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Hot City at the edge of the Arabian Desert

Hot City at the edge of the Arabian Desert
 
 

I WOKE up at 2:00 AM Dubai time. I wasn’t sure what the time was back in Brisbane where the plane had departed some 12 hours earlier. That didn’t matter anymore. I was over on the other side of the world now. Everyone else in the cabin was stirring from their slumber, and the cabin crew were showing signs that breakfast was near. I looked at the screen and saw we were now 1500 kilometres away from our destination. Looking back along the track, we had flown directly over Singapore and northern Sumatra before crossing southern India to our current position about 100 kilometres off the coast of Mumbai.

Breakfast
Breakfast

The cabin lights came on, and breakfast was served. It was simple just being scrambled eggs and fruit, but very nice. I could see through the curtain into business class. The lights were still off in there, giving them a bit more beauty sleep. It was not long though before they too were woken up. We finished breakfast and started preparing for the landing as we crossed the Omani coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

The plane touched down at about 4:15 AM. It was still dark outside as would be expected so early in the morning. The captain announced the outside temperature was thirty five degrees. The inside of the cabin was still very cold necessitating the wearing of my polar fleece top as we left the plane. Fortunately the terminal was air conditioned to the point that I didn’t need to take it off.

I walked through the long passage and downstairs to pass through immigration with relative ease despite the long slow moving queue and the guards in long white robes concealing their machine guns. I was happy though that there are no forms to fill in. Immigration was relatively simple here thanks to the United Arab Emirates being very liberal in allowing foreigners into their country. This was probably the easiest stamp I had received to date. It was certainly a lot easier than the stamp I had to earn in getting back into Australia each time, or the time it took me ages to get my pre-purchased visa processed through immigration in Cambodia.

I met my arranged pickup to my hotel. I walked outside the terminal with the driver to be greeted with thick thirty five degree humidity. It was quite a shock. I had assumed the Middle East would be very dry. Perhaps it is very dry in most areas of the Middle East, but the nearby Red Sea was obviously pumping a lot of moisture into the air.

The roads in Dubai were perfectly smooth and very modern. We followed a freeway for a short distance through the thick purple haze before turning off onto a smaller road. Before I knew it I arrived at my hotel in Deira City. I hadn’t realized it was so close to the airport. Normally transfers from the airport are quite long, but I could have easily walked this distance in mild weather. I was thankful though given the heat.

I entered the revolving door into the hotel entrance. The freezing cold air conditioning hit me as I approached the counter. The man at the counter told me that my check in time wasn’t until midday, but he would let me store my bags here so I could explore the city until it was time to check in. He said if I come at around nine o’clock there should already be some rooms available and they will get me in without charging me the half day rate.

This sounded very good. Unfortunately it was only 5:30 in the morning. I left the cold air conditioning of the hotel to immediately be engulfed with the heat of the thick white haze. The entire area was full of medium rise buildings that would only be a couple of years old at the most, yet there was no one here. It was as if this area had been abandoned if it were not for the cars driving fast to their destinations wherever they would be.

Skyscraper under construction in the haze
Skyscraper under construction in the haze

All the cars looked very modern. There were no bombs here. This obviously wasn’t the sort of place where you would see the bogan in their beat up Ford or Holden. The shopping centre looked rather quiet, and I saw at the front entrance that the opening hours were between 10:00 AM and 1:00 AM each day. There was an entrance to an underground railway station, but that wasn’t due to open for another hour. All the buildings here looked brand new, but none of them were open. That wasn’t much good to me now, so I walked a little further to a bridge crossing the Dubai Creek. It was more like a harbour than a creek though. The bridge had traffic lights and tall pillars in the middle of it to allow the middle of it to be raised to let ships through.

