Dubai, UAE: Magical Safari

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On a whim, since we had a 13 hour layover in Dubai coming home from India, I decided to try and find a tour or somehting that we could do other than sitting in the airport. Dubai doesn't require visas for Americans and no additional vaccinations were needed, there was no reason not to.

I searched (yes, I'm a researcher) tons of options, in town and in the desert with a desert tour being preferred. There are a LOT of desert tours in Dubai, by the way, but everyone I read reviews on sounded cheesy and touristy, with literally hundreds of people at the "camp" and an emphasis on Dune Bashing (which is basically riding really fast and hard in a jeep over the dunes). Not appealing. Then I found Platinum Heritage Tours on Trip Advisor and it seemed perfect. Only up to 75 (and usually less) people per night, 6 people per group, trips out via pristine Vintage Land Rovers AND the option to ride camels out through the desert. SOLD.

I can't begin to describe how much I enjoyed this safari. It was truly a "can't wipe the smile off your face" kind of experience. I mean, we were riding camels through the Arabian Desert. It doesn't get much more cooler than that. The entire night felt like an exotic dinner get together with friends. Serene, romantic ...magical.

Pictures don't do it justice, but take a look and try to imagine yourself on a camel, in the desert heat, heading towards a dreamy bedouin camp.

Arrived in Dubai and headed straight out to meet our ride into the desert. 

The safaris are through this Conservation Reserve and are focused on conservation; animal and energy.

We didn't ride the Land Rovers in but it's a cool photo op anyway.

Our rides!

Smile for the camera. :)

Yup, this is happening.

You can't help but look regal on the back of a camel.

Getting to know each other. The camel I was petting was very grumpy (you can't tell here, but he was grunting at me, lol) but Tiago's LOVED him. Really, nuzzling him the entire trip.

"...really, get your hand off of my head!" *btw, the caps over their mouths are to keep them from eating the desert vegetation, they don't bite.

and... we're off. :D

See, true love! I was totally jealous, my camel hated me, lol.

The sun setting on the horizon just made the whole experience even better.

We were traveling with a family from Belgium.

First stop was at a temporary camp to watch a falconry demonstration. Falconry has a long tradition in the Arab countries, it's the way they hunted.

The falcons wearing their blindfolds so they stay calm.

So cool. Too bad I look ridiculous in that head wrap, lol, I never realized that I had such a pea-sized head.

Tiago, on the other hand, looks like he was born for this.

Jumped into the land rover for a quick trip into permanent camp.

How is it that the moon always looks 100x bigger in real life than photos?

Greetings with Arabic coffee and dates. Delish.

Just giddy. Is this cool or what?

Dinner is being prepared.

This is the coffee maker.

She's making a delicious flat bread. Made sort of crepe style, but thinner and crispier.

These are the drink coolers. I totally want to do this for the barbecues on the patio.

Time for a henna tattoo before dinner.

Just the first course! It was too dark for a good shot by the time the main course came out. We did get to eat camel though, one more animal added to the odd cuisines I've tried. *kinda sad though since we just spent an hour bonding with our camels we rode in on.

Dinner entertainment. An odd and sort of disturbing pistol dance.

Now time to relax. Comfy cushions, shisha pipes, and a khaliji dancer (hair dancer).

Again, Tiago must have been an arab in a former life.

I just look goofy, but who cares, I had an absolutely amazing time.

*there are a few more videos on my YouTube channel if you'd like to take a look. Dubai Videos

Jaipur: An Experience

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So, I've been going back and forth on whether to make this a bitch post about the really bad tour and tour guide that we had for this trip. I think though that I'll focus on the positive, saying only that if you take a tour in India, make sure that you ask a lot of questions about what's involved in the trip, what's included, where do you get picked up and dropped off, how you'll know who your guide is if you're being picked up in a crowd, and how much time is allotted at the end of the tour for shopping (and be aggressive in stating how much time YOU want to shop).

So, on to my Jaipur experience. We took a one day tour, out at 5am, back at 11pm (18 hours, 10 of those on the train). I decided that I wanted to go by train (a 4ish hour trip) just because I'm adventurous like that and thought it'd be cool to experience India trains (albeit in 1st class, not the people hanging off the sides of the train type, lol, I'm not that adventurous!) and I have to say, the train itself wasn't too bad. The train stations, on the other hand, are a site to behold. The photos in this post are of the milder crazy scenes you see at the station (others include things like holding naked toddlers off the side of the tracks so they can poo). The views from the train during the trip were also something to see. There were some amazingly beautiful landscapes, but there were also a whole lot of slums that run alongside the tracks outside of Delhi and to some extent Jaipur. I was really horrified at the extent of the slums and the dire circumstances these people are in. These were not just your average slums either, these were lines of shelters made basically of trash in the midst of festering ponds and open fields that acted as the bathrooms for the community (I know this because I literally saw several people squatting and doing their business as we passed). It was a really sad view of a large part of what life is in India.

