UAE’s birth story at Etihad Museum

December 2 is commemorated as UAE national day because of the historic unification that happened on this day in 1971. Six rulers of six emirates met to form the United Arab Emirates. The seventh emirate Ras al Khaimah joined the federation only on February 11, 1972. But what most of us don’t know is that the seeds of this momentous unification was laid on February 18, 1968, in Al Sedaira followed by a meeting between the two great rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In the meeting Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum agreed to create a federal system to unite the two emirates.

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This smiling picture of the two great leaders during the 1968 Ruler’s agreement adorns the walls of the Etihad Museum in Dubai. Accompanying the pic at the museum is a detailed written exhibit about the main points of the agreement.

UAE is today a country of chic malls and tall skyscrapers but if you want to trace the events that led to the birth of this ultra modern nation then the Etihad museum is the perfect place to be. Unveiled by Sheikh Mohammed on UAE’s 45th national day the museum explores the emirate’s history between 1968 and 1974 through interactive digital displays, videos and personal memorabilia.

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Designed in the shape of the unification manuscript the roof of the building looks like a sheaf of paper. Seven golden columns in the entrance symbolise the seven pens that signed the agreement. Inside there are several halls, a theatre, a library, educational areas and cafes.

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The first hall dedicated to the founding fathers has seven life size digital pictures of the rulers. Each picture has an accompanying exhibit of their belongings and an interactive screen informing visitors about their biography and family tree.

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This exhibit, for instance, showcases the golden dagger and passport of the late Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad al Sharqi, the founding ruler of Fujairah. Several other memorabilia of the six other  rulers are also well preserved here. Young visitors to the museum get a family pack with activities to keep them engrossed in exploring the museum. The union house where the actual agreement was signed is also part of the museum and so is the 123 metre tall flagpole at the site.

Opening time of the museum: 10 am to 8 pm

Location: Jumeirah Beach Road

Ticket: Adults pay Dhs 25, Students between the age of 5 and 24 pay Dhs 10

 

 

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Inside the Al Noor island

One hot August afternoon we crossed a bridge over clear blue waters to reach a tiny green island in Sharjah. Our first sight was instantly heartwarming — a group of crows were quenching their thirst from a small pool of water. And right behind those birds was an impressive arch shaped building with floral patterns that housed a cafe and a butterfly dome. Excited we walked past the serene cafe, with gleaming white benches, to spot some colourful butterflies. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a disappointing quest as there were hardly any butterflies in sight.

Outside the butterfly house a winding path covered with trees and bushes on either sides led us to a cactus garden, a sandpit and playground for kids. Further ahead, right in the middle of the dense foliage, was an open courtyard room with benches and cushions called the literature pavilion. To the sound of chirping birds, with your favourite book in hand, this indeed was a nature lover’s and reader’s heaven.

There are benches strewn across the island for visitors to sit, relax, read and soak in the greenery and serenity. Kids loved getting lost in the green maze and jumping on the long trampoline inside the garden. At night neon dancing lights gave the whole place a magical hue, fanning visitor’s imagination. We loved every bit of our time marooned on this island.

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Entrance to the cafe and butterfly garden

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Greenery all around

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The cactus garden

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Literature pavilion

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Torus Sculpture by David Harber

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A beach strip inside the island

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Lighted up at night

Flavours of Armenian cuisine

Rich in history, steeped in culture, Armenia, is a gourmand’s dream destination too. While touring one of the oldest civilizations of the world we got to tickle our taste buds with a variety of fresh vegetables, exotic herbs, barbecued meats and diary products. On our first night in Yerevan we dined at Tavern Yerevan on Amiryan street. The highlight of the evening was Piti and Tava Kyufta accompanied by Armenia’s famous Lavash bread.

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Lavash and Piti

Piti, served in an earthern pot, is a soup made with meat, vegetables, potatoes and chickpeas. The broth is tempered with several spices and is cooked for hours. A layer of flaky bread seals the top of this delicious and nutritious dish. Kyufta, on the other hand, are meatballs, but ours was a variant of the traditional meatballs as it was a block of lamb meat served in a pan on a bed of lavash topped with grilled tomatoes.

