An Arabian Summer Sonnet
An Arabian summer is not ideal for a vacation. It lends to visuals of trudging through red sand dunes and empty roads, dragging luggage, sweat trickling down your nape, hollering for a cab, and screaming expletives at the merciless sky.
But picture this – a bustling traditional ‘souq’ that revels in the sights and smells of textiles and spices, an artistic haven where local traders display their wares, pristine beaches stretching out into the endless turquoise, glittering malls that can put Milan to shame, a cultural melting pot of 200 nationalities, the luxurious ‘hamams’ and spas that rejuvenate your sense, wafting smell of piping hot falafel, creamy hummus, kunafa, super-spicy lamb with zataar bread – a true marriage of old world charm and high-end hospitality, Dubai has put a spin to its summer.
As per a new report by Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), more than 5.5 million tourists visited Dubai in the first six months this year, an increase of 11.1 per cent over the
previous year – with Indians contributing significantly to these figures.
Saeed Mohammad Mesam Al Falasi, Director, Strategic Alliance Division, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE) an agency of DTCM, said: ‘Every year, during the summer, the festivals and celebrations organised by us have contributed towards an increase in visitors to Dubai from the region. We are also keen to ensure we meet the need of all our visitors during this season, and this is reflected not only in the array of events and activities, but also in the numerous special offers, deals and discounts that will be offered by the city’s retailers.’ The emirate is working hard to position itself as an affordable luxury destination which has given a major impetus to Indian travellers to consider this tiny city, dotted with futuristic skyscrapers, fringed with a dazzling coastline and abundant desert, as a viable travel destination, even in summer.
Statistics show India’s recent economic slowdown has not prevented the middle-class from splashing out on holidays. This Gulf country is increasingly tapping into the India’s burgeoning travel market. A total of 7,02,142 Indian guests stayed in Dubai’s hotels last year, meaning it overtook the United Kingdom as a source market, and it was in second place only to Saudi Arabia, according to official figures.
Bollywood has become an unofficial marketer for the city, with many blockbusters being filmed here, which enhances the visibility of the country, raises relevance and gets tourists talking about it. The sky is conspiring too, in order to woo Indians to Dubai. A recent revised bilateral air agreement between India and the UAE, has led to an increase of 54,200 aircraft seats per week. Flying into the emirate is also getting cheaper with low-budget players like Air India Express, SpiceJet, IndiGo and FlyDubai. The emirate, nestled in the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, takes its summer very seriously. While other GCC nations typically shut down during the hot months fuelled by an expat exodus, Dubai lures more and more visitors with targeted marketing campaigns.
June kicks off with the ‘Summer is Dubai’ promotions, part of the Dubai Summer Surprises campaign, launched in 1998 to position the emirate as an international destination. This festival is heavily geared towards families with each mall undertaking a host of programmes for children of all ages. Ramadan which starts on 29 June is a significant month in the Islamic calendar and the government organises numerous events to showcase Emarati hospitality. Iftars are hosted across the emirate where different nationalities come together to share the spirit of the holy month.
In Dubai, public transport has greatly evolved in the last decade. With air-conditioned buses and a swanky driverless metro which plies every six minutes, the city is adding a tram route and marrying it with the numerous other water transport facilities like water-bus, abras and yachts. Of late it has even put coolers at bus-stops to make sure there are no sweating tourists. This dichotomous city has the best of both worlds. Spend your day at the highest observatory of the world at the tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa or shop till your wallet weeps at the largest retail hub Dubai Mall. Your children don’t have to wait to go to the Alps, they can wear their snow boots, bumble through tobogganing hills and learn skiing; right here in the desert at indoor snow park Ski Dubai. The world’s first seven star hotel Burj Al Arab and artificially constructed island mega-archipelagos in shape of a palm tree are also must-dos.
Depending on your budget, an array of hotels that line up the glittering coastline is a poet’s paradise. Spend your early mornings sun-tanning, follow it up with a brunch which boasts of dishes that draw influences from Persian, Arabian and Bedouin cultures. Enjoy a lazy hammam session at the in-house spas and catch up on your much-needed afternoon siesta. The city comes alive as the sun goes down, numerous bars and nightclubs bring out the pub-crawlers, transforming it into the Vegas of the Middle East.
If the modern Dubai is too overwhelming, tourists have the opportunity to head towards the old city where tiny alleys open up traditional marketplaces and the legendary gold souk , where traders haggle over a few dirhams and saffron sellers raise prices depending on the colour of your skin, all this, by the banks of the Arabian Sea inlet, popularly known as the creek, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site. For as less as a dirhams (Rs15), the traditional wooden boats take you across the banks while you watch sea-gulls float in the sky and is reminiscent of the real Dubai which was born on these shores as small trading hub between Europe and Asia. The city is also a gastronome’s delight. This gourmet heaven offers Indian tourists a fine balance between five-star hotels and local street eateries. Dubai’s first-ever food trails, Frying Pan Tourism is quickly gaining popularity as it takes tourists through a unique food-tasting journey to some of the most authentic hidden gems. Their Arabian Summer Sage includes pit stops at four restaurants and a café to taste food ranging from stewed ancient Egyptian beans, Moroccan chicken and almond pies encased in crusty layers of pastry, platters of Emirati meat and rice, a wood-fired giant fish from Iraq, or an icy cool summery dessert perfumed with the heady fragrance of rosewater.
The Sacred Sunset Voyage is a sneak peek into food cooked and served during Ramadan – a four-course ‘Iftar’ menu that features some of our favourite seasonal treats: rosewater drink, Arabian lentil soup, Iraqi meat, fried baby pancakes stuffed with fresh clotted cream to name a few. So before the scorching sun gives way to a balmy autumn, airline prices stop offering discounts, retailers wind up their offers, pack your 100 SPF sunscreen, those pastel cottons, a camera and head to Dubai. Summerisdubai.com is a good place to start.
The author is a Dubai-based journalist