Jaipur itself has some amazing sites. The City Palace, Jantar Mantar, The Amber Fort are all remarkable to visit. You can see and feel the past grandeur of the entire city... unfortunately it's practically in ruins now. Maybe there are nicer parts of Jaipur, perhaps a business district or newer housing areas or likely the wealthy part of town that didn't reflect this, but everywhere we went we could see beautiful architecture that was falling apart and covered in filth. How does a city come to this? Is there just no money for upkeep or just no desire, no pride in the past? I don't know. I wonder what it was like to visit 50 years ago? Better or worse? I am glad we went, but I don't think I'll ever go back and I'm not sure if I'd recommend a visit to anyone unless you plan your visit completely differently than we did.

Anyway, I did find Jantar Mantar fascinating (it's an astrological site that houses the world's largest stone sundial and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Also, the Amber Fort was absolutely gorgeous! I wish we could have stayed there longer (but we apparently had shopping to do and were rushed through, ugh!)

Here's a rundown of our day.

Waiting for the train. I have no idea why these ladies felt in necessary to cross over the tracks to the other side... especially when there's a bridge a few yards away!

Inside the train. Not so bad. In first class (yup, this is 1st class, lol) you even get a meal, although we were afraid to eat it.

View from the window. I really love how all the women are always dressed in bright, cheerful colors, even in the fields.

Just Wow!

We're off and heading inside the Pink City... it's actually more "orange" city if you ask me. :)

A quick pass by the Hawa Mahal or Wind Palace. It's basically a facade with windows, built so that palace women could watch street festivities while remaining unseen.

First stop is the City Palace.

Lots of beautiful details, like this metalwork.

Music and puppetry inside the courtyard.

Look at those gorgeous bright red saris.

Favorite shot. In actuality this guard wanted to take a picture with us... then asked us for a tip, lol. 

Man, don't you love these archways?

The entrance to the summer home for the royal wives. Each seasonal home (really just placed around the courtyard) was positioned to take advantage of light/breeze/etc of the season.

A nice example of the gorgeousness falling to ruin.

On to Jantar Mantar. This is a shot of the huge stone sundial.

There were several smaller ones also. The sun was roasting my skin, but at least if afforded us the chance to see the sundial in action. ...see, it's 12:32.

There are many cool structures throughout the site to calculate who knows what astrological detail. The guide explained each one, but so quickly and with such boredom, I just don't remember. :P

Next came lunch. Some tandoori chicken, which was yummy, and some very odd yogurt chicken that looked like it had cobwebs wrapped around it (apparently the yogurt coating) that was ...ok.

Next we headed out to The Amber Fort.

Yup, that a motorcycle with 3 adults on it and a camel ...typical India street sighting. :)

We had a very quick... very quick stop by the Lake Palace. It's completely open to the public, but there's no way to get to it, unless you wanna swim, that is. *yes, a storm is brewing!

Approaching the Amber Fort, or formally and originally, Amer Palace (it's the royal house in the town of Amer).

It really is gorgeous!

Winding road to the top that most people have to walk up because it's paid parking at the top.

One of my favorite things ever, gorgeous exotic concentric arches.

And of course, there are arches everywhere.

This is the Hall of Mirrors or Sheesh Mahal. This is all inlaid work with stone, marble, and mirrors.

The views from the top are breathtaking! This is actually part of the Palace wall. If I found this wall so impressive, I can only imagine what an awe-inducing site the Great Wall of China would be.

I love that the gardens are still kept up. All those greens! (and more of the wall)

On the way back down I spied this music-maker playing (what I think is) a Rebab, a traditional string instrument.

All Indian women are so graceful and gorgeous in their dress. *oh, and what is that street snack he's selling?

Now we're off to our shopping tour (that we didn't know about and didn't agree to)

We did get to see some artisans at work, which was nice. It just would have been great if our guide had told us beforehand and let us determine how much time we wanted to spend shopping. This guy is shaping gemstones.

Blockprinting, which is one of Jaipur's most famed crafts. I actually love block printed stuff and did purchase a bed cover.

We also saw some carpet weaving and finishing. They burn the back to seal and tighten the fibers. After that they give it a major scrub with soap and water, sort of like wet felting, to bind and strengthen the weave.

Fun is over, now we get the loooong sales spiel. This is only the carpets (every one of these was laid out one at a time for me to admire), we had to endure gemstones and jewelry, textiles, clothing, woodwork, sculpture, brass trinkets, and more. Each one in a different room we were guided into Ikea style, if Ikea employees accosted you at every turn.

Aaand, back to the train station... a freaking hour early (guess we didn't shop enough). We had to wait in the scalding heat for our departure train. Sigh. At least India train stations make for great people watching!

Oh, and this was a treat on the train. Packaged so we felt ok in eating it. It's an odd, but yummy snack cake called Soan Papdi. It felt like chewing on ice shards or maybe asbestos, lol. Crystalized sugar shards in a very dry cake form.
*If you ever plan on visiting Jaipur, please email me or comment here and I'll give you a more detailed rundown on the pros and cons of our trip and what I learned. (I may make a Jaipur tourguide though, so read through that also).

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