“Like an oasis,” Shaakib recollected, “the first thing anybody notices is the green.” He had been frequenting the bus station for the past 22 years. Its pale emerald hue – that which is nostalgic to travellers of that era – had grown paler, he claimed.
Truly understated in all respects, the Abu Dhabi bus terminal rests in the shadow of the glimmering Wahda mall, on Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street. It’s roughly the size of two football fields, and boasts a flamboyant centre-piece which arches into the sky, flanked by two space-ship like modules on either sides.
Employing passive solar design, the ginormous waiting hall is equipped with south-facing filters that allow for soft skylight and minimal solar gain. Haunted by portraits and stickers of the late Sheikh Zayed, it’s evident that the interior and its decor are quite hung-over from his time. In the pre-mall era, the terminus was the place that offered one thing – something that very few spaces back then offered free of charge – shelter from the sweltering sun.
The place is undoubtedly a playground for geeks of typography and calligraphy.
Still today, travellers and labourers can frequently be seen taking short naps on the cool metal benches at the loading bays that aren’t air-conditioned. The bays are quite often lined with young men, formally dressed with briefcases and folders in hand. There are traders and businessmen from Africa who are out looking for raw materials and new opportunities, workers living in other Emirates returning home who have found cheaper tickets from Abu Dhabi and a few low-budget tourists who have come to see the grand mosque. There are some people who also come specifically to the restaurants and the bookshop (Al Mizan) that sells Indian and Pakistani newspapers.
Right across the bus terminus, just past the line of passengers waiting for local taxis, stands another, equally spectacular, structure. Again with the focus on minimising heat, the taxi stand features four pairs of slanting brise-soleils (shading structures) which form a green canopy, shielding the ecosystem underneath.
A handful of drivers, desperate to hit the road, engage in intensive hawking; shouting the names of different destinations and tariffs. Others, ambling in the mid-summer heat, stop to either offer their prayers or nap on benches and mattresses. A courtyard of sorts, with a little tree at its centre, provides a place for interaction; drivers occasionally gather there for a game of cards or backgammon.
Another feature of the green giant is the curious variety of hand-made signs that grace walls and elevations. Some have clearly faced the harsh demeanour of the desert, making them appear even more rustic and vintage. The place is undoubtedly a playground for geeks of typography and calligraphy.
The terminal has now stood tall and majestic since the late 1980s, but there is no telling that it won’t be replaced by a twinkling, air-conditioned, glass cube, embellished with lustrous metal and digitally printed signage. Until that day comes, it might be worthwhile to pay a visit to this old denizen of the Abu Dhabi landscape.
“Like an oasis, the first thing anybody notices is the green.”