Again & again, to Dubai
What keeps me going back to Dubai? I absolutely love the fact that everything about this city, which has sprouted from the lap of the desert, feels surreal. Everything hovers dramatically between the make-believe and the authentic.
I had this experience as soon as I headed out of the Dubai International Airport towards my hotel situated on the ritzy Burj Khalifa Boulevard. Although it was a warm morning, the air still held a mild chill from the previous night. As a grey haze settled lowly in the sky, there seemed to be more construction on the roads than ever before. Suddenly, in the midst of the heat and the dust, row upon row of cheerful yellow flowers on the borders of the highway came into sight. If I had seen this in a painting, I would not have thought it true.
This dream-like state followed me as I made my way to the covered Dubai Butterfly Garden, a great way to experience the joy of being outdoors while staying cool indoors. Each of the nine domes house a few hundred butterflies of all shapes and hues. Unlike many other such parks, here I was able to hold out my hand for the more adventurous butterflies to alight.
For the kid in you
This was followed by a rather boisterous session at what I can only describe as a quirky exercise park for the young, and (as I discovered later) the young at heart. At the BOUNCE activity centre, I stared at the colourful grid of trampolines for the first few minutes; were they actually expecting me to start jumping on these like a maniac?
The guides there were dexterous enough to qualify for the Olympics in trampoline jumping, moving like Spiderman clones. And to my glee, after the first few tentative attempts, falling down and picking myself up, I began to enjoy the thrill of bouncing like a bunny. “You must try the aerobic yoga here sometime,” one of the guides suggested. Oh yes, if yoga could be made so much fun, why not?
Later that evening, I found myself the perfect way to unwind before dinner. Through the large windows of my room at the newly opened hotel, I had a ringside view of the dancing fountains at The Dubai Mall just across the road. This rise and fall of water up to 450 feet into the air, to peppy music and vibrant lights, was nothing short of mesmeric.
Another day, after a leisurely exploration of The Lost Chambers Aquarium, I signed up for the shark safari at Aquaventure Waterpark in a rush of newfound courage. I have a crippling fear of water (we are talking swimming pool terror here, and several aborted attempts to learn swimming).
This safari is an underwater walk along with the fish, stingrays and of course, the sharks — in other words, the thrill of diving without actually diving into the ocean. Although I was terrified and excited in equal measure, I put on a heavy helmet that would keep me standing and breathing underwater, and took the plunge (somewhat literally). And I’m glad I did it. The initial panic, when I refused to let go of my guide’s hand, gave way to delight when the inquisitive fish started swimming in front of my nose.
From the skies
As a fitting end to this trip, on my last morning there, I decided that I had seen enough from the ground, and took to the skies instead. Immediately after the take-off from the waters at a hotel overlooking the beautiful Palm Islands, the sprawling fronds of the Palm Jumeirah came into sight. From my picture window at the rear, I had clear views of all the iconic landmarks of Dubai — from the soaring sail of the Burj Al Arab to the imposing façade of the Atlantis.
And just before I left for the airport, I heard about the attraction that would have me making my way to Dubai again; the Bollywood theme park. Although I didn’t have a special interest in flying like superhero Krrish or to fight the baddies at the Sholay corner, I knew I wouldn’t resist the chance for a selfie with the Khans, even if only their wax statues.