The great outdoors: Adventures in Dubai

Balloon Adventures in Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 09 January 2019
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The great outdoors: Adventures in Dubai

  • The cooler weather in Dubai calls for some adventure
  • Enjoy different kinds of activities available throughout the city

DUBAI:Those living in the UAE have been enjoying the cooler months recently, but blink and it will all soon be over to make way for Ramadan and then the summer months (speaking of which, where did 2018 go?).
The great weather provides the chance to sign up for new activities and tick experiences off the bucket list. So, give the beach a miss one weekend (or on your next staycation), and try something new instead. We managed to cross the following off in 48 hours.

XLine Dubai Marina
Most people explore Dubai Marina via the walkways or from a venue’s balcony, but nothing matches checking it out from the sky.
XLine Dubai Marina had been on my list for the longest time, but I never quite got around to signing up for it. Until I was challenged to take it on — so, challenge accepted!
For those familiar with the original zip-line experience over Dubai Fountain in Downtown, the second version of the ride is arguably better, since it’s twice the distance and features a double line, meaning you can share the experience with a friend. There are prerequisites: participants must be aged 12 to 65, taller than 130cm, and weigh between 50 and 100kg.
Nothing quite prepares you for just how high the starting point — from one of the Amwaj Towers — is: 170 meters above the ground. And that’s probably the scariest part, since you’re left to look over the building’s edge while the staff check all the harnesses and safety equipment. But once they let you go, it’s a feeling like no other — flying over the water and roads of Dubai Marina at an average speed of 80 km/hr. It’s over before you know it, and you’ll want to do it again. Not recommended for those with a fear of heights, obviously.

XDubai Slingshot
If being launched up into the air is more your thing than a downward trip, then XDubai has a different experience for you at Kite Beach. This human slingshot sees you strapped in, suspended four meters up, pulled up to 40 meters back, then fired through the air. Within half a second, you can reach 100 km/hr, experiencing acceleration of up to 4 g. Oh, yes.
Don’t worry, you won’t go flying off into the sea — you remain strapped in at all times. But prepare to go back and forth for a bit. Consider it an extreme swing.

Laguna Water Park
All that flying around will leave you wanting to cool down, and close to Kite Beach is the outdoor retail and dining area La Mer Dubai, which is now also home to the city’s latest waterpark, Laguna. This family-friendly venue is split into four themed areas: Relax, Slide, Splash and Surf. Some are suitable for all, while others are for those who prefer a bit of adventure.
One of the highlights is the Free Fall, where you enter a glass capsule and wait for the ‘trap door’ to open underneath you. Cue a long drop into the splashdown lane.

Balloon Adventures Dubai
The early wake-up call is worth it. Balloon Adventures offers a lovely experience, including a falconry show and breakfast in the desert. Once you’re out over the dunes, you’ll experience sunrise in the emirate and share airspace with one of nature’s most beautiful birds, the falcon (who comes along for the ride as the show takes place from the sky).
Note to editor: EMBED VIDEO (for web version, if you like): https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=42&v=byibbyGOvDQ

Motiongate Dubai
Finish off the day with an evening at Dubai Parks & Resorts, where my personal highlight, Motiongate Dubai, is based (Bollywood Parks comes a close second). It’s probably the closest thing you’ll find to Disneyland or Universal Studios in the region, and is definitely worth a visit. Attractions include DreamWorks, featuring rides based on “Kung Fu Panda,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Madagascar,” and “Shrek.” Then there’s Columbia Pictures, home to Hotel Transylvania, Zombieland Blast-off, and Ghostbusters: Battle for New York. The little ones will love Smurfs Village, with its Woodland play park, and Smurfberry Factory.

Top Tip
Of course, all these experiences can add up, but you can get much more for less via the new Dubai Pass, available online. This discount card offers two packages — one with three experiences for up to 50 percent less than regular prices, and the other combining 33 experiences for up to 60 percent less.


