Many may feel that holidays and deserts don’t go together, but we here at The Week beg to differ. With proper planning, deserts offer a uniquely lovely traveling experience. The cloudless skies, the mesmerizing sight of endless sand dunes (the sunsets in particular) and then, the adventure activities, the unique culture of the people from the area, there is a lot that makes journey into the desert a memorable one.
What’s more, you don’t really have to venture all the way out to the Sahara either. You can embark on your desert adventure right here in Asia. The Week brings to you some great holiday desert destinations.
Deserts come in many shapes, sizes and climates; the Asian deserts are a perfect example of that. While the technical definition of a desert area is a region that receives under 10 inches of precipitation per year, in Asia, it isn’t uncommon to find deserts that are more than just the stereotype of rolling sand dunes. They are some that feature trees and plantations while others like Gobi have mountains and occasional frost.
In that regard, the Gobi desert is really the most intriguing wonder. The Gobi Desert is the largest desert in Asia, covering 500,000 square miles. It extends from northern China into Mongolia. It is unique in the sense that the Gobi Desert receives an average of seven inches of rainfall each year. So you can only imagine the diversity that can be observed in its topography. It has long been an enclave for adventurers and explorers.
Another point of fascination for visitors is often the elevated regions. Some regions of the desert rise to 5,000 ft which means at Gobi, you don’t only revel in extreme heat, you can experience icy blasts and sometimes even snow. You can schedule your trip accordingly. Further, there is also the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park which comes highly recommended.
The world has become very familiar with the Dubai deserts. We have seen fancy ads and heard vacations accounts from those around us. After all, it is probably one of those rare desert spots that actually give us the vibes of luxury. No wonder many vacationers tend to have the Dubai desert on their bucket list.
Now as with many tourist destinations in Dubai, the tours and camping opportunities in the Dubai desert are plenty to say the least. Here more than explore the region alone, you will find yourself engaging in a variety of adventure sports. Over the years, among the available options, hot air balloon rides, camel treks and vertigo-inducing Jeep safaris have become popular highlights of the Dubai deserts. A number of plush hotels and resorts dot the landscape as well, so you don’t even have to worry about living in those tents. This is one desert where you can get your dose of adventure without compromising on comfort.
Again, for those who believe that deserts are places of challenges and mere struggles, i.e. mere barren wastelands, perhaps you need to get out and see their glorious culture, experience their music, art and join in the celebrations.
The festival of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan is one such opportunity. The festival offers a window into the beautiful, vibrant, and colorful culture of Rajasthan. Every year, in the month of February, it attracts the state’s best performers and indeed, we are talking about people like the infamous snake charmers and traditional puppeteers who retell stories of old Rajasthan.
Add to that, dancers and even acrobats, the whole desert town turns into a show. This festival tends to also engage with the visitors so rather than just being spectators, you can look forward to joining in and participating in various events and entertainments. Then there is the food which is a highlight on its own.
The next desert trip is in Rajasthan as well but it is a different town (Pushkar), different time of the month (November) and has a completely different vibe. Basically, they call it the Hot Air Balloon and Camel Fair. This is an annual affair where camel and livestock trading takes place in its largest scale. The fair with the animals and the people turns into a spectacle very quickly. You won’t find a fair like this anywhere in the world.
But it isn’t only about the business here; this fair lasts for five days and is known to be a showcase of the state’s traditional customs. You can sit in on folk performances as well as the good old, camel and horse competitions and races. The likes of Pushkar may be some of the driest places in the world but it surely has some of the most colorful celebrations.
Then we have the prospect of riding hot air balloons. This is a unique way to explore Rajasthan, one you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere. With the spectacular scenes of majestic forts, palaces, ghats and the endless dunes, Pushkar provides an excellent landscape to balloon over.
For the mini desert experiences
Tottori sand dunes
Japan is hardly ever the first place we think of when we think of deserts but the Tottori sand dunes is very popular. They have actually gone on to become star attractions in the coastal town north-west of Osaka. Tourists usually like visiting the site because the sand dunes at 50 meters high are among the largest in the country.
The local authorities there also know how to make the most of it all. There are offers where you can ride among the hills of sand on camels or horse-drawn carriages. If you are more on the adventurous side, there is paragliding for you as well. You can take in the panorama of the mini desert from the sky and round up the mini desert experience.
Just like Japan, China isn’t all that talked about for its deserts but there is one in Dunhuang that makes for a good trip. Mingsha Shan in Mandarin literally means echo sand mountain. It has apparently been named after the deep moaning sounds made by the shifting sands when the wind blows. While science sticks to that theory, local legends still believe that the sounds are actually the cries of the souls of fallen soldiers buried beneath the sand. With its scenic beauty and mystery, Mingsha Shan makes for a worthy trip.
The sand dunes can be found just five kilometers from the city of Dunhuang. Electric cars and ATVs are even available to take you around the sand dunes, but, of course, the camel is recommended. This, like the Gobi desert also has a history of being part of the famous Silk Road trade and if that peaks your interest, you shall find guides at hand to give you the details about it.
To the east of the desert, you shall also find the UNESCO World Heritage-inscribed Mogao Caves. This is a cluster of more than 400 caves housing religious art, a sight on its own and an extra incentive for you to make the trip.