This story starts with a video I saw on Facebook.
One of my friends had visited UAE recently and he did something jaw-dropping! He dived from a plane right over the amazing Palm Jumeirah, completing, what I felt was, a jump of a lifetime! I decided then and there that if I ever got the chance to do sky diving, it would be here!
Incidentally, my friend from MBA, SPilla, was planning a trip to Dubai. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and started hunting for details. It didn’t take too much convincing to get him on board the idea. We booked our slots on the same day that the bookings started and then I booked my flight tickets.
It was about to be my first international trip (other than Nepal – don’t smirk people! Nepal is international!). The first leg of my journey was from Bangalore to Ernakulam which was by train. It was a day train of ten hours. It was a pleasant journey, interrupted occasionally by the unbearable stench from the toilets (without which any Indian train journey is incomplete) and the guy sitting next to me crashing into my shoulder as he kept falling asleep. SPilla joined me at the Ernakulam Junction as he arrived at the same time from Calicut in a different train. After a swift dinner at his place (awesome beef fry), we were on our way to the airport. I was super excited – my first foreign trip! We completed the formalities and got into the plane which took off into the night sky.
After 4 hours of travel, we were at Dubai – it was amusing to turn back the watch to match the local time. We got an airport cab which took us to Sharjah where our friend D lived (who was kind enough to host us during the trip). The driver who was Bangladeshi asked us where we were from. He was amused that two Mallus could speak fluent Hindi and even more amused that we said we were from India and not Kerala. The taxi ride was crazy – he raced from 0 to 80 in a matter of seconds and negotiated tight turns at over 100 kmph (something unimaginable back home).
We had planned most of our trip before landing in Dubai itself. The agenda for the first day was to explore Bur Dubai and then go on for a desert safari (we got good deals on Groupon). Spilla and I took a cab to the Gold and Spice Souk.
The place was literally crawling with Indians and especially Mallus. So we didn’t even the luxury of walking past places and passing comments 😛 .
We walked around the whole market areas twice and then bought souvenirs and Turkish sweets – curious little things which were super concentrated in sweetness.
The gold market had many shops loaded with gold jewelry and the amazing part was that they didn’t even have security guards! We spotted some luxury cars and sports cars were many. We then took a cab to Burjuman Mall which was our pick-up point.
Getting around Dubai is quite easy as the cab network is amazing and the roads are brilliant.
We had lunch at an American diner inside the mall – hot dogs, steak, fries and onion rings.
They even had an eating challenge but we decided to keep that for some other time – not a good idea to load up on food before a safari! We then walked down to Spinney’s, a departmental store as the pick-up would be there. Thanks to the free WiFi in the malls, we got D’s message that the pick-up had been rescheduled and we had to wait some more. So we roamed around Spinney’s and whiled away time. It was entertaining to sit outside the store and look at the road. The metro line emerged from underground just where we were. We could spot the occasional Maserati screaming down the road. The horizon had a bunch of skyscrapers dominated by the Burj Khalifa. I had goosebumps every time I saw it – I’d even seenthe building while our plane landed – it really was an imposing structure.
D and her friend KP met us there in some time. Our van picked us up and we travelled down the Emirates road to the point where we had to go off-road. It was a 1.5 hour journey and our vehicle was cruising at 130-140 kmph. I was still not used to the high speeds and I held on tight (not that it would help). The reason why it was possible to go at this pace was because the people here obeyed lanes and the roads were undoubtedly awesome. We got into an SUV when we reached the drop-off point.
The driver told everyone to have their seatbelts on – I’d never heard anyone asking the people in the third row to have seatbelts on. That’s when I realized how crazy this was going to get. It wasn’t just crazy – it was insane! More exhilarating than a roller coaster, the guy would drive on top of dunes and just ride over the cliff to drop straight down! He was literally bashing the dunes. There were many occasions where I felt the SUV would topple over but it just kept going dune after dune – the only danger was that there would be another dune bashing SUV on the other side of the cliff. But these guys were experts and they had walkie-talkies. I got out of the vehicle sweating buckets (I’m quite sure I don’t want to do this one again!).
