Category Archives: Travel

Non Muslim? Visit Jumeriah Mosque

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

While in Dubai, a visit to Jumeriah Mosque is a MUST.

As a non-muslim, there are probably very very very (did I say very?) few places in the world where can you can enter a mosque. The enticing domes, the calls for prayer, the water tank outside where pigeons and humans wash their feet, the carvings have been very enticing to me. After living in Hyderabad I have seen a couple of mosques from outside.

I have seen beautiful pictures of people praying together during Ramzan inside the mosque.

When I found out that Jumeriah mosque welcomes everyone to their place of worship so that they can educate people about Islamic culture and Emirati way of life and traditions; I was all up for a visit. The mosque in itself is very beautiful and the educational tour was an added cherry on top. Everyday (except Fridays) at 10:00 am, a tour is offered at the mosque. Arrive by 9:45 am to buy the nominally charged ticket and don a head scarf or a hijab is you are not dressed modestly (head, shoulder and knees must be covered inside the mosque).

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

The tour starts promptly at 10:00 am. The guide talks about how to prepare to enter a mosque ( washing and ablutions) , the importance of Mecca, five pillars of Islam ( There is only one God, Pray 5 X day, Fasting and Self Control during Ramadan, Donate saved money that you are not using for anything else to charity, Visit Haj if financially/physically possible without taking credit), how is the prayer done, what does it mean for an Emirati to dress modestly etc.

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Visit to Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Oh, kids are welcome on the tour. Varun sat in the women’s prayer room which is off to one side playing quietly with toys while Vipul and I  listened to the talk. He also liked seeing the books kept on the low stands and pretended to read them. Most older kids sat patiently listening to the talk with their parents as well.

I think all cultures are riddled with myths and stereotypes (some more negative than others) and having a program such as this in a landmark setting in the most modern Islamic city is a great start.

Probably if every big city in the world had such a program for all religions it will dispels so much negativity and let us civilians live ( and let others live ) in peace.

If you do have a free morning in Dubai, do visit this program. It can be combined with a cultural lunch or breakfast where you can learn and sample Emirati cultural foods. We couldn’t go on that tour but the photos on SMCC site are very tempting!

Dubai Adventures: Desert Safari

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One of the most popular things to do in Dubai is to go out in the evening for desert safari. Depending on the tour operator that you choose to go with, it includes dune bashing, sand skiing, camel rides, dinner in the desert with belly dancing, henna painting etc.Dune bashing was the highlight of the trip. Vipul couldn’t stop raving about it. I skipped as it was too much for my 28 week pregnant self to handle and of course I didn’t want Varun to partaking in it either. The ride is crazy rough (how crazy depends on your driver).

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We booked the tour after we reached Dubai and went with Arabian Nights. Apparently more exclusive (read expensive) tour operators take you out to a conservation area to talk about desert conservation, bedouin lifestyles, falconry etc, but this tour was a pure “entertainment”.Even though it is evening safari, we were picked up from our hotel around 3:00 pm and then dropped off by 9:30 pm.They dropped Varun and me at the desert camp and went with others to the dune bashing area. They were still setting up the camp so Varun and I wandered around the small dunes, watching camels and sunset from a ridge.

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Vipul loved the sand bashing part – roller coaster rides amongst dunes so high that it was impossible to keep up. He only got a sense of how vast the desert is when they stopped for sunset photo ops. The sunset watching area was crowded with all tour operators descending on the same spot for sunset and then whisking the tourists away to various camps for dinner.

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As Varun and I were at the camp before everyone else, we bagged some prime seats. After sunset, it began to cool a bit and the freshly made shwarma and falafel were what we needed. Even Varun enjoyed the falafel and freshly baked bread from tandoor.

Fortified, we went out to try the camel ride ( a joke of a 2 minute ride), henna painting, seeing the falcon and trying the sand skiing.

