Karama: A symbol of Dubai's ever-changing spirit
Karama is known for some of the best and cheapest street food in the city.
Sixty-year-old Indian expat Kamalasan has witnessed the changing face of Karama. A resident of the community for almost two decades, he has seen how the area that was used to be known as '7,000 buildings' or Sheikh Rashid Colony has transformed into a residential and commercial hub in Dubai.
Sheikh Rashid Colony was built in 1978 on the orders of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the emirate's ruler at the time, to provide low-cost housing for low-income families.
It had eight residential blocks and got its nickname '7,000 buildings' because the annual rent for a two-bedroom flat, perfect for a family, was just around Dh7,000, which remained unchanged for decades, according to Kamalasan.
Eventually rents increased to Dh10,000 for existing tenants and Dh35,000 for new tenants, until the complex was demolished back in 2012 to give way to upscale mixed-used residential buildings constructed and managed by Al Wasl properties.
"But the old vibe of Karama is still there," Kamalasan, who owns a tailoring shop in the area, told Khaleej Times. Nestled between the green areas of Zaabeel Park and Bur Dubai, Karama is known for some of the best and cheapest street food in the city plus lower rents, compared to anywhere else in the emirate, and busy streets.
"The cheap street-side shawarmas and vegetarian restaurants are still here," Kamalasan said.
But then again, Karama is not immune to the growing Dubai expat population and the area is now populated with big restaurants catering to various taste buds. Two "new" crowd drawers to Karama are Razon's of Guagua, offering its signature halo-halo (Filipino dessert) and pancit luglug (noodles), straight from the Philippines, and Hot Palayok with its Asian-style buffet.
Jose Joey Razon, executive vice-president of Razon's, said he had no doubt that his restaurant, which he opened at Wasl hub in Karama three months ago, will succeed because of its strategic location. "People from other parts of Dubai can come to Karama because it is easily accessible, even for public transportation," he said.
Aside from eateries, the 'new' Karama complex also has a medical centre, 24-hour pharmacy, a string of Indian restaurants, pizza house, digital studios, barbershops and Etisalat office.
Although rent has gone up 10-fold of what it used to be - a one-bedroom flat now starts at Dh75,000 - residential units have remarkably upgraded. The three properties - Wasl Hub, Wasl Duet and Wasl Aqua - each has a swimming pool, gym, covered parking and retail units on the ground floor.
Meanwhile, some residents who previously lived in the 7,000 buildings were lucky enough to find relatively cheaper flats in some private residential buildings in Karama.
"We really prefer living in Karama," sad Dennis Arevalo, who shares a flat, half a kilometre away from his previous residence, with his sister and relatives. "Karama is very accessible to my place of work - there is public transport (Metro). The community has almost everything here - supermarket, convenience stores - and we are near the park and church area (Oud Metha)," he said.
"Rents in some areas are lower than in Karama but they are far. So we really prefer to live near our place of work and save on time and transport money," Arevalo added.
Recently, traffic in Karama has eased up after the Roads and Transport Authority opened the bridges at the Sheikh Rashid-Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Streets intersection in February and the tunnel on both sides of Sheikh Rashid Road (Al Garhoud and Mina Rashid) in May this year.
For Kamalasan and other Dubai residents, Karama, which in Arabic means 'dignity', is a symbol of Dubai's ever-changing spirit. It is for this reason, perhaps that Karama is near to where the Dubai Frame stands.
1-Home for the displaced
In the early 1980s the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum provided sanctuary to around 8,000 Omanis, who were among the tens of thousands displaced from Zanzibar in the 1960s. Sheikh Rashid housed the displaced Omanis at the Hamdan Colony in Karama.
Ask any Karama resident and he/she would claim that they have the best shawarma in town. Karama boasts of a string of shawarma restaurants and one that stands out is Pumpy's. Expat Dennis Arevalo says he loves the crunchy wrap of the Pumpy's shawarma and the chicken tendered in secret marinade.
3-Dubai's (in) famous grey market
On the downside, Karama is quite infamous as haven of fake goods. A couple of months ago, Khaleej Times covered a live raid by the Department of Economic Development (DED) here. About 7,000 fake items, including luxury bags, watches, clothes and sunglasses, worth half a million dirhams were confiscated.
4-City's biggest food hub
According to Dubai-based food blogger Food Sheikh, Karama boasts of the biggest number of restaurants in the emirate. Based on 2016 figures, it has a total of 381 food and beverages outlets as compared to 295 in International City; 293 in Dubai Marina; 255 in Jumeirah Lake Towers and 254 in Al Rigga.
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