Koka Nako, Dubai
After the birth of our twin girls, we spent six months living in my in-laws' place for the maternity period. My mom-in-law had always wanted to visit Dubai, but for whatever reason it did not work out due to her career and her children's education. My wife and I felt that we could celebrate the trials of the maternity period by going on a family holiday for the 60th birthday. It was also in gratitude to her tireless efforts where she near-singlehandedly took care of the twins when we were in no position to.
We decided to book our tickets to Dubai and AirBnB and figure out the rest once we reach there. As we were traveling with 15 month old twins, we had to temper our expectations as to what could be done. It was clear we wouldn't be able to do everything that people usually do in Dubai.
As the date of the departure arrived, I began to be increasingly worried about the flight. It is intimidating to fly with young children, and many of us have sat through flights looking at and hearing parents struggle with keeping their kids comfortable on long flights.
It turned out that my fears were unfounded, as they slept through the entire duration of the flight without any problems.
After arriving at Dubai, we were greeted at the airport by our cousin who lives and works in Dubai. We booked a taxi and headed to our AirBnB.
We chose to stay at an AirBnB as we needed to cook food for the children. There was no way we were going to risk giving them food from a restaurant for an entire week, in fact, we didn't want to take the risk for ourselves.
One of the first items on our rough itinerary was to see the (at the time of writing) greatest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Being smarter than we needed to be, we decided to go during "Primetime" which would apparently allow us a view from the top in sunlight and after sunset.
After a frantic fifteen minutes of running through Dubai Mall (and getting a contemptuous wave of the hand in the general direction that we needed to go upon asking for help from a salesperson of a designer store), we reached the counter for the Burj Khalifa observation deck.
We had booked the ticket on a third party travel website (Klook), which sent us the email confirmation. Now, when you click to see the voucher, instead of showing you the voucher, it opens up the mobile application. We had done the booking as a guest without logging in, so now when the mobile application opened, it was not showing any bookings.
Luckily, the email contained the transaction ID, and I had thought that it should be enough for the person at the counter to give us the tickets we needed to move forward. The person told us they were unable to help us until we can figure out how to get the voucher. In return, I showed them the transaction ID, but that didn't seem to get us anywhere.
My wife and I spent a tense few minutes fiddling around with the mall wifi repeatedly trying to log into the mobile application trying desperately to find the voucher. During this time both the babies were being carried by my in-laws and were getting increasingly irate. My wife decided to go to the counter again, and this time a lady told us that the transaction ID should be enough. I told her that I had tried that with the other guy already, and he could not help us at all.
Anyway, we were glad to move ahead, and thus began the longest queues I have been in, with these two poor children. It was a Friday evening. As we had later learnt from a friend who lives in Dubai, you do NOT go to Burj Khalifa on a Friday evening as it would be extremely crowded.
I will admit here, that I was warned by a friend to take the VIP ticket to the 148th floor as they have a separate queue and a separate elevator. After discussing with my family, it was decided that as there are four of us, it would be expensive to take the VIP ticket, so we decided to go on the usual "unwashed masses" ticket, though we did pay double price to go at sunset.
Back to the legendary Burj Khalifa queue. While standing in the queue, the babies started getting hungry. Please understand that strollers are not allowed to the observation deck (nor while waiting in the long queues for the elevator), so the babies were being passed around like parcels as they started getting heavy.
We fed them homecooked upma while standing, trying not to attract the attention of any employees, as food was not allowed to be carried. The security guard had earlier told us, that even baby food is not allowed, but he was letting us go (good guy). Apparently being able to feed 15 month-old babies in an hour-long queue while carrying them the whole time standing up, is something the rules do not allow.
When we finally got our turn for the elevator, we got in. I noticed that my ears popped perhaps four or five times, which suggested the extreme height we were ascending.
Once we reached the observation deck, we realised that we missed the sunset we paid a 2x premium for, and chose to console ourselves with the night time views of Dubai, which in other circumstances, I could have easily spent an hour doing. We could not miss noticing a long snaking queue in the observation deck and we dreaded waiting in line for another hour to go back down.
We sat on the floor on the outdoor observation deck and fed the babies the remainder of their upma dinner. After taking some quick photos, we decided to embark on the journey back down.
