Thursday, December 15, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XXXV (Other emirates of UAE-I)

Dubai is the most well known place in the Persian Gulf area. However, Dubai is one of the emirates of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The other emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujaira, Ras-al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm-al-Quwain. Population wise only three emirates are sizeable. These are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah which have populations exceeding a million or about a million. The other emirates have smaller populations. Area wise Abu Dhabi with an area of 67,340 square kilometres is the largest. In fact, it represents 86% of the total area of UAE. Dubai has a population of 1.3 million but an area of only 5% of the total area of UAE and is thus quite congested. However, Ajman which has only 0.3% area is the most congested. Economically, Abu Dhabi is on a sound footing because of oil. In fact, during the recent debt crash, Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai.
Sharjah and Dubai are almost joined. There is no sharp boundary between two emirates. However, there are many differences. Dubai is quite liberal. Almost it is an extension of western culture in certain respects. Sharjah is more conservative. Everything from rent of properties to food stuff is cheaper in Sharjah. Quite a large number of people who work in Dubai prefer to stay in Sharjah. This is especially true of people from the sub-continent. Sharjah has a very nice corniche which is a walkway round a water body. It has the famous Noor Mosque, Fish Market, Gold Souq, and many other attractions.
First time I visited Sharjah it took us about twenty minutes or so. However, now it may even take two hours because of heavy traffic. Subsequently, whenever I had to go to Sharjah, I would go in the middle of the day during off peak hours. Traffic has become a problem even in Dubai itself. Dubai has very posh areas mostly inhabited and frequented by the western expatriates. There are also some areas dominated by the people from the sub-continent. One of these is Deira on way to Sharjah. Deira like Bur Dubai, has an air of being somewhere in India. Again going to Deira from main Dubai takes some times more than an hour. There is a big jam on the bridge. During my last stay in Dubai, they were planning to have some more bridges and tunnels. I hope these have been completed? However, to ease the traffic they now have a Metro which is supposed to be very popular with commuters.
The other Emirate which I visited a couple of times is Abu Dhabi. It was an interesting encounter which resulted in my visiting Abu Dhabi first time. I was once going through an exhibition of paintings in one of the super markets known as Burjman when suddenly patted me on the back and called my name. I was surprised to see Dr. Nagpal, the former Director of the SKIMS (Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences), Srinagar. The paintings had been done by his wife. They were very happy to see me. Dr.Nagpal told me that he was working as Advisor on Hospital Affairs to UAE Government and was based in Abu Dhabi. He jokingly said that we had turned him out of SKIMS but now he had over 100 hospitals under him and a couple of these were in UK? He invited me to Abu Dhabi at my convenience. The opportunity to visit Dr.Nagpal came soon. My friend Dr.Abdul Ahad, an ENT Specialist, came from Kashmir for an interview. I told him about Dr.Nagpal and we called him. He was very glad to know that Dr.Ahad was in Dubai and invited both of us for lunch next day. We hired a car and started around 9 for Abu Dhabi.
An interesting thing about Dubai is the official radio taxi service. The government operates this taxi service. The vehicles are new and in very good shape. The drivers are very polite and helpful. There are newspapers in the taxi. Rates are also quite reasonable. One can call the taxi round the clock by phone. I wish Kashmir could also have a similar service not only for tourists but for local population also!
We covered the distance of 124 kilometres from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in about an hour and a quarter. There is a motorway between the two cities. Most of places in Middle East are connected by excellent motorways. In India there are hardly any motorways. There is one between Mumbai and Pune. Pakistan has few cities connected by motorways. Good road connections should have been the first priority of planners!
On arrival in Abu Dhabi we went straight to Dr. Nagpal’s office. He was waiting for us. After a cup of coffee, he took us home. He lived in a flat on sixth floor of a high rise building on Abu Dhabi waterfront. The flat was very elegant and luxurious and there was a fantastic view of the waterfront. We met his wife and all of us went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. The food was excellent and we enjoyed our lunch. After saying good bye to Dr.Nagpal and his wife we went for some sight seeing. The waterfront is really impressive. Abu Dhabi appeared to me more orderly and clean. After all the emirate is quite rich and they have enough oil. However, there is one more catch. They have French advisors instead of the British ones in Dubai! People seemed more secure and confident while working in Abu Dhabi.
I visited sometime later Alain, also known as the Garden City of Abu Dhabi. It is really green. I had been invited there by some travel agents who wanted information on Ladakh. There were some American and British Schools which were interested in visiting Ladakh. I had lunch with travel agents and then took a round of this green city in the desert. One wonders what can be done with honest intentions and will. One can turn the desert into a garden! Incidentally, there are a lot of Pathans from Pakistan who live in Alain. During Babri Mosque demolition, they held massive protests and a large number of them were deported! The other two emirates I visited are Fujaira and Ras-al-Khaimah which I will describe in next episode.
(To be concluded)

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