On Monday the 8th of November, 2010, I got a bunch of missed calls as I was preparing to head to office. When I finally did speak to the person, it turned out it was someone from VH1 India informing me that I had been shortlisted as finalist in their Linkin Park Ticket to Ride Contest!
But before that, she had a bunch of questions to ask: “Do you have a valid passport?,” “Can you fly at short notice?” and then asked around 9 questions about the band itself. After answering most of the questions, said she had to speak to the others and that she would call back in some time.
After the call, the only thought that came to my mind was: “HO-LY SHiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!! All the 60-plus times I took part in the contest on Vh1 India’s Facebook page paid off!” I eagerly awaited the return call and 5 minutes later, it came.
She told me I was selected as the final winner because I answered the most questions!
She told me I could take a guest too and so I chose my elder brother Nithin, who had never been to UAE. She also told me she would send me details on tickets, where we would be staying and how we would be going to the venue. First, we weren’t going to staying in Abu Dhabi, where the Yas Marina Circuit is located. Instead, we would be in Dubai.
Hey, I wasn’t going to complain. From there, on the day of the race, we would get picked and dropped via taxi. Cool, works for us!
After we hung up, I couldn’t hold my excitement and fist-pumped “Yes!”. This was the first time in life I actually won something big! Anyway, I headed to office and also prepared to get our visa arranged (we still had to do that ourselves).
For our Dubai visa, we approached DVPC by VFS Global, the exclusive service for all Emirates flights. We rushed all our documents to their office on Cunningham road on Tuesday afternoon and hoped we could get our visas by Thursday, since our flight was on Friday early morning.
Long story short, we managed to get our 96-hour/4 day visit visa (costs Rs. 3000 per person) processed by then.
On the dawn of Friday 12th, December 2010, we were in our Emirates flight from Bangalore to Dubai.
We landed in Dubai at 7am.
We descended into one of those airport buses to get to the terminal. That ride took another 5 minutes — and my god was it cold inside that bus! It was mobile freezing chamber!
We finally got into Terminal 3 and made our way to immigration.
I was a bit worried about visa because we didn’t get any official copy prior to our departure since everything was so ‘last minute’. But it was in our ticket and we faced no issues at immigration.
Once out, we hailed a taxi and headed to Deira where our hotel was located.
We were put up at Fortune Hotel. We had breakfast and checked into one of our rooms (we got two individual rooms). First thing I did after stepping out was call up my parents and then inform my friends in Dubai that I had arrived. We didn’t rest for much because we only had one day to roam around Dubai.
We briefly caught up with my good friend Azhad, walked around Deira a bit and then made our way to the creek.
The abra ride costs just AED1 is one of the must-dos when in Dubai, be it in daytime or at night.
Once in Bur Dubai, I showed my brother the souq.
I’ve covered the souq a lot more in my trip from April. We went around a bit, bought some chocolates and made our way towards the Bur Dubai bus station.
We were in Bur Dubai to meet my friend Jassim, who had invited me and my brother over to his house for lunch.
He picked us up in his Mitsubishi Pajero.
Once at home, we were treated some fantastic mutton biriyani Jassim’s mother-in-law prepared. It was brilliant! Oh, there was chicken too. Equally delicious.
After an extremely satisfying (and heavy) lunch, Jassim offered to drive us to our next destination.
We took the shuttle bus from Dubai Mall to the metro station. Even though we were tired and sleepy, we still decided to quickly check out Mall of the Emirates — four stops from Dubai Mall.
We were here mostly to check out the Virgin Megastore. Last time I was here, I spent quite a bit on video games. This time, we just picked up some blu-rays, a music CD… and then some more video games.
By the time we were done with everything, it was 10:30pm. We had to get back, have dinner and then figure out how we were going to pack all our IKEA goods.
