Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dubai, a Dessert Dream!

We don’t sit in our cars & start driving without knowing our destination. We must know where to go before starting our car… Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed also known as Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and constitutional monarch of Dubai. Since his accession in 2006, he has undertaken major reforms in the UAE's government, starting with the UAE Federal Government Strategy in April 2007. In 2010 he launched UAE Vision 2021 with the aim of making the UAE "One of the best countries in the world" by 2021. He is responsible for the growth of Dubai into a global city, as well as the launch of a number of major enterprises including Emirates Airline, DP World and the Jumeirah Group. When I step out of the Emirates 777 EP 502 at Dubai airport, it’s exact after 20 years I was returning to the land which people calls Dream of Desert! And as of habit the first thing I do in any new city is try to read as much about the city, the people & the rulers as it gives you better understanding of the place. And it’s in a magazine I came across this quote of Dubai’s present ruler & these very simple looking words gave me first insight of what I am going to see ahead in next five days stay! Those of us who have been used to read every day interviews & twitting of our leaders, are well versed with the usual allegation quotes & pass the buck type attitude they adopt. And here is a Sheikh, a King who doesn’t has any opposition or need not have to face a single election, yet look at the clarity in his thoughts & it’s these words which differentiates the great leaders from ordinary ones!

Actually in recent years my all vacations & travelling has been focused around the forests & whatever learning I got through the same I was happy with it. So a travel to concrete & glass jungle like Dubai came as surprise; as my cousin Kedar who is veteran of Dubai tourism now & my engg batch mate Sanjay Gawali who is in Dubai now for more than 10 years, both were on my head to visit the place. And yes, unless you don’t see what’s happening around the world you never improve is what wise men say! And then Dubai is hardly two & half hour flight from Mumbai, in the same time you reach Kolkata if you fly towards east! So somewhat enthusiastically but reluctantly both at same time, I agreed for the trip & hop on to the Emirates flight to Dubai. I had been to the city exactly twenty years back, & that was my first trip out of India, so Dubai has always special place in my mind. As it’s here only a young man has started his journey to explore the world outside of India. Strangely after that I have never been to Dubai though had been many a times at Dubai airport & kept reading Dubai’s development as well from many friends who has been there keep hearing too, how the city has prospered & its shopping as well buildings & many such things. Then twenty years back also Dubai was a dream with all the shops full with electronic goods & fashion houses, names of which has been not ever heard; but it was just a shopper’s paradise then & a dry arid desert surrounding the glass facades. And then the image of the city portrayed through the bollywood movies of Dubai was just a den of underworld dons & super riches holiday shopping destination, that’s all!
What I observed this time right from the entry is the attitude of the city which has changed; as it’s not just tall buildings & some eight lanes free ways that makes a city but the way city people meet you is what make a city. And on that scale a sea change was there, the city has become more human, more smiling & friendlier. It meets you with a warm hug just like one you will get from your friend from college days! And this is something no other city in Middle East can do to an outsider & this was the first glimpse of the changed face of Dubai! And then next five days I was moving through every street & corner of Dubai, gathering different images of the city in my mind as well camera. The names Karama, Burr Dubai, Deara, Meena Bazar, Gold Souk where familiar yet most old building have given up & now the main Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road is aligned with tallest sky scrapers with most innovative architecture in the world but that’s not what I intend to see as there are many all around the world, what I wanted to see is what the city is offering to its citizen as that’s what differentiates a good city from average cities! And on that account full marks to the Dubai rulers, right from Metros to state of art bus service to the well planned network of roads & signal system to public parking facilities to water management everything is at par with any good city in the world. Many will say what’s big deal, doesn’t they are filthy rich country already & they can buy anything they want & then they have a single ruler in the form of a Sheikh, so no elections ,no opposition types challenges he has to face. But as many must not be knowing Dubai don’t have any oil & all they were was just a shopping destination for tourists, so to convert a shopping destination in to a world class city without any oil money isn’t n easy job. And then just having money doesn’t guaranties that you will make a good city!  And a ruler having supreme power also doesn’t make a country or a city a better place to live, this also we have witnessed. We have witnessed Govt’s with fullest majority & literally no opponent, yet what real change we saw & who has stopped our rulers to make at least one ideal city in the country?

The present Sheikh & his predecessor has ultimate power but then just ultimate power doesn’t change faith of a country but how one use that power is what makes it possible. As Mr. Maktom has mentioned in his quote, first he decided where he wanted to take his City & then he started his journey towards the destination. And what we are seeing today is outcome of years of hard earned journey as during the travel Dubai has gone through many difficulties of which finance was also one major. To start projects worth of billions of dollars is easy but to finish them in time & gaining trust of investors all around the globe is very tough job which Dubai ruler has done over the years successfully. Today every big name in business wants to get associated with Dubai. Every fashion house & every car maker launches there new range first in Dubai market. From ATP i.e. world ranking tennis tournament to cricket matches to Formula One car racing, every sport played at International level has an event here. This isn’t effect of just a shopping hub but this is outcome of making city which has something for everyone coming here & that’s what makes Dubai special.

