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Friday, March 3, 2017

12/10: Dubai: A Sikh Wedding in the World's Tallest City

My apologies that the blog is still not finished so long after our return on December 15th from our four month long trip. I hope you will be patient as I find the time to write the remaining posts while also planning our trip this fall to South America!

After spending a very enjoyable few days in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, we drove north toward Dubai, no doubt the most well-known city in the Emirates. We couldn't help but admire first Abu Dhabi's very intriguing Aldar headquarters building. It's described as the first circular building of its kind in the Middle East and also described as the world's first circular skyscraper. The distinctive building was voted the “Best Futuristic Design” by The Building Exchange Conference held in Spain. The shape of this building was achieved using structural diagrid, a diagonal grid of steel. 
According to Wikipedia, the building, which opened in 2010, features 12 passenger elevators, 3 mono space elevators and 2 service elevators. If you’re interested in finding out more, YouTube has a fascinating National Geographic documentary titled "Can it be Built? Circular Skyscraper.”
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai wasn't born yesterday! Although much of the city - and many of its most famous landmarks - have sprung up during the past couple of decades, the city's roots go back far earlier. I read that archaeological sites in the metro area indicate that Dubai was an important stop for caravans traveling between Mesopotamia and Oman as back as the Bronze Age! In recent years, Dubai has experienced unprecedented urban development and its attractiveness to both visitors and expats has been steadily growing. 

Living formerly in Ottawa, Canada, and now in Colorado, I've certainly seen my fair share of snowstorms but the outskirts of Dubai was the first time I'd encountered such a fierce sandstorm.

Our first stop as we neared the city was at Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar, the largest Sikh place of worship in the Gulf serving over 50,000 worshipersThe majority of Sikh expatriates in Dubai come from Punjab in northern India. According to the temple's or Gurudwara's website, "The very thought of building a permanent and official Gurdwara in the heart of an Islamic state was considered nothing short of an Arabian mirage." It was made possible by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who donated the land to build a Sikh place of worship.
Steven and I had noticed a number of these same signs also in Abu Dhabi. No idea why people would need to 'assemble' in certain areas, though.
The wind was so strong that we needed to cover our mouths from the sand that was whipped up from the nearby desert. A lot of sand had also been deposited in the shallow pool surrounding the temple. The moat resembled the sarovar or man-made lake built around the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the highest place of reverence for Sikhs.
Everyone entering the temple was asked to observe certain traditions to maintain its sanctity. One of those was to remove footwear before entering a gurdwara worship hall. Although western styles are worn, many Sikhs still wear the traditional Punjabi style slipper known as a Jutti. These are made of leather, embellished with embroidery, and may sport a curled up toe. Initially both slippers in a set are identical and must be worn for a while to conform to the left or right foot.

Unlike the Sikh temples we'd visited in India in 2015, Steven needed to have his head covered at this one.
We had thought we would just wander around the temple on our own for a few minutes before heading onto Dubai itself. However, a wedding was about to take place and we were kindly invited to join in the festivities. So, join in we did even though though we didn't have on our wedding finery!

All religious ceremonies took place in the temple's Darbar Hall, located upstairs. Steven jokingly asked me if I thought we'd arrived at a good time to witness the wedding!

The hall's meditation room was closed, probably because of the wedding.
Musicians sat cross-legged on a platform at the front.

Huge screens constantly displayed in Hindi all the songs and prayers sung throughout the 45 minute ceremony. The groom awaiting his bride:
The bride was escorted into the hall by her family and a number of women, possibly her bridesmaids, attired in beautifully colored outfits called salvar kamees.
Salvar are a baggy loose fitting pant with an ankle cuff called a ponche. The salvar is worn beneath the kamees, a dress top which is available in as many colors and styles as there is imagination, and often decorated with embroidery. The colors of the salvar and kamees, which may match or contrast, are worn with a color coordinated matching or contrasting scarf or head covering. The very devout tend to wear simple prints, or solid colors with little embroidery, as an expression of humility.

One of the youngest, and cutest, guests:

The audience/guests sat throughout the ceremony with almost entirely women on one side of the aisle and men with young boys on the other. Steven and I appeared to be the only Westerners there lucky enough to witness the wedding.
The bride and groom walked around the 'bower' (?) twice during separate parts of the ceremony.

Toward the end of the ceremony, a procession of men stood up to walk up to the front to place money in a dish. We didn't know whether it was gifts for the wedding couple or offerings to the temple.

After the ceremony we, too, were invited to join the reception for the happy couple but we gratefully declined, having already spent far more time there than we'd anticipated and because we didn't feel comfortable participating in the celebration intended for family and friends. What an honor and a stroke of incredible luck it had been to witness the wedding!

Sign downstairs thanking the Sheikh for allowing the building of the temple:
The temple, in the heart of Dubai's industrial area, was next to a church complex that comprised Coptic, evangelical and orthodox churches. 

The first of the many skyscrapers dotting Dubai's skyline:
We arrived in Dubai on the futuristic Sheikh Zayed Road, a huge 12-lane highway flanked on both sides by rows of densely packed high-rises whose "towering facades create an almost unbroken wall of glass and metal, like some kind of architectural Grand Canyon." At the southern end of Sheikh Zayed Road was the massive Dubai development, built at an estimated $20 billion. 
The first of several shots of the gargantuan Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, and the centerpiece of the development. Burj Khalifa was a mix of offices and apartments and the Armani Hotel. 

We managed to find a great (and cheap!) parking spot downtown just across from the Dubai Opera, a 1901-seat, multi-format, performing arts center. It had opened just a few months previously with a performance by Placido Domingo. 

