It was my first day in the UAE.
My friend Sunny came to receive me at the airport and we headed straight to pick up two pals of his (who became ‘our friends’ with the very first meet) who were still at work. Throughout the ride, all I did was enjoying the view of the never-ending series of sky-scrapers (and their odd shapes!) and clicking the photographs whenever a high-end car zoomed past, not to mention the 180 Km/hr speed we ourselves were flying at!
One thing I shall never forget – the first dish I tried in the UAE – momos! Yes, you read it right – chicken momos in a small café run by two gentlemen from Pakistan. And the dumplings tasted pretty good. Sunny said his friends are not so enthusiastic about momos and since I was there, he now had a company of another momo-lover. So, here I was – having the first meal in the Middle-East and having a dish from Asia! Speak about exotic Arabic dishes!
We had our dinner (Arabic this time) around 11 pm, post which, the trio discussed where they could take me that day itself and finally settled on ‘Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’. I realized like NY, UAE never sleeps as well, no time is late. We got there 40 minutes later. The massive mosque was visible from quite a distance, with me getting awestruck by graceful splendour even before we parked our cars. The place closes around 10 pm, but they allow you to enter the premises and access the corridors.
The mosque is a huge tourist attraction and the entry is free. Strict with the dress code, they do provide women with a black Abaya free of charge. The Abayas are available in a few different sizes. We went into the security check room and next I was looking at sheer grandeur – the largest mosque in the Emirates, the key place of worship for Friday gatherings and Eid prayers.
While beautifully manicured gardens, dimly lit lights and small fountains adorned the courtyard, bluish light beamed from the mosque’s wall which was enchanting to the eyes. Fascinated with the combination of gold, emerald, sapphire and the delicate floral designs I went on capturing the majestic interior from as many angles I could.
Closing time being long over, we were not allowed to enter the main prayer hall (which makes this place remain unchecked on my bucket list!). I tried to absorb as much of the magnificence of the prayer hall I could from the corridors itself.
My suggestion would be to travel an hour before sunset, so as to get a chance to view the place both in daylight and after dark. And remember to carry your sunglasses, because in daylight, the white would be blinding!
The mosque is named after the founder and first President of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. A total of 82 domes and four minarets adorn the mosque, the area covered by the structure alone being around 12 Hectares.
The chandeliers have been imported from Germany and are ornamented by millions of Swaroski crystals and the columns are inlaid with mother-of-pearls. Another astonishing feature of the mosque is the over 5,625 sq metre large carpet in the main prayer hall. It has been hand-knotted and with a total of 2,26,800 knots, this carpet is the largest in the world, It’s estimated value being around about 30 million. The mosque is open for prayers all day long. For the non-Muslim visitors, the visiting time is from 9 AM – 10 PM every day except for Friday mornings. Visit timing changes during the holy month of Ramadan. Guided tours are organized by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA).
To wrap up – Explore the culture, know about the beliefs, soak in the grandeur, take plenty of photos and be respectful.
(With help from – http://www.abudhabi.ae)