Contrary to a lot of misconceptions, Dubai is just not all about new construction, high-rise buildings and high-end malls. There is another part to this city which lends it a different character and according to Lonely Planet is the heart and soul of Dubai, well I am speaking about Old Dubai. Now Old Dubai mainly comprises of 2 parts, Deira and Bur Dubai which are separated by the old and historically important Dubai creek. Per my recommendation, whenever you are in Dubai, a visit to both these places is a must.
During our trip to Dubai, we were staying in Al Mankhool area, which is very close to Old Dubai and hence we decided to start our trip with a visit to this place. Since we were staying so close, we just took a taxi and got off at the Bastakia Quarter. This area was built-in the early 20th century as houses for the wealthy Iranian pearl and textile merchants. The houses here are max 2 stories, with large central courtyards and rooms all around it and with traditional wind towers (for cooling in the hot climate). The doors here are all wooden with intricate carvings and elaborate arches. Today this area is the arty side of the city with narrow galleries, trees and flowers in contrasting colors, numerous small museums, art galleries, heritage houses, souvenir shops, spice stores, cafes etc.
We just walked around this area and explored all the hidden nooks and corners of it. In fact this area is generally empty, which makes walking around and exploring it even more fun. We also visited some galleries and spice shops here.
After all the walking we decided to rest for a bit and went to the XVA cafe, which we till date believe was one of our best finds in Dubai. It is a small quaint cafe in the courtyard of the XVA Art Hotel and has a very arty vibe to it. We tried their mint lemonade and the date and dried apricot muffins, and they were super amazing. Their menu also has quite a few Arab inspired salads, sandwiches and mains, which I am sure are a must try too.
While we could have sat here all day, we had to move on. We then walked upto the Dubai Museum. Though this is a very small museum, a trip to this place is highly recommended as it gives tourists an idea of Dubai’s journey from a small fishing and pearl trading town to the heights that it at today. This museum is housed in the Al Fahidi fort, the oldest building in Dubai and gives you an insight into the Dubai culture, tradition, history and an insight into the life of the olden days. We spent quite a while here and had a nice time understanding Dubai and how it has grown over each decade. In fact the cool aircon was also an added draw :)
Exiting the Museum we walked along the Grand Mosque. Though we couldn’t go inside we saw it from outside and then walked further to the Hindi Lane.
Now the Hindi Lane is one narrow lane behind the Grand Mosque and transports you back to India. It has a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurdwara and everything that you will ever need for any Indian prayer offerings – from pictures / statues of the deities to the flowers, garlands, lamps etc etc.
We then walked through the Bur Dubai Souq which has numerous textile shops with all kinds of fabrics and materials. Though more than the fabric all around, we liked the architecture and roof of the Souk.
We then walked further along the promenade and saw the numerous small museums, heritage villages, restaurants etc. But we didn’t enter any of these as it was getting very hot and we were getting very tired.
We then walked back along the promenade and reached the abra / boat station, where we just sat in the shade and enjoyed the cool afternoon breeze and indulged in people watching.
But by now we couldn’t take the heat any longer and hence decided to head back and sleep in the afternoon and then return to visit Diera in the evening.
In the evening we headed back to the abra station and took a dhow ride to Deira. Now a dhow is like a local bus for the numerous locals crossing the creek everyday and the ticket is just for 1 dirham. If you want you can also try a dhow cruise to watch the sunset on this boat, however we loved this ride much more. A short ride and you are in Deira.
We started our walk in Deira from the spice souk. This is a beautiful sight with loads of jute bags filled with various spices, natural teas, sheeshas etc lined up outside and inside all stores. We had a very nice time walking and shopping through the souks and bought saffron, vanilla, peppermint, some other local spices, etc from here.
From here we walked to the Heritage House. This is an old traditional house which has now been opened to tourists and include various small movies introducing you to the life in the olden days.
From here we looked for the Al Ahmadiya school, but couldn’t find it and hence walked directly to the Gold Souk. Now for an Indian, buying and wearing gold in the blood and hence you can imagine our reaction here. It was like someone had left 2 kids in a candy store. The Gold Souk here is a small enclosed lane with shops selling gold, diamonds, platinum in all kinds of sizes and designs. This spreads as far as the eye can see and if nose could smell gold then it will envelop you in its heady scents completely. Also I can assure you of one thing, that this sight of gold hanging in all shops in such quantities is just not possible anywhere else.
We then walked back to the abra station and took a dhow back to Bur Dubai.
We then walked along the well light Meena Bazaar here which is just like walking along any shopping lane in India. It also had everything that any Indian would need including sarees. :) Do walk in this lane in the night once when the shops are all light up and their wares are twinkling in the neon lights.
We then took a taxi to reach Karama. Now Karama is the Asian side of Dubai (densely populated), where all asian expats stay and you can shop for all kinds of cheap stuff here. A walk around here is just like walking anywhere in India, ony that this is much cleaner. However we loved this place and visited it often for the affordable food, a boon for all budget travelers.
With this we decided to end our day and rest for a shopping expedition the next day :)
Tips for the Trip -
- You can book a dhow cruise here for a ride in the Dubai creek, but for the budget traveler I recommend just take a local dhow ride from Bur Dubai to Deira. The ride just costs just 1 dirham and helps you get a flavor of the ride. If you are not satisfied with one trip, you can always take another one. :)
- For cheap food head to Karama. This place has numerous restaurants and it doesn’t hit your pocket either. Also, the Indian food here is actually like food back at home.
- The minimum taxi fare in Dubai is 10 dirhams. So even if your fare is lower, the driver will take the minimum fare.
- Bur Dubai and Deira are very walkable areas and you don’t need any public transport to explore the various sights.
- If you shop at the souks, be ready to bargain.
- If you are shopping for gold at the gold souk, I recommend shop at some known shops.