February 21, 2011

Tunes of the Dunes...!!

On my last visit to the desert land of Dubai, I covered almost everything from the malls to the streets to the pubs and the beach. The only thing that escaped my list of things-to-do was the Desert Safari. To be frank, my intention to visit Dubai a second time was just to make sure that i get a chance to experience it.

A lovely drive on a sunny afternoon took me past the sky scrappers, the long tunnels and the wide roads into the heart of the desert. Within an hour's time we were in the outskirts of Dubai and I noticed that the black tarmac has given way to the brown sand dunes. We stopped by the side of the road and waited for the powerful land-cruisers to take us deep into the desert. The road ahead lead to the Hatta check post which is the entry point to Oman. The land-cruisers arrived with deflated tyres and I was on my way to fulfill my desert desire.

The vehicle ripped past the curvaceous sand dunes and headed towards the vast open areas of the desert which lay ahead. There were no signs of living things around other than a couple of shrubs which propped up in between. Crawling up the dunes and sliding down them, the driver who is an expertise in the field drove us to an unforgettable experience of dune bashing. It was in fact a grinding drive through the desert.  The sand was sprayed all over as the vehicle manoeuvered itself through the lovely terrain. It is an experience which can only be enjoyed once you are inside the grinder.

As I stared out of the glass window, the only colours visible were the bright blue and the golden brown. After an exciting roller coaster ride we reached our destination, which was in the middle of nowhere. The sun was setting beautifully behind the huge sand dunes as we entered the arena which stood out like an oasis in the middle of the desert. As I got off the land-cruiser my eyes got hooked on to the quad bikes which were available there. I hopped onto one of those and went about biking for the next half an hour. I thoroughly enjoyed this and would have loved it more had they given the option of riding it over a vast area rather than the restricted one. Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience. Being an amateur at this I gazed at the professional who was a master at twisting, turning and riding the bike at ease. 

From a four wheel bike i climbed on to a four legged animal. A visit to the desert is always incomplete until you go for a camel ride. After a nice little ride on the ship of the desert we entered the arena with a cup of Kahwa (an Arabic coffee).

This clearing in the middle of the desert is well set up with the seatings for the tourists and a few huts which served liquor and hookahs, and  a few that sold arabic attires. I did try out a couple of outfits and looked quite stupid in those. :). I loved the way they had given the place a bedouin touch. It made the look all the more lively and beautiful.

Deserts are burning hot during the day and they turn chilly and windy after the sun sets. The best way to understand this is to experience it as I did. I did not carry a pullover with an idiotic thought that it would never be very cold. However as the sun set the cold breeze had me shivering throughout the evening. The unbearable weather took me to the liquor counter and a shot of vodka helped a bit. A bonfire was made and that did help a bit more.

The aroma of mouth watering Arabic dishes spread across the whole place and in a hurry all were near the barbecues. With various options for the taste buds to explore, it was time for the beautiful belly dancer to enter the arena. A spectacular dance performance by her made it the icing on the cake. Must admit that all her gyrating moves with that attire is indeed a brave act taking into consideration the really cold weather. She has been performing for years and probably must be used to this climate. After a few snap shots of the gorgeous dancer, it was time to bid adieu and head back to Dubai city.

This must be a top priority for all the travelers visiting Dubai and this can quite easily be arranged by all the hotels. Enjoy this one hell of an experience before you leave the dunes of Dubai.

Signing Note: A long cherished dream has at last been fulfilled...!!

Distance: An hours drive from Dubai city.

February 14, 2011

Ashtamudi- The Octopus...!!

Kerala is well known for its inland waterways, spread out lakes, free flowing rivers and beautiful lagoons. One amongst them is the famous eight coned lake called Ashtamudi which gets its name due to its topography. Ashtamudi is the second largest wetland ecosysytem in Kerala after the Vembanad lake. With its eight corners, the lake is often referred to as the octopus.

I had this wonderful opportunity to spend a weekend at Club Mahindra's new resort besides the Ashtamudi lake. The resort is situated a few kilometers away from the national highway to Thiruvananthapuram. A detour from Neendakara took me to the beautiful Ashtamudi resort.  With its well paved walkways, beautiful rooms facing the peaceful lake and the exciting floating reataurant this resort is well reccomended for a relaxing holiday. The resort also has a kid's play area, a few hammocks for the lazy bugs, a library and an huge boat jetty for the boats to pick you up. There are also options for cannoeing and the Kettuvellom ride.

I found the floating reataurant to be quite fascinating and the mouth watering lunch made it all the more memorable. However, the disappointing fact was that they did not serve liquor and the reason was, they were yet to receive the license for the same. Hopefully it would be done the next time am there. A heavy lunch followed by a stroll through the walkway and a nap on the hammock made my holiday a realxing one. I got hold of a book and made myself comfortable on the hammock. With the gentle breeze and the serene lake for company I enjoyed my solitude moments.

 After a hot cup of coffee I headed to the boat jetty for a sunset boat ride on the Ashtamudi. The lovely boat ride took me past the swaying coconut trees, the colourful boats and numerous chinese fishing nets. We had a close look at the fisherman who were pulling up the huge fishing nets and smiling at us. The boatman also took us closer to the homes of the people living besides the lake for whom the lake has become a part of their life.

As we cruised ahead we saw a couple of small islands in the middle of the lake. Munroe island is supposedly the most famous of the lot. The resort also provides boat rides to the island in the mornings. I had to miss out on it because mine was the sunset ride. The lake is also a good option for bird watching as there were numerous storks which had come visiting the place. Neendakara bridge was the last point on our journey before we returned back to the resort. This is the point where the octopus melts itself into the lap of the Arabian Sea. When we touched the place we could see the Arabian sea in the distance and the beautiful sun setting over the horizon. As we started our return ride we had lots of fishermen for company who were returning back after the day's catch. With a beautiful day coming to an end, we witnessed a colourful sunset. Infact I had never seen a sunset more colourful than this one. The sky almost matched the colours on the palette of an artist. Simply mesmerising...!!

After a quiet dinner besides the lake and a peaceful sleep that night, I headed back to Cochin the next morning. For travelers who plan to have a relaxed holiday, I would suggest this lovely resort besides the Octopus.

Signing Note: Amidst the serene lake and the swaying palms, the inner self will definitely be re-discovered...!!

Route: Cochin- Alappuzha- Karunagapally- Neendakara- Ashtamudi
Distance: 158 kms

February 4, 2011

Travel Postcard...!!

Ras al Khaimah, UAE. Beyond the mountains in the background lies the Sultanate of Oman. December 2010
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