…as a visitor to Dubai (not in the political world!). One of the blockbuster movies had him visiting Dubai on employment you will recall – I went for business reasons too – to attend an IT conference. His job duties of course were a nature’s calling (do checkout youtube sensation Wilbur sargunaraj’s hilarious tutorials including one on this speciality!), mine of course were to do with software and testing.
I flew Air India, our maharaja’s airline. A friend of mine often wonders why the crew of this great airline all look a touch old – “were they born this way, or do they work with the other airlines and then join the Maharaja upon retirement?” – he wonders. I don’t know the answer, the crew on my flight were certainly not senile, on the contrary they were pretty courteous, served good food and were very knowledgeable. They forgot to dim the cabin lights and the plane did seem a touch ancient – but I’ll take that over juvenile pilots with fake certificates anyday! AI, you have my vote.
On landing, the first thing that strikes you is the Dubai shopping experience. Where most airports encourage shopping, out here it’s a retail mall which also encourages air porting! Visa on arrival (more on that later), no emigration forms to fill in and more shops and festivals than you can find in an Indian Temple town imply your senses are in overdrive almost from the word go.
I was an outlier here however. My visa (informed a smart guy at Terminal 1 arrivals) was for some reason in Terminal 3 (so I had arrived but my visa hadn’t yet, so much for “visa on arrival”). Said he – “You can await for your sponsor to help out (meaning spend the night in the airport as it was already midnight) or find your way to Terminal 3, pick up the visa and trudge back again”. This I did, and spent a good 1.5 hrs – would have been more if a very helpful airport staff hadn’t helped me with navigation at every corner. Dubai airport – your gold and goods are easy to find – need more help with the airport navigation signposts though – especially for folks like me who are very bad at directions. Finally they gave me a visa, I gave them an eye scan – and walked through the green channel 3 hours after landing and found myself a smart taxicab (they all are).
The drive to the hotel was pleasant, the weather a revelation. It’s pretty windy out here in Dubai and wind cheaters are certainly a good idea. We drove into Media One, a prominent hotel in the Media City. The hotel staff were efficient and super friendly – as seem the norm here. I asked them if I could get some good coffee, and they said “yep, and free wifi and a minibar and an awesome bath tub”. Awesome bathtub?
The hotel is indeed exquisitely designed – reminded me of the designs I had been awed by during a visit to the Nordics (I think it’s called minimalist or something). Beiges were used to great effect, light sensors ensured where I went there light “dawned” (and made me feel like a messiah) and the bath tub (there we go again!) – man did they engineer this one. It has a very soft leather headrest (you can wallow in hot water for hours here reading a good book), the tap is one of those you’ll need to use sleuthing skills to find but does its job wonderfully. Somehow, in the space equivalent of an average city apartment living room, they had fitted in a double bed, full bath, enough wardrobes to accommodate a Bollywood film’s requirements, a flat tv, lots of mirrors, a desk, two lounge chairs, a tea table…and a breath taking view. Not to forget that bathtub…
An mid afternoon stroll through the streets revealed people dining on streetside tables – many enjoying a post lunch smoke (often pulling on colorful hookas). Shaded eat outs, a very cosmopolitan crowd, the many serene and proud Arabian landlords – the city does look contented and prosperous.
The conference was at one of the Jumeriah properties, a property that looked authenticly steeped in the local culture. Treading on the lush carpets, one half expected to be meeting Shah Jahan or Akbar in the lunch room. And when you least expected it, modernity hit you – escalators, state of the art speakers and aesthetic lighting are all weaved in seamlessly – so you can ejoy the ambience with all the comforts of a modern business traveller. A great setting for a great conference meet.
The way back to the airport saw us cruising past skyscrapers and then some more. The ones you’ll see in Dubai will certainly rival any in Manhattan. For those not convinced, please note that Burj Khaleefa is the tallest building in the world (though you can only do calisthenics on it if you happen to be named Tom Cruise). We had a quick peek at a few more biggies – the Dubai Mall (the website states its the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination) and the largest dancing fountain (the fountain dances to a haunting tune making you philsophically wonder which one was adapted to which – did the music or the dance come first?). One thing that’s sure to leave you dazed is the way modernity and tradition intertwine here – you have a Mughal hotel resting comfortably amdist European looking neighbours, desert winds coexisting with manicured lawns, local costumes with hummers….
And then we drove back to the airport. Rushed through passport control (you will be treated like royalty if you have the right tickets in this country!) and back into the shopping mall that also airports. Good food (thanks Maharaba lounge!) and a few “shopping for dates” sessions later, trudged back to the boarding gate. History followed I had arrived, my plane hadnt – Air India as always was dependably late. There was a saving grace – the flight was running half empty so got some royal treatment (And I mean of the good kind here) and reached home with the dawn – and settled down to some good filter coffee and some soothing south indian political news from our stiff-collared newspaper “The Hindu”. And no, I do not follow anyone (including vadivelu on the political front!….)