Abu Dhabi: The thrill of sand-bashing in a 4x4 SUV (sports utility vehicle), going up and coming down on steep gradients on hill-like sand dunes, making the vehicle do skid stunts and much more - the desert safari in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Though the whole of UAE is an open desert, the desert safari adventure can be experienced only in certain parts where the sand dunes provide an opportunity to put the SUV music as an OST (open source track) through a top-gear experience.
At the Al-Khatam desert, about 50 km from UAE capital Abu Dhabi, one can get a real feel of the desert safari. The Toyota Landcrusier 4x4 SUVs, mostly in white, are the most commonly used vehicles for desert safaris trips.
Once a desert safari trip, starting from AED 200 (Rs.3,800) per person is booked (AED 1,100 or about Rs.21,000 if you want the entire SUV for yourself), the Landcruiser (which can seat 7-8 people) picks you up around 4 p.m. from your hotel or any other place of stay to take you to the sand dunes. The drive normally takes 45 minutes to one hour.
"It's going to be a smooth ride to the Al-Khatam desert and then we will hit the sand dunes and the thrill begins," the Landcruiser's driver Arif told IANS, as the SUV zipped to the 'real' desert area.
As you hit the sand dunes, the driver shows the mettle of the mean machine as it gets off the road and speeds up on the sand tracks. To add to the thrill, the SUV is driven in such a way to give you the experience of it skidding on the sand.
Just before the SUVs hit the real sand dunes, all drivers reduce the air pressure in the tyres from 35 psi to about 15-20 psi. Full air pressure can make the ride very bumpy even with the seat belts on.
The SUVs take on the sand dunes and the sand-bashing gives quite a thrill. The SUV driver takes the consent of the passengers on what kind of experience they want - from the light to moderate to the extreme one - on the sand dunes. The SUVs are able to easily tackle the sand dunes, going up and down the steep inclines. At times, the sand from under the wheels of the SUV hits the vehicles in the manner of a sea wave.
"Most people prefer the light and moderate drive. The extreme one is the most thrilling as the SUV gives its best," Landcruiser driver Anees Mohammed said.
The SUVs and drivers are fully equipped, including with walkie-talkies, shovels and ropes to get the vehicle out even if it gets stuck in the sand.
While the winter months - November to January - are the best time to enjoy the desert safari as the temperatures are better, tourists don't mind the thrills even during peak summer months of June and July with temperatures hitting highs of over 50 degrees Celsius.
The sand-bashing part lasts for about one hour, after which other experiences like seeing a camel park, riding a camel and standing on top of one of the highest sand hills - from where you can see miles and miles of sand dunes - are offered.
The icing on the cake is, of course, the belly-dancing at a desert camp. Here, one can climb a sand dune and come down while sand surfing. The camp offers music, dance, shopping, drinks and food along with the belly-dancing.
As the bright stars appear overhead, the nearly five-hour trip comes to an end with the drive back to civilization, bringing the rich experience of the desert safari to an end.