Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wadi Bih

For reaching Wadi Bih one has to cross through Sharjah into Dhaid followed by Masafi and finally Dibba. At
Dibba we enter into Omani territory. There is no visa required but your passport is checked while entering into Oman from UAE.
The dirt track starts after only a few kilometers and then enters into the mountains for a breathtaking ride.

Travel Month:

Dec 2008


UAE and Oman

Total Distance Covered:

450 Kilometers total out of which 100 Kilometers was dirt track.


We were planning for this trip for the last few days and despite there was a restriction of 12 cars we could not refuse to a few enthusiasts who signed up closer to the travel date and the total 4x4s were 14 in this trip. We started gathering at the ADNOC gas station on Sharjah-Dhaid road at 6:45 and left for the destination at 7:30 after a briefing. We were so fortunate to have a number of angels/children in this trip and the youngest one was only a few months old that stayed over night in the freezing cold. This was the maximum number of children I’ve seen on any of the club trips so far. 22 kids to be more precise.

We reassembled at a petrol pump right after entering into Oman not before negotiations with the authorities to request them enter a 4x4 who forgot their passports. After a few minutes of imploring they were kind enough to allow us to continue our trip. Everyone were very excited here, we gave a few minutes to the kids to run around and the others to use the bathroom facility at the pump.

The drive ahead was incredible as we made our way through the canyons on to the snaking up track. We had our next stop soon after we entered the gorges to let everyone apply their hiking skills to explore some caves looking over the dirt track. All the kids climbed up to where their parents or skills became a barrier for them to continue. But the sense of achievement was acknowledged by then and they were looking forward to the next stop already. Not to forget that some younger ones made their (at least) one parent use their climbing skills first time in all these years passed by, just to catch up with them.

The second stop was at the shepherd’s hut very close to the top at about 800 m high. For reaching here one has to go through the beautiful gorges followed by very steep track spinning up high. A Pathan has been living there for the last several years and his job is to feed and protect a bunch of goats, his Arbab has kept at this place. He gets his supplies weekly and lives with no one around in the area, earning a salary of 800 dirhamsa month. There is a small graveyard and remains of an abandoned village here. We also saw some new huts built here not a very long ago.

The views from one side of this hut were amazing. Children enjoyed running after the goats and roosters. We had a group photo (courtesy Faisal Zaheer) at the open field while we were continuously hit by a very cold wind all over. Wind was gusting at a high speed and was asking us, can you handle me whole night?
Jessil and myself then started locating the campsite coordinates provided to us but to no avail as both the GPS were pointing us into different directions. Therefore we thought to continue our drive and will figure out where to camp later in the day as the convoy was getting impatient.

We drove through the highest point on the tract at just over 1000 meters and experienced the same cold gust. The track starts descending here towards Wadi Bih and we reached at about 400 meters in just a few kilometers. The Omani checkpoint allowed us to pass through the barriers to visit the area closer to RAK. We were split into two groups at this point as 6 4x4s stayed at the top and wanted to enjoy it up there. We prepared lunch at this stop while the kids started their fire pit with a nice fire. What a hearty meal we had with all the variety available warmed over the stove. Everyone was stuffed and ready for the hike we planned for. We met a tire flat on one of the Prados. With so much help available the team changed the tire in no time. Many of the participants saw a tire change on a Prado for the first time so a bit of classroom setting.

Our next stop was a few miles ahead where we left the track and drove towards the hiking area as far as we could drive. Everyone stopped, jumped out and started the hike. We had a good one and a half hours hike and started back to find our campsite. After reaching the Shepherd’s hut five 4x4s left us after a Goodbye, as they only joined for the day trip. But we couldn’t find the other 6 who stayed at the top even through cell phones or radio. Anyhow we finalized our campsite but not next to the trucks rather at about 50 meters below from the dirt track for us to take the entire luggage down and then bring it back the next morning. The team did a great job with all the helping hands available including the children and the women. Jessil and company appeared on the radio and then physically at about the sunset time. They had a run towards Khassab and back after negotiating with the border checkpoint courtesy Habib (a local bro). Though this group camped at a different spot a little ahead of the other one with Jessil leading them, we had a couple of visits from them.

The tents were pitched and it was difficult to negotiate with the cold wind blowing at a high speed. A big fire was started in a big fire pit to make us feel better but the temperature drop with the wind really took its toll and slowed down the kids. A feast was prepared. Faisal & company, Khalid & company made excellent BBQ while John cooked steaks and jumbo prawns on the tripod grill. All this created such a fairytale atmosphere that is impossible to explain here and could only be experienced under the stars, cold and shivering, sitting next to the fire pit, baking patatoes, making hot dogs and mash mellows on the prongs made out of hangers.

