The United Arab Emirates, comprising seven emirates has sprung up as a tourist destination in last two decades. It wants to outpace Singapore, which used to be destination in neighbourhood of India.

Our close relations invited me along with my wife to visit Dubai and we accepted the same.

On 27th April 2006 we boarded Air India Delhi-Dubai flight AI 747. Its schedule time of departure is 8.45pm but the aircraft started taxing at tarmac at 9.30 pm. Ultimately, the plane took off at 9.45 pm. We got seats 4A and 4B in business class on being upgraded on my request to CMD Air India V. Thulsidas of Indian Administrative Service. Though the flight was full even in business class but it was his courtesy to accommodate our requests. Actually I was travelling on award ticket issued against mileage points earned as a member of frequent flyer programme of Air India and Indian Airlines. For wife Shahnaz, the ticket was purchased for economy class at the cheapest rate available in the market, after negotiation. Travelling in business class has been always an attraction to me as I get lot of magazines to read during flight when I have no other work to do. During the flight I could read News Week, International Indian, Society, The Week, etc. On board I also saw Iqbal, a film on a deaf and dumb boy’s dream of playing cricket for team India, which ultimately he accomplishes after overcoming heavy odds.

On arrival at the airport I found the system of visa checking unscientific and poorly managed. Before proceeding for Dubai I had obtained visas through a senior manager of Indian Airlines who arranged visas through manager in Dubai office. I carried fax copy of visas. After landing at the airport the passenger has to obtain the original copy of the visa from visa collection counter. By mistake the Indian Airlines manager did not deposit the original copy at the airport counter. When I went to collect the original visa it was not there. After my arrival there were two consecutive holidays in Dubai hence it was difficult to obtain original visa from the concerned person. When I contacted immigration office they issued me permit to go out of airport after withholding the passport. They levied a fine of Dhm 117 each on the sponsoring agency for not submitting the original visa at the counter. Thus at dawn of 8th April I reached Everest International hotel located in Bur Dubai where my brother-in-law Imran Alam had made arrangement for our stay.

After little sleep and freshing up I contacted the senior manager of Indian Airlines at Delhi headquarter and told him about non-delivery of the original visa at the immigration counter. He contacted his Dubai based manager who in turn contacted me over phone and came rushing with original visa. Together we went to the immigration counter of Dubai airport. After paying the fine, which I paid on behalf of the defaulting manager and deposit of the original visas the passports were released.

I wonder why Dubai, which wants to rival Singapore, cannot modernize visa system. For those passengers who fly by Emirates and ready to pay high hotel tariff are issued visa on arrival itself. But for others there is system of sponsorship visa, which creates hassle. Firstly the government of UAE should allow issue of visa from offices of Emirates airlines throughout the world. Secondly the visa should be scanned and loaded on the computer. The officials at visa collection counter can check the visa website and issue print out of the valid visa. The UAE has to improve its visa system through modernisation. The visa system spoils first impression of the working of government of UAE.

We roamed around Dubai in the evening of 28th April. We drove along the Arabian Gulf coast and reached Jumeirah Beach and Burj al Arab hotel. Large number of foreign tourists and others were enjoying the sun setting scene in the gulf. There I learnt about the story that the western architect constructed the largest cross on the hotel Burj al Arab. As the cross structure faced the gulf its construction remained unnoticed by people till it was fully constructed. It was strongly resented by the Muslims. It is said that the King of Saudi Arabia offered to government of emirates to get demolished the structure of cross for which good compensation would be paid. It has not been implemented so far due to western powers who may view the destruction of cross as dominance of Islamic fundamentalists in UAE. Moreover, UAE has adopted western life style in all respects, may be to develop itself as sought after tax free shopping world and lust full tourist destination.

On 29th April we decided to visit Deira city centre. I have a policy of knowing any city by travelling by its public transport. For an experience I took bus no.3 from Kanu building. When the bus reached AC Makhtoum Bridge before crossing over Dubai creek the bus stopped all in a sudden and the passengers were evacuated. The water-cooling tank of air conditioner in the rear of the bus had started leaking. The driver organised another bus and we reached Deira shopping centre. We spent several hours doing windowshopping. It is a big shopping mall full of European merchandise and other sought after consumer items. But price was prohibitive. We took a taxi and returned to our hotel at 4.30pm.

