“Oh, it’s absolutely chock-a-block full of gold, I say,” said Tony Greig, England’s test cricket captain turned commentator, about the Gold Souk during a Khaleej Times cricket match in the 1980s. Greig’s excitement and the few visuals that accompanied it, introduced many cricket lovers, including myself, to the wonders of Gold Souk.
On a recent trip to the heart of the Deira area in Dubai, I had the opportunity to visit the Gold Souk (traditional market). The place is a celebration of the yellow metal like no other on the planet. It is estimated that at any given point in time, more than a whopping 10 tonnes of gold is present at the Dubai Gold Souk. Fort Knox, the US military base which houses the government’s gold reserves, might hold more gold, but it would not have the same carnival atmosphere as the Souk.
(Top) Treasure Window: A gold laden showroom window beckons passersby to step in. (Bottom) A child is mesmerised by the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba) gold ring. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD ADIL MULKI
The market has a wide range of merchandise on offer: crowns, tiaras, earrings, nose pins, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, bangles, rings, anklets, belts and even whimsicalities, such as gold armours and overalls, are up for grabs if you have the money and an insatiable appetite for gold. The Souk is overseen by the government to ensure the quality of purchases, though one might have to haggle over the price for individual items.
The place is not only important for the gold trade that takes place here; over the years, it has become a major tourist attraction. A tour of the city is not complete without a visit to the Souk and groups of tourists can be seen wading through the streets, basking in the yellow glow. One will find camera crews shooting videos to be aired on various channels and dozens of visitors taking selfies to mark their attendance at the Souk in the virtual world.
A tourist marks his presence at the Gold Souk in the virtual world. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD ADIL MULKI
Gold traders are as much a part of the tourism industry as gold trade. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD ADIL MULKI
As I entered the covered walkways, I could see groups being led by guides who had flags attached to their hats for easy spotting. An elderly lady from Japan shrieked with joy at the first sight of a window laden with gold. Without provoking a gender debate, I must confess that it appears that feminine affinity to gold is irrespective of age. Couples, young and old, from all over the world can be seen pondering over the perfect piece of jewellery to mark a special occasion.Lucky for my wallet, I was accompanied by only my camera on my first visit to the Souk.
At first, it was the gold trade that roped in tourists; now, it is the tourists who seem to be influencing wares at the Souk. As I approach the exit towards the Old Baladiya street, I come across Kanz Jewellers. In one of their display windows sits the Souk’s most famous item — the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), the heaviest gold ring in the world with an unbelievable total weight of 63.865kg. At first it appears as if the gold ring studded with jewels was left behind by the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. But Dubai has its way of altering perceptions; when confronted with miniature gold replicas of the Burj Al Arab — which was the world’s tallest hotel at the time of its completion — or the Burj Khalifa — currently the world’s tallest building — one feels like a giant.
Santa Claus watches over the sale of gold crosses. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD ADIL MULKI
Grandiose and splendour take the driving seat in Dubai and the Gold Souk is a perfect showpiece of this magnificence. Interestingly, the allure of religious-minded customers is not lost on the sellers. One can witness pendants with Islamic calligraphy, Christian crosses and Hindu deities being offered side-by-side. Customers can wear their religious emblems in gold around their neck and their religion on their sleeve if they can afford it.
The Gold Souk is a major tourist attraction in Dubai. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD ADIL MULKI
As the sun sets and the lights come on inside the souk, I decide to make my way out as I had left my sunglasses behind. And all the glitter was too much to take without them. I walked out towards the Deira Old Souk Abra Station to catch a ferry that would take me across the creek to Bur Dubai. After sauntering through Dubai’s Gold Souk, I must confess that I realised that the affinity for gold might just be as gender neutral as it is ageless. For reasons unknown to me, I wore a broad smile on my lips and I was soon humming Madam Noor Jehan’s “Je mein hundi Dholna… hai dholna… Sonay di tawitri… (Beloved… Oh Beloved… Had I been an amulet of gold…).”
Muhammad Adil Mulki is a Finance and Audit professional interested in the outdoors, wildlife and science.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 24th, 2015.