Al Shindagha is one of the oldest areas of Dubai. It is located at the Southern part of Bur Dubai area, on the western bank of Dubai creek. From 1912 to 1958, the then ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum, lived in the area. His reconstructed residence in Al Shindagha which is now open to the public as a museum.
I visited this area in morning. From Al Ghubaiba bus station, if you walk towards east, you will hit Dubai creek. From there you need to take a left turn for Al Shindagha. If you take right turn, you will reach, after crossing few creek side eateries, Bur Dubai Abra (boat) dock. From there you will get boat to go to Deira crossing the creek. This area was frequented by us during our trip because we went to Deira multiple times.
Entire Al Shindagha area is pedestrianized. There is a spacious promenade along the entire waterfront of Al Sindagha. There are places for sitting at regular intervals throughout the waterfront.
Since it was morning, there was almost no crowd. There were few cafeterias. But those were closed too.
Because of some upcoming event, the museum was being restored and therefore, it was closed. That did not matter to me. I kept on walking rather aimlessly for an hour or so. I was trying to get a feel of the place. Sometimes, I left the waterfront and ventured inside the alleys Only few morning walkers were there. Morning Sun was quite pleasant. Cool breeze was blowing. It was a nice walking tour.
Our next destination in Bur Dubai was historical Al Fahaidi fort which has been converted to Dubai Museum.
The historical Al Fahidi Fort is square-shaped with towers occupying three of its corners. It was built of coral rock and mortar in several phases. Just off the southern wall lie a reconstruction of the old city walls. Next to them stands a tall dhow (traditional boat) in the middle of a large courtyard that covers the underground galleries.
The Fort, dating back from about 1787, is thought to be the oldest building in this area. It was built in several phases to defend the town of Dubai. It was also the office and residence of the Ruler.
The Fort is 41 mtr long and 33 mtr wide. A series of long room overlook the courtyard on the ground floor. The second floor has an open path 5 mtr wide along the Fort’s walls.
There are 3 three towers. The oldest of which is round and about 12.5 mtr high x 5 mtr in diameter wit a narrow entrance. The second tower in north-west corner is square and has three storeys. The third, at the north-east is also round.
The main entrance gate to the Fort is made of solid teak, studded with iron nails. It is opened in special occasions only, the small door within it is used for regular purpose.
The fort got converted into a museum in 1971.
After the entrance, there is a hall which has been converted into ticket counter. There are other halls lining three walls of the fort. Those halls contain collection of arms and weapons from different period of time.
The halls surround a central courtyard.
There are various types of boats in the courtyard.
In one corner of the courtyard stands a traditional summer house Al Arish. It is made entirely from weaved palm fronds. It comprises seating and sleeping areas as well as a kitchen, filled with household furnishings and objects used by the locals in past times. The Arish features the distinct wind tower design, used for air conditioning in the pre-electricity days.
From the courtyard, there is an entrance to the gallery at the south-western corner of the fort. The gallery depicts history of Dubai, through descriptions, photos, videos and life size dioramas.
It took us around 90 minutes to cover the museum. The entry ticket price is AED 3 per person.
Bastakiya Quarter is the city’s historic district. Located between Dubai Creek and the Bur Dubai District, the construction of the Bastakiya Quarter dates back to around the 18th century.
This former fishing village earned its name from the numerous Bastak (Iranian) traders that settled here. due to the excellent trading conditions of the area. It became home to local Arab tribes and the earliest foreign settlers, and can be named as an area which started the city's economic and trade related growth.
The charming little neighbourhood houses the popular outdoor café, the Arabian Tea House, and several art galleries that feature the work of local and international artists, among others. Some of the restored buildings also include wind towers, which was an early form of air conditioning.
Bastakiya Quarter is a nice respite from the glitz and glam of downtown Dubai, and a walk through its lanes and alleys gives an idea what the city looked like before all of its developments came to fruition.
It takes around 1-1.30 hrs to cover Bastakiya Quarter. There is no entry fee and it can be accessed anytime. It is better to visit this place before noon to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.
No visit in Dubai is complete without seeing Dubai creek.
