Thursday, April 21, 2016

Eco- Experience Places in UAE

Tomorrow, Friday 22nd April, is Earth Day!

I tried to find authentic Earth Day celebrations events  in UAE, but unfortunately didn't find any which highlight sustainable living or covers Eco activities. So here I came up with Eco- experience places in UAE, where you can take your family, friends and guests to celebrate Earth Day by learning about Earth & Nature.

And you can continue visiting these places in last few days lefts before it gets very hot in a month or so and it will be difficult to venture outdoors along with kids. Make best out of few weekends ahead and make your kids learn about nature & local ecosystem through fun way.

UAE's Natural Places

1. Beaches (Free)

In any emirate, you can head to beaches. In Dubai our favorite is Kite Beach & JBR beach

Take your sand toys, build sand castles with your children. Splash water. Fly kites, Do beach combing, find treasures, Watch sun go down, have picnic on beach.

Just take sunscreen with you and please do not liter

2. Desert (Through Tour Operator)
Liwa Desert 

When I talk about desert, it's not about desert safari and no dune bashing please! While dune bashing, you don't know you are harming habitat of how many animals staying in the sand

But if you fancy going on a safari and exploring desert, flora and fauna Dubai Desert Conservation Center is great place.

Tallest red dunes near Liwa, Abu Dhabi are one of the most beautiful sand dunes in UAE.

3. Wadies & Mountains (Free)

Jabel Jais
You need a map and 4X4 to visit wadies across UAE. We are not talking about wadi bashing here, as it will harm the wildlife staying there. It is preferable to go there in better weather and remember there is danger of flash floods. Please don't live anything back when you return, take your garbage and throw it in next bin you find.

Jabel Jais, the highest mountain peak in UAE is worth visiting for beautiful view and feel the difference in temperature.

3. Mangroves & Khors (Free)

Kalba Mangrove
These are UAE's Eco hubs and most important natural features.
Learn more about Khors, Lagoons & Mangrove Forests

You can also experience mangroves closely by kayaking in Abu dhabi's Eastern mangroves.

4. Birds (Mostly Free)

Little green bee eaters

UAE's location is central on world map, so here you get to see lot of migratory birds along with native. Read more about Birds in UAE.

You can go to these places to
do bird-watching and learn about them.

My most favorite is Wasit Nature Reserve in Sharjah. The best place to see birds in UAE. You can see birds in captive natural habitat and learn about birds. They have great educational games for kids too.

Second and most frequented by us for many years is RAS Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai.

Third is, Al Wathaba wetlands in Abu Dhabi. It's on my list of 'need to visit' places. Till then you can just learn about it from their website.

5. Wild life (Nominal Charges)

Critically Endangred Arabian Leopard
Yes, native wild life in UAE and Arabian peninsula. Many expats must be unaware of existence of UAE's wildlife. People generally think there is no life in this vast desert. So it's must for every expat and visitor of UAE to actually visit these places to know more about UAE's endangered wildlife

Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Center in Kalba, Sharjah.

Another great place to know about Arabia's Wildlife Center in Sharjah

And if you fancy going on wildlife drive no so far from city at Dubai Desert Conservation Center,

Take your children to Turtle feeding at Mina A'salam

Also please read how our actions can help conserving wildlife in UAE

Man-made Environment Experiences in UAE

Here are some examples of man-made environmental experiences. UAE's natural environment has limitations and therefore governments and organizations have created man-made environments to make cities more livable. There are numerous man-made Eco experiences waiting for you to enjoy. But I have supported and featured only those places where I feel, there is right balance of man-made environment without larger impact on local resources.
Creek Park

1. Parks- (Free or less than 10 Dhs each)

There are many fantastic man-made parks around UAE. In this weather, you can go to park early in morning or in evening.

In Dubai our favorites are Al Barsha Pond Park, Umm Suqueim Park or Creek Park.

Have picnic, take cycles and ride them. watch birds and plants, collect natural goodies and see how children get creative playing with it or crafting it.

2. Zoos (Nominal Charges)

I personally have issue with zoos, as I can't bear to see wild animals in small cages, but I admit the significance  of zoos in making our people and mainly future generations, kids aware of wild life and showing them how to take care of wild animals and love them.

