Friday, 27 December 2013

Dubai: In the colorful Souks of Dubai


Ancient, east winds blow in the crowded corridors of the traditional Souks carrying the aromas of spices, the glittering of gold, the spirit of Arabia..

by Kon Hans


Boats, hundreds of them, big and small, made from old timber with austere lines and orient colors, fill the big canal in the Dubai, the famed Dubai Creek.  Under the imposing shades of skyscrapers of futuristic aesthetics, a traditional world unfolds: As in a curious technocrat Venice of the East, the canals of Dubai, create an impressive, parallel universe.  More specifically so,  in Bur Dubai and in Deira, these watery avenues will transport you in the fragrant, colorful and palpitating heart of the Middle East, where a thousand aromas from the spices and the shine of pure gold will enchant you, drifting you away into mysterious Arabic paths, in ancient recollections of an Orient that all carry inside us. 

Approaching Deira with the abra (traditional boat)

Bur Dubai: Heritage Village, Meena Bazaar

Here, the gondoliers are dark-skinned, from India and Pakistan, as is, in reality, the vast majority of the population of Dubai.  They may not possess the charm of a Venetian gondolier they are, nonetheless,  simple and polite people, that will carry you across to Deira and to its famous souks, for hardly 20 cents of Euro!  However, before you embark on their small wooden "abra"(traditional small boats) take your time and explore the part of Bur Dubai, with its beautiful Heritage Village and the vibrant Meena Bazaar

The abras crossing the canal 


In an extended area along the creek-side in Bur Dubai, a big part of the old neighborhood is preserved in all its traditional Arab glory by the Government of Dubai; thus, the Heritage Village, apart from a particularly popular tourist destination aspires to be included in Unesco, as a World Heritage Site.  In this magical place, the character of old Arabia has remained intact: with small narrow alleys  that provide shade most of the time and the typical turrets that function as ventilators and offer shelter to hundreds of birds.  Inside this perfectly maintained cluster of traditional architecture you will find beautiful, flowery courtyards with small tables where you can sit and enjoy a fragrant Arabic coffee and an authentic tea with mint, or, if you are bold enough, try a camel burger!  One of these traditional cafes is the ArabianTea House, that offers an astonishing range of teas, from the impressive blooming teas (teas that “bloom” once inside water) up to various other qualities and flavors, while you can also taste the local delicacies.

Heritage Village, Dubai Creek

Moreover, you will discover various exhibition spaces with folklore collections, where many aspects of the traditional Arabic way of life are explained and if you fancy an authentic, and soft as a baby skin, "pashmina", the Meena Bazaar with its anxious sellers awaits you just two steps away.  Afterwards, you can sit by the sea listening to the relaxing sound of waves with the company of a flavored shisha (a local smoking glass pipe) a strong coffee and some delicious dates, - Dubai's are perhaps the finest in the world!-, before you take the abra for Deira.

Deira: Spice Souk and Gold Souk

As in Bur Dubai, the greater part of the population in Deira consists of Indians and Asians, and naturally the dozens of small shops selling everything, the street merchants , the voices, the multicolored chaos, all reflect this southeastern character.  In this vibrant labyrinth, and constituting its vital centre, you will find two of the most traditional bazaars of the Middle East, known here as Souks, the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk.  Your nose will lead you to the first one, as it is situated very near to where the boat leaves you, and you can see the crowd flocking into its corridors with the traditional wood-engraved arches.  Here, among the hordes of tourists as well as the local populace, spices of all types and from all over the East and the whole world, tint the benches with the fiery orange of saffron, the deep green of cardamom and the sweet brown of cinnamon.  You will also find rose water of the finest quality as well as frankincense or other exquisite incense, together with some impressive cases made from timber, mahogany and ivory.  You can buy whatever you want, spices either in powder or whole and other local handcrafted items, always with the indispensable barter of the, admittedly high, prices. 


Colorful Spices

A little bit further away from the perfume extravaganza you will come upon the indisputable and brilliant kingdom of gold in Dubai.  More than a Gold Souk, it is a place of worship of this noble metal: all along its blinding showcases you can admire it in every possible shape and form, be it in incredibly thin embroideries that create entire skirts of gold or as excessively bulky and heavy necklaces that grant a new dimension to the kitsch. At the same time, you can witness an infinite collection of particularly precious jewels, from diamonds, emeralds, rubies and almost anything else that can capture the magic of the prismatic colors.  If you want to make a precious gift to someone special or just to feed your vanity, then this is the ideal place: most probably, nowhere else in the world is the gold sold in such a low price, and if you make a good bargain with the merchant you could even buy for half the original price.


Loaded with your fragrant spices and gleaming jewels you can now depart from this colorful and oriental parallel universe of the advanced and futuristic Dubai, with the certainty that each city has two sides and many times it is this concealed side that makes it unique. 

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on January 11, 2014 (transl. & edited from greek, original here)

In the Meena Bazaar

Morning traffic in the Meena Bazaar
Golden creations
Golden creations 2
Sishas on parade!
Dubai Heritage Village

Local handcrafted products



National Colors

Traditional Arabic shoes in Meena Bazaar


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