For the last day of our stay at Dubai we wanted to explore the capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. The city proper had a population of 921,000 in 2013 making it the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates in terms of population and the largest of the seven member emirates of the UAE. Even though our aim was to see two great places in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Ferrari World, taxi mean we hired insisted in taking us to other two attractions in the city – Emirates Place Hotel and Heritage village. The five-laned E11 highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the country’s heaviest-traveled route, and the 130-km journey can be covered in two hours. While there is a national speed limit of 120 km/h, it is allowed to speed up to 140km/h, yet this is often wildly exceeded by some drivers. This road which forms the main artery in some emirates’ main cities, where it assumes various alternate names — Sheikh Maktoum Road in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, and Sheikh Muhammed bin Salem Road in Ras Al Khaimah.
First place in Dubai we reached was Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Like all things we are going to see in Abu Dhabi, it was in a spectacularly grand scale. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was initiated by the late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His final resting place is located on the grounds beside the same mosque. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world. The mosque site is equivalent to the size five football fields approximately. As the country’s grand mosque, it is the key place of worship for Friday gathering and Eid prayers. It is the largest mosque in the UAE and numbers during Eid can be more than 40,000 people.
As a testament to the vision of its founder, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque sits majestically at the entrance to Abu Dhabi City Island, distinctly visible from the three main bridges connecting the island to the main land, Maqta, Mussafah and Sheikh Zayed Bridge. The strategic geographical location of the Mosque is a symbolic expression of the emotional connection the Mosque has in the hearts of all UAE citizens particularly because it also includes the burial place of the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan.
Though the planning to build the Mosque began in the late 1980s, its construction started only in 1996. The maximum capacity is approximately 41,000 people and the overall structure is resting on 22,412 square meters which is approximately equals the size of five football fields. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque features 82 domes of Moroccan design decorated with white marble. The main dome’s outer diameter measures 32.8 meters and stands at a height of 55 meters from the inside and approximately 85 meters from the outside – the largest of its kind. The world’s largest chandelier (10 meters in diameter, 15 meters in height and weighing over nine tones) is in the main prayer hall under the main dome. The Mosque’s seven gold-coloured chandeliers feature thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria. The world’s largest hand-knotted carpet is laid in the main prayer hall. To get an opportunity to see all these world’s best and largest architectural features, visiting the Grand Mosque is to be included in your things to do list in Abu Dhabi.
The design of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque has been inspired by both Mughal and Moorish mosque architecture, particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco being direct influences. The dome layout and floorplan of the mosque was inspired by the Badshahi Mosque and the architecture was inspired by both Mughal and Moorish design. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish and its minarets classically Arab. The design of the mosque can be best described as a fusion of Arab, Mughal and Moorish architecture.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque has been supported with more than one thousand columns in its outer areas they are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones and mother of pearl. Around thirty different types of marble have been used in the construction of the Grand Mosque. The pools along the arcades reflect the Mosque’s spectacular columns, which becomes even more glamorous at night. It is a beautiful experience to watch the Mosque during night. It is better to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the evening just before sunset so that the travelers will get an amazing opportunity to view both the sunset and night views of its breathtaking exterior. The unique lightning system reflecting the phases of the moon was designed by lightning architects Jonathon Speirs and Major. Beautiful bluish gray clouds are projected onto the external walls and every day the mosque and ambience appear little different from the last day.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has many special and unique elements: The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet made by Iran’s Carpet Company and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. This carpet measures 5,627 m2 (60,570 sq ft), and was made by around 1,200-1,300 carpet knotters. The weight of this carpet is 35 ton and is predominantly made from wool (originating from New Zealand and Iran). There are 2,268,000,000 knots within the carpet and it took approximately two years to complete.
The pools along the arcades reflect the mosque’s spectacular columns, which becomes even more glorious at night. The unique lightning system was designed by lightning architects Jonathon Speirs and Major to reflect the phases of the moon. Beautiful bluish gray clouds are projected in lights onto the external walls and get brighter and darker according to the phase of the moon.
The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl, one of the few places where you will see this craftsmanship.
