This is a review of my four-hour desert safari in Qatar mid October. The trip included a camel ride, dune bashing, sandboarding, a visit to the famous inland sea (Khor Al-Adaid), and watching a sunset.
A desert safari is considered a must when visiting the Middle East, or countries with a desert. And, so, this is not my first desert experience.
CHECK MY VIDEO ON THE FOUR-HOUR DESERT SAFARI IN QATAR
My first was in Dubai a few years ago and then during this current three-country trip, I did a desert safari including a night’s stay in a desert camp while in Oman.
But on the last full day of my short stay in Qatar, I decided to try a desert safari once more.
The Desert Safari in Qatar
The desert safari trip was to last four hours and consist of a camel ride, dune bashing, sand boarding and a visit to the famous inland sea (Khor Al-Adaid).
We left Doha around 2.30 pm and drove through the streets of the capital and then entered the countryside.
As it is everywhere, or almost everywhere, the countryside of Qatar looks quite different from the capital Doha. Gone were the skyrises and it was mostly flatland interspersed with mostly single-floor houses.
And then we made our first stop, about halfway between Doha and the inland sea. The stop was for the camel ride. A dozen or so camels seated on the sand and bellowing through their nose caps, seemingly impatient.
Heights coupled with unsteady movements atop any slow or fast moving animal make me somewhat anxious as it had happened before during an elephant ride so I decided to skip the ride. I let the others mount the animals, sit atop the mahawis and then go on that short ride, accompanied by the camel pullers.
I enjoyed a good cup of Qatari tea, the karak tea. In the meantime, our tires got deflated.
Once the camel rides were done, we got into our 4×4 and raced towards the desert.
The Dune Bashing
This certainly can be considered as the highlight of the tour.
Landscape-wise, deserts look like, well, deserted places, devoid of any beauty. But it is far from the truth. There is much life in the deserts. There are living organisms that have adapted to the dry, shadeless conditions but the landscape without luxurious greenery itself is a beauty.
Deserts can be flat or full of dunes of sand piled up by the wind. They form a rich landscape with mini-hills and a range of colors – from light yellow to golden to almost dark orange.
From the distance, one can also notice tracks of 4×4 crisscrossing the expansive landscape. At a closer look, one can feel the loose sand getting into the clothes, shoes and, if one is not careful, even the eyes.
A desert safari means driving on the dunes and the flat lands.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. When I went on the dune bashing trip in Oman, our guide/driver Khair rode up closer to a dune but hesitated at its foot. “It might be too dangerous,” he pondered, and then he explained. If the incline is too steep and he does not handle the “angle of attack” and the needed speed issue correctly, there was every chance the truck will hit the mound head-on instead of driving up.
Some people do actually get motion sickness during dune bashing. In my previous ride in the desert in Dubai one passenger got sick and fortunately I had some Gravol. I have also been advised that should I get motion sickness, I should keep looking at the horizon and not in the immediate vicinity where all the climbing up and down takes place.
Fortunately, I don’t feel motion sickness or that churning of the stomach during dune bashing.
Our driver-guide Naufan was from the Indian state of Kerala. He told us he had been doing this run for many years, often twice a day. He was very casual with his driving but he knew these tracks and his vehicle well.
Naufan knew the driving angle and the speed that he needs to gain the correct momentum to race to the top without getting stuck, and then slow down so that the 4×4 will not tumble down. All the while, he also had to ensure the passengers inside had enough adrenaline-pumping fun while not too scared.
Sometimes he would race up in such a speed that the vehicle would partially be enveloped by the stirred up sand.
And then there were moments when he scaled the mound at such close quarters to one edge that those like me seated on that side had those almost eye closing moments – for fear that a few inches more on that side and the vehicle would tumble down on its side along the precipice.
But all was well.
After the dune bash, we made our second stop, for some sandboarding.
Sandboarding is fundamentally a version of snowboarding, skating or surfing. One uses the equipment, a fine-tuned board, to surf through surfaces that are at various degrees of inclination. The difference is that sand boarding is done on (sand) dunes.
Some claim ancient Egyptians practiced sandboarding to ferry goods, but others claim it only started sometime mid-20th century.
The point where we stood was atop a dune and there was a steep incline ending on a short flat landing surface.
Again, my intention was to pass this on as well. Speeding through an inclination makes me anxious and whenever I do ziplining, which I love, I close my eyes for the first few seconds.
Here, the landing was short but my worry was actually what was beyond the short flat surface. There was another what appeared to be a steep incline and then water. Naufan told me the water was just a couple of feet deep. But I still wasn’t ready to do sandboarding on my feet.
But I wanted the adventure, so I took the easiest way out – sitting on the board and sliding. And that was fun, though the cautious side of me took over by putting out my legs well in advance to brake.
And then climbing back to the top of the mound was an exercise that had many panting.
Once we completed the sandboarding, we continued our trip with more dune bashing before heading to the inland sea.
The Inland Sea
The inland sea, Khor Al-Adaid, is a wonder of the nature. An inland sea is typically a large body of water either landlocked or connected to a sea via a narrow stretch of water with varying degrees of salinity.
And in Khor Al-Adaid’s case, its salinity is reportedly higher than the Persian Gulf with which is connected.
What is so amazing about this inland sea, which borders Saudi Arabia, is that it is hugged by desert and sand dunes, something unseen anywhere else. And this UNESCO recognized nature reserve is rich in bio-diversity, from different fish species to Arabian oryx and gazelles.
And for this reason, this is a popular tourist spot, particularly during the winter months. It can be accessed only by a 4×4.
Compared to the previous stages of this tour – the camel riding, dune bashing and sand boarding – this was a tame affair, with just walking around and dipping your feet in the water. We did not get into the water itself.
But in the distant, the sun was setting and soon it became crimson red before disappearing behind the horizon.
And then it was time to return to the hotel, ending the four-hour desert safari in Qatar.