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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Neighbourhood Watch: a taste of tradition at RAK's old souq

The market has been a hive of activity in the emirate for decades

The Nakheel old souq in RAK has been serving shoppers since the 1970s. Antonie Robertson/The National    
The Nakheel old souq in RAK has been serving shoppers since the 1970s. Antonie Robertson/The National    

For globe-trotters preparing to end their UAE adventure, there is a chance to take a traditional slice of local life along with you for the ride.

Like Ras Al Khaimah itself, the traditional Nakheel old souq has seen many changes over the years.

Yet it remains at the heart of the emirate's rich heritage - and offers a final stroll down memory lane and a chance to bag a precious memento for many preparing to bid farewell to their home from home.

Nakheel old souq, located in Al Nakheel area, has attracted throngs customers from around the emirate and beyond since its launch in the late 1970s, offering everything from the finest textiles and ready-made clothes to leather shoes and fresh vegetables.

“The market used to be very famous and people from everywhere used to come and buy what they need from here before the opening of the big malls and other shopping stores,” said Mir Salam, a 65-year-old Pakistani shop owner.

“Now it’s a place where people visit before going back to their country, after their visa is cancelled, as they find cheap travel bags, clothes, and electronics,” said Mr Salam, who owns a ready-made garments shop since 1998.

Mr Salam has seen traders and customers come and go over the years, but many, like him, have stood the test of time.

“The market has changed throughout the years and the visitors changed too. But we are still here and ready to provide them with what they need,” he said.

Mir Salam is a firm fixture at the traditional market. Antonie Robertson/The National
Mir Salam is a firm fixture at the traditional market. Antonie Robertson/The National

The vegetable and fruit market used to be part of the souq but was moved to a nearby area leaving a space for a new construction project.

“It was moved maybe seven years ago and another building has been constructed in its place, that has affected our sales along with the introduction of VAT,” he said.

   Nihad V.K says Nakheel gents tailoring and textiles shop is a perfect fir for many customers due to its competitive prices.  Antonie Robertson/The National
   Nihad V.K says Nakheel gents tailoring and textiles shop is a perfect fir for many customers due to its competitive prices.  Antonie Robertson/The National

Al Nakheel gents tailoring and textiles' shop supervisor said that prices can be 50 per cent cheaper for those searching for a cut-price deal.

“The prices are around 50 per cent cheaper than other places and its suitable for everyone,” said Nihad V.K, from India.

“This shop used to sell only textiles in the past, imported from India and other places, but four years ago we added the tailoring business to attract more customers and make more profit.

“Not many tourists know about this place as they prefer to go to the old city, but this place also has its unique story and history too,” he said.

Electronic shops can also be found at the market along with DVD stores and general trading shops.

“Yes people are still buying DVDs and many come from faraway places to get one,” said Nazar Kassiem, a 47-year-old Indian working at Flash video store.

“Some come to explore the place and then decide to buy a DVD as part of the experience while others come specifically to our shop to buy one.

DVDs are still a popular buy at Flash Video, says Nazar Kassiem. Antonie Robertson/The National
DVDs are still a popular buy at Flash Video, says Nazar Kassiem. Antonie Robertson/The National

“We offer music albums, movies and series in both English and Hindi, at a cheaper price than elsewhere, and we have customers from all the nationalities,” said Mr Kassiem.

Shops are located along the two sides of a narrow road that passes through the market and leads to a big square surrounded by electronics shops, trading markets and restaurants.

The market is located at the back of Gulf cinema, one of the oldest movie theatres in the emirate, which used to be named Al Nakheel cinema.

“People in the old days used to come and watch movies here, not only to shop,” said Abdullah Al Habsi, a 60-year-old Emirati, who is a regular visitor to the cinema.

“I remember the cinema when it was only made out of wood and with no ceiling and then they built this building around 30 years ago and upgraded the cinema,” said Mr Al Habsi.

Gulf Cinema remains a blockbuster hit with film lovers. Antonie Robertson/The National
Gulf Cinema remains a blockbuster hit with film lovers. Antonie Robertson/The National

Dhana Palan, one of the booking staff at the cinema, which is managed by Star Cinemas now, said many people like to comes and spend some time in the souq before catching a movie.

“I heard many stories about the area and the cinema since I joined in 2004, the structure of the building and its location near the old market has added to the uniqueness of the place and many people still visit the theatre and watch the movies here,” said Mr Palan.

“We show mainly Indian movies and many people come to watch them from different nationalities. The prices are also considered affordable compared to other cinemas in the emirate.”

An Emirati father-of-five said that he used to come when he was a teenager with his friends and now he brings his son with him.

“I watched my first movie in this cinema with my friends in 1998, it was an Indian movie and I enjoyed it very much,” said Mohammed Yaroob, 48.

“We live in Shaam which is around 35km away from the city and this was the nearest cinema at that time.”

Rak's traditional souk is a great place to soak in the rich history of the emirate while picking up a bargain. Antonie Robertson/The National
Rak's traditional souk is a great place to soak in the rich history of the emirate while picking up a bargain. Antonie Robertson/The National

Mr Yaroob said that the market used to be well-known but now it needs to be promoted better to keep it "alive".

“There only two markets in the past and this is one of them. The market shows how the emirate became modernized compared to the old market in the old city.

“It’s part of the emirate's history and we need to highlight it more and invite more tourists to visit it in order to keep it alive.”