I must appreciate the great company at the site in the shape of Faisal Zaheer, Rashid Tufail, John Price and their families who made it all the way from Abu Dhabi and were not late at the assemble point very early in the morning. Not to forget Khalid Bhai, Vinu, and my family.

The fire was made into charcoal; the lights were put out to enjoy the sky and the atmosphere around the pit. Absolutely marvelous!! Everyone was retired at or around midnight to experience a very chilly night. A few of us could not even get a sleep but somehow survived. Tough creatures!

Very early morning when I finally gave up my struggle to warm my body after forgetting my sleeping bag at home and tagging myself with my son half uncovered I decided to put on the fire. Right after, I got to know that I was not the only one as Khalikd Bhai crawled out shivering and we both started the fire to bring our bodies back to acceptable temperatures. It was wonderful sitting next to the pit despite having water flowing out of our eyes due to smoke, owing to the wind changing directions rapidly. Well Murphy’s law! What could you do about it? Soon my kids Sajeel and Iman came out followed by everyone to get the warmth of the fire.

Freshly prepared breakfast. Sausages in egg, fried eggs, hash browns, khageena, cheese and several types of bread topped with tea and hot chocolate are a few things to name that filled our stomachs. The sun came out and the things started to get to normal. While in the mean time the second convoy left for Dubai who camped a little ahead. After the breakfast Khalid and Vinu left for Dubai leaving three vehicles behind to explore further, not before they made a few trips of carrying luggage up to the trucks for us. Finally all 4x4s were loaded and we hit the track again. We had numerous stops for sightseeing and cave exploration and made out of the canyons onto tarmac early afternoon. Dibba beach was the next stop where kids collected shells and colorful rocks. We drove on the beach road through Khor Fakhan into Fujeirah had a quick bite on the way. Stopped at the Friday market in Masafi to buy some fruits and finally making it back home 7ish.

An excellent trip, an excellent company and an excellent DRIVE of 450 kilometers.

Thanks everyone!

Courtesy: I organized this trip for and all the participants were members of this offroading club.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Liwa - The Empty Quarter

Area: Liwa a huge expanse of desert at the borders of UAE and Saudi Arabia. It is the enterance to The Empty Quarter - Rab Al Kheli

Distance Covered:

Offroad :

In our Vehicle:
Myself, Tariq (my friend) and Sajeel (my 11 years old son)

Vehicle used:
Jeep Wrangler Sahara


Liwa has been calling us for the last few weeks and everyone was preparing himself for the trip. I find it more of preparing yourself mentally for some adventure. Rest of the preparations are advice driven e.g. someone tells you to make your 4x4 ready for such a drive and someone posts a list of essentials and you fill up your trunk with the stuff. The most important ingredient is the mindset, if that is there then you would challenge anything. So that was the key in this trip the mindset was right and energy was very high. All participants showed leadership skills, patience, and endurance and off course everyone was giving.

This was a great trip and who makes it great are the participants. This was an amazing two days of learning and enjoyment. Mr. Kiyani has proven himself yet again a Superman of Liwa. It was a lifetime enjoyment indeed. The sand falls that we attempted were full of joy and very brave.

Anyone who is involved in desert driving considers Liwa the most entertaining as well as the most challenging amongst all the sand dunes in the region. It becomes a must to do for any serious offroader and remains at the top of the list.

At 0800 Hrs we assembled at the gas station at Jebel Ali just before entering into the State of Abu Dhabi, a few members were late so we utilized that time for our breakfast and had the parathas my wife made for us.

The convoy left once all 12 4x4s were assembled after a short briefing. The first stop was the car museum on the way to Hameem that we reached after two hours of driving. We filled up Jeep's tanks and got some extra fuel for the our little jeep in the jerry can , which turned out to be very handy eventually. First day desert drive was influenced by the UAE Desert Challenge Racers as we drove most of the time on the same track they drove on or around it. It gave everybody a special feeling as if they were participating in the Desert Challenge.

Desert Challenge is an International event and drivers and vehicles from all over the world participate in the tough competition. The day we traveled was the last day of the Desert Challenge.

We had a few hiccups as Mr. Naved’s Land Cruiser started giving a little trouble but that LC never wanted to give up and it kept going until we gave up and it was decided to send it to the road for a well deserved rest. This happened right after the wonderful lunch courtesy Mr. Kiyani comprising of Parathas, Aalu Bhujia, Omelete etc. etc. The food was served at the Five Star (as I would call it in the middle of nowhere) govt. camp in the middle of nowhere. The camp is established for the people working (labour) in the area for massive plantation projects by the Govt. Of Abu Dhabi. We used their dining room (a room with some chairs and a table) as our lunch camp. I should not miss out the greenery that they’ve developed there, is amazing with chickens running around and other birds having their nests in the trees. We saw Camels ad Gazelles on the way as well. We tried best to pluck a couple from the natural scenery and bring them back to the city but those animals proved to be too good for us.

