ANURAG MALLICK seeks out new experiences in Dubai, a dynamic city that keeps reinventing itself
So you think you’ve done it all – been ‘At the Top’ of Burj Khalifa, shopped at DSF and Dubai Mall, trawled the gold and spice souks, done a dhow dinner cruise, hopped across Dubai Creek in an abra (local water taxi), gone dune bashing and sightseeing on a SeaWings aerial tour, had your belly full with belly dances and the tanoura, maybe even gone skydiving – and you wonder if there’s anything new in Dubai to explore. Dubai is not a city that rests easy on its laurels. It is restive, always striving to improve or notch a new record. No sooner have you turned your back and come visiting again, there’s something new to surprise you…
Strolling down Dubai’s City Walk lined with designer stores and restaurants, you might mistake it for a European capital. The first phase of the urban living concept by Meraas tantalizes visitors with funky street art. As part of ‘Dubai Walls’, the first outdoor urban art show in UAE, globally renowned street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art in Dubai’s urban landscape. Despite being a modern country, graffiti is banned here, so this was indeed an evolutionary leap.
I was blown away by the path breaking wall etching of a bedouin carved by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or ‘Vhils’, part of his series ‘Scratching the Surface’! UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for ‘abandoning miniatures since 2006’ had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his ‘Little People Project’. ‘Shifting Sands’, a pile of sand had a caravan of camels, in ‘Under the Stars’ burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood while a spilt glass of milkshake created ‘Oasis.’
Nearby is The Green Planet, Dubai’s first indoor tropical rainforest and the first biodome of its kind in the Middle East, launched in September 2016. The unique expedition of over 3000 plants and animals is conceptualized around the world’s largest man-made indoor tree – a giant kapok mimicking a highrise forest. Take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk down a ramp, leisurely exploring exhibits on each floor.
Well informed naturalists guide you through various habitats – Butterfly Balcony, Canopy Tree House, Forest Cascade Trail and Flooded Forest Tunnel as visitors are encouraged to touch snakes and Talk with Biologists. From creepy crawlies like Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula to rare reptiles like Madagascar Day Gecko, Green Basilisk and Rainbow Boas, the cacophony of birds from 51 species will make you feel you’re in an Amazon jungle. The highlight is a two-toed sloth named Liam John Barker – inspired by a young boy with a passion for animals.
As the temperature lowers, all the action turns outdoor. Dubai’s brand new attraction is Ripe Market organized every Friday at Zabeel Park, where organic and boutique lifestyle products vie for your attention in a flea market-meets-carnival atmosphere amid grassy lawns and palm trees festooned with flags and streamers. One section is dedicated to an organic farmers market with fresh produce that reaches farm to fork within 48 hrs, and products like Olive Grove pickles, The Salad Jar and vegan hand-formed Field Burgers made of barley, carrots and celery!
Another section has apparel, trinkets and funky stuff like Mango Beat natural amplifiers made of mango wood and Wild Wood eco-friendly designer sunglasses. Food stalls sold everything from biryanis to bagels, even Black Rose charcoal activated ice-cream at Carli’s Chimneys!
Dubai really enjoys its food and Ewaan at Palace Downtown is the perfect place to try out lavish buffets of Arabic dishes, finger foods like meat kebbeh, falafel, tahina, fattoush salad, large platters of lamb juzi and fish sayadieh (like biryani), Arabic grills of seafood and meat, Moroccan tea and Turkish coffee, besides olives and dates. Try lesser-known treats like Qamar Al Deen (juice from dried apricot paste) and desserts like baklava, borma, mafroukeh, chaibeyat and Um Ali (creamy bread pudding with stuffed baklava). On weekends, they have special Arabian dance performances and live counters of logmat (Arabic sweet).
Even though there are no Michelin star restaurants in Dubai, several Michelin-star chefs run fine-dine restaurants here. In March 2017, Dubai had its first ever pop-up restaurant for world-renowned Indian chef Gaggan Anand at the opulent Celebrities restaurant at One&Only Royal Mirage. Overlooking the Palm Island Bay with a 1km private beach, South African magnate Sol Kersner’s luxurious resort is spread over 65 acres and is a complex of three hotels – The Palace, Arabian Court and Residence & Spa. Its Grand Gallery has seven domes with colours of the mosaic patterns on the floor representing different hues of sand of the seven emirates.