The humidity created a very thick haze, but through it I could see some enormous high rise buildings some distance away. Most buildings were a fairly rectangular shape with perhaps a spire. Many of them were still under construction with cranes towering over the seventy to one hundred storey structures. One was just across the river about a kilometre upstream. It was still under construction but already stood a hundred storeys tall. I looked carefully through the smog scanning right. Then I found it - a very steep triangular building towering high above the other buildings. This was the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

It actually appeared quite close, but this was deceptive. This building was a massive 828 metres tall. I realized there was no way I would be able to walk this – it must be a good 15 to 20 kilometres away even though it appeared dominant from here. It would have been a challenging distance to walk in temperate conditions, but the sun was rising, and so now was the temperature and humidity. Walking there in this heat would have been a killer.

Hot sunrise
Hot sunrise

By now the sun was rising over the low buildings behind me. So I took a few shots. Interestingly the sun appeared quite cold as a dull orange in the pink haze near the horizon fusing into an orange haze higher up, but that was far from the truth. It was now 37 degrees and the humidity impossibly high.

I looked back at the Burj Khalifa. The towering spire was shining bright gold in the sunlight which hadn’t yet reached the lower buildings surrounding it. That must be an amazing place to watch the sun rising and see the rest of the city still in grey darkness below.

There were people gardening in the garden beds beside the road. The plants under the scanty date palms were very interesting with each small bush being shaped almost perfectly into a knee high cylinder or cone. Maybe one day they will merge into a single mass of hedging. It must have been very hot work here today.

By the time I returned to the railway station it had just opened. There were announcements about when the next trains were arriving. I had not planned catching a train here as I had read that it would not open until 2012, but the project had been completed well ahead of schedule, so this was a pleasant surprise.

I followed the escalator down towards the station. It went about two storeys underground to a tunnel that connected between the similar shaped cylindrical buildings I saw on the street above.

Then I realized I didn’t have any local currency. I only had US dollars that I will be using later in the trip. There were a couple of EFTPOS machines, and fortunately I easily withdrew 300 Dirum – that’s about 100 Australian dollars. Now I had money, I went to the ticket machine. I had no idea what to purchase even though the writing was both in English and Arabic. Then I saw a map of the railway system before realising I had absolutely no plan for the morning. Sure I had tickets for a tour organised for the afternoon and for the Burj Khalifa for the evening. I had no idea where to go so I picked what seemed to be a good station at the far end – Dubai Marina. There were a lot of good stations along the way, but thought I won’t be walking much more in this oppressive heat.

I went to the counter and asked for a return ticket to the Dubai Marina, so they gave me a tourist pass card for two zones explaining that will get me there and back. Cool. I was dying from thirst by now, so I found a tiny shop that sold water and bought a bottle. Luckily the bag was opaque so as not to give away that I wasn’t respecting the local customs. It was the holy month of Ramadan. Locals don’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset at this time of year. That’s normally fine, but what about people who work outside in this heat? Surely going all day without water can’t be too healthy for them.

Dubai
Dubai

I honestly had no idea where I was going. There were constant announcements saying “Rashidiya” train on platform 1 going to Rashidiya”, and “Al Raya train on platform 2 going to Al Raya.” Hearing those two alternating messages was of no help, but I found a train timetable on the wall. They come every three minutes in each direction. That was impressive – where I come from they only come every half hour. I then realised I needed the Al Raya train.

Now I had to work out where to catch the train. There were apparently two classes of ticket. I had bought a standard – or lower class ticket. The area next to the bottom of the escalator was for the higher class tickets. I went further back along the platform just as the train pulled in.

The driverless train arrived and the doors of both the train and station opened. I entered with a couple of other people and found a seat. Then the train pulled out. It reminded me of the trains that take you between the terminals of Changi airport in Singapore. It wasn’t an old heavy train like we have in Australasia, but a light purpose built passenger train. It stopped at a couple more underground stations which I had no idea of the name of before it suddenly broke the surface. Amazingly the train had already gone under the Dubai Creek and surfaced out on the other side.

The train followed the main highway rising to about eight metres above the road. From there I could see the impressive buildings on this side out the window towering to amazing heights. The train was a little crowded, but then again this was coming into peak hour.

