Saturday, November 24, 2007


Corny title I know but it sort of fits because this is about my brief stay in Dubai since I was attending the Dubai Air Show that I wrote about in my last blog piece. Dubai is a fast developing emirate of the United Arab Emirates. Most Indians have either been there or going there and half the guys from the Indian States of Kerala are working there, far outnumbering the local populace. It is reported that Dubai is growing so fat, that 50% of the World' cranes used in construction are to be found in Dubai. A popular local joke is in the form of a question: What is the national bird of Dubai? And the answer: The crane! Mallus in Dubai invented this joke it seems and a Mallu dear friend of mine told me this while chuckling at his own joke! And it could be true because everywhere you look, you’ll see cranes lifting something or the other at a construction site.

But speaking of real birds, did you know that Dubai creek leads to the creation of a sort of wetland reserve in Dubai that attracts lots of sea birds? Chief among them is a healthy population of greater flamingos and I saw them. Took no pictures sadly, but I saw plenty of them wading in the shallow pools caused by the creek. This area is now called the Ras Al Khor wetland wildlife sanctuary.

(Sunset at Dubai Creek)

Dubai offers the visitor many things and it will take more than a single trip for me to write about all on offer. In fact, the only time I had was each day at the end of the air show; I had the evenings off for wandering around. I stayed in Bur Dubai, one of the districts of Dubai known for its offices and residences. On the other flank of the Dubai creek (a sea waterway) is Deira, famous for its shopping and the World famous Gold Souk or Gold Market. I managed to literally walk all around the place, the evening weather at this time of the year being rather pleasant and all. I even crossed the Dubai Creek, under the creek in a narrow long tunnel that goes down and down and then across and up and up again. For those of you who are even remotely claustrophobic, do not try this, it is a sure recipe for freaking you out.

(Entrance to the Gold Souk street)

Bur Dubai side of the creek has the Dubai heritage village, made to look like how Dubai was in the olden days, a small Arabian village that was a center for trade and shipping and how it grew into the metropolis that it is now, without being largely dependant on oil to sustain it’s development. Alongside the Dubai creek are some local sidewalk café’s that are really elegant and offer great views of Arab dhows that still ply the creek with goods from afar.

(boat with heritage village in the backdrop and below Arab Dhows moored)

The entrance to the heritage village from the water’s edge is just after these elegant restaurants. For those that needed to wet their whistles, this is a good watering hole. Beers on tap, that is. The heritage villages has a lovely atmosphere to it, naturally feels like you’d walked into an Arabian nights setting. The “village” is open till late, I remember reading 11:30 PM and is free.

(Near the entrance of the heritage village)

Inside the complex one comes across tribesmen and women sitting and gossiping, manning shops with local merchandise and letting their camels rest. From a toothless, ageless woman (who may have been at least thousand years old) I almost bought a magic carpet to fly across to Deira but instead dived into the tunnel that seemed to go on for a long time, I half expected to end up in a room, staring a mummy or a sarcophagus in the face. It was like going through the tunnels at the Giza in Egypt (an earlier trip of mine).

(Inside the complex)

Now Deira is exactly as you may imagine (don’t imagine mate, just click on the pictures), in the sense, it resembles a much cleaner and organized Mumbai. There’s no such thing as a cleaner and organized Mumbai but you get the picture. Lots of places with garish sign boards, neon everywhere and walking through the maze, one cannot miss stumbling into the Gold Souk. Now I can tell you with certainty that this place perhaps has more gold and other jewels, next only to Fort Knox. It is a maze of side streets and everywhere one looked, there were Indians buying and Indians selling. The rest of the “foreigners” were only taking pictures it seemed. The Indian appetite for gold and jewelry is manifested in this one area of Dubai.

(All Deira side pix)

Plus side of Dubai is that they have some good busses that ply between these important places and rather cheap, the place is largely clean and pedestrian friendly sidewalks, most people who visit from India can just about get by speaking in Hindi, lots of local Arabs speak the language too. The downside of Dubai is that they let everyone smoke wherever they want, inside close-environment cyber café’s, inside hotel lobbies, pretty much wherever they want. This is irritating to those of us who choke on second hand smoking and abhor it. I hope this is stopped. Taxis can be a problem, not enough and they won’t show up even if called on the phone. For those of us who are spoiled by the orderliness of places like Singapore, this may be a little shocking, things cannot be taken for granted that we normally take for granted in Singapore or elsewhere in the developed World. Bur Dubai has also become a bit raunchy and rough looking at night time because of all the so-called discos that are filled with Russian women selling themselves and loud music that continues into the night. However, it is not unsafe to be in that area at night or need to worry about being mugged. Some of the good budget hotels are in this area.

