Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heritage and Diving Village, Shindagha Area, Dubai

After two previous failed attempts to visit the Heritage and Diving Village in Dubai, we finally made it there this weekend. Located next to Sheikh Saeed's House, there is plenty of parking (free on Friday) and entrance is free but sadly although it does open at 16:30 on Fridays, even by 17:30 it seemed most of the people working there had decided not to turn up for work so it was all a little deserted.

Of those who had come to showcase Emirati heritage was one burqa-clad lady making pancakes over a small stove. With minimal English but great hospitality, she made us each a pancake - 3 pancakes for just Dhs 10. I wasn't 100% convinced of the hygiene of her 'kitchen' but figured eating a pancake burning hot from the oven should be safe...and it was delicious. A word of caution to any tourist though: never photograph a local lady without first asking her permission or you could land yourself in hot water. Luckily, she was more than happy to be photographed. It's actually very rare nowadays to see anyone wearing the burqa (gold coloured mask to cover the face) and you will generally only see it on old ladies in the predominantly local areas. Younger women tend to not cover their face and when they do they are covered with the same thin material as their headscarf - I'm sure it's a lot more comfortable and cooler than the hard burqa mask.

The village has replica stone houses and areesh houses (areesh is made from plaited palm fronds) which I think would normally have housed little shops but these were all locked up. There was an area with a sign 'Bedouin Life' but nobody was there demonstrating the bedouin traditions, perhaps that part is only open at night. Performances of some kind must be staged at certain times because there was a large open area with rows of chairs but there was nobody to ask for information. For children, there were 2 ponies for trotting about on and unlike in many parts of the world where you can find the animals in a very sorry state, these both looked very healthy and well-fed.

Next to the Heritage Village, we entered the Diving Village (also free entrance) but this was even more deserted. When it's in operation I believe that there would be men demonstrating how the pearl industry worked as well as museum-style displays of photos and information on the hazards this profession suffered. According to the displays at the Dubai Museum, some divers could hold their breath for up to 5 minutes while they braved jellyfish and dangerous seas searching for the perfect pearls.

All along the front, looking out on the Creek and the passing dhows (these wooden boats are still a key means of transporting goods between India and Dubai), are a multitude of restaurants that we never knew existed. Although the number of tables and chairs gave the appearance that they were very much aimed at busloads of tourists, on this Friday afternoon there seemed to be a lot of Arab nationals as opposed to tourists so the food is presumably of a good standard. Numerous people seemed to be eating from small table-top BBQs with skewers of meat grilling over the coals; it looked very authentic and interesting. We will need to plan an evening or lunch-time visit next time so we can sample some of the food.

We ended our visit at the house of Obaid Al Thani which is very similar in style to Sheikh Saeed's House but didn't hold the same appeal for us. It is primarily a religious museum with rooms devoted to quotes from the Holy Quran on subjects such as The Creation of the Universe, The Creation of Man etc. Again, entrance was free to the house. The central courtyard was dominated by a stage and seating where we presumed religious lectures or debates must be held. There were a few men working there who I believe would have been happy to explain any questions we might have had about Islam so for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the religious traditions of the UAE, this could be a good place to start.

During the week the villages open at 10, although whether that means all the shops and displays will be open at that time is another matter! Maybe next time we'll try on a Saturday and see if we have better luck.


  1. It's so wonderful to read your post on my favourite place in Dubai:) There's something so peaceful about it. My favourite restaurant there is Kan Zaman. The view over the Creek at night is spectacular, with Deira all lit up, the abras crossing and the smell of sheesha in the air - a truly unique experience.

    In case you haven't already, you should visit the Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi as well, it's beautiful.

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