CUL­TURAL NU­ANCES

Ex­plor­ing Abu Dhabi

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS -

he UAE cap­i­tal ex­udes a ca­sual per­sona, yet main­tain­ing its op­u­lence. This is ev­i­dent on an af­ter­noon drive in Cor­niche, along the prom­e­nade that leads up to the UAE’s T Pres­i­den­tial Palace. The roads are al­most empty, un­like a typ­i­cal bustling me­trop­o­lis. And maybe this is why it is eas­ier to ad­mire the beauty of the drive — you have an un­re­stricted view of the sea on one side and glass sky­scrapers on the other. Some of th­ese are an ar­chi­tect’s de­light.

Cap­i­tal Gate is one such ex­am­ple. It is on Khaleej Al Arabi Street, par­al­lel to the sea­side prom­e­nade, and has been pur­posely erected at an an­gle by Abu Dhabi Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tions Com­pany. It caught the at­ten­tion of Guin­ness World Records who recog­nises it as the World’s Fur­thest Lean­ing Man Made Tower. About a 12-minute drive from here is The Al­dar Head­quar­ters. This one is a 23-storey, 110-me­tre high, 2D cir­cu­lar build­ing. In­spired by a clam shell, the build­ing has two con­vex discs put to­gether — a cir­cu­lar el­e­va­tion on the front and rear — and curved in all other di­rec­tions. Need­less to say, both th­ese build­ings are cov­eted ad­dresses in Abu Dhabi.

In fact, if you have an of­fice or home in any of the multi-storey build­ings around this area, con­sider your­self lucky. Af­ter all, your neigh­bour is the pres­i­dent of the UAE, with his palace be­ing just a few min­utes’drive down the road.

The other af­flu­ent area of the emi­rate is Saadiyat, a recently de­vel­oped is­land, about a 30-minute drive north­ward from Khaleej Al Arabi Street. What makes it even more spe­cial, apart from the ex­pen­sive beachfront vil­las, is that tur­tles visit to lay eggs here around May and June. Tourists from all over visit to watch the an­i­mals wad­dle on the sand. There is also the Saadiyat Beach Club where you can buy a pass (week­day AED 220/`3,852, week­end AED 420/`7,355) for ac­cess to the pri­vate beach, pool, ca­banas and restau­rants.

Of course, not all of Abu Dhabi is as glam­orous. If you drive down East­ern Road to­wards Gold Souk, the area ap­pears tired, de­spite the num­ber of high-end car brands that con­tinue to roam here. Glazed, glass tow­ers are re­placed with stout brick build­ings. There are hum­ble homes, util­ity shops and a few hotels, most fall un­der the mid-to-bud­get cat­e­gory. This part of the emi­rate is more tra­di­tional and has lesser tourists, prob­a­bly be­cause the at­trac­tions are spread across the other is­lands of Abu Dhabi.

Al Maryah, Reem or Yas is­lands to name a few, are the ones you’re most likely to visit. They are heav­ily pop­u­lated with malls, hotels and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties, and most of­fices and mixed-use build­ings are found in the sur­round­ing ar­eas. Amongst them, you will also find busi­nesses and parks that punc­tu­ate Abu Dhabi with cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences.

The fol­low­ing is a list of spots you can visit post of­fice hours and over the week­end (Fri­day and Satur­day as per the UAE cal­en­dar).

ABU DHABI FAL­CON HOSPI­TAL

Apart from be­ing a full-fledged hospi­tal ded­i­cated to the well-be­ing of this preda­tory bird, it serves as a busy tourist spot too. The Fal­con World Tour here talks about fal­cons, his­tory of fal­conry and its sig­nif­i­cance from old to mod­ern times.

The num­ber of pa­tients un­der­go­ing treat­ment here re­veal how in­trin­sic fal­conry is to Gulf cul­ture even to­day. In the his­toric days, this bird was used to hunt food for desert tribes. To­day, it still hunts, but as a sport for hu­mans. It takes a gru­elling three weeks at least to train this fe­ro­cious preda­tor, and the skill of the fal­coner is highly re­spected. A leather hood cov­ers the bird’s eyes at all times to make it eas­ier to con­trol it.

The hospi­tal also has a fal­con mu­seum and a freeflight aviary where the birds roam un­re­strained. At one point dur­ing the tour, you may find it amus­ing to watch the bird get a pedi­cure. The high­light, how­ever, is pos­ing with the fal­con on your arm, an ex­pe­ri­ence unique to this part of the world.

Open 10am-2:30pm (tours must be booked in ad­vance); tour price AED 170/`2,979 for two hours; fal­con­hos­pi­tal.com

UAE HER­ITAGE VIL­LAGE

A cou­ple of swans ran past us as we en­tered the her­itage vil­lage, a re­con­struc­tion of a tra­di­tional oa­sis vil­lage on the wa­ter­front. We fol­lowed their foot­prints in the desert sand to shops sell­ing items of tourist in­ter­est such as post­cards, mag­nets, hats, T-shirts,

spices and old-style water pouches to name a few. Amongst them are also work­shops where you can watch demon­stra­tions in­volv­ing tra­di­tional skills for tan­nery, glass-blow­ing, metal work, pot­tery, weav­ing and spin­ning.

