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First stone-built Hindu temple in the Middle East rises in the UAE ahead of Modi’s latest visit

ABU MUREIKHA, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Pink sandstone spires soar above what was once a patch of desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, ornately decorated with deities and the pious in the first stone-constructed Hindu temple in the Middle East.

The soon-to-open BAPS Hindu Mandir signals how far the United Arab Emirates has come in acknowledging the different faiths of its expatriate community, long dominated by Indians across construction sites and boardrooms. The temple nods back in its seven spires, the number of sheikhdoms in this autocratic federation on the Arabian Peninsula.

It is also a sign of how close relations have become between the UAE and India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive Tuesday on his seventh trip to the Emirates just ahead of elections in the world’s largest democracy. He hopes to further business, defense and cultural ties while cementing his relationship with a man he calls his brother, UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“Modi is not going to travel widely this year before the election,” said Viraj Solanki, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The fact that he is willing to go to the UAE shows how important this relationship is for India.”

The Hindu Mandir stands out in the emptiness of Abu Mureikha, otherwise known for being where the UAE’s sheikhdoms agreed in 1976 to have a unified military. Just off the main highway linking Dubai to Abu Dhabi, the temple is made of sandstone imported from India’s Rajasthan state. Inside, Italian marble shines.

Smaller temples have existed for decades in the UAE, but none following the traditional building techniques of the Hindu Mandir. Its carved stones fit like a jigsaw puzzle and provide support without