Dubai Butterfly Garden

I am seated on a wooden bench surrounded by bright flowers and green creepers, the chirping of birds in the backdrop is music to my ears. In this natural paradise flutters in a blue butterfly. Her wings, the colour of the sky, settle on a piece of sticky banana slice kept amidst a pot full of white chrysanthemums. All around me several colourful butterflies sit pretty on flowers and creepers. I experienced this blissful atmosphere right here in Dubai at the Butterfly Garden. Opened in March 2015 it is located adjacent to the Miracle Garden. This indoor air conditioned park is spread across four domes and is open all through the year.
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Around 20,000 pupae are imported from Costa Rica, Philippines and Colombia every week. These pupae are then introduced into the garden. The life cycle of a butterfly is only for around two weeks that means the new pupae need to be introduced to keep butterflies numbers in motion.
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Although you are not allowed to touch the butterflies the park authorities do not object if the bugs willing come and sit on you.
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One of the butterfly garden domes also has a few varieties of caged birds.
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Yet another attraction at the park is a gallery with butterflies in frames. Here is one that creates the face of Sheikh Mohammed.
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Malai Ghevar

The months of July and August are monsoon months in India — Sawaan ke mahine as we say in Hindi. Besides the romantic weather that these months bring along there are a wide range of sweet and salty delicacies that one can tuck into. Various parts of India have typical rain weather food. One such monsoon dessert that I love to gorge is Ghevar. Prepared especially in this season it has its origins in Rajasthan where it is made during the Teej festival. As luck would have it we live in Karama, the desi haven for all Dubai residents. Last week this large ghevar piece from Bikanervala, Karama, was polished off in minutes by the three of us.
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Bikanervala in Karama sells three varieties of ghevar — plain, malai and kesar. The base of the ghevar is made of flour and milk, then fried in ghee, topped with cream or malai and nuts. Tastes yumm especially when eaten fresh.

Meeting author Sophie Hannah

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This post was long overdue as I met author Sophie Hannah at the Emirates Lit Fest in March 2015. Being a huge Agatha Christie fan it was an unmissable event as she is the only writer to have brought back the indomitable Hercule Poirot back in action since Agatha Christie’s death. In her latest book The Monogram Murders Sophie gives Christie fans yet another chance to discover the eccentricities of one of the world’s most loved detectives.

At the Lit Fest Sophie shared several interesting aspects of writing this novel. She spoke about creating a Scotland Yard detective called Edward Catchpool who assists Poirot in solving the triple murders at the Bloxham Hotel in London. Catchpool is also the narrator in the book and appears loosely based on Captain Hastings, who featured as an associate of Poirot in Christie’s books. To write this novel she read and re-read the entire Agatha Christie book collection and relied on Catchpool as the narrator because she did not want to write in the voice of Agatha.

Authors often take inspiration from their own lives while creating characters and situations. In The Monogram Murders Poirot is living in a lodge a few yards away from his own home because he wants to enjoy a month of “restful inactivity” but he does not like the idea of being far away from home. Sophie recalled that her own father detested travel and in summer holidays when the family was excitedly making plans to visit new destinations he would suggest staying at the hotel in the next lane. “We can walk across and come back whenever we want to said Dad.”

She is also the author of several other bestselling crime fictions such as  The Carrier, which won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards. Two of her crime novels — The Point of Rescue and The Other Half Lives have been adapted for television. She started her career as a secretary and was later offered a writing fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. Sophie told the audience that she always has a rough plan of the book she is writing and aims at finishing at least thousand words in a day. She also puts in a lot of research and counts on a few policemen as her friends.

Beauty of clay

On our way back from a weekend trip to Oman on the Dubai Hatta road we spotted several shops selling carpets and pottery. When we stayed in Delhi we often visited local blue pottery shops but in Dubai it’s virtually impossible to find such roadside markets. Besides giving me that desi feeling of buying something from a roadside vendor it was also a great opportunity to add some unique pots to my balcony garden. These shops sell a wide range of pottery items such as jars, flower pots, incense holders, garden accessories, cups and piggy banks. The sellers are eager to show you around and ready to bargain.

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This is what we bought. We have now painted two of the small jars and are hoping to paint the fish pot in bright hues. For now it holds a red flower plant I got from Ikea recently.

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Street Con 2015 at Ghurair Centre

The lanes around Al Ghurair centre, Deira, have come alive with striking wall graffiti, colourful installations and interesting stalls as part of the STREETCON (Street Art Connection). The festival showcases street artists, photographers and musicians. We enjoyed an evening listening to live music, exploring the stalls and posing for pictures along the bright walls. As the event is spread across various locations around the mall we were only able to see a portion of it. The first visuals that caught my eye were these stunning close ups of cats.  The photo series is titled, Stray and is by Jandri Angelo Aguilor. It attempts to bring out the artist’s yearning to own a cat, which he cannot because his tiny bed space does not permit him to.

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Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra uses bright colours and bold lines to create kaleidoscopic art. His installations are usually huge and spread across a building. We spotted one here.

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Along the inner road of the mall there are also several stalls displaying variety of art forms. Explore vintage posters, paper art and handmade toys. We were particularly intrigued by the Dubai Moving Image Museum stall. This unique museum is located in Tecom and claims to be one of a kind in the world. The stall showcased traditional animation equipment, books, cards and optical toys.

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The entire street was a visual treat with local graffiti artists spray painting the walls, musicians jamming on stage and skateboarders skilfully manoeuvring their boards mid air. We hope to see the Miracoco Luminarium, the box art exhibit, bike art and the doodle wall in the weekend. Ending the post with this beautiful image of lamps.

