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June - July 2004


Travel

Dubai - The Rare Desert Orchid

by Bhupendra Gandhi


Just ten years ago, hardly any one would think of going to Dubai on holidays. It was not a fashionable place to go to, not even for s short break. But we, the Indians, mainly Gujaratis have changed all that and put Dubai firmly on the tourist map, at least for a short break, a winter watering hole while going or returning from our annual trip, annual pilgrimage to our beloved motherland Bharat.

Why has Dubai taken our fancy, has become our dream destination? It is not difficult to answer this question. Dubai could be favourably compared to other dream destination, the tiny Singapore and the shopping paradise of Hong Kong. But Dubai is much nearer and on our way, a half way point, a half way rest house to Mumbai and Ahmedabad, our favourite places in Bharat.



What Dubai has to offer that could not be found in Mumbai and other Indian cities? First and foremost Dubai is unbelievably clean, much more cleaner than our own London, so every one can enjoy eating and drinking any food item one many fancy, without fear or health risk, the risk of getting tummy upset as is normal in Mumbai.

Secondly, it is absolutely crime free where even our ladies can travel on their own, go any where, at any time of the day or night, without fear of mugging or molestation, even by taxis, the mode of transport that is out of bound for a single lady in most western cities, especially late at night.

The enterprising and resourceful people of the Indian subcontinent, now joined by East African Asians, have turned this tiny desert outpost into a shopping paradise, with souks, an Arabic word for local bazaar or shopping centre, with row after row of tiny jewellery shops, mostly owned by Indians, with the latest design and a byword in fashion. Now even Bollywood is deserting Mumbai and holding most of their glittering events in Dubai, with the blessing of the Dubai Royal Family.

Dubai is also a duty free destination where one can buy the latest electrical goods, watches and photographhic accessories at a reasonable price, much cheaper than what we pay in London without the fear of being short-changed.

I would like to compare Dubai with Singapore, as there are so many similarities, especially the drive from the airport to the city centre. The glass tower blocks are common place, drawing comparision to Manhattan and the huge, wide green areas certainly do not make you feel that you are in a desert kingdom or an oil rich country.

There are no outward sign of oil industry or great individual wealth of the residents, although the citizens of UAE have one of the highest per capita income in the world, even higher than that of Saudi Arabia.

The large beautiful bungalows, owned by local people are well set back from the roads, hidden from the passers-by with tall walls and spacious grounds surrounding the bungalows.The population of the city is most cosmopolitan in the Middle East and the indigenous people, the Arabs are outnumbered three to one by migrant workers, mainly from Asia. One has to travel inland or go off shore to notice the existance of the oil industry which finances the enviable lifestyle of the residents and the greenification of this peaceful and progressive desert kingdom.

The duty free airport shops are served by smartly dressed Philipino sales girls who are polite, knowledgable and speak fluent English. The jewellery and sari shops and vegetarian restaurants are mainly owned by Indians, although they must have UAE citizen as a partner, mostly a silent or a sleeping partner, that is the law as well as the tradition throughout Africa and Middle East. The punjabi dress shops, tailoring and taxi driving is the domain of Pakistanis while Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Philipino girls are also employed in the domestic and service industry.

Sheikh Zayed, the liberal, highly educated and energetic ruler of Emirates and the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a keen naturalist. He even instructs his drivers to try to avoid plants and shrubs when he travels inland by cars, off the build up roads and in the sandy desert, as the popularity of the camel racing has put an enormous pressure on the desert fauna and flora.

The entire soil structure of UAE is made up of Sabakhs, an Arabic word for salty, harsh, coral sand and granules which makes most of the land unsuitable for any plant life except the most elementary desert cacti.

So a great deal of planning has gone into the greenification project that has changed the face of this tiny country. An artificial layer of enriching soil, consisting of peat, sheep, goat and camel dropping manure and compost has been spread throughout the city, thus creating an artificial layer of soil that can support the growth of flowering plants such as marigold, petunias, zenias, hibiscus, perriwinkle, evergreen (barmasi) champo (magnolia) keran (pink rose) jasmine, daisy and similar tropical and desert plants.

The booming tourist industry with 4 and 5 star hotels to cater for the tourist's need and comfort, with their vast open space, neat, well laid gardens and vast areas of grassland and flower beds have become very popular with the locals and visitors alike.

As the local law enforcement is rigid, there is hardly any vandalism. So the beautiful local parks and beauty spots are clean, tidy and accessible to all the residents, young and old, strong and infirm, without fear or restriction. Most of the green areas within the municipality limit are watered by automatic sprinkler system, using over twenty million gallons of water every day, water being recycled after domestic as well as industrial use. There are several desalination water plants to supply fresh water to the town for domestic as well as industrial use.

During the early days of greenification, every essential items were imported from India, UAE's main trading partner but now municipality run factories produce their own compost, using local garbage and grass clippings, thus increasing the fertility as well as the acreage of the fertile and irrigable land.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition

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