The 99 attributes Allah are featured on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufic calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher – Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi. The Qibla wall also features subtle fibre-optic lighting, which is integrated as part of the organic design. In total, three calligraphy styles – Naskhi, Thuluth and Kufic – are used throughout the mosque and were drafted by Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi of the UAE, Farouk Haddad of Syria and Mohammed Allam of Jordan.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open for travelers of all nationalities to visit and appreciate the artistic splendor of the mosque, take an informative tour or simply get in to soak up the tranquility and architectural greatness. It is one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi during your stay in the city. Except on Friday it is open to visitors and tourists
There are 82 domes of various sizes and the largest is located in the center of the main prayer hall. The design elements include pure white marble cladding; onion shaped ‘crowns’ and crescent shaped finials decorated with gold-glass mosaic. The elongated windows allow the natural light to enter the prayer halls. Other domes are found on the grand gated entrance and other entrances.
The unique lightning system was designed to reflect the phases of the moon. Soft undulating clouds of a bluish gray color are projected onto the white marble external surfaces of the mosque including the façade and domes. Each day appears a little different from the next as the lighting cycle commences with darker clouds when the month is in its early stages and the moon is a small crescent. As the moon progresses through its cycle and becomes full, so does the lightning effect become more brilliant. There are twenty-two light towers consisting of an efficient number of light projectors to achieve this creative effect.
There are seven crystal chandeliers made by Faustig (Munich, Germany) situated inside the halls and foyers. The largest (located in the main prayer hall and considered one of the world’s largest in a mosque and is weighing approximately 12 tons. Two smaller versions of the same design (located also in the main prayer hall) are weighing 8 tons each. Four blue colored chandeliers of similar design and size are located in the foyer entrances surrounding the SZGM. The largest of them is weighing about 2 tons and located in the main foyer entrance. All chandeliers are made from gilded stainless steel and gilded brass (approx. 40kg of 24 carat galvanized gold was used). Glass panels studded with Swarovski crystals were installed in all of them.
The Menbar (pulpit) is includes 11 steps in allow the imam to sit in a clear location to address the large number of worshipers that Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives. It features floral and shell designs which are made of carved cedar wood inlaid with mother of pearl, glass mosaic and white gold. It has a small dome shaped ‘roof’ and crescent finial at the top of the stairs. There are carved grape vine leaves along the building’s pillars because grapes were mentioned in the Quran as one of the fruits in heaven, and that the golden prayer niche, or al Mahreb, from which the imam leads prayer, was inspired by the rivers of honey in heaven.
There are also fourteen green glass domes incorporated into the roof of the underground male and female ablution facilities. They are visible above ground and are an important feature of the Mosque’s Islamic garden design. The wash room with its huge array of mirror provided me a nice panorama view.
The magnificent Emirates Palace is a national landmark and one of the most impressive hotels and conference venues ever built. Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi offers a variety of luxury services to suit every need, whether you come on vacation with your family or for a business meeting or international conference. Set in over 100 hectares of landscaped gardens, Emirates Palace offers 1.3km of exclusive beach, two swimming pools, one designed for adventure and one for relaxation, tennis courts, cricket, a rugby pitch and soccer facilities, fitness suites and a spa, besides water sports.
The building was designed by architect, John Elliott RIBA, who was Senior Vice President at Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo, an international firm specializing in Luxury Hotels. It opened in November 2005 but certain restaurants and spas did not open until 2006. The hotel was built by and is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, and is currently managed by the Kempinski Group.
Our next destination was Emirates Palace Hotel. Emirates Palace is located on 1.3 km of private beach and surrounded by 85 hectares of gardens, with 114 domes that are 80 meters high. It is a 30 minute drive from Abu Dhabi airport and 1.5 hours drive from Dubai airport.
Many of the suites offered are furnished in gold and marble. The main central area houses an expansive marble floor, balconies and a large patterned dome above, picked out in gold. The topmost floor has six Rulers’ Suites which are reserved solely for Emirati royalty and dignitaries. The hotel also contains a large conference center. In December 2010, it boasted the world’s most expensive Christmas tree, valued at over 11 million dollars.
