Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri May 27 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | May 27, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    The Other Side of Dubai: A Desert Safari

    The Other Side of Dubai: A Desert Safari

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    All of the accolades that you hear about Dubai are true — it is one of the most luxurious, over-the-top cities in the world. 

    Cloud-topping buildings, gold-rimmed interiors and Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Ferraris are literally on every corner. It can all be really overwhelming to absorb but the experience that for me defines Dubai history and culture has nothing to do with all of these high-end amenities. Hopping into a 4x4 into the desert outside of the city started my journey into the other side of Dubai.

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    With sand swirling all around and nothing but towering sand dunes as far as I could see, entering into Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve was a striking contrast to the gleaming, modern architecture in the heart of the city. We started our Arabian Adventures excursion with a race over the unending dunes, called “dune bashing.” Sort of like a desert roller coaster, the jeep bounced up and over the sand with stomach swirling speed. Our driver would pause at the foot of a large dune and then we would plunge down in a wild ride that whipped up clouds of sand. We all gripped the seat in front of us so that our entire bodies didn’t bounce along with the car.

    The panoramas in the middle of the dunes are well worth any nausea that the bumpy motion might cause, but I highly recommend taking Dramamine or using nausea-blocking acupressure bands like I did, before the ride.

    There’s a small setup with rugs and light hors d’oeuvres from which to watch the ancient falconry tradition, before arriving at the large, Bedouin style camp. Seeing the falcon swoop around the dunes and then quickly return to the trainer was fun. The birds usually dive around to catch game but I (fortunately) didn’t witness that. Falconry is considered a regal sport and there is a Fazza Championship for Falconry every year.

    Arriving in the camp as the sun went down, the sounds of drums beating floated over the sands before we entered. Two lines of men in the long white robes of traditional Emirati dress faced each other, singing and playing drums. The men were performing the Ayala dance, commonly called the stick dance since they wave the sticks used to prod camels back and forth. Originally a battle dance involving swords, the Ayala dance is an important part of major Emirati events like weddings and festivals and I was excited to see a tradition that visitors rarely observe in the city.

    Walking through the camp was like roaming through a desert version of Coachella — food, music and crafts were arrayed on large pillows and tables. A buffet of Middle Eastern specialties included hummus, roasted chicken, fresh dates and stacks of traditional khameer flat bread that we watched being prepared. A crowded tent supplied large shisha or hookah pipes in exotic flavors like mango, watermelon and cinnamon.

    There were also women in black abayas painting henna patterns on hands and feet, a man scrawling names in Arabic calligraphy and an artist creating scenes and words in bottles of colored sand. The highlights were the whirling dervish dance that featured a skirt edged in lights and a belly dancer (not an Emirati tradition but very popular) who pulled visitors up to dance to the lively music.

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    There were also camel rides and raucous dancing that evolved into a crazy circle of the Macarena, thanks to a fun-loving Brazilian group — but glimpsing the other side of Dubai was the most memorable experience for me.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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