My longtime friend from America was coming to join me. She had worked under me, when I was the Project Director of the United Nations community health project for Tribal people at Palghar. I planned to take her for a desert safari as well as a stay in the desert at Ras al Khaimah. This is a camp close to Sharjah, about 200 km from Abu Dhabi, where I reside.
The road to Ras al Khaimah is simply breathtaking. One can cruise at over 200 km an hour and at places the lower speed limit is 140 km an hour. Should you go below that limit, the recordings are made by video camera installed all along the road. One will only come to know about this infringement when the money is deducted by a fine direct from your bank account. All bank accounts are linked to the traffic police and action is swift and fast. It's not something one can understand in India.
We drove to a point designated as the pick up point on the highway. We were met by a man in a Land Cruiser. He instructed us to follow him. We moved from the highway to a small road that moved along the desert and soon we reached the gates of the camp and a Bedouin village. Around the village were tents and our guide directed us to our tent. It was Spartan accommodation, but having the basic luxuries.
The village was surrounded by sand dunes that towered over the tents and a cool wind blew. There were a pair of camels and a couple of sand scooters for those who wanted to go into the desert. Me and my friend opted to ride the camel. One thing I observed was that the Arabian camel is smaller than the Indian camel, found in Rajasthan and I am told is also unable to carry great loads. However we mounted the camel and moved into the desert. I understand similar rides are organized at Jaishelmer in Rajasthan for the foreign tourists. One of the local Arabs held the camel by a leash and walked along. It was an exhilarating experience and after about half an hour we returned back to camp.
We proceeded to our tent and took a bit of rest. Now the evening had set in and we could witness the glorious sunset of the desert. It's a sight to see and savor as the yellow rays of the sun, lit up the sand. Our guide now informed us to come to the center of the Bedouin village. A make shift stage had been erected in the center with cushions for the guests to sit around. By now all the guests, most of who were from America and Europe had come and all were moving around.
The sun had now set and the generator began to run and lit up the area. The function began with a local Arab doing the Arabian dance. This is peculiar to the Arabs and is done by men who whirl around. This lasts for about 15 minutes and then the barbeque dinner was announced. It was a sumptuous spread with beef, chicken and lamb meat. There was some Indian spread of dal and vegetables also, but most concentrated on the meats. Kebabs and roasted meats were an absolute delight. The surprise was a alcohol bar counter, that served the choicest scotch whiskey and other drinks. I and my friend did douse ourselves with large pegs of Chivas Regal.
After the meal the signature item; the belly dance began. it lasted for about half an hour and the girl a Lebanese, gyrated to the soft Arabian melodies. It was a mood dance and a special attraction for the assembled tourists. Many of the American women also got up and danced along with the dancer. The belly dance is an experience and though I have seen it many times, yet it doesn't stop to thrill me every time i watch it. After the dance me and my girl smoked the hookah, another Arabian delight and then retired to our tent for the night.
Next day we had booked the desert safari and we were ready by 8 am. The vehicle used is a Toyota Land cruiser with a 4 wheel drive. We set course in the desert and the vehicle negeoitiated the sand dunes with ease. I came to know that to drive these vehicles in the sand, a special license is issued by the UAE police. On the way we stopped at a Camel farm. I could see many small baby camels and was reminded of the camel farm run in India at Bikaner by the BSF, who rear camels for their camel corps.
The drive took about an hour and we were then back in the camp. It was a great experience. I inquired whether the Indian vehicles like the Tata Safari or Mahendra XUV 500 are used here. I was told, the vehicles had come for test rides but failed to negotiate the sand dunes and were rejected.
It was now time to call it a day and set course back home. It was a great experience and my American friend of yore loved it. We left after giving a hefty tip to the staff, who were incidentally all Indians from Rajasthan. India is truly a global nation. For general information a days stay and the belly dance at the camp can cost about AED 600-800. One can also take a day trip and that will be AED 200 per head. This desert safari and belly dance is a signature item for tourists who visit the UAE and one can say hats off to the UAE government for a splendid organization and entertainment for the visitors. It's also a place to rekindle an old love.