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Global Village: Trip down memory lane

Dubai: As the Global Village turns 19 this year, Indian businessman Sunil Bhatia and owner of three pavilions reminisces about his own journey with the cultural event right from its inception.

“I have always been fascinated about cultural fairs and exhibitions. Back home in India I regularly visit the ‘Surajkund Crafts Mela’ where traditional craftsmen from all over the country come together to exhibit their authentic products. Taking inspiration from this, I thought of bringing a similar concept to Dubai. When I expressed my intent to the organisers of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), they supported me wholeheartedly. There was no Global Village back then and India was the first pavilion to be set up in 1996,” said Bhatia, owner of the India, China and Europe pavilions at the Global Village this year.

“We had 20 stalls sponsored by the Indian government. The craftsmen were all national award winners and we took care of their boarding and lodging expenses. We brought a dance troupe from India to host a cultural show and overnight the pavilion became a huge hit. People came from all over the UAE to see our pavillion,” he said.

Bhatia had permission to host the pavilion for just 15 days of DSF. However, the overwhelming response from people forced the organisers to keep the pavilion for another week.

Following the huge success of the Indian pavilion in 1996, five pavilions were set up the following year opposite the Renaissance Hotel parking area in Deira. “Again the crowd came in large numbers. The Indian pavilion put up 30 stalls and we also decided to bring in some entertainment. A friend of mine was the owner of Magnasound and he arranged to get Daler Mehndi to perform for a night in Dubai. We put a large stage near the Radisson Hotel in Deira and the crowd simply loved his performance. For hours streets remained jammed as people rushed to catch a glimpse of the singing star. People even climbed the twin tower building which was under-construction then to watch the performance.”

Parallel growth

In the last 19 years, the Global Village has grown multifold to include 31 pavillions representing over 70 countries.

Bhatia’s own journey has been no different. He has come a long way from running a 20-stall Indian pavilion in 1996 to now owning three pavilions with hundreds of stalls in the Global Village this year.

“I could not have come this far without the encouragement and support from DSF and Global Village organisers. They were always supportive of my ideas,” said Bhatia.

As XPRESS took a tour of India China and Europe – Bhatia’s passion and vision for Global Village was hard to miss.

Spread across 11,500 square metres, the Indian pavillion is modelled after the famous Victoria Terminus station in Mumbai. “I hired hundreds of workers to hand-paint the façade,” said Bhatia.

From cotton, silk, chiffon fabrics - to traditional leather sandals, handbags, wallets and accessories – the pavilion is bustling with people eager to snap up authentic Indian products.

A new addition this year is the ‘Bollywood Express’ – showcasing life size cut outs of actors.

The China pavilion is spread across 5,000 square metres and the décor inside is a visual treat with over 500 Chinese lanterns lighting up the pavilion. “Everything you see around here has been hand-picked by me. I made several visits to China to finalise the décor of the pavilion,” he said.

“I have also been picky about the vendors as I did not want every stall selling the same things,” said Bhatia.

The Europe pavilion, spread across 2,100 square metres, is the largest space it has taken so far in the Global Village. London’s iconic red bus and red telephone box adorn the designs in the pavilion.

“Europe has a completely new look this year. I never repeat the theme and design in any of my pavilions as people want to see something new every year,” said Bhatia.

Bhatia has over 20 people working for him through the year for the Global Village. “Work never stops. Once the Global Village ends we hire a consultant to give us a new design proposal for the next year. We run it with the organisers and once they approve our bid we begin work. This process is done every year.”

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