OFF THE BEATEN RAK

went in search of a more au­then­tic side of the United Arab Emi­rates and found it in the hid­den gem that is Ras Al Khaimah

Western Mail - - GETAWAY - MICHAEL PEAR­SON

RAS Al Khaimah. It’s the Ara­bian gulf coast emi­rate you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of. But prob­a­bly should – be­fore the rest of the world wakes up to it.

Step­ping out onto my bal­cony at 7.30am and tak­ing a mo­ment to embrace a wall of heat while look­ing over the pearl white beach was some­thing I won’t for­get.

I had to re­mind my­self I wasn’t dream­ing, I re­ally had wo­ken up on a par­adise is­land. Or at least in a five-star lux­ury re­sort where the morn­ing tem­per­a­ture was warm­ing to­wards 30 de­grees.

I had a packed day ahead, I would be head­ing off to a tra­di­tional Be­douin Oasis Camp with sev­eral ad­ven­tures en route.

The trek would give me a unique in­sight into a tra­di­tional Be­douin life­style, but there was a slight catch.

If I wanted to get there, I would have to drive through the desert.

And this wasn’t just a ca­sual trun­dle through the dunes, it was an adren­a­line-fu­elled thrill ride through the wind-sculpted land­scape.

When the heart-in-your-mouth track­less dune bash­ing of our 4x4 came to a halt, we found our­selves in a sea of peace and quiet.

We stopped to take ad­van­tage of the mo­men­tary si­lence to ap­pre­ci­ate our sur­round­ings and watch the sun be­gin to set be­fore driv­ing on a lit­tle fur­ther into the end­less sands, de­void of build­ings, land­marks or roads.

As the car came to a stop, we spot­ted a tra­di­tional Ara­bian din­ing area had been cre­ated in the mid­dle of the dunes, com­plete with rugs and cush­ions.

We all took our seats and poured our­selves a drink, en­joy­ing high tea in si­lence as the sun went down be­hind us.

This was an ex­pe­ri­ence I will never for­get. I’d found the ul­ti­mate re­treat from the out­side world.

But it’s not all an oasis of calm. With the glitzy lure of Dubai’s sky­line only a stone’s throw away, Ras Al Khaimah – RAK to those in the know, at­tracts vis­i­tors from across the Per­sian Gulf but has yet to see western tourists swarm to the area. That means the cost of stay­ing in the area is rel­a­tively low.

One thing that does at­tract the vis­i­tors is the Jebel Jais – a 2,000m-high peak which is the high­est in the UAE.

There’s plenty to do here. You can, of course, climb it. Or, if you’ve got the stom­ach for it, you could hire a fast car and make use of the corkscrew roads lead­ing to the top.

Al­most hid­den in this vast moun­tain range is the crown­ing glory of the re­gion – the world’s long­est zi­pline.

Ja­bel Jais Flight is an al­most 3km-long wire that de­scends from the high­est point in the UAE.

Those brave enough to try it are strapped into a har­ness, fac­ing for­wards be­fore hurtling to­wards the val­ley be­low at speeds of 120kph (75mph). The idea is that you have the sen­sa­tion of fly­ing like a fal­con, the UAE’s na­tional bird.

If, you’re like me, and fly­ing like a fal­con isn’t re­ally your thing, you can head into the city and over to the man­groves. There, a unique kayak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence awaits. Pad­dling along be­tween banks dense with veg­e­ta­tion, you could be in the mid­dle of the jun­gle – were it not for the RAK sky­line loom­ing above.

The sheer num­ber of acv­tiv­i­ties on of­fer sep­a­rates the Ras Al Khaimah re­gion from its sis­ter states – there’s a lot more go­ing on than just beaches.

Dur­ing our trip we took a stroll into the city it­self. We saun­tered along the RAK Cor­niche, a new 470-me­tre long walk­way which passes through the har­bour and opens out at a huge fresh fish mar­ket.

The sights (and smells) were un­real. With masses of fish laid out for sale to lo­cal ho­tels and restaurants, it also pro­vided a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for a bit of pho­tog­ra­phy.

As we moved on, one of our party asked about a now aban­doned pearl min­ing vil­lage which had been one of the few pop­u­lated spots in the area be­fore the UAE’s oil boom led to an in­flux of peo­ple and cash.

Luck­ily, the driver knew ex­actly where he meant and took us off-road and back in time to see how the Emi­ratis had lived in years gone by.

Pulling into the Al Jazi­rah Al Hamra vil­lage, it was mind­blow­ing to see the de­serted build­ings which, de­spite stand­ing empty since the early 1960s, looked like they had only re­cently been oc­cu­pied.

We learned that this is be­cause the dry desert cli­mate has pre­served the struc­tures, freez­ing a mo­ment in time for more than 50 years.

The ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired me to dip fur­ther into tra­di­tional Emi­rati cul­ture by sam­pling its cui­sine.

The Al Fa­nar restau­rant, prides it­self on serv­ing au­then­tic lo­cal dishes.

The Samak Mashwi Seabream – a sim­ple grilled fish recipe cooked in Al Fa­nar’s spe­cial spices – is one of the most pop­u­lar dishes on the menu.

Or, if you’re feel­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous, you can opt for Jesheed – crum­bled baby shark meat cooked with onions and more of those de­li­cious spices.

The high­light for me, though, was the date dough­nuts. Cou­pled with a mango and pas­sion fruit milk­shake, they were one of the best things I’ve tasted.

All in all, if you’re look­ing to visit the UAE, but want to avoid the bright lights of Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah is a less com­mer­cialised, more au­then­tic taste of tra­di­tional life along the Gulf Coast.

RAK is a fas­ci­nat­ing mix­ture of tra­di­tion and mod­ern ameni­ties

Date douh­nuts at Al Fa­nar Dessert:

En­joy a meal in the dunes Desert:

Al Jazi­rah Al Amra De­serted:

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