Monday, January 16, 2012

A lesson in History as you shop? What an Idea!

It was a vacation we were taking with the children. And children being children wanted to explore every possible activity a child could indulge in, in Dubai. So we went hopping - from one end of Dubai to another, covering every possible unique experience the children wanted to enjoy. Most of these activities in Dubai are located inside Malls.

Malls - These huge structures have virtually redefined the way Indians shop or spend time on weekends. Outings with friends, children, shopping, eating out, cinemas and even a smattering of adventure activities are all centered around Malls.

Even in Dubai.

What is different however, is that while we see Malls in India as virtual replicas of eachother - with the same stores, similar food courts and similar modern albeit complicated architecture (ever tried to find a way out of the topmost floor in a Mall? You have a choice between taking the escalator down all two - three flights, virtually going around in circles as you maneuver your way through strolling couples and running children, or walking a couple of kilometres till you get to an elevator), Malls in Dubai, perhaps because they have been enticing retail buyers for much longer now, have re-invented themselves. And how!

Dubai Malls offer myriad architecture and therefore a different shopping-hopping experience - from the Pyramids of Egypt in the WAFI Mall, to the Ibn Battuta that has been constructed with several "courts" (areas, wings) based on the architecture of the countries visited by the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta!

Themed around the travels of Battuta, the mall’s six courts reflect the most influential places he travelled to. So they have a Persian Court, (the new template of my blog is a picture taken in this Mall), a China, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia and even an Indian Court with a majestic Maharaja riding his even more majestic Elephant (which is actually a clock) with the opulence Indian kings were famous for.

Not just the architecture, but in the atrium of each of the wings or courts, there exist small museums; glass panels with artifacts of the era when Battuta undertook his travels and the things he brought back to the Arab world. 

Snippets of India's history - the reign of the Sultans, the map of the Sultanate of Delhi, the kind of spices available in India etc - virtual snatches on Indian history are visible for the interested.

Tired as we were walking in the Malls, we hardly had the chance to see the whole Ibn Battuta. But we also decided to leave the rest of it for another time. And perhaps another time. 

A good travel post MUST give you details. Here they are:

If you are planning to visit Dubai, this site is good to get an update on the Malls worth hopping in to. The way the city is planning its upcoming Malls, I am certain its a matter of time before Mall Tourism gains popularity here! Most malls also have their own websites with online bookings options available for the cinemas as well as other mall activities. 

To Mall hoppers, a few words of caution:

1. Wearing comfortable footwear is a very good idea (even though you will find most Arab women in 5 inch high pencil heels strolling as if in a park and will be tempted - after Day 1 - to saunter out of your hotel in your own... BAD idea!) because the walks around the expansive Malls will definitely kill your feet. Malls in Dubai are HUGE, especially the new ones and it is sometimes a good idea to take the paid shuttle service, especially if you'd just like to 'see' the ...errrr....mall... and not shop..

2. Most Taxi pick-up points and drop-off points in a Mall may be at two opposite ends. (Yes, they give some of us tourists a splendid experience of dragging ourselves around the mall with two children screeching 'My legs are killing me' and a lady who just decided to wear her...ahem...heels!!!) 

So before you embark on the long journey across hundreds of meters, do ask the enquiry desk about the pick-up points for a cab and plan your voyage accordingly. 

And if you have your own car? Well, I don't know about that but after seeing the levels of parking and the accesses to most of these malls, I'd say a taxi is a good option. Or even the Metro - that actually opens inside the Mall of the Emirates. How's that for convenience!!!

3. Malls have food courts. Which is good. Sometimes. (Only if you have been starving for Indian food for example and have, somehow, missed ALL the Indian restaurants about town!) Else, the food courts are generally exorbitant and much like their Indian counterparts, are abuzz with a strange din that dissipates the minute you get 2 meters away from the boundary! There is also, in all likelihood a clamour for seats. So grab yours (Its allowed. Its not Europe for Heaven's sake!)

In food courts too you have to walk a lot and if you are an adventurous foodie, you may end up spending a larger part of your Mall experience in one of them (with cuisines from across the world being on offer together with numerous Salad, Soups, Juices, Ice Creams and what have you's thrown in!) and long queues to get your order. (Heartening to know somethings DON'T happen ONLY in India!!!)

4. The best thing about malls? The loos. I don't like to use the word 'restrooms' - it just sounds so haughty! Good, incredibly clean with all requisite needs for the job thrown in - they're a treat. And they use water too :-)

But leave aside all the ifs, buts and the troublesome will-make-you-lose-weight-or-end-up-murdering-your-feet negativities, Dubai Malls are grand and offer a unique experience.

Back to Ibn Battuta though, as we sat in Starbucks and sipped Cappuccino, this was the overhead view:
This is an enormous dome that has "a spectacular display of characteristic arabesque ornamentation based on the design of a Persian carpet."

Gorgeous! Worth visiting, isn't it?

The video is a collection of photos taken in Ibn Battuta... Enjoy!

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