I am strongly against commercially using animal interaction for tourism purpose. So I am not featuring those examples here under Eco Experiences, I don't think those are good example of wild life conservation.

Al Ain zoo wildlife Center

Emirates Park Zoo, we visited it on my son't birthday.
Emirates Park Zoo

3. Aquariums (Charges apply)

These are certain educational aquariums in UAE, where you can learn and teach your children about native marine life

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater zoo

Sharjah Aquarium

4. Lakes (Free)

Al Qudra lakes at outskirts of Dubai are man made lakes, but have provided a great habitat for wildlife. Great place spend a day.

5. Farms (Need to take permission)

Dairy Farm
Technically I think traditional farming is not sustainable as the farms use high amount of water. Water is precious in UAE, as quiet a lot of energy is used to desalinate sea water. Also the weather conditions and lack of natural soil makes traditional farming even more unsustainable. But there are few organic farms in UAE, who follow principals of organic farming, use non GMO seeds and don't use chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers.

These are definitely great places to take our kids and teach them how food grows.

Organic Oasis Farm

Green Heart Organic Farms

You can also introduce your kids to farm animals in UAE. This one, Dairy farm was particularly interesting.

I am sure the list of Eco-Experience places will be useful for your and the tourist travelling to UAE. Please go ahead and visit these places to celebrate Earth & Nature not only on Earth Day but through out the year!

Happy Earth Day 2016!

(P.S. Few Links are taken from other blogs, where you can read their experiences. Thanks to these UAE mom bloggers!
Tarana, Sand in My Toes; Sandy, Ginger & Scotch; Emily, Dubai our sandbox; Tasneem, Thoughts over Chai; Zeyna, Mommy on my mind)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wildlife Drive at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

Last weekend, our family decided to give mommy a break and let her enjoy some me-time. So hubby and son preferred spending their Saturday morning on bed and I went on a 'wildlife drive and Bedouin breakfast' at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve at 6 in the morning!

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is UAE's first national park and largest protected land area in the country spread over 225 square km. I booked my experience with Platinum Heritage through Headout App. It is around 40 minutes drive from Dubai but once we entered DDCR, I felt  like we traveled back in time, to historic Dubai, before all development and before discovering oil!

Bedouin Breakfast, Classic LandRover, Umm Hamad (Clockwise)
It was just the pristine desert around us, Empty Quarter in true sense! The desert on Arabian peninsula is largest sand desert on Earth and is called Rub' al Khali. The golden sand looked so beautiful in morning! We first headed to our Bedouin breakfast. The solar powered Platinum Heritage camp was just like any Bedouin home. Most of the furniture here is made of Ghaf tree timber. After we had Emarati Breakfast, a plate full of Bedouin food; we sat in majlis to talk to Umm Hamad about Bedouin culture! He answered all our questions with little humor added to it!

Riding camels is always fun, this time I particularly loved my ride as he was making some noises, I presumed he was trying to connect with me ;-). But the real fun started when we settled in our 1950's classic Land Rover in search of wildlife in DDCR!

As we started our drive the wind started blowing the sand and we all had to cover our mouth and nose. I never been to desert while sand is blowing in air, but this made our experience even more authentic! It was mesmerizing to see sand blowing from top edge of the dunes.

First we searched for mountain gazelles and lucky to find two herds near the water area. There are water areas where water is refilled for wild life. It was thrilling to see Gazelles jumping, running in wild. I think these animals are very graceful, my favorites so I couldn't help taking many photos of these desert beauties. Through out the drive, we took many stops and our guide Oscar introduced us to many flora and fauna in desert and funny facts about it.
Ushar (Top right), Fire Bush (Top Left), Sand Grass (Bottom 2)

Oscar showed us Sodoms Apple, called Ushar in Arabic. This is evergreen shrub, it's beautiful 5 petal flowers are white and dark purple. Milky sap excreted when any part of plant is broken. Gazelles eat them to regularize their digestion when they pass hard droppings!

The Firebush, Markh in Arabic Leptadenia pyrotechnica. It has small yellow flowers, these are used in Bedouin food. Its fibers are tough and do not rot in water, so are suitable to be spun into rope. It has been used in carpets since ancient times. Gazelles eat them to regularize their digestion when they pass hard droppings! The animals dig their resting place under the firebush.