Sajeel had a different experience of being chased by a Hen whose chicks he was trying to play with. The Hen made sure that he goes far away from her little chicks. Our fuel tank was consumed very fast as compared to the other vehicles and being the only Jeep in the convoy we had to carry the extra fuel. At this stop we filled up the tank and were more than half tank after refueling, at this point.

This phase of driving was very fast as we were trying to catch up the distance that we lost due to a few stucks. We drove furiously in the sand dunes and our engines roared. We were doing great at the second position in the convoy but had to stop again because of the over heating problems in one LC. It was decided to send that vehicle out on the road. Another vehicle carrying Ali in the driver’s seat and Ahmed on the navigation was dispatched along with Mr. Naved to drop the LC at a safe place and bring him to the overnight camp. This pair of vehicles tried their best to get lost in the wilderness of Liwa and to sneak into Saudi but then the poor souls Mr. Kiyani and Mr. Gaurav were sent out for the rescue leaving everyone at the campsite hungry and tired. This only happened after our several calls on the radios and cell phones and finally reaching them. They had been lost in the desert since we left them to find their way to the road which looked simple in the GPS but they faced some very high dunes on the way and lost their direction. They were unable to reach the tarmac and it was already dark. Xterra consumed all its fuel in the course and we had to send our poor jerry can for help and it proved its worth.

In the mean time we made it to the road, refueled and collected some supplies, and had reached the campsite about 4 kms from the road in the desert. We had pitched our camps; chairs and tables were put out and we had sharpened the teeth for the feast promised by Mr. Kiyani.

Well after a couple of hours we heard roars and got scarred if they released some loins in the area to take care of the growing population of gazelles. However we were so glad to see the four vehicles coming back with everyone safe and sound far in the dunes. I hiked up to higher elevation and signaled them about our location. But we had yet to wait for the well-deserved dinner as we got Ali’s and Gaurav’s vehicles stuck in a very bad bowl just behind the campsite. This rescue efforts made people even hungrier but not enough to finish even half of the several dishes served at dinner. It took about an hour to recover both the vehicles and then the dinner was served. One could not imagine such a nice home made meal far away from home yet hot from the oven and crisp roghni naans. No words could explain such a feast. Simply Awesome!!

The night had a clear and crisp sky with millions of stars; I saw such a sky after several years. There were no lights around that made the stars to shine bright in the deep dark sky. Myself and Sajeel picked up our folding chairs and walked away from the camp to enjoy the peace and serenity of this location. We were so indulged in it that we spent a long time just watching the stars and spotted two shooting stars as well. The beauty was unimaginable. No sound, no lights, no hustle bustle of the city but just tranquility. I believe everyone got a chance to see a shooting star more than once if they missed to make a wish the first time around. I always love to enjoy the nights at the campsite it gives me peace and some strange strength.

We had an old warrior telling stories to the curious young breed in the shape of Hugh, who kept drinking in front of his tent and kept telling stories to the boys well into the late night. The campfire courtesy Sajeel was not even dead when we left in the morning. This young fellow being the youngest (11 yrs old) member of the group entertained everyone and kept the spirit of the group high by showing very high energy, patience and stamina at the same time. He surely proved his love for the nature yet another time. Finally he went to sleep while listening to everyone out on the mat under the sky. He proudly introduced himself to everyone as Wrangler Junior, an official member of the club. I helped him moving into his sleeping bag in the tent as it was getting bit chilly in the open. 10 4x4s in a circular fashion with their camps setup in a wonderful way showed a very nice view.

The night had come after a long day of driving in the desert but it was one hell of a night. Every moment was captured cleanly into the memories as we were not in an ordinary desert but at the opening of The Empty Quarter - Rab Al Khali.

The Rub' al Khali, which translates as Empty Quarter, is one of the largest sand desert in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including southern Saudi Arabia, and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi) (the area between long. 44°30′ −56°30′E., and lat. 16°30′ −23°00′N), more than the combined land areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France and almost the land area of Texas. Note:- Definition taken from Wiki


The night was over I got up early in the morning to see the sunrise. Sajeel and Tariq also woke up and followed me. We walked up to the higher ridge to have a better view and saw the yolk rising high into the sky in a few minutes as soon as it showed itself from behind the dunes. Priceless view. Now we saw some other warriors moving around in the campsite that was far visible from our viewing point. We spotted a number of animal tracks around our campsite including lizards, snakes tracks etc. We got a shiver after knowing about our neighbors in the night.

We three then decided to climb the highest dune in the area. Spotted one and conquered. It was a tough hike as walking in the sand is very difficult especially when you are on an inclined surface it becomes even harder. Once we were are the top, we saw dunes all around us without seeing a trace of any habitation. We felt at the top of the world even at a few hundred feet of altitude. But it’s all a state of mind. This feeling was very common in me several years back when I used to go for hiking in the Pakistan’s northern areas.