There wasn’t much of a view out the other side of the train, but not because the train window were small, but the buildings were so enormous – especially the Burj Khalifa which I only saw the bottom of. I made a mental note to take a seat on the other side when I come back. Anyway the sun was too low in the sky on that side to make a good picture.

I stood out like a sore thumb. Clearly I was the only tourist on board. Everyone else on the train appeared to be locals heading to work. I imagined the equivalent back home - someone from the Middle East with a giant camera travelling on public transport during morning peak hour. I’m sure they would get a funny look, and I was sure people thought strange of a tourist being on their train.

Railway station
Railway station

The train line had some really cool station names. Most of them were Arabic names, but there were some like “IT City”, which I assumed was nerd heaven where all the geeks of the Middle East congregate to work in various IT projects. This certainly did look like an IT area with very square glassy buildings towering over green landscaped parks surrounding small lakes.

Finally we reached the station I was aiming for. Now I had absolutely no idea what to expect here, I just randomly picked a train station just for the sake of going for a ride to keep out of the heat. Fortunately these trains were very well air conditioned.

Highway through the city
Highway through the city

I got off the train and walked along a long air conditioned tunnel that crossed the main road. This road had six lanes going in either direction with the traffic flowing quite smoothly. This looked like a really well laid out city. It wasn’t the usual congestion found in most cities that have been gradually built up over a few hundred years with the technology changing substantially.

Upon reaching the other side of the road, the walkway tunnel went down an escalator to the entrance. Once more I was hit by the extreme heat, perhaps 39 degrees by now, but the humidity seemed to have dropped off a bit. There was a street going off to the left going towards the coast. From there I saw a very unusually shaped building being constructed. It was just a regular rectangle that had been twisted at the top with the entire building twisting as it went. It was very interesting indeed.

Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina

I followed the road down to a canal photographing the magnificent buildings, standing seventy to a hundred stories high. They were all very nicely coloured desert pastel colours, not the usual steel and aluminium grey colours you see in so many buildings these days. They were all very pleasant to look at, coloured in a harmonious palette of warm colours inspired by the desert and sea. There was a whole cluster of these giant buildings making an amazing backdrop to the marina and deep aquamarine water in the foreground. The two tallest buildings were still under construction, reaching higher and higher into the sky without limits so it seemed. I could have walked for about half an hour to palm island – a huge artificial island in the shape of a palm leaf, but that would have killed me in this heat.

Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina

I quickly returned to the air conditioned tunnel and caught the train back to Deira City, now some 40 kilometres away. I photographed the buildings in the haze. Now they had been pretty spectacular looking towards the cost, but they looked even more amazing on the return journey. They were in all sorts of weird gravity defying shapes. The architects who had designed these buildings would have absolutely loved it here, designing the buildings to all sorts of shapes. Although the construction boom had gone into recession, there was still a lot of construction going on here. The new buildings seemed weirder than the older ones, some shaped like upended boats, and others had a deliberate lean. Other buildings flayed outwards mocking the very gravity that held them down to the desert sand. There must be some sort of bedrock somewhere under the sand here to hold them up.

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

Then I saw the giant Burj Khalifa. The tapering spire pointed far into the sky. It was still a fair distance away, but already I needed to tilt the camera to portrait view to get the entire building into the shot. It stood alone amongst a number of short buildings that only served to accentuate the height of this monster. All the other tall buildings in the city seemed to have crept away from its dominance.

Finally I arrived back at Deira City. I quickly walked back to the hotel and they had some rooms available now. I checked in and relaxed in the nice cool room for a few hours before the tour. It was a very nice room, albeit a little small. It had a nice sandy creamy colour scheme so prevalent here. An interesting block sculpture was above the window which looked out onto a swimming pool at this level. There wasn’t much else to see from here though, but that didn’t matter. I needed to unpack and have a rest before the tour.

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07 August 2011

 

Dubai

United Arab Emirates

 

25°10'N
55°15'E

0 - 20m ASL

 

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