Ramram (Top right), Rimth, Ghaf Tree

Next we stopped to see sand grass or dune grass called as Thenda in arabic, Cyperus Conglomeratus. This grass the grown at the base of sand dunes. It may look dead or dried, but the roots go deep and the sand near roots is wet. It comes under sedge family. Sedges were once used to make sails, ropes, baskets, mats and also fuel.

As we came near a area covered with numerous shrubs, we got down to check these interesting bushes. Rimth, Haloxylon Salicornicum is aloe like fleshy green shrub without leaves. It has many medicinal uses like curing ulcers, but interesting fact is in olden days ladies used these plants to make eyeliners.

Ramram, Heliotropium Kotschvi has rough branches covered with stiff white hair. Oscar told us traditionally this plant is boiled with meat to get rid of strong odor.

Scorpion Burrow, Mushroom, Beetle shell
As we drove deeper in desert we came across a patch of ghaf trees and shrubs. Oscar told us, whenever you see ghaf trees in desert, there must be ground water table. We decided to explore that area to look for Arabian Oryx, if by chance they came to drink water from a small man made pond created for wild life. We couldn't find Oryx here but saw many interesting things like scorpion burrow under the fire bush. Unfortunately no scorpions were ready to come out. But we could see red desert ants, found a beetle shell, poisonous wild mushroom. 

Arabian Oryx
Finally we saw an herd of Arabian Oryx on top of dunes at the other end. We drove up and down through the dunes while wind was blowing and sand smashing on our faces. We could go a little closer and I could capture these beautiful animals in my zoom lenses. Arabian Oryx also called as Al Maha in arabic are only antelope who can give birth to twins. Arabian oryx, native of Arabian peninsula were declared extinct in wild by early 1970s but saved in zoos and private reserves. By 1986, it was listed as endangered on ICUN red list. In 2011, it was the first animal to revert to vulnerable status after previously being listed as extinct in wild. Thanks all those organizations in middle east and of coarse Dubai Dessert Conservation Reserve! Such a great story of conservation success! Did you know Arabian Oryx is UAE's national animal! You could imagine how memorable those moments are for me to see Arabian Oryx in wild!

We learnt many things about wild life, their habits and habitat; biodiversity in desert. Some of the zones in DDCR are protected only for research, we came across one of it during our drive. I felt like transported to a remote location in this vast empty quarter where there is no trace of urban civilization! I am so glad, I finally decided to visit DDCR, after thinking about it for many years!

I am definitely going back there again, may be to explore wildlife at night next time and to see all those animals, reptiles, camel spider and snakes which I missed this time!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Our Visit to Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Center

Newly opened Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Center on 6th March 2016 by H.H. Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad AlQuasimi (Ruler of Sharjah) is new jewel added by Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) to sustainable tourism projects in Sharjah.

Day lighting at center, Audio stations with rock sitting area

This beautiful conservation center is located in Kalba at the base of Hajar Mountain range, the drive
to the center from Dubai through wadi Helo was scenic too!
This is first of its kind conservation center for local wildlife some of which are on International union of conservation of nature (ICUN) red list of endangered species. The Al Hefaiya center, these conservation efforts are taken
1. Habitat preservation & restoration
2. Captive breeding & research
3. Rehabilitation of these endangered species.

Striped Hyena
So you get to see the animals in the center living in their natural habitat not a in artificially created environment in captivity like zoos. The best part is the center is built around a small hill and separate portions of slope are assigned to big animals like Arabian leopard, Arabian wolf etc.
Visitors can take ride in electric buggy around the hill and can have a look at animals. Few of the big animals you can see from inside the center.

The structure of center is very innovative and open with use of lot of daylight. The use of audio stations gives you complete experience of being close to the animals. In those designated audio sections, you cn hear the sound of animals and of course watch the same animal from glass. The seating provided are natural huge rocks. I haven't seen a more sustainable conservation center in UAE than this!

Arabian Leopard
The wild life display contains Insects, Birds, Mammals, Amphibians, Reptiles and fish. Around 30 species of animals are kept and bred over 12 sq meters of center.