Everybody packed up after light breakfast and tea. We camped not far from the tarmac last night so that we could refuel and get supplies in the morning. Therefore we headed back to fill up some supplies and started our second day of dunning. I would say this day was the best driving experience, full of learning and adventure that I had so far. We challenged some very tough and high dunes . By now we were seven 4x4s left out of twelve yesterday. Two cars left last night who came for the day trips, the remaining three including the injured LC left in the morning. All these people had better stuff to do during the day.

We had a blast the whole day of desert driving and dune bashing out in the middle of nowhere. Off course lead by a seasoned Liwa expert who kept me at the second pole position having Imran on the sweep with Ali on his front and then Naveen, Hugh and TJ. When we drive in the desert there are three positions that are very crucial for the whole convoy safety and discipline. The leader who takes the first go is the one taking the risk to see the other side of the dune, the second position is critical because this vehicle has to wait for the leader to clear before going ahead. In case the picked track is not good the leader will radio and the second position will take an alternate route for the convoy. So this position is very important for the safety of the convoy. And the sweeper driving at the end is basically responsible for the recoveries at the back and he keep the communication channel open with the first two vehicles to keep them posted about the convoy condition.

Off course convoy rule for each individual vehicle is to stop if you dont see the vehicle coming behind you and dont leave from the original track. The position numbers are assigned to everyone by the group leader while entering the desert and everyone is suppose to stick to their positions to avoid any mishaps and problems. People have gotten into troubles by not following the basic rules of driving in the desert. Desert is a very dangerous and cruel place. A little displacement from the convoy direction will take you far and far from the convoy and the radio might not work due to high dunes no matter you might be one dune away. In these conditions we climb to the highest dune in the area to signal the convoy. Nowadays GPS coordinates prove to be very handy as if the radio works you could message your coordinates to the rest of the convoy to rescue you. Or you could drive towards you required direction using the GPS.

Great team effort. All the people involved here had shown very high caliber of patience, teamwork and endurance. A big round of applause for everyone. We attempted the sand falls several times and those changed everyone’s blood pressure quite a bit, but gave unexplainable pleasure as soon as you came down one fall.

These falls were specially picked so that everyone would learn and enjoy the incredible experience. The falls are inclines at a very steep angle with soft sand. One has to be extremely careful while coming down. Once you are on the fall, dont apply the brakes or keep your steering wheel straight, if you find it drifting to one side then apply little gas so that the vehicles becomes straight. This is the key or else you would come tumbling down. Desert driving is very different as compared to the road driving. You drive at 15 psi or less to gain traction depending on the type of tires used. Offcourse the 4H is engaged at most of the times except when you are in a tricky situation or climbing high dunes with soft sand when you need to apply 4L. The vehicles equipped with diff locks should apply that then as well. The vehicles are driven at very low rpm when getting stuck or else one would dig into sand rather coming out of it. Softer areas are very tricky for recoveries and it takes several minutes of one recovery. These are small things about desert driving and offcourse the biggest chunk goes to the driving skills and the driver can make any capable vehicle dance on the dunes.

We covered a lot of distance in the desert during the day. Saw several gazelles and camels. We drove after the running gazelles to have a better shot at them. Some plantation projects in the desert are really admirable. The government has started many plantation project well into the deep desert. While driving in the dunes suddenly we were faced by some nice green pasture with trees and plans and some birds and animals. Very commendable effort.

The toughest part was said to be the last one and a half hour when everyone started getting stuck due to very soft sand and indeed due to the fatigue as well which had taken its toll by then. We were at very high dunes and started our descent towards late afternoon. Soon we got to know what we entered into, it was very soft sand and the dunes were real tricky. All the vehicles were having a very tough time negotiating them. We had some very bad stuck in the bowls those were are recovered by such a good team work. Everyone gave their best to help the others getting out of tricky situations. This proved to be a live classroom for learning the desert driving and recoveries. Finally we made it down after 5 different vehicles got stuck on the way down. From there it was an easy ride back to the tarmac.

We reached the road at around 1700 Hrs, refueled vehicles as well as ourselves and moved on with our drives to our respective destinations. The distance covered in this trip is about 950 kilometers out of which there was 300kms of pure offroading in two days.

Everyone left at their own from the small town of Hameem as the rest was all tarmac driving. We were the only Jeep and offcourse we were bit slower then the other newer vehicles and soon they all left us far behind. We had our break at the car museum and filled up gas at the small gas station at the side. Here we discovered that the temperature gauge was getting out of control. We pulled to the side and started our investigation, soon to discover that the water body in the engine was giving way to water. We were still far from our place so myself and Tariq discussed and decided that we will fill up our radiator and will keep as much extra water with us as we could. We had such experience before and noticed when the water body malfunctions the leak would only happen when you stop the vehicle but not when it is driven. Sajeel was sleeping in the back seat after a tiring trip.