The costs to build the hotel were 3.9 billion GBP or 11.02 billion AED. The Emirates Palace occupies 850,000m² of floor space. Underground parking allows housing for 2,500 vehicles. There are two swimming pools and spas. The hotel has its own marina and helipad. The Emirates Palace is the second most expensive hotel ever built, only surpassed by Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
It was gold all around, there was a golden pillar, Golden teapot, even and gold vending ATM if you want gold to take home. The cakes and pastries served here come with a sprinkle of 24 karat gold powder too. It was height of opulence and sheer showmanship of wealth all around. Yes, it’s beautiful and there’s gold everywhere. The property is HUGE, but at times we felt more like we were at a museum or institutional building/government hall – mainly due to the scale of the structure. Many times I didn’t see other people around and it felt almost abandoned. Overall, the ambiance is ostentatious and aloof, but in an odd way. I can’t really describe it. In any case, I found it hard to appreciate beauty there especially after visiting serene Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
On the way from Emirates Hotel we say these tall five towers called Etihad Towers. Located on the Corniche near the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, and designed by the Australian architectural firm DBI Design is the prestigious Etihad Towers. It is a 460,000 square meter mixed-use development that includes five towers ranging from 55 to 77 floors, featuring an array of amenities, including an international five-star hotel, a boutique shopping mall, premium office tower, a hypermarket and quality residential apartments. All hotel rooms, apartments and office floors will have stunning sea views, overlooking the Abu Dhabi coastline. Tower 2 is the tallest building on Abu Dhabi island. Tower 2 has an observation deck in the 75th floor which is accessible from the hotel via a lower level linking podium.
This curious coin shaped skyscraper is the Aldar head quarters. Aldar, a real estate development and investment company in Abu Dhabi, exists to turn a profit. True to form, its futuristic HQ resembles a giant coin. Inside, 12 high-speed elevators help employees move up 23 floors that include office spaces, two cafés, prayer rooms and male and female gyms. The world’s first circular skyscraper, it’s held together by a diagonal grid of steel.
Our Next stop was Heritage village. Run by Emirates Heritage Cub, the Heritage Village provides an interesting glimpse into the country’s past. The Heritage Village is located at the extreme end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche, the Breakwater. It is a good idea to reach the Heritage Village before 5 pm as the various activities and displays are closed for the day if you come late. Photography is allowed everywhere inside and visitors can get the amazing pictures of the pre-historic Abu Dhabi. There are a number of stalls inside for everything from leather and glass to pottery and weaving.
Most of it is just made up for the tourists and I found western tourists enjoying every bit of it. It reminded me the Pilikula Fake heritage village we have in Mangalore. You can see some artisan’s pretending to be working for the tourists. It is a great photo opportunity nevertheless. What was interesting was the Abu Dhabi Corniche on one side with all the funny shaped skyscrapers over looking this strangely set heritage village.
I also saw few rich kids doing a super fast water skiing in the water. All this did not disturb the lonely Western Reef Egret who was feeding in the water.
Travelers will get a chance to see and try how the craftsmen work to make such wonderful art works. There is a small market place selling various artifacts and local collections where tourists can definitely go for some bargains to own their favorite items. The little spice shop with a range of dried herbs and handmade soap are available here. One hour is enough to spend at this amazing place to enjoy the beauty of the culture which included museums, photographic exhibitions and handicrafts center. The open museum offers a glimpse of Abu Dhabi life before oil revenues altered the landscape, economically and socially with a re-creation of the desert way of life, including a campfire with coffee pots, a goats’ hair tent, and a falaj irrigation system. There is an artificially created desert environment with Bedouin tents, camel and horse. Travelers can even go for a small trip over the camel and take desert like pictures for the memory of their visit to this wonderland. There is a nice Arabic restaurant inside the Heritage Village which faces Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Ferrari World is a Ferrari themed amusement park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The central park is situated under a 200,000 m2 roof making it the largest indoor amusement park in the world. Ferrari World officially opened on 4 November 2010. The theme park is home to Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster. The iconic roof of Ferrari World was designed by Benoy Architects. It is modeled after the side profile of a Ferrari GT. These factors make Ferrari World the largest indoor theme park in the world. Guests can purchase merchandise from several retail outlets throughout the park including the largest Ferrari Store in the world and a Ferrari boutique capable of creating personalized souvenirs. The food and beverage outlets aim to provide a true Italian dining experience.
We had 4 hours to spend and most of the ques were 15-20 minutes each, thus eating away the time. I paid AED225 to get in for the General Admission ticket. The Premium Admission tickets were priced at AED375 normally but they are definitely worth it if you plan to go on during the peak hours as you get to go on the much shorter VIP queue, especially on the Formula Rossa! I’ve gotta say it’s really an experience of a lifetime! Formula Rossa ride is, in a word, AWESOME! Imagine sitting in a car accelerating from 0 – 100km/h in 2 sec and then reaching top speeds of 240km/h, all in a ride of about 1.5min! Also, a warning to those with a big tummy, if you can’t fit in the sit, they won’t let you go on the ride! Fortunately I was slim enough to fit in :).
