Thursday came around and the initial signs of the sunset of the week began to show. Even the gentle sways of the metro train failed to put me to sleep as I eagerly waited to reach my destination: the weekend. Getting off at the Al Ghubaiba station to meet some cousins after ages, it was clear that I had stepped back in time to a treasured part of Dubai.
The Creek, the Souk area (off. Baniyas), Old Dubai, Heritage Village Dubai, Shindagha, whatever you may call it- is a testimony of government appreciation of Dubai’s pearl diving and shipbuilding origins. As I walked by the curve of the shore with my toddler of a cousin, I soon found out why.
Firstly, the metro stations that welcome you to these spots, have intentionally been adorned with a traditional air. A far cry from modern Dubai, but a salute to the its sandy origins and Islamic heritage. On the outside, the stations don’t look like 21st century modern stops as seen in the rest of the city, but resemble the traditional malkafs or wind towers that characterise Islamic vernacular architecture. Even the buildings in and around the Creek – and I mean, including the ones that have been newly constructed; adopt a traditional style on their exterior to keep the historic fabric of the area intact. Good move, isn’t it?
The early hours of the evening exuded a humidity that was bearable enough, in comparison to the otherwise prevalent wrath of the sun. Palm trees dotted the gaps left by the cluster of sandy buildings that occupied the corniche. Neat, old-world and pristine: don’t you like that? This modest streetscape sure inhabited tourists who were wildly snapping away their last daytime scenes of the Heritage Village while the locals took their daily dose of fitness as they jogged by.
A well-kept monument of the royal family (Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum’s)- former ruler’s old house, welcomed strollers into the area. As we kept on walking, I began to note restaurant chains that took advantage of the seaside ambience and old-world charm to satisfy large appetites. Next, I was able to spot hints at Dubai’s pearl diving origins: be it the oyster pearl display, the open exhibition of indigenous diving boats or the decorated fishing nets. Towards the end of the promenade, was clearly a government-erected ‘almost live’ re-enactment of the fishing and trading activities of the region, historically speaking.
I’ve got to say, with such a rich marine background, the region has a mode of water transport that still thrives, thanks to the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai. And that too a variety, that is easily available to the masses for dirt cheap prices. Because just like the metro and bus system, the Creek’s boats have been standardised for daily public transportation. For one, there are the ‘abras‘ that ferry folks every few minutes across the creek for just 1 AED ($0.27). There are also other clean water taxis for 5 AED. Of course, I jumped aboard one of these water taxis to enjoy the sea breeze across the breadth of the creek.
Just for the record, the abra experience is one to remember. While sailing on this traditional wooden vessel, the horizon had already given way to the dark, only to emphasise the glitter of the landscape in the reflections by the waves. Decorated vintage boats, ornamented minarets, historic buildings and scores of palm trees populate the view around me as I’m still a ways from the shore. The glittering abra finally takes me to the other side : where the old-world marketplace awaits. Chaos and colour surrounds the Gold souqs (that also sell spice, frankincense and souvenirs) while tourists and locals bustle in a united frenzy from shop to shop. The all-too familiar wooden arcade of the souq, however seems to be desolate at this sunset hour, owing to the Holy month of Ramadhan (it is at this hour that the Muslims break their fast with prayers).
Well, this place is sure as quiet as quiet can be for a city like Dubai- which is a wonderful thing! I’m frequently tempted to visit this historic city centre, just to take solace from the uproar of the fine masses and skyscraper jungle that surround it. The very urban habitat that has come to characterise Dubai as we know it, no doubt makes us forget that once upon a time, it had peaceful, humble beginnings as seen here by the Creek. Exactly what I needed for my restful weekend!
Every city needs its quiet, historic, seaside downtown. And every Dubai needs its Creek.