Mumbai Memoir 99- Exploring the land of the Sheikhs- Abu Dhabi
One of my new year resolutions, earlier this year, was to travel to a new country and understand its geography, culture, architect and people. As the calendar rolled to November, the opportunity came walking my way, when I was invited to Smart Health Conference at Dubai to receive an award, which my organization-Mind Matterz (A Psychological Guidance Unit) won for being one of the Top 50 Healthcare companies.
As I flew to the United Arab Emirates on 12th November’2018, there was a double joy of winning an award as well as getting to travel and know a new country. I had no issues with procuring the Visa for UAE because of me already possessing the U.S Visa. As per a recent foreign policy rule, Indian citizens holding a valid U.S Visa, get the UAE Visa ‘on arrival’ for the cost of 105 AED (100 AED Visa fee & 5 AED is Tax)
United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a union of 7 Arab countries namely, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah & Ajman. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and the Late King Zayed Al Nahyan is called as the Founding Father of UAE. On Monday 12th November, I decided to land in Abu Dhabi first and then take a bus to Dubai. Etihad Airways arranges a bus service (inclusive of the air ticket) which shuttles between Abu Dhabi & Dubai.
As the bus hit the Sheikh Zayed Road (which connects Abu Dhabi with Dubai), it was a semi-desert landscape around, with cars running with Arabic number plates hinting if the car was from UAE or neighbouring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was a nice feeling as the bus speeded all the way and dropped me near the Dubai Mall. From there I took the Dubai Metro to reach the Hotel in which I stayed. Since I had decided to visit Abu Dhabi on the weekend (Friday) I retired for the day.
Early Friday morn I took a bus to Abu Dhabi, as I had planned to catch up & hang out with my cousins- Prassanna Koltharkar & Devendra Vaje who work there. On my journey to Abu Dhabi, I randomly met Merilyn Fernandes, who was very kind & generous to be my guide and in the course of 2 hours informed me about the history & development of the UAE. It was nice to share the bus seat with Merilyn, a former Mumbai’kar, who had moved to UAE 25 years ago!
On reaching Abu Dhabi, my cousins and I first had lunch at the India Palace Restaurant. It is one of the most popular restaurants where Indians & non-Indians visit to experience India’s culture & culinary art. The food was delicious and the bonding that resulted over food, just didn’t not leave good memories on the tongue, but also on our heart.
The rest of the day was spent at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is an iconic monument of Abu Dhabi. The monument is an architectural master piece spread over 30 acres of land. A Syrian Architect named Yousef Abdelky along with various teams of professionals and craftsmen took 11 years to build this mosque. Established in year 2007, the mosque is a complete marble structure having 82 domes. The mosque is credited to have the world’s biggest dome in a mosque along with the world’s biggest chandelier in a mosque, weighing 9.5 ton!
The carpet laid on the floor of the mosque is the largest hand made carpet in the world made by Iranian craftsmen. The chandeliers are German made, with Swarovsky crystals from Austria. Here is a video tour of the mosque: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WToTxs9zU8A The mosque can accommodate 7000 people at a time for prayers in its spacious premise! All in all, the whole journey of exploring the mosque was a mesmerizing experience. Every design, every art piece and the grandeur of the mosque truly makes the mosque ‘Grand’ in all sense.
The mosque premise is also the resting place of the Late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of UAE and follows strict dress code. Here’s a link for your reference before you visit the mosque: https://www.szgmc.gov.ae/en/Home At the entrance a dress code check is done and an Abaya is offered to women and Kandora for men if she/he does not fit into the expected dress code. Since I had worn tight western clothing, I got into an Abaya (loose Arabic female gown which covers the body from head to ankle) My secular upbringing & journalistic passion helped me happily slip into the Islamic dress code as I didn’t want to miss an opportunity of experiencing the magnificence of the Grand mosque.
The UAE is celebrating this year as ‘The Year of Zayed’ and my visit to the mosque definitely has carved a special place in my memory as I got an opportunity to experience the Grand Mosque, which is just not Sheik Zayed Al Nahyan’s legacy but also a centre for religious, educational and cultural tourism.
I am glad that in the 5.5 million people who visit the Grand Mosque every year, me and my 2 cousins too have been included this year! As I bid good bye to Abu Dhabi that evening, I experienced a warm feeling of having experienced the beauty of the Grand mosque and also of having connected with my cousins in the land of the Sheikhs!