Dubai's historic Gold Souq has given thousands of visitors a chance to take a step back in time over the years – but now there is change in store for the future.
Dubai Municipality has announced plans to revamp the souq, in Deira, including renovation of its facade, with umbrellas, ventilation, lighting and smart signage added. But traders say that such progress should not trample over precious tradition.
The souq has been a visitor attraction for decades, with hordes of shoppers roaming the alleys of the marketplace.
Posing by its wooden columns and arches, determined aunties buy gold for family weddings while some just come to see the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), the heaviest gold ring in the world, which weighs nearly 64 kilograms.
Dubai Municipality's plan to revamp the souq has drawn mixed reactions from traders and shopkeepers in the area, many of whom who have spent 20 years working at the heritage site. While traders believe that the renovation would be good for the future of the area, they fear the bazaar will lose its charm.
Hiren Shanishvara, store manager at Beshwari Jewellers, said people love to come and window shop at the Gold Souq and are resistant to change.
“People want the souq to remain as it is. It’s a traditional place. They don’t want it to become like a mall. Tourists say they see malls everywhere but the souq is unique. This is the beauty of this place. We want to know more about the reasons behind changing the souq. What kind of changes are they making?” he asked.
At the Gold Souq, health and safety procedures are also being upgraded and samples will be tested at random intervals to ensure the jewellery complies with regulations and specifications.
Mohammad Tariq, store manager at a branch of Kanz, a jewellery store, said that as the souq is an international market, it needs various facilities.
“The need for public bathroom is very important as elderly people also come to the souq. We have washrooms in independent stores, so we send people to the toilets in our facilities.
“Some people sell fake watches and bags and harass the customers, which is a nuisance,” he said.
The manager also believes that people want to see old Dubai since the city has changed so much in the recent past.
“People want to see the old souq with the traditional ceilings. It is a part of heritage and should not be changed,” said Mr Tariq.
Deep Zaveri, a sales executive at Emirates Diamonds Jewellery, said the store atttracts a minimum of 150 customers every day.
“People come here for the old-world charm. Here in old Dubai, you get whatever you want. It’s very convenient,” he said. The store opened doors in 1968.
Binu Nair, a sales executive at the same outlet, pointed out that although “there are hundreds and thousands of people coming here every day, there are no public toilets. Many clients don’t want to come here just for this reason. When they come here, they need a few hours to shop.”
Dubai Municipality is already working to ensure that public toilets are soon made available at the souq. The whole area is set to be developed while retaining its traditional flavour.
A shopping centre in the vicinity that would let people use their toilet facilities earlier is now demanding an access card from the store at which they are shopping.
Anidesh George, a store manager at another branch of Kanz, said that tricksters selling fake watches and troubling customers are among the main concerns.
The owner of a shop in the Gold Souq said that the fear of being harassed by illegal salesmen can keep customers away.
“Most of the tourists complain about the people who are trying to sell copies of watches and bags. Some customer asked about our stores but just before they reached they changed their mind. They said we won’t stay in this area,” he said.
“These salesmen make customers uncomfortable and sometimes it becomes sexual harassment,” he said.
He didn’t want his name mentioned because he said he is afraid of the group of salesmen.
“If I ask them not to stand in front of our store, they get 10 people and stay in front of our store,” he said.
Manoj Soni at Marhaba has worked at the store for 18 years and fears that the souq is losing its charm.
“It’s empty. Earlier there were more tourists. The outer area that is developing is better for the future,” he said.
The project ties in with the larger development of the area.The Shindagha Heritage District project is working to transform the area into the leading culture and heritage centre in the region, focusing on trade, crafts and the pearling industry. The redeveloped district is expected to open later this year.
The Gold Souq is a traditional market for buying and selling gold. Some estimates have it that about 10 tonnes of gold is present there at any given moment.