Dubai beyond the superlatives


“I have always loved the desert,” says a lost traveller in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince. “One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” and so of Dubai.

For in Dubai there is always an undercurrent of action, of ritual, of movement – be it in the slow silence of the desert, a sudden bustle in a busy souk, or the break of a call to prayer: Dubai, newborn and ancient, is alive.

We are sitting on woven rugs, eating falafel with our fingers and suddenly she’s gone. I, of course, continue eating my falafel. On a private safari with new friends we are raced down desert sand dunes (amid much squealing – admittedly mine) to an unassuming oasis of delicious food, a hookah corner and belly-dancers who make you rethink that third falafel.

Away from the cheerful comfort of the lanterns, it is an all-consuming dark. We squelch the sand between our toes as if at the beach, let the sand run through our fingers and later question how sand got into…well all the nooks it did.

“Where did she go?” someone asks in an apple-scented puff of shisha. We look to the food, someone searches near the camels.

Gone is the Life of the Party (there’s always one). Up ‘til late in clubs that give Vegas a run for its money and up by The Dubai Mall’s opening hours, here, in the middle of a desert (where we thought her cornered), she is gone.

"What makes the desert beautiful," said the little prince, "is that somewhere it hides a well…"

In a corner far from the belly dancer (and the following she has cultivated) we see her, head bent in deep conversation with an old woman.

“That means-”

They look up as we cast a shadow over their two huddled forms. Her once white hand is a now a series of hennaed alleyways, roundabouts and a sudden flower.

We line up to ‘have ours done’, but there’s something about hers that is different. Or about her that is different. In the time we wait for the henna to dry, hands splayed out on the table so as to not crack the design, she is mostly silent, looking to the black of the sky.

“This is really a desert,” she says, more question than statement of fact.

“I forgot.”

There is another Dubai. Where the skeletons of almost-skyscrapers gleam in the morning sun, and malls (such a suburban term for these creations) call to unsuspecting credit cards. Surface Dubai, it is – and ever so enticing.

But even from the dizzying heights of the Burj Khalifa, in the blue waters of Jumeirah Beach or on the icy slopes of SkiDubai, somewhere nearby is the desert, a silent witness to Dubai’s rapid changes.

Because despite all that it is and all that it is becoming, Dubai is not its tallest building
or its biggest mall: Dubai is the welcome of a stranger; the sharing of a home-cooked meal; or a story told, translated in henna.

All images courtesy of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: Gaya Avery
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