x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Time travel island to open soon in Dubai

A new tourist attraction, slated to open later this month, will allow visitors to experience the life as a Bedouin.

Visions of yesterday: Two boats await visitors wanting to experience life as fishermen or pearl divers.
Visions of yesterday: Two boats await visitors wanting to experience life as fishermen or pearl divers.

DUBAI // Welcome to the island that time forgot.

Here, visitors are put to work grinding sesame seeds, milling flour, drawing water from a well, and tending to camels, donkeys and other livestock.

Later, they might be sent out to sea to try their hand at fishing or pearl diving.

The dress code? Traditional robes of the Bedouin, the hardy nomads who have roamed the Arabian deserts for centuries.

Heritage Island, the emirate's newest tourist attraction, is scheduled to open on February 18 on a reclaimed portion of Nakheel's Waterfront project next to the Palm Jebel Ali.

Developed at a cost of Dh1.5 million by the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (Emeg), it will give tourists a chance to step back in time and celebrate the culture and customs of the UAE.

The artificial island on which the village has been built spans more than 92,900 square metres. It was to be part of the world's largest man-made development on which work was suspended in 2008 after the economic downturn.

The project differs from the usual heritage village where people walk around looking at the exhibits. Visitors to Heritage Island will be able to join in the many activities taking place, giving them a unique sense of what life was once like in the lands that now make up the UAE.

"You will live the whole experience from fishing to pearl diving to the Bedouin - everything will be very traditional," says Maj Ali Al Suweidi, the president of Emeg.

"With many heritage villages you just see them and go. It's better if you learn how to deal with the camel, the sheep, the cow and the donkey, and go diving."

Other attractions on the island include a souq, a Friday market, a boat building area and a mosque.

Visitors will be able to learn about a wide range of subjects such as trading, falconry, rose distillation, henna, pottery and textiles. A traditional wedding ceremony will be staged every day.

"This will take you back 200 years," says Nahed Mayo, the director of Heritage Island.

"We will dress you up in the traditional dress and you will enter as if you were entering the UAE 200 years ago, with no modern items or machinery.

"You are actually going to live like a Bedouin, live like an Emirati, and do the activities with them. You can make bread and there will be a mill where you can make flour, and we have a fishing village where you'll be able to fish with the locals.

"There'll also be pearl diving, which is something very traditional and very rooted in the UAE."

The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, and can be reached by bus, yacht or seaplane.

Visitors will be able to stay for a couple of hours or a whole day. The full-day entrance fee will be Dh250 an adult, while other charges have yet to be decided.

"We're very excited about having had the opportunity to contribute to this project," says Alia bin Hendi, the communications manager for the developer Nakheel. "We are providing all the support needed.

"Heritage and culture are very central to the UAE national identity, and there is huge interest among tourists coming to Dubai to know more about Emirati traditions and culture."

It is hoped the project will also fill an important educational role, giving young Emiratis a chance to learn first-hand about their culture and traditions.

"Children nowadays are not exposed to their culture as much as before," Ms Mayo says. "There's so much from western society that's coming to the UAE. I think they're forgetting where they come from, their roots, and how their parents and grandparents used to live.

"So it's not only for tourists. It's a chance for everybody to know and understand the culture of the Emiratis."

csimpson@thenational.ae