The soul of Old Dubai

To truly understand a country or a city, one must dig deep into its roots. Shiny buildings and stunning man-made attractions may amaze you for a while, but it is a city’s culture and heritage that stays with you forever. If you visit the booming emirate of Dubai, do not limit yourself to seeing only the towering Burj Khalifa or the incredible man-made islands. Visit the very heart and soul of Dubai, and immerse yourself in the true Bedouin origins of the city.

Old Dubai is where history began in this flourishing desert paradise. The Emiratis still managed to keep their culture and traditions alive and strongly anchored along Dubai Creek. The museums, art galleries, traditional villages, mosques, and bustling souks are amazing destinations that any visitor to Dubai should not miss.

Teeming with a rich and colorful history, the Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai) has been petitioned to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  More than 10 kilometers long, the creek winds inland dividing Old Dubai into two sections, Bur Dubai and Deira. It ends at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, a renowned urban protected reserve for migratory birds.

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Trade in Dubai started in the creek area. It was the original center of commerce in the early 20th century before the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was born.  It served as a port for dhows (traditional Arabian boats) coming from India or East Africa.

The fishing and pearling industries were also primarily based in the creek. Dubai relied on the creek’s warm shallow waters that supported an abundant variety of marine life. Today, it is still bustling with boats supplying passage and cargo within the city as well as to and from nearby countries.

To fully experience the beauty of the Dubai Creek, start at Bastakiya. Situated near the Al Fahidi Fort, it is the oldest residential area in Dubai. It was constructed back in the 1690s with narrow lanes and wind towers. Prior to the introduction of air-conditioning, traditional wind towers were used to keep the interiors of buildings cool despite the heat outdoors. These wind towers rose above a house’s roof and are open in all four directions catching wind and redirecting it into the interiors of the house. It was quite charming and could totally transport you into a whole new world. Think Agrabah in the Disney animated film, Aladdin.

A lot of Emiratis trace their roots in this area. The Bani Yas tribe, one of the most prestigious and highly regarded tribes of Southern Arabia, settled in the Bur Dubai side of the creek establishing the Al Maktoum dynasty, the current ruling family in Dubai.

The Al Fahidi District is also home to the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). Aimed to raise awareness on the local culture, customs and religion of the Emiratis, the SMCCU provides activities to those interested to know more about Dubai and its people. Activities include heritage tours, cultural meals, Jumeirah Mosque visits, Arabic classes, cultural awareness, and creekside tours.

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Not far is the Dubai Museum, which has colorful life-size displays depicting life in Dubai in the early days. It also has galleries showing scenes from the creek, mosques, old Arab houses, date farms, and desert life. There are also artifacts that were recovered from excavations or graves that date back thousands of centuries ago.

After exploring the Bur Dubai side of the creek, you can take an abra (water taxi) for only Dhs 1 to cross the creek to Deira. Head to the souks (market) where great bargains are available left and right. At the Spice Souk, you can smell the aroma of various spices wafting in the air and buy yourself some exotic herbs and spices to go. Nearby are shops overflowing with glittering gold and platinum at the Gold Souk. There are also stores where you can purchase souvenirs, carpets, and other items. Haggling is the name of the game, so don’t hesitate to negotiate for the best bargain that you can get. And even if you’re not buying, this place is still a must-see.

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