A soul safari

A soul safari

On the way, we drove past Sharjah, marked as a University City, which like Dubai is well known to the average Indian. We reached Ras Al Khaimah in about two hours, thanks to the heavy traffic though one can also do this route in one hour during low-traffic points of the day, we were told.  

Driving out to Ras Al Khaimah from Dubai we encountered a typical desert landscape on either side of the road – miles and miles of sand dunes, which stretched into the horizon, dotted with date palm trees in some places.

On the way, we drove past Sharjah, marked as a University City, which like Dubai is well known to the average Indian. We reached Ras Al Khaimah in about two hours, thanks to the heavy traffic though one can also do this route in one hour during low-traffic points of the day, we were told.

Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven emirates of UAE and this scenic place boasts of soft-sand beaches, rocky mountains and vast sand dunes

With its clean and picturesque soft-sand beaches; rocky mountains, vast sand dunes; authentic Emirati-cuisine restaurants, and a wide spread of luxury hotels and resorts, Ras Al Khaimah is a popular tourist destination in the Gulf region. In fact, within UAE itself, Ras Al Khaimah counts as a popular weekend getaway.

It even receives plenty of day-trippers from other parts of the country. Also, people travel both ways for work reasons. We were told that many residents of Dubai and Sharjah come to work in Ras Al Khaimah every day and drive back home in the late evening.

On the other hand, many prefer to live in Ras Al Khaimah as it offers comparatively cheaper housing and people go to work daily from here to Dubai.

A desert safari is the best thing to do when you are in this region. For us, Ras Al Khaimah's vast stretches of sand dunes with their beautifully textured surface were the biggest attraction and of course, we Indians are accustomed to heat and dust so that part did not bother us.

Seven of us piled into a 4WD (four-wheel drive) with an expert driver, who took us dune-bashing, the first major activity we undertook. Just before entering the dunes area, he deflated the tyres a bit as is necessary to enable driving over sand dunes.

It was an exciting roller-coaster ride over the desert punctuated by screams of delight! We were firmly strapped in as he manoeuvred the vehicle over the shifting, dynamic sand dunes, with sudden twists and turns.

The late afternoon dune-bashing ended as the evening set in. The vast expanse of sandy terrain acquired a stunningly beautiful golden hue in the sunset. We stopped time and again to shoot photographs of the glowing sand dunes until our driver-cum-guide told us it was getting late and we had to speed back to the hotel.

Sand and snow skiing are other adventure activities one can undertake here, but we did not have the time for them. We drove off to a desert camp for a dinner of Emirati cuisine, henna painting, and some stunning performances of the fire-dance by a male artist and the belly dancing by a very graceful female dancer.

The next day we drove out to Jebel Al Jais which means The Gypsum Mountains. This is the tallest mountain in the UAE and the peak soars to around 1900 metres. It was a dusty drive over steep terrain to reach the area, which is a popular viewpoint.

From here, we did indeed get great views of the mountains and the surrounding terrain. We stepped gingerly over some rocks and leant forward and found an enormous ravine here.

I quickly pulled back though the guides, who had accompanied us ventured out onto the very edge. Standing there, they even sportingly posed for our photographs! They allayed our fears saying they were accustomed to this terrain.

Our local expert Joyce Fernandez told us that the mountains continued into the neighbouring country, the Sultanate of Oman. We were told that the border of this country was only about half an hour's drive from here.

We found plenty of families and groups of young men who were camping out here, with their SUVs parked in corners. They were cooking, eating, or simply reading books or lying down under temporary canopies and of course, enjoying the great views, taking selfies and posing for countless group photographs.

We then drove to Dhayah Fort, a major tourist attraction of Ras Al Khaimah. The Bay of Dhayah has seen settlements since the third millennium BC, we learnt from the handouts at the guest house fronting the fort. Incidentally, the guest house is a great place to pick up dates at reasonable rates.

The hill has been used for fortification and settlement since prehistoric times, the guide added. The conical shaped hill atop which the fort sits served as a natural defence post for the oasis. In 1819, the fort played an important part in the resistance during the British attacks against the Ras Al Khaimah tribes.

The fort was carefully restored by the government during the 1990s and is accessible by a wide flight of steps. A large board at the foot of the hill contains information on the historical importance of the fort.

Ascending the steps one reaches the fort from where there are stunning views of the surroundings including the sea, mountains and lush green palm tree gardens.

We spent a few fruitful hours at the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum, which displays centuries-old artefacts that were found in this area. It is located in a traditional building called the 'Late Fort' with a spacious courtyard and wind-towers which were the means to provide natural air-conditioning in earlier days.

The museum displays exhibits which are historical, ethnographical and archaeological material about Ras Al Khaimah. From ceramic and pottery to exhibits relating to shipping, pearl diving, date palm cultivation and textiles and jewellery used ages ago, it gives interesting insights into the history and cultural traditions of this area.

Even though Ras Al Khaimah is a relatively small area there are plenty of shopping options. You can choose from traditional souks to modern malls which offer branded goods as well as traditional Emirati artefacts, dates, traditional sweets like baklava, perfumes, carpets, unusually shaped hookahs, etc.

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