At 7.30pm my cousin Shaukat Hamid his wife Tabassum and their daughter Sadia reached the hotel. We decided to visit Ibn Battuta Mall located in Jabel Ali. We drove along cost of Arabin gulf on Sheikh Zayed Road, which connects Dubai to Abu Dhabi. On the way we saw the places in the gulf where reclaimed land for construction of unique beachfront property projects like the World and the Palm-Jumeirah are located. It is said that these projects along with the Palm Deira, located between Hamriya Port and Port Rashid will be visible from the space. The targeted clients will be fashionable millionaires from world over.

Ibn Battuta Mall has actually six theme malls. We did not have much time. We visited the pavilions of Tunisia and Egypt. We saw demonstration of invention of astronomy by Egyptians on a LCD. We took Iranian meal in one of the restaurants and returned hotel in mid night.

On 30th April I got up leisurely in the morning. We took a taxi and reached Makhtoum Road where Air India office is located. In the morning I spoke to reservation section of Air India requesting for preponing reservation for departure from 10th May to 5th May. Over phone change of date was confirmed. As a matter of life long principle in international journey I visit the airline office for assuring myself about confirmation of reservation. When we presented our tickets we were surprised to know that the reservations were done by mistake of airline staff for Dubai-Bombay flight instead of Dubai-Delhi flight. Had we not visited the Air India reservation counter in person I think we would have landed ourselves in big trouble at the time of reporting at the airport. The lady at the counter made necessary rectification in my journey itinery and my Dubai-Delhi flight reservation was confirmed. But my wife’s flight reservation was marked as waiting.

We went to Al Ghurair City centre and spent few hours in the shopping mall. As usual I did window shopping only. Then I searched an inexpensive Irani restaurant located opposite Deira bus station. We took vegetable, rice and full fish, which was steamed and cooked. They served Iranian tea in small glass cups. Though the price of Iranian food was just Dhms 25 but it was enough for two. The food was really delicious.

After lunch we spent some time in Day to Day super market. I purchased some cosmetics. Then we took a taxi and reached near Bur Dubai bus station and spent time walking around the area and then returned to the hotel.

At about 7pm we met my cousin Shoukat Hamid, who is a senior manager in a food business company. He took us to his flat in Sharjah. We went to a Chinese restaurant and had dinner. At Sharjah an artificial creek has been constructed to bring water from Arabian Gulf. Sharjah like Dubai was glittering in electrical light. I also learnt that dhow transport is popular in import and export between Dubai and Iran.

While on way to Sharjah the traffic jam was sickening slow but on return it was a free road. I returned to the hotel room well past after midnight. Anyway, in Arab world practically day starts in the evening.

On 1st May I got up leisurely in the morning. I roamed around the area. I visited several shops dealing in computers. I was told that Dubai has become centre for export for goods manufactured throughout the world, as there is no tax. I took lunch at Mall of Emirates. It was shawarma and kebabs, Lebanese dishes. At the shopping mall I saw Kiran Kher accompanied by a gentleman who was carrying shopping bags. She looked slim in blue jeans. As usual she wore her hair loose. Dubai has become shopping and leisure destination of Indian film stars and business tycoons.

On 2nd May we checked out of the hotel and took Innova car for visiting Abu Dhabi. The driver, who may be also owner, was Mobin who hails from Bombay. He has been living in Dubai since last twenty years because of good income. His family lives in Bandra in Bombay whom he visits regularly. We started at 10.45 am. The Dubai-Abudhabi road named after Sheikh Makhtoum bin Rashid ex-ruler of Dubai connects the two cities situated at a distance of about 160 kms from each other. The expressway has thick density of commercial complexes mostly sky scrapper buildings nearer to Dubai city. I saw the place where the tallest building of the world, Burj Khalifa, was being constructed. As we drove ahead gradually the scene changed. We saw large stretch of desert. At regular intervals, there are small townships where housing complexes of poor local Arabians are located. The government has gifted these comfortable houses. There are occasional shopping malls, also some under construction, located at the expressway. There are impressive mosques at the highway and elsewhere mandatory in shopping malls, more magnificent and ornamental mosques located in cities. On the way I saw the black tower, where headquarter of International Cricket Club was recently shifted.