Over dinner, we got to see an amazing Tanoura  dance. Although not local to the area, the Tanoura dancers are a sight to watch. With their colorful long flowing skirts they twirl around at dizzying speeds. The origin of the dance is in Sufi tradition and is to symbolize union between Earth and Heaven with the twirling motion indicating seasons, movement of earth around Sun as well as around Mecca. Here the whole act was to entertain us tourists and earn a living. Maybe some day when we go to Egypt we will experience the dance the way it is intended to be. But for now, it got us hooked!

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

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Followed by the Tanoura dance was a belly dance – again not a regional dance but something to keep us entertained. She was good as belly dancers go. Folks milled around over food, Arabic coffee, sheesha while the belly dancer entertained.

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The good part about the camp setup was that the sheesha hut was setup away from the main seating area. So we were not bothered by the smoke. And other family friendly activities like henna painting, sand art, dressing up in local garb, souvenir shop etc were away from sheesha hut.

After dinner and entertainment, we headed back to our hotel. It was about an hours ride away. Folks we shared the car with were sloshed and slept all the way. Varun didn’t want to come back. He was happy playing in the sand and digging up a storm while we had dinner. Needless to say there was some crying involved but he slept en-route as he was tired to.

If you have one day in Dubai, do this tour. There is nothing more entertaining and adventurous than this! And of course this is what everyone back home will ask you about (besides Al Burj) ;)!!

Snow Fights and Fun Galore @ Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai

One of the best places for kids in Dubai is Ski Dubai, especially if they have not seen snow before like Varun!

Located in Mall of Emirates, its the largest indoor ski and snow park of its kind. Varun was reluctant to go and wanted to instead go to the pool in the hotel. We somehow managed to convince him that throwing snow at mamma will be more fun. We reached there, bought our tickets ( again Explorer has a 2 for 1  deal on adult tickets) and changed in shoes and snow suits ( included in ticket price). We had carried our skiing gloves and hats but there is an option to buy them there.

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai

Varun was so excited once we reached the place, he barely had the patience to change into snowsuit and wear hat and mittens.

Once inside he just wanted to scoop up the snow, form a ball and throw it at me and Vipul.

Ski Dubai

And the other thing he loved was tubing. He took so many turns going up the slope with the tandem tubing tires in tow and flying down the slope. He especially loved when it turned and twisted.

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai

And then he had fun pulling Vipul on the sled!

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai

Slightly older kids loved the toboggan slides. And their parents had a hard time taking them away from the slides. We didn’t try skiing or Zorbing but even those are available inside the park at an additional cost.

Ski Dubai
The only weird part was that as the ski dome has a glass wall shared with restaurants and the mall, it was funny watching people in shorts and dresses outside while you are in frigid temperature. It felt a bit like we were in a zoo with others watching us while we played in snow.

Even we had to drag Varun out of the park after a few hours. He was tired but didn’t want to stop playing.

Albeit expensive, it was the best part of Dubai trip for Varun. The smiles and giggles were totally worth it!! Don’t miss it especially of you are from tropical parts of the world.

Psst: Read more about our Dubai adventures here!

Stunning Dubai Fountains

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Dubai is known for its superlatives – Dubai fountains being one of them.

They are the tallest fountains and dance to the music over a large man-made lake flanked by Burj Al Khalifa and Dubai Mall, similar to the ones in Bellagio, Las Vegas. The similarity is striking as the developers for both the projects are the same.

People flock here every evening from 6:00 pm onwards to see the show. Music varies by show. The views of Burj Al Khalifa and sunset over the skyscrapers behind the lake are particularly beautiful and make for great photo ops as you wait. We had an African song once and a Bollywood song one other time accompanying the fountains show. The place is packed as people try to occupy spot along the promenade, the bridge etc. So come early and stay for a couple of songs. Finding a cab after the show is hard as everyone tries to exit at the same time.

The best way, IMO, to experience the fountains is from one the boat ride on the lake. It is expensive but you get a view without jostling others. With a kid not having to worry about them getting lost in the crowd is always worth it.