We filled up some bottles from the same gas station where we filled up and started our careful driving back home. Our eyes remained on the gauges. Weather outside was not bad so we saved on air-conditioning to give less pressure on the engine and drove at a reasonable speed to cover distance. We took the bypass truck road to avoid the Dubai traffic which would have made us stop for sure that we could not afford. We made it safely home by 2230 hrs after an amazing trip of our lives.

Who dares!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

salalah - the last town

Salalah - Omans border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Salalah is the second largest town in Oman but is a far off place close to the border with Yemen. It is said to be given to Oman in dowry when a lady from Yemen royal family got married to Oman's king. The town is a coastal town surrounded by a U shaped mountain range that becomes tourist attraction in August and September each year when monsoon rains fall on this area. The mountains remain covered with fog and a lot of rain falls in the area. It makes the area lush green but the driving becomes treacherous in the mountains due to low visibility. Salalah is about 1200 kilometers from Dubai and about the same from Muscat (Oman's capital). The drive is very boring and tiresome due to a stretch of 700Kms or more of single road not very well maintained having only two petrol stations on the way. The terrain is absolutely terrible as there is not even a single plant on the way and its flat rugged surface with some small dunes on the way. Oman is sparsely populated and most of the population is along the borders with UAE and on the Arabian Gulf, a couple of cities in the mid country and then Salalah on the far end.

Travel Month:

August 2008


Sultanate of Oman

Total Days:

5 Days


Foggy Mountains, Some Off-road Driving, Ocean, Coast, Geysers, Shrines

Total Distance Covered:

3000 Kilometers


Since our arrival in the UAE, I had been hearing bout Salalah as a summer hill station but none of our acquaintances had visited this place. This was our first full summer here in UAE and it was as hot as it could be, touching 50 degrees roughly with very high humidity. I called up my two brothers and told them that we are going to Salalah and asked to accompany us. Everyone had their own reservations for such a long drive having heard the rough conditions on the way. Anyhow we got two entries in the shape of my eldest brother Sohail n fmly and our friend Nabeel n fmly. It was summer vacations for kids and they had no plan other than our forthcoming trip to the US and Canada. So the plan was finalized and before we left there were three more entries but all three of them didnt want to go to Salalah rather wanted to join us for one or two nights to Muscat that was not in our route. One was my brother Nabeel n fmly, the other were Saqib n fmly and Tariq n fmly. They usually don't go out for long drives so we felt obligated to go with them. We planned in such a way that we would stay with them for the first night at Muscat and then leave early morning for Salalah and let them continue for another day there.

We gather at the Hatta border check post and got the visa stamped without any hiccups. When you enter into Oman you drive along the coast to reach Muscat some 400 odd kms away. The drive was nice and the scenery totally changed as soon as we entered Oman as it becomes rocky but road sides are very green. While in UAE the terrain is sand dunes. We stopped at a couple of places for the convoy to reassemble.

The hotel booking was already done. We had booked three two bedroom apartments in a nice area. It was not difficult to find the hotel and we moved our stuff in the rooms soon after reaching there. It was afternoon so lunch was served from the one dish, each family was asked to bring. Lunch was sumptuous and left us licking our fingers, cause we couldn't fill ourselves more. After the lunch we started our city tour and visited the historic places as well as the scenic coast around Muscat. We went to a couple of famous beaches close to Muscat but those were extremely over-crowded so instead of taking a dip we rented two boats and went out in the ocean for a nice boat ride.

It was very hot in Dubai when we left in the morning but the weather changed to very acceptable in Muscat with nice ocean breeze. We came back to the city and visited some government buildings, very nicely but simply decorated. There were still signs of 2007 storm/sonamy that brought a lot of destruction in this area. I felt the sea was still quite rough out there. Back in the city we visited the main Souq, souq is the word used for market or bazaar in the Arabian world. It has its own magical attractions with shops of traditional crafts, herbs, Arabian perfumes, local clothing etc. Most of the prices were for the European customers which we saw none in our visit at least. The rates were highly negotiable and we ended up buying only a couple of souvenirs.

Night was approaching so we had a quick bite in the shape of Shawarma (traditional BBQ chicken rolled in Arabian bread with lots of vegetables, olive oil, herbs etc.). We had to call it a day because we had to start our drive at 430 hrs next morning. We drove back to the hotel to have some sleep but with so many kids around in vacation mood one could only dream of sleeping. It was late at night when we put the kids to beds by force.


