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OVER THE DUNES

Your visit to Dubai is incomplete if you have not taken the Desert Safari tour. It is the most exciting thing you must have ever done in your life. It is an experience of a lifetime as one enjoys the roller coaster ride on the sand dunes.  The action packed desert safari takes you on a journey from a desert to a mountain in a 4 wheel drive to an isolated desert camp where a lot of activities and entertainment awaits you.  The safari can last for a couple of hours to whole day or night, depending on how much of an experience people want.  It makes the tourist feel as if they have been transported back to ancient times when for business or in search of oil people used to brave the never ending sea of dunes with their caravans.

There are many tour companies that organize trips into the desert with a wide variety of activities.  You have options of morning safari, evening safari or overnight safari. It is ideal to take the evening or overnight safari to escape the harsh sunlight and scorching daytime temperature. But if you don’t have time to spare in the afternoon or evening than morning safari is the right choice.  It starts at 9 in the morning and its specially designed for those who love sports and adventure as one can enjoy dune bashing, quad biking, camel ride, sand sky etc. The evening desert safari generally departs in the late afternoon to take you across the desert. If you have time in hand you should opt for the overnight desert safari. This includes all the elements of the evening safari, however instead of returning to the city in the evening you gain an opportunity to spend the night at the desert camp site. You will have a beautiful experience of sleeping in spacious tents under the starry night in your sleeping bags. You can experience the beautiful cool Arabian night and see the stunning sunrise in the morning. Before returning back to Dubai you can eat a hearty Arabian or continental breakfast.

{Our photojournalist Ani Abraham shares his unforgettable desert hunt experience with GAZ readers. Let’s check it out and enjoy the spirit of desert safari.}

“ I got a chance to experience a desert safari few days ago, with the help of my friends in Arabian Offroaders  and it to sum it all up, all I can say is that desert safari is a great thing to do if you get a chance, but it’s not something extraordinary that one shouldn’t miss at any cost.

So here starts my story!!! Get ready for an exciting desert trip………..

The sun slowly rose at about 5.30am on a Friday, I was up early, wishing I would get to drive today! The thrill of a short night drive was still lingering and I was getting impatient, did all I could to get a lid on it though. For Arabian Offroaders, this was a norm and they looked forward to it every weekend, a short drive at night, camp, drive in the morning, an advanced drive in the afternoon, one Saturday afternoon and one mid week, man, they have a lot of drive!

The campers assembled one by one at Lisaili, I could smell wildlife and indeed, there were a few Gazelles, a few Salukis in the Lisaili Village on Dubai Al Ain Road. The smell of fresh, no pure air made me wonder where I really am, certainly Dubai has a lot more to offer than just a city, as rich as it is in a Metropolitan way, it is richer in its culture, the expats seem to have adapted to it well.

Unpacking the tents, careful as the Leading Captain had stressed to those who were first timers, not to leave anything behind except foot prints and there everyone followed suit, the place was clean as it was. I cannot help but appreciate the fact that the Arabian Offroaders picked up someone else’s garbage.

The quiet is broken by the sound of engines outside a line of mostly shut cafeterias. This is a well-known meeting place for dune bashers and freshen up point. These enthusiasts brave the winter cold and summer heat in their four-wheel drive vehicles, some without heaters or air conditioning, to explore the sand dunes and for the thrill of the ride. Yes, it gets hot in the afternoon, I am told.But before the adventure begins, they greet each other over sweetened milk tea served by an eager restaurant owner who assures them breakfast will be served soon. The large gathering chatters away and first-timers introduce themselves over piping hot parathas (Indian bread) with scrambled egg stuffing’s. In the spirit of camaraderie, someone picks up the tab.

The enthusiastic group from the Arabian Offroad Academy formed by (alphabetically): MohsinRawal, MuhammedSarwar, Naveen Narayan, Shrishibu Nair, YahyaHameeduddin and ZubinMarolia only a few years ago now had over 600 members, all of them active!

The FJ Cruiser looked somewhat different, I inquired: Stock FJ with Icon Stage 4 suspension system and a customized skid plate to protect the radiator and a few essentials. The rims were TRD light alloys with ATR – All Terrain Radials.