Looking around, I saw that the SUV had brought us to a clearing in the middle of the desert which was some kind of camp. We posed with the eagles.
We had camel rides and got some souvenirs (sand in bottles with names written inside).
There were varieties of meat served to go along with the show – there were puppets, a fire show and belly dancing. It was an entertaining evening.
On the way back, we decided to stop by the Dubai creek and take an Abra ride. It was almost midnight but the city was still alive with lights and people. It was a relaxing ride around the creek. We headed back home to rest and recharge for the next day.
After a quick breakfast at a nearby Mallu hotel, we took a cab straight to the site of SkyDive Dubai. We drove down the Sheikh Zayed road where we saw the Burj again. We also got a glimpse of the Burj Al Arab which is shaped like a sail. The skyscrapers in this part of the town are really amazing works of engineering – there is a twisted building!
We got registered and waited for our turn. It was a long wait as there were many registered before us and the greater the wait, the more the anticipation builds up. We saw our names on the screen along with the name of our tandem skydive instructor and our cameraman. We were given a small piece of instruction of how to keep our hands and legs during the jump. I had a feeling that this would be easier than the desert safari ride! A small golf cart drove us to the plane which was parked on a small strip that was the runway. Everyone got into the plane and the closed the hatch. The plane circled high above Dubai. At around 7000 feet, one guy opened the guy and just dropped off the plane. That’s when it really hit us – one second he was there, the next he was gone! And we had to go up to twice the height before doing our jump. We reached 13000 feet and they opened the hatch. I was 3rd in line to jump. The people in front of me were just plummeting down. My instructor, Pol told me to walk to the entrance. I did exactly as he said and just fell off the plane when he told me to.
It was a crazy feeling – I couldn’t hear anything, I could see the plane going ahead, I got a brief glimpse of two dots that were the people who jumped before me and the skin on my face flapped like crazy. The cameraman kept signaling me to pose for the video while we were in free fall.
We went down at 200 kmph for 60 seconds (which felt like more!) and then Pol tapped my shoulder to indicate that he was going to open the parachute. In a second, the wind blew it open and the fall was cut abruptly. He loosened his grip on me and I felt myself sliding off (terrifying for a second there!). It took me about 2-3 seconds to see where I was. It was magnificent! We were circling right above the Palm Islands, I could see the World Islands in the distance. The Burj Khalifa gleamed in the sunlight, the other Burj stood like a sail-boat on the beach and I could see the creek winding through the city. Beyond the city all the way to the horizon was the desert – as far as the eye could see. It was completely unreal – the wind blew softly as we floated in the air. In about 5 more minutes, Pol circled us back to the point where we started. It was easily one of the craziest things I’ve ever done and one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen!
Our next stop was the Dubai Mall. Malls fascinate me – and it’s also part of my job. But this one was a completely different animal.
The place was gigantic! It was almost time for our trip to the top of the Burj (we had booked a combo deal on Groupon which covered Burj and the Dubai Mall Aquarium). We entered the Burj from the lower ground floor of the mall and entered the elevator. The lights dimmed and a short movie was played on the walls and ceiling of the lift. The lift covered 124 floors in 60 seconds at a speed of 36 kmph (which is almost 4 times the average speed of traffic on Bangalore roads).
We stepped out onto the viewing area and discovered that the Burj rose even higher and this was the highest that visitors were allowed to go. The view from the top was amazing (the only reason it wasn’t as “WOW” as it was supposed to be was because we’d just jumped off a plane!).
There was a telescope-y device on the 125th floor on which you could see the places where it pointed to in multiple modes – Day, Night and even a few decades back. The development of the desert into this city could be seen on this device and it was mind boggling to see how much the placed had changed. After this, we went back to the mall again and proceeded to the Aquarium.
I was super excited as I’d never been to an aquarium of this size and variety.
