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Dubai Mall’s Gold Souk Staff retention or replacement?
A 2010 recovery A royal artist
Dragon boating and company teamwork
Affordable holidays A different view
Life Story al
is key to sustainable jobs
loggers went into hyperactive mode corporate headquarters in America if it has within hours of Dubai Police chief ever been in America; pay decent wages; Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim calling prepare workers for retirement; provide for the boycott of companies using health insurance; and support employees the economic crisis as a pretext to fire national who serve in the military.’ employees. Many of them felt it was unbelievThe comparison is outrageous, but what able. Some went to the extent of interpreting Dhahi Khalfan meant and what Obama what this boycott would entail, particularly its had in mind are the same thing. The Dubai implications on the security of non-compliant Police chief said it in his own ‘typical’ style, establishments. but Obama has more sophisticated ways, By K Raveendran naturally. “Private companies must keep UAE nationals in their jobs in order to keep the national There is no escape from the fact that the identity of the sector. Such layoffs harm the financial crisis has brought protectionism relations between the public and private organisations back in all its shapes and hues. Also coming to the fore in the UAE”, a press release quoted the Dubai Police is the widespread revulsion against unfettered open chief as saying. market policies and the very concept of the so-called The issue was triggered by a group of sacked UAE capitalist model, which seems to be folding up with national employees of Al-Futtaim group approaching accelerated speed as the impact of the crisis sinks the Ministry of Labour and the courts, complaining deeper. against their dismissal, which the company attributed There is growing discrimination against, or preferto a ‘restructuring plan’ to tide over the impact of the ence shown, depending on which side of the fence you global financial crisis. The echoes of similar sentiments are, to interest groups in national employment policies; were also heard at forums such as the Federal National tariff barriers are coming back with a vengeance, and Council. governments are doing everything possible to keep The global financial meltdown has come like a natuforeign goods and services away from their shores. For ral calamity. How will it sound if rescue operations in the US, the problem is even more acute as competitive the aftermath of a natural disaster are made selective devaluation of currencies in Asian countries is making on the basis of the victims’ nationality, the bloggers American goods more costly and more inaccessible to asked. US customers. While some of the questions did merit answers, the Having said all this, one cannot overlook the quali‘shock’ response was surely overdone. Who can refuse tative difference in the situation obtaining here and to see that similar sentiments are being expressed all the rest of the world. Employability is a major factor over the world? In fact, this theme is central to Presiin ensuring sustainable employment and that cannot dent Barack Obama’s stimulus packages, which seek to be overcome with any amount of policy legislation or reward companies that provide good jobs to Americans administrative fiat. There is a clearly established link in preference to lower-paid immigrants. between employment and productivity, and nothing Obama had last year introduced the Patriot Emcan be an effective substitute, including nationalist ployer Act to reward companies that created good jobs fervour, for this organic connection. with good benefits for American workers. The legislaTo some extent, nationalism can make up for differtion provided for ‘tax credit to companies that mainences in skill levels, but can’t stand for the skill itself. tain or increase the number of full-time workers in This is where Al-Futtaim and the rest of them in the America relative to those outside the US; maintain their private sector have a point.
UAE Digest, April 2009 1
Dubai Mall’s Gold Souk Staff retention or replacement?
A 2010 recovery A royal artist
Dragon boating and company teamwork
Affordable holidays A different view
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Life Story al
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UAE Digest, April 2009 3
Hopeful of a 2010 recovery
Transparency is one of the keys for the UAE to navigate through the current economic crisis. Major industry players in the country are of the opinion that there is no reason to lose hope.
Staff retention or replacement?
Should companies retain the staff they have and use this critical time to re-train and re-focus, or should they trim their salary payments and hire already trained professionals who are unfortunately now in the hiring pool?
Dimming the glow
Just like onions can make eyes water, trees block a path and icebergs rip ships apart, cultural misunderstandings can make life a lot harder than it needs to be. Knowledge about your own and other cultures can help withstand some of the challenges in a multicultural environment.
On the Cover
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4 UAE Digest, April 2009
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IN THE NEWS
(from left to right) Jamal Majid bin Thaniah, Executive Vice Chairman, DP World and Group CEO, Ports Customs World; Ahmed bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman, DMCC; Dr. David Rutledge, CEO of DMCC; Sanjay Sethi, Head of DTTC; Salma Ali Saif bin Hareb Chief Executive Officer - Economic Zones World.
New facility for global tea industry
he Dubai Tea Trading Centre (DTTC), a division of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), has unveiled its new centralised tea storage, blending and value addition services as part of its expansion plans to accommodate the growing activities of the centre. The 23,731 square metre facility in the Jebel Ali Free Zone also includes office space for regional and international tea companies. DTTC’s new facility offers services across the entire value chain of the tea industry ranging from storage, tea tasting, blending, packaging as well as networking opportunities leading to increased trade. It also provides dedicated individual storage space, free storage for a limited period of time, and temperature-controlled blending and packing facilities for a wide range of teas under one roof. Sanjay Sethi, Head of the DTTC, said: “DTTC’s new facility is a milestone for the centre as well as the global tea trade. As Dubai is neither a producer nor a significant consumer of tea, it is well positioned to offer integrated services across the tea industry. We
have already seen immense interest from international tea traders to avail these new facilities,” he added. The new centre has the capacity to pack up to 250 metric tonnes of tea in tea bags every month and up to 900 metric tonnes of loose tea in retail format per month. These comprehensive services are expected to further help boost the volume of tea traded through Dubai. In addition to providing market infrastructure, DTTC also enables tea traders to access finance through the services of the Global Multi Commodity Receipt (GMR). Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo at The Dubai Mall has introduced Leafy Sea Dragons (Phycodurus eques), a unique animal in which the males carry the young in a stomach pouch. As soon as they are born, the young ones are independent and are left to fend for themselves. ‘Leafies’, as they are more affectionately known, are found only on the coast of South Australia. There are only a very small number of aquariums in the world that feature these enigmatic creatures. They grow to a maximum size of 43cm and are mostly found hiding away in weed and grassy beds, as well as
man-made structures such as piers. Mubasher, a provider of e-financial solutions, in collaboration with the World Gold Council, Nasdaq Dubai and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), announced that it recently concluded a seminar that introduced the Shariah-compliant Dubai gold shares to investors and industry professionals. Mubasher revealed that the new tradable gold securities provide a Shariahcompliant secure, low-cost gateway for clients from all over the world to trade gold bullion without the additional costs normally associated with insuring, storing and transacting in physical gold. The company disclosed that gold securities, which will initially be worth one-tenth of the value of an ounce of gold per share, is a significant new development for Nasdaq Dubai, particularly in view of a sharp surge in interest in gold, as investors continue to diversify their investments in the wake of the global financial crunch. Non-profit organisation, Strays of Abu Dhabi (SAD), will hold its annual fund-raising ball on Friday, April 17, 2009. The theme is Diamond Collars and Black Leashes. SAD is a grassroots organisation committed to rehabilitating and re-homing stray or abandoned dogs in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The event will feature dancing and a silent auction. Rachel Shaw, Director of SAD said: “Each year, countless dogs and other animals find themselves on the city’s streets, in harm’s way and with little food, water and shelter. It is our mission to find these animals, rehabilitate, resocialise, and find them the loving homes they deserve. Funds are needed for a variety of reasons, such as veterinary health exams, vaccinations and worming, surgical sterilisation (spays and neuters), boarding fees, collar / leash / tag for each dog, toys / chews during time in kennels while seeking new adoptive homes, The SAD phone / helpline and advertising, posters etc to re-home our four-legged friends.”
6 UAE Digest, April 2009
IN THE NEWS
The display on the Nasdaq Tower in New York, announcing the successful listing of the Dubai Gold Securities on Nasdaq Dubai on March 2. Photo on the tower shows (from left to right): Jeff Singer, Chief Executive Officer, Nasdaq Dubai; Ahmed bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman, DMCC; and Aram Shishmanian, Chief Executive Officer, World Gold Council.
UAE Digest, April 2009 7
Hopeful of a
By Ambily Vijaykumar
ransparency is one of the keys for the UAE to navigate through the current economic crisis. Major industry players in the country are of the opinion that there is no reason to lose hope in the prospect of the country in general, and Dubai in particular, re-assuming the centrestage of the region’s financial market, once the dust over the economic crisis settles. A sizeable majority of industry participants at an event organised by the Dubai Knowledge Village last month included those from real estate, media and advertising, information technology and banking
industries. They were confident that Dubai will recover from the crisis in 2010. The general optimism stems from several factors. The Dubai industry has reacted positively to the $20 billion bond programme by the Dubai government. With half of the bonds fully subscribed by the UAE central bank, industry players say that is a step in the right direction and sends out a message that the UAE ‘is reacting as a country’ to this issue and that Dubai has not been left to fend for itself. Even the fear of the extent of exposure to the real estate sector that has gripped the market is not
a cause of worry, says the banking industry. “Yes there is exposure to the real estate market. But it is only 17 per cent of the GDP as compared to the US and the UK markets where it is a staggering 80-90 per cent, and at times over 100 per cent of the GDP,” says Marios Maratheftis, Regional Head of Research, Mena & Pakistan, Standard Chartered Bank. On January 31 this year, the loan-to-deposit ratio for banks in the UAE exceeded Dh100 billion. Banking experts say that the problem that has plagued the banking industry is the lack of liquidity and not a lack of
Dr. Ayoub Kazim, Executive Director of Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City, (centre) with the speakers at the DKV Breakfast Club
8 UAE Digest, April 2009
willingness to lend to each other. “When hot money, which was close to $156 billion, left the market, banks began looking at their balance sheets. And the present crunch has been a result of banks competing for deposits. That is the reason they are offering higher interest on deposits. This is directly impacting interest rates for loans,” explains Marios Maratheftis. Unlike countries like the US that have run into a massive debt burden, the UAE debt, experts say, is “very acceptable”. Though there has been a considerable devaluation of assets held outside the GCC, that is not a reason to panic, opine industry experts. The impact of the crisis has hit home with exports tumbling on a month-to-month basis for the past couple of months. There has been a two per cent decrease in exports in the month of February when compared to figures in January this year and the percentage of exports decreased by four per cent in January as compared to December last year. Compared to peak figures in the month of August last year, so far there has been a steep decline of about 20 per cent in exports ever since the economic crisis set in. Curiosity has been triggered about the exact number of companies that have shut shop and given the UAE, and Dubai in particular, a skip. When the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry was quizzed about this, they were unable to provide any confirmation. “We can’t know about it. With the law not making it mandatory for companies to go through a proper process before wrapping up, the truth might only be known once the company has packed its bags and left,” says Dr Belaid Rettab, Senior Executive Director, DCCI. In the light of events like this, the DCCI says it is essential for both the government and various corporates to be more transparent about their dealings. “This is the only way to enhance confidence in the market,” says Dr Rettab.
Industry players in Dubai and the UAE are hopeful the emirate will get back on track by next year
The confidence has been largely lost because the real-estate bubble has burst. Now the impact of that will solely be decided by how long the drop will last and how steep the dive that the market has taken will be. “I do not see the super luxury segment of the housing sector being affected. It will be the luxury and high-end markets that will take the hit,” says Markus Alexander Giebel, Chief Executive Officer, Deeyar Development. People are waiting for property prices to fall further to invest in homes. This has lead to fewer buyers and prices tumbling further. An overwhelming majority of industry players said they expect prices to go further down. So what is the way forward for developers? “Merging is a definite option. Matching a strong balance sheet with a bad one will be beneficial on a mid to long-term basis,” says Mr. Giebel. With a cash crunch facing both banks as well as customers, defaults are a major worry for developers. Has Deeyar faced a similar situation? “As of now, we have zero defaults. We are talking to our customers and trying to extend their repayment tenure. But then, we are only delaying the defaults by doing that,” informs Giebel. Advertising has been another segment of the industry that has taken a beating. “We have registered a 50 per cent drop in advertising revenues in January this year as compared to the same month last year,” says Ronald Howes, Managing Director, Memac Ogilvy. This large-scale impact is because the real estate and financial sectors had become the mainstays of revenue for the advertising sector. With that no longer being the case, the advertising industry says this is the time to optimise public relations. “In times like these, various brands keep a low profile to save on advertising costs. But this is the time to put the public relations department into an overdrive. It has to be done to reassure people that the brand still exists and what it plans to do in the future,” says Mr Howes. Likewise, the industry also feels there is room for more measures to be taken to help revive the economy. There was, however, only a thin margin between those who thought so and those who said that the government’s steps so far have been “ineffective”. The industry would like to see several steps taken to tighten loose ends. Developers want residence visas to be issued to people who own property in the UAE. This, they say, is an excellent incentive to attract more buyers. The banking industry wants the cash flow restored. Apart from that, they would like to be updated with economic data by the government and would also like to see “investment in more productive areas of the market apart from real estate.” Industry players underlined the need for the country and the region to tab into the manufacturing department. Also, food processing was one area that received the thumbs up from experts. A common refrain that was felt at the meet was that restoring confidence and cash flow at the moment was far more essential for the Dubai market and the UAE than chasing profits.
Experts would like to see the government ‘take more steps’ to tackle the crisis
10 UAE Digest, April 2009
Staff retention or
By Linda Benbow
he unfortunate truth is that people are getting ‘sacked’, ‘laid off’, ‘released’, ‘let go’ all over the world due to the global economic crisis. It is happening in this country too among all levels of workers, be they manual, blue-collar, white collar, professionals and, yes, even the top honchos of companies are not exempt; hard working men and women are losing their source of income due to no fault of their own. It is hard for the person who is sacked. And it is a difficult time for the person who has to do the sacking. Now that the country has realised that the crunch has hit it, there have been strong reactions and varying methods of trying to cope with difficult decisions. Traditionally, the last person to join a company is the first to be asked to leave it. Employees who have gained and used their experience within the company are kept for as long as possible to try and help the company stay in business. They are the ones who know what to do, how to do it, and when. But some old-timers may have shown disgruntled feelings in the past, or queried decisions that they should not have. It isn’t always ‘last in; first out’ as some are finding to their dismay. Employers have to make staffing
decisions to survive in a competitive world. Most, of course, would rather keep all their employees and carry on trading until the crisis has
blown itself out. But for those who, due to money constraints, must trim spending and expenses, the decision of who should be ‘allowed to leave’ and who should stay is not always as tricky as it could be. Careful pruning of non-productive staff leaves a trimmer, more competent firm to deal with future problems and future improvements and successes. Identifying low, costeffective and meaningful retention strategies is critical as this promotes a more sensible and productive approach to economising and boosting productivity. “It is imperative that effective measures to retain people who display significant expertise and knowledge be adopted, as they
UAE Digest,April 2009 11
form a part of the major assets of a corporate entity,” said Patrick Luby, Managing Director, Manpower Middle East. The company, which entered the Middle East market in December 2007 through the acquisition of Clarendon Parker Middle East staffing solutions provider - has conducted a comprehensive study on workforce engagement and retention trends, revealing the urgency of adopting more effective employee retention programmes to attain both competitiveness and profitability. The study advocates the implementation of HR policies that encourage harmonious corporate relations and employee loyalty. The current shortage of competent professionals in the Middle East is not a unique regional phenomenon, as up to 41 per cent of employers worldwide are struggling to fill job vacancies due to lack of suitable talent. Results also reveal that the replacement process could cost up to 1.5 times the salary of outgoing employees, thus making retention a more cost-effective option. Employees are not always ‘made redundant’; sometimes they resign so as to find a better opportunity for themselves. At a time when sacked staff are returning to their home countries, others are looking to fill the gaps when employers realise that they have let the wrong people go; or when employers change their tactics, get lucky with attaining new business and need a good worker to help them move forward. According to the MME findings, better employment opportunities (79.4 per cent), career advancement (80.8 per cent), and improved work environment (45.9 per cent) are some of the top reasons for job mobility, aside from increased pay, which is cited as the basis for 85 per cent of respondents to leave their current jobs. The study indicates that organisations offering benefits such as experiential opportunities, a clear career path, mobility options, and travel and working conditions that balance work, personal and family growth are more likely to retain their pool of talent. If you want to keep your good staff motivate them, encourage loyalty and remember that old adage “treat others as you would like to be treated”. can make themselves more effective and valuable.
The talent crunch
MME has also released an insight paper, highlighting the need for reforms in labour policies and practices throughout the world, particularly those involving female work participation. Titled ‘The underworked solution: Women and the talent crunch’, the study affirms that the rate of female participation in the labour force is significantly lower than that of men throughout the world. It also identifies two key trends that require a shift in the regional and global employment paradigm: a shortage of workingage talent and the growing dominance of the services sector. Numerous positions remain unoccupied in service sectors such as IT, engineering and healthcare where women have the potential to excel, and yet a huge discrepancy still exists in terms of the number of women considered for and offered these posts. Although barriers to female employment are mostly cultural in nature, many of them can be addressed at the structural level. The company is encouraging governments and enterprises to discard inflexible work structures, especially the prevailing 5-day, 40-hour work week and policies such as limited maternity leave and forced overtime which deter women from returning to work. The employment services specialist is also advocating more equality in terms of pay and job advancement opportunities. The paper advises women to take the initiative themselves by joining education and training programmes that improve their employability and skill levels, by engaging the services of reputable employment service providers to enhance their chances of being recruited in the right field, or even by considering entrepreneurship as a way of harnessing their talents.
Keep your staff motivated and effective
Many successful managers say that employee motivation is today’s key for improving staff productivity. The goal is to make a company better without spending more money, and the only affordable strategy is to coax improvements from employees, say many bosses. They are not wrong. When morale is high, staff get continued satisfaction at their jobs. Leaders help their people find pride and self-esteem in their work, by personally thanking them for doing a good job. Morale is highest when this recognition is given promptly, often and sincerely. It is strong in companies when leaders willingly take time to meet employees and listen. To staff an ‘open door policy’ means that their ideas for improving the company are heard. Morale is strong when leaders involve staff in decisions, especially the ones that affect their jobs and careers. Staff may get the sense they
12 UAE Digest, April 2009
How to be direct with people
By Anesh Jagtiani
Here are five traits of leaders who connect not just communicate: • Open: They are open and feel free to express themselves • Direct: They are direct and come to the point • Sincere: They are sincere. No need to act • Respectful: They respect the other person’s point of view • Interested in making good things happen: They want a win-win situation that benefits both parties The above points are known to everyone. I asked the participants which one of the above five they find most challenging in order to connect with people? Their answer: Being direct! I found that quite interesting as the fear of being direct is predicated on the fear of being disliked by being direct OR fear of hurting the other person’s feelings. So the real question is how can we be direct with people and still connect to them? Let’s consider a scenario. You are sitting in a staff meeting with 10 people discussing the budget reports. One of your colleagues says about you: “Roger was supposed to finish the report yesterday. Typical of him not to honour his commitments” Now that’s way below the belt. You want to be direct: The cliché style of being direct would be to sandwich it: first say something positive, then what concerns you, and then end with a positive. So you meet Jack after the meeting and want to use the cliché style of being direct. It would sound
did a session on how to communicate at a higher level. The main point to question in communication is “when we communicate, are we merely exchanging words or meaning in order to connect?” During an analyst conference call in July 2004 – concerning a massive corporate merger, a CEO had repeatedly been telling Wall Street that as much as $80 million in cost savings could be achieved by combining the two companies. Finally, an analyst asked this prominent CEO to expand upon his $80 million savings claim. According to the transcript of the call, here was this man’s answer: “I’ll try to answer you, but you can’t put a lot of faith in what I’m going to say. I know in one meeting I said if we look at this a year from now it will be clear, or should be clear - you know - what is and what we can do and what’s attainable and
how quickly; and I still think that’s true. God knows, I would hope that’s true.” Having heard that explanation, do you understand how the $80 million in cost savings will be achieved? Analysts didn’t understand either. In fact, they took this confused response as a sign of cold feet and that the proposed merger might not be approved by their boards. The stock price of the executive’s firm, which had surged when the merger was announced, was quickly sold off. This caused the stock price to sink eight per cent in one day, decreasing the value of his firm by an estimated $1.5 billion. Of course, I doubt that we all will make a $1.5 billion mistake when we communicate. So what really constitutes good communication where we exchange meaning and not just words to connect with people?
14 UAE Digest, April 2009
something like this. “Hi Jack. Great participation in the meeting. I didn’t like what you said. By the way, nice haircut!” This approach is manipulative because as soon as people start with something positive, they are already anticipating, when is the word BUT going to surface. So starting with something positive would make people defensive. Or, Roger can be direct and still connect: “Jack. You made a comment that it was typical of me not to honour commitments. This comment really concerned me. What was the reason for that comment?” Here, you are doing two things. • You address the behaviour: This comment really concerns me, which is far better than saying “I didn’t like what you said” as you are then attacking his identity and not his behaviour. • You end with a question: What was the reason you said that for? This fosters a need to understand instead of passing a judgement. And gives you a chance as there could be a hidden truth in the comment. Addressing behaviour as opposed to the identity of the person is neutral and makes the person less defensive and enables you to connect. Other examples: Roger. I thought we agreed that you would be in the office at 9:00 am every morning. You have been coming at 9:30 am for the last two weeks. What happened? Chris. I noticed that you missed the meeting you had agreed to attend. I was wondering what happened. Did you run into a problem of some kind?” You take the other person to a private setting, describe the facts (what was expected versus what was observed), end with a question. And now you are listening to diagnose the underlying cause. If one really fears being direct, let’s consider the below: If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Just say it. If you fear confrontation (if you want to call it that), make a script before you talk with the person and practice it (Make sure you are not reading the script when you in front of the person unless you are interviewing him/her about deep rooted psychological problems) Bottomline: If you want to compliment a person, do only that. If the behaviour of a person concerns you, speak your mind and let your thoughts stand on their own feet as opposed to sandwiching them. They will respect you more for speaking your mind. It may be an uncomfortable process. But the end result is they will respect you for it. Effective communication is more than exchanging words. It’s about connecting the real meaning of messages with people, leading to stronger human relationships. Anesh Jagtiani is the CEO of Empowering Leaders Group (M. E). He is a professional speaker and trainer. Their leadership programme helps managers motivate and retain top people, improve their effectiveness in communication and maximise the bottomline of companies. He can be reached at email@example.com
Motivate your staff
A great majority of employees start a new job enthusiastic, but in 85 per cent of the 52 companies that were surveyed in the UAE, an employee’s morale sharply declines in the first six months - and continues to deteriorate for years afterward! Here are three ways to stop demotivating your employees: 1. Instil an inspiring purpose A critical condition for employee enthusiasm is a clear, credible, and inspiring organisational purpose: a ‘reason for being’ that translates for workers into a ‘reason for being there’ that goes beyond money. Every manager should be able to expressly state a strong purpose for his unit. Starting a mission is a powerful tool. But equally important is the manager’s ability to explain and communicate to subordinates the reason behind the mission. The best way to do is to use the power of stories as they connect straight to the heart and can be remembered. 2. Provide Recognition Now get this: Almost two thirds of employees say that management is much more likely to critcise them for poor performance than praise them for good work. A pat on the back, simply saying “good going,” a dinner for two, a note about an employee’s good work to senior executives, some schedule flexibility, a paid day off, or even a flower on a desk with a thank-you note are some of the ways managers can show their sincere appreciation for good work. I still have a written thank you card that was given to me by my manager eight years ago! Give employees feedback and coach them for improvement First and foremost, employees whose overall performance is satisfactory should be made aware of that. Performance feedback is not the same as an annual appraisal. Give actual performance feedback as close in time to the occurrence as possible. Use the formal annual appraisal to summarise the year, not surprise the worker with past wrongs. Comments concerning desired improvements should be specific, factual, unemotional and directed at performance rather than at employees personally. Avoid making overall evaluative remarks (such as, “That work was shoddy”) or comments about employees’ personalities or motives (such as, “You’ve been careless”). Instead, provide specific, concrete details about what you feel needs to be improved and how.
The reason you are giving feedback is to improve performance, not prove your superiority.
April 2009, UAE Digest 15
Trip to Jazirat Al Hamra
By Mike McHugh
he United Arab Emirates has over 1,400 historical buildings distributed all over the country. Some of these monuments can be traced back to the third millennium BC. The Architectural Heritage Society was formed in 2003 by a group of concerned specialists motivated by their firm belief in the importance of preserving that legacy with a mission to conserve the architectural heritage of the UAE, rehabilitate and document it and find new uses for the buildings where they can. Lectures and training courses are held and field trips regularly organised. One of the recent field trips was to Jazirat Al Hamra. Until the coast around it was recently reclaimed, Jazirat Al Hamra used to be a small island. Located on the southern coast of Ras Al Khaimah, it was occupied almost entirely by the Al Za’ab tribe. The majority of its residents relocated from Jazirat Al Hamra to Abu Dhabi when they were offered land for resettlement, prior to UAE independence in 1971, and they
left their old village as it stood. While the village was inhabited throughout the 20th century and houses were constantly upgraded, large clusters of coral and plaster houses dating to the turn of the century still stand. Jazirat Al Hamra was an active fishing and pearling village. Substantial herds of cattle and sheep were kept on the island. The Za’ab had a number of ports, and were active in the overland transshipment of goods. They maintained summer homes at the Khatt Oasis and owned much of Khatt’s 20,000 date trees. It was, therefore, a notinsignificant community. The settlement was dominated by the Sheik’s fort, or Hisn. It comprises a group of fortified domestic buildings and a circular burj or watchtower, constructed in sea-stone, coral and shell-stone, and plastered. Close by stands a square tower or murabbah, with emplacements for cannon. The souq is still standing, albeit deserted, running parallel to the
former beach. It runs between the windtower house at one end and the mosque, with its distinctive minaret, at the other end. The domestic architecture displays the characteristic Khaleeji patterns and designs, elaborated and horned arches, formed in gypsum. Houses comprise individual nuclear family rooms arranged around courtyards. Externally, there are minimal openings to break the privacy of the compound, but internally, low-set barred and shuttered windows restrict sun penetration, though ensuring breeze flows across the floor where people are sitting or sleeping. Although work has been done on the towers, the development, as a whole, is rapidly deteriorating and, unless conservation measures are introduced soon, much will be lost for future generations to see. Membership is open to all and further information can be obtained from Mike McHugh of the Dubai English Speaking Chapter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
16 UAE Digest, January 2009
By Ambily Vijaykumar
Shop owners at Gold Souk in Dubai Mall say they don’t get customers; some blame management for not properly advertising the souk, others blame it on the global crisis
eople do not visit the Gold Souk at the Dubai Mall, they get stuck in it. For the shop owners, the hopes of a dream run in the largest mall in the Middle East with all its brand pull have not materialised so far. From familiar names in the jewellery business to new ones, a common complaint is that “not many people know there is a Gold Souk in the mall”. Blame it on the mall planning many say. “The location of the gold souk within the shopping precinct does not work to our advantage. The idea was to make mall customers walk through the area. But unfortunately, since the souk is tucked away in a corner, people do not notice it. If it had been near the aquarium, things would have been different,” says the person in-charge at Mikura Pearls. One of the entrances to the souk is adjacent to the Olympic-sized indoor ice rink, but as there are fewer tourists about, mainly due to the global crisis, this is not of much use.
UAE Digest, April 2009 17
But once in the high-domed, architecturally pretty winding lanes of the golden marketplace, the sparkle of jewels and precious metal casts its magic as window shoppers peer at exquistly crafted pendants and chains. A walk through the souk is more exhausting than exciting. There are no seating arrangements and the souk is shaped like a snake, which makes entry and exit points unclear to the visitor. So, a person coming inside spends a better part of the time figuring the way out rather than looking at the jewellery. “A large part of the Gold Souk has unopened shops. This is damaging to the reputation of the place. It does not look good and only makes this part of the mall look dirty and ill maintained. Most of the time I am left to answer queries about the way out rather than showing customers our designs,” says Irina at Farah. The proof of their plight is the sales figures. “The mall was officially opened in November last year. Many stores at the souk opened either during that time or towards the end of 2008. I can safely say none of them has registered a consistent customer flow,” laments Farah. Three of the five stores UAE Digest visited said they did zero business in the month of February. “We did not even do business worth two or three thousand dirhams last month,” says Ramakrishnan of Kanwar Jewellery. “Recession has played its part, but what has worked against us also is that we are almost anonymous here,” says Divyesh at Cara. Shop-owners complain that the mall management has failed to advertise the souk. Even within the mall, individual shops are left to do their own advertising. They print leaflets and leave it at the information desk so when customers come in to ask for information, the desk can put in a word. But that is pretty impractical considering the number of shops at the souk. “Untrained staff also 18 UAE Digest, April 2009 the total strength of its retail brands at the mall to 59. Asked whether opening a store for the Italian Leo Pizzo brand at the gold souk has been a wise decision, Tawhid Abdullah, Managing Director of Damas says, “When we decided to open a retail store for this new brand in Dubai, we thought that it deserved to be a stand-alone brand with its own brand boutique, so we chose the best place in the region to open it. I think it is the right location for this project.” That is quite opposite to what a few of the people UAE Digest spoke to at the gold souk say. According to them, opening a store at the gold souk of the mall was “a big mistake”. With most of the jewellers saying their business has been badly hit, what does the Damas head have to say about his business? “Unlike the rest of the world, jewellers across the world have by all means been the least affected by the crisis. Jewellery still remains the best place to park your money,” Tawhid Abdullah says. “People were psychologically affected at the beginning of the crisis, but what we see today in the region is that people are out of that shock,” he adds. Even the psychological shock does not seem to have receded. When we walked around the gold souk, there were only a handful of customers who were window shopping at noon on a week day. Even weekends or evenings are no solace, say shopkeepers. “We are supposed to be open from ten in the morning to ten in the night whether business happens or not,” says Irina. Shop owners were frank while talking about the lack of business for them at the souk, but were reluctant to talk about news of people shutting shop there. A few of them though did concede that many owners who bought four or five shops have cut them down to one or two.
makes things difficult. People standing to guide customers at the souk are not familiar with the place and this creates more trouble and embarrassment,” says Srinivasulu of Devji jewellers. The general worry is not about lack of business, but about even the lack of access to potential customers. “Even if we get ten customers on a daily basis, it would be good. They might not necessarily buy things from us, but then that opens a window of possibility for a future business with them. Even that is not happening,” laments Farah. KIA, a noted brand, says it has had five customers in the two months since it opened here. All of them were old customers. The store is hopeful, however, that in a year’s time things will pick up. “This is a new place and it will take time for people to know about it,” says the store manager at KIA. Faith in the mall and the souk’s future is what has prompted leading international retailer Damas to open a store at the Gold Souk, taking
Stores have been witnessing depreciation in sales figures. There has been a drop of 40 to 50 per cent for many stores. The mall is trying to attract visitors with special focus on the weekends. The dome at the centre of the gold souk has been made the focus of attraction with an audio-visual display on the ceiling of the dome that is a treat to the eyes and ears. But shop owners say much more needs to be done. UAE Digest tried to contact the Dubai Mall management for their side of the story, but they were unavailable for comment.
The Dubai Mall has launched a Treasure Hunt promotion at its Gold Souk, a sprawling indoor gold and jewellery shopping centre with inimitable Arab design and architectural features. Until April 5, visitors to the mall can take part in a free-to-enter raffle draw to win Dh100,000 worth in prizes. Visitors are only required to explore the Gold Souk and find the five chosen icons that are permanent fixtures in its passages and complete the competition entry form, which can be collected from any Gold Souk retailer or any Guest Service Desk around the mall. The completed forms are to be placed in a raffle barrel located near the Gold Souk Treasury Dome. The draw will be held shortly after the promotion and winners will be contacted directly. Mr Yousif Al Ali, General Manager, The Dubai Mall, said: “The Gold Souk in The Dubai Mall is a big draw among visitors not only for the diversity of gold and jewellery on offer by the over 200 stores but also for its elegant décor. By focusing the promotion on the Gold Souk, we want more visitors to appreciate the elegant collection of gold and jewellery products offered for sale, and also relax in the unique ambience that is reminiscent of old world Arab souks.”
Marvel at Leo Pizzo’s glamorous array of couture jewellery. Griffe is a glamorous line of heritage rings crafted in the famous groumettes technique while the Diamond Collection displays the gradual evolution of ceremony jewels such as seen in its white, yellow and rose gold rings richly encrusted with the finest handpicked diamonds. The Pave technique is what bestowed Leo Pizzo instant stardom in the world of jewellery, and detailed work defines the Crop futuristic line of jewels. The latest line of jewels, Dream, is a poetic interpretation of tradition - a scratched finish on the gold settings imparts a unique texture to each jewel in this collection. Flair and flamboyance comes to the fore in Colour through its use of natural coloured stones and coloured gold settings. It was a collier combining white and pink gold with white diamonds from this popular collection that won the Design American Couture Award declaring it to be the best creation worldwide. Damas applauded award winning Italian design house Leo Pizzo’s style panache on the eve of its flagship boutique opening at Dubai Mall. The three decade old Valenza based jewellery house founded by Leonzio Pizzo has become famous due to the creative exuberance and lavish beauty that distinguish its collections, hailed as the very epitome of couture jewellery. Its international standing today is credited to be an outcome of the intense research, dedication, imagination, knowhow and strategy of the brand, and each of its well known collections such as the Crop, Griffe, Dream and Colour collections are distinguished for their unique craftsmanship, colour combination, glamour and vintage allure, offering women an array of exciting jewels.
April 2009, UAE Digest 19
Barclays Wealth helps employees see ‘green’
Barclays Wealth, a global wealth management institution, is addressing concerns on the health of planet Earth, by initiating an Environmental Awareness Programme with the launch of a Green Day Expo which was held recently at their offices in the DIFC. The awareness programme initiated by the company’s Corporate Real Estate team (CRES) was designed to implement conservation methods to transform the financial institution into an Earth-friendly community. These initiatives supplement the bank’s global call for responsible citizenship. The Green Day event held in Dubai illustrated the steps undertaken locally to promote recycling as well as reduce water and electricity consumption, while educating employees on how to apply these measures in their daily lives at work and at home. In the UAE, Barclays Wealth started a programme aimed at implementing methods of conservation to further reduce pollution and other wastes by adopting simple changes such as the usage of crockery mugs instead of paper cups, decrease of the monthly paper usage and the installation of motion sensor lighting throughout the offices. The organisation also went a step further by investing in ‘Thin Client’ personal computers for all their employees, which saves 75 per cent electricity consumption. Further environmental initiatives will be adopted during the course of 2009 and will include the introduction of segregated waste for recycling, a car pool challenge and the introduction of organic meal options for meetings and client hospitality. Other global initiatives that demonstrate Barclays Wealth’s commitment to reduce toxic wastes include the installation of carbon neutral carpet in the New York, Qatar, and Mumbai offices. Assessments are also being made for all new building projects against international sustainable building design standards. is a wise strategy which will hopefully continue to develop,” Grimsson said. He further stated that technology that enables drilling as deep as six kilometres underground will transform the potential for geothermal power in most parts of the world. To create new opportunities, Grimsson noted that governments, businesses and scientists should work together to provide the framework, entrepreneurial drive and the expertise. “The diverse and rich experience of the respective partners means that such partnerships offer many fascinating opportunities,” he said. The complete text of Grimsson’s comments can be found in ‘The Report: Abu Dhabi 2008’, published by OBG.
Potential for geothermal power
New technology and international cooperation, like the geothermal collaboration between Iceland and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, will help promote awareness of renewable energy, according to Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of Iceland. Grimsson made such comments in an interview with Oxford Business Group (OBG), a research and consultancy firm, in relation to the agreement entered into by Reykjavik Energy Invest of Iceland and Masdar City of Abu Dhabi to explore the potential for using geothermal power as the basis for the air-conditioning system of the zero-emissions city. In addition, Grimsson also praised the project as a partnership between two countries that have already taken independent measures to develop clean energy resources. “I strongly believe that clean energy cooperation between my small country and the smaller Gulf states
20 UAE Digest, April 2009
Emirates Towers.... before and after the lights went out
A vote for the Earth
Energy Management Services (EMS) released a series of recommendations for improving energy consumption at homes; showing simple and cost-effective ways for individuals to make a start towards reducing energy consumption and contributing to mitigating the country’s carbon footprint. • Unplug appliances such as televisions and computers, which consume energy even when not in use. • Dim or turn off lights in empty rooms as lighting usually makes up about 15 per cent of electricity bills. • Increase the temperature setting for air conditioners and thermostats by two degrees centigrade. • Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use four times less energy and last an average eight times longer (up to 20,000 hours). • Remember to correctly turn off all taps to eliminate dripping which can waste 13 litres of water a day.
Children placing lanterns at The Walk
Burj Al Arab…. before and after
he Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) announced on March 29 that power consumption in Dubai fell by 146,000 kWh during Earth Hour 2009, which took place on Saturday, March 28. The reduction in electricity was 46 per cent up on 2008 and represented an 88,000 kg drop in Co2 gas emissions. Thousands of Dubai residents, businesses and organisations switched off unnecessary lighting and electrical appliances, as they joined the global one-hour power shutdown. The Managing Director and CEO of Dewa, Mr Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, led the official public display of support for Earth Hour, held at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence. Government officials and members of the public placed more than 5,000 lanterns to spell the words ‘Earth Hour’ in English and Arabic for the occasion. The lanterns were handed out free of charge by Dewa staff, along with Earth Hour T-shirts and balloons. Dewa also organised a children’s activity area that focused on energy conservation. Among the Dubai landmark buildings whose exteriors were plunged into darkness, from 8.30pm to 9.30pm during the hour, were the Burj Al Arab, Madinat Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, DIFC’s The Gate, Emirates Towers, and the World Trade Centre. Billed by the WWF as a ‘Vote for the Earth over climate change’, Earth Hour embraced more than 4,000 cities and towns across the globe. In addition to Dubai, lights were switched off in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Fujairah in the UAE, as well as all the world’s major cities, including Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Mumbai, Delhi, Cape Town, Athens, Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and Honolulu.
Energy saving tips • Take a shower instead of a bath,
which can save up to 25 litres of water. • Ensure correct air pressure in tyres of vehicles, which can save up to five per cent on the fuel bill. • Opt for car-pooling to cut down nearly a third of all car mileage clocked. • Avoid using plastic bottles or bags, as it takes around 450 years for a plastic to biodegrade. EMS is renowned for auditing homes and businesses and determining ways in which individuals or companies can reduce their energy usage. Experts visit facilities to identify sources of energy use and uncover inefficiencies. The audits comprise qualitative and quantitative analyses that usually start with a comprehensive study of energy bills, consumption trends and tariffs, and is followed by a site survey and actual measurements to review the physical energy use and distribution.
Mr Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, CEO of Dewa, marking the Earth Hour at The Walk
UAE Digest, April 2009 21
Key to the region’s future
The Wharton Global Alumni Forum panel discussed challenges and opportunities in education, media and culture
n one of the most candid sessions at the Wharton Global Alumni Forum, held recently at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, the GCC region’s thought leaders in media, education and culture underscored the need for progressive education to steer the future of the Arab world. Progressive education - that enables individuals to think creatively and critically and powers innovation - experts said, is the only way to meet the Arab world’s challenge of creating 100 million new job opportunities in the region by 2020. “The returns on investment in education is felt only much later, but these investments will build the nucleus of our region,” said Ms
Najla Al Awadhi, Member of the UAE Federal National Council and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Media Incorporated. “Education will subsequently fuel media and culture.” Addressing queries from the audience, she said that the UAE guidelines not to retrench Emiratis from the private sector workforce is not an excuse for inaction. “There are strict conditions in the law, and it is in no way telling UAE nationals to be lazy at their workplace. If they have a record for poor performance, they can be released from the job.” She also said the UAE is not trying to emulate the Western idea of freedom of the press. “Our country is only 37 years old and we are part of a tough neigh“We are bourhood. not against The critics freedom of (of the Media Law) are the press, but not being we are for fair to the responsible government, which is freedom that will not disrupt trying to develop the social and balance order” – Najla the media. We are not Al Awadhi
against freedom of the press, but we are for responsible freedom that will not disrupt the social order.” Al Awadhi said that the previous media law was a “really bad one. Despite that, we had a flourishing media and there was no history of jailing journalists. We have come a long way, and there is a gradualism in everything.” The panel discussion was moderated by Professor N. Bulent Gultekin, Associate Professor of Finance, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Other panelists included Abdlatif Y. Al Hamad, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development; Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al Mahmoud, Chief Editor, Al Arab newspaper; Nabil Ali Alyousuf, Director-General, the Executive Office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; and Sir Paul Judge, Chairman, Schroder Income Growth Fund Plc, London.
Tourism and culture
Education in the Arab world must give priority to tourism, culture and the service sectors, said Mr Abdlatif Y. Al Hamad who told a panel discussion at the forum that with tourism and services collectively representing 35 per cent of the region’s workforce, education and training must focus on these sectors. He was one of the panelists on the New and Unexpected Challenges and Opportunities for Education,
Professor N. Bulent Gultekin, Najla Al Awadhi, Abdlatif Yousef Al Hamad, Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al Mahmoud, Nabil Ali Alyousuf and Sir Paul Judge
“We have to create 100 million new jobs by 2020” - Abdlatif Y. Al Hamad
22 UAE Digest, April 2009
Culture and Media in the GCC. Unequivocal in his views about the quality of the educational system in the region, he said that currently, schools and universities do not inculcate the culture of innovation, free thinking and work ethic. More than 70 per cent of the university students are in liberal arts, which according to him - contribute little to building the economy. He said the GCC region had achieved strong labour mobility over the years, but the critical challenge is to meet potential unemployment levels. “We have to create 100 million new jobs by 2020,” said Al Hamad, “which can be achieved only through quality education.” He said there are only 330 universities in the Arab world, and not one of them is in the global ranking of the ‘Top 150’. Mr Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al Mahmoud highlighted developments in the media and warned that recessionary trends could force the media to toe the government line. He said the print media is faced with the five daggers of “advertisers, budget constraints, tribal and family relations, press laws, and newspaper ownership patterns” which constrain their freedom. Mr Nabil Ali Alyousuf presented an overview of the education sector in Dubai and the concerted efforts being made to strengthen research and bring in curricula that will help students develop job-specific skill sets. Sir Paul Judge said the GCC governments must take initiatives to meet the huge requirements for teaching posts.
Professor Witold J. Henisz, Rami Makhzoumi, Tarek Sultan, Sami Bargoum and Mohamed Alshaya
“This is the time to identify opportunities and act on them” -- Mohamed Alshaya
The session on Is the Dawn of the New Era of Mena Multinationals Delayed? witnessed much straight talk, with one of the participants urging the Arab world to “respect each other before respecting outsiders”, which was greeted by the audience with loud applause. Professor Witold J. Henisz (the moderator), Associate Professor of Management, The Wharton School, asked the participants what made their businesses succeed. Mr Mohamed Alshaya, Executive Chairman, M.H.Alshaya Co, Kuwait, said the key to the success of his organisation was selecting the right talent and ensuring fair deals for all stakeholders. Mr Sami Bargoum, Managing Director, Savola Group, Jeddah, highlighted the need to tailor the brands for the region, and focus on cultural proximity. Identifying how governments and the public sector work was the niche route to success developed by Mr Tarek Sultan, Chairman and Managing Director, Agility Logistics, Kuwait. Mr Rami Makhzoumi, President and Chief Executive Officer, Future Pipe Industries, UAE, said the ethnic origins of companies are not a constraint, and asserted that the new generation of today’s business leaders are “MNCs in their own individual capacity.” The panel highlighted that the attitude of governments to the private sector has shifted considerably even in conservative markets. Participants also urged for the need to create job opportunities for Arab youth who are expected to dominate the regional demography by 2030. Mr Alshaya and Mr Bargoum said they were building on the current financial climate to invest in human resources and acquire new assets. “This is a good time to take a pause, look inward, and look at how we can reduce costs. That is because businesses are concerned and must make contingency plans. But this is also the time to identify opportunities and act on them,” Al Shaya said. One of the strategies proposed by the panel was to look at non-traditional markets, and go for “bread and butter deals and larger volumes.” Professor Henisz concluded that the concept of Mena-based MNCs is a reality, and they need to build on their technological, marketing and financial capabilities, and support them with strong leadership skills.
Gulf-based businesses are preparing for the new economic order by leveraging on the new growth opportunities presented by the current global financial crisis. Long-term growth measures include acquiring assets, recruiting fresh talent and training them, and exploring non-traditional growth markets with a focus on ‘more volume, less value’ deals. This was the unanimous conclusion of the panel.
THE WHARTON SCHOOL
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania — founded in 1881 as the first collegiate business school — is recognised globally for intellectual leadership and ongoing innovation across every major discipline of business education. The most comprehensive source of business knowledge in the world, Wharton bridges research and practice through its broad engagement with the global business community. The school has more than 4,700 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA and doctoral students. More than 12,000 annual participants are in executive education programmes, and the school is proud of an alumni network of more than 84,000 graduates.
April 2009, UAE Digest 23
For Alia Sabur, teaching is something she finds enjoyable and a way of reaching out to the public. She is the world’s youngest professor and is currently teaching at the Konkuk University in South Korea. Rabis.M talks to this genius.
efining herself as someone who loves learning and prefers exhaustive research before she gives her opinion on any issue, Alia is an intellect who, despite being the world’s youngest professor, has no airs for being that. She explains her reasons for enjoying life: “ I enjoy science and music, but at the same time, I adore literature, crafts and comparative religion.” This shows her two sides, the serious one and the other, softer side. She loves to read and make good friends, and feels that her passion for learning has a major advantage; it makes her very flexible and not committed to one area. Sabur was born at the Beth I. Hospital in Manhattan, USA, on the 22nd February, 1989. She recalls a very special moment when she was eight months old, when she spoke her first few miraculous words, but what were they? “ I am told that my first words were ‘Daddy Honda’. I had no clue that what I was doing was something very remarkable. I just recollect that from that time onwards, I had a constant rage to learn, which has never gone away.” This rage has led her to becoming the world’s youngest professor, something that is only accomplished after endless hard work. Music plays a pivotal part in her life; she enjoys playing her clarinet – which usually keeps her busy. Despite her interests being mottled, the nutshell is ‘to learn’;- it is the entire concept that is so important to her.
She also likes gaining knowledge about medicine and neurology and is a regular surfer of the Internet. Alia talks about her fascinating hobbies such as fantasy, science fiction, kingdom of loathing and origami. When she gets the chance to go online, she likes spending her time reading and catching up with her friends, who are usually based in the USA. She does emphasise she misses them. Regardless of who you are, the support of family and friends is something very pivotal to every individual in their lives. In Alia’s case, she is thankful to God for gifting her with wonderful parents and for their constant support and belief in her. They are certainly proud of their daughter’s achievements and on her on being a prodigy. She owes all of her success to her parents. As she describes it, “it is a combination of being gifted and the environment around me that has played a major role in shaping my success.” Teaching is something that has been on Alia’s mind lately. She’s always wanted to pursue that. For her, it is a way of communicating with people and reaching out on a much larger scale. It is about public speaking. “ It is something where one can make a difference, it’s not just what you can do, but also how one enables people to make changes. I am very keen on working with students and I am hoping to turn into an author in order to reach
out to the world.” People wonder about Alia as a person: Is she arrogant, will she speak to everyone or not? Alia’s behaviour has not changed despite her being a prodigy; she explains that she is very used to being who she is and she likes being herself. She does not think about being smart. However, she does enjoy helping people and she does it as often as she can. “I help my friends with their schoolwork, my parents with their medical research and anyone else that I can. I am working on my first book - my memoirs.” Currently residing in Seoul, South Korea, she is teaching a graduate programme in nano technology at the Konkuk University, Alia is overjoyed at this opportunity. She may have attained endless achievements at such a young age, but Alia is not resting on her laurels after all this. She is energetic and believes this is only the beginning. She wants to help people succeed in their journey of achieving their dreams. She could be described as someone with a heart of gold. Her desire to help people is unique, her eagerness to seek endless knowledge is worth appreciation, her sharp mind in obtaining so much extraordinary knowledge is commendable, and above all, she has not forgotten how challenging the journey has been in getting to where she is now. Alia is indeed a remarkable individual.
24 UAE Digest, April 2009
Taste of the Orient
By Vanit Sethi
Sarai, a restaurant featuring exotic Middle Eastern cuisine, opened recently at the Jumeirah Beach Residence dusty, breezy Monday evening seems the most inopportune time to whet your appetite under a New Dubai skyscraper, even if it happens to be close to the beach. Yet the temptation of an exotic Middle Eastern meal at a newly opened restaurant seemed too difficult to resist. So, I was driving along the Jumeirah Beach with better half in tow, trying to locate Sarai. The new eatery at the Jumeirah Beach Residence appeared warm and welcoming from a short distance. Inside, the artistic wooden interiors with exquisite artefacts and muted chandelier lights radiated a ‘feel-good’ ambience. Outside, the leisurely pace of life at The Walk, with people strolling on stony paths without a care relaxed my ‘weekday nerves’. Soon, the aroma of food wafted in, laid on dozens of plates with each containing a delicious dish. Brought by smiling waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional Middle Eastern attire, the three courses of salads and starters, kebabs and meat preparations, and sweets and desserts
kindled all the five senses. The rich variety included fresh salads, hot and cold appetisers such as Yalangi (stuffed mini vine leaves with rice and oriental spices) and Tochka (grilled Arabic bread stuffed with spread of kebab and cheese delicately seasoned with garlic, parsley and paprika). Main course featured authentic regional chicken and meat savouries prepared with premium quality ingredients. Dishes like Michwi Moutabal (skewers of marinated and grilled lamb fillet) and an assortment of succulent kebabs such as Kebab Sarai, Kebab Intakli, Kebab Adana, Kebab Arab and the exceptional Bel Karaz (kebab mixed with cinnamon parsley), along with roasted pine nuts and cherry sauce are certainly not to be missed. All dishes are served here with the typical Arabian bread, fresh out of the oven, filling the restaurant with the savoury aroma of the Orient. The sinfully delicious desserts included Halawet El Jeben (exquisite cheese rolls filled with cream) and Kashta Maa Aassal (clotted cream
topped with aromatic honey), rounding off a truly hearty meal. By now, the dusty evening was a hazy memory and what remained was the tantalising taste of a unique cuisine. A memorable dining experience indeed! After the success that Ruby Tuesday has achieved in its first two branches: Jumeirah Beach Residence and Jumeirah Beach Plaza - BinHendi Enterprises has opened a third branch in Dubai Mall, located close to the ice rink. Amna BinHendi, CEO of BinHendi Enterprises, emphasised that the food and nutrition industry in the UAE is flourishing and has a promising future, encouraged by its willingness to receive new international restaurant chains. She also stressed that Ruby Tuesday is famous because of the care it takes in choosing food items as well as its commitment to adopting and applying the highest global health standards in making and serving meals. “This new outlet is in a prime location to appeal to tourists, shoppers and residents who can now enjoy a wide variety of signature
UAE Digest, April 2009 25
tempting menu selections the same as others do worldwide. Driven by an uncompromising commitment to freshness, quality and gracious hospitality, Ruby Tuesday has become one of the fastest growing American restaurant brands”. It’s no wonder as the outstanding menu contains juicy, individually prepared burgers – of varying ingredients, including a Thai fishcake style burger; a fresh, self-service garden salad bar and tender premium steaks; complemented by mouth-watering desserts and signature at affordable prices. February saw BinHendi launch the first Cacao Sampaka store in Dubai. Cacao Sampaka first opened its doors in Barcelona (Spain) in 2000, successfully making its way into the market as one of the most revolutionary chocolate shops. Although it is young at heart, it managed to transform into one of the market’s leading houses of chocolate. Its chocolate makers are constantly developing new tastes and mixing these flavours with exciting and daring combinations using natural ingredients. The store offers a wide range of choices from cookbooks and accessories to a café that offers pastries and hot chocolate. Good food in good company over some of the best vinos from the world’s best terroirs are the perfect ingredients for a great evening out. It is from this belief that Cru was born - a contemporary lounge bar at Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Burj Dubai, owned by Intercat Hospitality LLC. Cru brings to life the popular tradition of enjoying classic vintages in modern and stylish settings, characteristic of the urban
metropolis which is Dubai. The warm lighting, minimalistic white interiors with ebony trimmings and a wallembracing cellar draws you in no time. The Cru menu offers an exhaustive selection with some of the most reputed references. Here, you can taste the finest Bourdeaux and Burgundy as well as the very best the new world has to offer. You can choose drinks by the bottle or by the glass from the specially installed, UAE’s first enomatic machine, which perfectly preserves the liquids, thus ensuring that those by the glass are as enjoyable and full bodied. All this and more over some freshly prepared contemporary finger foods. Le Méridien Hotels and Resorts, in partnership with L’Atelier des Chefs, has opened their latest new cuisine offering at Le Méridien Dubai. This latest addition invites guests to actively engage in the creative process of cooking in an entertaining, contemporary environment. Founded in 2004 by brothers Nicolas and François Bergerault, L’atelier des Chefs has built a network of 12 outlets in France, Belgium and UK. Based on hands-on accessible and friendly classes, the concept helps people rediscover the pleasure of cooking. Each day, hundreds of people enjoy cooking classes at L’atelier des Chefs in half to threehour sessions, designed for individual booking and corporate gatherings. A special business lunch menu, highlighting the best of Arabic cuisine made from family recipes, has been launched at InterContinental Dubai Festival City’s Lebanese seafood restaurant Al Sultan Brahim Beirut, giving business travellers and residents
alike a chance to savour traditional Arabic cuisine from the family-run
Learning to cook fish at L’Atelier des chefs
restaurant chain. The launch of Al Sultan Brahim Beirut is the first of the chain to open outside their native Lebanon, and a welcome addition to the hotel’s wealth of fine restaurants. For a set fee, diners can enjoy a full set menu choosing from a selection of hot and cold Mezzas, grilled or fried serving of fish for the main course, accompanied with Fattoush salad and unlimited soft drinks or juices. The business lunch is available between 12.30pm and 3.30pm for a minimum of two people per booking. Q’s Cuisine, a favourite destination among Dubai’s residents for North Indian food, has re-opened doors in City Tower Hotel Apartments, Bur Dubai. The restaurant was previously located near Strand Cinema, but was closed due to construction in the area. It has been re-launched recently, after
26 UAE Digest, April 2009
persistent requests from its loyal diners, bringing back all of its classic dishes and some fresh items to its menu. Chefs at Q’s Cuisine have been handpicked by the management and brought in from Lucknow, the home of Awadhi cuisine, to ensure the authenticity of their recipes and cooking styles. The a la carte menu features Awadhi classics such as char-grilled kababs, rich gravies and varieties of the ever-popular biryani. These are accompanied by a range of refreshing drinks and an extensive variety of breads that are prepared on site. Guests are encouraged to treat themselves to a complete North Indian culinary experience, with unique appetisers to precede the main dishes and a fine selection of traditional desserts to follow after. Gusto, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant, and a brand new boutique Beach Club called Al Shalal Beach Club recently opened on the shores of the Palm Jumeirah. Both Gusto and Al Shalal Beach Club are managed by the five-star luxury hotel, Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort. Featuring authentic cuisines from sun-drenched locales including Southern France, Italy, Greece, Spain and the Levant, Gusto offers a relaxed, beachside dining experience with unmatched views. The name of the restaurant is a play on the Italian word for ‘taste’ which also means ‘vigorous enjoyment’ in English. With both al fresco and indoor dining spaces, Gusto offers lunch and dinner options within a contemporary styled interior, with a flavour of Italian design. Guests can enjoy superior five-star service with views of the Arabian Gulf, Burj Al Arab and infinity swimming pool, while dining outside
in a relaxing marine influenced environment. Poolside refreshments and snacks are also available from the Gazebo lounge. The restaurant is located between Shoreline Apartment Buildings Al Nabat and Al Haseer (buildings 7 and 8). Roadster Diner’s long-awaited presence in the UAE has arrived with the opening of its first outlet, facing the ice rink in The Dubai Mall. It joins an impressive F&B portfolio managed by Cravia, which also owns and operates Cinnabon, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Zaatar w Zeit. Cravia CEO, Walid Hajj, said “Roadster Diner enjoys enormous popularity as a premium dining experience in its home country of Lebanon. People have waited a long time for the brand to make its way to the UAE, and now, at long last, it is here. It is a one-of-a-kind place that showcases the great diner experience of yesteryears, complete with private dining booths, pedestal stools and memorabilia on the walls. Fans say its popularity centres on the twin combination of its relaxed atmosphere and an appealing menu which ranges from juicy stakes to mega-burgers, and fries to homemade desserts wrapped up in a dining experience rarely found in a normal franchise.” The Village Club Restaurant, a totally new concept set to change The Village Club entertainment and dining in Abu Dhabi, successfully opened its doors to guests and patrons last month. The restaurant
is the first phase of the Village Club project – a full-fledged recreation club. As part of the One to One Hotel, this restaurant jazzes up the dining scene in the capital by introducing a mix of live entertainment, as well as unique meal experiences. Employing a rustic look and feel, it is a place where groups of all sizes can congregate to settle down after work, relax during weekends or celebrate special occasions. It is open from 5pm to 12midnight on weekdays, 5pm to 1am on Thursdays and Fridays and opens at 12noon on Saturdays. Excellent for parties and gettogethers with colleagues as well as for couples and families, the restaurant offers Arabian style cuisines fused with contemporary barbeque-style food options served in a buffet. Guests can choose to sit on wooden chairs or the less conventional beanbags while enjoying their meal, listening to music or having shisha. There will be approximately 30 different grilled items to choose from, including whole sides of beef, lamb racks, kebab, chicken portions, and kofta, with various stew style dishes to compliment the grilled items. Salads, starch and sauce items will be presented on an island buffet, along with baked potato ovens, bread displays, and certain Middle Eastern specialties such as foul.
February 2009, UAE Digest 27 April 13
with your family
reat your family this Easter, to unlimited bubbly at Le Méridien Al Aqah’s Sunday brunch on April 12 for only Dh215 per person. The hotel celebrates the occasion with a day out package which includes unlimited access to pool, beach, recreational activities and Easter Brunch at Dh250 per person. It will be a fun-filled day of entertainment for the children, who get complimentary access to pool and beach when accompanied by parents who have bought the day out package. Meals for Kids will be chargeable 50 per cent discount (ages 5 to 12). For reservations, call 09 244 9000 or visit www. lemeridien.com/fujairah Now, there’s more reason to head
Le Méridien Al Aqah
for the East Coast with Al Diar Siji Hotel’s irresistible Easter package. Stay at Al Diar Siji Hotel Fujairah from 9th to 15th April, and avail of a whopping 30 per cent discount on normal room tariff rates. The Easter Package includes value added benefits such as fruit basket, midnight chocolates and oriental Arabic sweets upon arrival. Guests checking-in in a deluxe room also get a bottle of house vintage. The team of chefs in Al Murooj Rotana Dubai has prepared a special lavish buffet menu for featuring traditional Easter dishes and much more. It will bring an unforgettable experience for everyone with rich gastronomical spreads and plenty of entertainment. The spacious
settings of Pergolas restaurant and its outdoor terrace surrounded by verdant greenery and magnificent waterfall will be a perfect venue to celebrate the bright holiday of Easter with your family and friends this year. Good news for parents – your children will be taken good care of in a dedicated kids corner with games and an exciting Egg Hunt. Join Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club for Easter brunch on Good Friday, 10th April in Legends Restaurant or outside on their terrace overlooking the views of the skyline, golf course and Creek, with traditional favourites including roast lamb, live cooking stations, chocolate goodies, plus an Easter egg hunt for the little ones to keep them entertained along with a bouncy castle and face painting! Dubai Creek Golf Academy is offering you the opportunity to come and try out the latest equipment available on the market, with a Demo Evening on Wednesday 8th April from 5pm to 9pm: • Callaway launch their new range of products • Demo the new FT-9 and Diablo drivers and fairway woods • Demo the new X-22 and Diablo irons • 15 per cent off all orders/ purchases on the night
Al Murooj Easter Al Diar Siji Hotel Room
28 UAE Digest, April 2009
Fun competitions with great prizes Don’t miss out on Emirates Golf Club’s Early Bird Special, valid until 30th April 2009. Tee off before 8am for nine holes on the Faldo Course, Sunday - Thursday, for Dh240, including a breakfast sandwich, a coffee and a cart. Bookings can be made seven days prior to play for UAE residents and EGF members. Emirates Golf Club will celebrate Easter with festivities for the whole family on Friday 10th April. An Easter-themed International Brunch Buffet will be served in the Conservatory Restaurant & Terrace from 12pm to 3pm for Dh150 for adults and Dhs75 for children under 12 years of age. Join in the fun of an Easter Egg hunt, face painting, a bouncing castle and a host of other activities. Just in time for the Easter celebrations, Felchlin teams up with Panini and offers the finest in Swiss chocolate. From April 3 to 5, Panini, Grand Hyatt Dubai’s Italian Deli, will be featuring live cooking demonstrations of how to make delicious chocolate creations, including Easter eggs, Easter bunnies and truffles. Looking for an Easter surprise? Panini will be stocked with a scrumptious selection of chocolate gifts and other treats throughout the month. Welcome to a new teppanyaki restaurant and bar on the 1st level of Munchi, Habtoor Grand Resort & Spa. Enjoy sumptuous set menus and try varieties of Teppanyaki delights made from seafood, chicken, lamb
Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
and beef. Escape the stress of city life and relax in a deluxe chalet-style room while absorbing the breathtaking scenery of the Hajar Mountains at the unique Hatta Fort Hotel. Avoid the weekend rush and stay midweek for Dhs995 per room per night. Valid until 30th April 2009, this exclusive offer is available for UAE residents and includes breakfast and a threecourse dinner at Jeema restaurant. Tel. 04 852 3211 for reservations. Spend Easter at Hatta Fort Hotel with your family and friends and feast on a sumptuous buffet by the Rock Pool with outstanding views of Hajar mountains and spend the day by the pool for Dh150 on Sunday 12th April. Children will enjoy numerous entertainments such as Easter egg treasure hunting, camel rides, magic show, games, sand colouring and bouncing castle. Give your children a taste of the pastry kitchen at Holiday Inn Dubai – Al Barsha at a special Kids Cooking Class on Thursday 30 April. The children will be welcomed into the Arabic restaurant’s kitchen to make cookies and muffins from start to finish. In this great opportunity to see behind the scenes in a professional kitchen, the youngsters will get hands-on with baking, and their parents will be the taste testers of the final product, getting to sample their children’s efforts with a selection of tea and coffee. There are limited spaces at the event, with space for eight children to get hands-on in the pastry kitchen, at a
Emirates Golf Club
cost of Dh60 per person. The Easter bunny arrives at Holiday Inn Dubai - Al Barsha and brings along all the Easter magic to keep the whole family entertained. On April 10, The Gem Garden, a beautiful Zen minimalist all-day dining venue, plays host to the event. The décor may be minimalist, but the fun certainly isn’t. All the traditional favourites will be there – the children can leave no stone unturned in our Easter egg hunt before putting their artistic hat on for the egg painting. They can have their faces painted in all manner of styles in preparation for meeting the Easter bunny. Of course everyone will need energy for all this fun and there is a special Easter lunch buffet with a great variety at the salad bar; a salmon bar; traditional braised Easter lamb with balsamic vinegar and mushroom sauce; a variety of different main courses, including fish curry and beef stroganoff and an extensive dessert menu with everything from Easter egg nests to Tiramisu. Perfect for fuelling the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Get ready for an unforgettable odyssey of the finest Thai flavours as The Royal Buddha at Holiday Inn Dubai – Al Barsha lays out a feast to celebrate Thai New Year celebrations on April 13. Thai cuisine offers a delightful symphony of tastes with an exotic medley of spices, herbs and aromas that entice your senses like no other cuisine in the world. To titillate your tastebuds, chefs
April 2009, UAE Digest 29
Hatta Fort Hotel Landscape
Holiday Inn Dubai-Al Barsha Special kids cooking class Radisson SAS Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek
have created a special New Year Dinner Buffet that will include an array of authentic Thai delicacies such as Kang Pet Phed Yang Sai Gno (roasted duck in red curry and rambuttan), Gai Ob Kha Mine (roasted chicken with fresh tumeric and Thai herbs), Kaa nom jeen nam yap ha (fresh traditional Thai noodles with sauce) and Tom Krong Pal Bai Mar Kaam (spicy fish with young tamarind leaf). Join family and friends for a
lavish start to the Easter holidays. Hyatt Regency Dubai’s Friday brunch combines Focaccia, Shahrzad and The Bar in a culinary ‘East Meets West’ trip. Enjoy all your favourite Easter treats, springlike decoration and eggs in almost every style. Kids get their very own buffet, enjoy face-painting and can participate in the egg-painting competition. The Good Friday Easter Brunch runs from 12:30pm to 4pm. Easter Lunch Bonanza Celebrate the festive Easter holiday with your loved ones by having a mouth watering Easter lunch at Palmito Garden, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa. Take in the moment as live entertainment plays in the background, the young ones will be amused by face painting and egg hunting while the whole family can compete in the mini Olympics. Commemorate the tradition of Easter by creating a day that everyone will cherish on Sunday 12th April from 12.30pm until 4pm. The world-class stables at Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa cater to riders of all levels. Beginners, experienced equestrians, children and adults, can all enjoy trekking, trail riding, training or lessons with our friendly experienced instructors at the paddock or outside. From 30 minutes riding lessons to one-hour outdoor ride, the choice is yours. Please note that the Stables operate from 7am to 12noon, and again from 4pm to 7pm and the Stables are closed on Mondays. Jumana – Secret of the Desert - experience this unique theatre production with stunning audiovisual, water, laser and fire effects, staged at the imposing outdoor amphitheatre of the Al Sahra Desert Resort. With its Arabian fortress
inspired architecture, the Al Sahra Desert Resort set within the extraordinary Dubailand complex, is the perfect venue to host this highly acclaimed stage play which celebrates Arabia’s spellbinding fables and folk tales. A cast of over 60 dancers, camels and horses perform to voice narration by Omar Sharif, making this a truly awe-inspiring theatre experience. Jumana is performed daily at 9pm from Tuesday to Saturday. For reservations, call the Al Sahra Desert Resort on 04 367 9500 Join us at Latitude restaurant at Jumeirah Beach Hotel for our special Easter brunch with an electric mix of cooking stations, including traditional Easter favourites in a fun and relaxed environment. Children will be kept entertained with an exciting variety of activities on offer, including egg painting, face painting, balloon art and egg hunting, in addition to the opportunity to decorate their own Easter cup cakes on 12th and 19th April. Join The Radisson SAS Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek on April 10th 2009, starting 12:30 pm for an exciting Friday Fun Food Festival - Easter Brunch special, located on the second floor of the hotel, featuring extensive buffet stations of specially selected traditional dishes from 11 different outlets, all in one location - including Italian, Japanese, Chinese, British, Iranian, Seafood, Steakhouse, Asian Noodle bar, Japanese BBQ, Arabic and delicious Easter goodies and pastries from the cake shop. World Autism Day falls in April and Vista Rooftop Bar and Restaurant has teamed up with the Dubai Autism Centre to hold a fundraising Friday BBQ on 3rd April. For every person enjoying the Friday BBQ at Vista Dh50 per person will go to the Dubai Autism Centre. Aussies and Kiwis can celebrate Anzac Day on April 25 with a BBQ on the Shisha Terrace with unlimited hop beverages and vino for Dh249 per person.
30 UAE Digest, April 2009
. Three & four bedroom villas . Low-to-medium rise apartment buildings . Equestrian-themed boutique hotel . Covered riding arena . . Multi-purpose grass show arena . HoofbeatZ Centre . Equine spa & therapy centre . Equestrian centre for 200 horses . . State-of-the-art business, health, sport & leisure facility . Indoor sports complex .
Tel : +971 6 746 3335 , Fax : +971 6 746 3392 P.O.Box 6959 Ajman U.A.E. www.escapeajman.com
A royal artist
he first words that come to mind when I think of Latifah Al Said is “full of life”. Despite being born into royalty, the princess has no airs and graces, and is very down to earth. She is a bubbly person who loves to interact with people. She loves talking and is deeply in love with life. Sheikha Latifa was born in the UK to an Omani father who is a royal and an English mother. Latifa was brought up in Oman till the age of eight, sent to boarding school in England till the age of 18, after which she embarked on higher education in arts in Italy. If you ask her how did she manage to get involved in the world of arts, her answer is simply, “I cannot image myself not sketching”. It is something that comes to her naturally. “I don’t think there was a moment when I did not have the urge to draw. Drawing is part of my expression, it’s about
drawing things around me, it’s the way I see the world and how I want to interact with the world.” She describes how there are moments when she would prefer to sit alone and draw what she has felt or seen throughout the day, rather than sit around chatting with her friends. It is daily life that really inspires Latifah - the people she meets, the things she sees and her passion for observation. When walking down the street, she tends to notice the structure of the buildings and every little detail entailed. She comments on the individual style of the buildings: “ For a considerable amount of time now, buildings have been stylised in an individual manner. They were not designed in the same way. For example, if you notice the glass panels, they are sculptured with patterns, encryptions and certain writings.” An ardent fan of theatre, cinema,
music, dance, reading, and animals, Latifah finds herself at peace when she is home with her two dalmations: Bella and Bambie, who are a bundle of joy to her. Latifah is not afraid of interacting with an array of people who she does not know. She sees this as a method of learning from each other and finds it interesting talking to people. Giving an example of talking to an old lady while waiting at the bus stop: “You get that lady asking what time it is and she asks what you are doing that day;
32 UAE Digest, April 2009
it’s quite nice to be interacting. I would find it extremely sad if you are unable to talk to someone because you are a stranger to them. I believe sometimes you can have the most amazing conversations with people you don’t know. I say I love to live and this is my way of living: talking to people.” Her first exhibition took place in September 2006 and turned out to be a big hit. She was thoroughly excited on her return to Oman: “ I was moving back to Oman after living 23 years in the West. It was a way to reconnect with my father’s side of the family and also reinvent myself. I do not define myself as a stereotypical European person. In fact I do not look European, I look more of a Middle Easterner. For me, it was wonderful going back to Oman, to my roots and resume the play button of my life there.” She calls herself ‘fortunate’ to have received so much support from the community in Oman in the preparation of her exhibition. There were a lot of people who were willing to give her advice and motivate her, which she found fascinating. If Latifah does not draw for two weeks, she suffers and feels claustrophobic, sad and frustrated. “I would certainly say that the first exhibition was a big warning curve, especially thoughts like: why do we create, why do we paint - that is something any person thinks about when they have a job, especially when it is a creative one.” With a dual heritage, Latifah is truly blessed. She manages to incorporate both these cultures in her works. Back in Italy, she was producing work using Italian themes with her classical training; but when she returned to Oman, she was left to make choices and become an individual. It felt fantastic, she emphasises, to be free for once and be able to express herself on a blank canvas. It felt simply liberating. Omani souqs to landscapes are her source of inspiration for drawing in Oman. She strolled through the traditional bazaar and used old battered pots, pans and antique jewellery to add an individual mark to her work. She has made a connection with Oman and paints in a naturalistic renaissance manner. “ I want to do something which is far different from what everyone else is doing.” Latifah believes that art is all about emotions and that this world can be a tragic place at times, but also something that makes you feel happy – without knowing what it is - maybe it’s an experience that one has had in life; or maybe it is a feeling because there is a sense of similarity with the people. “What I love about art is that it can uplift you and then transport you to another dimension.” A keen admirer of Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Monet and Van Gough works, Latifah also likes the work of Middle Eastern artists who are doing very well in the international arena. She recollects her childhood when there weren’t many Middle Eastern artists on the international level. “I think it’s very vital for everyone to have a role model, especially if they come from an identity you can relate to. It then gives you more confidence to do what you do well.” The field of arts has progressed rapidly in Oman, with the emergence of a considerably large amount of Omani artists participating in exhibitions. It is evident that in the last ten years, things have changed so much. “I am really impressed by what’s going on, and a lot of support has been coming to artists recently. That is really important because you do need to be supported by your own community. I believe all these competitions, awards and government support is highly necessary.” Latifah’s enthusiasm for the arts is incredibly amazing and her passion is endless. She wants to express Oman in her works, and says Oman will be in her heart forever. With a lot of adventures in her mind, Al Said is keen on continuing her journey of arts, producing excellent work and holding more exhibitions. She believes that if you have a dream, make it a reality; art to her is love, a love that is deep and mystical.
April 2009, UAE Digest 33
All teamwork and all play makes Jack a full boy
By Angelina Wong
How dragon boat racing is the latest sport that brings a mixture of valuable skills at work
Being successful in dragon boat racing requires a well thought out strategy and demands a high level of teamwork, mental concentration and physical fitness” says Ben Hughes, Marketing Manager for Fronterra. Also the crew captain for the Dubai Flying Dragons, Dubai’s first-ever Dragon Boat team formed almost three years ago. Ben is keen to see more enthusiastic people and even corporate executives in Dubai take up the sport. The Dubai Flying Dragons team was founded in December 2006 with goals to promote the sport in the Middle East and to build a competitive team. Since then, the team has had a succession of victories winning domestic and international races including first place for the women’s race at the European Regatta in Hungary and second place for the mixed team at the Dragon Boat
Festival in Dubai last year. The team is now preparing for the 2009 races in Dubai which will be held once again at the Dubai Festival City on April 3-4. Dragon Boat racing originated from the ancient Chinese 2,500 years ago. The team sport is built on positive team spirit, community, healthy living, making friends and having fun. Hughes says: “Dragon Boating is an exciting water sport that is full of adrenaline, strategy, camaraderie and technique.” Training four times a week up and down the creek and by the sea at the Mina Seyahi hotel at the crack of dawn and on the weekends gives Ben’s team an opportunity to connect with one another, he says. This will be the fifth time Ben will have taken part in a local competition along with two international championships under his belt. He
believes that the rigorous training regime and being part of a team built from scratch has helped develop his mental toughness and drive for results, and enhanced the skills and attributes he brings to his role at Fonterra. The team is made up of both men and women aged between 25 and 50. Each paddler works in a diverse range of professions from school teachers and PR professionals to business executives leading major international corporations. Dragon Boat racing typically consists of 18-20 paddlers in each boat who then race against up to six other boats. Races range from 200 metres to 2000 metres. “The nerves are intense as we all wait focused in silence at the start line” Ben says. “All eyes in the boat!” is all we hear our helmsman shout and
34 UAE Digest, April 2009
as soon as the bell sounds, our paddles plunge into the water furiously like an automated wave machine,” he added. There is a method to the madness however. Ben and his team have learnt that a winning team is also about discipline and mental training. If you don’t prepare yourself mentally, it is difficult to race well as a team consistently. Just ask dedicated Dragon Boat paddler, Sarah Edgar: “We were made to listen to a motivational CD during the World Championships in Malaysia last summer. Lying in a conference room with the lights switched off and the words: ‘You are a winner! You are a Champion! Believe in yourself and visualise yourself at the finish line because you were born to win!’ droned on in the background, the phrases sunk into our conscience. We were all psyched after the session and even though we couldn’t compete against the powerhouses of the national Chinese and Canadian teams, it was agreed that being together as a team mentally had boosted our confidence and improved our performance as a whole.” Team-building and communication are the key to dragon boat success just like it is in the corporate world. Team meetings are planned and run with the coach whether it is a round-up after training or chilling out by the beach over a few drinks watching the sunset. A number of companies in Dubai
have taken part in some of the local dragon boat festivals as part of their corporate team-building activity and they have seen the benefits of participating. Jacque Souplet, President of a global oil and gas company by day, and the Dubai Flying Dragon’s team manager by night, agrees: “There comes a point where each paddler on the team is aware of the role they play in the boat. We don’t hesitate and we don’t argue because we’re all headed to a common goal.” The fourth Dubai Corporate Games was recently held at Tecom Investments’ Dubai Internet City. The event attracted a number of companies
working within the Tecom free zone business parks to compete against each other in various team sports including football, tennis, basketball, volleyball and dragon boat racing that took place at the ICT free zone lake. Back in the office, Ben and the rest of the team apply the skills they have learnt from racing with some of the world’s best teams and with fellow colleagues at the corporate games. “The secret with sports, hobbies or non-work related stuff is about bonding and promoting the personal qualities employers like. At the end of the day, nothing beats a bit of sporting banter at job interviews,” Ben says.
April 2009, UAE Digest 35
On golf greens and racetrack
By Peter Potter
ome of the finest amateur golfers in the region participated in the Dulsco Classic, which was played as both an individual and team event at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club recently. Playing on a three-fourth handicap, the team format was made up of four alliances, with the two best scores on each hole counting towards the team total. Ninety golfers teed off in the 1pm shot gun start of the event organized by Dulsco for the sixth time for its customers and invited guests, who included CEOs, corporate executives and decision makers. In the individual category, Pieter Van Wyk and Dileep Kumar won honours in their respective divisions. Pieter Van Wyk took first place with 34 points in the Div A (handicap 0-14), Babu Subramanian was placed second with 30 points, while Wayne Sheridan walked away with the third prize scoring 29 points. Dileep Kumar won the first place in the Div. B (handicap 15-36) with 39 points, followed by Robin Roddricks with 33 points. Qamar Rasheed was third with 30. The team of Rajeev Lal, Dileep Kumar, Arvind Kittur and Pritpal S. Thethy won the first place in the team event, scoring 78 points. On the 50th anniversary of its outright win at Le Mans, Aston Martin will return to La Sarthe with two Works LMP1 cars bearing the iconic blue and orange livery of Gulf Oil. In an ambitious attempt to emulate the legendary
achievements of the 1959 DBR1 driven by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori, Aston Martin will endeavour to bring the Le Mans title back to Britain. Aston Martin Chairman, David Richards said “We do not underestimate the task. While we have won the GT1 class for the last two years, competing against the proven speed and endurance of the diesel-powered cars with all their years of winning the prototype class, will be a massive undertaking. Nonetheless, I see this as a great opportunity to showcase the ingenuity of British engineering talent.” The new car, which is based on the 2008 Charouz Racing System Lola, will be powered by the same productionbased Aston Martin
V12 engine which, last year, helped Aston Martin secure its second successive Le Mans GT1 title with the DBR9. It also powered the Charouz car to a new La Sarthe lap record for a petrol car. In 2009, the ACO is introducing new regulations aimed at balancing the performance of petrol and diesel engined prototypes, making the LMP1 category more appealing and relevant to Aston Martin. In addition to the Le Mans 24 hour race, the team will also compete throughout the year in the Le Mans Series (LMS), which opens with the 1,000 kilometre de Catalunya on the 5th of April.
36 UAE Digest, April 2009
Classic car competition
Several classic car enthusiasts from the region participated in a two-day public exhibition and competition, the first-of-its-kind in the region. The Burj Dubai Classic Car Show was held in Downtown Burj Dubai and had several categories, including a Public’s Vote Award, which elicited strong response from the hundreds of visitors to the show. The winners in the various categories are: Public Vote (1921 Ford Model T); Best Heritage Car (Blue Mercedez Gullwing); Best Parade Car (1928 Ford Essex); Club Merit, Best American Car (1959 Ford 500 Skyline); Best European Car (1956 Green Jaguar); Best Classic Truck (1977 Chevrolet Orange pickup); Best Pre-World War II Car (1931 Pierce Arrow Convertible Roaster); Best Post-World War II Car (1961 Red Daimler) and Burj Dubai Classic Car (1967 Ford Mustang). An expert panel of judges selected the winning cars in the nine categories based on the criteria of car originality, engine cleanliness, original car colour, historical car value, finishing and
Mr Ahmad Al Matrooshi distributes the award for the Burj Dubai Classic Car Show Award to the winner at the event held at Downtown Burj Dubai
aesthetics. A highlight of the event was the winner’s parade on the closing day, and the several colourful classic car parades held over two days. Mr Ahmad Al Matrooshi, Managing Director – UAE, Emaar Properties said: “We thank the Automobile & Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE) for their support in organising this initiative. We are
also thankful to the support extended by Mr Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Vice-President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and President of the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE; the El Serkal family; Mr Ahmed Abdulrahim Baker; Mr Khalid Yousuf Baker; and Sharjah Museum for presenting their rare collection of cars for the exhibition.”
Audi delivers 330 vehicles to rental firm
Audi Dubai, represented by Al Nabooda Automobiles LLC, has recently closed a major fleet vehicle deal with limousine and rental company ‘German Rent A Car’, which is part of the Al Jaber Group of companies. Audi Dubai delivered 330 vehicles in total, including 50 Audi A4, 30 Audi A6, 30 Audi TT, 80 Audi Q7, as well as 140 Audi A8 and S8. The vehicles will be used in serving some of the biggest names in the UAE, including the government and embassies, the Emirates Group, airlines and tourism companies, several five-star hotels, a number of international and local companies as well as individuals. Ali Al Nabooda, General Manager of the Audi Centre Dubai, commented: “In the current economic situation, it is needless to point out how great it is for us to see that our customers place this huge amount of trust into the Audi brand and keep investing. It also sends a message to the individual buyers, that the world keeps moving and every successful business transaction turns the spiral further upwards.”
UAE Digest, April 2009 37
Scope Vehicle Check. The new service complements the company’s Condition Based Service alerts, fitted as standard on all new models, which is automatically activated by the car when it requires a service. For any model that has the BMW Service Inclusive package, covering five years or 100,000 kms, the CBS servicing is provided free of charge.
A sporty ‘all new City’ A thrilling drive around the Autodrome
Al Habtoor Motors-Bentley Emirates, exclusive dealer in the UAE of the exceptional driving machines from Bentley Motors, has always had the honour to treat its prospective customers to memorable driving moments. The VIP test drive held at Dubai Autodrome in late January was one such occasion. A limited group of guests test drove the stunning Bentley Continental Flying Spur 2009 and Continental Flying Spur Speed on the challenging tracks of the Dubai Autodrome. Commenting on the eventful day, Mr. Khalid Dadoush, General Manager, Bentley Emirates, said “We were pleased to provide our guests magnificent Bentleys to test drive, on one of the most challenging tracks in town. The highlight was the professional Bentley drivers who flew in from Crewe, UK, to assist our guests to assess the driving machines.” A sumptuous and spacious four-door Grand Tourer with the soul of the most breathtaking high performance coupé in the world, Continental Flying Spur offers enhanced levels of personalisation, comfort and ride quality taken to new heights. Meanwhile, the new Continental Flying Spur Speed delivers a more powerful and engaging Bentley driving experience. The design of Honda’s all new City is based on the total pursuit of a compact, yet dynamic form with road presence. Class-leading interior space was achieved to create a cabin that surrounds the occupants with an open and secure feeling. The new City is equipped with a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine, which is further advanced in every way, including greater output and fuel consumption. With Honda’s unique commitment to provide both advanced safety and environmental performance, the new version achieves the highest levels in every area in the effort to become the new benchmark for subcompact sedans. Today, City is enjoyed by customers in 39 nations around the world and is becoming one of Honda’s core models, along with Civic, Accord, CR-V and Jazz. The car features an Advanced Integrated Audio System which is the world’s first car digital audio system compatible with assorted storage devices, ranging from ipod, MP3 players, USB devices to cell phones and even VCD’s.
24-hour BMW fast lane service
As part of its efforts to offer added value to its customers, AGMC, the exclusive importer of BMW and MINI vehicles in Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates, has introduced the 24 –hour BMW Fast Lane Service to increase efficiency and offer improved services to its customers in its Dubai showroom. BMW Fast Lane Service, a concept designed to cater for the regular servicing requirements of all new BMW models, covers the servicing of engine oil and filter, air filter, fuel filter, AC microfilter, spark plugs, brake fluid, brake discs and pads, wiper rubbers and Standard
Hummer available from Dh129,500
The all-new 2009 Hummer H3T is now on sale across Liberty and Liberty Abu Dhabi showrooms where the vehicle is bringing its unmistakable style and unmatched capability to the pick-up market. It is bigger than a midsize pick-up and smaller than a full-size pick-up, creating its own niche in the market. It is also infused with attributes such as exceptional off-road capability and a premium interior that is as functional as it is
38 UAE Digest, April 2009
comfortable. In addition to its segment-defying size, the H3T also stands apart from other trucks with its signature off-road capability. The H3T is the only midsize truck to come standard with full-time four-wheel drive, 32-inch tyres and functional skid shields. It also is the only midsize truck to offer front and rear locking differentials, as well as 32-
Mercedes-Benz shows compact SUV at Al Ain
inch tyres. While aircraft swooped and soared overhead at the Al Ain Aerobatic Show in January, closer to the ground, Mercedes-Benz showed off its latest vehicle, the new GLK-Class Compact SUV, in a specially-designed off-road zone. Visitors to the air spectacular had plenty to occupy them at tarmaclevel as well as in the skies above as professional Mercedes-Benz drivers took passengers for a spin around the man-made obstacle course and talked them through the features of the new, distinctive car. The GLK-Class described as a multi-talented SUV, reconciles attributes that were previously contradictory in a vehicle of this type, thanks to the Agility Control suspension, outstanding performance and
handling safety that is matched by a first-class level of ride comfort. The car rounds off an extremely successful SUV family, and transfers typical Mercedes-Benz attributes such as refinement, dynamism and safety into
VW Passat CC launches in Abu Dhabi
a compact format. This means that the bar in this market segment has now been raised considerably. Following the popularity of Volkswagen’s original Passat saloon, Ali and Sons, representing Volkswagen in Abu Dhabi, has launched VW’s stylish new Passat CC – an upgraded hybrid combining the best of both sedan and coupé worlds. This sporty, dynamic evolution of the familiar Passat represents a brand new segment in the automobile industry, combining the rationality of a saloon and the emotional appeal of a sports coupe. A total of three leather sport steering wheels are available. Depending on the version, the multifunction keys in the steering wheel can be used to control the trip computer, various assistance systems, the audio systems and telephone. The Passat CC is being offered with a new generation radio and navigation system. Features of the top version, the RNS 510, include intuitive touch screen control and a hard-disk supported navigation system. In conjunction with the ‘Rear Assist’ parking assistance system, when driving in reverse, images of the surroundings behind the Passat CC are transmitted to the screen from a rear view camera. It also has an electronic chassis control system called ‘Lane Assist – a world first. Newly developed is a climate control feature which provides active ventilation of the seat and seatback surfaces, improving comfort considerably. About 320 litres of air are exchanged per minute here, using ventilation fan motors that are particularly silent.
April 2009, UAE Digest 39
Cirque du Soleil
Arts and Crafts Souk
n these days of counting the dirhams and spending wisely, it is nice to see residents of the city opting more and more for home-grown, and participation entertainment for all members of the family. “Well done” to those who have opened their doors free-of-charge, and to those who charge a nominal fee. We look forward to seeing more and more entrance prices tumble downwards as organisers realise that our hardearned money is ours to keep or spend as we wish. The days of ‘only’ Dh200-900 for a ticket are on their way out. The days of bigger crowds attending reasonably priced entertainment is making a comeback… In mid-March, Global Village opened a ‘Spring Festival’ allowing free entry to visitors for the entire duration until 1st May. Entertainment events include 50 thrilling fun fair rides, a Kite Festival held on Friday 20 March, a reptile pavilion, and tents with sporting activities such as paint ball competition, archery and air rifle range in an urban design setting. A themed outlet, ‘Shaabeyat Al Cartoon’ enables visitors to meet cartoon characters in person. More than 250 retailers in an outdoor souq style setting, merchandising several categories of products from clothes, jewellery, accessories and gifts are taking part in the festival which also has several restaurants and kiosks offering a variety of cuisines. Global Village is Dubai’s exciting and unique annual tourism destination and spectacular
multicultural family entertainment centre. Launched in 1996, Global Village made its debut on the Creekside opposite Dubai Municipality. It later moved to the Oud Metha area and then on to Dubai Festival City, until it found a permanent home in 2005 at Dubailand, situated on the Emirates Road, halfway between Arabian Ranches and City of Arabia. Master developer Nakheel has brought Cirque du Soleil back to Dubai. Book your tickets in ‘the big top’ to see Alegría, a breathtaking and powerful performance packed with incredible acrobatic performances by artistes from 17 countries which have created some of the most talked about musical moments from Cirque du Soleil’s repertoire. Alegría is being held at Ibn Battuta Mall at the all-white Big Chapiteau until April 5. Book your tickets now by visiting www. cirquedusoleil.ae The Arts and Crafts Souk being held on the second Friday of each month at Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, showcasing many ranges of handmade crafts is growing in popularity as February and March shows attracted thousands of visitors. Times Square Centre (TSC), the newest community oriented shopping centre in Dubai, hosts these different kind of shopping experiences in its spacious atrium, The souk has a wide array of authentic homemade food items like pastries and cakes and special handcrafted items like jewellery and accessories. The event also features some of the UAE’s best
contemporary artwork created by the members of the Artisans of the Emirates (ARTE) group. The stalls featuring works of members of ARTE are a major highlight during the Souk. They contain handmade items like decorations, individualist pieces of jewellery, accessories, artwork and photography. Demonstrations are also made in knitting and embroidery by ARTE members. A three-day festival will feature international comics who are on the frontiers of global comedy. Headlining the opening night will be Omid Djalili, the British/Iranian stand-up comedian and Hollywood celebrity. The Dubai Comedy Convention is the latest addition to the portfolio of Chillout Productions and will complement the quality one has come to expect from the company behind the Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival and Abu Dhabi International Jazz Festival. The patronage of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority comes as a boost to the company’s newly established division, Chillout|Comedy, which will handle the convention and all other comedy-related events throughout the year. The Dubai Comedy Convention will host shows on the nights of April 22nd, 23rd and 24th, 2009 at
Commenting on his first Middle East appearance, Omid Djalili said “Dubai? I thought I was going to Mumbai to shoot ‘Slumdog Fat Fighters.’ I need to speak to my agent!”
40 UAE Digest, April 2009
Sharmila’s Annual Dance Show
DXB Salsa Explosion
the Palladium in Dubai Media City. Sharmilas Annual Dance Show is a dancing extravaganza with a unique blend of dance styles, performed by over 160 talented UAEbased performers of all ages and proficiencies. Happening at 2.30pm and 7pm on April 24th and 25th at The Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre on the roof of the Mall of the Emirates, the entire show is choreographed by Sharmila Kamte and her Dance Academy students to whom she teaches Street Jazz, Hip Hop, Jazz and Ballet with over 300 students attending her classes weekly at the Dubai Community Theatre. This year’s show includes retentions of Latino, Soul, Indian and Hip Hop styles among the 23 dances being performed. Audiences will also have the opportunity to enjoy performances from Sharmila Kamte and her ensemble as well as Piso Caliente, the Latino dance specialists. Sharmila’s Dance Company is an imaginative, stimulating and creative run company. The company has choreographed product launches, fashion shows, video shoots, live concerts, gala dinners, entertainment for exhibitions, theatre shows and large opening ceremonies. In addition to choreography, they provide a group of exclusive dancers as well as freelancers in Dubai and internationally. More performing students, this time the El Firulete BNF Dance Company and School (BNF) invites Dubai residents to watch its first pure salsa show, performed by BNF students and teachers on May 1, 2009, at the First Theatre Group at Souk Madinat Jumeirah. The show titled DXB Salsa Explosion takes the audience through an upbeat journey
of various salsa styles. BNF is a Columbian dance company and school that launched in Dubai in 2007. The show will introduce the audience to Columbian salsa, which is characterised by its vibrant rhythms and limitless potential to incorporate all kinds of rhythms and moves like the Bolero, Cha-Cha, Mambo, and Salsa on I and Salsa on II. Ticket price includes entry to watch a professional salsa competition starting at 5pm and the DXB Salsa Explosion which starts at 8pm. The Walk recently organised the Red Bull Urban Ride, a spectacular winter-sport event, at the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR). Bystanders witnessed skiers and snowboarders demonstrating skilful tricks during the day-long event while music kept onlookers and performers entertained throughout the day. At the end of the Urban Ride, trophies were given to top athletes for best performance. Matthew Reay, The Walk Property Director said: “In our commitment to delivering innovative retail solutions and great entertainment to the fore, we invited the Red Bull team to host this performance. The event brought together exceptional athletes who defied the laws of gravity in Dubai’s perfect
Red Bull Urban Ride
spring weather, over beachfront surroundings.” In addition to hosting the Red Bull Snow Jam, Dubai Retail supports several community focused activities, including the Dubai Shopping Festival and Covent Garden Market Dubai. Emaar Properties hosted its popular Community Market Day on March 27 for residents in The Springs, The Meadows and Emirates Hills. The ‘buy and bring sale’ event was held at the Car Park next to the Meadows Village, which also features several children’s entertainment activities. The fete, organised by the Emaar Community Management Department, brought together families in a fun-filled retail experience. It was a great opportunity for neighbours to get to know each other better. Residents of these communities rent tables to showcase home and personal products ranging from toys to apparels, electronic gadgets and accessories. Emaar routinely organises Community Market Days and other social events for residents in its master-planned communities – Arabian Ranches, Dubai Marina, Downtown Burj Dubai and Emirates Living, which includes The Views, The Greens, The Springs, The Meadows and The Lakes.
Community Market Day
April 2009, UAE Digest 41
ENTERTAINMENT Poetic justice
Dubai International Poetry Festival’s mantra was ‘A thousand poets, one language’; organised by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation with Wasl, the asset management group owned by Dubai Real Estate Corporation (DREC), as its co-organising partner. The event attracted approximately 100 regional and international poets and writers from 45 countries, a host of senior government officials, dignitaries and poetry lovers from the UAE. The week-long DIPF 2009 hosted various workshops and commemorative evenings at select venues across Dubai, including the Dubai Mall, Dubai Festival City, Mall of the Emirates, and Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Wole Soyinka, the first Nobel prize winner in Literature from the African sub-Saharan region, was to give the welcome address but due to ill-health, activist/ poet Breyten Breytenbach gave the inaugural speech on his behalf. One of his most striking lines was “the tongue doesn’t have teeth but it bites as deep.” The event was a cultural exchange programme for poets of various countries and showcased Dubai in its diversity. As Saoud Al Abdooli, Head of Events Committee of DIPF aptly said: “The Emirati society has a cultural mosaic of more than 200 nationalities, all residing in Dubai which is now considered a bridge for cultures.” Poetry workshops, poetry recitals, music and poetry evenings plus the unique ‘Souq Ukadh’ reawakened the memory of the halcyon days of Arab creative expression. International Women’s Day on 8 March was celebrated with a special poetry evening exclusively for women poets too.
South African poet /activist Breyten Breytenbach at the inauguration
Bards of the UAE
Creativity knows no boundaries and that was amply seen in the narration of various works of Emirati poets during the poetry festival. Cutting across gender barriers, the artistes expressed themselves on various issues and showcased to the world a glimpse of Emirati creativity. Nujum Al Ghanim, an Emirati poetess born in Dubai in 1962, started writing poetry in the late 1970s, but did not publish her works until the early 1980s. She has a collection of six books to her credit, the first of which was Paradise Evening (1989). A regular participant in cultural
Nujum Al Ghanim
gatherings, poetic soirees and festivals in the Arab world and Europe, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Television Production from Ohio University (1996) and a Master’s degree in Cinema Direction from Griffith University (1999). Arif Umar Al Khaja, was born in 1959 and started writing poetry while still in secondary school. He was first published in the ‘Akhbar Dubai’ magazine and later in several Arabic newspapers. He started by writing in the traditional metrical poetry style and then turned to free verse after graduating from university. Later, he created a unique combination of both. As a student in Cairo, he penned the lyrics of a number of UAE national songs. Among his well known works are ‘Beirut’, ‘Jamrat Al-Aqabah’, ‘Al-Eid Prayers’, ‘Fatigue’ and ‘From the camp’. Arif Umar Al Khaja Like him, Mahmud Nur started writing poetry at an early age, publishing his first poem in his school magazine. He writes in both vernacular and classical Arabic and has significantly promoted the genre of poetry by producing several programmes dedicated to poetry on various local TV channels. Nur has edited collections of local poems and has organised a number of poetry gatherings and soirees. A recipient of prestigious awards for poetry, he holds a bachelors degree in Arabic Language and Literature. One of the senior poets is Dr. Shihab Ghanim. Born in 1940, he started publishing in the early 60s and has to his credit 10 anthologies on Arabic poetry and over 40 collections and literary books. His works include
42 UAE Digest, April 2009
up considerable momentum and is starting to match the rhythm of pioneering poets such as Salim Ali Al Owais and Sultan Al Owais, Hamad Bu Shehab and Ahmad Amin Al Madani who established the art form in this great country, he stated. Abdullah Mansouri, Muhammed Balabd, Huda Al Saadi and Maysun Al Qasimi too read out their artistic verses.
HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, popularly known as ‘Fazza’ and HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, known as ‘Azzam’ and Chairman of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation narrating their poems Dr. Shihab Ghanim
‘Between a Shore and Another’, ‘It is Love’ and ‘The Surrealistic Time’. Dr Shihab has also penned a collection of poems in English and is a wellknown translator with more than 16 collections of translated poems from Arabic into English and from English or other foreign languages into Arabic. He has participated in several regional and international festivals of literature and poetry and has received prestigious awards. He holds a doctorate in Economics from Cardiff University, UK. Another poet is Majid Abdulrahman, born in Dubai in 1969, who was the head of Dubai Committee for Vernacular Poetry for eight years. He is a member of The Committee for Riddle Series, represented the UAE in many regional events and has received coveted awards for his contributions to vernacular poetry. During the course of the event, Emirati poet Ibrahim Ahmad Ibrahim rendered his poems that won high praise from the audience. “The Emirati poetry movement is building
Dubai was all ears to the poetry recitals of two of its endearing royal family members: HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, popularly known as ‘Fazza’ and HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, known as ‘Azzam’ and Chairman of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, which organised the poetry festival. Versatile imagery and fascinating figures of speech are the hallmarks of the poems of Sheikh Hamdan, who became
deeply involved in poetry at a very young age. His pen name ‘Fazza’ means the one who rushes to help people and save lives. Noted for his love of literature and vernacular poetry, Sheikh Ahmed or ‘Azzam’ emulates his father in poetry and horsemanship. His poetry involves great passion and remarkable love for his homeland. H H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE attended the event that saw more than 4,000 poets, men of letters and avid poetry lovers who were enthralled by the recitation that revolved around topics such as patriotism, community and togetherness.
Prince Badr Bin Abdulmuhsin Al Saud, Deputy Commander of the Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) and an avid poet hosted a poetry evening during the first chapter of DIPF. Prince Badr writes poetry in various styles, including the traditional Nabti style, vertical prose, and free-style poetry. He is keen on other forms of art such as painting and presented a unique piece of work that combines his handwriting and self-made decorations in an interesting weave of words and drawings. Prince Badr’s poetry is most well known for its patriotic sentiments towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in addition to his affection for other Gulf countries including the UAE. His writings are also personal reflections on love, life and the intricacies of human emotions.
April 2009, UAE Digest 43
Hailed as the first Arab break dancer, Moufdi El Bellaj is passionate about dance. He is a man of several talents. Rabis.M talks to him about the hip hop culture and why Dubai should have break dance battles
the Middle East.” It is rather unconventional in an Arab society to step into this fast paced world of break dancing, but Moufdi was an ardent lover of the art. He loved the vigorous amount of precision and power involved and he loved the audience being so watchful of each movement of the performance; he is an entertainer highly keen on ‘crowd pleasing’. For Moufdi, getting inspired was more about individuality; there are an array of dancers from the USA that have fascinated him. He loves the fact that these dancers bond their steps to the basic roots of break dance, simultaneously incorporating their own ‘flavour’ and ‘personality’ into their moves. As far as he recollects, his entire life has all been about dance. “I have always danced, for as long as I remember with my family and friends from the street to the studio to where I am now.” When Moufdi first came to Dubai, break dancing was non-existent, so for him it was a challenge to introduce it, as the Arab society did not understand this kind of art; a dance revolution that took place. “Nowadays, it is far easier, as the hip hop culture has become extremely fashionable and people enjoy the excitement this offers.” His own style is more focused on power and acrobatic moves, even though he incorporates the different aspects of basic break dancing. Interestingly, all of them seem to evolve into something new and crispy every time. With the popularity of the hip hop culture, there are now several trance and break dancing institutes. These include The Ballet Centre Dubai, where Moufdi taught for two years. Another institute is the Kadomz Dance Studio at the Dubai Marina Mall where he is teaching currently. So how does Moufdi define ‘dance’? “I see it as a connection between people, an expression of emotion through movement, and if it is done in the right way, it can touch one deeply and make them fall in love with dance.” Among his most famous performances: his crew has appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, World Cup Akro Ball, The Legends Rock Dubai, Bob Sinclair and the World Cup Horse Racing, followed an opportunity to choreograph Nancy Ajram’s music video ‘Elli Kaan’. His list of performances is endless- he’s not only had the opportunity to perform at concerts and events, but he’s also been featured in TV commercials. Moufdi firmly believes there is a need for competitions to take place, as they would not only boost the profile of this genre, but also bring in more dancers. “I predict in the near future, this form of dance shall pick up because there is an ongoing interest.” Moufdi has come a long way since starting a journey in the hope of becoming a performer, and he still looks forward to entertaining the masses, and hopefully seeing an uplift in this highly energy bursting world of dance that is not simply a move, but also a story in itself.
e can be described as ‘hip’ and ‘happening’ in the world of hip hop dancing; Moufdi El Bellaj is simply energetic. One of the most popular acts in the world of hip hop from the Middle East, he takes pride in being the debut break dancing mentor. Currently based in Dubai, Moufdi El Bellaj was born in Morocco and had thorough dance training since the age of 12. “By the age of 14, I realised I wanted to learn every aspect of dance, for instance: practical, theoretical and historical characteristics. After many years of training, I had the opportunity to perform professionally in musicals, shows, stage performances, video clips and events. I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and
44 UAE Digest, April 2009
REAL ESTATE Fractional ownership of a golfing des.res.
For property investors with an eye for golf, one particular opportunity arriving from the game’s 600-year-old home in Scotland could prove irresistible, particularly as confidence in other investment vehicles is dragged down by the global financial crisis…
s every good developer or real estate agent will tell you, location, location, location are the top three attributes to consider when buying property. With this in mind, property investors – particularly those with a passion for golf – may be unable to ignore a rare opportunity coming their way in the form of a five-bedroom home in the Kingdom of Fife on Scotland’s East Coast. The beauty of The Residence, 9 The Links, St Andrews, is that it sits just a few steps from the hallowed turf of the historic Old Course, the world’s most famous golfing venue, occupying a stunning location overlooking the 18th Green and 1st tee. From its balcony and bay windows, there are magnificent, uninterrupted views of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, West Sands Beach, and the historic Swilken Bridge. Little wonder it has been hailed as “the most exclusive and exceptional property in the golfing world” and ‘The Royal Box of Golf’. The owners of The Residence are offering investors the chance to acquire fractional ownership of the freehold for the exquisite townhouse. The five-bedroom property has been beautifully restored and extended with 3,000 square feet of living space and an exquisite interior. One of the owners is Martin Glynn, who, between 2003 and 2006, was Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Bank, USA. Says Glynn: “Shared or fractional ownership is the fastest growing form of second home ownership in the luxury sector. It enables co-owners to share the cost and maintenance of a property while experiencing superior levels of service and management.” Prices for an equity share of the property (www.theresidence-standrews.com) start from £500,000. While fractional ownership is a relatively new concept in many parts of the world, I have no doubt that given its location, its heritage, and its facilities, The Residence will have instant appeal at the luxury end of the market. It will be of particular appeal to those with an interest in golf. The property is targeted unashamedly at the very top end of the second home market and buyers used to the very best will not be disappointed. As well as equity in the property, owners will have use of it for four weeks a year, two in high season, two in low season, while investors can buy more than one share if they wish. To ensure fairplay during The Open Golf Championships at St. Andrews, the world’s leading golf tournament, The Residence will be transformed into a private clubhouse for all its owners and their guests. While Glynn and his partners have made fractional sales their preferred route, they are not ruling out the prospect
of selling the property outright to a single buyer for the right price. “The crisis in the world financial markets has shaken investor confidence, and we feel this makes such a solid investment opportunity even more attractive,” said Glynn. “We’d prefer to sell fractions and would like to retain an interest ourselves, but we would listen to offers to buy the property outright.”
What you get for your money
• • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Private balcony overlooking the 18th green & 1st tee of The Old Course, Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and West Sands Beach 180 degree views from the R&A Clubhouse down the fairways to the Old Course Hotel Five well-appointed bedrooms (sleeps eight) Open plan lounge and dining room Formal living room Seven Kohler washrooms Luxury bespoke designer kitchen Utility room Golf equipment storage area Butler’s pantry Bang & Olufsen home entertainment system throughout Hi-speed wireless internet access Integrated security system, and Private enclosed courtyard garden UAE Digest, April 2009 45
Salma Al Balouchi at The Horizon Flight Academy in Al Ain
The sky in their eyes
By Ambily Vijaykumar
Two young Emirati women aim to create history by becoming Etihad’s first female pilots: Salma and Aisha say a career as a pilot will open a whole new world to them
t is a restless young generation out there; unwilling to settle for just anything in life. The restlessness to achieve is the fuel for increased focus on their targets, and their targets are skyhigh. They value dreams and so dare to dream, chase and achieve them. Barriers of gender have long been overcome. The young today have wings. Two such daredevil dreamers will soon take to the skies. Twentyone-year-old Salma Al Balouchi and twenty-year-old Aisha Hassan Al Mansouri are on the route to realising their dream to become pilots. Interestingly, neither of them
has a driving licence yet. The duo is currently training at the Horizon Flight Academy, Al Ain, along with 61 others to become pilots, as part of Etihad Airlines’ Emirati Cadet Training Programme. The 18 month course, that wraps up by the end of April, will pave their way for stimulator training at Etihad airlines in Abu Dhabi. Later, after about four months, they qualify to become second officer and then first officer, which means a co-pilot, after sufficient experience. History will be created at Etihad Airways, with the duo becoming their first female pilots. “That might take time,” says
Aisha Mansouri. The twenty-yearold from Khor Fakkan in Fujairah dreamt of becoming a doctor as a child, but was “too lazy to study”. “It was better to study for eighteen months and become a pilot than go through the grind for five years to become a doctor,” she says with a laugh. Aisha’s sister is a fighter pilot with the UAE Air Force and her brother pilots helicopters for the Dubai Police. So wanting to make the sky her world was but a natural choice. With a father who is into research in the field of education, support for her academic aspirations was readily available. Even when
46 UAE Digest, April 2009
it came to taking up her career, her father has been a pillar of support. Her siblings, who know exactly what she is going through, are always there to guide her. “My mother is always worried for me. But that is how all mothers are,” Aisha says emotionally. Salma’s mother, on the other hand, was completely in the dark about her daughter’s decision to enrol for the programme. “She answered the call from Etihad Airways for the interview, thinking it was from Etihad newspaper. She also took me to the Etihad office in Abu Dhabi for the interview. It was only after that she realised what I was up to,” says Salma with a chuckle. Salma was studying to become a nurse, but opted out of the course within a year of joining it to take up the pilot training programme. It was her mother’s dream to see her enter the medical profession. “I could not cope with studies. I did not clear one of my subjects. So with the help of my aunt’s husband, I enrolled for the pilot training programme after I saw the advertisements in the newspapers,” Salma informs. A couple of interviews and tests later, she qualified for admission to the academy in October 2007. Her decision to switch streams came as a complete surprise to her family, but they eventually supported her decision and have stood by her since then. Salma says she remembers with fondness the reaction of her cousins when they learnt that she was aspiring to be a pilot. “They would make fun of me when they visited us. They would ask me to serve them tea and snacks since they thought I was becoming an air hostess. When I got my cadet uniform after joining the academy and wore it for them to see, they were speechless,” Salma recounts. Both she and Aisha stay at the accommodation provided by the academy at Al Ain. “It is essential for us to concentrate on studies. At home, it is a very different atmosphere. But we do visit our families regularly,” informs Salma. Theory formed a major part of the beginning of the course. “I found theory very tough. But when we began flying, I started enjoying it,” says Aisha. For Salma, the fear of flying was overcome after a couple of flights to Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. The two completed their singleengine solo flights last year in June. The feeling after the successful flight and safe landing is something that the two say they will cherish for a lifetime. “It gave me a sense of achievement. It made me feel like a real pilot. You are always on the edge because if something goes wrong, then that is the end of the story. It was a great feeling to have landed in one piece,” says Aisha, joking. But even the strongest go weak in the knees sometimes. What then keeps the two of them motivated when the going gets tough? “I love adventure. That was the main reason why I chose this field. Moreover, this career will open up the gates for me. I will get to travel to new places, meet different people and get to know different cultures. I am a self-confessed foodie and this will also give me an opportunity to get a taste of the world in the real sense of the word,” says Aisha. Salma sees this as an opportunity to challenge traditional beliefs that women are only meant to get married and raise children. This career will give her a chance to go places. “This will give me wings,” she says confidently. Captain Ayesh Hamili, the UAE’s first female pilot has been Salma’s inspiration. As for Aisha, the thought of a great life in the future and challenging new opportunities keeps her going. So, where would they prefer to fly first once they become qualified pilots? “That is not in our hands. It is for Etihad to decide. But nonetheless, I would like to take my parents to Pakistan. My grandparents are from there and I have never visited the country. I would like to go there,” says Salma. “I would like to fly to a short distance destination so that I can get back home to family and friends easily. But definitely, Rome is high up on my priority list, basically because of my love for authentic Italian food, and of course, the chance to explore and enjoy the richness of Italian culture,” says Aisha. With the two competing to become the first female pilots for Etihad, there definitely has to be some room for competition. “For me, everything is competition, but in a good way,” says Salma. “I am trying my best to give my best, so in that case I deserve to be the best,” she adds. “Salma is a hard worker and she will be a good pilot. She loves her job,” says Aisha. The two hope that many more women in the country and across the region take up such challenging jobs and scale great heights. Especially lauding the UAE government’s Emiratisation drive, the two say the rulers of the country have given ample opportunities to the people of the country to achieve success. “It is a matter of taking up those opportunities and returning a portion to the nation that has given you so much,” says Aisha.
April 2009, UAE Digest 47
Walking at Torridon in the Scottish Highlands
ritain’s top tourism chief, VisitBritain executive chairman Christopher Rodrigues, has reminded consumers around the world of Britain’s new affordability. As the sterling weakens, visitors’ money goes further and exchange rates have never been better for many international travellers; while the economic downturn means great deals on flights, accommodation and attractions. As Mr Rodrigues says: “As anyone who has spent time with us will know, our destinations are undergoing radical change and Britain today can offer world-class service and quality, ‘star-rated’ accommodation for every budget. We are a globally attractive and popular destination with a range of enviable tourism assets, from stunning landscapes to vibrant, multicultural cities. Our rich history of tradition, heritage and culture lives beside modern design, music, theatre and architecture, as well as accommodation. There’s never been a better time to come for a long weekend of shopping and the theatre or a longer break to explore Scotland, Wales or one of our regional cities. If you haven’t planned your trip yet – what are you waiting for?” Among the wealth of reasons to visit Britain today:• Oil prices have fallen, so many airlines are reducing their fuel surcharges and airfares are dropping. National flag carriers and low-cost airlines are all offering discounts. • Choose official, discounted or half-price theatre tickets for hit musicals, comedy, drama, dance and opera – all at a bargain price from London’s TKTS booths. Check out the shows available on www.officiallondontheatre. co.uk/tkts/whats_on_today: (prices in January) Avenue Q £22.50 (down from £39.00), Grease £29.75 (down from £53.50), Les Miserables £30.50 (down from £55.00), Sound of Music £29.75 (down from £53.50) or We Will Rock You £30.50 (down from £55.00). • Pick up a BritRail pass for unlimited and flexible rail travel and enjoy discounts for families, groups travelling together, seniors, younger people and off-peak seasonal travel. Travel with British friends or relatives and they get 50 per cent off too. Enjoy Britain’s heritage on your journey – take a Harry Potter route over the Glenfinnan Railway viaduct in the West Highlands of Scotland, stop off at Carnforth station in Lancashire made famous in the
film Brief Encounter, enjoy the scenery of one of our most beautiful landscapes on the Settle to Carlisle Railway, travel through the high peaks of Snowdonia on the Llandudno to Blaenau Ffestiniog line. All are covered by your discounted BritRail pass. Britain is unique in its government’s support for the arts – so much so that entry to the world’s most famous museums and galleries is entirely free. Enjoy the collections of the Tate Modern, the Lowry Gallery in Manchester, see the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, Stephenson’s Rocket at the Science Museum, and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. A number of major exhibitions and installations are closing or going back into the vaults soon and may not be seen again for a while. • Kuniyoshi at the Royal Academy until June 2009 • Anish Kapoor at the Brighton Festival May 2009 • Le Corbusier at The Barbican until May 2009 • Gerhard Richter’s Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery until May 2009 • Constable Portraits at Compton Verney, June – September 09 • 2009 emphasis on Indian art and culture with Indian Highway at the Serpentine Gallery, Indian Summer at the British Museum, and Maharaja: the Splendour of India’s Royal Courts at the V&A. Get a four-day Great British Heritage Pass for £32 and take your pick of 580 heritage attractions absolutely free. Base yourself in London and in a long weekend you could pack in an itinerary that includes Blenheim Palace near Oxford; Hampton Court Palace; Eltham Palace, the boyhood home of Henry VIII; Leeds Castle, the ‘loveliest castle in the world; Dover Castle and the Secret Wartime Tunnels; Sissinghurst Castle in Kent; Bodiam Castle in East Sussex; Hever Castle and Gardens, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and Arundel Castle, a stunning ancient castle and stately home containing priceless treasures, a medieval keep, grounds and organic gardens.
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Selamat Datang, Malaysia
Malaysia is an ideal holiday destination with something to interest everyone – swinging on rope bridges in a rainforest, looking for the old trails of Borneo’s head-hunters or simply relaxing on idyllic beaches. Linda Benbow discovers a portion of this tropical wonderland in the South China Sea
o they still have head hunters with poisionous arrows in Borneo? That was the main concern when holiday thoughts flew to Malaysia. “Let’s go and find out” said the excited family. “OK, but remember that I like to do my adventuring in safety and comfort” was the only stipulation I could think of in the heat of the moment. As I discovered by the end of the trip, there is a lot of adventuring, discovering and comfortable enjoyment to be found in the 14 Malay states which comprise a unified Malaysia, situated in the heart of South East Asia. Geographically, peninsular Malaysia extends from the Thai border down to Singapore, while the states of Sabah and Sarawak are separated by the South China Sea on the west and east extremes of the island of Borneo. Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, is just over six hours flying time from Dubai. KL, as it is fondly called by the locals, is the cultural, administrative and commercial nerve centre of the country. On arrival at the airport, you will get an excellent opportunity to read the variety of free leaflets and brochures as you wait in the queues to clear passport control. It is advisable to start planning tours and visits from that moment as it will save precious time later. These can be arranged with ease with the country’s many travel and tourist agencies. The city tour in each new destination you visit is essential if you are to appreciate one place in a short space of time. Apart from it being the most relaxing and comfortable way to learn about the place you are in, it’s people, it’s customs and it’s history; it will also give you an idea of the road layout so that you can return to the places you liked best at your own leisure. Taxis are metered and very reasonably priced. Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city full of old and new buildings, modern highways and narrow streets, huge, clean air-conditioned shopping malls and bustling street markets. Visit the imposing Islamic style Central Railway Station which was designed and built approximately 100 years ago. Barter for handicraft bargains in Central Market which sells silk batik scarves and sarongs, paper shadow
UAE Digest, April 2009 49
Inside Batu Caves
Kampong Villa at Pangkor Laut
puppets, wooden masks and statues. Eat at the roadside tables in Chinatown before setting forth among the barrows and stalls piled high with fashions of all kinds. The hotels are worthy of mention as their shop prices are not excessively higher than those in the street. International entertainment and cuisine vie with the authentic Malaysian. Still within the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, to the north of the city, are the Batu Caves in Selangor. Two hundred and seventy two steps and a huge limestone façade fringed with lush greenery provide the entrance to a shrine visited by Hindus every year for the Thaipusam festival. A procession leads them to the caves where they perform rites of penance before an audience of hundreds of thousands. They carry ornate frames supported by metal spikes inserted into the skin to demonstrate suffering and to seek forgiveness. Others pierce their tongues and cheeks with silver spear-like skewers.
Steps lead into Batu Caves Hornbill
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, but there is total freedom of worship and the country has many Hindu and Chinese temples as well as churches. For a relaxed, indulgent holiday with a little bit of exploring for the livelier minded of the party, travel up the north west coast to the island of Penang in the Straits of Malacca. Around this area, there are several smaller islands. We visited Pangkor Laut, south of Penang, which can only be described as Malaysia’s very own Fantasy Island. One is greeted by pretty Malay girls presenting garlands of flowers the moment you step off the ferry boat from Lamut. That pampered feeling starts here. The whole 500-acre island is privately owned and you are free to roam. Climb the central jungle coated hills along wellmarked paths. A 10-minute hike from one side of the island to the other leads to Emerald Bay where a thatched shelter under the almond trees discreetly hides a bar full of cold refreshments.
In the evenings, flocks of Pied Hornbills can be seen flying among the treetops. These colourful toucanlike birds have a distinctive call which echoes over the island. Accommodation is in three types of chalets, a limited number of them so as to keep the exclusivity and charm of the island intact. They are all designed to blend in with the natural surrounding beauty. Hillside villas scattered up the jungle-clad hills are connected by sturdy wooden stairs and walkways. Beach chalets under palm trees are excellent places for families with children. There are also chalets on stilts built to look like a Malay fishing village (known as kampong) perched over the sea. Sit on the verandah and watch the colourful coral life below you. For such a tiny island, it has quite a lot of history. Most of it is connected with its bigger neighbour, the island of Pangkor, just 10 minutes ferry ride across the sea, and is well worth a sightseeing
Take a river ride at Kuching in a sampan boat
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trip. Sumatrians, Portugese and others invaded over the centuries, each leaving their mark, and, for a short while in the early 1900s, it was even used as a leper colony. World War II saw Colonel Spencer Chapman,a top British commando and author of The Jungle is Neutral, fighting the Japanese army on the mainland. His last task was to get out by submarine before a planned offensive was carried out by the British. The rendezvous point was Pangkor Laut which the Colonel reached in a dug-out boat called a sampan disguised as a local Chinese. After all that relaxing and soaking up sun and history, you will be eager to get on the move again. Head for the wilder parts of Malaysia on the mainland of Borneo. A two-hour internal flight from KL will take you either to Kuching in the state of Sarawak to the west, or to Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah at the extreme northeast of the island. Both places have much to recommend for themselves. Sarawak is a riverine state and most transport is via the waterways, Despite being a place of economic importance with its production of oil, gas, timber pepper, rubber and sago, it also retains it’s natural beauty with vast areas of still untouched rainforests. The state is inhabitated by several different ethnic groups. Many of the people live on the waterways in longhouses, which is a covered, thatched building sub divided into rooms for different families within the tribe; a whole village under one roof. Kuching is an old city with many types of architecture to reflect its past association with the British Empire, Chinese travellers and missionaries. It also has some extremely modern shopping malls and fast food outlets, successfully combining European and Malay tastes. Excellent hotel facilities and a wide choice of tours into the hinterland beckon the explorer. A two-hour leisurely cruise in a traditional sampan on the main river allows you to see a gentle pace of life. Pull into shore and visit Fort Margherita, now a police museum, originally built in 1878 to defend the city against pirate attacks from the River Sarawak. The best way to learn about the head hunting tribes of old is to visit the Sarawak Museum in Kuching which has a wide ranging collection of Borneo ethnological and archaelogical artefacts. Do not worry about encountering any head collecting natives as it has been quite a number of years since anyone has been in danger of having their head cut off and shrunk in specially built steam huts in the jungle. After that experience, one derives a morbid sense of glee in walking around the antique shops in town and recognising blow pipes, poison arrows and frightening tribal masks. Journey north to the state of Sabah, known also as ‘the land below the wind’ because it lies below the typhoon belt, where you find mountains and lush tropical rainforests which are sometimes used for survival training by militants of various countries. The capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, known as KK, demands a little more time than one might originally think. That is because many of the organised tours last two days or more to enable you to see and appreciate the magnificent scenery. Travelling to the appropriate sites also takes a long time. It is in Sabah that you will find South East Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, which towers an impressive 4,101metres in Kinabalu National Park. There is plenty to see and do within the 754 square kilometre park. Have a dip in the hot sulphur springs which were first developed by the Japanese during World War II and which are now piped into several open air Japanese style baths built for standing up in. The sulphur in the water is believed to have health properties as well as curative properties for skin diseases. Walking on rope bridges high in the treetops gives a real sense of adventure and, of course, you must allow time to climb the lower mountain slopes so that you can get up to the same level as the leaves. Allow time for resting too as it can be quite tiring breathing in the rarified air so high up. But, if you are feeling particularly adventurous and fit, you could climb Mount Kinabalu. For this feat, it is necessary to hire a guide who knows the terrain and who will take you up, and down, safely. The expedition takes two days, and accommodation is available at 3,500metres and 3,750metres on the summit trail. The wonderful flora and fauna to be seen is well worth all that huffing and puffing. There are over 1,000 species of orchids here; also, the largest flower in the world, and the smelliest, the Rafflesia, is found here. You may catch a glimpse of brilliant blue feathers of exotic birds or the orange fur of an orangutan high in the branches. While in Sabah, you can also visit the Rungus tribe, famous for still living in longhouses. You can spend the night with the villagers if you want – mattress, sheet and pillow provided!
Walk amongst the tree tops in Sarawak
Orangutan at the sanctuary in Sabah
April 2009, UAE Digest 51
Abundant in natural reserves, flora and fauna, Sri Lanka promises to draw out the adventurer in you
Spas in Sri Lanka
dventure has marked Sri Lanka from time immemorial. The country figures in the Indian epic, the Ramayana, as the ‘golden Lanka,’ of the demon king Ravana, who abducts the Indian princess Sita, the consort of King Rama and keeps her captive till Rama and his monkey army rescue her. Epochs after the legend, the adventure streak into Sri Lanka continues. Bountiful in natural resources and vegetation that makes it an ideal climate for nature tourism, the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ is currently being marketed by the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board (SLTPB) as an intrepid destination since adventure-seekers have been identified as a potential growth market. Wild elephants, leopards and a nesting turtle laying her eggs on the beach or the dazzling display of a peacock in dance, spotted deer and sambhar, wild buffalo, bears and different species of monkeys, including the macaque and the large-eyed loris, the scaly pangolin, giant squirrels, wild boars, jungle cats and the cat-like palm quivet, peacocks, painted storks, herons, parrots, spoonbills, bee-eaters, hornbills, woodpeckers and over 450 species of birds can be spotted there. Over 250 species of butterfly-most of them found in the foothills up to about 900 metres, -54 species of freshwater fish, a variety of frogs and reptiles, 3,350 species of flowering plants, lush tropical fruits, majestic tall trees, rare orchids and medicinal plants can be found in the country. Sri Lanka has large areas rich in flora and fauna conserved in 13 national parks, sanctuaries and natural reserves, extending to 950,000 hectares across the country with over 100 other protected areas. Some of them include Bundala National Park, Horton Plains, Kumana Bird Park, Sinharaja Forest, Wasgomuwa National Park, Wilpattu National Park, Yala National Park, and the Habarana Safari Park.
A taste of ayurveda
Leopards and bears can be found abundant in the Sri Lanka animal reserves
As many as 6,500 registered ayurveda practitioners, - all of whom have undergone a seven-year course, followed by two years in a conventional hospital, now cater to the needs of an increasing numbers of tourists to Sri Lanka. Many luxurious hotels and beach resorts have a spa or massage centre that practise ayurveda. It is the oldest holistic medical system that originated in India and is widely used in Sri Lanka. Ruins of ancient hospitals with medicinal baths and toilets dating back to the 4th Century BC can be seen even today in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura in north central Sri Lanka. Ayurveda’s pharmacopoeia of preparations includes a vast range of leaves, roots, bark, resin, spices and fruits. Used with the experience of 3,000 years, the ingredients continue to work their restorative and healing magic.
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Among the newest to offer in-house therapy for visitors is ayurveda pavilions in the coastal fishing town of Negombo. The first health holiday resort on the west coast of the country, Ayurveda in Sri Lanka Ngombo provides a peaceful environment for providing preventive and curative treatment with the help of a team of highly qualified ayurveda practitioners. Accommodation is provided in small villas with modern facilities, including luxurious bathrooms and featuring traditional architecture. Outdoor baths in a small courtyard in each villa allow visitors to enjoy herbal baths in the privacy of their own pavilions. Futher along the coast is Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort in Beruwala. The Ministry of Indigenous Medicine oversees the several ayurvedic hospitals and over 10,000 registered physicians in the country, each of whom has to undergo a seven-year training period before being allowed to practice. Ayurveda is used to treat everything from stress to diabetes, migraine, asthma, arthritis and high-blood pressure, to help boost the immune system, and even help in delaying the ageing process.
Working on a ten to twelve-year plan, Sri Lanka Tourism is currently in the process of finalising the groundwork for this ambitious project. There will be botanical gardens and a marine sanctuary for exotic tropical fish and the coral formations found in the shallow waters. During November to March each year, the wetlands around the islands attract many species of local and migratory birds. Whales and dolphins can also be spotted without having to sail into the deep seas. This project will not only develop the area which has hitherto been unexplored, but also provide employment to the people in the area, provide livelihood to the fishermen and improve the economic situation of Kalpitiya.
Middle East travellers buck the trend
Bucking global economic recession and a downward spiral in the tourism industry worldwide, Middle East travellers visiting Sri Lanka surged by 24 per cent in 2008, according to SLTPB, with the strongest growth markets being UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iran. Declining costs of travel, changing lifestyle patterns, consumer-friendly travel facilities, and good childcare and maid facilities for Arabs travelling with families have been key growth drivers. Cultural attractions, entertainment, shopping and dining are some of the factors that draw modern day Arab travellers to their preferred destinations, and Sri Lanka offers a good product that scores on all counts and is less than four hours flying time away from the Gulf.
unbiased reviews and opinions by actual guests. The resort comprises four colonial tea planters’ bungalows set among lush tea plantations, infused with a new and decidedly gourmet vibe. Each villa, built between 1890 and 1939, offers a taste of colonial living with butler service and authentic period furnishings. Castlereagh and Summerville bungalows have lakefront positions, while Norwood has the best pool, with panoramic views. Tientsin is the most traditional colonial bungalow. Opened by the tea company Dilmah, the resort teaches visitors everything they need to know about the perfect brew. Guests are absorbed into the life on a working tea estate, while revelling in five-star luxury.
Tips for tourists
Sri Lankan Airlines has direct flights from the UAE. It has a network of 41 destinations in 25 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Subcontinent, and the Far East and offers convenient connections to East and West through its hub in Colombo. The Bandaranaike International Airport is considered to be one of finest airports in South Asia. Sri Lankan Airlines commenced flights to Rome in December 2008. The flight, operated on Airbus A340 wide-bodied aircraft, on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, takes the route Colombo-Rome-Paris-RomeColombo. Flying time to Colombo is 10 hours.
New destination: Kalpitiya
Sri Lanka Tourism has launched a new tourism development project consisting of 14 unspoilt islands known as Kalpitiya, located 150 kilometres north of Colombo. The Kalpitiya Integrated Development Project (KITDP) will select the islands best suited for development to generate environment friendly sustainable tourism to satisfy the needs of a varied visitor profile.
Ceylon Tea Trails wins awards
Ceylon Tea Trails, the world’s first tea bungalow resort connected by walking trails, situated in Dickoyal; the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, has won the coveted 2009 Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Award. Unlike other hotel awards programmes, the ‘Choice Awards’ are based on an analysis of real,
April 2009, UAE Digest 53
Entrance to the Kasbah at Agadir, Morocco
Surfing at Taghazout, Morocco The Dunes at El Kantaoui is an exclusive resort located on Tunisia’s Gold Coast, between two of the country’s busiest airports and offers on-site world class Thallasso Spa facilities including Turkish baths, sauna and beauty and massage treatment rooms
A sunny African future
somewhat less mainstream holiday destination, Africa remains a largely untapped continent for international visitors, but one whose tourism sector is significantly on the increase with the World Travel & Tourism Council having reported growth in tourism on the continent of 5.9 per cent in 2008. Not only this but with a great deal to offer all travellers, from a welcome sunshine getaway to an adventurous escape, Africa is set to share some of its hidden secrets to a growing number of privileged visitors in the coming years. An exciting array of wildlife, a generally warm and sunny climate and varied and captivating landscapes can be said to be offered by all parts of this, the second most expansive continent in the world. As one of the most diverse continents, Africa has an arguably unrivalled richness and variety, with countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Botswana, for example, all offering something different to those looking to visit - and perhaps also as places to
invest. Colourful Morocco is a wellknown African destination, having founded itself both as an exotic holiday location as well as an exciting property investment choice. A wealth of property developments have sprung up around the key tourist areas driven by King Mohammed VI’s ‘Vision 2010’, a national focus on increasing the country’s tourism industry, and in turn industry profit. Morocco’s aim was to increase tourist numbers to 10 million in 2010 and in response to this national focus, the country is well and truly on track - with 2008 figures showing tourist numbers had increased to 7.88 million. The freehold resort of Apple Gardens in the tourist hotspot and capital city of Marrakech not only takes advantage of the growth in Morocco’s tourist industry - with 15 per cent annual capital growth predicted - but also the myriad of cultures that define the country.Just 15 minutes from the city centre, you can get breathtaking views of the
rugged Atlas Mountains, as well as be close to the Unesco World Heritage site of Djamaa El Fna Square. Though also in northern Africa, Tunisia offers something different for the seasoned traveller, with a property market in its infancy for foreign buyers due to relatively new legislation to allow and encourage foreign ownership of property in the country. The Global Competitiveness Report 2008-2009 ranked Tunisia the top African country when looking at a number of factors including infrastructure, health and primary education, technological readiness and financial market sophistication, making looking to the future bright for the country, and in turn for those looking to invest in property. Not only this, but the newly signed Open Skies Agreement which will allow European, American, Canadian and Arabian airlines to operate freely in Tunisian airspace, along with the construction of a new airport at Enfidha on the Gold Coast, all point towards a predicted significant growth in the numbers of those
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visiting Tunisia. If historical significance, cultural splendour and a slightly more established property market is more your thing, then perhaps Egypt should be your destination of choice. The warm desert climate and luxurious properties being built at reasonable prices have meant that Egypt has positioned itself as a popular holiday destination, with the ABTA 2009 Travel Trends Report recognising the country’s magnetism. For the past few years, holidaymakers have been drawn to the country’s Red Sea resorts, attracted by the promise of good weather, topclass hotels and bargain prices. If instead, it is more of a lifestyle investment you are looking for, and ecological and ethical returns are of significance, the bushlands of Botswana may well hold the answer. This more southerly country is a truly different corner of Africa, and in turn holds a wealth of unique and extraordinary wildlife that is bound to amaze and enrapture. It is also here that a balance of tourism and environmental responsibility is being closely worked on by the government. The Limpopo-Lipadi Game and Wilderness Reserve is one project that is setting the standard for this mix of environmental awareness and eco-tourism in Botswana. Covering an expanse of over 80,000 acres, the reserve offers a unique investment opportunity to become part of this project that aims to educate and enrich through working to a strict ecosystem and conservation model. Visit Botswana, become part of the decision-making process surrounding the reserve, learn about the country’s unique species through local knowledge courses, sleep in game hides or tree platforms and even train to become a game ranger. The Limpopo-Lipadi Game and Wilderness Reserve will broaden your horizons and teach the wide variety of experiences that Africa has to offer. For more information on investing in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt visit www. experience-international.com. For more information on investing in Botswana visit: www.limpopo-lipadi. com.
Delta Del Okavango, Botswana
Existing camp hut on Limpopo-Lipadi Game Reserve
April 2009, UAE Digest 55
Try Thai T
hailand is often referred to as a golden land, not because there is precious metal buried underground, but because the country gives off a certain lustre, be it the fertile rice fields of the central plains, white sandy beaches, or the warm hospitality of its citizenry. There is so much to see and do in Thailand...whether you are a food lover, serious shopper, club hopper, culture vulture, keen golfer, or in search of holistic healing. First introductions are made in Bangkok, a modern behemoth of screaming traffic, gleaming shopping centres, and international sensibilities interwoven with devout Buddhism. It is a magnet for a broad range of visitors because of its eclectic attractions, and this buzzing
Royal Palace and Temple
metropolis offers surprises at every turn. Gleaming skyscrapers, glittering temples, colourful street markets, sophisticated shopping malls, a bustling nightlife scene, and an energy that reflects the city’s incredible economic growth over the past few years. Despite this growth, the capital of Thailand remains true to its cultural, historical and spiritual roots – as the city’s many ‘wats’ or Buddhist temples are testament to. Bangkok is a melting pot of races, creeds and cults, as well as food and culture. Indeed, ‘Khrungthep’, as the Thais call their capital, makes for one heady brew. Geographically, Bangkok is Thailand’s heartland, extending from Lop Buri in the north and covering the rice bowl of the
Central Plains around the Chao Phraya River. Further south, the area embraces the east and west coasts of the upper Gulf of Thailand. This is Thailand’s most fertile farming area, a wide-ranging landscape of paddy fields, orchards and plantations. More than 1,000 years ago, Thai settlers moved down from the north, gradually replacing Mon and Khmer influences and establishing communities at Lop Central & East Coast Buri, then at Sukhothai, before founding a kingdom that lasted 417 years with Ayutthaya as its capital. When the Burmese destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767, the capital moved to Bangkok. Chiang Mai, the country’s bohemian centre, is where the unique and precise elements of Thai culture become a classroom,
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for cooking courses and language lessons; while climbing into the mountain ranges around Mae Hong Son, you’ll find stupa-studded peaks and villages of post-Stone Age cultures. Chiang Mai is a land of mist-covered mountains, ethnic hill-tribe villages, rolling rivers, historic temples, and elephants in their natural habitat. These are just some of the charms Thailand’s northernmost city is famous for. It offers something for everyone; nature lovers, adventure seekers, shopaholics, people who cherish culture and art, and those who just wish to be spoiled at an exclusive spa. It is located some 700 kilometres north of Bangkok. At 300 metres above sea level, the city is somewhat cooler than other parts of Thailand, and also the centre of the country’s well-known handicrafts industry. It is your gateway to explore northern Thailand and beyond. On the eastern side, 400 kilometres of coastline extend from Chon Buri to Rayong, with some of the finest beaches in Asia. Pattaya, with an enormous range of resorts, hotels and guesthouses, is its centre. If you are seeking a more relaxing experience, travel further down the coast to Rayong or Ko Samet, and the lovely islands of Ko Chang National Park near the Cambodian border. Pattaya is a place where fun, excitement, and adventure come together at a tropical seaside hotspot with more than 35,000 hotel rooms in its many resorts. It boasts expansive beaches, a variety of dining choices, exciting water and land sports, surprising attractions, high-end shopping, and a thoroughly wild and famous nightlife. Indeed, Pattaya has it all. Located less than two hours (150 km) from Bangkok, this highrise beach city is a top destination for many tourists. In recent years, more and more families, tour groups and leisure travellers have discovered Pattaya’s attractions, from its extensive recreational facilities to offbeat museums and lush botanical gardens, providing a holiday destination second to none.
Hand carved elephants
Sliding down the coastal tail are the evergreen limestone islands of Ko Tao and Kho Phi Phi Don, filled with tall palms angling over pearlescent sand. Thailand’s beaches are stunning, hedonistic and mythic among residents of northern latitudes. People come here as miners: first perhaps for the uniquely Western concept of R&R. And while they toast themselves to a bronze hue on the sandy beaches,
they find in the daily rhythm of Thailand a tranquillity that isn’t confined to vacation time. Koh Samui is the country’s third biggest island and lies in the Gulf of Thailand. It is surrounded by 60 other islands, mostly within the Ang Thong National Marine Park. Samui has a population of about 50,000 people and the island’s popularity makes certain parts a busy place to be, but it still has some quiet,
April 2009, UAE Digest 57
secluded beaches. From the 1980s onward, tourism has gradually eclipsed the coconut industry as the island’s biggest source of revenue. Unlike Phuket, Samui’s major and busiest beaches are on its east coast with the island’s main port Nathon, on its west coast, facing nearby mainland and Surat Thani. Koh Chang - with over 70 per cent of the landscape consisting of preserved and virgin rainforest, Thailand’s second largest island is a tapestry of adventure waiting to be had. Whether it is elephant trekking, diving among the colourful coral or some welldeserved pampering at one of the island’s many spas, Koh Chang offers the perfect fusion of recreation and relaxation. Thought to be Thailand’s best conserved tourist destination, visitors are spoilt for choice with a rich landscape consisting of pristine sandy beaches, secluded beach coves, and rainforest with an abundance of tropical wildlife. For many, the main incentive to spend a holiday in Phuket is the incredibly wide reach of activities the island has to offer. Not only that, but with an encyclopaedia-long list of hotels and accommodation as well as startling scenery and seascapes, Phuket is a dream destination. The island’s west coast has long been the ‘tourism side’ of the island, but nowadays, the east coast and even some inland districts have been developed with new resorts springing up all the time. In spite of this, Phuket never feels crowded because of its size, and pockets of tranquillity can easily be found. The resorts of Cha-am and Hua Hin attract international travellers who prefer their more sophisticated yet laidback atmosphere. Far from the sea in the northwest of the region is Kanchanaburi, whose forested mountains, waterfalls and caves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries on the border with Myanmar provide some of Thailand’s most enthralling scenery. The northeast is a region better suited for homestays and teaching gigs than quick souvenir snapshots: here, you can dive deep into the Thai psyche, emerging with a tolerance for searingly spicy food and a mastery of this strange tonal language. Welcome to a life-altering experience disguised as a holiday.
