ABU DHABI // What used to be a dangerous pit stop off Sheikh Zayed Road has been renovated – much to the delight of the motorists who use it.
For more than 25 years, thousands of motorists stopped at the Ghantoot cafes for a rest and bite to eat during their journeys. In January 2014, Abu Dhabi Municipality announced plans to build a motorway rest stop there.
The restaurants were not replaced, but streets, lighting, fences and parking bays have sprung up to offer drivers a reprieve from long hours on the road. Barriers and a slip road to the cafes were built to address safety concerns.
Lorry drivers said they were delighted with the new facilities. Exits that used to be muddy, uneven and haphazard have been improved.
Drivers had complained that there were no proper parking places, so motorists would pull over beside the motorway to take tea or mince rolls – posing a danger to other road users. “Accidents happened, that’s why the authorities fenced the area near the restaurant,” said Nadeem Khan, a pick-up driver. “That was to stop motorists from parking on the highway.”
Mr Khan, who has slept in his vehicle at the restaurant area, said drivers could not park for long hours at petrol stations as they could in Ghantoot. The food was also cheaper.
“For Dh20, we can eat properly, including laban, tea or cold drinks,” he said.
It was refreshing for drivers to have a place to nap before resuming their journey, said Mohsen Akbar, a minibus driver.
“We can’t stop more than 15 minutes at petrol stations. It’s not allowed, but here, we can stop as much as we want and grab a karak chai [tea],” he said. “We don’t like dip tea at the petrol stations.”
Drivers can spend as little as Dh10 for a filling meal, which is not possible at petrol stations, and they get the food they prefer, he said.
The area has three restaurants – Al Saha, Qasr Al Jabal, and Al Miftah. At the latter, a chicken or mutton kadai with rice is Dh10, while vegetable curry with Afghan bread is Dh6 and a karak tea is Dh1.
“At petrol stations, we don’t get biryani, kadhai ghost [a mughlai mutton dish] and other gravies that could suit our tastes, but here it’s all available at affordable rates,” Mr Akbar said.
Abdul Razzak, who runs a cafeteria in Ras Al Khaimah, agreed.
“We are working people and can’t afford expensive food, but here we get food of our choice and get sufficient amounts. In fact, we don’t like sandwiches and burgers,” he said during his stop.
The only tyre-repair shop at Ghantoot is run by Mohammed, a mechanic, who said he responds to calls from motorists “around the clock”.
“Many people whose vehicles break down on the motorway call me to fix the problem, so we rush to them, even if it’s in the middle of the night,” he said. “Living here in the middle of the highway is not easy in all weather conditions, particularly in sweltering summers. I consider this as a service to the road users.”
Sometimes, police officers called his shop at night to fix a vehicle or a punctured tyre.
“The police and people both have my number,” the mechanic said.
Qutubuddin, who works for a courier service in Dubai, stopped at the area on his return from Abu Dhabi. “I like this place because it soothes the mind and gives peace from the city’s hustle and bustle,” he said.
“We just stop here to have lunch, pray and take a rest.”