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Abu Dhabi, UAE - A Peek from an Outsider's Perspective

The United Arab Emirates - One of the shining star in the region called middle-east. Highly stable when compared to the generally unstable region, this country is a symbol of how countries shift their focus as things change from the resources perspective. Today, this is one of the important global destinations and growing rapidly in terms of business and leisure interest. Located between the west and the east, along with relatively stable and managed affairs - UAE is strategically placed to create an impact culturally, economically and geographically.

UAE is basically a republic of sorts composed of seven emirates out of which Abu Dhabi is one of the important ones. While being an emirate, the co-named city is also the capital of the country. It has today become a center for business and tourist and rapidly growing economically, infrastructure-wise, and tourism. Abu Dhabi offers a stable law and order, conducive labor policies, decent infrastructure, and right environment to those looking to set up the businesses here while it offers great insights into the rich Arabian culture and warm hospitality. People come here and are bound to like the aura of this modern-yet-traditional city. From architecture, theme parks, and well-developed sea coast, this is a tourists land and offers something inviting for all ages, class, and interest.

The city believed to be founded as a small village of palm huts when a wandering tribe was led to this island by an antelope in search of water. Gradually the tribe built coral buildings and fort as the city expanded. As the population expanded, the city of Abu Dhabi - meaning 'Land of the Gazelle' in Arabic - has since transformed both in form and size from an island settlement to a cosmopolitan city - one that is modern and chic with high rises and spread across multiple islands around the region. Such was the development of infrastructure and facilities that the city was named as capital of United Arab Emirates.

A lot is said about this city and a lot is conjectured based on perceptions. While many may be true to some extent, a lot of the perceptions are simply dated and based on archaic presumptions. I spent a good amount of time in the city owing to work commitments and trust me - my views of the city changed drastically - one based on the googled out information to the reality on the ground. To get to know the city more closely than you may know as of now, I bring to you an outsider's perspective - something every tourist or expat may like to have before coming over here.

Cultural Capital - That is how they like to showcase this city

A Rich Cultural Heritage - Backbone of the City 
One may be impressed with the high rise glass-walled building donning most of the city - especially in the downtown or the business district - but the city has successfully preserved its culture through this mirage. They richly follow their traditions, stick to their beliefs and value the knowledge they have inherited. The architecture around, the importance given to art, the religious overbearing on most activities and avoidance of a fast-paced modern life make this city unique in itself. People here are devout and the natives mostly follow the prayer rituals to the core. Men dress in a Kandura – a full-length white robe and women dress is an abaya – a full-length black robe with a headscarf known as Sheyla. The tourist destinations and the iconic spots mostly revolve around showcasing this aspect of the city.

One may think that this identity of the city has found its path on its own. While the abstract values that culture brings obviously cannot be forced and hence live through their own strength, but if promoted rightly provide a unique identity to the city itself. And this has been the case with this one. The local administration has put forward a concerted effort to establish a strong cultural infrastructure in the city and the reality today is owing to it to a large extent.

Embracing Modernity With Grace - They are opening up to world

Savy Construction and Development
The region has long enjoyed a strong economy riding on the huge oil reserves bestowed by nature. Given they had the natural resource, they had limited need to have external interaction or influence and hence remained a closed society until very recently. The nations in the region have been known to be highly conservative social fabric and religious rigidity. Locals have been very protective of their religious and social practices. They have long kept a strict vigil on residents and have enforced the practices with specific law enforcement agency dedicated for this purpose. The world for people here was what they had seen and theirs was only the right way of life. Women faced many restrictions including not being allowed to drive or venture out alone. Expats and tourists had to experience limitations in their lifestyle to follow the local culture - including clothing, alcohol availability, entertainment, and business activities. But things are no longer the same anymore - they have changed and for the better.

As the realization grows stronger that oil cannot be the sole foundation of the economy and given that the oil reserves are fast depleting, many of the middle east countries have started opening up their economy and society. Abu Dhabi is one of the front-runners in this respect and has embraced people from outside - both by relaxing societal norms and easing travel and lifestyle restrictions. The rules now allow people to come in, conduct business and invest in property. Lifestyle has evolved over time and restrictions of dressing and public interactions have been relaxed. Initiated by the government, these changes have been accepted by the society at large. Hotels have been designated as tourist areas and are allowed to offer avenues of entertainment - including alcohol, spas, swimming pools, and others. While the online portals may still like to believe that the region is conservative and rigid, but that is far from reality. It is almost like any other major city across the world with slightly more focus on culture. As long as one respects the local traditions and beliefs and do not try to come across them or interfere with locals, the locals would not interfere in your affairs.

