Abu Dhabi: A Treasure Trove

When I mention to my friends that I live in Abu Dhabi, the usual response would vary from “Oh , you stay in Dubai?”,”Is that in Africa?”,”Funny, I’ve never heard of this country.”

My exasperated sighs were enough to solicit polite questions for more details.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not the same place, for starters. Daily flights are available from Indira Gandhi International by Etihad Airways( national carrier) and Jet Airways.

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, located in the eponymous emirate. It is a two hour car journey away from Dubai, after crossing the magnificent Sheikh Zayed bridge.

Abu Dhabi offers many cultural destinations such as the Al Hosn Palace, commonly known as the White Fort; Heritage Village, a living exhibition of culture; the Cultural Foundation, featuring art exhibits, a library and theatre auditorium and the nearby Al Ain Zoo and Aquarium. The Corniche is a park-lined coastal boulevard providing one of the most picturesque sites in Abu Dhabi.

Unknown to most, the Abu Dhabi emirate is archipelagic, where nearly 200 islands are strewn along its coast. This means island-hopping is a popular pastime among affluent residents who have boats and even for non-boat owners, where public transportation is available. Private tour operators likewise offer similar island-hopping services. Since some islands are presently undergoing major development, access may be limited for some time. Something that may be of interest is that the Government has indulged in the creation of artificial islands, like the popular Lulu Island.

It is located directly opposite the Corniche and is accessible by a boat ride or sea bus, both free. The Jetty location is near the Emirates Heritage Village, which is a must-visit for everyone.

The island entrance fee costs AED 15 and the timings are from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

You can take a dip in the gorgeous turquoise waters and then enjoy a treat from a couple of restaurants, coffee shops and cafeterias in the island. There is also an extremely enjoyable toy train ride around the island. Beware of alighting near the beaches on the rear side, away from the beaches facing the city of Abu Dhabi; the toy train takes ages to come back.

The city of Abu Dhabi has several parks like the Sheikh Khalifa Park which is one of the most unique parks in Abu Dhabi, located in Al Matar area. The park’s beautiful gardens reflect Arabic and Islamic architecture and have been inspired by many great gardens of the world. The soothing sound of falling water and dimly lit lakes, fountains and canals have made the park a major landmark of Abu Dhabi.

While at Abu Dhabi, travel and tour operators can take you for an adventurous dune-bashing experience, which concludes with a barbeque dinner on a desert camp. This exhilarating experience is one you will always remember because of the thrill of the ride (forget Disneyland’s fun rides) and the subsequent yummy treats underneath the starlit sky, away from the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan living.

You shouldn’t miss to drop by the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, situated near the Abu Dhabi Breakwater . It showcases Abu Dhabi’s rich cultural heritage, prior or after visiting the Marina Mall for your must-do retail therapy. This experience will provide you with a first-hand experience on how the Bedouin lived during the old times, before the modern irrigation and agricultural system came to existence i.e., before oil was struck.

A trip to the emirate’s highest point, Jebel Hafeet, is a must. Or better yet, stay overnight in the scenic hotel located near the mountain’s peak. Ideal time to visit this site is during the cooler months (November to March) where the temperature could drop dramatically especially during the evenings. A lovely view of the city below is an added bonus for the visitor and provides a great photography backdrop for your visit. Jebel Hafeet, which is located in Al Ain, is about an hour and a half drive from Abu Dhabi city.

Once in Al Ain, the next stop would be the Al Ain National Museum, which features archaeological and ethnographical artefacts pertaining to the history and heritage of Abu Dhabi, dating back to the Stone Age.

What’s a trip to Abu Dhabi without shopping for some real souvenir items, the kind that could outlast your stock dividends and make you look good at the same time? Go to the Madinat Zayed Gold Souk to bag reasonably priced pieces of jewelleries for yourself or your loved ones back home before you head back to the airport. Price haggling, however, is an art you must learn before setting off for this trip. Usually you can bargain for as much as half of the originally quoted price especially if you are purchasing more than one piece of gold jewellery from the same store. Once a price has been verbally agreed on, however, the buyer is expected to make a purchase. The Madinat Zayed Gold Souk is a stone’s throw away from the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre and the Abu Dhabi Central Post Office.

Carpets add an unexplained charm to one’s living room or bedroom. The Iranian Souk and Al Meena Souk boast some of the widest collection of the renowned hand-made Persian carpets in Abu Dhabi. Again, some excellent price haggling skills should be kept handy during such trips.

Conversations over a cup of tea or coffee or a hearty serving of kabab, kofta or shish tawouk and fattoush (an Arabic vegetable salad) could make a quiet evening extraordinary in one of the cafés located near the Abu Dhabi Corniche, or in restaurants that are found in the city centre or right in your hotel’s doorstep. If you’re the adventurous type, you can try a slew of other cuisines from literally all corners of the globe that are prepared in one of Abu Dhabi’s restos. Turkish coffee, Greek salad, all-American steak, English scones and breakfast, Chinese dumplings, Japanese sashimis, Indian curries, and delicious pastas of all sauces, and everything else in between (think African and other Asian gourmet foods) can all be found in Abu Dhabi city’s gastronomic districts.

Dubai may be the hub of commerce for the country and an extremely popular shopping destination, but I would never exchange the quiet, peaceful, tree-lined avenues of Abu Dhabi for anything!

Anushka Susan Mathew

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2312726268/]