Sensational Sikkim: Exploring the unspoiled wilderness from Chumbi Mountain Resort

The Chumbi Mountain Resort. (Supplied)
Updated 15 January 2019
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Sensational Sikkim: Exploring the unspoiled wilderness from Chumbi Mountain Resort

  • Chumbi Mountain Retreat is located in India, in the northeastern state of Sikkim
  • The retreat is both a luxury resort and a repository of traditional culture and craft

DUBAI: At the ungodly hour of 6 a.m., I was awoken by a phone call from reception. “Madam, we have a really clear view of Kanchenjunga mountain this morning, so Mr. Chopel has asked us to wake you, so you can see it,” said a disembodied voice, apologetically but with a sense of urgency.

I smiled and flung open the curtains, and there it was. The majestic Himalayan mountain — the world’s third-highest — looked like it was right outside my bedroom window, within touching distance. Clustered with its neighboring snow-clad peaks, it sparkled a bright white, against the impossibly blue skies.

General view of Kanchenjunga mountain.(Shutterstock)

That’s the kind of thing that you don’t mind dragging yourself out of bed — and barefoot onto the cold stone terrace — for; to capture that perfect photo before the fleeting view disappears behind a veil of clouds.

And it’s the kind of personal touch that makes the Chumbi Mountain Retreat special. Owner Ugyen Chopel (a filmmaker and prominent local personality) has made it is his mission to showcase this little-known corner of paradise to the world.

The retreat is situated in India, near the Himalayas in the northeastern state of Sikkim — the country’s second smallest and one of its youngest, having remained a Buddhist monarchy until as recently as 1975. Sikkim has a rich and unique heritage, as well as the more recent distinction of being India’s first fully organic (in terms of agriculture) state.

Nestled in the hills of Pelling in western Sikkim, Chumbi Mountain Retreat is both a luxury resort and a repository of traditional culture and crafts. The traditional monastic design and motifs recreated using natural materials such as local stone and wood, in an artisanal approach, and the many hand-picked historic artifacts used in the décor make staying in this serene hideaway an immersive experience.

Nowhere is this truer than at Dyenkhang, an intimate specialty restaurant offering authentic local cuisine in the traditions of the royal palace. It’s the only place in Sikkim offering this kind of meal, I was told.

The food is served in a traditionally reverential manner — the servers are meant to never show their back to the diner — on gleaming copper tableware, the fit-for-a-king feast includes phing zekar (glass noodles with marinated local greens); chu zhema (cottage cheese dumplings); gundtruk sadako (fermented greens tossed with onion and chilli); and phyasha saltum (chicken cooked in traditional herbs).

The fresh, organic produce ensures each dish bursts with flavor. But dinner here is as educational as it is delicious, providing an insight into the many influences that went into shaping Sikkimese culture and cuisine.

Another great way to experience that local culture is with a traditional ‘Dottho’ hot-stone bath in the resort’s zen-like Mhenlha Spa. An Al-fresco soak in a wooden tub with heated mineral stones added to the water together with local herbs makes for a healing, hugely relaxing experience — aided by a fermented rice drink which you are meant to sip throughout.

With its vantage point boasting panoramic views across the valley, and with numerous nooks and communal spaces to relax in, guests may be tempted to simply stay in the resort for the duration of their trip. But that would be a shame, as there is a great deal more to see in this unspoiled region.

From the scenic Khecheopalri Lake (which, local folklore has it, has the power to grant wishes) and the impressive perennial Kanchenjunga waterfall, to the sacred Pemayangtse monastery — a mountaintop Buddhist temple where fluttering prayer flags and meditative chanting create a rarified atmosphere of tranquility — excursion options abound. For the more adventurous, trekking and hiking trails are also available nearby, as are farm tours.

Kanchenjunga waterfall. (Shutterstock)

Truth be told, this isn’t the easiest place to get to or around — the roads aren’t great and Sikkim’s overall infrastructure is still developing. But those making the effort to visit this remote land will be rewarded with stunning alpine landscapes, great hospitality from unaffected, friendly people, and an inescapable sense of spiritual wellbeing. And, who knows, maybe even an elusive sighting of some of the world’s greatest mountain peaks.