Anyway, enough talking here are some videos showing the ride from YouTube. I was not allowed to take my camera on the ride 🙁 Check these two videos to see what it feels like being in Formula Rossa, Point of view video of the Formula Rossa and National Geographic Mega structures Video – Worlds Fastest Roller coaster.
Here are the one’s we tried our hands on as we could not check all 20 attractions. The Scuderia Challenge is basically a Ferrari F1/GT simulator. You can opt to go for the group option with smaller less powerful simulators but you get to race with your friends or go solo and pay AED50 for the real thing and I definitely recommend the F1 option where you get to be strapped in to the car like a real F1 driver and the handling feels really real, even up to the vibrations of driving on the grass or the kerb! Also, the tickets are time slotted i.e. if they give you a ticket that says it’s gonna be at 4pm, you can go do other stuff and then come back at 4pm to play.
G-Force could have been a great ride but it seems the tower is too short and you barely clear the roof of the Ferrari World Park so there’s no view at all. Fiorano GT Challenge sounds like a cool concept, 2 roller coasters side-by-side interweaving at some points to give the illusion of a near miss collision but it seems like it goes a bit too slow, and if you’ve taken the Formula Rossa before taking this one, it won’t be that exciting and is just a normal roller coaster.
V12 is basically a guided boat ride through the heart of the Ferrari Engine. However, this ride is really disappointing. They tried to create the illusion of movement with lighting but everything else is a static display. There are too many dark spots you have to pass through and there is no commentary explaining which parts of the engine you are going through. I think Ferrari World really needs to do something to this ride as it falls off the standard so badly compared to the other rides. Speed of Magic is a 4-D simulator i.e. 3D animated scenes and a moving carousel. It’s aimed at teenagers or young kids but I was very impressed by the 4D effects, the 3D was perfect and you can see a lot of effort has been put into decorating this ride. The Paddock is where you get to see behind the scene action on the F1 racetrack. There are some props where you can take pictures of, but basically that’s it. Cinema Maranello is where you get to see a 15 min film about Enzo Ferrari racing back in the 1920s. The cinema is very glamourous and the film is quite entertaining as well. Galleria Ferrari is where you get to see up close a range of Ferraris, from the Ferrari 275 to the Testarossa & F40 plus the Schumacher F1 cars! However, there are no signs near the cars to explain to you what those cars are and why they became famous. Racing Legends is another ride but this is more educational, a definite must for any racing enthusiast or Ferrari fan, where they showcased the achievements of Ascari, Lauda, Scheckter, Villeneuve & Schumacher! However, I’m surprised they left out Alain Prost & Nigel Mansell!
Also, there are some Ferraris parked at spots around the park, where you can pose next to them and take pictures but you’re not allowed to sit inside them though. Anyway, I only managed to spot an old Alfa Romeo (same as the one in the film in Cinema Maranello), the Ferrari California, 599 & a 458 and also a couple of Ferrari F1 cars. There are also quite a number of other rides designed to be more kid-friendly like the Junior GP, Bell’Italia, Junior GT & Training Camp.
After all this fun it was time to bid goodbye to Abu Dhabi and we returned back to Dubai for a good night’s rest. Next morning we had to checkout from our hotel. As I was sitting in the lobby I looked up and here is how I found the beautiful bobby with skylight of our hotel.
Travel from the hotel to terminal 2 of Dubai airport was a brief one. There was very little fuss as compared to our Indian airport. After checking in we proceeded to the quite a large duty free area. Even though there was lot of time I saw all my co-passengers rushing as though it was last minute sale into duty free. Almost all (probably except us) were eager to buy liters of Liquor, perfumes and those standard Swiss chocolates :). When our transport towards plane arrived we boarded the flight which took after a slight delay.
The view below was initially dusty as we climbed higher I could make out the city outline of Dubai. As you can see it is the mirage built on desert sand. You don’t feel at all you are in a desert. temperature, hard conditions are never felt a tourists. The lavish lifestyle, excessive water consumption, maintaining all the semblance of beautiful look by growing greenery in barren desert makes it feel as though you live a garden. The whole economy revolves around creating and spending money. If not for the lavish lifestyle, nightlife, malls and buying spree Dubai would not exist. Same can be said about the people who flock there for the work. The living conditions are better, but working conditions are bitterly hard.
It is an economy built on sand, oil and tourists. When the last two support crumble, it will also crumble. Till then we can go and visit this mirage of the desert.
I am glad for the encouragement I got to create this 5 part travelogue. Many of my readers have sent lots of letters of encouragement and their suggestions. I am grateful to all of you.