April 16, 2008

The Shopping Paradise of the 90s

Being a typical Indian kid, brought up on a staple diet of Bollywood movies telecast in good old Doordarshan, Dubai was always the land of the rich and famous and of course the smugglers and their golden biscuits. In the Nineties however it became synonymous with shopping of the Bollywood stars and of course the political cat and mouse game.

Dubai still maintains its charms. With India arriving strongly on the maps of consumerism, we have all the global brands at our disposal. However, when we travel out we see the commoditization of most brands across categories, especially in categories like low end skin and personal care. The other fun part about shopping in Dubai is the variety of choices you get. If you decide to span the entire price chain, you’ll get something for everyone. This is a small shopping guide for all those who love window shopping and looking at people in the malls and would not mind picking up a few stuff here and there. After all, you buying stuff is what gives me my salary and a conviction that yeah I have a job.

Traditional markets in these parts of the world are called souks. In most residential areas, you’ll find a souk. The main ones (i.e. the ones that make Dubai famous) are the three souks that line the Dubai Creek. Let’s start with Gold. The traditional and still the best market for gold is the Gold Souk just beside the creek. With the passage of time and now there’s a New Gold Souk (a mall actually) and a Gold and Diamond park. Most big names have shops at all these places. However, the fun is in the Gold Souk. I felt that this place could very well challenge Fort Knox. It’s absolutely dazzling and all that’s glittering here is actually gold. Once you have finished lamenting that you’ll never have enough money to buy this place out (if you are a girl that is) you can make your way to the Spice Souk to take back home some good quality saffron or head to the perfume souk for some traditional aatars or branded fragrances.

I remember when I was a kid, it was absolutely necessary for anyone going abroad to bring in gifts for folks back home. So the typical Indian would buy a big suitcase first and fill it up with knick knacks to take back. As I had said earlier, with people going on holidays to Bangkok and every Brand worth its salt making a beeline for the Indian’s Share of Wallet, the gift bringing craziness has come down considerably. However, we all like to pick up a few things here and there. (As I had also said, the variety is just baffling). Before I tell you about the malls, let’s start with the big markets in Dubai.

The Biggest by far is Bur Dubai. In fact, this is the area Dubai grew out from. You have Big Brands as well as your 10-12 AED shops where you can go completely nuts. This is also the place where you can check out electronics prices apart from Carrefour. We saw the smartest little gadgets all around; of course everything was Made in China. Supposedly, you must bargain at every place. But then, I was never any good at that. Apart from Bur Dubai, you must also check out Karama. Satwa however, has not much of a choice in terms of shopping. That’s the place where you can dabble your finger in different cuisines. Apart from this, all these places have little antique shops where you can easily get Made in India merchandise. So be a bit careful. And yeah, don't forget the junk jewellery. Not much of a connoisseur am I, but the birds and the bees tell me Splash has a good collection at the malls apart from these shops.

Now about the malls. They are everywhere. You can’t escape them. But if you are suffering from time constraints you must make your picks. My pick would be the following.

Ibn Batuta Mall – My favourite mall till now. The architecture here is based on the travels of Ibn Batuta and you must visit this mall if only for its architectural splendour. A sprawling mall with separate styles for China, India, Persia and a few others, Ibn Batuta ensures that the entire day will whiz past without you ever knowing. And of course there’s a huge multiplex just like all other big malls. The souvenir shop here has a good variety of antiques that can be picked up.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah – Built like the traditional souks, this mall is situated near the Burj Al Arab and has breathtaking views all along. This is however not a place where you might want to do some shopping. Almost everything here is highly overpriced but then it’s an experience. The restaurants have good cuisines and even have live bands playing on specific nights. But if you really want to soak in the lifestyle, have a nice candle night dinner beside the canal.

Mall of the Emirates - is just like any Mall anywhere in the World with a Multiplex and a Carrefour. But what makes it special is Ski Dubai. A huge artificial snow park, here you’ll begin to believe that Aladdin and his Genie are for real. Ski Dubai is almost a Fantasy Dreamland. The ski slopes are steep and you need to get a license, starting at beginner’s level. But the skateboarding and the tube diving are fun enough. However, I could not help imagining how much power would be required to keep this running.

Deira City Centre – The original Mall of the Emirates. Once the biggest mall in Dubai, it has a steady clientele amongst the Asians. Being near the Creek, it’s a nice time pass.

Wafi Mall – The mall for the rich and the famous. It has all the best brands in the world and surprisingly is empty. Mall of the Emirates suffers from bringing everything under one roof. Wafi succeeds in keeping out the ordinary and the day to day. For someone like me, it was a blessing in disguise. There’s absolutely no rush, or as we would say in our local Mumbai trains, no gardi; which ensures that you soak in the atmosphere, the high streets of fashion and the shoppers who dresses speak in designer labels. Built around the Egyptian history, Wafi is not majestic in terms of architecture like Ibn Batuta, or size like mall of the Emirates, but what sets it apart is its grandeur and snobbishness. A must visit for feeling like “Ek din ka Sultan.” Also on the 3rd floor, is a great entertainment zone for kids aged between 20 to 30 and there The Tomb comes alive to scare the life out of you.

Shop till you drop then :) I shall leave you to your own exploration now and if you happen to have visited mercato Shopping mall which claims to be the only themed Renaissance shopping mall in the Middle East, drop me a mail.

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