The grandeur of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque makes my jaw drop.
Shaped like an enormous cake, with exquisite architectural design reminiscent of the Arab, Moorish, and Mughal empires, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a gem of a landmark. It boasts intricate inlaid white marble from Greece, gold, crystal chandeliers with semi-precious stones, and the largest handmade Persian carpet in the world. Free guided tours – about the mosque, its foundation, and the Islamic decorations painted and engraved on the walls – are offered twice daily – 11 a.m. and 05:00p.m. Tours last approximately 45 minutes.
Please note that a strict dress code is enforced. Females will not be permitted to enter the mosque without a head scarf, or if they are wearing revealing clothes. While I was at the mosque, a young woman clad in a diaphanous blouse pleaded – to no avail – with the security officer that, “I have come all the way from Canada.” The mosque also provides abayas for women to borrow, on condition that guests deposit the appropriate form of ID card with the personnel in the garment office.
While photography of certain areas of the mosque is allowed, women must ensure that their hair is completely covered when they take pictures. The vigilant security officers will confiscate cameras and delete the offensive images. I personally witnessed this occurrence twice.
Travelers who appreciate creature comforts must visit, or better yet, stay at the swanky Emirates Palace Hotel.
This expansive seven-star property provides 24 hour butler service, magnificent views of the Abu Dhabi skyline, the Arabian Gulf, and its manicured gardens. Spa treatments and upscale shops at the hotel nicely take care of guests’ therapeutic needs.
Private tours of the ballroom and the auditorium are offered on Sundays through Thursdays and currently cost 100 AED. Similar to the Grand Mosque, guests must be smartly attired. Please, no slippers or shorts.
Sheikh Zayed’s Grand Mosque and the Emirates Palace Hotel reinforce Arabian opulence; however, it is falconry and the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital that truly captures the spirit of Arab tradition and culture in the UAE.
Located nearby the Abu Dhabi International airport, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (ADFH) is the first and largest facility of its kind worldwide devoted exclusively to the care of the falcon, which is the national bird of the UAE.
The hospital was established in 1999 by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency. It provides falcons with an array of health services such as routine medical check-ups (which are required before their owners take them on a trip), and endoscopic surgery. When I toured the facility, I even saw a falcon with its left wing in a sling. Similar to hospitals for humans, the ADFH also has an ICU department. Additionally, boarding services are also available for these prized birds.
As word spread about the ADFH’s unique facilities and services, it opened its portals to tourism in 2007. Due to the popularity and excellence of its award-winning “Falcon World Tour” program, the ADFH since 2008, has consistently been recognized by the international travel and tourism industry. Prior to exiting the hospital, Dennis – my affable and highly knowledgeable guide – proudly showed me the shelves of Oscar-like trophies that were awarded to the ADFH. These awards – from both American and European organizations – salute the hospital for its responsible tourism.
For me, the highlight of this interactive tour, was having the pleasure of one of these majestic birds perch on my left arm and eat. Tours last approximately 100 minutes – include background information about the various species of falcons and their lifestyle, plus their significance to the cultural identity of the UAE. At the time of my visit, the tour cost 170 AED per person.
Have you visited the UAE? I’d love to hear about your impressions of and experience in Abu Dhabi.