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Fantastic shopping deals, stunning stage-shows and mega promotions with exciting prizes are just some of the countless bounties enticing you to attend this year’s Dubai Shopping Festival

Shopping is to Dubai what skiing is to Switzerland. As an open port with low import duties, Dubai’s retail prices are reasonable with a variety of products rarely seen in any part of the globe. From the haute couture of Paris and Milan to high-tech electronics from Japan and the finest jewellery from around the world, you’re sure to find it all. No surprises then that shopping is a no-holds barred activity, culminating each March with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF).

So what is the Dubai Shopping Festival? Dubai is renowned the world over as a shopper’s paradise throughout the year, but they really lay out the red carpet during the month of March, with over 2,000 retail outlets offering everything conceivable, from cars to carpets. Gold (go for the gold souk) and electronics are exceptionally well priced. The best, however, is the famed and fabled Arabian merchandise - silks, perfumes, spices, incense, silverware and carpets.

Attracting millions every March, DSF is not just about shopping. The bargains at thousands of outlets all over the city are combined with street bazaars, raffle draws, exotic food, folk dancing, musical concerts and theatre performances. Adding to this shopping and entertainment extravaganza, also in March are many cultural shows and extraordinary sporting events like the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai Desert Classic: a stop on the PGA tour, and the Dubai Tennis Open.

The mood will be set by an opening ceremony on an unprecedented scale on March 1. The lavishly-produced ceremony will feature renowned cultural troupes from five continents in a theatrical presentation supported by stunning visual effects, high-tech gadgetry and machinery and the biggest choreographed fireworks show ever staged in the Middle East. But indisputably, the star attraction on the entertainment calendar will be the world premiere of a dazzling stage production - Two Thousand and One Nights created by the world-famous Caracalla Dance Theatre.

The streets of Dubai come alive with over 400 international street performers from across the globe. The festivities go on, night after night, against a spectacular backdrop of laser and sound shows. In particular, the fantastic Aqua Fantasia Laser show must not be missed. During the show, as pulsating music holds sway, walls of water rise up to meet the night, painting a host of laser pictures in the air.

So show me the money, I hear you say! Well let’s start with the raffles. Every day (yes, EVERY DAY) a Lexus four-wheel drive, a Lexus luxury Sedan and 200,000 dirhams (Rs 26 lakh) cash will be given away, in a raffle that limits tickets to a total of 5,000 (per day) and the cost per ticket is a mere 200 dirhams (Rs 2,600) each.

I’m sure calculating the odds makes you want to jump on a plane today. Still greedy? How would one kilogram of gold grab your fancy? Well in another raffle, there is a chance of winning one kilo of gold (worth Rs 4.5 lakh) every day and a whopping 10 kilos (worth Rs 45 lakh) on the final day. Want more? Thirty-one Nissan Patrol four-wheel drive vehicles will be given away (worth over Rs 20 lakh) every day in another promotion during the festival.

With over 28 countries participating at the Global Village, you can discover their unique heritage and traditions, and also pick up handicrafts, carpets and other irresistible bargains. Carpet Oasis is another major attraction worth a visit. Offering the finest handmade carpets from the most reputed carpet-producing countries in the world at astounding prices, you can watch carpet weavers in action as they demonstrate the painstaking methods of making carpets at the Dubai Airport Expo.

But you tell me, I’m looking for family entertainment. Bingo! The festival is the ideal place for families with kids. There are daily exciting activities for children, including three major international shows. One of the major events for children this year will be the inauguration of The Children’s city, a brand-new attraction that features a fantasy land for kids.

Not to be left out of this excitement, the Dubai hotels are providing discounts on room rates ranging from 25-40 per cent and a special offer in which DSF visitors staying for three nights will get two nights free during ‘Dubai Summer Surprises’ between June and August 2002. Emirates, the official carrier and a key sponsor of Dubai Shopping Festival, has also announced a special package for visitors starting US$ 27 per night.

Irrefutably, the bustling atmosphere and traditional style of doing business by negotiating is sure to keep you on your toes throughout this exciting extravaganza.

Shopper’s Tips
Fixed prices are the norm in most large department stores. However, most shopkeepers do expect a fair amount of bargaining. Gold jewellery is also open to bargaining. Window shop and compare prices before you make up your mind. It would help if you keep in mind the products that are liable to duty back home. For high-value goods such as cameras, watches and electronic equipment, make sure you get your international warranty stamped by the dealer. It would always be useful to buy products from companies that would have service stations back home.