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Dubai sits on a golden sandy coastline in the Arabian Gulf, where the warm azure waves of the sea meet the desert. A high-rise oasis, this city is a pleasure-dome surrounded by dunes; one of the most fashionable on the planet thanks to its ability to satisfy the needs of legions of demanding vacationers. Dubai is about having fun—and it's one big adult playground.
Nature plays her part here, with year-round sunshine, gorgeous beaches, dramatic arid landscapes, and warm waters, but it's the man-made attractions that make Dubai so alluring. You can launch yourself into high-adrenaline desert adventures, diving and water sports, and some of the world's best golf courses. The 5-, 6-, and 7-star hotels offer the ultimate in luxury, and the party scene is hot. Shopping malls are the biggest in the world and are packed full of high-class merchandise. And with hundreds of restaurants with cuisine from around the world, you can munch your way from Mexico to Malaysia.
Dubai is an Arab country with a long history as a trading port. Traces of its traditional life, customs, and architecture can still be seen and explored, but today and tomorrow are much more important than yesterday. Almost every building in this metropolis is less than 20 years old and the most dramatic developments—groundbreaking megaprojects—have just been completed or are still under construction.
The city is certainly unique. Islam is its anchor, but it has opened its doors to the rest of the world and has invited them in to work, rest, and play, which creates a truly international atmosphere. Unashamedly modern and materialistic, life here takes place at breakneck speed. The landscape is stark, the confidence is sky high, the can-do spirit is palpable, and the bling is in your face. Dubai produces strong reactions in people, but one thing is certain—love it or loathe it—you will not forget it. It is without a doubt, one of the world's true must-see destinations.
Shisha: Smoke Without Fire. Emirati men love socializing, but as they don't drink alcohol they get together over coffee and shisha instead of a drink at the bar after work. The shisha, or hookah, is a smoking device, usually made of glass, that filters smoke through water before it reaches the smoker's mouth. Shisha tobaccos are aromatic and are often mixed with apple, cinnamon, or cherry, so their taste isn't as strong as other tobaccos. Smoking shisha is said to induce relaxation—but you'll have to decide if it's for you!
Rising like an oasis in the Persian Gulf, Manamah is no mirage. The capital of Bahrain (with a population of around 150, 000), the city houses almost a quarter of all Bahranis. At times resembling something from 1001 nights and at others like something from the set of a sci-fi futuristic drama Al Manamah is just beginning to get seen on the savvy traveller’s map. Mentioned in Islamic chronicles since 1345 and conquered by the Portuguese in 1521, Manamah is anything except typical. Expect to feast both your eyes and your stomachs here with the quintessence of Muslim hospitality – from delicious bowls laden with love and eons of history to the plethora of genuine, warm invitations to share tea with the locals, hospitality is taken very seriously here.
For culture vultures, the Al Fateh Mosque (one of the world’s largest and by far the largest in Bahrain), this is a sight – and site – to see. First and foremost a place of worship that offers tours on the side, it is important to remember that this is a sacred place and traditions and cultures must be respected. Dress modestly, remove your shoes and women should cover their heads – note that garmets will be provided if necessary. However, as one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, visitors should expect an enthusiastic welcome, inquisitive guides and a huge library to get lost in.
Moving on, seven nominated UNESCO World Heritage sites prove the extent of Bahrain’s dedication to conservation of the past. Although only two so far have been approved – the Ancient Harbour and the Pearling Trail that is said to date back to 2,000 BC, one really does get a feeling in Manamah that the past is all around.
Mumbai, sometimes called the Maximum City, after Suketa Mehta’s 2004 nonfiction book of the same name, encapsulates the dynamism and chaos of modern India better than any other city. In this sprawling, muscular place by the sea that you'll find everything from succulent street food to haute cuisine, bargain-basement bazaars to haute couture, humbling poverty to staggering wealth, sacred temples to hedonistic nightclubs. Mumbai is in many ways the New York City of India, and the many of the locals carry the same kind of chip on their shoulders—despite the madness, they wouldn’t trade it for any other place on Earth.
Mumbai is a city of extremes, where slum-dwelling strivers making dollars a day serve Bollywood stars and industrial billionaires. It's a 24-hour city stocked with some of the best late-night street food in the world, as well as fine-dining restaurants of renowned chefs. It's a cosmopolitan city of people from all over India that's nonetheless home to strident parochialism. It's a city of dreams for millions of Indians that, at the same time, affords so few any measure of comfort. And it's a beautiful city of silver towers when viewed by twilight from the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge over the Arabian Sea, but that sight quickly turns into a maze of winding, dirty streets and alleys when viewed up close.
Sensory overload is the name of the game on the island formerly known as Bombay (and yes, most locals still call it by its previous moniker). The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the airport is the smell—spicy, fishy, and, to be honest, often not altogether pleasant. Next comes a crazed cab ride through the seemingly lawless streets (should your driver run a red light or, just as likely, drive on the wrong side of the road, try to remain calm). Then a traffic jam in the midst of a veritable symphony of honking, in which barefoot children, often holding infants, and tragically disfigured men and women knock at your window, begging for change. Persevere through, though; embrace and try to understand the natural hazards of the developing world, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a beautiful, often inspiring city.
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