Dinner was shawarmas, which though better than the stuff you get in India, wasn’t as good as the ones I grew up eating in Bahrain. The Egyptian joint we picked it up stuffed it with french fries and wrapped it in kuboos instead of Lebanese bread. These were the kind of shawarmas pretty much everywhere. I don’t know, they were inferior in my opinion.
After dinner, I roamed around a bit in search of empty carton boxes big enough to hold our IKEA purchases but despite asking just about every cold store in our vicinity, the best I got were water bottle boxes. I came back with one but realized it was grossly insufficient.
Next morning, I had to call up my friend Azhad for help.
If you are wondering “Errr…. where’s Day 1?,” well, I wanted to push this one out because it contains a large chunk of why I was in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for a second time this year. Long story short, I won a contest on VH1 to fly all the way to Abu Dhabi during F1 weekend to watch Linkin Park, one of my favourite bands, live in concert.
All the details of how I got here will be in the Day 1 post. [EDIT: Day 1 is now live]
Since we had shopped a bit yesterday, we had to spend the morning trying to find a carton to fit all of our IKEA shopping. We met up with my friend Azhad who took us to a cargo shop to find us a large box. After we bought one, we made our way back and then headed out for lunch.
For lunch, Azhad took us to a Syrian restaurant in Al Rigga.
As fans of Arabian cuisine, we ordered a few items unaware of just how much food was coming our way.
By the time our ‘main course’ arrived, my hunger was already taken care of. All I could think of was ‘how the hell we were going to finish that bird!’.
And just as we began to dig into it, I get a call. It was our taxi driver, for our pick up. We had to tell him to wait at least 15 minutes as we were having lunch… and that we had an entire chicken to go through.
Sadly, even 10 minutes in, we knew it was hopeless. We would have needed at least an hour of slow eating to finish all the food that was on our table. Or according to Azhad, we needed our friend Jassim.
The bill came to around Rs. 1200, very reasonable considering what we ordered was enough to feed 4 to 5 people. After we paid up, we quickly made our way back to our hotel where our taxi was waiting for us.
Now, we were expecting a taxi. We weren’t really expecting this:
We drove past the impressive Dubai Marina and entered Jebel Ali zone.
Sheikh Zayed Road is one heck of a highway. For one, it’s really straight. So it’s filled with a lot of speeding cars. And despite being extremely wide, and UAE’s strict code on the way you drive — accidents are still common.
We lay witness to one one this trip.
A Toyota Yaris lost control, swerved right across two lanes, rams into a Mercedes convertible, and dangerously reverses back on to the highway. Everybody brakes. Fortunately we were slightly far behind and the Yaris did eventually come to a stand still.
The police car quickly made its way towards the accident site…
So yeah, just because you have awesome roads, don’t assume its accidents-free.
An hour-long drive later, we were in Abu Dhabi.
We actually asked our driver to drop us at Ferrari World because we had time and didn’t want to head to the Yas Marina Circuit so early. Plus I had to check it out, sine the last time I was, it was still under construction.
After checking out the store, I made my way to the ticket counter. The tickets to Ferrari World come in ‘general’ and ‘premium’ classes — the only difference being the premium admission give you access to a VIP lounge. Otherwise the general admission costs AED225 (Rs. 2500) and entitles you to unlimited rides. Not bad, compared to how expensive other world class theme parks cost.
But I still felt compelled to ask the ticket receptionist if it was worthwhile if we went in today. She replied that we’d need at least 2 hours to go through the whole place (Ferrari World is the largest indoor theme park in the world). Also, the main attraction at Ferrari World: La Rossa — the fastest roller coaster in the world, wasn’t (let’s just say) functioning perfectly. There were stopping it intermittently to run check ups.
Now, I know Ferrari World had just opened during this year’s Grand Prix race, but I didn’t feel like paying AED225 to be a crash test dummy at 250 kmph. So I decided to skip it and check it out next year. Hopefully by then all the chinks are sorted out.
It was nearing 5pm at this point, so we decided to leave.