As per the plan everybody was up at 345hrs and we hit the road at the target time of 430hrs. We had some tea and filled up our coolers with ice at the petrol pump for our long drive. The target was to reach Salalah before the sun sets. Out of three cars two missed the exit towards Salalah and we had to wait for them loosing 15 minutes of time. After they caught up the drive was nice and went through some awesome mountains. The road was excellent and the morning was fantastic. The sun rose gracefully and brought some high temperatures with it. Soon it was 35 degrees early morning. We drove for 3-4 hours like this and then the road changed into a single lane with very fast moving vehicles dodging each other head on. The scenery was flat rugged surface on either sides of the road without having a sign of any living thing in the area. No plants, no villages, absolutely nothing on this long stretch of road. We filled up our fuel tanks at each gas station that came on the way, the maximum distance between two petrol pumps was about 360 kms. We drove fast and covered some good distance before noon. Lunch break was taken at one small restaurant close to a petrol pump. This was good food given the circumstances. The road was still straight, long, thin and and the driving was boring and tiring.

Finally we saw some shadows far away and thought some clouds are approaching to cool of the day. The temperature gauge was showing 49 degrees and the trucks were screaming with front and rear air-conditioners running at full. Salute to the wonderful technology of autos as these vehicles hardly got tired in this hot and muggy weather.

After a long and laborious drive we entered into the mountains and the temperature dipped below 25 degrees in just a few kilometers. The landscape changed from brown to green in no time and the hectic drive changed into a pleasant feeling suddenly. We were stopped by a check post who checked our passports and we were on the move again.

It got very foggy as we drove another kilometer further. The visibility was dropped to only a few feet and the drive became very tricky and perilous. I was leading the group of three vehicles and was negotiating the steep turns with caution. A few kilometers distance took us a long time to cover. But a very enjoyable weather with a drizzle and fog. The wipers were on and the lights were shining. Hills were lush green due to the fog and rain which remains there for these two months of Khareef Festival taking place at Salalah. The fog does not go away for these sixty days. It becomes fun for the visitors but non-livable conditions for the residents as they move to the plains around Salalah, some even camping with their big Arabian tents erected. Amazingly the Government provides them with electricity and water even at the campsites, a revelation for us.

Salalah is a tourist town and the life is on the move during the summer season and becomes normal and dull in the remaining part of the year. It is popular for its weather in summer, if it rains they provide life to some ponds and streams in the region. There are some water falls those become alive when it rains. Salalah provides some historic and ancient places for archeology loving people. There are two tombs of two Prophets, one in the Salalah city and the other one in the mountains. There is a beautiful setting of geysers not far from here made by the waves hitting caves at the coast. There are certain holes on the surface that make the water come out and jump several feet with each wave hitting the caves under the holes. This was an amazing site. Then there are some very good offroad tracks leading into the mountains.

We arrived at Salalah before the sunset as per the original plan. The booking was done again through the same contact who did it in Muscat but we found out the person who was in charge at Salalah booking ditched us as he gave our rooms at slightly higher rents to someone else. We were stranded with tired and hungry kids. The search for a hotel was on but in the next two hours we made not progress due to tourist season and every place being booked in advance. We were going to all the places we could find but to no avail, finally reached Youth Hostel Hotel converted into a nice hotel. The manager listened to us and was sympathetic but offered no room. We stood our ground and reached the level of pleading (or at least we posed like that). He finally showed mercy and offered us two suites with a promise that we will vacate them the next morning. That was good enough for us to set us up for that night and the next day we would decide the course of action. The rooms were nice big size suits with one bedroom, big sitting room, small kitchenette and a bathroom. We split up into different parts and corners of the suites. My father decided to put his sleeping mat in the small kitchen to avoid the little devils.

After we were all fresh and ready again we hoped into the trucks and asked the manager for a good restaurant specializing in traditional local cuisine, which he guided us happily. We found the place after a little search, it was a traditional Omani restaurant with several rooms each could be used by one party visiting them. We ordered their specialties and ate it. It was OK food, I did not really liked it much because we usually like spicy food which this was certainly not. My wife started having tooth pain just then but as it was too late we could not find any dentist to get herself checked. She spent the night in pain and got the tooth removed next day to get some peace.

The night was good with temperatures half the mark as compared to during the day. Surroundings were absolutely astounding with mountains in the view. This hotel was at the outskirts of the city towards the mountains offering nice views and in proximity of the vistas. We really enjoyed staying here.


The next morning we visited the manager and as we requested him earlier to help us finding a place for the next two nights, we requested him again. We wanted to fix this problem before heading out for sightseeing. After we made sure that he understood that we were the victims of one of his countrymen, we asked for his help to find accommodation. He really considered that and offered us one of his suites in another block. We were seven adults and sever children, though it did not sound a very good idea but the circumstances were already tested by visiting several hotel last night. Therefore we accepted the offer and we moved our luggage to that suite. One bedroom, one living room and 14 individuals. The night would be exciting with all the kids running around.