The Metro has been a boon for tourists as it connects major destinations which are tourist’s attractions like Burj Khalifa & most of the malls. And then there is supporting network of bus service which connects all the metro station & finally the road network allowing the busses to reach their destinations in time! At the same time bicycles have been made available to public outside every metro station & at mostly all bus stops & that too at very modest rent & there are cycle tracks in usable condition. And success is taxi use has been minimized so making the tourists saves a lot on commuting making Dubai a dearer destination for tourists. Then a range of hotel accommodation has been made available, from One million rupees per day charging seven stared Burj Arab to service apartments which one can get at few thousand rupee per day, every option is available for visitors here. And the policies are made accordingly & executed as planned is what more important. And this is outcome of knowing the destination of the journey before start. The metro stations I can understand but even the bus stops are air-conditioned, probably only of their kind in entire world. This enables the people to use public transport like bus even in hottest of summer where the mercury rises to nearly fifty degrees, as they don’t have to wait of footpath in open for the bus! This is what money in good hands makes the difference. As we have seen in Pune that we can’t even keep our shades like bus stops in shape & spend millions on wrongly designed stainless steel bus stops which are useless to serve the purpose. At the same time every bus stop has a cc tv monitoring the activities at the bus stop & ensures that the busses run on time as well stop on exact positions designated for them near the bus stop.  Agreed we are a poor country & can’t afford air conditioned bus stop but a least making the busses stop at proper place & not right in mid of the road is surely we can do which we don’t ever try is a fact! Smallest of the details like fixing corrugated metal strip on floor of metro platforms, which enables blinds to use the metro easily have been thought of & executed. Also for private vehicle users have ample of public parking lots & with facility to pay for the parking even by sms via mobile, type apps are there. What I liked most is the entire city has been divided in four zones i.e. A, B, C & D for public parking places & one can pay yearly fee for parking so if that tag/card is there on the car then you need not have to put coins in the machine every time & this facility is available for zone wise as well entire city wise too! This is what I consider as good governance as the Govt is thinking to make citizen’s life comfortable by trying every way & use the technology as a tool; why can’t we adopt so simple things from our neighbors is always a puzzle to me!

While keeping tourists at center, at the same time Sheikh & his team has been trying to make life of the citizen who works at different levels more easier. Petrol rates are cheap & yet public transport is high on agenda, at the same time in every locality there are huge gardens in making as well community centers are being build. From all over the world people come for their earnings here & most are associated with infrastructure development. At work sites special care has being taken for the workers with designated rest area & the Dubai Municipal Corporation supervise the ongoing constructions through helicopter surveillance as well satellites! Earlier I used to hear the comments that people feel unsafe in Dubai & feel insecure from the policies of Govt but no more that’s been observed & that’s the reason more & more people are settling down in Dubai as it’s becoming more social. As one may go to any place for work when objective is money earning but one will settle only at a place where he is socially comfortable & the present Sheikh seems to have understood this very basic logic of human settlement! 

No more I met anyone who was complaining about feeling uncomfortable in this Dubai, rather gone are the days of lone men living here for earning & keeping families back at home; now even families are also getting settled along happily in Dubai & that’s the biggest positive change I feel!

Another important aspect I found is the efforts Dubai is taking in making it green, as that’s some real tough job. By spending millions you can make a concrete jungle but it needs far more than money to create a green jungle in dessert! As miles along there is nothing but white sand & to plant a tree & make it grow is near to impossible but Dubai has made it possible. The roads are lined up with trees like neem & dates, which survive in driest lands & with every known technique to conserve water even lush grass lawns, have been made to survive. And result is in this trip I saw sparrows & many birds & lots of them around sightings of which are getting rare in even cities like Pune! Though on one front the city is lacking & that is use of Solar power; with nearly 300 days of sun light the city could save a lot on power by using solar for water heating as well lighting. But most of the residential complexes have swimming pools at top terrace & no solar panels! Another front where the city will need some improvement is education facilities as no city or country can become the best without good schools as education is the key to culture; sure the rulers also must be knowing this & will be working on it.

One more name without whom my Dubai trip wouldn’t have been complete is Mr. Chander Bhatiya, my family friend & who has shown me Dubai in my first visit & who has been part of the city for now nearly twenty five years & this time also he was with me to show the city & to make me feel it & not just see! The huge red & white billboard outside Emirates terminal welcomes you saying, “Tomorrow Never Stops Exploring”;  Dubai lives to the billboard’s caption & one now has to believe that even desserts can become a heaven, no more it’s a dream but a reality named Dubai! Many things can be learnt from this dessert dream, all what is needed is to see beyond shopping & duty free tag then we can say yes we have seen the Dubai!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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