Dubai-Abu Dhabi Road
This road did not exist in 1971. Vehicles travelling between the two towns followed sand tracks along the beachline with the ever present risk of becoming lost or stuck in sand. No Mobile Phones to call for help! Just wait until help came your way. Travellers relied on taxis whose drivers knew these sand tracks and could avoid potential problems. In contrast, cars travelled between Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah along a newly constructed single carriage tarmac highway financed by Saudi Arabia. Deira side of Dubai was considered the main entry point for Dubai. This is why Dubai's iconic Clock Tower and Flame Roundabout are located in that area.
I topped up the tank, checked the oil and water, which was a bit low, and set off along the road towards Abu Dhabi. It was later than the day before, the sun was higher and hotter and did not provide the same navigation information. It was harder to see the tracks with no shadows but I pressed on. I passed through the border. They were not very interested in me.
I watched the temperature gauge. It was higher than yesterday. Problem was the engine was new, not yet run in, its tightness causing it to overheat. I stopped to let it cool down and topped up the radiator with my drinking water. It took a lot. I had to stop again as the day got hotter and wondered if there was any extra water anywhere. I had not seen other traffic. I was sure I was going in the right direction but there were so many little used tracks I began to have doubts. I could be travelling on one track and another vehicle travelling on nearby track but I would not have seen it because of low dunes and hummocks of dried up vegetation.
I thought I recognised a low rock where I had turned slightly and made a point of remembering it. I turned down a track that petered out after a few kilometres. I retraced my route and stopped. It was very hot. I was sweating not just from the heat. It was dead silent. All I could hear was the ticking of the cooling engine. I drank a bit of my remaining water - there was not much left. I wished I had brought more. What I had would have been ample if I had not put so much in the engine. I got on the car's roof and looked around. It all looked the same. I had a compass fixed to the dashboard but wondered if it had been affected by the car's electrics.
The day wore on. I started to slow down to stop the engine boiling my water away. I was low on petrol so I stopped to top up from my 5-gallon Jerrican. I experienced a sinking feeling as I touched the Jerrican. It was not heavy. I unstrapped it but knew it was empty. There was a petrol smell in the back of the Landrover. The Jerrican had been rubbing against a sharp corner and leaked. All the petrol had gone.
Sweat dribbling down my face was not to do with the heat and humidity! What a stupid thing to do. I was angry with myself. I had heard of people being found weeks later desiccated like mummies huddled under their vehicles or fallen in the sand when they decided to try and walk out of the desert. I had not seen anyone since leaving Dubai. That might mean I was on the wrong track heading into the Empty Quarter. I was a fool. That was the only conclusion I could draw. Here I was alone, thirsty and hot in the middle of nowhere with a Landrover and very little petrol or water. I was 24. It was not fair. There was so much I wanted to do! Think! You have been a bit silly but now it is time to get a grip.
OK. Let's think. I knew I only had 10 or 20 Kms of petrol left. I was not out of water - I had about a pint or so left. I had my Decca Survival Guide (a little booklet in DayGlow Orange) I could use as a signal. The main thing was to stay with the vehicle. It provided shade. Also it is a lot easier to see a vehicle than a person (body!)
There were mirrors I could use but my position was not good. I moved the Landrover to the highest piece of ground I could see.
Even from the roof, I could not see anything except sand and scrub. The tracks did not seem to be as well used as they looked before but at least I could be seen better. Nobody else. Nothing Else. Pity it was a Limestone coloured Landrover. Better if it were DayGlow Orange!
It was very quiet. I listened hard. Was that an engine or not? I could not be sure. No - maybe not. If one did come by I needed some thing dramatic to signal with. They would not hear my horn. They might see smoke. Set fire to the Landrover! Yes! Hang on - it was brand new and cost more than I earned. Never mind the cost. This was my life we were talking about. I had a lighter. I looked around for something to start a fire. There were twigs but nothing that provided smoke. I gathered a pile of twigs. It looked pitiful. The seats were probably filled with foam. That was more like it. I could burn these and produce lots of smoke. I was thinking this might be better than trying to set fire to the car when I heard an engine. I jumped onto the roof again. I could see a cloud of dust coming towards me. It was a pickup truck. I suddenly felt embarrassed. I jumped down, put the seats back and kicked away the pathetic twigs. How could I have considered such things?
