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Text & Photographs by Carlos Mundy

Al Fahidi Fort

When I wrote my novel The Toucan Lodge based on my father’s unfinished memoires as an MI6 spy, my then agent suggested that I include a chapter on Dubai in the 40s. I followed the suggestion and wrote a full chapter called Abduction in the Dessert that was pure fiction but linked perfectly well to the novel’s story line. I had been to Dubai a few times before but had not visited old Dubai thus had to write the chapter by researching the story of the Trucial States, which is how the Emirates were known until 1968 when the British government decided to withdraw from its involvement in the Trucial States. This was followed by the creation of a Federation that is now the United Arab Emirates.

Hotel Lounge area

Abra boats

The abra jetty at Al-Seef

Not so many of Dubai’s visitors, the city famous for its luxury and skyline, are aware that it has a rich historic culture. This Emirati lifestyle and heritage originate from Old Dubai. In Dubai, old indeed is gold. Old Dubai has been an intersection for all the civilizations that Dubai has experienced. And I have just had the opportunity to for the first time to visit and familiarise myself with the part of the city where it all began. Old Dubai comprises of a lot of different places. From Garhound on the North to Deira on the South, it spreads over a wide space of land.

Al Seef

I stayed at the Golden Sands Hotel Creek; a Boutique 5 Star Hotel located in the heritage heart of the city. With 150 luxurious Suites & Rooms, the Hotel provides an ideal base to take in a unique perspective of Dubai’s history.

As soon as I was comfortably installed in my suite with wonderful views of the Creek, I walked to the Abra station from where I took a local small passenger abra to start my time travel in the historical quarter for a cost of 2 UAED. Once the entryway to the Gulf’s most successful pearl diving port, the Creek’s legendary presence is still felt today as fisherman and merchants criss-cross the calm waters in their traditional dhows.

The first step of my little adventure was The Bastakiya Quarter that gets its name from Bastak, Iran, the origin of many of the original textile and pearl traders who first plied their trades. As you walk through the Bastakiya Quarter’s narrow winding lanes, you will also notice another contribution from Bastak in the form of its architecture. The wind towers that topmost of the buildings are a testament to this, as well as the beautifully carved wooden doors and wooden lattices.

Harud Al-Hadid Archaeological Museum

Today, the Quarter is home to many fine art galleries, cafes, and boutique hotels. It is also home to what is believed to be the oldest existing building in Dubai, the Al Fahidi Fort. Built around 1787, the Al Fahidi Fort stood to guard the town against raids from surrounding tribes. At times the Fort was also used as the Ruler’s palace. By its banks stands a testament to old Arabia- the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Gypsum and coral buildings have been painstakingly restored to their former glory including its iconic wind towers that once refreshed the homes of the inhabitants in the very hot summer months. The neighbourhood has many historical gems including the oldest building in the city, the Al Fahidi Fort built in 1781.

To taste local Emirati cuisine and an authentic cup of Arabian coffee a visit to the Arabian Tea House is a must. Recommended dishes include the regag bread, a tempting slice drizzled with honey and stuffed with egg and cheese and khabisah, a sweat blend of sautéed flour and molasses.

Al Seef which faces the Golden Sands on the opposite bank of the Creek, is a charming example of the blend of past and present. The district stretches for 1.8 Km along the bank and is complete with winding alleys of stone and gypsum structures and has restaurant choices and is dotted with shops.

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Spice Souk, alive with vibrant colours and aromas of the world’s most precious spices and the Gold Souk, where was immersed in the extravagant display of gold items across the street.

An alley in charming Al-Shindagha

Another not to be missed part of the historical Dubai is Al-Sindangha, the city’s oldest neighbourhood where I enjoyed the tranquillity of a bygone era. This is where the original residence of HH Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum is. It was built in 1896 and is now a museum.

Nearby is the Al Shindagha Museum that tells the tale of the city’s seafaring roots in evocative detail and the Harud Al-Hadid Archaeological Museum. The area is full of tucked away cultural surprises!

One can’t understand contemporary Dubai without acknowledging and experiencing its past. For this reason, as a seasoned traveller and a writer I must recommend staying in this part of the city at least for 2/3 night as no visit to Dubai would be complete without doing so.

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