The northern, coastal tip of the Arabian peninsula is now separated into countries like Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE, but in the 19th century, it was one big area known as the Trucial States – firmly held under British protection. At the time, this area represented the Gulf region’s most important trade route, and cultured pearls drove the export economy.
Back then, the deserts were slowly traversed by camel, but in 1948, the first Land Rover was introduced, marking a turning point in the transformation of the region by connecting the Trucial States when few roads existed. With better transportation and the discovery of oil boosting the economy at a crucial time when pearl cultivation had evaporated due to advancements in Japanese technology, the UAE eventually ended its relationship with the Trucial States and became its own independent country comprised of seven Emirates.
These are just a few of the many things I learned on the way to my sustainable desert safari with Platinum Heritage. After being picked up, along with a few other adventure-seekers, our incredibly knowledgeable guide turned an hour-long trip to Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve into an engaging story time.
During the ride, I also learned that camels were ridden by robotic jockeys during camel races (which made for a delightful image search on Google), that Dubai’s economy currently thrives on tourism (hence the reason for my safari in the desert), that camel meat tastes like beef(almost), and that traditional ghutra and sheila head scarves worn by Bedouin men and women were for more than just sun protection – their color helps you from getting lost against all of those tawny, endless sand dunes.
Even longtime expats and lifelong locals can appreciate the feeling of escaping Dubai, with its massive malls and myriad concrete skyscrapers that cloak its pristine shorelines. While there’s plenty to do in the city, the desert is a surprising and serene oasis filled with untapped potential – and really great selfie opportunities. It also turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything in Dubai, although I’ve yet to go skydiving above the Marina. I’m an outdoorsy person, but normally I stick to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to. A desert safari was an entirely new experience for me, but one that I am already longing to return to.
Remember those Land Rovers I mentioned? They factor into the adventure in a huge way. As if we had stepped back in time, the selfsame Land Rovers that helped transform the landscape of the UAE in 1948 were waiting for us when we arrived at the first site inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in neat, colorful rows. Topless versions allowed an exhilarating open-air experience as we cruised the desert through herds of black-and-white Arabian Oryx’s and delicate Sand Gazelles. The Oryxs, who had nearly been hunted to extinction in 1972, were surging in population once more thanks to efforts like the kind provided by Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, which carefully tracks and provides resources for the herds.
If you book the desert safari through Platinum Heritage, you’re in it for the long haul, but rest assured that every detail is taken care of for you, and contrary to your views of a desert safari, you’re always comfortable. You’re picked up at your hotel, ferried to the desert, dressed in a traditional head scarf, piled into a vehicle, and escorted around, with the final resting point being a Beduoin camp where you can feast, smoke shisha, and watch the unfolding festivities (or even participate in them if you are so inclined). In other words, this is fun the entire family can enjoy, young and old.
There is more life in the sands than a first glance would reveal.
And enjoy I did. From hunting around with our guide for little Sand Fish and Semaphore Geckos that make skittering tracks in the sand, and watching in awe as a hawk took flight and swooped right in front of my head, to unwinding at the Bedouin camp with a plateful of food and a pipe full of shisha, I found the experience to be simultaneously thrilling and peaceful. There is more life in the sands than a first glance would reveal. Flora and fauna, evolutionarily developed for the bleakest conditions, flourished in the untouched preserve. I was moved by its beauty.
You think you know a place, but then a new facet emerges, revealing itself to you in ways that bind your heart to it forever. Suddenly, you understand why tribes of people would find ways to survive the ferociously unfriendly conditions of the desert to make it their home, why these techniques and traditions have thrived well past the point of relevance in the modern era with its modern conveniences, and ultimately, why the luxuries and comforts of Dubai pale in comparison to the hospitality and warmth of the Bedouin people and the community they aim to preserve.
To book your experience with Platinum Heritage Desert Safaris visit their website here.