We drove to find a place where due to gravity, if you put your vehicle in neutral it travels uphill. An incredible thing to discover.

Details will be posted soon...

Details will be posted soon...


Details will be posted soon...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Balsam Lake


Kawathra Lakes, Ontario, Canada



Travel Month:

August 2008


Wilderness of Ontario, Camping, Trekking

Total Distance Covered:

500 Kilometers on tarmac


This trip is from one of our camping out during our summer vacations trip to Canada and the US in 2008. Kawathra lakes is very famous for its lakes, natural beauty, and wilderness. It is located in South Central Ontario in a picturesque natural setting. The lake is small as compared to the other lakes in the region but still boasts a length of 16 kilometers and by and average 3 kilometers in width. Being the highest point in the Trent-Severn Waterway at about 256 m above sea level is said to be the highest point on Earth to which a boat can be navigated from sea level. It has been on our list of travel for a long time and finally Asif (my brother-in-law) pushed us to visit this place on our first weekend of our vacations.


As we were traveling and did not carry our camping gear therefore had to borrow from our friends. As per plan we left Mississauga to drive for about 170 km to reach Kawathra Lakes passing by Lake Simcoe. Our first stop was at a Wal-mart to pick up a new stroller for our son Hassan as we lost the other one yesterday by forgetting it in the parking lot of a shopping centre. We picked up some supplies as well from here. To enjoy the drive we picked up the inner roads rather than the highways. Country side in summers is marvelous, its lush green and offers amazing refreshment just by looking at it.

We had booked 2 campsites as we were three families - us (2 adults and 3 kids-3yrs, 6yrs & 10 yrs), Asif & fmly (2 adults and 2 kids - 3 yrs & 9 months), Shahid & fmly (2 adults and 1 kid - 6yrs). In all national, provincial and regional parks they allow 6 number of people at one campsite without exception but we always end up using only one because its more enjoyable and we have to put a spare camp on the other site which we always take adjacent or in front of each other or we use the other site as our kitchen.

The map that we checked to reach our destination finally took us to the lake but on the opposite side of the campsite. So we had to drive around to reach our final destination. All the campsites in this country are absolutely incredible. These are well maintained and still they keep them in natural settings. One has a choice to pick the privacy level, noise level, site size, site quality etc. etc. according to one's wish. But during the summer most of the good sites are booked in advance, therefore the tricky part is to decide early to get the good sites. I am amazed to see hundreds of sites at one campsite and all booked during holidays. There are a number of private campsites but I never liked them due to the city like facilities they provide and kill the whole purpose of camping.

We reached our sites which were in front of each other and as we requested secluded these were right in the middle the forest making us realize about the mosquitoes for which the only protection we had was the spray. Our kids make noise while they play so we tried to stay in an area where we do not bother other people. We started pitching the tents and setting up the site the way we wanted it which in itself is a task. We did not have the kitchen tent this time so we used tarp to save us from rain but that could not do any good to save us from the flying insects. Once we were up and running we realized the light we have is not enough therefore had to visit a camp store just outside the boundary of the campsite to buy a lantern and wood. It was a damp place and was getting cold even at the sunset time telling us clearly to get ready for a cold night. Canadian summers are very short and even during summers the temperature may dip below zero but still we always enjoyed camping here. The night brought absolute darkness to our sites due to its location in the middle of the tall and dense forest. Fire was on and everyone was sitting around to warm themselves.

Dinner was served in a fairytale environment and we loved every bite of it. Hungry stomachs filled with delicious food and pops. One has to be ready to make a few trips to the bathroom due to drinking juices and pops whole day. Its a task to come out of the tent in cold night to pee. What can you do, when nature calls we have to answer, which we did a few times shivering with cold and scarred with the settings around us. We did not have the courage to walk all the way to the bathrooms which were about 200 meters away and pass it on close to the site, rain washes everything away by morning. The brown bear warning at the entrance played a major role in this. There are numerous type of animals that we have seen during our campings including moose, raccoons, lizards, snakes, deer, fox, skunks, flying squirrels, chipmunks, beaver, lots of birds and several other but have been lucky not to experience a bear. We have always been extremely careful not to keep any eatables out and keep the garbage hanging very high before going to sleep, where there is any chance of such animals wandering around. I found the park rangers are very helpful in providing information and usually the info posted on the message boards is very useful, therefore always read it.

The night was cold as we thought and damp and rainy too. But we had a good time on borrowed air mattresses and blankets we carried. Sleeping mats have always proven themselves one of the most important investments in camping gear.