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Tava Kyufta

No Armenian meal is complete without Lavash bread. This thin, paper-like bread is made from unleavened dough in clay ovens called tonirs. The bread has great significance for Armenians. Bakers bless their lavash dough and make the sign of a cross before baking thus ensuring that whoever eats the bread gets all goodness. Considered a symbol of fertility lavash is placed on the shoulders of the brides and the groom for good luck.

Our Armenian food adventure continued the next day at the picturesque Tsirani Garden restaurant located inside an apricot farm. After a wonderful and insightful tour of Garni and Geghard temple complexes near Yerevan we headed to the lush farm restaurant.

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Log huts amidst apricot trees at Tsirani

Green apricots called Tsiran, waiting to ripen, glistened in the sunlight from the branches of the trees spread abundantly across the garden. We were escorted to one of the many log huts where guests dine. After several minutes of discussions and translations by our enthusiastic tour guide we finally ordered Armenian Lori cheese, a platter of salad, Armenian yoghurt, roasted potatoes, chicken kebab and fish khorovats (Armenian for barbecue).

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Our table at Tsirani

Each dish had a distinct flavour, Armenian food is mostly grilled and barbecued, so there is very less oil used. The only unhealthy part is the high salt content in their dishes. The Lori cheese for instance was too salty for our taste, but the tender roasted potatoes with mild spices and fish khorovat scored higher. As Armenia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world, a glass of wine almost always finds space on the dining table. There is a wide selection of indigenous home grown wines to choose from, and we ordered Armenian red wine. It turned out to be a near perfect lunch, with delicious kebabs, sweet wine and a gentle breeze from the apricot trees.

For me a good meal is incomplete without some sweet treats. And Armenia had plenty to offer to satisfy my sugar cravings. Just outside the Geghard monastery complex were stalls selling Gata, a type of sweet bread.

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Gata bread

They are made with flour, butter and sugar, some are filled with nuts. They are decorated before baking, usually there is a sign of cross and they can be stored for several days. We enjoyed our Gata with tea on all the days we were in Armenia. Very similar to the Georgian churchkhela are Armenia sudjukhs, made with grape juice and nuts. Our morning breakfast table was always adorned with sudjukhs. Apricot is synonymous with Armenia as the country has a rich cultivation and so the fruit finds space in cakes, pies and preserves.

But the real highlight of the sweet trail was the crostata served at the breakfast table in our hotel Opera Suites Yerevan.

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A slice of crostata with cream cakes

Buttery and crumbly it was served every day with a different topping. I think I can go back to Armenia for many other reasons, top on the list would be that yummy crostata.

 

 

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Jabreen Castle, Oman

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This impressive castle with wooden ceilings, Arabic calligraphy and decorated windows is located in the Dakhiliyah province of Oman, about 175 kms from Muscat. It was built in 1670 by Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan, the son of Sultan bin Saif, who helped in driving the Portuguese from Oman. Visitors get a taste of period architecture while exploring its numerous rooms  spread across three stories. At the entrance are two large canons that lead on to an open courtyard. Racing up the castle’s numerous stairs can be exhaustive and rewarding as you get views of several rooms including meeting rooms, libraries, classrooms and dining areas. There is even a date store where large stocks of dates were preserved, their juice was crushed and collected in earthen jars. In peaceful times the juice was used in the castle kitchen but during a siege it was boiled and poured on attackers through holes in the doorway.

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Reading room inside the castle

A closer look at the castle reveals arches with Arabic calligraphy, beautiful carvings on doors and brightly painted wooden ceilings. Yet another interesting room is called the Sun and moon room. It has 14 windows that make this room remain cool throughout the year. It has an eye shaped ceiling and was used to conduct meetings.

