We hit the road to the capital, stopping at cafeterias and turn-offs along the way to bring you some undiscovered sides to the commute.
Every morning, while most of Dubai’s city slickers are still sleeping, a substantial percentage of the city’s work force are already wide awake and behind the wheel. According to figures from Reuters in September 2012, an estimated 20,000 people make the 90-minute daily commute to Abu Dhabi from Dubai. While the drive is uneventful, the time spent on the highway is hardly inconsequential: on average most of the commuters spend at least 760 hours a year doing the drive. So, for the good of almost one-fifth of our city’s population, I decided to head out on the road to unearth hidden gems that might help make the famously monotonous journey even a tiny bit more fun.
After passing the first major petrol station out of Dubai at the 700m Ghantoot turn-off, we come to the Ghantoot Royal Restaurant, which sits next to a large mosque. Workers and customers start flocking in to eat a choice of Arabic, Indian, Pakistani or Chinese dishes. I bump into a Keralan businessman on the way out who is holding some takeaway. Radnapapilli is in his fifties and works in Sharjah. He says he gets his biryani here two or three times a week as it’s the most convenient spot for him – and great biryani. Inside, the Indian cashier Jaafar tells me that the busiest time is lunch and most of the customers are Arabic and Indian workers travelling along the highway.
Further along, we notice there are a number of large gated properties. The roadside landscape that accompanies the commute is not particularly beautiful or outstanding in any way, but there is a sudden change in flora at one point. A gated stretch of trees and greenery bursts out from the roadside, which I later find out is the Al Maha Forest and Forest Greenbelt, in which environmental efforts are being made to plant trees and conserve native species of flora.
Regular commuter on the route, 34-year-old South African Lindsey McDonald says that if you look carefully, there’s more to see along the way than date palms and dangerous driving. ‘What I do love about the trip is a little ritual I have which involves looking for a herd of grazing camels along a certain spot of the road every morning,’ she says.
‘If I see them and wave to them it feels as if everything is right with the day. On clear days, when you can see for miles over the desert it really is a beautiful sight’.
Carrying on towards Abu Dhabi, we take the turn-off near Al Rahba, where the area is much more built up. There’s a sign to Tulip Inn Hotel and we pass Al Sharia Park and a signpost to a Ladies’ Swimming Pool, though it proves difficult to find. We drive in the direction of the Al Rahba Entertainment Sport Club and Restaurant, for which the signposting features a cartoon horse’s head. Located on a farm that runs parallel to the main highway, this obscure Disney-style family fun park has donkeys, jumping castles, dining, zorbing in a blow-up swimming pool and accommodation. It looks a little like something out of a Stephen King novel, but slightly less sinister. It’s worth checking out to break up the drive.
As we make our way back to the highway I spot a sign to a new mall, and shortly we’re at Al Shahama, the small town nearest Yas Island. Barber shops and auto shops line the slip road, but there’s also a Baskin Robbins and Pizza Way on a back street (handy for emergency pit-stops). We explore the surrounding area and come across the Emirates Park Zoo, which opened in 2008, though it appears largely forgotten about now. Kitsch statues of tigers, lions and leopards stand guard on top of the wall, and a break in the façade shows that there are parts that are currently under construction.
Back on the highway we come to the Deerfields Town Square mall, a large windowless block which, when open, will house an H&M and Carrefour. When we spot the airport we decide it’s time to turn around and make the journey home before the fleet of thousands of other commuters join us. ‘The afternoon drive home is beautiful. Just as you come over the border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the winter and the sun is setting, it’s a great golden ball in the sky,’ McDonald says. A suitable way to end our day on the highway.
Tips from fellow commuters
Lindsey McDonald, South African, 34, research consultant
‘On a Thursday afternoon if you can make it onto the road 15 or ten minutes earlier than normal it makes all the difference. The new ADNOC petrol station on the way back towards Dubai is brilliant as there is a broader selection of outlets – and a Tim Hortons doughnut at the end of a long week doesn't go amiss. On the way into Abu Dhabi, stop at the third petrol station going in. They have a Costa and the petrol queues usually aren't that long.’
Chris Bayliss, British, 28, operations manager
‘I keep entertained by listening to podcasts. I download a couple of satire shows, and comedy radio, plus plenty of football podcasts. Now I’m into The History of World War 2 (purely to help me score some intellect points at dinner).’
Melanie Dieckmann, Australian, 40, head of sales
‘My favourite part of the drive is cruising past the turquoise water on Yas Island and also heading over the Sheikh Khalifa bridge as that means I’m nearly at the office. On the way home there are a load of kite surfers on Yas Island, and I can’t help but watch them as I drive by.’
Three great new audiobookss
The Great Gatsby
Oscar-nominated US actor Jake Gyllenhaal narrates the voice of Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel set in the roaring ’20s.
From Dhs40, www.amazon.com.
Dad is Fat
American stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan pokes fun at the mayhem of raising five young children. He covers everything from cousins to eating habits and communication skills.
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And The Mountains Echoed
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