I waved to the driver and he stopped. The pickup carried two people and a load of cardboard boxes. I don't know their nationality but they understood my English. "I've run out of petrol" I said indicating the empty punctured Jerrican. There were signs of regret and sympathy. "I don't have much water either." They had both in abundance like the sensible people they were. Money changed hands. I found they were going to Abu Dhabi. I was on the right track after all. I followed them as far as Muqta crossing. In the cooler afternoon breeze I waved them goodbye and was soon home. "How did it go?" I was asked. "Oh, OK. No problem." I did not mention anything to anyone, after all, it was just another boring Decca Day.
United but not Unified
United Arab Emirates unified the seven States in 1971 but individual States' Laws were not unified. Customs Duties differed in each State. Dubai's Duties were lowest of any. Dubai's Traders took advantage by smuggling goods (and probably people as well) overland into Abu Dhabi where duties were higher. They used LandRovers to do so! They drove at night without headlights over the desert into Abu Dhabi to deliver their goods to Traders who made a greater profit by avoiding Abu Dhabi Custom's higher Duty. Dubai was happy since both Dubai Government and Traders made money. Politically neither State wanted to build a connecting highway.
LandRovers were difficult to obtain in the early 1970s. Factory delivery was slow and constantly interrupted by Industrial Strikes. Sheikh Rashid place a large LandRover order for his new Dubai Defense Force. His order arrived in Port Rashid while Sheikh Rashid's was absent overseas. Local Traders also had orders for LandRovers but Sheikh Rashid took precedence - except he wasn't in the country. Traders descended on Port Rashid, selected which LandRovers they wanted and drove them out of Port Rashid. These Traders were influential Dubaians engaged in the "legitimate import export trade", otherwise known as smuggling. Smuggling was big business in Dubai as it used to be. Port Authorities and Police were powerless to stop them taking the LandRovers. By the end of the day Port Rashid was emptied of Landrovers.
Sheikh Rashid was furious when he returned and learned what happened. He ordered Traders to return the LandRovers. They did - slowly! No doubt these LandRovers made a few desert "delivery" runs to Abu Dhabi in the meantime!
Abu Dhabi Road Beginnings
In late 1960s Sheikh Rashid ordered a Troposcatter Telecommunications Station to be built atop Jebel Ali (Jebel meaning Mountain) - Dubai's highest point. There was no road access so a rudimentary road and track were built from Dubai to Jebel Ali. This was the first road in this area and forerunner of Dubai-Abu Dhabi Road. In 1972 Sheikh Rashid announced a new town, port and airport complex to be built at Jebel Ali. A Signboard erected in the sand said simply "JEBEL ALI NEW TOWN". There were no buildings in that area apart from the Communications Centre atop Jebel Ali. The well worn track was referred to as a "Road". UAE's first Constitution provided for a new Capital City located between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. No decision had been taken to build this new Capital City. Sheikh Rashid may have thought his Jebel Ali New Town could become that Capital City. His Jebel Ali New Town and Airport were never built but work started on Jebel Ali Port in 1976 together with Jebel Ali Village to house construction people. His intent was to make Jebel Ali an Industrial Area. Dubai-Abu Dhabi Road took on new significance as the link to Dubai's new Industrial Area. But Jebel Ali Port was not a success initially and the Industrial Area did not develop. It took 30 years before Jebel Ali Port became important to Dubai as Sheikh Rashid originally envisaged.
Constructing the Road to Abu Dhabi
Basic Road construction between Dubai and Jebel Ali began in 1970 and later extended in 1973 by Dubai Government to reach the Dubai/Abu Dhabi border. Abu Dhabi's Government built their part of the road down to the same border. The new Dubai-Abu Dhabi Road was a two lane highway with no road lighting. Driving that road at any time was risky but more so at night, dusk or sunrise when the drivers' vision was limited. Driving standards and road discipline were poor. But the real and ever present danger was wandering Camels. They roamed freely and frequently onto this busy road. There were many accidents, particularly at night, mostly fatal for Camel and driver. Many lives were lost.
"At that time (in 1973) it took four hours to travel between the two cities along a pot-holed road lined with the remains of wrecked cars. At my last visit 12 years later, this had become a four-lane limited access expressway."-A Visitor's comments.
A Camel is designed for the Desert - Not the Road
A Camel is about 2 Metres Tall and weighs around 700kgs
RangeRovers became popular around 1976
A RangeRover and a Camel are about the same height.
When a RangeRover and Camel collide, RangeRover first hits the Camel's legs, then Camel's 700kg body hits the front windscreen usually crushing the cab and RangeRover's Occupants.
