Not many mosques are to be found in modern, recently built districts that date back a decade or two. You do not hear those five calls to prayer by Muslim preacher, imam, every day. Although Dubai is proud to have 500 mosques, they are usually situated in old districts. One of them, in Al Satwa, built few years ago, was designed after the famous Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and bears the name of the second caliph Umar Al Khattab.
The rest of them are similar to one another, beige on the outside, decorated by reliefs, and your guide book will recommend Jumeira Mosque which allows tourist tours. Yet, the Big Bus is not the best solution, since it’s not always possible to get there until 10 a.m. when the Mosque opens its doors. Nevertheless, it’s easy to book a tour for Jumeira Mosque at Bastakiya, one of the oldest heritage sites.
Staying in modern Dubai districts, it will be hard to hear that call to prayer at five in the morning. But, do spend just an hour or two in Deira or Bur Dubai, and it will be impossible to miss it. It so happened that I got lost there, between two souks…
Bustling Spice Souk
Going around Spice and Gold Souk during summer months is a bit of a venture, since they are both outdoors and those long and narrow passages between market stalls are just lightly covered. But arm yourself with bottles of water, sun glasses, wet wipes and a hat, and go out there, because you’ll be sorry if you miss the experience. Big Bus stops next to the Spice Souk and I was explained that it is almost connected to the Gold Souk. So, I have expected a nice walk for an hour or so.
The moment you step into that covered area you get amazed by variety of scents. People who were hitherto cooling themselves by waving newspapers in front of their faces, get up as soon as they see potential customer. On their stalls – spices of various scents, colors and shapes. It’s hard to recognize them all, some might not be familiar even when you are told about them. You will not be able to avoid haggling, of course.
This Arab souk curves in seemingly countless turns and narrow passages to both sides where you can find other stores, stalls selling spices and all the other goods you can think of. And when you think you are walking straight and have some clue where you are going to stumble out of this covered souk, don’t be surprised if it is totally the opposite!
But, I quickly forgot about it stepping into that Asian-Arab district where everybody was rushing down narrow streets, loud car horns were howling over and over because over packed cart stopped in the middle of small square that young Indian was not able to move anymore, not for an inch… You turn right to one even smaller street than the previous and there people are loading sacks of their goods, moving bags with spices and vegetables, some of them sitting on pile of bags catching their breath. Their neighbors or coworkers come along and there it starts, a vivid conversation… Even though the sun is still up and it seems the street itself is going to melt under those 45 degrees.
Call to prayer in the old Dubai
You turn again. This street looks like a dead end. Not many people pushing small carts or tiny truck hardly squeezing down to the store door to unload its bags. You are not the only one being surprised by the scene.
People you come across are also surprised – for seeing a tourist in this area. While they all work diligently, it’s somewhat embarrassing to take out those wet wipes and bottles of water all the time, taking pictures all around.
And above, at small building windows, clothes, mail shirts drying in the sun… You have obviously stepped into an Asian population area (75 percent of those 80 percent of foreigners in total, are from Asia). Anyway, I took one more picture thinking that no one will believe me that this is a shot from the actual Dubai!
It was not hard to notice that people were pulling away from the street. It crosses your mind that they might be cooling down somewhere in the shade or by air condition units.
But than it roars from all around – call to prayer from numerous minarets! It hits dense building walls in the street full of stores, goods, cars and people. It echoes and reflects back. It seems another is coming from the other side, hitting corners among concrete and humidity. Authentic atmosphere that leaves curious tourist grateful for being there at the right time.
Gold City and all that glitter
You smile and move on, leaving that prayer call behind, in order to find a larger street, any larger street. You were told that it is possible to go from one souk to another, but you loose sense of any direction in this labyrinth. At some point, a large boulevard springs up before you and it seems like a better idea to go around in a big circle than to lurch through narrow streets in this heat, lost for any orientation.
Approaching the souk there are a lot of jewelry shops, densely packed to one another, smiling salesmen charming tourists to drop by inside. The building with Gold Center sign, people who stroll along shopping-lane, some are already inside, attracted by better prices than back home. And finally there it is, the entrance with wooden arch and a sign saying the Gold City. It glitters from both sides, strung in shop windows in abundance and you don’t know where to look first. People coming in, haggling, buying… Murmur from all around – the real souk!
Labyrinth of streets and deadlocks
It was not so hard to be carried away by the atmosphere. I have noticed my „water supply shortage“ and have tried to rush through small alleys and corridors with my eyes still full of bustle and murmur. And one alley after another…
Somehow, I came back to the Spice Souk entrance?! How did that happen… Well, it was too hot to ask or worry about it. Better to jump back into the labyrinth of murmur, people, narrow streets, howling cars…
One Arab woman was coming towards me. „Exuse me, the way to the nearest metro station?“ She politely explains that there is probably „no station of the kind in the neigbourhood“. Well, I just smiled, thanked her, but still convinced that there should be one, surely not far from here, but in which direction…
Young Arab was resting on the pile of bags, so let’s try my luck one more time. „Exuse me, please…“ He just waved his hand away with a shifty smile. „I just wanted to ask for a metro station, if you would be so kind to tell me where to…“ He slowly moves his small white crocheted hat and than waves away again. „Do you speak English?“ This makes him smile widely, but I still didn’t get anything more than a wave. „No use“, I thought, putting on my widest smile as well, and just moved on.
It did become a bit hard walking through that heated bustle. But than a young Indian came along, smiling, moving his head left to right, with a strong accent explaining that actually „there is a metro station only few minutes away“. So, in five minutes I will reach that air conditioned station, my shirt might detach from my skin, and might be able to take deeper breath without worrying that my throat would be choked by humidity. But still… When you think about it – it was well worth it!