Dubai is a bustling modern metropolis. However, off the beaten path, away from the shining skyscrapers is a Dubai few know about. It is a part of Dubai city with a striking semblance to our old towns such as Mombasa and Lamu. A little over 50 years ago, Dubai was small, nondescript even. The Bedouin people and their camels inhabited the surrounding desert where modern a metropolis now stands.
To get a feel of the ‘real’ Dubai, you must leave the comfort of your air-conditioned hotel room and head to Bur Dubai and Deira, the ‘back streets’ of Dubai.
The general architecture in Old Dubai mimics a bygone era. For instance, Dubai Museum in Bastakiya is located inside the city’s oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787. Like Fort Jesus, Al Fahidi was built to protect the inhabitants from invaders and even served as a prison. Long before mechanical cooling systems became the vogue, wind towers were used to cool homes in Old Dubai. A number of these tall structures still stand in Bastakiya. Not far away is the house of Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai from 1912-1958.
Gold Souk Avoid fake news! Subscribe to the Standard SMS service and receive factual, verified breaking news as it happens. Text the word ‘NEWS’ to 22840 The Souk, or market area in Deira is perhaps the most traditional part of the city. The streets are narrow and congested. The low lying structures at the souk have served as Dubai’s gold market since the 1940s. “While visitors are mesmerised by the towering structures such as the Burj Khalifa, the real wealth is made here at the souk. These tiny alleys are home to some of the richest men in Dubai,” states Mahmoud Said, a resident and tour guide with Arabian Adventures. He is right. Estimates put the amount of gold present at any given time in Deira at 10 tons, mainly traded by Indian and Iranian traders.
If you have ever visited Nairobi’s Ngara area with the many spice shops, then you will be home in Dubai’s spice city. Here, open-air and closed roof stalls are stacked with fragrances, spices, frankincense, incense and other herbs. Walking through the spice souk takes you on a sensory journey.
Dubai may be known internationally for its free port. Next to the bustling market of Deira is an old port used by older versions of sea vessels that, according to Said, have made voyages to the East African coast. The wooden dhows and boats have traditionally served the original residents of Dubai in navigating the local waterways as they dived for pearls, the key economic activity before oil became a big thing in the Emirates. The Abra, or water taxis are more colourful and are the local versions of our matatus.
The next time you visit Dubai, venture into the alleyways where real life happens.