The creek epitomizes Dubai’s unique beauty. It was the nucleus of the city in its formative years. Historical sources record that the creek extended inland as far as Al Ain area. The ancient Greeks used to call it ancient Zara.
Dubai Creek runs approximately 10km inland. People settled on both side of the creek. The two banks of Dubai creek, namely Bur Dubai and Deira are linked with two bridges Al-Makhtoum bridge and Al-Garhoud bridge. There is an underground tunnel also namely Al Shindagha tunnel. But the most popular mode of crossing the creek for people like us, the tourists, is by Abra (local boat). I guess that’s the most popular mode for common people also. It costs 1 AED per person for one-way journey.
Deira side of Dubai creek
Deira, as seen from Dubai creek
Abra boarding point at Deira side
Bur Dubai as seen from the creek
Bur Dubai across the creek as seen from Deira
At Bur Dubai side, there are few creek side restaurants between ferry boarding point and Al Shindagha. We have some pleasant memories of having snacks and lunch there.
Prosperity of Dubai as a port dates back to 1902, when Dubai became the main anchorage in the area for dhows coming from neighbouring port and as far away as India and East Africa. Today, Dubai creek is the main artery of trade in the Emirate. On both sides of the creek, especially at Deira side, there are hundreds of dhows of different sizes, loading and unloading a variety of goods.
We had a plan to go for evening dhow cruise in the creek. We could not do that because of paucity of time. What I think is even if we couldn’t do the dhow cruise, we should have visited the creek in evening. I am pretty sure that in evening, Dubai creek looks more magical.
Historically, Deira has been the commercial center of Dubai, but has been losing its importance during the past few years due to recent development along Seikh Zayed Road and areas further down the coast toward Abu Dhabi. But it is a popular destination for the tourist. It provides a good shopping opportunity for them who are looking for jewellery, spice and perfumes. Deira is very colourful. It does have an old-world charm.
Once you alight from Abra, you have to cross a vehicular road running parallel to the creek to enter into souk area.
From that crossing, a narrow vehicular road, almost perpendicularly to the main road, goes inside towards north. This road takes you to the various souks.
Dubai Spice souk was at that crossing only. Within the souk, there were number of shops at both side of the narrow passage which were selling various varieties of spice.
Coming out of the spice souk, we took left turn and started walking using the pavement of the road which was going inside the souk area. The pavement was not crowded at all. It was a leisurely walk. Narrow lanes were branching out from the road at regular intervals. There were tiny shops on both sides of those narrow lanes.
Then came a junction with another road, coming from the east. There was a big mosque at that junction.
After the junction, the road became narrower and crowded too. Number of vehicles on the road increased. Small vehicles carrying goods were plying on the lane. It was looking like any busy streets of Mumbai.
The number of shops on both side of the road also increased. Those shops were selling spices, dry fruits, perfumes, clothes, shoes etc. Their colorful display completely changed the ambience.
After that came the Gold Souk.
The lane inside the Gold Souk was quite wide. It was covered. There were seating arrangements at both side of the passage at regular gap.
At the both side of the lane, there were jewelry shops. The dazzling display of ornaments from the show case of those jewellery shop was a sight to see.
Deira area is quite vast. We managed to visit only the spice souk and gold souk. If someone wants to visit Deira in detail, he/she needs dedicate one full day for that. The best way to visit Deira is by walking. Its road/streets are narrower compared to the same of downtown Dubai or even Bur Dubai and therefore are congested. Deira must be a part of any Dubai itinerary. It has its own character, quite distinct from that of downtown Dubai or even Bur Dubai.
Though, Dubai was our base station for this trip, we were less interested to keep us restricted to the man-made marvels at downtown Dubai. We were keener to get a feel of the overall geography, its topography and climate, its people and culture. So, we decided to do a couple of day trips from Dubai. Our first destination for those day trips was Al Ain.
Al Ain is a city in the Eastern Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, on the UAE's border with Oman, adjacent to the town of Al-Buarimi. It is the largest inland city in the Emirates, the fourth-largest overall, and the second-largest in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Al-Ain is known as the "Garden City" due to its greenery, particularly with regard to the city's oases, parks, tree-lined avenues and decorative roundabouts. Restriction is in place not allowing to construct buildings more than seven floors to preserve the character of the city.
