UAE & India (5/10) – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

UAE & India 2015

  1. Make Tomorrow Today, Please
  2. Hello Tomorrow
  3. Top of the World
  4. Feasting Like Camel Nomads
  5. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  6. Saadiyat Rhymes with India
  7. Fifty Shades of Brown
  8. Yes They Do!
  9. The End Is A New Beginning
  10. UAE & India Extras


We did not originally plan to visit Abu Dhabi.  We flew to Dubai because it was a necessary connection en route to Hyderabad, and three days seemed modest for a stopover in a major city.  But then we looked up Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  It’s one of those religious structures in the world that kind of just makes you a believer.

The mosque is named after Abu Dhabi and UAE’s former ruler, Sheikh Zayed.  From the Western perspective it’s easy to dismiss him as a Middle Eastern dictator who forced his name on everything, but in talking with some people we learned that the ruling families in both here and Dubai were well loved by locals and expats alike.  What they had been able to accomplish and how much they were appreciated by their people is beyond our understanding.  It’s common for homes and businesses to hang up these rulers’ pictures, something you almost never see Americans do with their presidents.

Approaching the mosque from the taxi.

This picture doesn’t show it but it was extremely hot.

The famous reflection pool.  I suspect they had to constantly replenish the evaporated water.

A shot of the courtyard.  The picture does not do justice.  The real mosque was infinitely more beautiful than it appears here.

After taking off our shoes on the griddle-like courtyard marble, we entered the massively air-conditioned mosque.  This place of worship was not only grand, its high-quality materials and super-fine craftsmanship also left every visitor in awe.

One of the gigantic Swarovski chandeliers that made the star atop the Rockefeller Christmas tree look like a child’s toy.

A clock (?)

Not your average glass window.

I’m not big on flowery patterns, but these walls and floors were made with marbles from all over the world by artisans from all over the world.

A sign that warns you to not pull a Rhianna.
Underneath it is a single 60,000 square-foot Iranian carpet, large enough to blanket our entire condo building…

Love those golden pillars.

On the way out – this is the back of the mosque.

I felt like I could spend a whole day there to admire this beautiful mosque, but Xuan was for sure fed up of the heat.  Jumping on to yet another cab, we headed toward Abu Dhabi’s other monument, Emirates Palace.  It’s not a real palace and does not involve actual royal families.  It’s a “mere” hotel built in response to Dubai’s Burj Al Arab.  While lacking the architectural uniqueness of the sail-shaped hotel, the Palace made sure it was the grandest of grand hotels.  The Emirates Palace was also the friendlier of the two 7-star hotels: tourists were welcome to enter its grounds and walk around for free.

I’m sure some entire hotels in Manhattan were smaller than the entrance arch to the Palace.  This hotel also had a grand staircase, and it made Park Hyatt look sad.

The interior was endlessly golden.

You can order a cappuccino with gold flakes here.

Golden bathroom…

The infamous gold vending machine.  Out of order for now.

Some interior stairs that didn’t seem frequently used.

Our girls getting a food and drink service at Emirates Palace.

Floral display and more gold.

Golden atrium.

Ting having a good time at Emirates Palace.

When I think about peasants like ourselves entering super-luxury establishments of any sort, I picture snobby people with a stern face asking us to either show our worth or get the hell out.  The treatment we received at the Palace completely surprised us.  Without asking us for room booking or dining reservation (maybe it was obvious that we lacked both), TWO people approached to welcome our visit.  They offered us fragrant cold towels to cool down, something to drink, and held onto my backpack while we walked around.  The bag check people later then refused to accept a tip.  After asking us to wait a moment, the “marhaba specialist” came back with two camel toys for our daughters.  All I can say is… wow!  Now I have a new understanding of the word “hospitality”.

Xuan and Ting enjoying their camels.

On our way out of the Palace, we were able to snap a shot of the Etihad Towers.

Looks like they fixed all the damage that Vin Diesel caused with his Lykan HyperSport.

On the way back to the hotel, we asked the taxi driver to make a pit stop at a McDonald’s so we could pick up lunch (the only food options near Park Hyatt were fine dining restaurants within 5-star hotels, something we weren’t in the mood for).  He took us to one integrated into a gas station, complete with a drive-through window… just like what we have in the U.S.!  Since we considered it a favor (though meter was still ticking), Hong instructed me to at least buy the driver a Coke.  He was soooo happy that we got him stuff, thanking us repeatedly with a huge smile on his face.  It was such a nice feeling to make somebody’s day like that and I would not have hesitated to treat him to a full meal (which was the original proposal but he declined).  Reminded me of the story of someone taking his UAE cab driver to the Ferrari World


We then had a good chat with this guy, the funniest of all our taxi drivers.  He was from Uganda and had sisters in Virginia.  The most memorable thing that he said was how everyone loved the UAE during Ramadan because people go out of their way to be nice.  Then as soon as it ends people resume being mean and nasty again.  In general, it was fun to chat with taxi drivers in the UAE because they all spoke good English and came from different places.  A Sri Lankan driver used to work in Hong Kong and supposedly spoke a bit of Cantonese; a Jordanian driver had an upcoming vacation where he would drive 2,500 kilometers home within a days and half (which is insane); an Indian driver would go home for two months per year but did not see his kids otherwise; almost all of them missed their family, who were far away in another country.

Finally had our McArabia wraps.

In the evening, we decided to grab a bite in the Marina Mall before heading back out to the grand mosque again.  Even though it was Abu Dhabi’s largest mall and a top tourist destination, it was rather sad compared to the Dubai Mall.




We ate where the locals ate… Popeye’s…

Finally, within an hour of its closing time, we went to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for the second visit today.  Yes, it was totally worth it to see it again in the dark, and we’d strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Abu Dhabi.  The best part was the relative lack of other visitors late at night, allowing us to admire it leisurely.  I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:




(click to enlarge the following panoramic photos)








It was an exaggeration when Disney’s Aladdin said that Arabian nights were hot like the Arabian days!  It totally cooled down by 5-degrees Fahrenheit!


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