In all of my travels, I somehow managed to avoid going so far west that I never needed to stop in the United Arab Emirates. (Which is probably the opposite of what every Nepali traveller has ever experienced, ever.) So, understandably, I was both intrigued and a bit nervous when I booked my flight set in Abu Dhabi.
First of all, the flight from Nepal was only three hours. I love to travel, and flying is part and parcel of the process, and I was a little relieved when I saw the total flight time. Also, I remain surprised that I can get a direct flight from Kathmandu to Dubai. You are the best, Etihad Airways.
I arrived in Abu Dhabi pretty late at night. It gets very hot in the city during the day, which makes it difficult for planes to land or take off, so the airport is most active in the early, early morning or very late at night. Even so, it was very quiet, clean, and nearly empty at my 10pm landing.
After some days, we set off from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in a vehicle of my Fufu. It’s only about an hour and a half drive, and a pretty straight shot at that. While we didn’t do any sightseeing in Dubai itself, it was a good opportunity to get a quick view of the city. The buildings are, indeed, very tall and Burj Khalifa was impressive.
In Abu Dhabi, at the conference center, I found myself somewhat surprised by the adhan(call to prayer) and the prayer rooms. Surprised not that they were there, of course, but how out of the ordinary it felt for me. While I don’t personally ascribe to any religion, I found that the periodic calls to prayer throughout the day caused me to pause and feel a sense of appreciation — for having the opportunity to travel, for my work, my travel, my health, my family, and life in general.
On our last day in Abu Dhabi, we made our way to Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We’d passed it a few times on the way to dinner — it’s impossible to miss! — but I was completely unprepared for what we found inside. The mosque was breathtaking. Everything was white, made of marble, with intricate floral designs, and a pristine surrounding. We visited at sunset, too, which meant the colors of the buildings were highlighted by the gorgeous orange hue.
It was also my first time visiting a mosque. On the website, they specify the appropriate dress code, but they also have abayas available for visitors to wear if they don’t meet the standards. Unfortunately, I did not! To see people wearing the abaya was a new feeling for me. Also, it’s required to take your shoes off before entering the prayer’s site and also no photographs were allowed inside the prayers room, so in hindsight, wearing socks would have been a good idea!
Around dusk, the muezzin began the adhan inside the prayers room. I cannot express the beauty of the moment. Listening to the prayer, barefoot, about quarter and a halfway across the world, watching the sun set over the white marble of the building and the full moon rising. I felt so much gratitude.
The flight back was short and mesmerising. I couldn’t sleep. I was so hungry when I arrived, and in desperate need of a shower. But I felt accomplished in some capacity. I experienced a place I never, in a thousand years, would have expected to visit, and made it back to Nepal, another place I never expected to be. And I’m so happy for that and blessed.