Imagine you are in an airplane, about to touch down. You look out of the window and take in the dramatic view of a cityscape rising above the horizon.
Hold on to that image and follow me as I take you in on an approach to Dubai, not by air but by highway, on the wonderful stretch of motorway known affectionately as Sheikh Zayed Road.
It's something we residents of Abu Dhabi can especially appreciate. We are probably the most frequent visitors to Dubai and we, more than anyone else on the planet, get to experience that wonderful, transfixing approach into the first city of the 22nd century.
It begins rather nonchalantly as one completes the journey across a wide stretch of Abu Dhabi desert, dotted with a few concrete-block towns, a couple of shimmering mosques and those wonderful ADNOC filling stations cum town centers. One crosses the border into Dubai with the only appreciable change noticed being the end of the long stretch of wall/fence that straddles much of the Abu Dhabi portion of the highway.
Soon Jebel Ali emerges with its various trade and warehouse complexes left of view. To the right there used to be nothing but open desert, but new construction is beginning to make its mark.
As we continue our descent, leaving Jebel Ali behind, the magnificent Ibn Battuta Mall appears along the right side of the highway. This is no ordinary mall. It bears the great walls of an ancient Egyptian fortress, the dome of a splendid Persian mosque, a royal palace of Mogul India and the foreboding gate of China's Forbidden City.
What follows this glorious glimpse into the past are (sigh) power lines. Yes, POWER LINES--hundreds it would seem, fanning out from a huge power station on the left, crossing the highway, and swiping the exterior walls of a sprawling complex of mid-rise apartment blocks under construction. From there they trail off into the hills and the desert beyond.
Enter the Future
I suppose one needs a great amount of power to travel into the 22nd century. The sights which are next to unfold provide a prelude. On both sides of the highway the T-O-W-E-R-S emerge--those magnificent, erect monuments to modern engineering.
To the left is Dubai Marina, with over 100 towers completed or at various states of construction. To the right, Jumeirah Lake Towers district, with two dozen or so towers, mostly under construction. Eventually the two developments will house 200-300 towers, several reaching heights of 80, 90 and 100+ floors.
At present it is a panoply of towering forms of concrete, glass and light. It is hard to drive this stretch of highway without looking left, then right, then left again at the towers as they glide by. This is Sheikh Zayed Road where the number of lanes begins to increase to 10 or 12--half on either side of the median--and flyovers start to appear in multitude at various intervals. The wide highway cuts a blazing trail through the heart of what is called New Dubai.
Passing the twin tower-districts, still more, but now sparsely spaced towers and medium-rise structures line either side of the highway. One of new Dubai's crowning features soon emerges on the right--the Mall of the Emirates, with its towering ski slope and Kempinski hotel, poised in elegance like a Russian summer palace.
From Ibn Batutta Mall to the Mall of the Emirates, one is able to witness the birth of a daring new model of modern urban development.
The Future, Part 2
Just past the Mall of the Emirates and that series of flyovers, the skyline is transformed into open skies and a spread of low-rise properties on either side of the highway--largely villas on the left and auto showrooms and other commercial establishments on the right. One might presume they had left behind the heart of Dubai, only to be mesmerized again, when after a few kilometers they begin to approach the latest addition to the skyline.
What comes into view to the right are Business Bay and the Burj Dubai Downtown districts. Like Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers, Business Bay will be a water-themed high-rise tower development. At present a dozen or so towers have begun to rise, to eventually reach 100 or more. The tallest among them, the Rose tower, is presently the tallest structure in the UAE, and rising. The Burj Dubai Downtown features as its centerpiece the presently 60-floor Burj Dubai tower, eventually to reach around 160 floors to become the world's tallest building.
As the Burj Dubai rises, a multitude of other towers rise along with it, some already completed and others at various stages of construction. History rising are the words on billboards which greet frustrated commuters as traffic begins to thicken. The agony of being stuck in traffic begins to recede as one gazes out upon the rising forms and starts to fantacize about living or working in one of those towers. Suddenly, traffic starts to move again and the commuter is abruptly awakend from his dream.
We are just about to land at the base of what was once the outer reaches of the city of Dubai. That was seemingly long ago when the pace of life was slower and one of the commoner modes of transport was by water taxi across and along the bustling Creek of the now quaint Deira and Bur Dubai districts. New Dubai, used to mean this stretch along the Sheikh Zayed Road that brings us to the end of our approach.
Before we unfasten our seat belts, however, we need to navigate one more stretch of highrise fantasy. It is the strip of other-worldly towers, dominated by the still spectacular Emirates Towers completed in 1999. Alongside this final stretch of runway are two rows of gleaming towers that were the first hallmarks of a hyper-modern Dubai.
Each tower makes an ambitious statement of what Dubai represents or aspires to: The Shangra-la Hotel tower combines elements of the classic (circa 1920's era) skyscraper and contemporary design. The Fairmont Hotel tower design takes on the color and glitz of a Las Vegas casino palace. The Chelsea tower makes its mark with a partially embedded spire, in the style of a sun dial. The Tower blends Renaissance cathedral style architecture into modern form.
It is at the foot of the Dubai World Trade Center tower that we reach the end of a journey into Dubai ala the future, once heralded by this lone, now diminutive tower, when it was erected back in 1979.
Unfasten Your Seatbelts
Touchdown... we have landed. The dazzled Abu Dhabi traveller has once again made his or her way into this beguiling city. Time will be spent doing whatever it is that Abu Dhabians like to do in Dubai--shop, enjoy the night life, take care of business, enjoy the beach a water park or ski slope, or like I do half the time, just admire its modern wonders.
Open a printable copy, in a new window.
Tower photos courtesy FunOnTheNet.in
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