Gateway to the City - How do you reach here?

Abu Dhabi International Airport

Abu Dhabi International Airport is the primary gateway for the city with connectivity for most of the important centers across the world. Courtesy of growing clout of middle-eastern airlines, Etihad Airways - the home airline for Abu Dhabi - has been able to take its footprint globally. Yeah, if you are thinking, the emirate i.e. equivalent of a state for most countries has its own official airline. And if you find a location that isn't covered by them, chances are it is covered by the official airline of neighboring Emirate - Dubai - i.e. The Emirates. The Dubai Airport is about an hour and a half away from the city by taxi.

Abu Dhabi airport is located about half an hour drive away from the downtown area and is well connected by road. Taxis are available round the clock and there are people managing the airport taxi service - so as soon as you are out of the airport someone would guide you to the next available taxi. The airport taxis - black saloons - designed to cater to savvy tourists landing in the city - are chic, modern, comfortable and big along with options to pay using cards. The airport itself is large and provides all facilities aligned with global standards for an international airport. There are multiple terminals spread across the airport and hence one needs to be careful in noting the one relevant to them. There are a few uniques of sorts for the airport too. This is only one of two airports outside the US which provides pre-departure immigration facility for passengers transferring or originating their flights for the US here. This allows you to clear customs and immigration here itself while you are fresh and avoid the long waiting periods in major US cities. Then there are the e-gates facilities which allow you to exit the airport or board a flight without any human interaction - obviously, this is applicable from your second visit onward but essentially makes things very fast.

Tourists Delight – There is so much to see, do and enjoy

The Touristic Wheel - Luxurious Cabins

Corniche Promenade - An Evening Ramble
Gone are the days when Dubai was the only tourist destination of the region and other cities were believed to be there for locals and expats to find jobs and work. Abu Dhabi is coming up as a tourist destination rapidly and the government is putting a focused effort to make the city tourist friendly and provide options for tourists of all age, taste, and interests. While obviously, the focus of the city is to provide a cultural experience for those who take a trip to the city, there is enough for those interested in the thrill, nature or simply a laid-back time. Heavy investments have been made over the years to develop required infrastructure for this purpose and today the city definitely can boast itself as a tourist destination at par with any other, if not more. For a tourist, there are a lot of things that could find traction and tempt a visit to the city.
  • There are multiple sites and iconic building that offer a view of the rich cultural and religious heritage of the region, varied and innovative architectural styles and panoramic views 
  • There are multiple beaches around the city for a relaxed time enjoying the nature. The city has invested a lot of money to develop a beautiful beachfront along with promenade across the coast. 
  • Yas Island brings with it a posh locality and adventure sports including the Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld 
  • Abu Dhabi is center for many events across the year which attract captive visitors and maintain the thrill in the environment. F1 racing evening in November is just one of the most popular ones. 
  • Shopping seems to be the best past time for locals and tourists with surging salaries and improving living styles. There isn’t a corner in the city which does not boasts of a shopping mall, each larger than the other. 
  • If you are so inclined, there are options to sneak away from the city for a day or two and visits places nearby including Dubai, Al Ain, Sharjah, and others. 

Logistics - How do you manage in this city

Local Transportation - Taxis are the Foundation
One may wonder how is the city – in one of the most unstable regions – to live and visit. The city is very well managed with absolutely nothing to worry in terms of logistics. The city has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and is known to be counted amongst top 25 cities in the world. Law and order is pretty good and police are responsive. There is a well-managed taxi system in the city with standardized rates across all companies and the cabs can either be hailed or called via phone/app. The city also has a bus system which works using a prepaid card with decent coverage but a limited frequency. Most international credit cards are accepted by merchants and ATMs which have quite a dense presence. International food is available in all the hotels and malls and the food courts offer decent food at affordable rates. So all in all, you are set for pretty much most of your needs.

This is a first-hand preview of the city based on my own stay here for over a couple of months and I have grown fond of the city now. I can here with many apprehensions and worried about how my life would be outside of the hotel and office but things turned out to be pretty amazing. I have happy memories from my visit and look forward to my future visits.

In case you have plans to visit the region and have any queries, shoot out a mail or comment. If you have views on this article – supportive or contradictory – please do express them freely. Looking forward to hearing from all of you.

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