An employee (bless him), took mercy on us, and told us he will be able to get us down quicker. At many locations in the queues we noticed random doors opening and closing for people the management deemed worthy. We were fortunate enough to go through one such door, and then realised that had they all been open, it would not seem so crowded (as is the case in places where space and low-waiting time is a premium). After coming out on the other side, his colleague or supervisor expressed her displeasure at his kindness, so he told us with some disappointment that only the ones carrying the babies can go down out of turn, and the other (my wife and I) will have to wait in queue. He pointed out to us that there is a larger elevator on the 125th floor and recommended that we use that. My wife and I spent perhaps thirty minutes waiting and we finally rejoined the babies with their grandparents.
We ordered some food in the Dubai Mall food court, and proceeded to the taxi pick up area. What we hadn't known is that on peak timings, the waiting time for a taxi can be up to an hour long. There was another airport-style queue, and we waited for perhaps 45 minutes and finally got into the taxi back to our AirBnB.
What should have been an enjoyable experience was ruined by three long queues, and we were left regretting how much we had hyped it up for ourselves, and how much excitement we had built up, only to be dashed by poor crowd management by the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. It was at this point that we had the sad realisation that tourist spots are optimized for revenue, not the experience. There was absolutely no good reason to allow such large crowds in the observation deck. I shudder to think how so many people can get down in an emergency situation. (There was a fire in a high rise building in Dubai the week before our trip).
The next evening, we were to visit some family friends and we had a great time having dinner with them. They were kind enough to organise a little birthday party for my mom-in-law, so that lifted all our spirits after the disappointment of the previous day.
Next on the itinerary, was a visit to the Miracle Garden. The flower arrangements were certainly impressive, and we were able to take some nice pictures here. When we went to the food court area, there was a juice stall offering various kinds of fresh juice. Being wary of juice stalls, I thought some tender coconut water would be a safer bet, but when I asked them how much a tender coconut was, they told me it was 30 AED (Rs. 660). No Indian would take that deal, and I did what every Indian would (or wouldn't) do in that situation. Having lived abroad and having done a modest amount of traveling, I am aware that converting into your home currency is something that will ruin your enjoyment of things. However, a 10x premium is not what I expected, and that was one of the most poignant moments of the entire trip, and a recurring theme every time we dared venture asking how much something costs in Dubai.
The Global Village was something that was recommended by multiple people, and even hearing about it, it sounded like a fun place to visit. This was the only thing that we felt was worth the hype and would not have minded going a second time to fully appreciate it. The Global Village is somewhat of a fairground atmosphere where various countries have their allocated areas, and they have shopping stalls, food stalls and even some public music and dance performances. We perhaps covered half of it in the time we had, and had a great time taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of many cultures.
By this time, we had become keenly aware of the huge bills we were racking up taking taxis in Dubai. Ideally, we should have gotten a rental car, but Indian driving licenses are not valid in Dubai, and I was concerned that the left-right switch might make it dangerous to drive without having sufficient experience.
A family friend gave us the number of a driver, and he agreed to take us out for a whole day at a fraction of the price (and several times the inconvenience and uncertainty) of the usual taxi cabs. We went to the Atlantis Aquarium, which turned out to be smaller than I expected, after seeing the aquarium in Sentosa Island, and the Melbourne Aquarium. However, as someone who likes aquariums, I did not mind too much. The kids seemed to be fascinated by the fish, so that was nice to see. We also drove past the famed Burj Al Arab hotel, and stopped at a nearby beach and got our feet wet. The kids got scared feeling the wind and the waves, so we had to take them away from the water's edge. There were surfers and I had the chance to see people doing wind foiling on foilboards for the first time. It looked like a lot of fun, for someone who knows what they are doing.
After dark, we headed back to the Dubai Mall once again, to see the fountain show. Our driver found us the perfect spot for parking, and we were able to find a nice place next to the fountain. This was the closest thing I got to goosebumps in the entire trip, as the music and the co-ordination of the fountains, and the knowledge that I was looking at the greatest fountain in the world.
It was mildly offputting to see the name of a real estate developer and random commercial images projected on the Burj, but the fountain more than compensated for that. We took a parcel from PF Chang's and went home. It was a hugely successful day.