Arabian Tahr
It was a fascinating experience to see and observe the animals first hand,  once wondered freely in this land and now almost not known like critically endangered Arabian leopard, endangered Arabian Tahr and near threatened striped hyena.
Caracal Cat

There were other local wild life which are under least concerned list of ICUN but were very interesting. Carcal Cat, which is fierce and territorial. While I was taking photos, it was staring at my son and started walking toward on the other side of fence. It's body language and looks in eyes were very uncomfortable for us as parents, my son felt shy and later got little scared too. Later I learned the facts that it can lean higher than 3 meters and kills bird mid-air! quiet thrilling isn't it?

Arabian Wolf
Two Leopards
One of the Arabian wolf, got alert and stood up in his cave with raised ears, when I started taking the photos. Similar alertness Arabian leopard shown. After a while I gave up pointing my zoom lenses at animals feeling little guilty. The stripped hyena looked little uncomfortable as it was walking continuously near the fence area, later it was taking rest in hideout, I could see only head and ears. The Arabian Tahr was busy grazing on his part of mountain. The logo of Hefaiya conservation center is Arabian Tahr. Part of the center is dark, where nocturnal animals are kept. my son was totally entertained by the Gordon's Wild cats kept here, which are near threatened on ICUN red list And finally this time we could observe very closely Branford foxes, we had encountered them on one of camping trip.

There is one of most scenic cafe from where you can see surrounding landscape and beautiful mountain gazelles stationed in that area.

You can see animal feeding kitchen and can learn about wild life through educational information displayed through out the center. Even few old books are displayed, where these wildlife are described and arabic along with sketches and paintings. There are some beautiful art on Arabian wildlife displayed through out the center. This is one place not to be missed if you have a question, what lives in desert?
And remember next time you go dune bashing or wadi bashing or camping around UAE, there might be these animals staying there, so behave responsibly. Some of these wild life are already critically endangered because of habitat loss. so please don't disturb their homes.

Mountain Gazelle and Red wattled Lapwing

Friday, April 8, 2016

Gudhi Padva Indian Spring Festival

Today is our Gudhi Padva festival, first day of Chaitra month of Hundi Calender and New year day in Maharashtra. This festival is also known as Ugadi in Andra Pradesh, Yugadi in Karnataka; Cheti Chand among Sindhi people.

There are few different religious significance of this day. But one I like the most is, it's believed that world is formed on this day. According to Brahma Purana, Lord Brahma created this world on this day. So religiously It's birthday of Earth and interestingly it's in the same month, when we celebrate Earth Day worldwide.

Indian Festivals are also associated with agricultural significance. This festival marks the end of one agricultural harvest and beginning of a new one. In this context, The Gudhi Padwa is celebrated at the end of Rabi season (winter crops in India).

On this day, the sun assumes a position above the point of intersection of the equator and the meridians. According to the Hindu calendar, this marks the commencement of the Vasanta ritu or the spring season.

Traditionally in Maharashtrian homes,  we erect this beautiful Gudhi in balcony or terrace, a high place symbolizing Brahma flag ( I would love to call it Earth Flag) and victory flag of lord Rama. Bright green or yellow cloth adorned with brocade (zari) tied to the tip of a long bamboo over which gaathi (sugar crystals), neem leaves and a twig of mango leaves and a garland of red flowers is tied. A silver or copper pot is placed in the inverted position over it. Altogether, it is called as Gudhi. We adorn our doors with mango and neem tree leaves.

The neem tree symbolizes 'health', as the medicinal properties of neem are well known in India since ancient times. We also have a ritual of this festival to consume bitter neem leaves or juice along with coriander seeds and jaggery to make a healthy start of a year. Neem is believed to purify blood and develop immune system against diseases according to ancient Indian Ayurveda. Here I would like to related this festival to World Health Day, we just celebrated worldwide.

Last few years, some people are celebrating this festival innovatively by planting neem trees in India. I wish, I could do that too, but it's difficult in UAE, as watering a tree takes so much water which is precious in this land. I am celebrating this festival at home traditionally, to let my son know our traditional values as well as Eco significance involved in our traditional celebration!

Gudhipadvyachya Shubhecha! (Happy Gudhi Padva!)