The sculpture of Seven Bedouins astride camels retells the tale of their desert journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. As per folklore, they were caught in a sand storm and got lost when a palace appeared before them, where they rested, feasted and were entertained, and as suddenly, it disappeared. They realized it was a mirage and this palatial resort was imagined as that ‘Royal Mirage.’
It was as much a museum and art gallery with an award-winning traditional oriental Hammam and eight themed restaurants (from French to the Moroccan Tajine). We headed to Eauzone, a modern restaurant with an Asian twist for some delectable seafood like hammour with tamarind sauce. “We have guests proposing on the beach, dinner under the stars in a private gazebo or helicopter rides for birthdays and anniversaries,” said Elizaveta, the PR co-ordinator. “Nothing is impossible in Dubai!”
If Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes and snow adventures at Ski Dubai, Dubai Mall has a 150 million year old dinosaur. We retired to our hotel Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road for a terrific 360-degree night view of the cityscape and traffic on the arterial road from the rooftop Level 43 Sky Lounge.
The restaurant also has an art gallery. Being centrally located, it had free shuttles to the beach and was well placed to attractions like City Walk and Dubai Mall. Their other branch in Bur Dubai is close to Dubai Museum, Meena Bazaar and the old Al Fahidi historical precinct also known as Bastakiya.
Dubai Mall saw 85 million visitors last year. Not content with footfalls, it created the world’s largest video wall as advertising space to catch eyeballs! The Underwater Zoo and Aquarium offers experiences that are truly immersive – from shark encounters to feeding frenzies of giant trevally and sharks. We took a backroom tour to see how they prepare fish food and take care of the 10 million liter tank with 23,000 fish and 300 species.
The city’s hot new attraction is Dubai Parks & Resorts, a vast complex of entertainment parks located far south just short of Abu Dhabi. It had by far the largest parking lot I have ever seen. The best way to negotiate it is a VIP tour so you skip the cues, get your own tour guide who plans out your rides with a buggy drop to your vehicle.
We started from Motion Gate and its 5 theme zones – Studio Central, styled like 1920s New York with old Hollywood songs blaring, Smurf’s Village, Dreamworks, Colombia Pictures and Lion’s Gate, which opened in October 2017, with a Hunger Games hovercraft simulator. Each zone has its own rides, roller coasters, simulators, F&B outlets and retail shops.
There’s a separate Legoland water park for kids between 2-12 and Riverland. At Bollywood Parks Dubai, the world’s first Bollywood theme park, chase Don down the streets of Dubai in ‘Don: The Chase’ or try the Krrish flight simulator and Ra:One 4D in the Hall of Heroes. The largest zone Rustic Ravine has faux mud floors, lanterns and a rural setting for a Sholay interactive dark ride, a Dabangg live show and a Lagaan roller coaster simulator!
Costumed dancers burst into live performances at Bollywood Boulevard while the Royal Plaza serves as an event space with Broadway style theatrical Jaan-e-Jigar staged at Rajmahal Theatre. FYI, Mughal-e-Aazam fine dine restaurant is the only establishment that serves alcohol. You could even reshoot epic sequences of skydiving, bull racing and Tomatina from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, with yourself in it! Indeed, in Dubai, everything is possible…
Direct flights from India to Dubai take 3-4 hrs. National carrier Emirates has the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. www.emirates.com
When to visit
Nov-Mar is ideal with events all year round – Dubai Shopping Festival (Jan), Dubai Food Festival (Feb-Mar), Al Marmoom Heritage Festival and camel race (April), Al Gaffal Dhow Race (May), Ramadan/Eid (June), Dubai Summer Surprises (July-Sep).
Where to Stay
Four Points by Sheraton
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Ph +971 4 3230333
One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai
Khalid Bin Walid Street
Ph +971 4 397 7444
Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8888
Things to Do
The Green Planet
City Walk, Al Wasl and Al Safa road junction
Ph +971 4 317 3999
Entry Adults AED 95, Kids AED 70
Dubai Parks & Resorts
Sheikh Zayed Rd, Opp Palm Jebel Ali
Ph +971 4 820 0000
Entry MotionGate AED 235, VIP AED 595, 11am-10pm
Bollywood Parks Dubai
Ph +971 800 2629464
Entry Q-Fast AED 100 onwards, 4pm-12
Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Fri: 9am-4pm, Zabeel Park, Gate 2
Sat: 9am-3pm, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
Sat: 12pm-9pm, Al Barsha Pond Park
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Ground & Level 2, The Dubai Mall
Ph +971 4 448 5200
Mall of the Emirates
Ph +971 44094000
Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.