Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine, November 2013
Eat, Play, Love: A Getaway To the ‘Rising Emirate’
BY PRIYANKA PRADHAN
Not far from the glamorous high-rises of Dubai and the bustling streets of Abu Dhabi, lies the small but distinctive emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Blessed with a natural bay and a diverse terrain, it offers an adventure just hours away from the madding crowd.
As the bare, beach-runway streches before me, I nervously grip my seat in the flying contraption, which I am meant to co-pilot, no less than 1,200 meters above ground level.
“The wind is perfect. Prepare for take-off now,” says the captain, over the headset. I am sitting inside a simple device — an open microlight aircraft for two, attached to a parachute with a wingspan of approximately 12 meters.
We taxi along the sandy airstrip for momentum, and within a matter of seconds we find ourselves soaring over the Arabian Gulf.The 20-minute flight over Ras Al Khaimah, with a sweeping aerial view of its lavish pool villas, the newly-established marina, the quaint little fishing village and its narrow streets, is surreal (and well worth the 500 dirhams it is costing me). This, my maiden microlight flight, must surely be the highlight of my trip, especially since Ras Al Khaimah is the only emirate to offer the sport.
Yet there is plenty more on offer at the Hilton Resort and Spa, Ras Al Khaimah, one of the Emirate’s better-known watersports destinations.
The water, I’m informed, is rarely choppy and the wind is uniformly strong, offering the perfect setting for a seafaring adventure. Save or the faint-hearted (or weak-limbed), windsailing in the emirate is highly recommended, not only for the thrill of the experience but also for an intimate encounter with the forces of nature. We don’t venture far out into the ocean, but trips from Ras Al Khaimah can take visitors to the stunningMusandam peninsula, part of Oman,in the Strait of Hormuz. Having been airborne and seabound all morning, it is time for another dramatic change in terrain, this time from an endless stretch of white-sand beach to the fiery environs of Ras Al Khaimah’s famed red-dune desert. The Banyan Tree Al Wadi Desert Resort and Spa is next on the itinerary, for a walk on the wild side in its idyllic setting.
The resort houses a nature reserve, with more than 50 oryx and Arabian gazelles within the 60-hectare area of the estate. “It’s not unusual to run into Masha, the former patriarch of the oryx herd, grazing by the watering holes here in the resort,” an escort at the resort informs me. “He’s an outcast from the herd now, following a scuffle with a younger male oryx when his leadership was challenged.
Sometimes he hangs out with the gazelles, so he’s made new friends and is not too lonely.” We’re then introduced to the in-house falconry expert, who’s preparing for her show. “Oh, you must see the boa constrictor we recently rescued… shhh, it’s sleeping now,look!” she says, as she straps on her gloves and weighs her birds for the falconry display.“Although falcons did not originate in the UAE, early Emirati settlers would trap the birds as they passed through the country on their way to South Asia, and use these birds of prey to hunt for food in the harsh desert environs. It was a symbiotic relationship based on trust,” she explains, as she sets the birds free for a rare and spectacular display of their hunting skills.
As the birds glide into the sunset, it’s time for a few sundowners at one of the newest and most talked-about entrants on Ras Al Khaimah’s gastronomic scene. The topography changes once again at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Resort, from soft, fine dunes to little pebbles on the beach beneath our feet. I wander into Marjan, the pan-Arab cuisine restaurant, for a taste of some authentic local fare from the visiting chef from Lebanon, but he surpriseswith an array of unconventional delights.
“Labneh sprinkled with marinated lamb, or perhaps baba ghanoush with a Turkish twist,anyone?” he asks. My palate is titillated by one delicacy after another in the traditional three-course meal. It takes a certain confidence to attempt fusion, especially while experimenting with traditional Arab cuisine, but Marjan is fully justified in claiming to pull it off.
Having polished off this very inventive pan-Arab culinary treat, I finally retire to the palatial enclaves of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. The hotel offers a slice of New York in Ras Al Khaimah, but with a distinct Arab flavor. For instance, the heritage clock seen in each of the 20 Waldorf Astoria hotels and resorts across the world, is here designed especially for the UAE, to display Islamic prayer times throughout the day.
Driving back to Dubai across a beautiful stretch of desert, I reflect that Ras Al Khaimah’s appeal lies in its stunning natural beauty. Against the backdrop of the rugged Hajar mountains, the emirate is enveloped by the shimmering Arabian Gulf and cradled in the lapof nature. Efforts by the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority have transformed the town into a compelling destination for tourists, especially from within the UAE. While it can make for an adrenaline-packed activity destination, it also doubles as a spot of calm, just an hour or two away from the bustle of the neighboring emirates — the perfect getaway.