Metro and Abra : Modern and Traditional Mode of Transport


By Dr. Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle

Dubai, the land of dreams and opportunities considered to be the most modern and well planned cities in the Middle East is a treat to a casual visitor or tourist who can experience and enjoy many facets of life.

Dubai metro
Dubai metro

Driving through the broad and well laid roads, the traffic discipline, view of high rise buildings, green strips of  lawns interspersed with seasonal colourful flowers, the flyovers, the roundabout circles with cultural motifs at the centre, the malls  and above all the newly inaugurated Dubai Metro and the Abra Crossing on the Dubai Creek are a treat to the tourists who will not forget their stay of few days in this exquisite and lively city where modernism and tradition co-exists, the symbols being the Dubai Metro and the Abra Crossing.

For those who have not been to well planned and governed mega cities of the world, Dubai presents one of the most satisfying experiences as to how such cities are maintained and managed. In spite of the recent recession, Dubai has not lost its charm though a number of construction projects have been kept on hold.

Inaugurated on 9th September 2009, the Dubai Metro also known as the Red Line is the first urban metro network in the Gulf’s Arab states. In spite of the broad and well planned roads, keeping in mind the future expansion of the city and possible pressure on the vehicular traffic, the government of the Dubai Emirate had planned this metro system  to ease the daily commute for thousands of the Emirate’s workers and residents. With an economy increasingly based upon financial services, air transport, property development and tourism, Dubai has a rapidly growing population with severe traffic congestion problems.

The Dubai Metro covers a distance of nearly 52 kilometres. Its two end terminals are Rashidiya and Jebel having altogether 29 stations, four of which are underground. There are few stations that are yet to be completed. The journey from Rashidiya to Jebel  takes around an hour.

Being in Dubai for few days along with my wife, our host, Sigfred D’Souza accompanied us to provide an experience of travelling through the Dubai Metro and drove till Rashidiya Metro Station. Parking his car in the five storey parking arrangement, we entered the enclosure for tickets. The station was meticulously clean and tidy. From the ground floor one can use the conveyer staircase or elevator which takes to the level of the metro station.  A glass wall with sliding doors separates the tracks from platform for safety and security.
When the metro train arrives, the glass-doors and the train doors open automatically and simultaneously. As the commuters enter the train, after few seconds both the doors close following an announcement: ‘Please stand clear of the door’. The entire metro system runs automatically as there is neither a driver (motorman) nor a guard on the metro train.
The first stop after Rashidiya is the Airport Terminal 3 from where access is provided directly from the metro station to the airport terminal. After some distance the metro line goes underground and proceeded further through four underground stations-Deira City Centre, Al Rigga, Union and Khalid Bin Waleed and emerges over ground again before it reaches the next station Al Zafiliya. After hurtling through the elevated via duct the train halts at Financial Centre, Burj Khalifa and Mall of the Emirates which was our destination though the Metro train proceeds further till the Jebel Ali terminus.

The metro journey from Rashidiya to Mall of the Emirates is quite exciting. One can see on both sides through the glass windows, buildings of all sizes and shapes, cluster of residential quarters, beautiful mosques with tall minarets, landscapes with seasonal flowers, streams of cars of different types, flyovers, etc. The magnificent Burj Khalifa as if touching the sky is the new land mark and pride of Dubai that can be seen as one travels by the Dubai Metro. The sky walk from the Mall of the Emirates metro station leads directly to the mall which is an altogether different world by itself.

After spending some time at the Mall of the Emirates we took a return train back to Rashidiya. The entire journey through the Dubai Metro was an experience of lifetime.

On two other days, our friends, Ronald Sabi D’Souza and Valerian Alva took us to the Abra Crossing on the Dubai Creek and to some exclusive markets respectively. Abra Crossing means, crossing the Dubai Creek by means of a traditional water taxi known as ‘Ábra’ in local language. With beautiful surroundings and cool breeze of the Dubai Creek the so called Abra Crossing was quite exciting and enjoyable.

Dubai Creek, extending from the Arabian Gulf is a wonderful blend of the past and the present. The Creek that is located at the centre of Dubai separates the city into two parts-Deira Dubai (north) and Bur Dubai (south).

The contrast of traditional wooden dhows at the wharf side against stunning modern architecture is fascinating. The dhow is the traditional sailing vessel of the Emirates. These dhows arrive each day from India, Iran and Oman. One can watch these dhows being loaded and unloaded with verities of goods. These dhows are the chief means of transport of goods to and from Dubai. There are also some dhows especially meant for Creek Cruise for the tourists.

Though there are crossing points on the Dubai Creek at Al Garhoud Bridge, Al Makthoum Bridge and Al Shindagha, some people normally prefer Abra Crossing in order to avoid traffic jams. Abra is a flat-bottomed single engine craft that can carry about 20 passengers seated under a canopy. An Abra leaves as soon as it filled to capacity, which is about 20 persons. The operator, who stands at the centre of the hull, steers the vessel using a wheel that is connected to a wooden rudder by a series of ropes and pulleys. It takes under 10 minutes by Abra to cross between Deira and Bur Dubai.

These Abras can be found all along the Creek in Dubai. Certain tourists hire Abras for going to a location up or downstream and have a look at the beautiful scenery and also view a number of impressive buildings in Bur Dubai that are built in the lovely traditional Arabic architectural style. One of the notable structures on the Bur Dubai side of the creek is the ‘Ruler’s Court’. There are a number of tall and mirrored tower buildings on the Deira side of Dubai.

All along the Deira side of the Dubai Creek there are world famous traditional markets which are known as Iranian market where spices and dry fruits are available. The gold market known as the Gold Souk located close to the creek in Deira is world-renowned for the shops laden with gold and jewellery. Noted as the largest gold bazaar in the world, the Gold Souk in Deira is the reason that Dubai has received the name as the “City of Gold”. According to some estimates, at any given point of time around ten tons of gold can be found in the souk. Travelling little farther, tourists can also visit vegetable, fish and meat markets. The fish market has both fresh and dry fish section with verities of fish.

On both sides of the Dubai Creek there are a number of promenades that can be found at different locations which the local residents call as Dubai Corniche. Many local residents and tourists take a walk along the Dubai Creek and Dubai Corniche. During weekends and holidays families and tourists throng to these Corniches to experience a quiet and peaceful time whilst enjoying the beautiful views of the Dubai Creek and magnificent buildings that line the Creek.

The travel by Dubai Metro and Abra Crossing on the Dubai Creek are the twin experiences that any one would cherish till the rest of their lives. While the Red Line Metro system is operational with few stations yet to be readied for passengers, the Green line is still under construction. There is also a proposal to construct Purple, Blue and Yellow lines in the future. However, the recent recession in Dubai has practically halted these mega projects for some time till the financial situation in the world in general and in Dubai in particular improves. But the traditional age old Abra Crossing has not been affected and is being considered one of the cheapest modes of transport between the Deira and Bur Dubai.