The Desert Safari

Wind and sand create majestic dunes that are constant but ever-changing. They move across the deserts, sing to the wind and inspire thoughts!


To stand before these gleaming white, sometimes reddish golden sand dunes and realize that they were once an ancient lake bed or coastal plain makes me reflect on the transient and sometimes harsh nature of life.

The desert safari is an activity most people recommend to undertake if you are in Dubai. I had been avoiding it as ride over the sand dunes (called “Dune Bashing”) didn’t appeal to me at all. Similar to mini roller coaster rides – I don’t like them though I do have to occasionally sit in one because of the kids. Where possible I wiggle out by volunteering Sohail to take my place. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that “Dune Bashing” was not as bad as I had expected.

The journey started with a pick up by the tour company from our hotel in a jeep. We had to sit at the back as we were the last to be picked up. There were 6 of us in the jeep plus the driver. Driving out of Dubai still continues to fascinate me. The changing landscape as you leave behind the stunning skyline. We didn’t get much traffic on the way as it was afternoon.

After some 30 minutes drive in which we saw the Camel racing ground, the Camel hospital and a few hundred camels walking together in a herd. The camel’s mouth continuing to chew gives it a comical expression. I marvel at how it supports a torso shaped like a mountain on such skinny, spindly legs. Certainly there is something quite distinctive rather captivating about the way a camel moves. When walking, the camel moves both feet on one side of its body, then both feet on the other. This gait causes the rolling motion similar to that of a boat, explaining the camel’s ‘ship of the desert’ nickname.

Once we get to the place, the driver asks us to get off while he deflects the jeep’s tyres. Now we are ready for the first part of the trip -the Dune Bashing. We get on a sandy dirt track, following a line of jeeps.

I brace myself, check my seat belt, remove the strap from my neck and get hold of the reinforced iron rods running across the roof of jeep to steady myself. The jeep is reinforced with iron rods to help prevent injury in case it over turns during the ride. These form good “handles” during the ride.

The driver gives a warning that the ride is about to start.

I take a deep breath and hold on tight and there we go up a dune at good speed and drive down at even a faster speed. The jeep jumps in the air and lands (crashes) down on the sand below. A big jerk as my body is thrown around and my arm muscles are all taut now. This was a small sand dune. The next one is bigger and the crash is bigger. I have my eyes closed and I’m now going “Ya Allah” and I’m sure quite loudly and quite a few times. I’m busy reciting God’s names to help calm my rushing heart beat.

When the car stabilises, just before getting on another sand dune, I quickly open my eyes and look around. The sand is this red brown color and so majestic looking from the jeep’s window. But before any thoughts can come in my mind or I can finish my marvel at the sand, the jeep is already coming crashing down.

I close my eyes and utter another loud “Ya Allah”.

Now I’m worried that I may start to feel nauseous if this continues any longer. It does continue for another 20 minutes (which seem like some very long 20 minutes). Finally it stops. The jeep is parked with the many other jeeps and we are told it’s time to watch the sun set. We get off the jeep.

Sand and sand everywhere as far as the eye can see. Hills of rolling sands with perfectly contoured shadows of ripples and undulating crests, so beautiful. Sand, traces of red color on surface, welcoming and inviting as I look out. But astonishingly hostile the minute I step in. My feet sink in deep and trying to walk is a challenge. Having shoes on makes it much worse. Better to be bare footed in this sand.

We climb up the closest dune and get our phones and cameras out for some amazing shots of the sun settling in horizon. Sun, a bright orange fades to bright pink color ball perfect in shape and in the far distant.

I look around and think this region (not UAE but Egypt, Saudi, Iraq, Jordan) has been the cradle of civilisation, most prophets lived around the desert. This stark bare hostile landscape but why?

“you are in the desert. So immerse yourself in it. The desert will give you an understanding of the world; in fact, anything on the face of the earth will do that. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

There were many a tourist on the sand dune, talking, taking pictures but somehow it felt quiet. Strange! I could hear my thoughts here despite the crowd. The desert inspires your thoughts, makes you philosophical, something about it welcomes you and embraces you. You feel connected with God.
With my thoughts, I sit down on the sand and stare out to the sun. I try to cup some sand in my hand. The more I close my hand and squeeze tightly to hold on, the faster the sand trickles through my fingers till all of it is spilled.

I think of my life and how quickly time had passed.

I still vividly remember my first day in school. Decades have passed in between but did I really feel time fly? Must enjoy the moment before this too elapses as the many before it. I smile as I see Sohail walking towards me. He gives me his hand to help me get up and then holds my hand as I struggle through walking up the sand dune.

Back in jeep we are now ready to head on to the camp site. Once on site I wanted to ride the Camel out in desert but was very disappointed to discover that ride was less than 2 minutes. The waiting line was very long as eager tourists waited to see it up close.

At the entrance was a man with a falcon. Offered to hold the falcon. Though it was a beautiful creature and it was exciting to hold it, I felt very sorry that it was being continuously flashed as people were getting their pictures taken. Some consolation was that the bird’s eyes were covered.

The camp was nicely designed and we sat on the cushions on the floor with a low table. I was sitting facing the sand dunes at the back of the camp. It was picturesque against a blue sky initially and as the darkness grew green lights, placed strategically on the Dune, made them appear mystical.

Some starters, and we sat down to share tales of our past travels. One fellow had been on a Camel trek across a part of Sahara dessert from Morocco, so fascinating. Reminded me of all the National Geographic documentaries I had seen as a child. Must go there one day I tell myself!

The camp is now filled with the aroma of barbecue food. Tempting!

Cannot wait for dinner to be served. Buffet style. The dinner is nice though the lighting on the table is only from a small candle making it a challenge to see what I’m putting in my mouth. Some Arabic coffee and then the belly Dancer. Though the lady was very talented, I felt quite sorry to see her swirling away and doing acrobatic stunts with a sword in this heat. Feeling sad for her, I got up to get some henna on my hand.

I walked around the camp, no shoes on, the sand felt cold under my feet.

Once the dance was over they closed the lights, so we could enjoy the stars!

With the haze in Dubai you cannot really see any stars. It would have been lovely to catch some stars in desert. Time to head back to hotel.

Time spent in the mysterious, meandering Sand dunes is a truly unique experience. Depending upon one’s particular situation, they can be one of the most incredibly beautiful, thrilling, eerie, treacherous or just plain inhospitable places on earth. I shiver as I try not to think about the latter.
#dubai #desertsafari



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