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Iranian Spice Market

Iranian Spice Market

THE BUILDINGS in the Dubai old quarter appeared distinctly old even though they had been constructed only as recently as the 1960s and 1970s. They appeared very old compared to the super modern main quarter of the city where most all of the buildings had been constructed only within the past ten years or so.

On the Dubai Creek
On the Dubai Creek

The old quarter of Dubai flanked the edges of a large tidal estuary. Until the late 1950s the city had been no more than a small fishing village at the edge of the desert. The old quarter we were now exploring was built in the 1960s and 1970s.

I walked with the small tour group I was travelling with down the narrow road thankfully in the shade of the low rise buildings. The temperature was forty degrees and surprisingly humid I thought for a desert area. Overhead a wooden canopy in the shape of a very long upside down hull kept the street shaded. The cover was on top of two rows of magnificent timber frames. We walked under the canopy downhill until we reached the river, where numerous small passenger boats were moored and there was a fair bit of tourist activity. The boats were perhaps six metres long and two wide with excellent curves. They had small triangular elevated roofing that seemed to be there more for aesthetics than for keeping the sun off. Certainly at this fairly late time of afternoon it wasn’t going to provide any relief from the intense sun blazing over the desert from the west at all. A single long wide berth ran for much of the length down the middle of the boat, with a large padded cushion for passengers to sit on.

Boat on the Dubai Creek
Boat on the Dubai Creek

We climbed onto one of the small wooden boats. A rather plump balding man jumped on board and climbed into a square hole in the middle of the boat where the controls and the small ship’s wheel was. He started up the diesel engine and we crossed to the other side of the stream, just as the villagers had done up till about fifty years ago. I was amazed that the driver could see past us as he was quite low in the boat. There were several other boats taking people across the dark greenish purple waters of the estuary and numerous boats tied up along each side. The buildings along either side appeared quite old, in sharp contrast to the new high rise buildings creating the skyline further away. The buildings were quite low in the water. Whether this was a result of the sheer weight of the city sinking into the sand, or whether the tide was particularly high, I didn’t know.


Once on the other side, we moored the boat against the jetty where most of the other boats seemed a lot larger. They were all wooden merchant boats that had perhaps come from across the gulf in nearby Iran, Kuwait, or perhaps even Pakistan and India bringing goods to sell here. We left the boat and followed a subway under a major road, coming out at a large Iranian spice market.

The first thing that hit me about the market was the strong smell of spices. It closely resembled the tang of cinnamon. It was normally a nice warm smell, but in this heat it was a little sickly. The market followed the main road for about a hundred metres before turning into a large covered alleyway banking off to the left with many shops on either side selling spices. The area was popular as the small cobblestones underfoot were smooth from years of wear.

Spice Market
Spice Market

This was an old style mall with Iranians selling spices. Each had their own little shop, and whilst most sold spices, some sold other things, including several traders coming out and attempting to sell us Rolex watches. The spice shops had large containers of the highest quality spices in them. Although I normally like my independence, I decided this time it was best to adopt the riff-raff herd mentality and made sure I hung out with at least one of the couples as I explored the market.

Although the spices were of the highest quality, I didn’t buy any because quarantine at Australian customs will most likely not let them in. The spices gave a strong incense smell which I found only exacerbated the discomfort of the heat.

One of the couples in our group bought some spices. They would have been of very high quality, but I would have doubted if Australian Customs would have let them in. You never know, but for me that was a good excuse to not buy anything today anyway.

Gold market
Gold market

We regrouped and walked up a narrow winding road heading away from the river passing people wheeling cartloads of large boxes of produce. In just a few minutes we reached the gold market, where numerous shops sold gold jewellery under a covered alleyway. It all looked very nice and our tour guide Hassan explained the different grades of gold, twenty four carat, twenty one carat, etc. It was all very interesting but I’m not much into jewellery. I had recently been told that Muslim men never wear gold, so with that in mind I figured this market would be aimed at foreign women buyers.

After another half an hour of exploring in the stifling heat, everyone regrouped and we walked back towards the jetty where we had left the boat. Our minivan was parked on a vacant lot so we climbed into the relief of the cool air conditioning. From here we returned towards the city centre.

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07 August 2011



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