(Using bulls to draw well water, like they used to centuries ago)

I have walked alongside the creek and watched the dhows sail by late evenings and night time. I found many local and expat women by themselves or with another female companion sitting on one of the park benches along the creek, without fear or worry for their safety and that is one of Dubai’s strengths. No, I did not manage the desert safari, did not spend the night in a camp on the dunes with belly dancing for entertainment, did not go to the financial district or see the Burj Arab hotel and no I did not hitch a ride on a flying carpet. I took Air Arabia instead! And I kept all these things for next time. There’s got to be things to do when I do another trip, hopefully on vacation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The Dubai Air Show was on between 11th and 14th of November 2007 and I was there for the event. It was my first appearance at this show, as a trade visitor. It was held at the Airport Expo pavilion, a part of the Dubai Airport Complex. This year's representation from the aviation industry surpassed the previous years by a long shot. The general mood in aviation circles such as Airline Industry, General Aviation and Military was upbeat. And it should have been because deals worth more than US$100 Billion were signed during this air show and that’s no small change.

The large tarmac outside the pavilion hosted the static display of all types of Aircraft - from single piston engine trainers to large jets. The trick was adjusting to the difference in the sunny outside temperature and the cold air-conditioned interior. Like most Air Shows, there were people from the defense forces from around the region, I found too many of them from the Pakistani Air Force, looking like they were on a holiday. Here I thought that they had an emergency going on in that country and there was a noose around the General's neck. Didn't seem like that at all! What's more amusing is that many of these chaps just go around picking up free bags and fill them up with free hand-outs, brochures, trinkets and such.

The Air Show itself was a good show and well organized except for the transportation to and from Dubai city which was poorly done. At the end of each day it was no uncommon to see serpentine queues for taxis and taxis in these parts are rare and expensive. For those who drove or had made arrangements for cars, they’d get a free bus ride to a general parking area. I’d dread to drive there; the traffic was horrendous to say the least. Hotels were outrageously priced too, because of the Airshow and I even found big company executives complaining over a normal lunch time conversation about this. Some last minute attendees had been slapped with US$800 a night tariffs at the same hotel’s where it would have a been a quarter of that during any other period in Dubai.

Coming to the Airplanes part of the show, there were many manufacturers on display. The crowds of delegates and trade visitors were treated to the usual afternoon flying displays featuring aerobatic teams from around the World. There was a spectacular Airbus Super Jumbo A380 demo flight as well. The Aircraft made an appearance in Airbus colors and not in the livery of any Airline. Funny, I’d have thought they’d come in Emirates Airlines colors, since they are the largest A380 customers. In the pavilion area, deals were getting signed with Boeing and Airbus primarily and Airbus seems to have been the overall winner here. General and Corporate aviation saw plenty of activity too, with Embraer and Cessna Jets making a big presence felt and populating their order books.

(click on pic to enlarge and see formation aerobatic aircraft in the background sky)

On the tarmac outside were Embraer Jets, Bombardier Jets, all of the Gulfstream Jets available, the futuristic looking Piaggio Avanti pusher turbo prop, turbine islanders, Cessna Mustang VLJ (Very Light Jet), Eclipse 500 VLJ, Single engine turbo prop Cessna Caravan well you name it and it was there. What caught my eye however was a rare appearance of a Mooney. People have almost forgotten about the World’s fastest single piston engine Aircraft and many of us who had a US exposure 20 years ago remember fondly, this airplane. The company has changed hands many times and has re-started production of it’s popular line of Aircraft and speaking to the reps there, it had been a last minute decision from Mooney to attend the air show.

(Piaggio Avanti Pusher Turboprop - above)

(Mooney cockpit-all glass)

Some concept jets were also on the tarmac, with mock ups and this included the Grob Jet. For me, meeting many of the people I knew and a lot of them I didn’t know was the exciting part. So much knowledge about the latest happenings in aviation and future trends is available at these air shows. The next air show here is in 2009.

The next major show is in Singapore in February 2008 coming up real soon. I'd also like to mention here that Dubai is attracting aviation companies by huge numbers. Their New Dubai Aviation City being developed is going to attract the biggest and the best in aviation including the World's largest MRO. Makes this aerospace technology park in Singapore that is also to come up at the same time, look rather small. I know Singapore is more than capable of catching up and they really need to because the competition in S.E. Asia is intense.

During the evening, I managed to have a look around the Dubai City area and found a few nice surprises. That’s going to form my next blog piece and may be of more interest to my readers who have been following my travels. This one’s for the aviation buffs.