Monday, April 4, 2011

Dizzying Dubai - 3

Oryx and Sheikh (apologies to Margaret Atwood)
Leaving the bustling cityscape behind, I headed to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the Al Maha Resort, an unusual combination of raw nature and extreme luxury. We turned off the main highway and drove along a small sand-blown road until in the distance I saw a clump of trees with tents scattered among them. After check-in, a golf cart drove me to a villa with a large sail of a canvas roof. Inside, I was greeted by a king-size bed, Arabian antiques and bathtub in which you could launch a ship. Outside, wooden decks and a personal infinity pool offered long views over the desert. I felt guilty as hell, but it was absolutely, deliciously decadent.

The resort with its pools attracts a variety of animals and birds, an oasis in the middle of a dry, hot desert. I went for a drive with a naturalist in the afternoon as the sun turned soft orange. An endangered oryx posed against the sky. Delicate little Arabian gazelles gazed shyly at us. On spotting us, a sandfish lizard disappeared into the dune in a flurry of sand. The dunes were like art with sculpted ridges and rich shadowy ripples.

This piece of desert offers a good-news conservation story. The oryx, an antelope with long sharp horns, was declared extinct in 1968. The Sheikh organized a breeding program in Arizona using a number of captive oryx. In 1998, about 50 oryx were returned and released in the reserve. With government protection, including a fence around the 225-square-kilometre reserve, the population prospered and has grown to over 400 today.

Later, I mounted a camel and we rode for 20-minutes into the desert. We dismounted and walked among the dunes in bare feet, sipping sparkling wine as the sun set in a brilliant giant orb. Then we mounted up and rode back to our modest villas and a sumptuous dinner at the Al Diwaan restaurant.

Next morning I rose for an early swim and then lazed by the pool with a coffee listening to an avian orchestra of coos, chirps and warbles. I never imagined the desert would be so, well, luxurious and comfortable.

More Information:
+ General info:
+ The Desert Conservation Centre:
+ Tours:

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