“Hatta is a picturesque 115 km (71 miles) drive east of Dubai City, boasting a milder climate due to its location in the rugged Hajjar Mountains and a popular vacation getaway from the heat of Dubai. Its authentic Arabic “heritage village” featuring two military towers from the 18th century, an old Juma mosque (1780), and 30 loame houses is worth visiting. Although activities and shopping are limited, adrenaline junkies often visit Hatta for off-road adventures in the desert or mountains including a stop at the Hatta Rock Pools, narrow windy canyons of smooth rock with pools of blue-green water. Please note that 20 kilometers of the drive from Dubai takes you through Oman. Although no immigration or customs issues, rental car insurance usually won’t cover accidents in Oman”, writes Tripadvisor (Hatta: 2020).
Circa 2003. I had my job in Sharjah, UAE. My weekends were mostly free. I had found an ingenious way to see UAE. It was travel by public bus, point to point. It was affordable, comfortable, punctual, clean, safe; no driving, no driver, no guide required. My aim was to experience local life, away from Malls, Souqs and Entertainment Districts. I had learned long ago that to get the best feel of life and ethos in any country or city, at really affordable costs, the best way was to travel in local public transport. I had done it in India in many cities. I had done it in Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, China and elsewhere. I had later continued doing it in Europe and USA. The possibility of ‘Mugging’, while using public transport, I had heard only in the USA.
With everything included and considered, I still rate it the best way outing. The most important element of the formula is point to point. I will choose a route, that is terminal to terminal, between one hour to two hours long trip. Arrive at the destination terminal, spend time there equal to two missed return services, and then take the third one and come back. You got to obviously start early for this kind of ventures.
Hatta has been most memorable for me and my wife. We took a public bus ride from Gold Souq Dubai to Hatta. It was nice journey, multitude of views; deserts, arid hills and green oasis. We were looking forward to eating in the local restaurant and a bit of shopping at Hatta. But when we landed there, to our surprise, we didn’t find any shop or restaurant to pick up even a bottle of water. It was desolate. That was disappointing, to say the least. Two of us considered returning by the first return service.
But to our amazement, we found a few young kids playing nearby, who noticed us strangers. I asked one of them, any nearby shops? That little boy of not over 7- 8 years, asked would you like to have Kahwa (local tea). We said, sure! But where? He said, follow me. We simply followed him and at the very first turn we found we were at the door of his home. He knocked at the door and when his mother opened the door, he said, they want Kahwa. We became a bit hesitant to go inside and have tea. But that wonderful lady welcomed us wholeheartedly and said please be seated; I will get you Kahwa soon. We had water and Kahwa with some delicious dates. We wanted to reciprocate in a little way, but she simply refused. We profusely thanked her and that young angel, and then walked our way back to the return service which happened to be as if waiting for us.
That day I learned that Sharjah is known as Shargah to Hattians. Remembering the greenery of Sharjah even in 2003, I thought it must have been originally Shargah (or Chargah, as in Hindi- Urdu mix dialect, a green place for grazing animals). I don’t know how and why they guessed, we needed something to drink. Possibly, we were the only strangers around looking for something. Or something more deep?
That experience had filled me with millions of thoughts. ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’ in Hatta. Commonality of culture between India and UAE. That is exactly how it had been in my village in Punjab, India. I had experienced the same during my treks in hills of Manali in Himachal Pradesh, India; the same in my treks in Guttu- Gangi hills in Uttrakhand, India. Indeed, cultural and economic ties between India and UAE have been age old and continue the same. Thank God. Good for both. After leaving Sharjah almost a decade and half back, I am still brotherly with my former colleagues and UAE my second home.
USA is different. I have seen small kids of 4 and 5 years telling other kids of the same age in children parks and play areas, while their parents have been accompanying them, ‘we don’t talk to strangers’. Is it because as an English saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt? Or, bad experiences with strangers? Or something else?
But an Indian saying goes completely contrary to that. That is, ‘bin partiti na hohu priti’ (Without knowing someone, you can’t love). Global trade my bring nations together, but cultural affinity and ties, people to people, make life much better for everyone. What is the alternative to talking to strangers to learn about the beauty and power of diversity? With due safeguards, of course. Don’t throw away 99 good apples for 1 bad.