x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai guidebook shows how things used to be

Travel guide dating back to 1996 - the year of the first Dubai World Cup - shows the emirate as a very different place.

The city was largely confined to the area around The Creek; there were so few buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road that the Lonely Planet did not even bother to include it on its map.
The city was largely confined to the area around The Creek; there were so few buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road that the Lonely Planet did not even bother to include it on its map.

DUBAI // Imagine a Dubai with only one tall building and a couple of beachfront hotels; where if you wanted to watch English-language films you had only one cinema; of which a guidebook would say: "There isn't actually a lot to see."

It is hard to picture, but this is what visitors found 15 years ago as they arrived for the first Dubai World Cup.

Today, Dubai has a gleaming, teeming skyline and is the subject of dozens of travel guides. But as a destination it merited only a few pages in the 1996 Lonely Planet guide to the Gulf.

The long-out-of-print edition gives a snapshot of what the city was like shortly before the development boom began.

"The area where the Emirates Towers now stand was always fenced off and we never knew what was going in there," said Martin Talty, who moved to Dubai in 1996. "All of a sudden work started and the Emirates Towers arose."

The one tall building that did exist was the World Trade Centre. "You guided yourself around Dubai by the Trade Centre tower. You always knew where you were if you could see it," added Mr Talty, an Australian. "You aimed directly at it and then once you got to the tower you knew where you were.

"Now there are very few places in Dubai [from which] you can actually see the tower, and that illustrates the growth."

The city was largely confined to the area around The Creek; there were so few buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road that the Lonely Planet did not even bother to include it on its map.

"I live in Mirdif now, but Mirdif didn't exist then - if you'd wanted to get there you'd have had to take a packed lunch, but now it's just 10 or 15 minutes away. And Abu Dhabi seemed a lot further away then."

Deira was the hot place for entertainment; the guide's author Gordon Robison wrote: "Unless it's for business reasons, it is a bit hard to see why one would want to stay on the [Bur] Dubai side. Deira is a lot more fun."

The choice of accommodation for package tourists in 1996 was limited to the Jebel Ali Hotel and the Chicago Beach Hotel, according to the guide. The latter was a much-loved gathering place that stood on the site now occupied by the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

"The Chicago Beach was a great place, it was fantastic," said Mr Talty, manager of the international department at Dubai Racing Club.

"There were very few places where people congregated, you mainly met up in the one spot, so it was always a friendly place. When they blew that up it was an event - we all went down and saw that."

What was in place in 1996 was the major infrastructure on which the subsequent growth has been built - the airport, Jebel Ali Port, the dry docks and the Shindagha Tunnel, Maktoum Bridge and Garhoud Bridge.

But in most other ways, the city has changed dramatically. Could Mr Talty have predicted, back in 1996, the extraordinary development that was about to take place?

"I suppose you could have imagined it - but you would have thought that it would take 50 years, not 15."

 

csimpson@thenational.ae