Rising from the dunes, Bab Al Shams sits in Endurance City, along a sandswept road, past thoroughbred stables and camel farms some 40 minutes’ drive from Dubai. Meaning ‘gateway to the sun’ in Arabic, Bab Al Shams offers guests an array of activities for exploring the surrounding desert, from falconry, to camel treks to dune drives.
Why visit …. If you are in need of a change of pace, head to Kerala to enjoy India in slow motion. All the sights, sounds and smells of Incredible India, but at a languid, almost leisurely tempo. Except for the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers who didn’t receive the ‘slow travel’ memo and approach the winding roads as if attempting to outpace a tornado. Should you make it from the airport in one piece, you will discover a slice of paradise. Literally meaning ‘Land of Coconuts‘, you can drift along on a peaceful raft, sip tea at one of Kerala’s many plantations, cycle the hill stations, go boating on Periyar Lake, or rejuvenate with a Ayurvedic massage.
Why visit … when you feel like taking the road less travelled, head to www.mulupark.com. A UNESCO World Heritage site with lush, equatorial rainforest and mystical caves systems dating back more than 40 million years, the park is tucked into a hidden corner of North Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Home to more than four million bats and swiftlets which make their way out of Deer Cave each evening at sunset, the park is at once eerie and awe-inspiring.
There is never a good place to get a puncture. Deep in the heart of lion country is probably bottom of the list. We are in Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve, spiritual home of the safari, where a golden landscape of savannah and scrubland populated by acacia trees stretches as far as the eye can see. The Mara, for once, is empty of tourists. We have the park to ourselves during a fleeting moment when predators outnumber safari trucks and human traffic is at an all time low.
Why visit … known as Land of the Thunder Dragon, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan holds an allure as the destination many regard as the last Shangri-La. The reality is perhaps equal to the myth. Soaring mountains, hidden valleys, sacred monasteries and ancient fortresses dot the landscape of this beautiful and little known nation. Tucked in the Himalayas between China and India, Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist state in the region.
Why visit … because there are few occasions in life where you can disappear off the grid and into the desert. An easy drive from Abu Dhabi or Dubai, city life soon slips away behind you and your gaze is filled with golden dunes stretching as far as the eye can see.
There are few better ways of understanding a country than jumping on a train. Sri Lanka is no exception and this beautifully compact island nation with its contrasting countryside and coastline is perfect for exploration by rail. Ceylon Government Railways launched its first carriages in 1864 during the colonial period, and today, a century and a half later, Sri Lanka is a patchwork of train routes, operated by government and private companies. We were taking the grandly named Rajadhani Express which we had booked for less than a fiver for a ticket on the Colombo Fort to Matara branch which we were reliably informed would not only be the ‘most comfortable train journey you will ever take in Sri Lanka’ but crucially would drop us just a stone’s throw from where we were staying in the fishing town of Koggala.
I’m not much of a runner. I prefer to take things slow and enjoy the scenery. However, I will be joining 400 proper runners this evening at The North Face Night Rock Run in Ras Al Khaimah home to desert landscapes, such as Wadi Al Shawka.
I do like mountains however, and some of you will remember when I climbed Kilimanjaro and reached Uhuru Peak. I climbed with Exodus and Friends of Conservation for the Tanzania Porter Education Project and you were all very generous in your sponsorship.
A few years ago I visited Nepal with Exodus and fell in love, not just with the landscapes but with the generosity and spirit of the Nepali people.