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temperatures soar to the mid-

40s. With the biggest run at 400

metres long, its an impressive
indoor feat. But there are few
skiers and snowboarders on
the slope compared to the sheer
number of observers who pay
simply to experience the winter
wonderland. Women covered
head to toe in black abayas circle
the ski lift as Baby, its cold
outside plays over the sound-
system, occasionally interrupted
by blaring calls to prayer via a
At Dubai Mall (the biggest
mall in the world) you can
ascend the Burj Khalifa (the
tallest building in the world).
If Dubai gives the impression
of a computer-generated city
which it does then the Burjs
iconic scraggly fnger outline
resembles a caricature of an
evil rulers towering lair. The
360-degree lookouts, set about
three-quarters the way up
the 828-metre building, offer
views of Dubais 900-strong
skyscraper skyline and endless
stretches of desert.
Cultural Desert
With more than 200
nationalities making up
Dubais 2.1 million residents,
including multitudes of South
Asian workers, who are paid
little and live in crowded
camps on the citys outskirts, it
can seem far easier to engage
with other cultures than with
the Emeriti one. I found it
frustratingly diffcult to get
authentic experiences amidst
the expanse of shopping malls
and glittering hotels.
At Dubais Global Village, you
can visit up to 37 countries by
watching cultural performances
or browsing for imported knick-
knacks and clothes. Though
popular, the gaudy lights and
commercialised atmosphere give
the impression of simply having
been tricked into another mall.
Similarly, desert safaris are
offered by numerous tour
companies as a chance to
experience bedouin living.
But rather than a personalised
experience, the small tours
collide with dozens of others
that descend on a neon-lit desert
enclosure featuring shisha tents,
Eastern European belly dancers
and techno music.
The sunset getaways do,
however, provide opportunities
for sand boarding and off-
roading on the massive sand
dunes. SUVs come equipped
The wind slaps against my
face, causing my cheeks to
ripple violently as gigantic,
roaring fans shoot me up
into the air. Facing stomach
down, my arms and legs bend
unnaturally above me like an
upside-down spider. When
the 200-kilometre-per-hour
force propelling me upwards
suddenly cuts out, I free-fall
eight metres before being
fung skywards again. I shriek
with delight, only to have
saliva whip back at my face.
Drop. Soar. Drop. Soar.
Yo-yoing back and forth,
I look out through the wind
tunnels acrylic walls to see
shoppers gaping back. This
is simulated skydiving, in
the middle of the mall, in
the middle of the desert.
The experience forms just
another day in what must be
the worlds most bizarre and
extreme playground: Dubai.
As one of seven Islamic
emirates that make up the UAE,
the city has made a global name
for itself over the last decade,
thanks to insanely fast growth
and ambitious undertakings. It
is a land of superlatives, with
the fastest, highest, longest,
costliest everything.
Dubai is an uncontested
hub for Western tourists in
the heart of the Middle East
and though considered the
most tolerant emirate limits
alcohol, dress, dancing and
displays of affection. But with
Russian tourists storming the
beaches, it has become common
to spot bikini-clad visitors
mixed in with Emirati males in
long white tunics, or kanduras.
Despite there being next-to-
nothing historical to explore,
the city attracted 9.89 million
international overnight visitors
in 2013, the seventh highest
fgure in the world.
Diverse Offerings
Dubai offers almost unlimited
experiences. Dune bashing?
Race car driving? Skiing?
Sand-boarding? Shark diving?
The worlds tallest building?
The worlds most luxurious
hotel? Check them all.
Take SkiDubai in the Mall of
the Emirates. Aslope covered
in real snow is maintained at -4
degrees Celsius even during the
summer months when outside
At Dubai Mall
(the biggest mall in
the world) you can
ascend the Burj
Khalifa (the tallest
building in the world)
with roll cages, as the hazardous
driving often results in
rollovers, according to our jolly
and unphased Pakistani driver.
The Beaten Track
I fnally found a reprieve, and
the trips highlight, in the form
of camel racing. Around 20
minutes from downtown, past
scrubland desert and small
dunes, the sandy Al Marmoun
racetrack sits behind two white
mosques. The sport has a long
and rich history in the UAE,
and you can view the daily
races up-close and at no cost.
Each heat features
approximately 15 camels, their
awkward gaits kicking up a
fury of sand in the direction of
goggle-clad camera crews. As
the animals take off, an even
more impressive feet of white
SUVs peels out behind them,
flling seven lanes of highway
both sides of the track.
Inside the vehicles are
the owners, who are not
simply tracking their prized
possessions, but controlling
their movements via robot
jockeys. The small robots,
strapped to the saddles, are
now commonly used as a
result of laws banning child
jockeys. The devices can whip
and steer the camels and have
options that emit body warmth
and even traditional jockey
perfumes in order to simulate
a rider.
I was surrounded by
local men, and a VIP-section
of sheikhs, as an excited
commentator described each
slow-paced race. The rarity of
tourists means the owners are
more than willing to oblige
visitors with a ride on the
champion beast. The racetrack
had a marked lack of trinkets
and even snacks or drinks to
purchase, and I couldnt have
been happier.
By the end of my trip, Dubai
had hosted the worlds largest
frework display, and more
records are sure to follow. The
emirate continues to push
limits, and any visit whether
taking advantage of its thrills,
architectural wonders or
shopping is certainly worth
your time, if not always
your money.
But if Im honest, leaving
Dubai felt eerily similar to
emerging from the wind tunnel.
I was exhilarated, fatigued,
over-stimulated, and grateful to
be back on solid ground.
The Worlds Playground
The United Arab Emirates draws millions of visitors
to its sandy dunes each year. Joanna Mayhew enters
the mega malls of Dubai to find out why.
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