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In dhoti through Emirates

In dhoti through Emirates

As you could already notice in the name of this post, dhoti must be something important for the story. For those of you who are not familiar with this term – dhoti is simple Indian-style piece of fabric 4 to 4.5 meters long, tied in a very specific way. In the past, both kings and kshatriyas (warriors) were wearing it. Today, unfortunately, tradition of wearing a dhoti is slowly fading away…

Well, not for me.

After four months spent in India and Mauritius, finally it was (unexpected) time to visit Emirates – “very conservative and oppressed country”. We spent quite some time of surfing on the internet and investigating how to properly dress in Emirates. A friend who was there before gave us a few tips – cover yourself, don’t show any religious symbols, man should walk in normal trousers regardless of temperature, etc.

…and so I went dressed in dhoti, with huge Tulsi mala, while my wife in traditional Indian attire with at least 10 cm of sindhur in her hairline (red vermillion applied by married women in Indian tradition). We failed big. Unintentionally. But it was a priceless experience.

During those five days we spent in Emirates (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), we have seen more brain-frying situations and myths getting debunked than ever before. So let’s begin.

Oppressed women
I am sure you have heard many times how women are oppressed in Arabia. Everybody did. I did. It is what media is telling us. They need to cover themselves, they don’t have a choice, men are abusing them… You know the story.

First thing I noticed while entering Emirates was how women there seemed powerful. You might be surprised to hear that, but I have never seen more confident women anywhere in the world.

When I was passing through board control, I was wowed by looking at so elegant and stunning clothing of Arabians. Some Arabian men seemed tough, I must admit that. But some were so chill-outed that I could see myself high-fiving them or drinking coffee together. Then, I was called aside by Arabian police lady. Man, that was a scary experience!

She was questioning me like I am going to blow up the airport. She raided through my bags. Emptied them completely. Even my paper tissues and bills from the shops were suspicious. Looks that she gave me… I think that only my Krishna, who was there with me in my backpack saved me.

Perhaps in other Arabic countries you can see some opressed women. But definitely not in Emirates. To be perfectly frank, I felt like the one being opressed – by a lady!

“Presidential” SUV
First encounter with Dubai’s luxury was the moment when we noticed presidential standard of SUV waiting for us outside of the airport. This is the part of one other story, which may be told in one of the future blog posts.

Only thought that passed through my mind upon seeing this car was – what the driver must have thought while seeing that he came to pick up two “kids” dressed in Indian robes. I am still puzzled by that, and you have no idea how much I would like to look inside his head during that moment.

I am going to wonder about the same thing many times during this blog post.

Dubai Frame
The next day we went to see the famous Dubai frame.

Dubai frame is one very interesting concept. It is literally a frame 150m tall, which has only one function: to “divide” old and new Dubai, and give you an opportunity to look at those two from the height. Nothing special, right? Except, it is gold plated. Yes, you read correctly. Literally 15000m2 of gold plates was used to decorate it. I am just wondering, was that really necessary?

Absurdity aside, it was mind-blowing to look down from the Dubai frame. It has glass floor, so to look 150m down, like you are standing in the air and you can fall any moment… It was almost good enough to cack your pants. Or dhoti in my case.

You could see how people were avoiding walking over the glass part. Maybe I would also, but I just needed to take a picture of the view. It was scary.

It is actually a fascinating to observe your own mind in such situations. You know that you can’t fall, and that thousands of people already walked over it – buy yet, it’s still scary and puzzling for the mind. Because what your senses and instincts are telling you (“careful, you will fall down!”) doesn’t match the reality.

After few steps I went away because I started to feel “overdosed”. Unexplainable. Like your whole body is telling you, ‘it is too much’. After few minutes I tried to come back to the glass part – but it was not easy to go back there. I needed few minutes to actually put just one foot on the glass, not even to stand on it completely. I could not go again while looking down – so I just closed my eyes and walked over.

Dinner at fancy restaurant
In the evening, our friend, who invited us to Emirates, invited us to dinner in 5-star hotel. Very fancy one. And it was a suprisingly educative experience.

We are entering the restaurant – again, I am dressed in dhoti and t-shirt (even though I had fancy clothes with me, because of suggestions mentioned in the beginning) – and the guy working at the reception asked for the reservation name. After hearing person’s name (which was apparently known there), you could see micro movements on his face which showed that he doesn’t understand what is going on here, but he needs to keep poker face. It is still 5-star hotel restaurant.

We sit at the table surrounded with people with probably very deep pockets, and I just observe. I look at their suits, then look at my dhoti. I look at their face and I see that they don’t understand what is going on. Yet, I could not see judgement on their face. What I saw was appreciation, mixed with pinch of confusion.

It is one more phenomenon we witnessed. When you find yourself in so powerful and rich place – and I still don’t have a clue how this happened – your appearance doesn’t matter by default. Just the fact that you are there says something. Things start getting a new perspective.

Remember, this is the country where even royalty wears only dress with headscarf, with no jewellery whatsoever. Confusing situation, right?

It also made me think, how disturbingly easy people’s perception about you can change depending on the circumstances you are placed in.

Grand Mosque
Second biggest mosque in the world. It can host up to 40000 people during prayers. Grand Mosque is one more example which shows that for Emirates there are no limits. At least this time they broke the records for spiritual purposes.

Just to give you some perspective on how big it is. In order to get enough marble stone, they purchased whole mountain in Macedonia. Mosque hosts more than 1000 pillars, all hand carved and implemented with precious stones and crystals. It is decorated by 8 tons heavy crystal chandeliers, and it gave the home to the biggest handmade carpet in the world. It is more than 5000m2 big, and it was delivered by two cargo planes. Several hundreds ladies were stitching it during two years period.