The Opera was part of a still unfinished, larger area called the Opera District, which will include galleries, museums, design studios and other cultural venues as well as several hotels, a shopping center, recreational spaces and residential towers. The District faced Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Fountain. Granted, we didn't walk inside the Opera building but the exterior held little appeal for us.  
It was more than a tad bizarre seeing so many water features in Dubai, a city in the middle of the desert. However, it was delightful strolling along the water course on our way to the Dubai Mall and Fountain!
View of the Dubai Opera in the background:

It was fascinating to learn that Dubai is now officially the tallest city on the planet. Considering the city only built its first real skyscraper in 1979, that's a stupendous achievement. The city now boasts 28 of the world's 200 highest buildings compared to New York and Hong Kong who, by comparison, have just 13 and 11 respectively. 

Walking around the man-made lake would take us, in time, to the Dubai Mall, the mammoth, low rise complex on the lake shore. Covering over 12 million square feet and with more than 1,200 stores spread across four floors easily made it the world's largest mall by total area although other malls contain more retail space.
A close up of the Burj Khalifa which, at 2,717 ft tall, obliterated all previous records for the world's tallest man-made structures past and present. It smashed the previous record for the world's tallest building - formerly held by the Taipei 101 in Taiwan at 1,670 ft - by a staggering 984 ft! It opened in January, 2010, only six years after excavations began. Up to 13,000 workers toiled day and night, at times putting up a new floor in as little as three days!
The astonishing size of the Burj Khalifa and its distinctively tapering outline was difficult to grasp close up. We had been best able to appreciate the building earlier from a distance where we could properly sense the jaw-dropping size and the degree to which it dwarfed the surrounding high rises. It wasn't as if its neighboring buildings were 'small potatoes' in the height department either! 

The footbridge to Souk al Bahar, an Arabesque shopping, entertainment and dining destination located adjacent to the Dubai Mall. We headed first to the Mall. 
This photo of the Tim Hortons is for my Canadian readers!
No other mall we've been to has had a Courtesy Policy that I can remember. The Dubai Mall stipulated that people wear respectful clothing with shoulders and knees covered. Plus, kissing and overt displays of affection - and that included even the holding of hands - weren't allowed! We obviously respected those Arab sensitivities but the rebel in me wondered what might have happened if ...!
Did you recognize the Arabic sign for Bloomingdales?!
The biggest mall directory I have ever seen!
We weren't really interested in seeing the 70 flagship stores from the world's most desirable luxury brands so headed to the mall's Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo instead. Not surprisingly given this was Dubai, it was one of the largest aquariums in the world and had the largest viewing panel on earth!

The viewing panel was a huge, floor-to-ceiling transparent acrylic panel filled with an extraordinary array of marine life, ranging from sand-tiger sharks and stingrays to tiny tropical fish.

We didn't feel any need to participate in any of the diving activities as we were able to enjoy a perfect view from just where we stood for about an hour.

People interested in buying aquarium tickets could purchase them from this Robo Ticket Sales kiosk that moved around on the floor as it sensed people nearby!
Steven finally lured me away with a promise we'd visit the souk area of the mall next. That sounded more enticing than the actual reality although the architecture was very pleasing.

A trip to the mall's ice rink sounded more promising but alas, there was a huge men's weightlifting competition and relays going on there instead.

It wasn't too hard on the eyes watching very buff young men competing for a while!

Who could resist having a camel cookie?!

A pretty cool water feature:
Zachary: Bet you would have loved to have eaten at the Texas Roadhouse location in Dubai!
Natalie and Adam: Thought of you both and our going together to the Eataly store in Chicago last year.
We then walked over to the attached Souk al Bahar that we'd seen from a distance earlier. We didn't spend much time there as it felt like just another modern mall.

Yet more water features in the former desert. We decided to make our way to our hotel as we hadn't checked in yet but hoped we'd make time another day to see the supposedly spectacular Dubai Fountain illuminated with over 6,000 lights.
Neither Steven nor I are car fanciers but this one did leave us with our mouths agape for a moment or so. Anyone know what it is?

Even though we had a longish walk back through mostly a massive park to the car from the other side of the lake, we were greeted with some more stellar views of the city's skyline.
The design of the Dubai Opera was supposed to rival that of the famous Sydney Opera House. Having now seen both, we far preferred the latter. We walked back to the car via Burj Park where we came across a rather unusual sculpture that you can see on the right below.
Started by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in February 2013 during the Government Summit in Dubai, "the Three Finger Salute has become a trademark of the nation. Locals, expats and prominent Emiratis have adopted it as a symbol of love for the UAE." With one hand in the air and the thumb, index finger, and middle finger raised and spread apart, it symbolizes work ethic, success and love for the nation. After knowing what the salute meant, we could understand that the placement of the fingers represented the letters 'w', 'v' and 'l' for "win, victory, and love." 
I have tried without success to figure out what these unusual stone figures were that we saw. They looked like they belonged on Easter Island and not on a Dubai sidewalk! Later this year, we'll be travelling to the island off Chile so stay tuned for posts from there.

The almost total absence of very few cars and so few people wandering around what constituted Dubai's downtown made it appear so soulless to me. It felt somewhat like a movie set - we could see, but not touch, these fantastically huge and modern buildings that looked like they had been just plonked down in the middle of nowhere with no one living or working in them. We were 'downtown' but there was absolutely no sense of hustle and bustle and certainly no sense of the city's history or what had transpired before the building of the new metropolis. Since this was just our first day, we held out hope we'd see more vibrant areas of Dubai in the coming days.

Posted on March 3rd, 2017, from Littleton, Colorado.


  1. I'd also eat camel cookies. Unless they were deposited by a camel. Lil Red

  2. What a wonderful experience to attend an ethnic wedding. Lil Red


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