In the Heart of Dubai

Summer in the UAE is, apart from the sweltering heat, also a time when travel packages are heavily discounted. Despite the decline in the number of tourists during this time, there is still a steady stream of people making use of the specials on offer. Perhaps these tourists forgot to contemplate the reason for the sharp discounts, or perhaps they simply couldn’t fathom what 40°C+ weather on paper translates to in terms of comfort levels, especially when an ample dose of humidity is thrown into the mix. The result from this oversight is, more often than not, frazzled tourists looking sour and tired as they trudge around in the uncomfortable embrace of summer’s eternal inferno.

As my one brother was in Dubai for work, and my husband had to be there too for work obligations, I used it as my excuse to join the throng of dour tourists to partake in some touristy delights. I put the summer discount on accommodation to good use by booking into the XVA Art Hotel in the heart of Old Dubai – the Bastakiya. It is quirky and homely at the same time, and offers a wonderful respite from the usual hotel experience, as it far more resembles the informal atmosphere of a guest house. The staff is friendly and attentive, without being intrusive, and there is a myriad of nooks and crannies filled with artwork or spaces to lapse into bouts of immobility and languor. When the heat became overwhelming, there was always the cool, dark womb-like space of our room to escape into.

The breakfasts here are simple, yet scrumptious offerings and I took my time every morning lingering over the coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice with a good book. As a vegetarian, I rejoiced in their meat-free menu, although they do serve tuna in one or two dishes on offer. Whenever customers strolled in during the day for a drink or a meal, the music would be switched on. Adel was the current flavour in music and provided the soundtrack for our stay, competing in volume only with the birds scouting for shady spots. The music always faded out though when there were no guests in the courtyard or when the call to prayer bounced off the walls, calling the faithful to pause their daily activities.  In the moments when there was no one around, the quiet of the place lulled me into a state of relaxed drowsiness and aimless daydreaming.

Every time the lilting sounds of prayers cut through the thick afternoon heat, I felt grateful for the opportunity I have to live in a culture so far removed from my own, and here in the Bastakiya, I could conjure up the past with my vivid imagination, while escaping the constant flow of traffic and life in modern Dubai. It was with a sense of sadness when, after five enchanting days, I had to return to what is considered real life.