Up the Burj Khalifa: A tall story

When we lived in the States and used to do road trips along the east coast, from Florida to Virginia, I was always really intrigued by the detours you could take to see things like the world’s second largest ball of yarn and the biggest frying pan.

So, when the tallest building in the world was opened here in Dubai last year, I was keen to add another “tallest” to my list (being careful to let enough people go up before us to test the elevators, of course – especially after a group of terrified tourists got trapped 124 floors above the ground for almost an hour).

The first time we went up the Burj Khalifa was in the daylight; this week we took our first guest of the season to the top in the dark to see the sparkling lights of the city – in the hope that the ‘wow’ factor would make up for the fact that sightseeing right now is like wading around in a giant bowl of steaming hot soup.

I figured it had to be cooler up there – the tapering, silvery tower is almost one kilometre (0.6miles) high, after all. So high that during Ramadan, a cleric said Muslims living above the 80th floor should fast for longer because they could still see the sun after it had set on the ground.

Superlatives aside – highest occupied floor in the world, elevator with the longest travel distance, etc – it’s well worth visiting the outdoor observation deck. Called ‘At The Top’ (I’m not sure why, it’s actually about two-thirds of the way up), you’re high enough to look down on Dubai’s other ‘tall’ buildings and appreciate that everything else is dwarfed by the soaring skyscraper.

The boys loved it because the tiny cars on the ground look like toys and in the dark with their headlights on you get a great view of all the traffic, snaking its way along Dubai’s sprawling roads.

The elevator ride itself is quite an experience, bordering on sci-fi. You stand in a futuristic, darkened space and at first don’t even realise you’re moving. Then you spot the floor numbers rapidly rising and realise you’re climbing at speed – at 10 metres a second, in fact, which means the vertical ascent through 124 floors takes less than a minute – and, yes, your ears do pop!

STATS & FACTS

WINDOW CLEANING: Washing the tower’s 24, 348 windows takes 36 workers three to four months.

ON THE INSIDE: The building houses corporate suites, residential space, the Armani Hotel, 57 elevators, 8 escalators and nearly 3,000 stairs (it’s no wonder some of the people stranded up there last year, when a loud boom was heard and the lift broke, started to panic)

RECORDS SET: World’s highest mosque (158th floor); highest nightclub (144th floor); highest restaurant (At.mosphere on the 122nd floor); and second highest swimming pool (76th floor).

It's a loooong way down

SHOP AT THE TOP: Yes, you can spend money up there on mementos including a Lego Burj kit (pleeeeez Mummy, pleaded BB) and gold bars emblazoned with the Burj’s logo from ‘Gold to Go’ vending machines.

PRICE TAG: Tallest towers don’t come cheap: the total cost for the project was about $1.5 billion. The tower’s completion coincided with Dubai’s financial troubles, which led the emirate to seek multi-billion dollar bailouts from its oil-rich neighbour Abu Dhabi. Subsequently, in a surprise move at the opening ceremony, the tower, originally called Burj Dubai, was renamed Burj Khalifa to honour the UAE president.

CONTROVERSY: Sadly, though, its construction is marred with controversy over the working conditions of the army of labourers from South Asia who spent 22 million man-hours building the tower and somehow managed to pump concrete so high into the sky.

Inauguration on 4th Jan 2010
SHOWPIECE: On December 31st, spectacular fireworks, accompanied by lasers and lights, were set off from the Burj Khalifa, setting yet another world record – the highest New Year fireworks display in the world.

More information at: www.burjkhalifa.ae

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