Today, mostly amateurs and beginners, set off for three hours of driving. The motorists deflate their tyres after entering the closest desert strip. Buckling their seat belts and dividing into groups, they follow a lead driver who maps the route and makes sure the group members do not get lost. Five groups were made, Newbie, Easy, Easy Plus, Intermediate and Advance, Darshan opted to drive with the newbies – added support to the Leading Captain. Driving at between 20kph and 30kph, they take on the smaller dunes first, I was with Darshan Sebastian, one of the enthusiast, I plan to be with him all day.

A few hundred meters and I was offered to drive, I willingly accepted the offer, the routine is fairly simple and disciplined. Each car has a red flag mounted on the back, a tow rope, a GPS device, a tool kit and plenty of water. The most important element of off-roading is knowing your car well, Darshan explained, he not only let me drive his car but also guided me all the way, when to turn, when not to, when to FLOOR the accelerator, don’t be surprised, use of brake is rare, I was also advised how to use decelerate instead of regular braking.

(Me with my close buddies Sunil , Tharun and Dharsan as my Navigator in FJ!! They filled our journey with fun. Even though am a Newbie driver I did my part well, but i heard this song from my back seat  “why this kolavery….. kolavery….Kolavery…” as they are bit afraid of my driving . Yes they were singing this song because of my driving !! Ha ha ha…

After passing few minutes our FJ got jump into a small Dune, very suddenly I heard a loud noise on my back and I realized it was from my friends. After a small break we did start our drive but I saw my dearest friends Sunil and Tarun were with Shibu Nair’s   new Land Cruiser. I found both of them were little bit relaxed and feeling secure. And laughing on my face, the voice of their laugh still in my ear just like a Hippo eating a mount of hotdogs Bla ! Bla ! Blah………… now you can imagine a newbie driver is !!!!)

It is imperative the vehicles maintain a safe distance, keep up the momentum and switch to the right gears. Darshan familiarized me with the sand’s texture, the car’s abilities and learn about each dune’s slope and crests before attacking it. I learnt that for the new drivers, it is the excitement of learning something new.

I followed the lead and did just as I was told, three hours whizzed passed by and it was time for a break – modification! I did not realize what it meant but soon discovered that it was an old joke – it was time to take a break and have Mandi – a traditional rice dish with meat or chicken. I opted for the meat.

We relaxed a bit, some had their naps and in about two hours time, more cars joined in for an advanced drive, Naveen  was leading this drive and the route was from the nearby village in Lisaili to Margham on Dubai Hatta Road. He put on his Oakleys Wind Jacket and set off as if he was chasing someone, the average speed I would say was easily 60 km/hr, a look back at the cars behind, it was as if he was fiercely chased, no sweep this time, all were experienced drivers. Darshan had this smile on his face while he was explaining every move he was making while cris-crossing the dunes – dune shifting as they call it.

One has to be very careful, not very fast – you may overshoot, not too slow – you may roll–over, it is about momentum and quick decision making. Darshan ensured that he stayed on top of the dune all the time, avoiding to go any shrub. An absolute professional I must say, Darshan, who joined the group about two years ago. “I like the fun and adventure.” Off-roading also helps break social barriers, a regular at the sport. “It’s a diverse society and you get to know more people.

After about a long drive in the desert all vehicles will be parked in a place to watch the sunset in the desert. It is an amazing experience. You should see this at least once in your lifetime.  Then the desert safari continues and all vehicles came to a central camp in the middle of the desert. There are tents, tables and chairs in the camp for people to sit and relax. After we reached the camp there are mineral water, soft drinks and a variety of snacks awaiting for us. I suggested you that while you reach the camp site you should taste the Arabic coffee and dates. Women can indulge in henna designing on their hands and feet. You can also try camel riding, sand boarding or ride a quad-bike. Or buy a sand art as a souvenir. You can also try the Shisha, which is the famous traditional Arabic hubly-bubly water pipe. The Arabs were perfectly hosted and within a couple of hours we started the barbecue dinner under the starry skies.  A variety of continental and Arabian dishes were included in the menu including vegetarian and non vegetarian. After having dinner, entertained us by a traditional belly dancer in the center stage. She mesmerized us with her moves and I was lucky to be called up on the stage to dance with her and I did Opzzzzz. I thoroughly enjoyed.

After the dinner and belly dancing finished, all vehicles start heading back. While coming back I promised to my buddy’s that I will share this wonderful experience with my beloved readers and I do!!!!!

A desert safari is an experience that you will cherish for a lifetime and truly worth every single penny that you spend.

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