Various tour companies offer door to door Al Ain day trip packages. But those packages were expensive. So, we opted for public transport.
There is no RTA bus service from Dubai to Al Ain, A private operator Al Ghazool operates a minibus service from Al Ghubaiba bus station to Al Ain.
After a heavy breakfast, we reached Al-Ghubaiba bust station around 10.45 am.
Then we purchased the ticket for Al-Ain from the ticket counter at the bus station. The ticket price was 20 AED per person. Since the previous bus was more or less filled up, we stood in the que for the next bus.
After some time, the next bus came. The seating arrangement is 2X1. But if there are more passengers, the hand rest of the double seat opens sideways and gets converted into a seat. If required, for letting in or letting out the passengers from the back-side rows, the person, sitting on that make shift seat, gets up and folds the seat sidewise to create the passage.
Though the buses are scheduled to leave in every half an hour, it seems it start only after getting fully filled up. Our journey commenced around 11.30 am.
The bus initially took Sheikh Zayed Road towards Abu Dhabi. Within 15-20 minutes, we were out of Dubai, driving on an asphalt road bisecting the desert.
Almost after an hour or more, the bus left Sheikh Zayed Road and took left turn towards Al Ain. We entered Al Ain around 1 – 1.15 pm. The arid desert got replaced by green.
We reached Al Ain bus depot at 1.30 pm. The alighting point is not inside the bus depot but adjacent to it. There is an attached taxi bay there. So, after getting down, we went to the taxi bay. The arrangement was first cum first serve. We got into a taxi being driven by a driver of Pakistan origin. There was no language issue. We had a quick discussion on the places which we should see. He, given the time available, advised us to cover Al Ain Oasis, Al Ain Museum, Jabel Hafeet and Green Mubazzarah. We immediately started for Al Ain Oasis.
In our Dubai trip, most of the cab drivers we encountered, was from Pakistan. All of them were very gentle and courteous to us. So were we. I really do not know whey our mutual behaviours change when we come back to homeland.
We did meet drivers from countries like Egypt, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. All of them were gentle and professional .
Al Ain oasis is the largest oasis in Al Ain. It is known for its underground irrigation system (“Falaj”) which brings water from boreholes to water farms and palm trees. The Falaj irrigation is an ancient system dating back thousands of years and is used widely in Oman, UAE, Iran and other countries.
There was nominal entry fee, I guess. I couldn’t recall it properly. Trolley buses were available for roaming inside the oasis, albeit in exchange of some fee. Cycles were available too. But we decided to wander through the alleys of Al Ain oasis. The date palm trees were offering some protection from the Sun. It was a pleasant walk.
But some stretches of the alleys were not so lucky. Those stretches were devoid of any date palm tree cover. The yellowish paver block and the yellow color painted boundary walls of the date palm groves were glowing gold under the afternoon Sun.
Like any other oasis, water and irrigation are two most important parts of Al Ain oasis. The allocation of available waters among the palm groves is called Falaj system which means “split into parts” in classical Arabic. In Al Ain, Falaj systems were of two types : one tapped water from mother wells sunk down to the water table and the other ran surface water from seasonal streams.
Once the water reached the oasis, it was distributed various owners of arable land through the Shari’a, the division system, in accordance with a complex water allocation plan. With gravity, water flows to the surface through underground channels from higher ground and reaches every palm grove, where it is deviated by barriers that makes it flow to each corner of the land. Fields have a precise geometry, defined by the flow of water that descends and irrigates the corps. It is distributed along channels through large and important barriers; or through barriers prepared by the farmer as necessary.
Al Ain dates come in varieties of yellow and red. Qualities depend upon the harvesting season. There are fresh dates while others are harder, or drier and almost dehydrated. Asa fundamental staple of nomadic caravans, the dates has extraordinary qualities, because palm trees concentrate minerals such as potassium, Sulphur, phosphorus, iron, sodium, magnesium and zinc in the fruit. It is highly nutritious as it contains vitamins A, B, C, E, fatty acids, sugars and proteins. There are some species which are almost free of sugar and therefore, are useful in diabetic diet.
