Abu Dhabi Travel Journal 2017
“My object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation as my two eyes make one sight.” ~ Robert Frost
What fun is work without some play? And so I decided to take Frost’s advice on bringing the two together on my recent visit to Abu Dhabi. I was flown into the UAE by the Vivo team who had invited me to be a part of SIIMA 2017. While the event ushered in its own frivolities which were full of fun and excitement, I decided to dedicate an entire day to explore the beautiful capital of UAE. While the Sheikh Zhayed Mosque was on the top of my list, my wanderlust soul wanted to get touristy and discover some of the more popular sites in the city. So to make the most out of my day, I got a whole day private tour booked through a travel agency I found online.
While Dubai’s suave lies in its tourist-inclined infrastructure, Abu Dhabi’s gets its sophistication from the eminence of renowned financial and political institutions. While Dubai is UAE’s wild child, Abu Dhabi is the disciplined kid. But when it comes to beauty, both have their own allure. I found some of the most fascinating architecture in Abu Dhabi proving that it is most deserving of its position as UAE’s capital.
A labyrinth of skyscrapers! The shiny, mirror finished look of buildings seem to be a common trait in UAE – one that adds to the classy and urbane personality of its capital city.
UAE’s affinity for good infrastructure is clearly visible in the magnificent Burj Khalifa. But did you know that this is not the only building that has been entered in the Guinness World Records? Abu Dhabi’s 160 meter Capital Gate building has been entered as the furthest leaning man-made tower in the world. This precariously positioned building leans four times more than the leaning tower of Pisa!
First Stop: The Sheikh Zhayed Grand Mosque
While Mecca and Medina continue to remain the largest mosques in Saudi Arabia, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque follows closely as the largest mosque outside Saudi Arabia. The mosque is a spectacle of beauty and is definitely worth a visit on your trip to Abu Dhabi.
The first President and founder of UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan commissioned the construction of the eponymous mosque in an attempt to exhibit the cultural diversity of Islam and the architectural modernity of UAE. Anyone who has seen the mosque will agree that the Sheikh was able to fulfil his vision which has led to the creation of the largest and grandest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The only despondency of this beautiful architecture lies in the fact that the Sheikh never lived to see the completion of the mosque.
The magnitude of the construction required 38 contracting companies to work in unison for 11 years employing 3,500 workers through the course of the construction which spanned from 1996 to 2007. It is built 11 meters above sea level and 9.5 meters above street level so that the mosque is seen from all directions. The Sheikh who lived till 2004 has his final resting place in the grounds next to the mosque.
The mosque is not just magnificent on the outside. Every aspect of the building honours the Sheikh’s intention of propagating “unity of the world”. The finest carpets of Iran and New Zealand beautify the floors, the twinkle of Swarovski crystals in the German chandeliers deepen the intensity of the rich interiors, marbles from Macedonia and Italy give the floors and walls a soul of their own. And the mosque borrows inspiration from India, Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan for the intricate work that ornate the inside of the mosque. Poetic as it sounds, I wonder if there is anyone who could visit this mosque and not feel the urge to get poetic at all.
For me, the most impressive facet of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was the exquisitely hand-painted marble columns. The flowery vines that decorate the pillars are in harmony with the colour scheme followed in the rest of the building. As for the mesmeric leaf details on the crown of each column, every one of them have been done in real gold – every bit as fascinating!
The cool blue waters of the pond along the courtyard reflect the beautiful columns in the mosque creating a fantastic illusion that looks striking in daylight. But the locals say that the beauty of the place is magnified in the evening hours during sunset.
I was enthralled by the grandiosity of the mosque and the fervour with which this place of worship has been constructed. It’s amazing how visually stunning a place of worship can be!
The Emirates Palace Hotel
Emanating from the remains of a palace which was built for the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is the city’s very own 7-star hotel – The Emirates Palace. The touch of classic Arabian influences is visible throughout the palace which lies heavily on the traditional side of architecture. On the inside, the entire building is covered in golden work glistening in the grandeur of its rich history.
The hotel boasts of its own private beach and it revels in the natural beauty of gardens and lawns which cover 85 hectares of the hotel grounds. There are 394 rooms and suites – each one of them beautifully fall in the lines of the Arabic theme of the hotel. The hotel is exemplary of splendour and majesty where tinges of gold hint at the magnificence of the place – not only in its past as a palace, but in its present too.
24 Carat Gold Cappuccino at Emirates Palace Hotel
Chocolate Cake Cappuccino at Emirates Palace Hotel
If you’ve been craving an adrenaline rush, then Ferrari World located at Yas Island could be just the place for you. It is known to be the world’s largest Ferrari-themed amusement park and houses the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa. Abu Dhabi’s extreme climate is probably the reason why it has been thoughtfully constructed as an indoor theme park.
Located directly adjacent to a mall, you will find yourself riding several escalators up to reach the entrance of Ferrari World. As you queue up for tickets, the Ferrari Store may catch your eye. It has some very pretty merchandise.
Quite sadly, I reached Formula Rossa to find a queue that could take me almost 4 hours just to get on the ride which would then last a few minutes. Since time was of essence because I had just one day to explore the city so I ditched the roller coaster and enjoyed the rest of Ferrari World. If you want to avoid a queue, make sure you get here when the place opens.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Safari Experience
When I closed my eyes to imagine the desert, I thought of the vastness of sand, the games it is known to play with the mind, the way it changes colours reflecting the moods of the sun and of course the nonchalant camel riders who know the place like the back of their hands. My safari was so much like this figment of my imagination! It offered every bit the thrill of being in the middle of nowhere, lost in time and space, in an entirely different dimension where the people set decided the pace of the world and not the other way around.
My desert safari began in a 4×4 van which fits 6 people and a driver. Quite surprisingly, the desert has its own way of travelling, and this one includes travelling with deflated tires. Apparently, firm wheels don’t make a smooth ride in the soft desert sands.
The driver was kind enough to give us fair warning when he asked all of us to buckle up just before he turned up the music and started one of the most exciting rides that I have ever experienced in my life! It felt like I was riding an enclosed roller coaster – just a bit slower and one that lasted way too long. Sharp turns had me leaning over the other travellers and before you could adjust yourself to the new position you’d be swaying on the other side as another turn came up in the desert. The drivers are fantastic at navigating the terrain, and the driving is largely the result of the unending landscape.
We stopped halfway through our destination to take some pictures of the infinite-looking desert. I had read that the sand dunes get more impressive as you go deeper in the desert. While we may not have gone too far inside, I definitely felt that the sand played with my vision. I saw deep reds and bright golds and suddenly saw the same sands change into a beautiful yellow. If you were to feel the sand in your hands, you would realize that it is soft to the touch and gently slips away from your hand reinstating its independence as it is whisked away by the breeze.
We soon arrived at the desert camp where we indulged in camel rides, refreshing drinks, a sumptuous dinner and entertainment. An exciting day came to a magical close in the middle of the desert as we enjoyed our last meal of the day before we could say our good nights. It certainly was the most perfect Abu Dhabi desert experience!
End note: To think that I was worried about rising temperatures and lack of knowledge of the local language – I feel imprudent. I had never realized that travelling to a desert city could turn into one of the most beautiful adventures that I have experienced so far. In this one day I rediscovered the benevolence of religion, the mesmerism of intricate craftsmanship, my fascination with regal architecture and the natural magnificence of a place as arid as the desert.
If you have travelled to Abu Dhabi then tell us of your favourite site and if you haven’t then let this be your guide.