It’s the best free attraction in Dubai.

Rest in photos.

PS: Looks like I need to learn to photograph dancing fountains better. Any tips appreciated!!

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What A Lot of Fish There Are:Dubai’s Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Varun loves Dr Suess book One Fish, Two fish. He can almost’ read’ it from memory. Naturally given that interest, one of the first things we did in Dubai was to take him to the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.

Located in the Dubai Mall, you can see the huge wall of aquarium tank with all kinds of fishes even without entering the aquarium. As an adult that would be sufficient to say you saw the Aquarium. Or try snorkeling or learn to dive. With a kid its a different story. Walk in the tunnel sounded fun with fishes floating all around. Varun always likes any kind of boat ride and while we didn’t really care for the underwater zoo, the hanging rope bridge there turned out to be most fun for Varun.

We had a 2 for 1 coupon (from Entertainer) for Adults ultimate ticket which included the glass bottom tour, walk through the tunnel and visit to the underwater zoo. We planned to be there just as they opened to avoid a crowd.

Walk through the Underwater Tunnel

Tunnel in Dubai Aquarium & underwater park

While we were waiting in line for the ticket, Varun was excited to see the fishes, but once in the tunnel, he didn’t care much about it. There were schools groups on trips and the teachers seemed to make the aquarium very interesting ( from identifying colors and shapes for younger kids, to talking about food and habitat with older kids).  The tunnel is really only 75 m long which is not too long if you think about it.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

And it ends abruptly. Like a rude awakening you exit and walk through a small Photo Booth and souvenir shop and have to go up the escalator outside the aquarium to see the underwater zoo.

Underwater Zoo 

The underwater zoo was more interesting. With lots of fish tanks with different colorful fishes, crabs, star fishes, penguins, crocodiles and even some creepy crawlies ( snakes, iguanas); Varun liked this section the most. But whenever there was a school group he would lose interest and run to the next tank.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

He liked the rope hanging bridge in the creepy-crawlies section and just enjoyed running from one end to another.  We literally had to drag him out of there when a large school group arrived.

Glass bottom Boat ride

By then it was time for our glass bottom boat ride (a time slot if pre-assigned when you buy the tickets). Varun was amused to put on the life jacket and then loved seeing the fishes from a different perspective. He didn’t know where to look – out of the boat or through the glass bottom.  The boat ride is about 10 – 15 mins.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

After the boat ride though he was a bit tired (from the move, travel and jet lag). Overall it was a good start to the 3-week long vacation.

We headed to lunch while he napped in the stroller.

Stay tuned for more adventures in Dubai. 

Missed earlier posts about Dubai?? See them all starting here.

Modern Opulence Of Dubai

Iconic Al Burj in Dubai

Dubai – it evokes all kinds of emotions.

A desert oasis, cosmopolitan city on persian gulf, progressive, and a city of superlatives: man-made islands, largest indoor ski, worlds best 7 star luxury resort, tallest building and tallest musical fountains. It’s also a city of extremes – modest but progressive Emirati (as people of UAE are known) rubbing shoulders with the folks dressed in latest fashions and trends; glitzy towering high rises overlooking traditional mosques; high desert temperatures outside with the coolest of the air-conditioning indoors; arid desert surrounding turquoise swimming pools in almost all hotels (without the water fee as charged in Las Vegas); traditional gold souks and glittering malls with displays of diamonds and gold as if its going out of fashion.

Dressed in Traditional Emirati Attire in Dubai

We always thought we will visit Dubai en-route to US or India. It was always an after thought. But lugging so many bags was never appealing and we never visited Dubai.

This time however, we had no choice but to break our journey in Dubai. Hyderabad has best connections to San Francisco via Dubai on Emirates airlines. The Dubai – SFO flight usually leaves around 9:00 am local time. Which means we have to leave Hyderabad at 2:00 am to make it to Dubai on time. With a toddler and almost in my third trimester, I didn’t want to travel in middle of night. So we decided to take a day flight to Dubai and stay there for a few days.