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Painted ceilings

For those who manage to maneuver through the castle’s rooms and unending staircases will get a memorable view of the picturesque date palm oasis surrounding the area. Catch your breath and spend a silent moments here before you brace up to navigate your way back ♥

View from the top

Al Qudra lakes

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This calm oasis is part of a desert reserve called Saih al Salam. A recently established site, maintained by Dubai government’s civic body, the Al Qudra lakes are perfect for picnic and birdwatching. We spotted several ducks and a few other exotic birds. According to the UAE birding website several birds have been introduced in the lakes by the Dubai municipality including Black-necked Swan, Mute Swan, Barnackle Goose, White-cheeked Pintail among others. The area also includes a long cycling track and trek shop selling cycling equipment along small cafeterias.

Road trip to Sur

In March we drove to Muscat and then to the scenic town of Sur in Oman. We had estimated a four hour drive to Muscat and then an overnight stopover at a cousin’s place. But ended up spending almost six hours on road owing to no particular reasons that left us wondering how on earth do all the guidebooks mention the Dubai to Muscat drive as mere four hours. The trip really took off once we left our cousin’s house in Wadi Ameerat the next day. With rocky mountains on either sides the drive instantly became picturesque. Maneuvering through a winding mountain road we first reached Wadi Daqyah Dam in Quriyat. The emerald green coloured dam water interspersed with the brown mountains creates a splendid view. The dam can store 100 million cubic metres of water and even has a small stretch of green where visitors can spread a picnic hamper and enjoy the view.

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After soaking in the beauty of the Daqyah Dam we drove towards Sur, which is over 200 kms from Muscat. Accompanying us all along on one side of the road was the blue sea and rocky mountains on the other side.
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It took us around 3 hours to reach the Ras Al Jinz Turtle reserve. We were booked for an overnight stay here to see the turtle hatching. It seemed a unique activity but soon we discovered that it was an unforgettable one as well. At around 9 pm we gathered in the hotel lobby to go for a group tour of the turtle hatching on the Ras Al Hadd beach. Packed in a mini van around 20 of us were driven through a bumpy road to a lonely stretch on the beach. Our Omani guide told us to stand quietly while he combed the beach area for nesting turtles. Waiting on the pitch dark beach in silence with the magnificent starlit sky above our heads listening to the sounds of the waves became a deeply moving natural experience for me. While I was still soaking in the beauty of the night our guide returned with the good news that he had spotted a turtle. As turtle hatching is a natural phenomenon there are no guarantees that you will get to see one on a tour. So, we were elated at our luck. In a hushed tone he told us about the nesting habits of the endangered green turtle. We were  also warned against taking any photographs of the turtles as flash lights could scare and stop the hatching process. Unfortunately, it means I have no pics of the actual turtle hatching we witnessed.

Huddled together we followed our guide who took us to a part of the beach where a lot of sand had been splattered around. Deep inside a sandpit sat a huge turtle. The turtles fling sand with their flippers to create a pit to lay eggs. Under a dim torchlight our guide showed us how the turtle was dropping eggs into the pit by the dozen. The entire experience was truly magical. We also caught sight of a few baby turtles that had hatched from other pits crawling back into the ocean. The reserve also conducts these tours at daylight when tourists are allowed to click pictures. Alas during our morning trip no turtles were sighted. But the bright sunrise and the beautiful Ras al Hadd beach made up for this as we spent some quiet moments watching these wonders of nature.

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After breakfast we drove back to Muscat and did another stop over at the Bimma  Sinkhole. Located in Najm Park the sinkhole attracts locals and tourists. Although sinkholes are created as a result of soil erosion there are many folklores associated with this one including one involving a space crater. Through a narrow staircase tourists can take a dip in the cool green waters of the sinkhole. Soon we were back on the road with wide smiles to cherish yet another memorable trip. 
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Bubble Art

The little boy looked up in a wonder. “Should I poke it or should I soak in it,” he must have wondered wrapped inside a giant soap bubble standing on stage. ‘Plop’ soon the bubble burst and the audience clapped. The boy still mesmerised by the act enjoyed the attention. As part of Dubai Shopping Festival celebrations this unique performance was part of a bubble show by Italian Canadian artist Silvia Gaffurini at Mercato Mall.
Round bouncing bubbles, tiny floating bubbles and colourful bubble creations Silvia enthralled the audience with her her visual treats.
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Lilting music accompanies her enchanting show wherein kids especially line up around the stage to catch and burst the floating bubbles. Trained by famous Vietnamese bubble artist Fan Yang Silvia has done shows across several countries.
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Our Culinary Adventures: Emirati, Mexican & Greek

