9 October, United Arab Emirates – ‘All Over The Place – Asia’
Another early start today to so that we could have the Burj Khalifa to ourselves for an hour. If you’re wondering what that is, it’s the tallest building in the world. And when I say tallest, I mean taaaaaaaaallest. Everywhere you go in Dubai it dominates the skyline, towering three times as big over everything in sight. At night they light one side of it up with incredible light displays, with white twinkling lights flashing all over the other side. It’s clearly Dubai’s calling card to the world and, in a slightly snobby way, before I came here I thought I would think the thing was ugly and that, to be that size, it wouldn’t be very well built.
As soon as our bus got close to the thing, you could see that was not the case. The steel and glass is very high spec and extends quite gracefully up into the sky, and once we’d been security cleared in the basement and made our way to the lobby where the express elevator is (one of 57 elevators in the entire building), you could see that the inside has all been very carefully thought about and crafted as well. The lift is so fast it makes your ears pop several times, and when we arrived on the first viewing platform I couldn’t help letting out a squeal at how high up we were – especially as there was a window cleaner dangling in front of us on abseiling ropes (he descended down the side too fast for us to get a shot of him sadly). From that high up you can see how many large patches of sand still remain among the skyscrapers in this city. Empty plots of dust just waiting for the latest hotelier with big ambitions, or property developer wanting to make their mark. We took another short lift ride to the very highest viewing platform, but were so high up that scale was starting to become meaningless and I couldn’t really tell the difference from the view downstairs. You can’t get to the very top as that’s the sheikh who bank rolled the project’s very own penthouse apartment, complete with a swimming pool. Apparently virtually no one has seen it since the day it was completed.
The sheer insanity of building a giant city like this out in the middle of some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world really hits you from up there, but I have to say, they’ve done it with style. Every skyscraper has been very imaginatively designed and screams quality. London could have learnt some lessons in not just whacking up run of the mill glass fronted buildings in a slightly whacky shape and thinking that will do.
After a bit more filming at the base and then lunch at a nearby mall (about 3 times the size of anything I’ve seen back home and seemingly containing every shop you can find in the UK) we bundled into the bus and hit the road back to Abu Dhabi to film our replacement item for the mosque that fell through on our first day. The team had done a great job putting together a last minute script about the Emirates National Auto Museum, which is essentially the “Rainbow Sheikh’s” car collection (so nicknamed because he owns cars all the colours of the rainbow). It’s a giant corrugated steel pyramid in the middle of nowhere, and they don’t seem particularly bothered about anyone coming to look at the place (there was only one car in the car park when we arrived). But inside is one of the most mind boggling collections I’ve seen.
Mercedes every colour of the rainbow (down to every little bit of the interiors), a giant Dodge pick up truck the size of a small block of flats and an equally huge Jeep (both with working engines incredibly) and all manner of one off custom designed cars from famous car makers that only the super rich could ever commission or afford. The entire collection must be worth millions upon millions. Above it all hangs a giant flag of the sheikh’s face, and the whole place sums up just how bonkers I find what I’ve seen of the UAE. It’s hyper consumption with almost a complete disregard for finite resources or the idea of there being any kind of limit to anything. It becomes infectious pretty quickly as well. This whole tour I’ve been going round Asia feeling bad about all the plastic bottled water we’ve been having to drink. 6 days in a country like this and it’s very tempting just to throw the towel in, raise a glass and watch the planet nose dive into ecological disaster. Cheers!
On our 2 hour journey back to Dubai we sat on the bus not quite able to get our heads round the fact that our travels have once again come to an end and we have nearly an entire 15 episodes of craziness in the can. What a series it’s been. India, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, China, Sri Lanka and Dubai – each utterly different, and utterly draining as we battled our way through heat waves and time zones, pausing every now and then to pinch ourselves at how lucky we are to have seen more of the world in 5 months than most people see in their lifetimes. And next year? We’re doing it all over again for ‘All Over The Place – Asia PART TWO’!