For the few who regularly check my blog, first of all — thank you! Secondly, I know I haven’t updated it much in the past 2 weeks.
And that’s because I was on a two week vacation to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to visit family and friends.
I was last in the Gulf in 2002, having spent 6 months in Bahrain, after graduating from college. Since then, the Middle East has been a hot bed of activity — both good and bad. From the US-invasion of Iraq, the war in Lebanon, to rising oil prices — a key factor for the US invasion of Iraq — and one that helped fuel the massive construction boom that left the world stunned.
‘Stunned’ is truly the only word to describe the ambitions UAE had. The leader of the pack was, of course, the one-and-only Dubai. From the tallest building, to the biggest shopping mall in the region to recreating the Las Vegas strip and all the seven wonders of the world… one could only gape at their colossal projects. And as always, when Dubai does something, the other GCC nations wake up and shamelessly try to play catch up.
But in 2007, I knew it was all going to come crashing down. Which it did. Very Badly.
My opinion piece on all that will come later. Beginning with this, the next few posts are going to document my two weeks in the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai mostly).
Date: 2nd April, 2010
I booked my tickets online from both Yatra.com and Makemytrip.com. I could have just done with Yatra but unfortunately the stupid site won’t allow for one-way international flight searches. So I booked my onward journey with Yatra (Bangalore to Abu Dhabi via Doha) on Qatar Airways (because my father insisted that I fly with them) and the return journey (Dubai to Bangalore via Goa) on Indian Airlines. Totally, the tickets cost me around Rs. 18k (10k change + 7k change). In the morning, I got me some UAE dirhams from the UAE Exchange branch in Koramangala and decided to take the Vayu Vajra BMTC bus at night to go to the airport.
Unfortunately, when me and my brother headed to the HSR Layout bus stop, assuming I could board the 12am bus, I was told by the passing-by Volvo bus driver that all buses post 11:30pm were cancelled! Figuring the options were slim or too expensive at that time, my brother decided to drive me all the way to the airport. I had the time, my flight was only at 4:35am.
The drive took us an hour and just past 1am, we finally arrived.
I thanked my brother and after our goodbyes, went in. The first thing I did before checking in my luggage was declare my camera with customs and collect the customs duty form. I had learnt from my last Thailand trip and didn’t want any issues this time upon return.
The last time, the Customs officer told me there were large banners informing passengers that they need to declare anything above Rs. 25,000 in value before “exporting” it. I found no such sign or information anywhere at the check-in area. So I asked one of the airport assistants and after asking one another, one assistant offered to accompany me to the customs officer where I can collect my ‘export certificate’.
I had to go all the way upstairs with my luggage, past the immigration counter to get to the customs officer’s desk. He finally inspected my Canon 7D, my two lenses and stated the same on the form before signing it off.
On the way back down, I asked the airport assistant as to why the desk was upstairs after one checked in their luggage. He just said, well, that’s how customs can screw you over. If you check-in something you should have declared, upon return, if customs catches you, you’ll have to deal with them by paying the duty or just paying them off. So my advice is, get to the airport a bit early, inform the assistants that you have something to declare and get the ‘export certificate’.
Having done all that, I came back down, checked-in my luggage and went on with the usual process. I couldn’t get a window-seat or one by the aisle as the lady at the counter said the flight was “over-booked”. (Never, understood how one can “over-book” a flight.)
I passed the rest of my time by taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi service at BIAL. The flight was on time and I sat in-between a rather large man and a woman. Now I understand the controversy over why some airlines are demanding obese passengers buy two seats for themselves.
The Qatar Airways very-late dinner/very-early breakfast was quite good.
The main course was a meat-stuffed cheese omlette, chicken cutlet and baked potato. The croissant was quite greasy though. The rest were the usual: fruit juice, salad and dessert.
I tried to sleep but couldn’t manage much of it. So I just watched a heavily-censored version of the very adult situation-centric ‘Up in the Air‘. Since I had already watched the film, it was funny to see them censor certain words like “Asians” with “they” in the film. Oh well, playing it (too) safe I guess.
By 9am, we had landed in Doha, Qatar — also the hub for Qatar Airways. I had switch flights now, which meant getting out of the plane, hopping into the airport for a bit before getting on to another one.
And though I was supposed to rush to my flight’s gate, instead, I got distracted by two beautiful works of engineering.
After enjoying being this close to such nice (expensive) toys, I made my way to the gate which was near by and boarded the bus to my connecting flight soon after. This Qatar Airways flight was a better plane though (newer I’m presuming). And this time, I got a window seat.
Once I disembarked, I really didn’t have much time to look around as my father had arranged for an airport service by which someone would receive me (with a name card and all) and then guide me through the necessary procedure. Also, I get preferential treatment, which means no waiting in lines! 🙂 The Filipino lady who received me first took me down for the eye-scan, followed by the passport and Visa check and finally baggage collection. All-in-all, 10 minutes and I was out to the lobby where my father was waiting for me with a smile.
The taxi was headed to a place called Mussafah where my parents were staying with my uncle and aunt (also where I would be staying). Since my dad was only going to be in Abu Dhabi for a year-long project, and since he was new here, he didn’t bother looking for an independent accommodation. Once home, it was welcoming by my mother, aunt and my pesky little cousin. A short sleep and a lunch later, my parents decided to show me around town a bit. Driving around Abu Dhabi city Even though my father has a UAE license, he also didn’t bother getting his own car as he was only going be in the country for a year. So he called his regular taxi guy, a fellow Mallu, to take us for a drive to Abu Dhabi city.
We passed by some notable landmarks, first being the Sheikh Zayed Mosque — a.k.a Grand Mosque. Just seeing it from the outside left me impressed. The taxi driver told me it was far more impressive from the inside. My mom told me it’s even prettier at night! But we had to move on. I decided I’d come back the day after to visit the mosque.
We drove past the massive US$2 billion-plus Emirates Palace. The photos I took through gate from outside really don’t show just how impressive this place is. The Emirates Palace was featured in the movie ‘The Kingdom‘. You’re better off just visiting the official website or watching this video to get an idea what this government-owned hotel offers it’s guests. Or you could just work/stay at the neighbouring Etihad Towers to get a birds-eye view of the hotel. After a quick stop for me to take photos out of the car, we drove along the Abu Dhabi corniche. Next, the Marina Mall area of the corniche.
Being back in the Middle East, another thing I was looking forward to was ‘car-spotting’. Most of the world’s fastest and most expensive cars can be found here. While I did spot a few older Porsche’s, they are no match for the über-impressive Nissan GTR.
Then we got down as my parents wanted to do a bit of shopping. Which gave me the first chance of actually walking about town. An hour or so later, we headed back home… and on the way back home, saw the Shaikh Zayed Mosque ‘at night’. Driving back, I was happy to be in the Gulf again and looking forward to the next few days. Everything just got bigger and taller in the past 7 years and all I kept thinking to myself was — how glad I was that I invested in a wide-angle lens! You so need it here! I ended my day with one other thing I love (and missed) about the Gulf…
13 more days to eat. Oh the joy!
Read the rest of the posts in this series: