What to see in Abu Dhabi and around

Desert Camp near Abu Dhabi.
  • This is a brief write-up on how to make the best of your trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE.

When Indians think of the Middle East to travel to, the first destination that comes to mind is Dubai because it has built a name for itself over the last twenty-five-odd years. Today there is another town i.e. emerging as popular Abu Dhabi (capital of UAE). The upturn in India-UAE relations is only hastening the process.


The flying time from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi is only 3 hours, just a few minutes more than Mumbai to Kolkata. Moreover, one can fly to Abu Dhabi on the classy Etihad Airways, amongst others.


Before talking about where to go in Abu Dhabi to experience local life, a must-visit now is the newly opened BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir i.e. 50 odd km from Abu Dhabi or app 30-minute drive. Like all BAPS temples, it is an architectural wonder.


I will not be surprised if Indians start visiting Abu Dhabi only for temple darshan. Perhaps Abu Dhabi Tourism could in collaboration with Etihad Airways introduce 2-3 day conducted tours where you see the temple and Abu Dhabi too.


So which are the places to visit to experience local life?


Here are a few suggestions. Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Dibba etc for local life. There is a local market near the Masafi plant off Ras Al Khaimah. Am told the bazaars are very colourful too. In the bazaar, you get pottery, some woven items, local food, ornaments, clothes etc.


Further, visit the House of Artisans in Qasr Al Hosn. Indians can compare how pottery is done here vs. back home. Try the local Arabic coffee called Gahwa. Visit the Desert Rose Camp. When I visited Dubai in 1997 I went to one such camp. It also had great belly dancing but the food was all non-vegetarian and did not cater to Indian tastes. Hope this Camp offers local and Indian cuisine, for vegetarians too. Do try the award-winning restaurant Mezlai at the Emirates Palace, for traditional Emirati food and beverages. 

Since Abu Dhabi is by the sea, visit the Mina Market if you wish to see the seafood (Fish Souk) being sold there, visit the Carpet Souk to buy a memento or the Vegetable Souk for fresh produce. In the Emirates market is called Souk. Immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of the souks. Haggle for souvenirs like carpets, pashminas, and Arabic perfumes at the Mina Fish Market or the Gold Souk.


Do not miss the unique Falcon Hospital, explore its museum and watch the Falcon's free flight. 


If you stay in Fujairah and cover the northern part of UAE you get to see the local population who stay there in large numbers.


Abu Dhabi also has some lovely beaches. If they are comparable to the Best Beaches in India, the ones in Maldives, Lakshadweep and Sri Lanka they could attract tourists. Again a tie-up with Etihad Airways will help.


History Buffs should visit the Qasr Al Hosn National Monument. It showcases the history of Abu Dhabi. To see the Watch Tower that was built in 1760. Whilst doing so, do not compare its history with that of say India where we find monuments that are over a thousand years old even today. That would be doing a disservice to the UAE.


A friend Ronald who visited a couple of years ago recommended seeing the Heritage Village. Wander through the recreated traditional marketplace and delve into Emirati heritage. Browse handicrafts, sip Arabic coffee (kahwa), and witness demonstrations of local crafts like carpet weaving and metalworking.


Besides Abu Dhabi visit Al Ain – a garden city i.e. about a 90-minute drive. It is of cultural and historical importance that showcases the falaj irrigation systems and date palm plantations. Because of its underground springs and oases, it is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site listed in the UAE. Take a camel ride or explore the Al Ain National Museum to learn about the region's rich history. Go to the Al Ain Camel Market where you can click selfies with camels and enjoy mock camel races. Perhaps, local authorities could visit Bikaner in India to see how the Annual Camel Festival is organised. UAE can blend learning with local tradition to produce their version of the camel festival. In the Al Ain Safari, you can see animals that are local to UAE and Africa and Jebel Hafit, Abu Dhabi’s tallest peak.


Visit the museums and forts in Al Ain such as the Al Jahili Fort (made in 1891 to defend the city) and Qasr Al Muwaiji (a historic fort-palace that was the home of the royal family.  It is where His Highness Khalifa Sheikh bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, was born and spent his formative years, learning from his father, UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.


Ronald suggests taking the Dhow Cruise on the Corniche Abu Dhabi. Experience the city from the water aboard a traditional wooden dhow boat. Glide along the scenic Corniche waterfront, offering stunning cityscapes and a glimpse into the vibrant marina.


For students of history visit Hili Oasis i.e. near the Fossil Valley. It has fossils going back to the time when the area was covered by the sea. The Hili Archaeological Park has evidence of an agricultural village in the UAE and contains Bronze Age and Iron Age villages, burial grounds, forts etc. It has a large collection of tombs and buildings from the Umm an-Nar period (between 2500 BCE and 2000 BCE).


Make it a point to see Saluki, a local and one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dog. It was hunted together with falcons by the Arabian desert people for millennia at a time when access to food was not available as it is today.


Honestly, I did not know that Abu Dhabi had so much to offer.


Also, try the Desert Safari Adventure i.e. unique to this part of the world. Visit Rub' al Khali, a large uninterrupted sand mass i.e. only a 90-minute drive from Abu Dhabi. It is miles of endless dunes. If you do it on a camel you could go back in time into a different era altogether. 


Industry sources state that Abu Dhabi can be a good destination wedding location due to its large-sized hotels, something that is not so easily found in India. It has hotels with over 150 rooms which cater to large weddings. Since Indians are price-sensitive, a combined deal of hotels and flights with Etihad Airways could be a winner.

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