When Car and Camel collide, the Car hits the Camel's legs then Camel's body falls on top of the Car crushing the Car Roof and Car's Occupants.
Only "protection" against Camels on the Road were Warning Signs on the Roadside. Later "Camel Proof" Fencing was erected on each side of the road.
Not an Open Road !!
United Arab Emirates was not united in its early days. There were differences in attitudes and practices. UAE's Customs Departments and Duties were not unified. People and goods travelling by road and transiting Dubai/Abu Dhabi border had to stop at each of two Custom's Posts for Custom's checks. Dubai's Check Post checks were almost non existent but then their Customs Duty was almost zero. Abu Dhabi were more enthusiastic with their Checks as they had higher Customs Duties.
Border Stand Off !!
By 1978 the various individual State Armies were loosely "unified" into UAE's Defense Force. UDF was divided into Regional Commands. In reality each Command was a State Army loyal to their State Ruler. In 1978 Sheikh Zayed tried to appoint his 18 year old son as UDF's Commander in Chief. UDF's Western Command was formed from Dubai's Defence Force. They rebelled against The President's decision and refused to take orders. Consequence was an immediate "Stand Off" leading to the closure of the Dubai/Abu Dhabi Border and Dubai Abu Dhabi Road. Western Command took up defensive positions along Dubai's border. Remainder of UDF took up position on the opposite side of the Border. Dubai/Abu Dhabi Road remained closed for six days! "Stand Off" ended when Sheikh Zayed rescinded his order. Sheikh Zayed had wanted rapid integration. Sheikh Rashid believed gradual integration was the better way forward given the differing development stages of UAE States. Political Statements supporting Sheikh Rashid's view were published in Dubai's newspapers and read out on radio and television in Arabic and English. Sheikh Rashid's name was never mentioned but the message and sentiment were clearly Sheikh Rashid's. This was Public Politics without any "Window Dressing" or "Spin". It was the first and (to date) the only time this has happened in UAE. Sheikh Zayed acceded to Sheikh Rashid's view, dissolved UAE's Federal Council and appointed Sheikh Rashid as Prime Minister. Sheikh Rashid was an energetic Prime Minister. He started to make things happen.
Sheikh Rashid UAE's Prime Minister
New hospitals, schools, roads were built under his direction. Dubai/Abu Dhabi Road was further developed into a major arterial road and took on a greater significance after Sheikh Rashid announced Jebel Ali Port in 1978 and opening of Jebel Ali Free Zone in 1980. Dubai Abu Dhabi Road was now a key distribution link for goods and materials from Dubai's Twin Ports of Jebel Ali and Port Rashid. Dubai's growing trade meant imports through Dubai's Ports were now reaching Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to the north, Oman and Yemen to the South via Dubai Abu Dhabi Road. Later development of various Cities and housing complexes increased traffic flow. The Dubai road section became inadequate. It was still a dual carriageway road with roundabouts difficult to negotiate and dangerous.
Sheikh Rashid's Decline
In the mid 1990s Dubai's Government announced a major upgrade of the road including realignment to by pass Jebel Ali Free Zone. Flyovers were to replace roundabouts. Most major roads connecting Dubai with other UAE States were known by their destinations. The road to Abu Dhabi had become the "Abu Dhabi Road". Places like the Jebel Ali Hotel displayed their address as "Off the Abu Dhabi Road". Dubai and Abu Dhabi Road probably never had an official published name. Road signs (where they existed) simply showed the road's destination. Sheikh Rashid became ill and eventually died in 1990.
Sh. Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Sheikh Maktoum became Ruler of Dubai and the road upgrade completed in early 1990s. Public speculation was the upgraded road would be named in memory of Sheikh Rashid. But Dubai's new Ruler Sheikh Maktoum announced the road was officially named as "Sheikh Zayed Road" in honour of UAE's President. That name only applied until the road on the Dubaiside of the Abu Dhabi border! In a reciprocal move the road on the Abu Dhabi side was named "Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Road". Sheikh Maktoum had lived in Abu Dhabi for several years after a "falling out" with his Father. The upgrade proved inadequate. For cost reasons flyovers were built as single carriageway crossovers. These quickly created traffic queues that spilled out onto the Sheik Zayed Road causing more hold ups and accidents. Dubai Municipality eventually replaced flyovers with road bridges and upgraded the road further to meet Dubai's growing Traffic needs.