Sometimes we feel a bit cocooned in our part of Dubai, a cocoon of fancy restaurants, massive shopping centres, beaches and stunning glass covered buildings; but there is more to this breathtaking city. The Marina area where we live is all very new, most of it built within the last decade, but Dubai has a long history, it is not just about the bling generated by oil revenues.
My own first memory of Dubai came in 1986 – I was on a flight from London to Hong Kong, and the aircraft made a stop at Dubai en-route. Back then though, transit passengers were not allowed to leave the aircraft, I vividly remember looking out of the aircraft door and seeing 2 armed soldiers guarding the aircraft steps, as I curiously wondered what lay beyond the airport tarmac; little did I know that what lay beyond was destined become very familiar to me.
By that time, things were moving on the tourism front, and of course these days transit passengers are compelled to disembark and tour the terminals, they are a major source of revenue, fuelling massive growth of the airport and airline industry, without which of course I wouldn’t be here!
But I digress, so back to breaking out of the cocoon, at least for an afternoon. To experience a different part of Dubai, we travelled by modern day metro across to the western most, and I think, oldest district, Deira – this area was developed considerably in the early oil years of the 70’s and 80’s, and quickly became the commercial centre of Dubai. Port Saeed, and the connecting Dubai Creek giving it numerous water based revenue generating opportunities, plus it is home to the main international airport, and Dubai’s own airline, Emirates.
Deira is also a ‘must visit’ on the Dubai tourist trail for a reason other than planes and boats – it is home to the original ‘souqs’ of Dubai, most famously the spice souq and the gold souq. Souqs are open air market places that are found all over the arab world. In modern cities such as Dubai, there are typically 2 types; the original ones that grow up around genuine local traders, and then there are those that are purpose built ‘for the tourists’, they give a sense of the atmosphere of a souq, but maybe with air conditioned comfort!
The souqs of Deira however are of the former variety, so make for a very interesting visit – however in doing so, a good tourist would always check opening times, and if one did, one would learn that they are open between 10am and 10pm (except Fridays, 4pm – 10 pm), but that they are closed between 1pm and 4pm. So what happens to the not so smart tourists (or locals) that rock up at around 2.30?
They find the majority of shops and stalls closed, and experience that ‘duh’ feeling, as they wander the empty, narrow streets.
But wander we did, and eventually found our way out of the maze, and continued to walk around some of the surrounding streets, in search of.. well I’m not quite sure what.
After a short time however, we arrived at the body of water that runs through the heart of Deira, The Dubai Creek – home to numerous water craft of all shapes and sizes, and the constant hustle and bustle of the loading and unloading of various boxes, sacks and containers, mostly it seemed, done by hand.Catering to the throng of tourists in this area, the Creek is also home to lots of sailing vessels that offer either to ‘cruise’ past the main sights, or from a more practical sense, simply to cross the Creek.
Crossing the Creek can be achieved by using the very unique water taxi, known as an Abra – the Creek has large numbers of these, and they cross back and forth between the Old Souq Station in Deira, and its neighbouring district of Bur Dubai, and also between the Old Souq Station and Sabkha Station, further down on the Deira side of the Creek. Abra rides are a real bargain as they only cost 1 dirham (about $0.27).
However, we decided to spend a more leisurely hour cruising the Creek aboard a very lovely dhow, that conveniently was departing within a few minutes of us wandering by.
It wasn’t particularly busy, so we managed to get a good table on the ‘upper deck’, under the shade – perfect. The fee of 50 dirhams ($13.60) also included a cold drink, which by then was most welcome.
The ‘cruise’ part was quite basic, no guide making tannoy announcements as we sailed past an array of buildings and Creek side areas, just the sweet tones of arabic music to complement the hum of the engine. However, the welcoming breeze, and relaxing nature of the experience made for a very enjoyable hour – definitely good value for money.
After regaining our land-legs, and given that it was past 4pm, we decided to head to the gold souq; scary yes I know, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.
The gold souq is focused on one long, crowded, busy, hot ‘n’ sweaty street – in addition to the throngs of tourists, there was a seemingly endless stream of young men offering wonderful products by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Rolex if you ‘just come with me’, but despite the obvious bargains to be had, we politely declined; again and again and again …
The stores themselves however were quite something to see, some of the gold pieces were really stunning, although fortunately for me, not really to Melanie’s taste.
We do plan to return soon, as we would really like to explore the spice souq, and the surrounding areas in more detail, perhaps when the temperature has cooled a few degrees – its certainly very different to the part of Dubai that we know so well, and in many ways, has far more character. Perhaps all that glitters, is indeed gold.