As I sat outside the villa last weekend at the Qasr Al Sarab, gazing at the dunes, uninterrupted until they met the pale blue of the sky, I realised suddenly how isolated we were, and marvelled at how this lavish resort stretching for more than one and a half kilometres had been built. We were in the Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarter, the largest stretch of sand desert in the world, spilling across four Arab states, in the midst of which this picturesque palace by Anantara had been built in three years. It dawned on me then that Dubai was once like this, that Dubai was once a sweeping expanse of dunes upon dunes. It’s something I know, yet it is not easy to fathom the tremendous nature of the transformation, especially if we weren’t witness to the rise of this peppered skyline.
Just outside my villa, shaded from the perfect afternoon sun — I say perfect because it was that time of year when the desert sun wasn’t so intense you could burn nor was it shrouded within the clouds as it might be in a month’s time — I looked at the dunes sloping upwards, some so smooth in their long curves they could be horizontal, and others making perpendicular cones. With further concentration, it was apparent that the wind had been blowing from the right; the right side of the dunes slanted, a slight, shapely curve at the end, whereas on the left they formed almost a straight line, parallel to the earth.
Closer to me were shades of orange, a light hue of red, and further away a vanilla cream. It wasn’t until later that I noticed the small green shrubs scattered in the flattest area, at the centre, between the two sets of rising dunes. The view was so entrancing I almost forgot to listen to the water as it fell from the small infinity pool in front of me to the ground.
The colour of the wind towers and villas, a golden tan, so in tune with the shades of sand. Above me, large wooden logs supported something of a thatched roof. The heads of four or five palm trees peeking from the street just one step below swayed in the light breeze, some of their palms and leaves burnt to a crisp golden with brown tips.
I dipped my feet to confirm the warmth of the water and smiled. Idyllic. And then craned my neck to look at the infinite sky, white and woolly except for thin slivers of bright blue lines where the white clouds had parted very slightly.
— Meera Ashish is a columnist, editor and writer. She is also founder of Next Generation Schools NGO, Uganda www.nextgen-schools.org.