|By Sylvia D'Souza, UAE [ Published Date: March 20, 2007 ]|
A visit to the UAE would not be complete without a trip into the 'desert'.
We were picked in a Toyota Land Cruiser and were taken to the outskirts of Dubai where the desert starts. Picture this, an hour out of the glittering skyscraper city of Dubai, the land turns from concrete to sand, no tumbleweed here or remote villages, just sand. It would seem the government has allocated an area for the tourists to experience 'Dune Bashing' which basically is all about riding a Land Cruiser up, down and across the sand dunes.
This is a blind ride, one can't tell if there is someone coming up over the same dune...I think that is half the thrill. I had front row seating...and I live to tell that we traveled over some of the dunes on a 90 degree angle. It sounds quite tame but it's not. It's like a roller coaster only no tracks and us being thrown about in the car (Though all of us had our seat belts on)…. This is when we learned, to my apprehension, that our driver would lead, which meant extra jolts and excitement as he blazed the trail, tearing over the dunes. It also meant, however, that he was the best driver, which relaxed me a bit, as we took off on our roller-coaster adventure.
Some got stuck, we watched them pull each other out....sand flying everywhere.........
By the way there are 7 different colours of sand in the Middle East and you can see this change from one dune to another.…….. The driver cranked it up a notch when some members of Royalty riding with us asked if he does this all without music (he was very calm). He put on some hard core rap blasting, and went over and across a vast array of astonishingly high dunes, wheel spins and all…… Not for the faint of heart, but it was a unique experience and great fun! Our driver cheerfully warned us that it'd get worse. Were we okay and were we game for more? Of course we were... WERE WE????
Once he had been reassured, he smiled and swung the wheel right into the sand dunes almost flying across the countryside. After going up and down a few more dunes, he pulled up in front at a place that looked a bit like a farm. This was one of the few farms, where the Arabs breed camels.
The few camels in sight, took a quick look at us down their long noses and went back to munching away on the grass! Soon, some more Land Cruisers appeared and lined up alongside our vehicle. Out tumbled tourists from all over. They all headed straight for the camels, ambitiously trying to pet them and take photographs.
Meanwhile our driver began to let some of the air out of the tyres, checking the pressure with a gauge to make sure it was just right. Slightly flat tyres give more surface area contact with the ground and make for greater trail-grip, he explained that we would need all the traction we could muster to negotiate the high dunes.
After a short break and when all the Land Cruisers were ready with their wobbly tyres, we started off on our actual adventure through the dunes. Sand on the dunes slithers like smooth silk...!
They were as high as 30m-40m, and some were even higher. The powerful vehicle climbed up the sand dune slowly, slipping here and there on the side of the sand pyramid. The windscreen framed a rising slope of sand; we were pushed back into our seats as if we were in an aircraft soaring into the sky. That first climb was not an easy ride, but it was certainly thrilling and had our adrenaline pumping. And as we reached the knife-edge crest of the dune, we began to plunge down the other side.
Heading straight down at breakneck speed, skidding on the sand we had that sinking feeling in the pits of our stomachs. In places where the sand was too soft, the vehicle went sideways, tilting at a slight angle, Sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right. At times, it appeared as if the vehicle would just topple over on its side... but our driver was an expert with over 10 years of experience and he skillfully steered the Land Cruiser through the dunes.
We bounced, slid, and skated among the dunes to a "lookout" on top of one of the higher dunes with a breathtaking view of the endless desert, where we watched the sun set over the tranquil scenery. The view was simply amazing and as the sun turned from golden to crimson red to soothing orange, it was a soul-soothing experience.
It was amazing to look towards the horizon and see sand dune after sand dune. It was difficult to tell the distance to or height of the next dune. I hope I never get lost in the desert because all directions look the same.
Next came the moon buggies, or dune buggies or Quad bikes as they're really called, to thrash the sand about with, and do your own dune bashing, I'm sure, a real thrill to zoom about, and go up to around 40mph downhill and even jump a dune as well as fly the buggy in mid-air, fortunately I was just content to watch.
Some of the more machismo guys dared to try the sand boarding. I'd say if you have never snow boarded, than you better not try sand boarding. These guys would cruise half way down...straight, no curving, and bail at the bottom into pits of sand...and then they would sink into the sand with their board, swallowing and breathing in huge amounts of dust. Sand burn. Ouch. Not one guy made it to the bottom without falling...you think the other guys would learn!
We then left the high dunes and traveled to a Bedouin village, where we got an unique insight into the traditional life of the Bedouins.
Everything looked magical, equipped with piercing lights, blaring Arabian music and stalls where we could photograph ourselves in traditional costumes (kandura for men and burkha for women) and henna designs.
Before it got too dark, however, we were able to go for a short ride on camels, the "ships of the desert." I almost got pitched off head first when my camel "kneeled" down to let me get off, but the Camel owner caught me by the shoulder just in time!
After our camel adventure, we wandered over to the Bedouin village and were treated to some sweets and some very strong Arabian coffee in tiny cups before wandering around the camp and watching the Bedouins cooking their traditional foods over campfires.
There were plenty of desert delicacies made of dates, dry fruits and honey along with a heady mix of alcoholic cocktails and fruit mocktails. Later as the night passed, we stretched out on carpets and cushions on a round wooden floor resting and enjoying the cool desert breeze until the delicious barbecued dinner was served. Chicken, lamb and a variety of shish kebabs all tasted good and were nicely seasoned. Fresh veggies, hummus, tabbouleh, dates and the delicious "um-ali" dessert completed the feast.
A hookah aka shisha with scented tobacco was passed around, making us feel like royals.
After dinner, we moved to the bench in front of our table that was surrounding the circular stage. This provided everyone with front row seats for the belly dancer. She was quite good and insisted on audience participation. She literally hooked some people by the neck with a flexible woven cane and dragged them on stage to imitate all the moves she did, balancing the cane on different areas of her body, while gyrating her hips and chest.
At 10 p.m., when we all piled back into our Land Cruisers for the one-hour trip back, a spectacular fireworks display lit the sky, but that was not part of the BBQ, it was a wedding that was taking place close by. They had organized a desert safari convoy of 120 vehicles for their wedding guests. Can you imagine!!!