I was most in­trigued by the liv­ing con­di­tions of oa­sis vil­lagers that is recre­ated here. The no­mads lived in an­i­mal hyde tents dur­ing winter to keep warm, and dur­ing the other sea­sons in huts made from palm fronds: tri­an­gu­lar with a nat­u­ral fun­nel to cap­ture the breeze or rec­tan­gu­lar ones with a wind tower, also built from palm frond.

Com­plet­ing the vil­lage scene is the vil­lagers’ pri­mary mode of trans­port — the camel is a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion that gath­ers a long queue for a ride of a few min­utes. This one is def­i­nitely worth the ex­pe­ri­ence — your bal­anc­ing skills are put to test when the an­i­mal at­tempts to sit and stand.

For more in­sight into the life of such vil­lages, visit the mu­seum in the old fort for a glimpse from a past era such as jew­ellery, at­tire, life­style prod­ucts and an­cient pearl div­ing equip­ment.

Open Satur­day-Thurs­day 9am-4pm, and Fri­day 3.30pm-9pm; free en­try; torath.ae

ABU DHABI PEARL JOUR­NEY

It is a cul­tural as well as an ed­u­ca­tional tour that gives its vis­i­tors a first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of Abu Dhabi’s once thriv­ing pearl in­dus­try. The 90-minute sail on the tra­di­tional jal­boot or dhow wel­comes you on-board with Ara­bic cof­fee and dates. Dur­ing the jour­ney that takes you along the emi­rate’s east­ern man­groves — home to herons, egrets, flamin­gos and other seabirds — the guide tells you the story of pearl div­ing in this re­gion. It’s not all talk though. The tour gets more in­ter­est­ing when the guide demon­strates how div­ing used to be con­ducted then, as well as en­gages you in open­ing the oys­ter shell with a spe­cial knife, so you don’t harm the pearl inside.

Open daily 9am-7pm (tours must be booked in ad­vance); AED 500/`8,762 for two hours; ad­pearljour­ney.com

COR­NICHE IS­LAND

This prom­e­nade is best en­joyed by cy­cling on the 8km bi­cy­cle path­way on the Cor­niche. Rent­ing sta­tions are avail­able in plenty along this stretch. There is a long sandy beach, restau­rants, hookah cafes, and water ac­tiv­ity huts here. Walk­ing path­ways weave through foun­tains and land­scaped gar­dens that are im­pres­sively lush, given the arid weather here.

Cor­niche beach has been awarded the Blue Flag sta­tus — in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised eco­la­bel con­firm­ing clean and safe water at beaches

and mari­nas. For the safety of its vis­i­tors, the man­age­ment has placed fences in the water that al­low you to swim only up to 40 me­tres from the shore­line. On week­ends, this sandy at­trac­tion is most crowded, es­pe­cially in the evenings and non-sum­mer months. Beach beds go fast, so it is ad­vis­able to carry your own blan­ket as a backup.

GAL­LE­RIA MALL

Shop­pers look­ing for high-end brands will find Gal­le­ria Mall a good visit. La­bels such as Alexan­der McQueen, Burberry, Cartier, Longines, Prada and Ralph Lau­ren to name a few, oc­cupy one level of the mall. The other floor has mid-level brands such as La Senza, Tory Burch and Tommy Hil­figer. The food court here too is un­like reg­u­lar ones be­cause they serve you in glass crock­ery and steel cut­lery.

The ground level has a higher num­ber of restau­rants and bars such as Bent­ley Bistro and Bar serv­ing a fu­sion of Euro­pean cuisines, Car­luc­cio’s au­then­tic Ital­ian cafe, Nusr-Et Steak­house and Zuma that orig­i­nated in Lon­don for cre­ative western dishes.

Re­tail stores are open Satur­day-Wed­nes­day 10am-10pm, Thurs­day un­til mid­night and Fri­day 12pm-12am. Restau­rants are open Sun­day-Thurs­day 10am-10pm and Fri­day-Satur­day un­til mid­night.

SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE

Af­ter you walk through se­cu­rity at the mosque’s en­trance, and get the guards’ nod on your at­tire (women must dress in a hi­jab and men must cover their shoul­ders and an­kles), you en­ter a spir­i­tual world built from pure, white marble. I, for one, was taken aback by the beauty of this snowy ed­i­fice with four minarets (type of bal­cony com­monly found in mosques from where the call to pray is made) and 82 domes, all of which are vis­i­ble from the bridges join­ing Abu Dhabi is­land to the main­land.

The largest of the domes — 85 me­tres tall and 32.8 me­tres in di­am­e­ter — sits above the main prayer hall. The world’s largest hand-knot­ted car­pet is also found here. Of course, all 5,700 sqm of the floor cov­er­ing was not shipped from Iran to Abu Dhabi as one large piece. If you walk on the car­pet, un­der your toes you will feel the parts that have been sewn to­gether here. Other awe-in­spir­ing fea­tures of the prayer hall in­clude marble col­umns in­laid with mother-of-pearl, a rare crafts­man­ship, as well as a 12-tonne chan­de­lier, one of the largest in the world, sparkling with Swarovski crys­tals and 24-karat gold.

Look up­wards, at the inside of the domes in the mosque, and you will see Moroc­can art­work cre­ated from re­in­forced plas­ter (GRG) com­ple­ment­ing the

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