I crane my neck to see the top of the structure. My mouth and eyes are wide open in amazement. My senses are numbing. I’m no longer able to relate myself to the world around me.
Well, not surprising. For, I am right in front of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This 2,723-feet-tall structure, which I have earlier seen only on umpteen travel channels and magazines, has always fascinated me with the number of records it has broken in terms of the tallest free-standing structure, highest number of stories, elevator with the longest travel distance, and the like. I find it hard to believe that I’m actually seeing the very structure that has captured the imagination of people across the world with its wondrous beauty. People around me are trying out various poses to capture the entire structure in their cameras and I find myself joining them. The joy of getting the tip of Burj Khalifa within camera range is almost unparalleled. I content myself with just an outside view of Burj Khalifa as the queue for tickets to go up to the 124th level to enjoy the panoramic view of Dubai is too long for me to even dream of joining it, and the time on my hands, too short. I’m on a short visit to Dubai, on an invitation from the Emirates Airlines to experience their inaugural non-stop daily flight from Dubai to Washington, and want to make the most of it.
Located in Downtown Dubai, Burj Khalifa is any tourist’s dream destination in Dubai. The Burj Khalifa complex also includes the Dubai Mall, a shoppers’ paradise that can only be described in superlatives. I walk into the mall and what do I see? Armani, Versace, H&M, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Koton...brands I have always revered. I’m almost in a trance. I move excitedly from one store to another, unable to believe the experience is for real. The setting of the mall, the lighting, window displays and well-heeled shoppers with flawless complexion and manicured hands transport me to a dreamland. An experience that’s beyond words. Famous as the world’s largest shopping mall with over 1,200 retail outlets that sell everything from high-end fashion wear, perfumes, gold jewellery, bags and watches to electronic goods and souvenirs, it is a place I decide to come back to, with pots of money. Such is the allure!
Bang at the centre of the mall is the awesome aquarium and underwater zoo that deserves another superlative. Being the largest suspended aquarium in the world, its 51-metre-long tank houses thousands of aquatic animals including sand tiger sharks and stingrays. It sure is a window to the diversity of marine life.
As I’m savouring the beauty of various fish in the deep blue waters of the aquarium, I come face to face with another wonder — the ice rink, where the young and old alike were seen ice skating without a care in the world. The Olympic-size venue also plays host to a diverse calendar of events from figure skating competitions to hockey matches and live concerts, I’m told.
While at Downtown Dubai, another fun experience that’s worth its weight in gold is the musical fountain. Believe me, it’s like no other musical fountain I’ve seen, ever. Set on the Burj Lake right outside the mall, the musical fountain show is fun to watch after sundown, when the lights are on. With Burj Khalifa as the backdrop, the fountain performs expertly like a professional dancer, to music that ranges from traditional Arabic to popular world music. This show, which is once every half-an-hour, is quite addictive.
Even as I am busy undergoing serious retail therapy inside the mall, my eyes are trained to catch the half-hour mark on the clock to run outside and book my place for the delightful performance. I soon realise I’m not alone doing this mad run. I’m lucky to catch three full shows, and to add to my delight, I even see the fountain dance to the music of Lionel Richie’s All night long. The heady combination of colourful lights, crystal clear water and lively music gives me a high.
On the other side of the lake is Souk al Bahar, that’s completely in contrast to the glitzy Dubai Mall. Walking into the rustic Souk al Bahar, I get a taste of souk architecture and Arabian heritage. It is here that I pick some authentic souvenirs in terms of Arabian handicrafts and camel figurines. And, of course, fresh dates.
Dubai, for me, is a short and sweet treat, just like the dates it’s so famous for.