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Looking For The Ultimate Ride? Try Your Nearest Desert

MUSCAT, Oman – Looking for a new vacation site? How about trying your nearest desert for some dune bashing, which involves driving 4x4s SUVs over 30-80-feet-high sand dunes at around 50-60 km/h?

Dune bashing has become one the most popular activities that people in the Middle East plan over weekends and holidays. I was in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when I got a chance to to go for a desert safari. (In Oman, the premier location is the Wahiba Sands.)

“It's an amazing ride. The adrenaline rush one gets during the drops is unparalleled,” said Mark Stein, a 35-year-old accountant who had traveled from New Zealand to go on a desert safari. “I was sitting on the front seat and mind you there can't be many scarier scenarios than to see a vehicle going into a nosedive,” said Ali Cheeda, a 22-year-old Pakistani engineer.

Dune bashing requires a lot of skill as maneuvering in these sandy terrains is easier said than done. There are also strict safety standards that need to be followed. When our ride began, our driver, Nair Sidhu, first reduced the tire pressure. “This is done to improve traction on the sands,” Sidhu explained.

He said that he been driving tourists out for desert safaris for five years and was passionate about it. He had been specially trained to drive on these terrains. “The vehicles are equipped with roll cages to prevent the roof from denting inwards into passengers in case the vehicle turns over,” he said. We were asked to put on our seat belts before we started. "Unless you want your head sticking out of the roof,” Sidhu said, grinning.

"It's an insult to be driving one of these 4x4s on asphalt roads,” said my cousin, Salman Jameel, who drives a sedan. “Their power is incredible."

Another safety procedure is that dune bashing is always done in a group. This way, a single 4x4 car does not get lost, and in case a vehicle break downs, other drivers can help. 

While dune bashing usually is the star attraction of a desert safari, it can also include sand skiing, hennaing (temporary tattoos using a dye made from a plant) and other activities. "In the evening and overnight safari packages, dune bashing is accompanied by traditional barbecues served with classic Arabic coffee to make it a true Arabian Night," said Sidharth Basu from the Desert Safari Dubai agency.

People of all ages enjoy the experience. “I want more,” was all a 10-year-old member of our group screamed. “It was amazing to see the sand spraying on the window as if we were driving through water,” said Jane Townsend, a teacher in her 40s from Britain.

Dune bashing is, however, not for everyone. People who get carsick are advised to stay away. "We do not recommend anyone below the age of three to take part in dune bashing” said Basu. "The same goes for pregnant women."

"It’s a great tourist puller. We will pick you up from your hotel or wherever you reside in Dubai. You can go for a desert safari either in the morning or evening. If you are a little bit more adventurous, we also offer packages that include night stays in the desert," he said. “And for people who would rather just enjoy the desert rather then bumping around in it, we have packages which do not include dune bashing."Plenty of tourism agencies offer a variety of packages, with prices ranging from $40 to $60 depending on the expedition type.

According to a recent study on tourism effects, dune bashing barely has any environmental effects because the deserts in Middle East are sandy and therefore there is no plant life to damage. However, the report, "The Ecology of Transportation: Managing Mobility for the Environment," states that CO2 emissions and sound pollution do remain a concern. 

After the ride, we were taken to a camp where the aroma of barbequed chicken and freshly baked khoobs (traditional Arabic bread) made our mouths water. “The barbecue under the stars in the middle of a desert is a fine example of the famous Arabian hospitality. I enjoyed a truly unique cultural experience. The Arabic salads and sweets were delicious," said Rabi Al-Saleh, who had come from nearby Saudi Arabia. 

So if you are planning to visit the Middle East, the desert and dune bashing are just around the corner.

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