The place was brilliantly organized in its layout and navigation. There were tons of varieties of fish. There were creatures that I’d never seen before except on TV – jelly fish, otters, giant crocodiles and even penguins (who were put up in a frozen habitat). Who would imagine that they’d find penguins in the middle of a desert?! After exploring the aquarium, we decided to grab something to eat and then explore the mall. We had cheesecakes from the Cheesecake Factory – it was the most amazing strawberry cheesecake! Next we explored the biggest candy shop I’d seen – Candylicious. There were all kinds of sweets and toffees and chocolates – it was simply awesome and I loaded up on jelly beans (again something that I’d only read about!). I was living my childhood fantasies!
We then went out to see the Dubai Mall fountain – it was beautiful as the fountains danced to the mellow Arabic song – the occasional loud pop when the fountains surged high at the crescendo.
We then had burgers from Shake Shack – they weren’t that great though. I went to check out the Sephora store – I’d be starting my stint with Sephora back home in India.
We spent some more time exploring the mall and watched an ice hockey match happening inside the mall (inside a mall in the middle of a desert!). We decided to call it a day and went back home.
The last day was relatively free – I had set it aside for meeting some friends in Dubai. SPilla and D went to Abu Dhabi to visit the Ferrari world. My friend Pranav (from B.Tech) lived with his family in Dubai – I met him at the Dubai-Sharjah border and had breakfast at his place. I felt amused that we had to coordinate the locations and meeting points before we left home as I didn’t have a mobile phone. I remembered that it wasn’t such a big deal in the 90’s when we didn’t have mobiles at home. Pranav took me to Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah.
I’d spotted the place the previous day during the skydive. We visited the Lost World aquarium. It wasn’t as big as the Dubai aquarium but the setting was amazing – it was designed with the theme of Atlantis, the kingdom lost under the sea.
Some of the rooms of the hotel had windows opening into the aquarium. It felt peaceful to just sit there and look at the fish and rays moving across the pillars and structures.
We then went to the Dubai Mall – I didn’t mind coz I didn’t get enough of the place.
Pranav treated me to an amazing seafood lunch at the Red Lobster! I then met another friend Guri – once again I struggled to coordinate. Luckily the Dubai Mall had free WiFi using which I messaged him. After deciding on a location, I walked to the parking and discovered that there was no WiFi there. It took me 3 trips from the mall to the parking and back to finally find him! Guri took me to the Ibn Battuta Mall – another place I really wanted to see in Dubai.
The mall has different zones which have civilization themes – Egyptian, Indian, Persian, Chinese and Tunisian. We had coffee from Tim Hortons (after all, we did have Starbucks in Bangalore as well). After exploring the mall, we went to Jumeirah beach.
There was a walk-way along the beach. There was an open gym with the treadmills and equipment facing the sea. People were playing beach volleyball, kids were skating and some people were just sitting and enjoying the breeze. It was a really relaxed environment. We walked around and went to Pappa Roti where Guri treated me to buns and tea – the buns were reminiscent of the Mangalore buns but these ones just melted in the mouth and had butter inside.
It was an amazing combo with tea. We walked around and saw a street performer juggling, another was playing music. People gathered around and enjoyed the performances. We then went to the heritage village which was on the banks of the Dubai creek. After walking up and down the bank, we decided to head back. After a light dinner and some gaming on KP’s PS, we took a cab back to the airport for our flight back. SPilla had some swell time at the Ferrari World.
Dubai tourism has a tagline that goes “Discover all that’s possible”. That’s exactly what this place is all about – if anything is possible in the world, it is possible here! Penguins and ice skating and creeks and artificial waterfalls in the middle of the arid desert! Dubai was one crazy place. Thanks a lot to all my buddies (D and KP for being awesome hosts, Pranav and Guri for showing me the best of Dubai, Spilla for being the fun companion and Jairam for the inspiration that started it all) who were so awesome and took me around to experience Dubai, its culture, its food and everything! And here is the Skydive Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY-7ickhdmk).