I was going to visit Abu Dhabi after a long time. There was excitement yet apprehension despite being a frequent traveller to various unknown lands. Most of them were like a second or third home to me, but Abu Dhabi still remained an alien land, as Dubai remains the frequented country for most of my work.
I preferred Etihad Airways over Emirates due to the convenience it offered (direct flight), cost economy and past experience of travelling with it while travelling to Egypt. Though earlier the travel was in business class yet I was sure of a basic standard with a good aircraft and entertainment system. In fact, despite it being a very early morning flight after a sleepless night, I could attend the scheduled meetings in my full senses without going off to sleep in the middle. After a nice Lebanese dinner, my friends (from Jordan and Turkey) and I decided to go sightseeing before hitting the bed.
We first visited the Grand mosque i.e. Sheikh Zayed mosque about which we heard at an exhibition centre. It was a massive building of extreme magnificence and grandeur. The architecture was a delight to behold! I had seen many mosques in my life but had never come across a structure like it. No doubt about the investment that must have gone into it, but the details of every pillar, every minaret, every floor and roof was to be admired. After witnessing the Great Wall of China and Pyramids of Egypt, this was another marvel of architecture, human ambition and craftsmanship which had impressed me. Impression I think is an understatement, speechless is the right word. That is what we were when we saw the Grand Mosque!
But I think this experience will not be complete without narrating an incidence which happened after we had stepped out of the exhibition centre. Like us, there was a line of visitors waiting to board cabs outside the hall. We were impatient and in a hurry to get into a cab, so we decided to walk outside the main entrance and grab the first cab coming in, and dodge everyone and so we marched outside. The moment the first cab stopped, we heard a loud whistle with someone shouting in Arabic. The cab driver speeded past us as it was a signal for him to enter the center and we knew immediately that none of the cabs would stop outside. But we were not ready to give up and marched a few steps further outside but with every cab coming towards, our fate was clear.
With each whistle and shouting, went the cab with its scared driver inside the exhibition centre. It was a system we shouldn’t have even tried to break. So we marched further and once an angle was reached we managed to board a cab but alas even before we could travel 50 metres it was stopped by the same official and this time, the poor cab driver lost his driving license. We literally de-boarded at breakneck speed toppling over each other and ran as far as we could, out of the centre, onto the road, where the cabs were free to take passengers at their own will and reached our destination. This small yet funny experience always makes me smile and make for a memorable trip apart from the grandeur of Sheikh Zayed mosque.
Such was an amazing experience at Abu Dhabi, a city of dreams. With great shopping experience and several places to explore, I am pretty sure you will return back with an amazing story to tell.
Text and images by Dr. Ali Asgar