It was noon when I reached Abu Dhabi. It is a totally modern township. The old buildings are non-existent. The single story bungalows are few and mostly found in diplomatic enclave. I was told that Abu Dhabi was constructed within last five years. It has manhattans land scape as well as blue water sea front which is captivating. I saw corniches, Sultan Palace hotel, Marina Mall, diplomatic area. The people were either at shopping malls or at restaurants. The streets were full of cars but no pedestrian. A magnificent and ornamental mosque was constructed at sea front but it was yet to be opened for regular namaz prayer. I also saw the largest mosque of Emirates also.

I visited Shaikh Zayed Cricket stadium when India versus Ireland cricket match of Euroasia cup was being played. India was then batting. There was practically no spectator as that was a working day. But in the evening about two to three hundred people were expected to witness the match. I was told that on holidays like Thursday the stadium is full to capacity. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has fever entertainment avenues.

At about 3 pm I started from Abu Dhabi and reached Sharjah at about 5pm. The driver took a different route to avoid traffic jam between Dubai and Sharjah. In return journey I saw hundreds of heavy trucks trudging the way, which shows high industrial activity. It is surprising that when Dubai is constructing the tallest building of the world it could not even start construction of fly over bridge, underground tube or railways to stream line traffic. It appears the government does not have visionary advisors. It has meagre financial resources, as there is no tax in UAE. All real estates and shopping malls have been developed by private companies who are not concerned about poor infrastructure for handling traffic. But construction of infrastructure for traffic could have been also entrusted to private companies and allowed to charge toll tax at the over bridge or ticket in the tube or train.

I stayed at my cousin’s house till departure for New Delhi. In the evening Shaukat and his family took us to Ajman emirate. On the way I saw port of dhows, which ferry commodities from Sharjah to nearby countries like Iran, Qatar, etc. The small traders from these countries come to Dubai and Sharjah and purchase commodities and ship them by dhows to their countries where they make good profit. We spent some time at Ajman beach. Ajman emirate is less developed and inexpensive place.

On 3rd May I remained indoor due to the scorching heat. At lunch we saw on television the news of death of Pramod Mahajan after twelve days of struggle in hospital after his brother shot at him.

At about 6 pm we started from Sharjah and proceeded for Ras Al Khaimah, the oldest emirates of UAE. On the way we crossed two other emirates, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain. The latter is the most undeveloped of the emirates. But Ajman has several educational institutions and university also. We reached Correfour shopping mall of Ras Al Khaimah. We sat at La Siesta restaurant located outside the mall. Apart from eatables we enjoyed Shisha-hookah, tobacco with apple flavour. The fire balls landed on clothes, kept in bags which damaged them as my wife was excited to try Shisha. We saw illuminated coastline of man-made lagoon. At 10 pm night the life was vibrant and weather was pleasant. It was pleasant to see families of different ethnic communities enjoying their evening out. I learnt that earlier Arabs did not take their female members of family for any outing. It is due to expatriates mostly of Indian origin who have the culture of taking their family for evening out that the Arabs also adopted this culture.

On 4th May I remained indoor during morning. I saw funeral procession of Pramod Mahajan on television. I also read Gulf News. I learnt about undercurrent of simmering cultural conflict going on in the UAE. There was a news caption which read as: ‘Shocked residents find anti-Islamic pamphlets on their car windscreens. Evangelist booklet by US organisation describes Muslim as ‘moon worshippers’. Allah had no son’ was one of the illegal booklets found on a car in Bur Dubai previous day. They were put on at least twenty cars in the area. Anothercatching news was: ‘British principal banned from teaching in UAE. She discriminated against Arabic and Asian culture’.

On 5th May I became ready on time to offer Juma, Friday namaz. Hasibur Rahman, a mechanical engineer working in a leading cement company of UAE took me to a mosque in Sharjah. On the way I saw jumanamaz being performed in large number of magnificent and beautiful mosques. We saw large part of Sharjah creek and manhattans sky line. It reminded me of Bombay’s Marine Drive and Nariman point. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have large number of sea fronts, creek fronts and manhattans skyline as they are situated along Arabian Gulf. The deep green water of the gulf, Arabian or Persian, is rejuvenating. Water scooter driving in gulf is quite popular among locals and tourists. Hasibur Rahman told me about his experiences and thrill of driving water scooter. He owns one such water scooter. He told me that even if the rider is thrown away in water the safety jacket keeps him afloat. In short time rescue divers like bay watch, reaches the person to save him.

