Culture

Through the #UnseenTrail of Diwali in Old Dubai

February 10, 2016

After spending almost one year toying around the idea of taking a food trail with my good friend and Queen of food tours, Arva Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures. And after several failed attempts at planning to book one with much fail, due to my constant travelling, I decided to just do it and fly out to Dubai specifically for it. Luckily, it co-incided with the launch of a new food and photography trail. Diwali in Dubai.

Having grown up with friends from the Indian community in Abu Dhabi, I never got the chance to experience Diwali. Having come back from my recent Hyderabad trip for Arva’s wedding, I’d have been blind to not recognize how vibrant and colorful India is on a normal day! So how colorful would it be during Diwali, the festival of lights!

I dragged my father with me and had him pick me up from the airport and straight onto Baniyas Metro station where the trail meetup point was. Armed with water, trail headsets and a camera full of memories to be made, off we marched to the Abra station for a boat ride to the other side of Dubai creek. Our guide Farida (Arva’s sister and partner) took the liberty of explaining how Diwali is celebrated throughout several faiths in India, Nepal and other nearby countries which i found extremely fascinating.

The breeze from the boat ride helped set a perfect mood to start the trail with. It was a rather humid yet windy night, with whimsical views of fairy lights adorning docked boats as we waited to reach our destination. My night photography skills on moving objects is absolutely rubbish to even consider posting, so you won’t find any from the ride.

Our first station was the creek souq , and I immediately got drawn towards the badassery of this man. He looked so tough and about to take on 10 men with his nonchalant demeanor, but on the contrary was very sweet and friendly.

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We rushed towards the temple tucked away in this area of the creek. You’d never believe we were still in Dubai! The tight corridors were adorned with sunflowers necklaces, fruit and milk trays. Why milk you ask? because it’s offerings from the most sacred of all deity, the holy cow. Only thing, they were commercial milk bottles, as opposed to freshly milked ones.

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The guides wanted to ensure we captured the spirit of this occasion, yet we had to be weary about snapping people during prayers, as that might cause problems. But like most avid photographers (not that I call myself one), I found myself unconsciously taking the risk. It was too hard to restrain from clicking away. In fact, the entire group scurried off to different corners that drew them in like magnets.

The energy of worshippers humming mantras in unison penetrated through your veins. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Spirited souls, crammed in one small room with the purest intentions of praying and connecting with their deity. I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that they my camera and I were invisible to them. What bliss!

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All this concentration and maneuvering against the crowds got us hungry. So off we scavengered for the food part of the trail and boy! We were in for a surprise. You want street food in Dubai? It doesn’t get any better than this, and Indians do it best in Meena Bazar.

I found myself in heaven with the sight of bakers kneading bread, cooks and spices frying off right before my naked eyes. That feeling when you don’t know if you should just put the camera away and watch the show or capture it all in smile, sight and sound.

The colorful fry off

The colorful fry off

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The MOST mouthwatering Veggie Biryani EVER

The MOST mouthwatering Veggie Biryani EVER

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We continued exploring the streets of Meena Bazaar. Stumbling upon drums and random bangra dancing is something I will never forget. Seeing how music takes over people that completely surrender to its beat with total oblivion of the public. That’s magic. That’s celebration. I snapped a video on my instagram if you’d like to see (here)

Our next pit stop, was Sind Punjab for a quick tender chicken tikka snack. Fired up on coals and caramelised skin to a crisp  with a sprinkling of zesty lime was everything you’d expect from such a dish. It would be a petty not to wash it down with sugarcane juice too! And that we did.

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  • Rafeeda A. Raheem

    This post has made me really hungry… My only trips to Bur Dubai is while taking relatives on the abra from Deira to Bur Dubai. We would walk past the whole side quickly, catch up our missed prayers at the huge mosque just adjuscent to the little temple, which would have been already closed by the time and take the abra back to our destination. In between, we would just tuck in some samosas, pakodas and a cup of hot chai before taking the trip. Lovely pictures and good to be hear… 🙂

    • Can you imagine i’ve lived in the use for 31 years and this was my first time crossing the creek with an Abra! the whole trail was a great experience, and a place id go to again within a heartbeat. 🙂 thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  • Your pics are wonderful and there are things in your post that I didn’t know. What a fabulous night that was – one of my best ever in Dubai. Must dig out my own pics and post about this vibrant, vivid, thrilling and at times slightly nerve-wracking tour as though we had been to another country not just down the road (for me anyways).

    • I know, it my best too! and this was only one #unseentrail! i wonder what the rest are like!

  • Prachi Grover

    Oh this post made me so happy. We have so many festivals in India but nothing comes close to Diwali (at least for me). I spend months planning every little detail and then months waiting for the next Diwali. Reading your post took me back to last November:) Beautiful pics that are making me super hungry right now!

  • Rupal Kamat Bhatikar

    Its so amazing to see how beautifully you have captured Diwali in Dubai’s backstreets – its quite something! And that pao bhaji *love*

  • Saloni Banga

    How beautifully you have explained the hustle in Old Dubai during Diwali! Diwali happens to be my favorite festival, loved reading about it. And the brick of butter used to make pav bhaji is epic!