A slice of the city, viewed from the balcony of our hotel room at Palace Downtown Dubai. It’s one of the hotels owned by a Sheikh (naturally) who also owns a mall and another top end hotel, known simply, as The Address. Legend has it that the entire Dubai was a fiefdom of four Sheikhs who developed a desert into a tourists delight, with a sprawl of malls and high-rise hotels.
Such was Dubai’s landscape less than five decades back. Today, tourists are driven some 50 odd miles in a safari to get a feel of the desert
.Dubai’s economy today thrives on its real estate , financial services, and oil. But, unlike in some of the other Emirates, oil isn’t Dubai’s prime source of revenue. It accounts for a mere 5 percent of GDP. Real estate development is an ongoing affair. The blank space in the landscape between the high-rises in the photo (above) would morph, within the next few years, into design city
Another city view, from the hotel complex. You see that early visitors for after-dusk music and light show on the lake have already taken vantage positions.. As a tourist from a chronically power-short India I was somewhat amazed at the excessive lighting and general power consumption. The city’s roads and buildings are so lit up after sunset that the place looks as if its ‘Diwali’ for Dubai round the year.
Taking this picture (nothing picturesque about it) I had in mind the Sheikhs who might be owning these yachts, the tall buildings behind, not to speak of the expensive cars parked in front. Many of our ‘desi’ brethren, in contrast, make a living as shop assistants, hotel room-service staff, and cab drivers. They make good money, though. Expats – representing 200 nationalities – account for 80 percent city residents. They keep the place ticking.
The natives of Dubai, 20 percent pop. – don’t need to work, it appears. The govt. provides them with houses – five to seven bedroom, with swim pool – with free power and water supply thrown in. Foreigners can’t own property in Jumeirah , an upscale locality where most natives live. The local property owners may well be making a packet renting out residential and commercial space to foreigners.
And the city appears so flushed with wealth that the municipal authorities in tax-free Dubai make even mundane fixtures as a trash bin look classy. Littering is an offence that attracts severe punishment.
Quite a few ‘desi’ journalists work in newspapers. As someone who had spent his working life in journalism, I was particularly interested in discovering a Journalists Association in Dubai. Media isn’t something with which I associated the city. UAE is not particularly known for its free press.
My wife, reminds me, though, I was once desperate enough to seek a newspaper job a job in the Mid-East. It must have been during my earlier days in journalism when I had struck a lean patch in career. She tells me she had prayed that I shouldn’t succeed in my attempt , She had funky notions about the Arab world, I didn’t get the placement I had sought in ‘Khaleej Times’. Considering that press freedom was a relatively recent development in that region, it was just as well that my wife’s prayers were answered, and I continued to slog it out in a Delhi newspaper.
Read on the Net that UAE journalists observed their first Press Freedom Day as recently as in 2008. At a majlis held on Sept.23 of that year Mohammed Youssef, the then head of the UAE Journalists Association gave a call for more openness in the media and further legal protection for reporters and editors. He held there was growing acceptance by government officials and businesses that the media needed to be free, but that there was a long way to go before journalists could get the same access to information as their counterparts in other parts of the world.
Our city tour guide – I could catch her name when she introduced herself – bought our entry ticket at the Dubai Museum. In her three-year stay in the city, she would have done the museum so many times that she preferred to stay out in the bus while we went around the place.
Most ‘desis’ think gold whenever someone mentions Dubai. And the city has an entire bazar for gold. Shops there retail gold ornaments and diamond , as traders do , shoes or saris in bazars elsewhere. Was surprised to notice a prominent Indian presence in Dubai’s gold souk.
A visitor to the city nowadays would notice Joyalukkas hoardings featuring Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan located on strategic points in the city.. The Bollywood star figured in a sponsored newspaper supplement brought out by the leading Indian jewelers . Bollywood celebs, they say, are favourties with Dubai Sheikhs. One of them is believed to have gifted a villa in Dubai to Shahrukh Khan. Salman Khan is hosted by a Sheikh, who places a chauffeured Rolls at Salman Khan’s disposal during his regular visits to the town.
No blog post on Dubai can be said to be complete without a reference to Burj Khalifa. Its iconic status is so tall (in physical terms) and towering that you can’t miss the tower, world’s tallest till date, wherever you are in the downtown Dubai.
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