Not many tourists visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi travel inland to experience more of the local heritage, the deserts and the oases that make up so much of the character of the Gulf of Arabia. One easily accessible opportunity to do this is to make a side trip from the main tourist centres of the UAE to Al Ain, part of the ancient silk road junction post of Buraimi which the UAE shares with Oman, and where some of the most beautiful areas of desert are easily reached in a standard 4x4. Colours are brightest November to March. If you approach Al Ain from Abu Dhabi, bright green date palms stand against glowing red dunes and a deep cobalt sky as you pass the town of Al Yahar. From Dubai the approach is through Al Foah on the outskirts of the town, through quite different shades of paler sands and the soft green of the iconic Ghaf trees, branches drooping gently until they are clipped on a perfect horizontal line at exactly camel-grazing height! If you're lucky, it will rain. And it does rain in winter, from time to time. That is the time to grab the opportunity to visit the desert. Local families adore desert rain; daily routine might suddenly be interrupted as the whole family pack the car with picnicking basics and the kitchen goes full tilt, flipping pancakes and squeezing orange juice to add to the picnic stash. Everyone piles in to the family's two or three truck-sized SUVs, and out to the desert, where the sand almost seems to breathe the wet air and dormant succulent plants revive; in occasional spots the desert can turn quite green. As a visitor, stay on the better-worn tracks created by multiple desert driving use. If you spot a picnic, simply stop at a respectful distance to curiously observe. Almost certainly, you will be approached; Arab hospitality is not yet a part of history but remains a living tradition for most ordinary folk. Join in. And from that point on, the experience will be uniquely yours.
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