Abu Dhabi is earning international approval for its long-held traditions of unparalleled desert tribes hospitality.
[PHOTOS: SHAMLAL PURI/ STANDARD]
This heritage heartland offers a wide array of modern attractions to those seeking authentic experience of a rich traditional culture and Bedouin hospitality mixed with Western ethos. SHAMLAL PURI visited the Emirate to sample its scenic delights.
Surrounded by the warm sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf, the low lying island of Abu Dhabi welcomes the visitor with its tree-lined streets, futuristic skyscrapers, luxurious hotels and expanding shopping malls.
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi, which is also home to the country’s vibrant capital city with a population of 921,000, is earning international approval for its long-held traditions of unparalleled desert tribes hospitality.
This is a destination of near year-round blue skies, stunning white sand beaches, and a modern cosmopolitan metropolis that offers a vibrant city lifestyle while at the same time remains steeped in the richness of Arabian culture.
Abu Dhabi has seen an amazing growth. It used to be a small fishing village but it has developed fast with the vision of the ruling Al Nahyan family, and found its rightful place on the world map.
It has been ranked as the richest city in the world and the 67th most expensive.
Here, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, traditional Bedouin customs, hospitality and lifestyle nestle comfortably alongside Eastern and Western cultures.
In this rapidly expanding and sophisticated city with a growing population from some 55 countries, including Kenya, the multitude of expatriates working here are tempted to call Abu Dhabi, a home away from home.
There are more than 8,000 Kenyans living and working in Abu Dhabi, mainly in the security, transport and hospitality sectors. There are Kenyan businessmen and engineers as well, and you will hear the Swahili dialect here and there.
The big-hearted residents of Abu Dhabi recently raised AED 45,000 (Sh1.05 million) to help impoverished children in Kibera slum, Nairobi. The money will see more than 100 pupils access education among other basic needs.
At Carrefour Hypermarket in the city, I was fascinated to see mangoes from Kenya fighting for attention from consumers among varieties from India, Philippines, and Thailand. Abu Dhabi offers an unforgettable experience to any visitor. The city’s 60 attractions offer a sight to behold.
Among the most popular is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is one of the world’s largest mosques with beautiful art work. This ornate mosque has a capacity for 41,000 worshippers. It features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet.
I visited the main prayer hall, which is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers — ten metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing twelve tonnes.
Reflective pools surround the mosque, amplifying its beauty. The striking white and gold colours shining in the sun are transformed at night by a unique lightning system, which reflects the phases of the moon.
There are free 45-minute tours with guides who show you inside this grand building.
“This was a moving and a highly uplifting experience for us non-Muslims. What a building! Day or night inside and out, the quality décor has no match anywhere in the world,” British tourist James Sowersby told me.
The Corniche, the picturesque part of Abu Dhabi that spreads across eight kilometres of manicured waterfront and a beach park is a memorable image every visitor talks of back home.
This pristine beachfront has won prestigious international awards, the eco-label for the safety of its marinas and clean and safe bathing water.
This beach attracts around 50,000 visitors each month out to enjoy the numerous facilities for children and grown ups.
The Corniche and other parts of Abu Dhabi are a playground of the mega rich and the famous with the wide array of luxury boats anchored at the marina that surround the city.
The Al Ain Camel Market is the last of its kind in the UAE. This is the place where traders strike deals on the sale and purchase of animals. Situated in the nearby town of Al Ain, this is an excellent place to take a closer look at camels known for their tough survival in the inhospitable desert terrain.
If action is your cup of tea, then a visit to the Yas Marina, one of the world’s most technologically advanced motorsports circuits is a must. There are opportunities to take a tour behind the scenes and see first-hand how much effort goes into running this facility.
Yas Marina Circuit was unveiled on 30 October 2009, with the final race of the Formula One World Championship — the inaugural Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – to a crowd of around 50,000. The 2013 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place at this circuit in November.
There is an abundance of shopping malls with tempting offers. Abu Dhabi’s biggest shopping centre, Yas Mall, will open its doors to the public in March next year. With nearly a quarter of million square metres of floor space, the mall will also be the UAE’s second largest.
For those who want to escape the cash guzzling malls, head off for the local souks where you need less money and sharper bargaining skills.
A short drive from the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi is the Irani Souq in the Port Zayed area. Stacks of merchandise are laid outside the 40 odd kiosks, with everything that one would expect to find in a market.
Construction work at the multi-billion Saadiyat Island is proceeding at a furious pace as the completion date of 2020 for this prestigious cultural district nears.
Situated at the main entrance into Abu Dhabi past the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, Manarat Al Saadiyat offers ultra-luxury villas, one of the gulf’s first water front golf courses, restaurants and beach resorts amidst mangroves and turtle habitats which will remain intact.
Abu Dhabi is a destination that intrigues, captivates and invites you back.