There are a couple of mosques in the Al Ain Oasis complex.
There is a small cafeteria also where we took coffee and cold drinks and sat for a while to take some rest.
When we finished our visit and came out of Al Ain oasis, it was 2.45 pm.
Our next destination was Sheikh Zayed Palace museum. It is adjacent to Al Ain oasis and we reached there by walking.
The museum is based in the palace of the former UAE President, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004) and his family. It was originally built in 1937 on the western side of the Al Ain Oasis. Sheikh Zayed lived here until 1966. It was made into a museum in 1998.
The palace is quite spartan in structure compared to various royal palaces in India. It consists of all bit one single storied-blocks. The palace compound is square in shape. There is high boundary wall at all sides of the compound. The main entry to the compound is from the west.
There is a photo gallery along the inner periphery of the western wall.
The palace compound can be divided in two halves though there is no formal division.
At the outer half, there is a passage from the gate which leads to a big room which probably was a meeting room.
That room now contains the chronology of royal rulers and their photos.
On one side of the passage way, there is a green lawn.
On the other side, there is a cemented courtyard.
In the inner portion of the compound, there is a small courtyard with a well.
There are multiple rooms at three sides of the courtyard. For some rooms, the descriptions are available about the purpose or usage.
Worker ladies room
Room for royal ladies
There was no guide. Neither the guide was required. We visited the palace museum in our own pace. It did not take more than 60 minutes.
As per our understanding with our next driver, we called him around 10 minutes before completion of Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum. By that time, we came out from the museum, he was at the parking lot. So, we immediately started for Jabel Hafeet. It was around 4 pm then.
Jabal Hafeet means “empty mountain” in Arabaic. It is a mountain range to the north of Al Ain on the border of Al Ain and Oman. It is considered to be an outlier of Al Hajar Mountains in Eastern Arabia. Due to its proximity to the main Hajar range, the mountain may be considered as being part of the Hajar range. This the sole mountain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and one of the highest mountains in the country. It has given its name to a period in UAE history, the Bronze Age (3200 to 2600 BCE), Hafit period., because of the discovery of a cluster of important Bronze Age beehive tombs at its foothills.
The distance of Jabel Hafeet from Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum is approximately 25 km.
After starting from the museum, we took a small break at a tea stall for tea. After that, we resumed our journey towards Jabel Hafeet. We were out of Al Ain town within15 minutes.
Within another ten minutes, we reached Green Mubazzarah, at the foothill of the Jabel Hafeet mountain.
We decided to see Green Mubazzarah while returning and therefore continued our drive. Immediately after crossing Green Mubazzarah, upward hill drive started. The road was well tarred and the surface was super smooth. It was two lane road with each lane sufficiently wide. Therefore, driving was not at all difficult though there were a number of twists and turns.
The mountain was completely barren and devoid of any green whatsoever. Somewhere, it was made of solid rock and somewhere it was made of gravels. The colour was mostly brown. It was reminding me my drive to Spiti done almost four and half years back.
Along the road, few viewpoints have been constructed at some places. We stopped at couple of those viewpoints to have a feel of the place and to take some photos off-course.
Al Ain is visible at a distance
We reached at the top around 4.45 pm. It cannot be technically called the top. It was essentially a parking lot just below the top. There was a cafeteria in the parking lot. There were multiple seating arrangements in the open area also. After our morning breakfast, we did not have anything and therefore was feeling hungry. We were carrying cakes and some other snacks and had those first after reaching the top to manage our hunger.
The parking lot was huge and covered from all the side by railing. Though the place was not crowded, we saw many cars parked at the parking lot and many families spending time there. It appears to be one of the favourite family hang out places for the residents of Al Ain. The only draw back of this place was connectivity. If someone does not come by own vehicle, he/she required to book cab/hired vehicle for both to and fro journey.
We kept on walking along the boundary of the parking lot. It was offering fantastic view of the hill range and valley beyond that. In every direction, it was absolutely barren. There was no green within our eyesight. In the oblique sun-rays of the setting sun, the barren landscape turned golden. It was looking mesmerisingly beautiful.
After spending almost half an hour there, we started our return journey. The sun was almost ready to call it a day by then.