At Juma mosque there was no space available inside. Hence large number of persons offered namaz outside the mosque and under the sun. Some of them could manage to offer namaz under palm trees. I also took a place under palm tree which could only partially save from sun. The infrastructure around mosques is elaborate. Besides space for parking of cars, they have some time creek fronts and grass lands adjacent to the mosques.

Shoukat Hamid, my cousin, with whom I was staying, had an attack ofinfection and fever since previous night. In 2002 he was admitted in ICU when bronchitis and throat infection became acute. We became worried but he was rushed to a prominent hospital where he underwent a thorough checkup. The company where he worked had provided him medical insurance facility. In UAE depending upon job status and conditions the employer provides such medical facilities.

I reached Dubai airport at 8.45 pm. I had to search for Air India counter as there was no display of sign of airlines checks in counters. However, we were lucky that my wife and I got upgraded to business class in Air India. Before boarding the flight the security drill was quite annoying. The securitycheckingjob was entrusted to young novice men and women. My shoes, like others were sent through X-ray machine. This was first time in my entire international travel that even shoes were screened through X-ray machine. I also saw a closed room exclusively for smoking cigarette before boarding the flight. I did some small shopping in duty free shops. I understand that there was not much difference in prices of commodities available in town and at duty free shops.

I boarded Air India flight AI 746. It started taxing at scheduled time which is 11.45pm. However, the flight took off at 12.15 am of Dubai time. I said good-bye to UAE. Out of seven emirates I could see Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah. But I did not have time to see the seventh emirate Fujairah.

I got another opportunity to visit UAE in January, 2009. I went there to participate in international exhibition organized at Global Village and also to promote India’s handlooms and handicrafts in the emirates. On 3rd January 2009 I boarded Gulf Airways flight GE 131 whose scheduled time of departure from New Delhi was 6.20 am but as the aircraft from Bahrain could land at about 10 am due to thick fog in and around Delhi the flight actually taxied at 11.15 am and finally took off at 11.45 am. While waiting at the gate before boarding aircraft I met a couple who were on way to Egypt to celebrate fifth anniversary of their marriage. MugdhaChaturvedi and BudhaKalra both work in two news channels. From Bahrain they would board a connecting flight to Cairo. They included two days of Nile cruise in their itinerary. For two persons one week tour of Egypt with air travel, hotel, sightseeing and meals the price was quite cheap, just rupees 1.50 lakh. My flight reached Bahrain where I changed the aircraft and boarded flight GF 566 departing Bahrain at 3.30 pm. I reached Dubai in evening. Besides my officer, Vinay Agrawal, Tabassum, wife of my cousin received me at the airport. This time I found that immigration was modernized with online visa. I checked in a hotel near commercial area of Dubai. Next day, on 4th January the Consul General of India VenuRajamoony met me and discussed about promotion of India’s cultural heritage of handlooms and handicrafts. Later I visited Global Village located at about 40 kms. from Dubai. It was the place where annual long duration international fair was being held. Next day on 5th January I visited CGI office where I held discussions with businessmen and entrepreneurs interested in India’s handlooms and handicrafts. I also visited shop of Mushtaq Vakil who has set up big chain of luxurious furniture trade. I also visited Brahamathi lovely shop of handicrafts and handlooms. For quite few days I was interacting with the businessmen who visited our stall at the fair. In the evening the fair premises used to dazzle in light. Many countries had their pavilion or stalls. There were several crowd pulling cultural performances organized by different countries and also by the organizers of the fair.

Mr. TalmizAhmad, was India’s Ambassador to UAE. His wife used to organize a charity fair every year at the embassy. She used to source the handloom and handicraft products from central cottage industries emporium. The couple took interest in promotion of India’s handlooms and handicrafts. On 7th January I went to Abu Dhabi to meet him. He apprised several companies of emirates about the lovely handloom and handicraft products of India. I also visited Abu Dhabi Mall and Corniche Mall. Abu Dhabi is a beautiful place with sea shore, modern and aesthically built commercial and residential areas. This diplomatic area is also well laid out and beautiful. Abu Dhabi looks like built recently every building and infrastructure look new and fresh. Some important persons from all over world, who had to leave their country for some reasons, have chosen Abu Dhabi as their place of abode.

On 9th January I took Oman Airlines flight which took off at 11 am. I reached Muscat, capital of Sultanate of Oman at 12 noon.

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