Chiang Dio elephant training centre, Chaing Mai
58 UAE Digest, April 2009
By Ambily Vijaykumar
Naukuchiatal Lake is the centre of attraction in this lesser explored tourist spot
Yercaud is famous for its coffee plantations and orange groves
Two little-explored places in the north and south of India offer relief from crowded tourist spots. A lake is central to both the destinations that are growing in popularity with travellers
on’t take the beaten track. Give the little known destinations a chance to sweep you off your feet. One such destination is Naukuchiatal or the nine-cornered lake. Located in the northern state of Uttarakhand, this hill station is less explored as compared to Nainital, approximately thirty kilometres away. The place is catching on with tourists because of its tranquility, orchards and dense jungles surrounding it. Naukuchiatal is a body of sparkling water that is 1,220 metres above sea level and situated in an enchanting valley. The place also finds reference in mythology. According to the Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers came to Naukuchiatal during their days of banishment. Also, a local belief is that if you succeed in seeing all nine corners of the lake from a single point, you will attain salvation. There is a lot more to see and do though in this serene setting, such as trekking, rock climbing, paragliding, boating. Also it is a paradise for bird watchers. If you set out early from Delhi, you
can reach here within seven hours. Travel from Delhi to Kathgodam, - a distance of 269 kilometres and a further 26 kms to Naukuchiatal. By rail, the Ranikhet Express will take you from Delhi to Kathgodam, from where you can travel further by road. Yercaud in the south. This hill station, also known as the poor man’s Ooty, is located in the Servarayan range of hills in the Eastern Ghats. It is near Salem in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Located at an altitude of 1,500 metres above sea level, the town is famous for its coffee plantations and orange groves. With a maximum temperature of 29 degree Celsius for most part of the year, the weather is always pleasant for a visit. The must-see places in the hill station include Yercaud lake, Servarayan Temple, Killyur Falls, the horticulture farm and the botanical garden. The beautifully carved cave temple is located on the highest point of the hill and sees a very low tourist inflow even during the local festival organised by the tribes. Water from the Killyur Lake falls 300 feet into the valley below. The horticulture farm houses
India a destination of choice for the Arab tourist. This will be followed by road shows in Muscat and Bahrain and preceded by Indian food festivals in Ankara and Dubai.
around 5,000 varieties of plants which include innumerable roses. The forest surrounding the hill station is home to many animals, including bison, deer, fox and snake, among others. You can get here either by air, rail or road. The nearest airport is Trichy, 163 kilometres from Yercaud. You can also choose Coimbatore, 190 kilometres from here, or Bangalore. All these places are connected to Chennai that has an international airport. By rail, the Yercaud Express from Chennai is most preferred. Salem junction is 36 kilometres from here and all southbound trains passing via Salem stop there. If you are taking the road, then Yercaud is an hour’s drive from Salem. Yercaud is also well connected by road to Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Bangalore and Coimbatore.
Soon after the successful branding of Incredible India buses in Dubai, India Tourism Dubai office has branded a high rise building with Incredible India –Visit India Year 2009 message to woo potential tourists from the UAE this summer. The 35 metre tall building wrap is on a highrise building, opposite one of Dubai’s landmark malls-The City Centre. This is one of the many initiatives being undertaken by India Tourism Dubai office as a lead up to the Arabian Travel Market in May this year and the summer campaign roll out to make
UAE Digest, April 2009 59
Romancing the railways
By Vanit Sethi
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
o journey within India is complete without travelling in a train. In fact, a train journey is the best and most economical way to discover the vast country with its mind-boggling diversity of people, races, languages, religions, food, cultures and traditions. But how do you decide which train to hop on to? As a tourist, here is a guide to some of the most scenic and luxurious journeys in the country. These are India’s special trains, and they can be further classified into three different categories – luxury trains, hill trains and superfast trains. Read on and embark on these memorable journeys.
India’s luxury trains serve you with personal attendants, libraries, recreational facilities, and unexplored and delightful stopovers
To explore this mysterious country, vacationers find luxury trains the best option as a convenient and suitable mode of transport. These provide world-class comfort on wheels while covering a number of excellent travel destinations in the shortest possible time span. Focusing on the most preferred destinations, these luxury trains serve you with personal attendants, libraries,
Inside the Royal Orient
recreational facilities and unexplored and delightful stopovers. The itinerary on most of these journeys is sightseeing during the day and travel at nights with a total duration of eight days and seven nights on each luxury train. Palace On Wheels (DelhiRajasthan): This is the oldest and most popular luxury train in India - one that carries within it the royal ambience of the Rajputana era and an exciting fairytale journey which takes the visitor to the imperial cities of Rajasthan every single day. The coaches also carry images of the Rajput states with beautiful interiors. The ‘royal treat’ for passengers on board includes saloons, bar
60 UAE Digest, April 2009
Palace On Wheels
lounges and libraries in every coach, as well as restaurants and organised shopping facilities. (Other luxury trains on this same route include Royal Rajasthan on Wheels and Heritage on Wheels.) Tour itinerary: - Day 1: Delhi; Day 2: Jaipur; Day 3: Jaisalmer; Day 4: Jodhpur; Day 5: Sawai Madhopur, Chittaurgarh; Day 6: Udaipur; Day 7: Bharatpur, Agra; Day 8: Delhi. Tariff: Dh957 to Dh2,061 per day. Royal Orient (Rajasthan-Gujarat): This is an enchanting journey through two of India’s most colourful states in the northwestern border – Rajasthan and Gujarat – both of which have a rich history and a landscape replete with heritage sites like palaces, forts and walled cities. The region has seen some of the most ferocious battles and courageous kings in Indian history. For students of history and art, this journey would be unforgettable. Tour itinerary: - Day 1: Delhi; Day 2: Chittaurgarh-Udaipur; Day 3: Ahmedabad; Day 4: Mehsana; Day 5: Udaipur, Ranakpur; Day 6: Udaipur; Day 7: Jaipur; Day 8: Delhi. Tariff: Dh486 to Dh1,286 per day. Deccan Odyssey (MaharashtraGoa): Built for the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, the 21-coach luxury train has all the facilities of a five-star hotel - except a swimming pool. The train has an air-conditioned suite car (coach), 11 air-conditioned cabin cars, a conference car, two restaurant cars with bar attached, and a health car with a gym, beauty salon and a yoga centre. There is also space for
ayurvedic treatment and massage. Facilities and services aboard this luxury train include two tastefully designed lounge and conference cars allowing passengers to mix business with pleasure. This royal tour will take you to various historic forts and temples, the oceanfront and a trip to the beautiful village of Tarkali. All meals reflect the specialty coastal cuisine of Maharashtra. Goa will definitely prove to be the most enjoyable destination due to its stunning beaches, historic churches and temples, among many other attractions. Passengers will revel in a traditional Goan cultural extravaganza on a luxury boat cruise down the meandering Mandovi river. Tour itinerary: Day 1: Mumbai; Day 2: Jaigad-Ganapatipule-Ratnagiri; Day 3: Sindhuburg-Tarkali; Day 4: Goa; Day 5: Pune; Day 6: Aurangabad; Day 7: Ajanta-Nashik; Day 8: Mumbai. Tariff: Dh720 to Dh2,843 per day. Golden Chariot (Karnataka-Goa): A journey on board the Golden Chariot – India’s most recent luxury train - gives you a chance to visit beautiful places with your family in splendid luxury. All destinations on the train’s route have their own unique charm – from cosmopolitan and fashionable Bangalore, historically rich and exquisite Mysore and Hampi, to stunningly beautiful Goa. Facilities offered on board the Golden Chariot is on par with those offered in the top-notch hotels of the country. The cabins are fully air conditioned with facilities like LCD television, DVD, satellite channels, wardrobe, vanity/writing
desk and private bathroom. There is one special cabin for the physically handicapped. Apart from this, the train also has restaurant coaches, a lounge bar coach, a conference coach and a gym coach. There are two massage rooms too where you can enjoy the magic of ayurveda. The hospitality services on board the Golden Chariot are provided by The Mapple Group-India’s premier hotel and resort group. Tour itinerary: Day 1: Bangalore; Day 2: Mysore-Kabini; Day 3: Mysore; Day 4: Hassan-Halebidu/Belur; Day 5: Hospet-Hampi; Day 6: Aihole and Pattadakal-Badami; Day 7: Goa; Day 8: Bangalore. Tariff: Dh926 to Dh1,870 per day. (For details on tariffs, please see www.luxury-train-travel-toursindia.com)
While luxury trains – though cheaper in comparison to some train journeys in Europe – could pinch the pockets of budget travellers, there is another way to explore the beauties of India, especially the country’s salubrious hill resorts. Catch the narrow gauge toy trains winding up the hills of northern, southern, eastern and western India. For those with enough time to spare and in a mood for old-world romance, the hill trains of India are like nowhere else in the world. There is nothing to match the experience of chugging up the hills, past little hamlets and terraced fields, amidst pine trees, making your way through long tunnels and over breathtaking bridges – and to top it all, often while it’s raining or
April 2009, UAE Digest 61
snowing. The invigorating air and the delights of scenic hill resorts provide a welcome respite from the heat and congestion, hustle and bustle of the cities. Kalka-Shimla Railway (KalkaShimla): The train journey from Kalka (near Chandigarh – the modern, well-planned joint capital city of Punjab and Haryana) to Shimla (the former summer capital of British India) is entrancing with 107 tunnels and lofty arched bridges. The dazzling view and the stops at the picturesque stations along the way add up to an exhilarating experience. The toy train covers the 96-kilometre track in six hours. The Shivalik Deluxe Express - chugging its way up the beautiful hillside - has only one stop in its over four-hour journey. The train also has an attached tourist coach called the Shivalik Palace. For honeymooning couples, the Shivalik Queen Coach offers exclusively designed coupes. Kangra Valley Railway (Pathankot-Jogindernagar): This train connects northern Punjab to Himachal Pradesh. Few places can match this scenic region in the subHimalayas. One will stumble across a land that has cast its magic spell upon those who planned the railway and those who built the line. The Kangra Valley is not one place in particular. It happens to be the name given to the
Kangra Valley Railway
entire region that lies between the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas to the north and the last strangling foothills to the south. The Kangra Valley Railway is ample proof of how railway engineers can create a work in harmony with nature. This they have done without destroying the grandeur of the mountain, and at the same time, revealing to the traveller an enchanted fairyland – from the beautiful valley full of flowers to the deep gorges through which sparkling streams tear their way to the Great Plains of India. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (New Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling): The most famous of the little trains (now, a World Heritage site) is the one linking the town of New Jalpaiguri in the plains of West Bengal to the lovely hill station of Darjeeling in north-eastern India. With a two-foot gauge, the Darjeeling Hill Railway is indeed a ‘toy train’, being the narrowest of the regular narrow gauges. The tiny century-old engine is a connoisseur’s delight. The 86-kilometre long Darjeeling line has no tunnels, thus allowing the traveller an uninterrupted view of the breathtaking scenery of the Himalayas. The seven-and-ahalf hour ride is a journey meant especially for rail buffs. Many Bollywood film songs and dances are shot in this scenic stretch full of tea gargens.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway (Mettupalayem-Ootacamund): The Nilgiri Mountain Railway in southern India starts from the town of Mettupalayem in Tamil Nadu - a journey full of twists and turns, as this narrow gauge train ascends 46 kilometres on its way to the hill resort of Ootacamund, or Ooty in short. The railway gets its name from the Nilgiris, which literally means ‘Blue Mountains’ (after a blue flower, which blooms once in twelve years). At a maximum speed of 33 kph, this ‘toy train’ treks across plains, plantations and forest-clad hills. The 16 tunnels and tall girder bridges on the way, along with breathtaking views, make this journey to Ooty an engineering marvel, something not to be missed. Matheran Light Railway (NeralMatheran): The 77-year-old line, connecting Neral to Matheran (both in the western state of Maharashtra), is the main way to reach the tiny hill resort, close to Mumbai. As the little train zigzags its way up into the clear mountain air, one can view the scenic vista of hills and plains
For those with enough time to spare and in a mood for oldworld romance, the hill trains of India are like nowhere else in the world
Nilgiri Mountain Railway
62 UAE Digest, April 2009
Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express
Inside the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express
The new, modern Delhi Metro
For tourists, the superfast Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains are a convenient way of covering the vast country in air-conditioned comfort over tasty, nutritious meals
below. The lack of vehicular traffic at Matheran (the toy train is the only way you can reach Matheran) makes it an unusually peaceful retreat. The journey up to Matheran from Neral takes about one-and-a-half hours. The train runs between sunrise and sunset. Earlier, the route used to be closed in the monsoons due to landslides, but now it is open year round. It is a refreshing summer retreat from the humidity of Mumbai. routes like Hyderabad-VijayawadaChennai and Chennai-BangaloreCochin are expected to follow, depending on the success of the first routes. A Maglev (magnetic levitation) train is also planned between Mumbai and New Delhi, connecting India’s commercial and administrative capitals. If successful, the train journey between India’s two premier cities could take only three hours, but the prohibitive cost of the project may well make it just a pipedream. Metro trains are now already operating in India. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) got its first metro train in 1984, followed by Delhi in 2002. At present, these are the two main modern metro train systems in India, but Mumbai, which already has a vast rail network, is expected to get a modern metro sometime next year. Hyderabad and Bangalore are already racing ahead for the metro, and so is Chennai. Other cities bidding for the metro rail are Ahmedabad, Pune, Cochin and Chandigarh. Metro trains are now an increasingly popular mode of travel within cities throughout the world. In India too, they are expected to significantly reduce the traffic and congestion of its clogged cities. In cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, it is preferable now to catch these trains than travel by cabs. So, if you’re travelling to India, it is advisable not to ignore the train option. You can come back with a new experience worth narrating.
Indian Railways – a brief history
Indian Railways (IR) is the stateowned railway company of India, which owns and operates most of the country’s rail transport. It is overseen by the Ministry of Railways of the Government of India. IR has one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, transporting over 18 million passengers and more than two million tonnes of freight daily. It is the world’s largest commercial or utility employer, with more than 1.4 million employees. The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country, covering 6,909 stations over a total route length of more than 63,327 kilometres. IR owns over 200,000 wagons, 50,000 coaches and 8,000 locomotives of rolling stock. Railways were first introduced to India by the British in 1853. By 1947 - the year of India’s independence there were 42 rail systems. In 1951, the systems were nationalised as one unit, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. IR operates both long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, metre and narrow gauges. It also owns locomotive and coach production facilities.
Though air travel within India has become very reasonable and an increasingly popular mode with the country’s bourgeoning middle class, trains continue to remain the most preferred means of travel because of the vast railway network, the convenience of train journeys, and above all for its value-for-money factor. For tourists, the superfast Rajdhani (between New Delhi and state capitals) and Shatabdi trains (between different state capitals and major cities) are a convenient way of covering the vast country with a reasonable amount of air-conditioned comfort and tasty, nutritious meals (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) served on board. (For details, check the Indian Railways website www. indianrailways.gov.in) Bullet trains (on the lines of the Shinkansen in Japan) are proposed between lucrative commercial and tourist-frequented routes. The first bullet train may however, not arrive in India before 2015. The following three routes have been proposed in the first phase (Delhi-ChandigarhAmritsar; Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad; and Delhi-Lucknow-Patna). Other
Train bookings in UAE
Train bookings for Indian journeys can be done in the UAE itself either by website (www.irctc.co.in) or through the Indian Railways booking office in Sharjah (SNTTA building, Rolla, near Fish Market/Bus Stand), Tel: 06-5517468.
April 2009, UAE Digest 63
Let’s go green and clean!
very year, on the last Saturday of March, millions of people across the globe shut off their lights for one hour to highlight the urgent need for citizens of this planet to conserve their resources, lest we be left with an unlivable world. With the lead given by Sydney in 2007, 35 countries joined what is now called ‘The Earth Hour’ last year, with Dubai the first Arab city to do so. This year, 4,000 cities from 88 countries participated. Within the UAE itself, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah joined Dubai on March 28 to switch off all their non-essential lights between 8.30 and 9.30pm. Does it make a difference? According to Sayeed Al Tayar, the CEO of Dewa, there was a 20 per cent saving in energy consumption last year during the Earth Hour. This year, with greater participation, it’s expected to be more. But there are sceptics who feel this is just a symbolic act. They say the burning of candles during the hour could produce more emissions than electric lights do. One Danish professor remarked that “even if a billion people turn off their lights during the hour, the entire event will be equal to switching off China’s emissions for six seconds.” While this may be true, one cannot dismiss the importance of such events, for they do bring to public consciousness the fact that the earth’s resources need saving. For the UAE, this event assumes a special importance because we have the dubious distinction of being the largest consumer of the earth’s resources. Take power. Day in and day out, we use the AC, whether required or not – in houses and in cars. We keep lights on most of the time, except while sleeping. In daytime, many people draw the curtains or the blinds to keep off sunlight and then switch on bulbs. We heat water when absolutely unnecessary for 10 months of the year. We keep computers, music systems and TV sets on standby. Why? Take water. We splash around in showers - the most wasteful way of using water for baths. We brush teeth with the tap running. We buy bottled water, drink some and throw most of it. When water is so scarce here, we use it like nobody’s business. Why? Take oil. Granted we have enough oil, but the world doesn’t. Two people here use two cars where one would do for four. We travel short distances on them where we can very well walk, saving fuel and getting exercise. We travel long distances for a chat, where a phone call or an email would do. Why? Take plastic. We use those ugly bags for small things and let them fly around to clutter the drains – and then blame the municipal authorities for not improving the sanitation system. We use rolls of tissues where a handkerchief would do. We print reams of paper where a
64 UAE Digest, April 2009
note in our diaries would do. Why? There are too many questions we don’t want to answer? Quite simply – we’re too lazy and selfish. But our planet will not wait any longer. We’ve got to change our bad habits for our future generations. The time to act is now, or never!
Projects for people
While on the environment, many people can’t help but feel that the recession has been a blessing in disguise. With many extravagant projects being put on hold, it makes sense to reconsider the economic model around which our cities are built. Dubai has, no doubt, been a phenomenal success story, thanks to a visionary leader who saw it as a ‘mini-world’ where the best of talents gather. But success does breed excess. Many saw easy money to be made while the going was good. Castles in the air were promised, and they turned out to be just that! Unfortunately, many hard working people too burnt their fingers. Several people lost their jobs because a few were having a ball at their expense. And the fat cats of the banking industry got hefty bonuses out of the taxpayer’s hard-earned money. Will the world learn something from this crisis? Can we expect a new economic system where endless consumerism is not the driving force? Can we expect good, affordable housing for the middle classes so they don’t have to travel long distances for work? After all, no city can be built for the rich alone. Rapid mass transport is a step in the right direction. Cities become great not by grand properties but by wonderful, creative minds. Dubai should become a truly great city in which everyone has a stake and a sense of belonging. The present crisis is a great opportunity to overturn many misconceived ideas.
The rain dance
They say the best things in life are free. Sadly, we don’t realise it too often. But when the heavens poured, people woke up to the wonders of Mother Nature. How beautiful is this rain in the desert! And it’s a double bonanza when this cosmic dance happens on the weekend. Thank heavens for the simple joys of life! Be grateful for life’s little pleasures. If we want our grandchildren to enjoy them too, let’s look at life afresh. Let’s preserve Mother Earth. If we destroy her, she will destroy us too. Don’t do that. Sing a song in the rain and let’s hope for more rainy weekends.
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