Something we noticed soon after we arrived in Dubai, was the number of delivery service motorcycle riders. They were everywhere on the roads going at dangerously high speeds (100 kmph+) on Bajaj Pulsar 160 bikes. Speaking to a local friend, they said that crashes are frequent, and I'd imagine, many would be fatal. We made the trip in winter, where the heat is not as oppressive as the summers. I once rode a bike in 46°C heat for twenty minutes which gave me a headache I cannot forget. These riders have to deal with temperatures that can reach as high as 49°C with high humidity, so the body's way of regulating temperature is completely thwarted.
Construction workers were another frequent sight. They would be walking out with their hard hats in the sun, or in their contractor's buses (which are usually without air-conditioning). The workers' hellish working conditions and exploitative treatment while building an earthly paradise for people that are blissfully unaware of the true extent of their miseries, is a sobering reminder of the inequality that exists in the world.
Delivery drivers and construction workers are merely two kinds of blue collar workers that tourists can see. What about the many domestic helps, baby sitters, chefs, waiters (the list goes on) and the unseen challenges they face? Of course, in my home country, there is no dearth of suffering, but sometimes one wonders for what fraction of these migrant workers does the suffering vs compensation equation actually turn out in their favour.
The day of the birthday finally arrived, and this was the reason for the trip. We had planned a Dhow dinner cruise in the Dubai Marina. The dinner cruise was fun enough, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this is something primarily Indians do, but I suppressed that feeling as best as I could. The views of the marina were impressive, and the number of high rise buildings constructed was astounding. There also, seemed to be numerous places to chill and hangout all along the marina, and I made a mental note that I need to come here sometime if destiny (God's will) allows. One of the highlights of the cruise was the tanoura dancer. He was spinning for a scarily long time. We could observe that he was utilising a technique of mitigating giddiness by focusing on one point, and then suddenly turning his head to focus on the same point again. This is something that dancers employ to avoid falling over due to movement-induced vertigo. After his performance, he was calling for volunteers to try out the dance, and as I was in a game mood at that time, I went forward and tried spinning around. Even for a short time, I almost fell over, and he caught me. I gained an appreciation of how difficult that dancing style is, even with all the mitigation techniques.
The AirBnB was not available for the last day, so we had booked a hotel near the airport, so we said goodbye to our host and headed to the hotel room.
Soon after checking in, my wife and I went to a desert safari, and the kids would kindly be taken care of by the grandparents in a friend's place. The desert is barely half an hour out of Dubai, and we did all the usual things riding an ATV and going dune bashing in a 4WD. It was thrilling and fun, and we went to the campsite for dinner. There was some entertainment, belly dancing, more tanoura dancing and a fire show which were all fine.
As we were getting back to leave, I realised that I did not have my phone, and immediately started calling it with my wife's phone. Thankfully, someone picked up and asked me to come to the office. He asked me to prove that it is my phone, by unlocking the screen, and after seeing the wallpaper with my photo was satisfied, and handed it over to me. I am truly grateful to whoever it was that gave my phone to the office. Thank you, and God bless.
Later that night, I started developing chills. This is when the trip took a wrong turn for me. The next morning was equally horrible with fever and nausea, so I spent most of the day in the hotel room resting and trying to recover in time for the flight back home.
The journey back was smooth, as the kid slept through the entire 3 hour flight. I was having some chills, and my co-passenger noticed that I was not well, and offered me some paracetamol which I gladly accepted. I did have medicines of my own, but I just could not be bothered to get it from the hand baggage stowed overhead. I was that low in energy and motivation at that point.
After landing, and finding some cabs we reached home and spent the next few days recovering from the fever and cough that we picked up soon after the desert safari. The doctor in the OPD back home said that it does not look like COVID symptoms and prescribed a course of anti-biotics, paracetamol and cough medicine and the infection slowly passed.
I have said surprisingly less about the kids, which shows how much they co-operated during the whole trip. They learnt how to sleep in the stroller, they ate at random locations, and spent long tiring days doing sightseeing stuff without causing any issues. As long as we ensured that they were fed, and well rested they were fine. If anything, I had more problems during the trip than the kids.
Considering our situation, I would count the trip as a successful one, as we were able to cover many locations with the kids in tow. It was a fitting celebration for my mom-in-law, and we were grateful we had an opportunity to do our little bit in making her 60th special for her.