Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the richest of the seven emirates. It is also the largest of all the emirates and has a sizeable population of the Indian diaspora residing here. Dhabi is the Arabic word for gazelle, and Abu Dhabi means ‘Father of the Gazelle”. The city gets its name from the abundant gazelles found here many centuries ago and the folklore of a man who chased these gazelles and was nicknamed as the father of the animal.
Originally a pearling and fishing village
Abu Dhabi is the seat of the UAE government, and the President of UAE and the royal family resides here too. Before the discovery of oil, the emirate was a pearling and fishing village. No oxygen tanks or other sophisticated diving equipment were used as divers, who were experts at holding their breath, had a stone tied to their foot so that they would sink quickly to the bottom of the seabed. The divers would often fight sharks underwater as they looked for oysters and would resurface alive if lucky with their bounty of treasures. Each diver would dive 30 times in a day collecting 12 oysters at each time.
Today a state-of-the-art city
Under the patronage of Sheikh Zayed, the first president of the UAE, a Japanese architect was assigned the task of developing this imposing city. Abu Dhabi is a state-of-the-art city which boasts of theme parks, scenic beaches, imposing buildings, an impressive array of cultural and historical offerings like mosques and museums that will leave you astounded and impressed.
On a three-and-a-half-day trip to Dubai, we decide to explore the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi in a day. After a hearty breakfast, we set out for a two- hour drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. The Yas Island is the home to numerous attractions like the Ferrari World, Warner Bros Studio, Yas Water World and the mall. This place even has state of the art Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the Formula One Grand Prix.
If it’s only a day In Abu Dhabi, then you will have to pick and choose among the Warner Bros World, Ferrari World or the waterpark. You need at least 5-6 hours to do justice to each one of them. So, if you have small kids under ten years of age who love their superheroes and the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry, then The Warner Bros World is the place to be. For water lovers, the obvious choice is the Yas Water World. For children and grown-ups who have a passion for speed and cars, then the Ferrari World Theme park is a must-visit.
The first thing that our kids wanted to do was go to the Ferrari World. Our driver cum guide handed us the entry tickets to the theme park, which is inspired by the world-famous Italian car brand. Red was the prominent colour of the décor and design signifying the high energy and speed that the Ferrari is synonymous.
Adrenaline gushing rides
The kids wanted to go-karting as it’s the thrill of being behind the wheels, despite not having a driving license, that teenagers crave. We took a couple of high adrenaline gushing rides where one moment we were euphoric and screaming with fear and the next beaming with joy. But we didn’t muster the courage to try the Formula Rossa which is the world’s fastest roller coaster ride with a top speed of 240 km/hr.
Interactive and Exhilarating Rides
The theme park also has less daring rides for kids and those not wanting to take risks. You can even dress up as a Formula One racer and pose in a swanky Ferrari! One of the rides had us seated in vintage Ferraris as the track meandered around miniature replicas of Italy’s famous towns and iconic structures like the Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa and so on. Since this car company has Italian genesis, it was no surprise that the dining area and walkways were modelled around the Italian towns giving you the feeling that you’re in this country. The theme park had several interactive and exhilarating rides, a display of these exquisite cars. Even shops where you could pick your favourite memorabilia and souvenirs.
It was around three in the afternoon when we decided to say goodbye to the theme park so that we could then tour the city and its other attractions. What the Marine Drive is to Mumbai the Corniche Road is to Abu Dhabi. The promenade near the waterfront has separate walkways for pedestrians and cyclists. One can get a panoramic view of the skyline and cityscape from here. We could see the Fairmont Marina Resort, which looked like Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm. Just as the Burj Khalifa gives you a bird’s eye view of Dubai, the Etihad Towers’ Tower 2 has an observational deck on its 75th floor.
The monumental Emirates Palace, which is one of the most luxurious hotels in the UAE, is in front of the Etihad Towers. Although entry to it is restricted, unless you are staying at the hotel, we could click pictures in front of its gates adorned with water fountains. Our driver Ranbir kept pointing to the various iconic buildings as we passed through the city. The Coin Tower a circular building at The Aldar headquarters or the Capital Gate which leans even more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Heritage Village, which provides a glimpse of the Bedouin life and culture is another attraction which we drove past.
Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The pièce de résistance, for me as a heritage lover, was the Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We had passed the mosque during the day time, but since the Friday prayers were still in progress, we ended up visiting it towards the latter half of our trip. It was a blessing as we could see it both during the day and night time.
Around 40,000 faithful assemble here for the prayers at any given time but more so during Eid. More than 3000 artisans from 38 countries with the best minds in architecture and design toiled for a decade to make this dream of Sheikh Zayed into a reality. The best of white marble, gold, semiprecious stones and crystals have been used to construct this incredible mosque which has 82 domes of seven different sizes.
I am not sure if I can find the words to articulate how stunning and impressive this mosque is. More than the physical beauty it’s the aura of this place which was simply uplifting and spiritual. As the sunset, the mosque was illuminated. The reverberating ‘azaan’ or the call for prayers was recited, leaving us spellbound. The golden light within the white marble edifice and its dazzling reflection in the water bodies in the courtyard were majestic.
The chandeliers made of countless Swarovski crystals, the marble flooring engraved with decorative floral patterns, the niches in the wall with delicate bluish-purple floral inlays, the calligraphy with verses from the Quran, intricate carvings… all left us awestruck and speechless. I just wanted to give up on this worldly life and become a spiritual seeker in search of the divine. Given a choice, I would have spent more time here. But we had to take leave since we had to return to Dubai, which was two hours away.
The museum of Louvre is a must-see for art lovers. Pay a visit to the dates market. Explore the Al Jahili Fort and get a peek into the emirate’s history. Like Dubai, you have the option to go on a desert safari and do some dun dashing. Watch belly dancers as you savour Middle Eastern cuisine. I think setting aside just a day for Abu Dhabi is not doing justice to it. But I am glad we could spend at least a day here to get a taste of this impressive city. We would love to revisit it someday.
Can’t have enough
Abu Dhabi has come a long way from being a fishing and pearling village to being a world-class city with a range of attractions and activities. The emirate will entice and enthral you with its eloquence and extravagance. Whether it’s the theme parks, luxury resorts and beaches or its architectural wonders Abu Dhabi has something for everyone. You can never have enough of it.
Nearest Airport: Abu Dhabi has an international airport. Several international flights from major cities in India can take you to Abu Dhabi or its neighbouring emirate Dubai which is two hours away by road.
Where to Stay: You can check for hotels on the net depending on comfort and budget. We stayed in Dubai and took a day trip to Abu Dhabi.
Travel Tips: Please dress modestly wearing full sleeves clothes, full pants and cover your head with a scarf or dupatta while visiting the mosque. If not, you will have to wear an abaya to get an entry. You should book and get entry tickets to the theme parks in advance to avoid being disappointed. Desert Planners helped us with our bookings. A day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai with hotel pick and drop along with bronze entry ticket to the Ferrari World cost us 92 AED per head.