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Cafe Ceramique

The whole idea of sipping tea while creating your own work of art is so charming that it’s easy to fall for it. At Cafe Ceramique in Town Centre, Jumeirah, you get to choose from a wall full of ceramic pieces and a menu listed with sandwiches, burgers and desserts. You also get a variety of paint brushes and assorted colours to unleash the Picasso in you. After much deliberation we picked a car shaped piggy bank among mugs, tiles and figurines displayed on the shelf.

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Messy fingers and work in progress

The cafe glazes the art work and heats in a kiln. The creation is ready to be picked up in about a week’s time.
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And oh yes, their desserts are delicious too, but the artwork is what everyone heads here for.

Dubai Canvas Festival

Some days ago we went to see Middle East’s first three dimensional pavement art festival. Driving through thick traffic along JLT we landed at the Dubai Canvas Festival venue on a breezy evening. Along the JLT beach there were several 3D installations made by street artists with chalk and paint. The most famous among them was Kurt Wenner, a US based 3D street artist whose work has been exhibited in 30 countries. In Dubai he created a 3D art showcasing a traditional abra and children with pearl baskets. 3d2 There were pictures of Sheikh Mohammed with this particular art in all newspapers, which meant large number of visitors landed at the event that weekend. The whole venue was awash with selfie freaks and camera flashes. Forget about admiring the 3D art, it became impossible to click a single installation without a kid or a family posing along with it. The 3D effect was visible when one viewed the art from certain angles, but queues of photo enthusiasts covered those spots. Wish the organisers had restricted these photo opps to a few art installations only. 3d1 Some artists were still at the venue, giving last minute touches to their creations. 20150306_214024

A talk on Baniyas Square

Think of Deira and most Dubai residents will utter one word — congested. Along with its serious dearth of parking space it is also a locality that lacks the chic and urbane look of the rest of Dubai. But therein lies its real charm. Although renovations and restorations have reshaped Deira there still exists a slice of the past in many of its alleys. Each visit to the spice souk along the Deira creek with all its trappings of an old bazaar has been memorable. Last week I got an opportunity to know more about Deira from a local resident who had witnessed the transformation of the area over the years. As part of the Artists-in-Residence programme, photographer and culture writer at the culturist, Hind Mezaina, conducted an informal talk at the Baniyas Square in Deira. The square, which was earlier called Al Nasr Square, houses some of the old iconic buildings of Deira on either sides. While on one side is the Phoenicia Hotel http://phoeniciahoteldubai.net/index.html that boasts of a popular Ethiopian restaurant the other side has the Deira Tower and the Dubai Tower. A recently renovated old fountain surrounded by a patch of green is at the centre of the square. Thanks to the metro station the Baniyas Square is easily accessible and adds to a constant flow of people. That evening a bunch of young boys played football even as tourists and residents idled on the park benches. deira2 deira Hind, who is part Emirati and part Egyptian, grew up in neighbouring Port Saeed. Before it became Nasr Square, Hind shared that the area, was known as Cinema Square after an old cinema in the area. The Cinema Square was a bustling and sought after trade centre for old residents. She often accompanied her mother on shopping trips to the area. “We would buy our spices, school uniforms and many other essentials here before ending our outing with a meal of shawarmas. Jashanmal, the first departmental store in the UAE, opened here as well.” The square was also the hangout of the engineers and workers who dredged the Dubai Creek in 1963, which allowed bigger ships to get in and out, says a newspaper report. Today Hind visits the area to enjoy a meal at Phoenicia and to hangout with friends at the Garage Club.

Cafe Aroma

Enroute the churches on Oud Metha Road is the leafy Cafe Aroma. We have been here a couple of times and have always come back feeling refreshed. More than the food it’s the cafe’s ambience that impresses. Formerly called Aroma Garden Cafe like its name suggests it gives visitors the joy of sipping tea amidst a lot of greenery. There are creepers all along the walls of the cafe and around each table are several pots of assorted indoor plants. As the cafe also serves shisha, it has a separate seating area for smokers, at the entrance of which stands a lovely landscaped fountain garden. cafe

We ordered a chicken pizza, a Fattoush salad accompanied with bread and hummous with of course pots of tea

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Sharing some pics of the interiors.

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Abra ride & Spice Souk

A flock of seagulls and dark clouds accompanied us along the abra ride one evening at Dubai creek. A friend was visiting and we were on a customary souk tour. For me an abra ride is always a refreshing experience, one I never get tired of. Most tourists too seem to enjoy boarding the wooden dhow, sharing space with scores of daily travellers and most of all soaking in the sights of old Dubai, that seems so remote as compared to the high rises and glitzy malls they just stepped out of. The cool breeze and the twinkling lights from other dhows added a dash of old world magic to the short boat ride that took us from Bur Dubai to Deira in less than 10 minutes . abra The first souk we visited after alighting from the abra ride was Deira’s spice souk on Baniyas Road. The covered souk has lanes of tiny shops with Iranian traders selling sacks of colourful spices. Yellow hues of turmeric merged with the stark brown cinnamon sticks and dried buds of pink roses vied for our attention along with sacks of fiery red chilies. 20150117_181521 We bought a few spices, among them was a packet of dried lavender that can be fermented to make tea. Beyond the spice souk is the glittering gold souk. Not big fans of gold we still ogled at rows of chunky necklaces and bangles. Back home with stacks of memories and packets of spices, a mud oudh burner and chocolates that looked like little pebbles, the first packet we opened was the lavender tea and we were not disappointed. lavender tea

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