Change of scenery is good for the soul; especially for quiet travelers sitting on their hands resisting the urge to ascend the skies. But with a four-day holiday weekend, we couldn’t sit still any longer. Four days isn’t enough for us to go too far, so we set our sights on Al Ain, the closest city in UAE bordering Oman. We’ve passed through it briefly en route to Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, but this year we wanted to check out what “Garden City” had to offer.
Previous border crossings seemed confounding to us but now, the path is crystal clear from Nizwa. The road to Hafeet via Bahla and Ibri (Route 21) took us straight to the border, where we emerged in Mezyad on the Emirati side. Four hours after leaving Nizwa, we were checked into our hotel with no drama, fuss, or senseless detours. Our priorities for this trip were to get a sense of Al Ain as a place to live, meet up with other families scattered throughout Abu Dhabi and do a little shopping for Lil’ Z. Our mission was accomplished in our two-night stay, and we left with even more reasons to return.
Around 3:30pm, we checked into Top Hotel Apartment, a basic budget accommodation with a great central location. From our room balcony we could see Al Ain Mall and walked there for dinner. Walking to a mall, or any place for that matter, is usually uneventful, but for us it was really nice to be a pedestrian again. Urbndervish and I met as pedestrians. We faithfully rode buses and walked the bridges of Pittsburgh without ever desiring a car. When we finally did need a car for our work commute, we succumbed but in our hearts, knew that public transportation was our first love. Oman is not nearly as accommodating when traveling by foot. So, to be able to walk through a neighborhood with sidewalks and street names–Lil’ Z in tow–made us giddy and nostalgic inside.
Malls are not really our scene, but a highly recommended Indian restaurant was our aim. Even with a directory map in our hands, it still took 45 minutes to find Royal Mughal. Maybe we were bedazzled by the contrasting sights of an ice skating rink in the middle of the mall, Emiratis lounging in an English Victorian café and Costa coffee served with camel milk. Eventually, like country mice in the city, we put aside our bewilderment and found our way.
Royal Mughal, located in Al Ain Mall’s First Floor Extension was well worth the effort. We eat Indian food regularly, so it takes a lot to really move us; however when a meal leaves you speechless, savoring every morsel, it’s worth spreading the word. The taste and flavors of our meal were extraordinary.
We reencountered the familiar yellow dhal, or dhal fry, as Daal Tadka, topped with sautéed garlic. Chana masala was rebranded as Chana Pindi. A dish most similar to Vegetable Jalfrezi was reintroduced as Kadai Subzi. The new names were befitting for our meal because it was as if we were falling in love with Indian food for the first time all over again. Rounded out with ginger fried rice and garlic naan, our satiated bellies agreed that the mission was accomplished. We walked back to our hotel in the setting sun and readied ourselves for prayer. Our attempt to visit the Royal Palace Museum was unsuccessful but we enjoyed the sights of strung lights, families safely crossing the streets, and the architecture of the Al Ain National Museum on our way back. Filled with enough adventure for one day, we turned in for bed.
To be continued…