The most awaited journey for the year 2017 was turning into reality. This December I was going home for the holidays to visit my family after a year and a half. Agreed, that I was connected with them over the internet, however, it is never the same as meeting them in person. In order to go to India from the United States which are on the opposite sides of the planet, the flights connect either in Europe or the middle east. For my journey from Chicago to Pune, I had a 10-hour long layover in Abu Dhabi.
I landed in Abu Dhabi after a gruelling 13-hour flight from Chicago. Needing to kill 10 hours at the airport I had searched a lot on the internet about a transit visa for Abu Dhabi. It is easier for citizens of the European countries as they get a transit visa on arrival but other countries need to apply in advance for their visas. Also, you need to have a layover of more than 4 hours to be eligible for the visa. Following the regular route I would also need a hotel booking, however, I managed to find a certain provision where Indian nationals with a valid US visa (F-1 visa) are able to get a transit visa on arrival.
I got in the queue for my transit visa, which cost me 100 Dirhams (AED). This approximately equals $30 as opposed to the $100+ that I would need for the hotel and the regular transit visa. Also, you need a credit card to pay the fees and unfortunately they do not accept Discover credit cards which most of the international students in the US have, so I had to use my debit card. They scanned my eyes, stamped the passport and the whole process took me about 10 minutes.
Before leaving the airport I exchanged currency for Dirhams. I did have a few places to visit on my mind, but my hectic schedule before leaving for India did not leave me with a well-made plan for Abu Dhabi. The Sheik Zayed Grand mosque was on top of my list and the tourist information center suggested that I take a bus for AED 5 instead of the taxi which would cost around AED 100. The bus was in one-hour intervals and I had missed mine by 5 minutes so I decided to relax for the next 55 minutes.
The bus takes you close to the mosque and you need to find your way. The enormous white domes are visible from a distance and once inside the perimeter, it looks like any other popular tourist spot. But when you enter the prayer hall that is where the royalty flows. The lovely designs on the carpets, colourful embellishments on the walls are impressive. Magnificent chandeliers adorn the ceilings with intricate designs. The beauty of this modern structure is overwhelming and people say it is even more beautiful after dusk.
Later, it was time to leave and the dependence on technology for directions led me back to the airport as I did not have a working internet connection. My phone was merely a camera and I had clicked several pictures of the mosque. I asked the locals about places to eat but they were immigrants as well and of no help. The only thing I knew now was that ‘A1’ was the bus that would take me back to the airport. As I reached the airport feeling accomplished that I had visited a new country, only to see that it was only 5pm. I had set my foot in Abu Dhabi only for 5 hours and I still had few more before my flight home. I then found a nice and comfortable chair in one of the terminals and tried to even out the exhaustion by sleeping for 2 hours. I woke up and browsed through the duty-free shops until it was time for my flight.
The flight was delayed and though the long layover at Abu Dhabi was nice as I got to visit the Grand Mosque. In the future, I will try to plan my long layovers so that I can utilize them properly.
Cheers to the 10-hour long layover in Abu Dhabi 🙂