Besides the luxury, glamour and consumerism, I was glad to see that Dubai did have a completely different side to it.
Archaeological excavations reveal that the first human settlements in Dubai existed as far back as 3000 BC. The first records of a town being formed were in the late 18th century. The area was largely supported by trading, fishing and pearl diving. The development of the cultured pearl industry in 1926 and the Great Depression of 1929 caused the international pearl market to collapse. It wasn’t until the discovery of oil in 1966 that Dubai’s economy really began to thrive. When the United Arab Emirates formed in 1971, Dubai joined and became the commercial hub for this newly formed country.
To take a peek behind the curtain framing Dubai’s frivolous present, I visited Dubai Creek. This is where pearl divers once made their living. Dhows loaded with trade goods crossed the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf from this little creek. I wandered around the textile, perfume, spice and gold souks in the Deira area. For 1 AED each, my friends and I took an abra, their traditional boat, across the Creek to old Bastakiya where I marvelled at the preserved courtyard houses through narrow lanes and tall towers. These wind towers were the only way of cooling houses in the days before electricity. We stopped by XVA cafe and art gallery to enjoy a courtyard lunch and contemporary art all in one go.
I visited the Dubai museum to understand how Dubai has evolved and get a picture of its cultural heritage. Tickets were cheap at only 3 AED. The museum is a part of Al-Fahidi Fort, dated 1799, and possibly the oldest standing structure in Dubai. It was once the seat of government and the residence of Dubai’s rulers.
I was surprised to realise that the sleek Dubai of now was, only sixty years ago, just a sleepy fishing village. It was refreshing to learn about Dubai’s nomadic roots and see a hint of this along the banks of the Creek and in Bastakiya. My only regret was that I didn’t have time to organise a desert safari day-trip. I guess I just had to leave an excuse to visit again.
(visited in 2012)