai Miracle Garden) and world’s largest airport terminal (Terminal 3), besides ranking 3rd in the global list of cities with highest number of skyscrapers.
Initially built mainly on oil money, the state investments in infrastructure, healthcare and education and its tax and business related policies, have helped attract large amounts of dollar investments from all around. As a result, today, despite a real estate boom, everyday, hundreds of people pour in from all corners of the globe to settle in Dubai. Little wonder that I call Dubai – The Sands of Future.
The Emirate offers it all – shopping, entertainment, business opportunities, sports, high-end lifestyle and 7-star hospitality. There are over 70 shopping malls, 140 skyscrapers, scores of 5-star hotels, scores of business districts, and multitude of world-class stadia playing host to some of the richest and more famous sporting events, be it in golf, or tennis or even cricket. Even the richest horse racing event ($10 Million prize money) – the Dubai World Cup – happens here.
It also offers a wide range of entertainment to suit all age groups. There are numerous amusement parks for children and even adults who still have a child in them; if you have a craving for a specific cuisine, you can be sure to find a restaurant that suits your taste and budget; traditional entertainers like swirling dervishes, belly dancers or even raunchy dance bar performers are sprinkled all around – some of it, legal, and some, not!
Being a tax-free state, and the petrol costing a mere AED1.92 per litre (or $0.52 per litre), little wonder that despite a population of mere 1.7 million, the number of cars is in excess of 1 million here. And, the place is replete with a veritable who’s who of cars – Bentleys, Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, Hummers, et al. Though Dubai is a stable of speedsters, what impresses most about this Emirate is the traffic discipline. With average speeds exceeding 80 kmph, the traffic functions like clockwork. The credit largely goes to the will of the law enforcers.
The climate is hot and mostly humid, and the soil is sandy. Yet, thanks to the labour of love and liberal doses of drip irrigation, the greenery and the rainbow hues of flowers have turned it in to a beautiful city. And it is going from strength to strength!
While there, do shop. And do visit some of the world’s largest/tallest/biggest attractions. ‘On The Top’ – the 452-metre high viewpoint in Burj Khalifa is my personal favourite. From here, while you get a bird’s eye view of this modern megapolis, you also see the truth of the safari driver’s words – wherever there’s no development, the sandy vista still fills the view.