Sheik Zayed Road Skyscrapers in Dubai

Plus, the service on Emirates is top-notch. I trusted them to help me out incase I experienced any issues en-route than any European airline.

With the dates planned out, we were set to make rest of the planning; activities, lodging, visa etc.

UAE Visa

If you are flying with Emirates, getting a visa is a breeze. They have an option to apply for a visa online. You fill in passport details. upload a photo online and pay for it. Visa is emailed to you on approval. Simple and efficient.

Makes you wonder why other countries don’t follow this simple procedure?

Worlds Tallest Building - Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Where to Stay 

Dubai officially has many areas to stay and visit but as tourist ( and one with kids), you want to base yourself in one of the two areas: around Dubai Mall or in Dubai Marina. Both are happening areas with tons of activities, restaurants and lodging options from luxury condos to hotels.

If its your first visit to the city, don’t stay at the beach resort if you plan to do other sight-seeing. Dubai is not really known for its beaches and you will have to hail a cab every time you need to visit the city’s attractions.

Traditional Towers to Channel Cooling Wind in Dubai

We chose to stay near Dubai Mall at Al Murooj Rotana. As we planned this trip fairly last-minute, budget was the main reason for going for this hotel. But we were glad with the room, its size, amenities on the property (swimming pool, Wi-Fi, Club room with breakfast and proximity to Dubai Mall. There was some mix up when we got there, we got a teeny tiny room assigned but managed to get it changed.

A Mosque in Bur Dubai

Also, we had a promotional mailer to upgrade to Club Room which we signed up for. At 130 AED  this entitled us to breakfast, wi-fi in room and evening snacks/tapas and drinks. A steal really if you consider the cost individually. But when we reached there they said that the promotional offer is expired at that price but the same is available for 250 AED.

Given that breakfast itself would have cost us 120 – 150 AED everyday, we signed up for this. In hindsight this worked out very well. We ended up making evening snacks our meals as Varun was sleepy and too tired to go out anywhere. Ordering dinner or eating at on-site restaurant would have ben even more $$.

Sunset and Camels at Dessert Safari in Dubai

Activities

Dubai has a fantastic array of activities for all ages. Skiing, Sky Diving, Hot Air Balloon rides, Zorba, Sand boarding, Sailing and Dune bashing for the more adventurous, aquarium, dolphinarium, unique kid themed museums for the kids, malls and souks for those into couture to street side shopping, to beaches and parks for those who want to just chill.

We wanted to incorporate Varun in most of our activities so that he won’t get too bored with site-seeing. This is what we went for (details in ensuing posts).

Entertainer book has 1 for 2 coupons on most of the activities below other than entry to Burj Khalifa. The book costs about AED 350 but sometimes is available on Ebay or trip advisor for a discount. Each book has 3 coupons for each activity and even restaurants. So even if someone has used one or two coupons you can still buy it from them. Even at full price for us it saved us $$ on meals and activities. Highly recommended even if you plan on doing few activities like us.

1. Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Park

2. Dubai Fountains

3. Abra Boat ride on Dubai Creek to Gold Souk

4. Ski Dubai

5. Dolphinarium

6. Jumeriah Mosque

7. Beach

8. Desert Safari with Sand dunes bashing

9. Visit Top of World at Burj Khalifa

Varun enjoyed Dubai as much as he could have, given that he was still upset over leaving Hyderabad and his stuff getting packed. He wanted to go back home to Jayabheri. But since the trip, he calls every tall building the “tallest building in the world”. Now that we are in San Francisco, he wants to go back to Dubai.

I think visiting Dubai without young kids would be way more fun. You can visit bars and restaurants that are 21 years and older that offer killer views of the city. You could indulge in Retail therapy all day long. And of course you can do all adventure sports available under the sun.

Oh well, we enjoyed what we could and we can’t wait for Varun to be older so we can do some of the activities together 🙂

Stay tuned for more Dubai trip details!

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