Going to public markets is one of the best ways to know and learn about a place. It’s always an engaging experience to look and stroll around, see what shopkeepers offer in their stalls that more often than not, reflects their culture, lifestyle, history apart from daily necessities. The experience usually gets better when travelers and tourists begin to interact with locals tending to their goods.
12 March 2014, Wednesday. Around mid-morning, I left my current flat in Deira with no aim but to wander and learn more about Dubai through its souks. Under the sunshiny weather with its oddly cool breeze in March according to some, I walked my way towards the Dubai Metro Station and took the Green Line from Abu Baker Al Siddique Station in Deira. After brief stops at Salah Aldin, Union, Baniyas Square, and Palm Deira, I alighted at Al Ras Metro Station.
Without googling the web prior to my day in Al Ras, I only asked about the sites of Gold Souk, Spice and Herb Souk from the Information Counter Officer at the train station. The passenger-friendly staff of RTA-Dubai told me to hop off the train when it arrives in Al Ras station. From there, I relied on asking local people for direction and trusted my sense of adventure, haha! 😀
It was only after I went there that I learned the alternative routes. One could also take RTA-Dubai bus or ride an abra (a water taxi at 2 dirhams per pax.) when crossing Dubai Creek to Herb and Spice Souks.
After exiting the Dubai Metro Al Ras Station, I crossed the street and walked towards left, passed by an alley and inquired the location of Gold Souk. I was told I must continue heading left and turn right at the street’s end.; et voila! I saw people swarming around the facade of one of Dubai’s must-visit-places, the Gold Souk!
Tourists flocking and taking turns in taking photos of the biggest gold ring I’ve ever laid my eyes on!
The Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), created by Taiba for Gold and Jewelry Co. Ltd. of Saudi Arabia is Guiness Book of World Records certified as the world’s heaviest gold ring! The certificate states, “The ring is mounted with 5.17 kg of precious stones from Signity Middle East and set on 58.686 kg in 21 carat gold ring, supported by the World Gold Council, UAE6, with total weight of 63. 856 kg.”
With all the gold around me, I didn’t wait long to ask a local shop attendant about the rate of gold per gram. In an instant, I was referred with a pointing index finger to those several ATM-like-machines that show the present selling rate of gold per gram and per carat.
You may do the Math. One Emirati Dirham is equivalent to 0.27 US Dollars.
My eyes popped out at the sight of gold, gold and gold! 😀
Then there were other stalls, particularly at the narrow laterals that sell assorted commodities from souvenir shirts, shawls, shoes and a lot more. Some would even approach you with bottled water and drinks that they’re selling.
Alibaba shoes. Carrie Bradshaw & Madame Imelda Marcos will be pleased. 🙂
My stomach’s borborygmi (growling sounds) physiologically called for lunch meal! I walked my way out and exited Gold Souk at its other end and spotted a Shawarma eatery right at the sidewalk.
Shawarma for 5 dirhams per wrap, plus canned soda at 2 dirhams by the sidewalk stall, FTW!
After a hearty Shawarma lunch and people watching, I went back inside Gold Souk and exited near the shop with the biggest gold ring. I asked another local about the location of Spice and Herb Souks, and was directed towards left.
HERB & SPICE SOUKS
It’s not that difficult to find Herb Souk that’s so adjacent with Spice Souk. The distinctively aromatic scents and colorful sights of herbs and spices guided my nose and eyes going there.
The abundant sight of herbs and spices, tea leaves, frankincense, myrrh and dried whatever was overwhelming! The colors, the scents, the textures. The only sense that I wasn’t able to use was gustatory, other than that, everything’s a sensory feast!
“Chinese or Malaysian?” asked by one of the shop attendants.
“Filipino, from Manila the Philippines!” I replied quickly.
I wonder why few people consider me as Chinese with my dark skin.
Then in a blink, he followed, “Pare, Kamusta ka? Tuloy ka dito. Ano hanap mo?” trying his best to speak in Tagalog.
“Impressive! Where did you learn your Tagalog?” I asked; as if I didn’t know Filipinos occupy the largest part of the expat-pie graph in Dubai.
I took the opportunity to ask the names of his goods.
“Most of our herbs and spices come from Sri Lanka, India, China and many more. That one is sunflower, then ginger, garlic, chilies, frankincense, myrrh, lavander, rose hips, cinnamon, lemon or lemonito, tea leaves…”
It was fun talking to him, informative too.
Guided tourists trooped into the shops too. I started walking away. The Spice Souk is located behind the Herb Souk, almost the same trading goods, and just across the Creek where one can take an abra or water taxi to Bur Dubai, the Old Dubai district (another must-visit place!).
On my way back to Al Ras Metro Station, I opted to check out the Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House.
Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House
“Sir, Is the Heritage House, Free? Without admission rates?” I asked the security guard at the reception.
Built in 1890, the Heritage House would give any guests an atmosphere and ambiance of how a traditional Emirati house looks like. With Al-Majlis or where guests, particularly travelers are received, that is still considered the most essential room in an Arabic house as Islam encourages generosity and hospitality, and a large courtyard or locally called, Al-Haush, that also features wind tower or wind catcher that used to catch colder breeze above the ground and direct it to the inner parts of the house of cooler ventilation, as wet textiles hanging on the the criss-cross wooden bars aid in the cooling effect. These windcatchers were very traditional in Persian houses and architectural structures in the Gulf region.
With permission from the local staff, I took her photo as she was spinning the thread wheel at the courtyard. I went inside accessible rooms, saw one with mannequins depicting traditional games at one of the Upper Rooms, a “Zariba” or a cattle pen at the lower ground within the vast courtyard; there’s also a room showing Arabic kitchen wares and whatnot.
I was overwhelmed within a couple of hours of strolling around Al Ras district in Dubai. I wouldn’t mind going back.