And this is the action we saw:
Our seats were great, we were at the grand stand at the North section of the track. The vantage point is a good one as you get to see the cars coming in from a distance (though in a matter seconds, they’re already at the turn) and then you have the long straight stretch where you get to see them accelerate.
First thing that really hits you is the noise. I experienced this during the Singapore F1 back in September. I loved it there, I loved it here as well. Of course, you have to love cars to to enjoy the sound of a lightning fast engine. Otherwise you’d be deemed ‘weird’.
They had commentary on the speakers too, but because of the noise from the cars, you won’t hear it until the cars pass.
After seeing cars zipping by and listening to engines for nearly an hour, I went inside the lounge to have some of the gourmet food on offer.
The whole affair was very posh, with German waitresses and what looked like local celebrities (or posh posers) in the lounge.
After having a bite and drink, as I walked back, I suddenly stopped. And I do mean suddenly stopped. I literally froze.
I turned to my left and in front of me were two guys. One, a fairly large, tattooed white bald white dude and next to him, a regular looking Asian guy, fairly tall. Dressed in formals, he looked like a guy who probably worked in an IT firm. I looked at him and they both looked back at me. The white dude sitting next to him nodded as if to say: “No”.
But in my excitement, I said ‘hi’ and that I had one question to ask him. I began to prep the camera when he smiled and said: “No Interviews”. The bodyguard was about to get up so I put my camera away and just asked him. He answered and then I asked him if I could take a photograph. The bodyguard said “No,” but he said “It’s fine,” gave my camera to his bodyguard and asked him to take our photograph.
The bodyguard pressed the shutter and it didn’t click. The guy joked: “He’s not very good at this” and asked his bodyguard to take the shot again.
So who was the guy?
I thanked Mike and told him how much I liked their new album and said: “Keep experimenting” to which he smiled and said “Thanks”.
First impressions. Wow, he’s taller than I thought (I’m 5′ 6″). Plus, he’s changed a lot since his Hybrid Theory days.
Oh, what was the one question I wanted to ask him and finally could?
“When is Linkin Park coming to India?”
Mike said they needed find the right promoter and figure out the logistics to try and cram it into their tour schedule. It wasn’t a very convincing answer so I asked him whether they had ever considered touring India, to which Mike replied: “Oh yeah! Of course!”. I told him Linkin Park has such a huge fan base in India and he nodded his head: “I know…” with a smile. He said it will happen and assured me the band would tour India — but he just couldn’t tell me when.
Oh well, at least he knows we’re dying to see the band live in India.
As I went back to my seat, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. When I got the call from Vh1 telling me I had won, I was so hoping to meet the band. But I was informed there would be no meet & greet. And despite all that, I still got to meet the one guy I wanted to talk to. I know for a lot of girls its Chester Bennington, but for many hardcore LP fans, it’s Mike Shinoda — the unofficial spokesperson and leader of the band.
I told my brother Mike Shinoda was inside and he got a glimpse of him too, but neither of us disturbed him again.
We got up from our seats and went back into the lounge to get a good view of where we were heading next.
As I walked out I saw Mike again… and Dave Farrell, the band’s bassist! Dave smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up, probably after noticing my Linkin Park t-shirt and I wished him all the best for the show and that I was looking forward to it. I was tempted to ask for a photograph again but the bodyguard kept looking at me everytime I passed by. Oh well, he’s doing his job.
Walking towards the venue, I came prepared and fully charged with my camera and lenses… but unfortunately, there was dude announcing on the speakerphone that DSLRs and other high end cameras were not allowed in. Crap.
So, I hesitantly hand over my camera to the counter and make my through the gates. Hundreds were getting their alcohol (on sale for 21 and over only) and though there were a lot of people at the venue, everybody had enough space to move about freely.
Me and my brother chose a spot a bit far away from the speakers and right in the middle.
