If you wanted to experience the UAE’s heritage, you need only turn to the Emiratis.
Because if you have been on a desert safari in Dubai in the past, chances are that you were sorely disappointed. The food was probably bad, the guides uninformed, and the activities – such as dune bashing or belly dancers – had absolutely nothing to do with the UAE or its culture.
Enter Platinum Heritage: the real Emirati experience. As part of a new collaboration with Dubai Tourism, the firm has launched a ‘Bedouin experience’ to allow the public to witness first-hand what life was like in the emirates before the 1920s, long before oil brought wealth and a sedentary lifestyle to the UAE.
The experience begins with a 30-minute camel ride to a remote campsite in Dubai’s Al Marmoom conservation area. There, deep in the dunes, visitors meet with an Emirati, his falcons and a saluki, one of the Arabian Peninsula’s famed racing hounds.
While a demonstration of hunting falcons in action and a chance to pet the saluki are both unique and fun, the strength of the tour lays in the people. The staff – from the drivers to the cooks to the guides – are Emirati, each with their own experiences of the desert and Bedouin traditions. Many are old enough to remember the lessons taught by their grandparents and great-grandparents who truly lived the Bedouin way of life.
After the falcons and sunset pictures atop a sand dune – great for Instagram – visitors are taken to a nearby Bedouin campsite, faithfully recreated using authentic materials and techniques. Here, after a few cups of obligatory traditional coffee, visitors learn about Bedouin medicinal plants, foods, and cooking techniques.
Following a traditional Emirati dance – which visitors are encouraged to join – guests sit down for dinner comprised of local delicacies including camel meat, mutton and Luqaimat, the emirate’s version of a deep-fried dumpling, or, as our guide put it, “an Emirati donut”.
Without a doubt, the dinner is the highlight of the experience. Here, visitors have a chance to sit down with their Emirati hosts, who regale them with tales of their own families, answer any questions one might have about local question, or give their account of Dubai’s rapid development from a land of roaming nomads to an ultra-modern metropolis. Our guide, for example, fondly recalled playing with friends in the sand of a once-barren area now known as Dubai Marina.
The night ends under the stars with a basic – but useful – lesson in astronomy and navigation.
The sad truth is that many, if not most, visitors to the UAE will never sit down to speak to an Emirati. The same can unfortunately be said of many expats here. For this reason alone, the Bedouin experience is well worth a go. After all, if you don’t understand the history and culture of the people, can you really understand the Dubai of today?
Platinum Heritage runs both morning and evening Bedouin experiences, which are available at AED495 ($135) and AED595 ($162) respectively, at BedouinExperience.com. Go –you won’t regret it.
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