The year started with us trying out various international cuisines. On the first day of 2016 itself we found a fabulous Greek restaurant Elia in our own neighbourhood. Located in The Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai Elia offers a tranquil Greek inspired setting with dim lights, white furniture and striped blue table-clothes. For starters we ordered Tzatziki — a dip made of garlic, dill and yogurt that was accompanied with a variety of breads. It was followed by the Greek salad, French fries, the Mousaka and the grilled chicken thigh with pasta. Each dish was delicious. We particularly enjoyed the Tzatziki dip and the Greek Salad peppered with custom made olives that we were told are available for sale at the restaurant. The Mousaka reminded me of the time we had our first Mousaka at a tavern in Cyprus.
Unfortunately I don’t have a pic of what we ate. But Elia totally lives up to the traditional authentic food genre. No wonder it has won the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Time Out Dubai Restaurant Award in the category of Best European Restaurant in the fine dining category.

A few days later to celebrate a birthday we went to Mexican joint Maria Bonita Taco Shop and Mexican Grill in Jumeirah. This kitschy colour loaded restaurant has two parrots, lots of large Mexican hats for guests to try and a shop selling Mexican goodies. A Nepali waiter we got chatty with helped us order, and we ended up with plates of enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, nuggets and fries for the kids. There were, of course, lots of nachos with spicy sauces that came as starters and a tangy Mexican cola as drinks. The quesadillas is like a stuffed pizza and was amazing. The fajitas came with some thin chapattis and a plate of assorted dips and guacamole. Except the enchiladas we enjoyed all the dishes. The service too was super fast.

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Last weekend we went to the vibrant Boxpark and had our dinner at Logma that offers Emirati dishes. The restaurant disappointingly has no traditional decor but has a lot of seating options. A look at the first page of the menu revealed that it would be an ideal place to try breakfast some day. They have several traditional dishes for breakfast such as Baith Tamat (scrambled eggs with tomato, cumin and herbs), Balaleet (sweet vermicelli with saffron omelette), grilled Halloumi and a traditional platter with several options. We opted for just some Khaleeji fries, a Khameer club sandwich and Machboos chicken.
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The Khaleeji fries were truly unique – crisp with lots of tasty seasoning. The Khameer sandwich was filling and yummy, the Machboos chicken, however, that we tried for the first time was a bit bland for our Indian palette.

We hope to continue exploring the wide range of mouth-watering world cuisines on offer in Dubai 🙂

Pink Flamingos at Ras al Khor

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We captured this beautiful sight at the Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary. A viewpoint lets visitors catch a glimpse of these pink legged flamingos amidst hectares of mangroves. The site is open on all days except Fridays.

SIBF 2015

The Sharjah Book Fair 2015, held in November every year, was an event I always looked forward to. Back then I lived in Sharjah and could enjoy browsing the book stalls for hours and could attend author interactive sessions for several days. But now that am based in Dubai driving through the crazy traffic to Sharjah is the major drawback. After last year’s bitter experience of waiting in a packed room for hours and finally being unable to meet Dan Brown and Manju Warrier, I decided to take it easy this year.

I managed to go for a day. But there were no interesting author sessions on that day. Add to that the huge crowd, elbowing along at the halls, made it impossible to spend time leafing through the books with ease and at leisure. Unfortunately while the fair has grown leaps and bounds, the exhibition space remains the same. Hope the event organisers along with the aggressive promotions will also look into increasing the space for the exhibition to accommodate the burgeoning number of book lovers.

Here is a shot from the DC books, an Indian publishing house, stall. There were piles and piles of all kinds of books laid out on tables. You gotta be lucky to get standing space and manage to pull out books that you would want to buy, then brave a long queue at the cash counter to finally go home with your prized possessions.

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