We could have gone further up front but I was going to be recording videos on my phone and staying too close to the speakers only meant “brrrrr brrrr” in recordings.
The stage itself, as you can see above, was quite impressive.
After half an hour or so, the DJ leaves the stage. The crew come on, clear everything and the crowd begin to cheer. A lighting rig comes all the way down, two guys get into seats on either side and the rig goes up again.
After some more waiting, finally, the show begins:
They opened with The Catalyst, the first single off their latest album A Thousand Suns.
And when I mean ‘crowd,’ I mean me, my brother and a few young Arabs around me. I was seriously aghast the whole crowd wasn’t jumping up & down.
But then again I reminded my self that this concert was only open to Formula 1 ticket holders, most of whom were 30-plus. Not exactly your core Linkin Park fanbase.
I didn’t record every song in full, intentionally. I had to conserve my phone battery and I didn’t feel right about recording the entire concert as though I was going to bootleg this or something.
Of course, some songs I had to record in full.
This was the ending set:
After a very brief break, the band were back on stage for the encore.
First, they performed one of my favourite songs from the new album:
…before closing out the show with some more of their biggest hits!
Nearly an hour and 45 minutes later, the show was over. In that time, they played pretty much all their singles (except for “Breaking the Habit“). The band said their goodbyes and left the stage. Everyone except Mike Shinoda that is, who would spend nearly 10 minutes or so shaking hands and greeting fans in the front row. What an awesome guy.
We left Yasalam, collected my camera bag and managed to contact our taxi driver who had come all the way from Dubai to pick us up.
As we drove back, I couldn’t help but think back on the past few hours. Sure, we were tired as hell, but what a weekend! Landed in Dubai yesterday, went around, shopped, today witnessed a Formula One race on a Rs. 40, 000 ticket (which we got for free) and then watched one of my favourite bands perform live (again, for free)! But most of all, the moment that did it for me, I met Mike Shinoda and got a photo with him! That was good enough.
On one hand, I enjoyed a evening with a decent crowd with no pushing or shoving and an amazing stage setup. On the other hand, the concert could have used a better crowd. But thinking about it, I can’t fathom how much I would have hated the first Linkin Park concert in India — with thousands of their young fans who are going to go absolutely apeshit because they waited for so long to finally get a glimpse of their rock idols. (I pray Linkin Park plays at least 3 venues when they land in India)
Every artist uses the “We’ll be back” line at the end of their concerts. Some do, some don’t. Linkin Park will be back in UAE for sure. And next time, it will surely be for their real UAE fans at some event more suitable like the Desert Rock Festival or a stand alone concert.
Once back in our hotel, we quickly went out again to grab some shawarmas and some juice for dinner. We didn’t have anything planned for tomorrow other than packing and heading to the hotel.
Yeah, it would have been nice if we could have stayed back one more day, saw the Sunday race and watched Prince perform afterwards. (We had tickets for all 4 days; Kanye West performed on Friday but we couldn’t have been bothered to drive all the way to Dubai for his inflated ego). But I just couldn’t afford to. I had to head back to office on Monday and then on Tuesday night, had to catch my postponed flight to Thailand for my next trip.
All in all, a hectic but memorable experience.
Oh, and finally, thanks VH1 India! (Especially Aparna)
I was so looking forward to today. After Vishu celebrations at home with family, I called up our usual taxi driver and headed to the final stop in my sightseeing itinerary of UAE.
Since I was leaving from Musaffah, Yas Island wasn’t very far — 15 minutes or so by road (it’s around 30 mins from Abu Dhabi city).
The US$30 billion plus (yes!) Yas Island is the flagship project of Aldar Properties. It’s such a huge undertaking that you might as well visit Aldar’s website to see what all they plan on building out here.
But the Middle East story remains the same. What was once nothing but desert sands is now being turned into a gargantuan construction site offering the best of everything to the world.