Most beautiful part of the mosque was sanctum sanctorum, place where the prayers are taking place. On the wall of sanctum sanctorum (in the direction of Mecca) there are 99 flowers with names or qualities of God. Hundredth one is kept empty as it symbolises the part of God which cannot be understood by human mind, or even put into the words. Isn’t it interesting that the world keeps arguing about “whose God is better”, while all religions, at their core, essentially agree, that He cannot be comprehended by a limited human mind?

Yet, even more than by all architectural wonders, I was astonished by devotion of the lady who was leading the tour guide. Mahra was so open, patient, welcoming and friendly! Definitely the total opposite of how Arabic women are shown in the media.

Beautiful thing is, that everybody can visit this particular mosque, for free – regardless of your religion, nationality or colour of the skin. If you are not dressed properly, covered legs and head (for women), they will give you a temporary outfit, so you can get the opportunity to visit the mosque. That is how much they value their tradition and religion – but at the same they give a chance to everybody to visit the mosque. A beautiful balance between openness and tradition.

This is something that, sadly, I didn’t see in many places in India. Sad thing is that even today you can’t enter certain temples in India if your skin colour is “wrong”, or if God wanted you to take birth in the “wrong” country – even if you follow Hindu tradition wholeheartedly. I hope that whole world can learn from this example.

Emirates Palace
Another fascinating concept. Emirates Palace is the place which was originally supposed to be the home for prince of Emirates. However, they decided to turn it into “hotel” so everybody can see and experience this level of luxury.

Palace is full of restaurants (with surprisingly reasonable prices), which means everybody can come there. They host political gatherings and UN summits there (UN environmental summit was actually taking place during our visit), while residential part is reserved for presidents from around the world. It may be easily the most luxurious place you can find across the globe.

If that was not enough, try to comprehend the fact that you can buy gold on vending machines there…

It goes without saying – I was there in dhoti and t-shirt. I think this is already becoming a standard. I will maybe travel everywhere in dhoti and t-shirt. It’s cheap, comfortable, looks elegant and you get to see people’s faces when they look at you! Nothing more precious than that.

We went there for the lunch in Lebanese restaurant. It was one of the best meals I ever had.

Being dressed in that way, in palace where world’s elite is coming… It is very profound experience. Nobody complains, nobody looks weird at you, nobody thinks you don’t deserve to be there. Here and there we get asked where are we from, or why are we dressed like that, and we actually get the chance to say Guruji’s name! What more can you ask for?

Louvre museum
Visit to Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi was one positively surprising experience. Concept of presentations was stunning. Artefacts were partially arranged based on the age, but more importantly, they were arranged by thematics.

For example you could see statues of people in prayer from different religions standing next to each other. You could see statues of Jesus, Shiva and Buddha in the same room. This is something that I was honestly not expecting. Not from the country, which was until recently so closed to the rest of the world. Not from the country which is portrayed in the media as so conservative and excluding other religions and traditions. Or we just thought so…

In any case, I believe that they did an amazing job from cultural perspective by making such museum in Arabic country. It certainly changes your perspective. Not even mentioning how much money they needed to invest in getting originals from main Louvre museum in France!

Absurdity of Dubai
You could already get the feeling that Dubai is one very absurd place. There, everything is too high, too oversized – and everything is just too much. Resources are spent on incredibly unnecessary things – like decorating Dubai frame with tons of gold.

However, there is one positive side to that. It shows us how much resources are out there, and what is possible. If one country – relatively small – can spend so much resources on decorating one single building with pure gold, how much more do they have? World’s poverty could be eliminated just by few people.

I am not supporting the idea of covering buildings with gold – it’s absolutely crazy – but what I admire in them is that they are not hiding what they have. They are showing to the whole world what is possible, while Western (and some Eastern) countries are more secretive about their resources – saying that there is “no money” and then spending billions on weapons or creating artificial moon.

After the tour in Dubai frame, at the end we were shown a 3D movie with vision of Dubai for the next 50 years. If you have ever watched any sci-fi movie with robots doing everything from cooking, serving and cleaning to 3D printed buildings or operating flying cars – this is what Dubai will be in 50 years. Honestly, I think they can do that even faster. I have never seen more cranes and growing buildings anywhere in the world. There people are working 24/7. Machines never stop.

I can only hope that Dubai will be only place in the world that will reach this level of technology, and show to the rest of the world that this is not the way – otherwise we might be really doomed as a human race.

PS. If you ever want to feel intimidated, like really intimidated, go and look Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world, from the ground.

Cultural shock
This was kind of inevitable. After visiting all radically different countries – India, Mauritius, Emirates and Europe, some kind of cultural shock was inevitable. However, I didn’t expect that it will happen in Europe…

It was only when we reached Germany that I experienced people’s looks like I am the biggest trash on the road because of how I am dressed. It was in Germany that I experienced young lady standing next to me, looking at me, then at my dhoti and moving away like she is disgusted.

I didn’t experience that even for a moment in the country, which is almost labeled in media as “terrorist” country. I experienced that in European metropolis, which is supposed to be open, cultural, understanding, well-mannered and advanced. Then you really ask yourself who is crazy here, and what is the reality.

As a European citizen, I can only say that I am ashamed of what I have witnessed after four months of travelling around the world and coming back “home”. But at the same time, I am so grateful for that experience.

Reaction after coming back to Europe…
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