Andrea was working from her office and I was bored at home on a typically hot June morning. I had recently quit my corporate job to pursue a career in photography. In that week or so after quitting, I clicked almost everything in sight, however, I soon became bored and was looking for inspiration.
On this particular day, I couldn’t find anything or anyone interesting within the frame of my camera so I decided to head to a place where most Dubai-based photographers go to seek inspiration – the Bur Dubai Creek.
The Bur (old) Dubai creek is very different to the other parts of the city and I’m sure you will notice that from the photographs. It’s not flashy, there are no Armani or Gucci wearing locals and you only see a supercar very occasionally.
What you do see is an effort made by Dubai to show its tourists what the city was like before they found oil. The name of the place will make much more sense to you now.
History tells us that old Dubai was an important port town; a stopover for merchants to do business. When you walk around the creek, you see just that. Hundreds of boats and ferries unloading cargo, people crossing the creek on abras, and other things that you’d see at a port market.
As I walked around, I came across these beautifully handcrafted camel statues. The camel is one of the most valued animals in the UAE. Unlike the country’s national animal, which is the falcon, there are no big developments named after the camel, however, it is still an important part of UAE culture. There are large fines, for example, should you be unfortunate enough to run one over in your car.
(By the way, if you happen to find this item for sale in the creek market, make sure you don’t pay anything above USD20 for it).
Ever wonder how the people of Dubai used to live long before the jaw-dropping skyscrapers, massive luxury villas and modern day air-conditioned tents? The next picture will show you. The old houses were made with spare wood and palm leaves to protect them from the soaring desert sun in the day and the freezing cold of the night. A lantern or two would shed light on them.
Smoking is as common as luxury cars in Dubai, and almost every other person smokes – I blame the ridiculously low price of cigarettes for this. Here is an old man taking a cigarette break in between his shift of unloading the cargo from the ferry behind him. I observed him from a distance for almost fifteen minutes and he smoked three full cigarettes in that time.
When at the creek, you need to try the water taxi, which takes people across the water to Deira. It’s cheap and fun. The next picture is of a water taxi driver taking an afternoon nap.
Sold on the creek? If you’re going to visit, it’s best to head there in the late afternoon to beat the heat. The market area is a good place to start; here you will find anything from clothes to fake luxury watches and handbags – some of which are of great quality. Others not so much, though, so be aware before you end up with a Gukki bag.
This is the perfect place to practise your haggling skills, too. Knock at least 50 per cent off any starting price. A good tactic is to try walking away if you don’t like the price – a lot of the times they’ll chase after you in agreement with your offer.
The Dubai Museum is also highly interesting and is just a five minute walk from the creek. It shows you how the city has progressed over the decades. There is a small souvenir shop inside the museum, which is a good place to buy gifts for people to give once you get home.
Trust me, this place will make you smile and give you some very fond memories to take home. It will also show you the side of Dubai that not every visitor gets to see.
The Dubai Creek in Bur Dubai is located close to the Burjuman and Al Ghubaiba metro stations. From there you’ll have to take a short cab ride, which should cost more than USD6 (Dh 20).
Places of interest
Dubai Museum: Offers a good overview of the history of Dubai. Details can be found here.
Textile souk: Definitely worth a look even if you’re not buying anything. Location can be found here.
Spice souk: Located on the other side of the creek in Deira, which is just an abra ride away. Location can be found here.
Bastakiya: A labyrinth of tiny streets, lined with restored merchant houses, art galleries and quirky cafés. National Geographic has a great walking tour detailed here.
Vegetable samosas from the food stalls.
Karak chai (sweetened Indian tea – delicious!).