Though still far off from completing everything envisioned, some of the tent pole attractions are nearing their opening dates — like Ferrari World.
Set to open before the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ferrari World is set to be the world’s largest indoor theme park. And this being themed after Ferrari, it will also house Formula Rossa — the fastest roller coaster in the world. How fast? Up to 240kmph (or 149 miles) with the power of 1.7 Gs pressing against your chest! Scary.
If you are wondering what is so impressive about this monstrosity, well, photos from the ground below are not going to do it justice unfortunately. For that, you should see what it looks like from up above.
Crazy isn’t it? That they actually built something this futuristic and alien, on such a scale!
(Question: How are they going to clean the roof?)
After driving past Ferrari World, the taxi driver took me to the attraction I was mainly here for — and the only one fully complete on Yas Island.
Last year, at the inaugural race held in Abu Dhabi, seeing the Yas Hotel all lit up on TV made for quite an impressive sight. The only day-&-night race (starting in the evening) on the F1 calendar, Abu Dhabi had to one-up the Singapore F1 — the first night race — and also one held along their Marina Bay (albeit a natural one).
I asked my driver to drop me here and come back around 7:30pm as I was going to be here for a while.
Since I had some time before sunset and the Yas Hotel lights came on, I checked out the docks first. Also because visitors aren’t allowed access on to the tracks, so I didn’t really have much choice.
The sun was setting, which only meant the lights were slowly starting to appear on the Yas Hotel.
It was past 6pm by this time and the lights were finally starting to show.
While I made my way back to the other side, I met a group of Indian workers who have been working on this ‘alien invasion of the desert’ since the beginning.
They told me how all this was nothing but sand when they began a few years ago… and how they managed to flood a desert and turn into a artificial marina.
By the time I was done with our conversation, the skies had turned near-pitch dark, which only meant one thing — the Yas Hotel was now in full bloom.
I had seen it from a distance on my second day in Abu Dhabi but I’m so glad I chose to see it up close!
It was past 7pm now, so I made my way back to the entrance of Yas Hotel.
As I waited for my taxi, I noticed a bright red sports car make its way around the fountain. I then quickly realized it was the impressive Nissan GTR, the winner of a gazillion “Car of the Year” awards since its debut two years ago.
I went up to the car to get a closer look.
And then, the driver actually looks at me and calls me over. For a second I was like: “Oops, was I not supposed to take photos?”
But as I walked up towards him, the young Arab owner only asked me if he could see the photos I had taken. Then he asked me if I wanted him to park it better so I could take a proper photo!
“Of course,” I said 🙂
We began talking and he (Ali, I believe his name was) told me about his prized possession. Costing around INR 39 lakh, he got it second hand from the US and came to Yas Marina Circuit to find out how much it costs to drive one’s own car on the track.
He even let me sit in the car and get a better feel of the tech-loaded GTR.
He even asked me send him the photographs and we exchanged each others contact information. By then, I hear a horn beep and I turn around to see my taxi driver waving to me. He had arrived a few minutes back but waited as he saw me talking to Ali.
As we drove back to my parent’s place, we passed by the HQ office building.
While in the car, as always with this driver, he told me tales about his experiences in this country. As I recounted my evening at the Yas Marina Circuit and the cars, he told me about the spoilt lazy youth and how the Government just throws money at them in the hopes they’d end up with a career one day. I’m sure a lot of what he was telling me was true because it’s not like I haven’t heard about all this before.
Still, the visit to Yas Island was certainly one of the best highlights of this trip. I recommend it to anyone visiting the UAE. It’s only an hour’s drive from Dubai and 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi city.
I can assure you, once Ferrari World and the other attractions open, Yas Island will become one of the world’s ‘must-see’ destinations in a few years time — which is what Abu Dhabi is striving for.
This concludes all the posts on all the sights I saw in the two weeks I spent in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I only have a concluding post which is mostly going to be an editorial piece. Meaning: more words than photos.