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About Sasha H
Lives in Healey, United Kingdom
Since Jan 2015
I’ve swum with wild dolphins in the Maldives, fed baby kangaroos in Australia, spent hours in the shopping malls of Dubai and crash-landed a hot-air balloon in Poland – having spent the last decade travelling and freelancing, I am a joyful, nosy traveller, always meeting new experiences head on. I enjoy digging into the culture, listening to what’s happening around me and taking thousands of photos on the way. Thanks to two decades of travelling extensively through Europe, the Middle and Far East and the Caribbean, I know the cities and countries I write about inside out. And even though I live in the Yorkshire Dales – surely the most beautiful place on earth – I never lose my enthusiasm for skiing in Zermatt, visiting my favourite cities in Italy and Poland or discovering new places to shop in Dubai.
Nature & Wildlife Areas
Flea & Street Markets
Hidden away at the head of Dubai Creek, this wetlands reserve is a respite for many thousands of migrating birds. Ras al-Khor has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1998, and a series of hides (binoculars provided) allow visitors to see the birds up close without scaring them. Visit between November and April to see a wave of bright pink spread over the swamps as countless flamingos go about their daily feeding; other birds among the 270 species that have over-wintered here include rare ospreys, egrets, terns, and sandpipers.
Opened in 2010, the architecturally stunning home of Dubai racing has facilities enough for 120,000 people, with all-weather and turf tracks. Around 20 evening race meetings are held here each season, which stretches from November through to March, and winds up with the Dubai World Cup — the highlight of the Dubai social calendar and the richest horse race in the world, with a reported $25 million in prize money. Stable tours are held throughout the racing season and a visit to one of the meetings gives a chance to see the monied classes of Dubai at play. Also at Meydan are an IMAX cinema, a five-star hotel, and several restaurants overlooking the racecourse; these are open all year round.
Hatta is an oasis town close to the border with Oman in the foothills of the craggy Hajar Mountains. Its sandstone fort and defense tower, traditional barasti houses — made of palm leaves and mud — mosque, courtyards and traditional falaj irrigation systems now form a heritage village recreating the Dubai of long ago. Kids can dress up in flowing traditional robes to have their photos taken and there are displays of ancient crafts, from textile dying to making utensils from palm fronds.
Around 20km past Hatta are the elusive Hatta Rock Pools; getting there is something of an adventure along the rough tracks into the Hajar Moutains, which are best suited to four-wheel drives. However, the clear blue waters of the wadi rock pools provide a refreshing respite from the intense heat of the city. If there is enough water, waterfalls splash into the pools, which are popular picnic and camping spots with Dubai residents.
The dustiest, most chaotic, and largest camel market in the UAE is located in Al Ain, conjuring up a United Arab Emirates seemingly lost centuries ago, when Bedouin nomads relied on their camels for transport, milk, and meat. Thousands of camels of many different breeds are on display, some with their cute youngsters here, and although the market is a spectacle increasingly popular with tourists, this is a real, live glimpse into contemporary UAE life. Trading of the camels takes place in the morning amid much shouting and haggling, but it’s all very good-natured.
At 1,240m, Jebel Hafeet is the second-highest peak in the UAE; an arid, limestone crag with panoramas that stretch across the lush desert oasis of Al Ain and into Oman. Once isolated, Jebel Hafeet has now been tamed and one of the world’s most exhilarating drives twists to its summit through a series of 21 breathtaking hairpin bends. The Green Mubazzarah hot springs are found at the base of the mountain, and along the 12-km route up lie several viewing points, a hotel, restaurants, and food stalls selling water and ice creams.
Al Karama in Bur Dubai is where Dubai residents in the know head to for cut-price accessories — some of dubious provenance — sold at a fraction of the cost of those in the sleek mega-malls. Rows of minuscule stores line the enticing, undercover alleyways where haggling with pushy shopkeepers is all part of the fun. Karama is the place to pick up typical souvenirs such as Burj Khalifa snow domes and shisha pipes, as well as fake handbags, belts, and excessively logo-ed polo shirts.
The Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali in Arabic) is a vast swathe of orange and red sand dunes that appear to be advancing in great waves across an area of 655,000 sq kms that touches on the southern edge of Abu Dhabi. However it’s not really empty at all; the desert still supports a nomadic community as well as palms, cacti, and hardy lizards; and wandering herds of gazelles, camels, and rare oryx. Many Dubai tour companies run four-wheel drive trips into the region via Liwa Oasis for dune bashing on Tal Mireb — the UAE’s highest dune at 300m — wildlife spotting, falconry, hot-air ballooning, or overnight camping in the wilderness.