I got up early and had a walk in the area to see the morning lake and to smell the morning freshness. It has a soothing effect on my mind and I enjoy early morning walks. Kids were also up and we all took the trek to the lake and suddenly at one corner we were stopped by stunning view of a stag. It was grazing in the middle of a field and did not notice us, we would be less than 50 meters from the animal. By the time second party reached there who was carrying the camera and so they brought noise along, the deer looked around and found some aliens looking at him. He did not like it and gave us a bad look before setting off in the dense forest. This made our day right in the morning. Watching animals in natural setting is charismatic, the feeling is unmatchable. Our kids love animals, especially Sajeel my oldest son has such a love for animals that he reads about animals from his collections of books almost everyday therefore he was the most excited person amongst the whole gang.

We continued walking to the lake and enjoyed the beach and beautiful landscape around the lake. This lake is not very wide so you could see on the other side dotted with cottages but its miles long making it comparatively different from other lakes of its size. He head back to the site for breakfast of omeletes, muffins etc. We had to do two trails during the day and after the breakfast we were all ready to go. By now the effects of mosquitoes were already evident especially on Iman (our daugther) and Hassan's (our youngest son) faces. The spray was working for the adults probably but not for children obviously.

There are two trails in this provincial park i) Lookout Trail and ii) Plantation Trail and both of them are 3 kilometers long and it take about two hours to do each one of them. The drove to the trail head and decided to take the lookout trail first and then would decide accordingly to the physical condition of everyone about the other one. The trail is lush green goes through preserved jungle but the bugs were very very disturbing and they kept biting us no matter what precautions we took. The signs for the trail were not very well marked which was quite unusual. It goes up and down in the hills giving spectacular views and a good exercise to city people. At places it was dark due to tall tress. Plantation is excellent and preserved very well. The two mentioned trails cross each other somewhere and we crossed onto the other one somewhere without knowing and that made us do both the trails in one go. It took us a few good hours to complete due to very young children with us and also started raining on the way making the trail very slippery. Everyone was cautioned to be careful and not to slip. Bugs continued bugging even in rain. We finally made it to the road about 800 meters away from where we parked. I'm sure we did some extra trail that was not marked at all. Everyone was happy to see the cars to have some snacks. We jumped in to have a drive around and visit the camp store outside the park. I find these stores very fascinating due to the local thing collections and camping related stuff.

We headed back to the campsite to finish our adventure for the day and enjoy the cooking and camping. Due to rain it was muddy and slippery. We cooked under the shelter and later put on the fire to bring some warmth to the damp site. The smoke also helped us to get rid of some bugs from the site but not much.

Shahid and family decided to jump into our tent due to the comfortable two queen size air mattresses. We adjusted all the kids on thin mats and the adults on to the beds with a separator curtain hanging on.


It started with the usual morning walk and cooking of breakfast and tea. The only difference was that the breakfast was prepared under the tarp shelter due to rain. We were all cold and wet but the food was good and tea was warm. Rain stopped and children wanted to go for canoeing, so we came to the lake again but were refused the canoes due to windy conditions. While in the booking office we noticed fishing rods and other equipment and thought to rent it and do fishing instead of canoeing. Upon inquiry they told us those we could borrow free of charge which we happily did. We came to one side of the lake that we thought would be rich with fish. Fishing is such a patience game that we could count the total number of fish that we might have caught in several ventures of fishing but kids love to cast into water. So casting practice without catching a single fish was called off after an hour.

Tents and other stuff was already packed and loaded in the cars before we came for canoeing but ended up doing fishing. Kids had some snack here and they enjoyed in the purpose build play area. Once they were tired rather we were tired we hoped back into our vehicles and drove back and were stopped after half an hour by police check post that also was quite unusual. They were randomly checking cars for illegal hunters obviously we were not so they didn't even bother checking our cars. And we were once again en route to Mississauga and surely through the inner roads and not through the highway making it to Asif's plan by evening.

It was a wonderful trip despite all the bug problems that Hassan had to live with for the next few days. Its a good place for camping and the drive is good and more importantly its not far from the city.

We visited Lake George and Upstate Newyork a week later, please check for the other topic for details.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lake George

Dinner Under Thunders

Area: Adirondack Mountains - Up State New York


Travel Month:
July 2008

Camping, Drive, Wilderness

Total Distance Covered:
2000 Kilometers on tarmac

View from the cruise


This was the second leg of our trip to Canada. We took a few days break after Kawathra Lakes camping before going for this one. This was in the cards for the longest time but we could not make it even while we stayed for many years in Canada and the US. But this time in our visit we took the opportunity to do this one for sure. So here we were driving towards Niagra to cross the border into NY on our rented Charger. The border formalities were almost none other than the customs guys asking me to take my sun shades off while talking to him.

We entered Buffalo and stopped at the Walmart for some supplies and were surprise to notice that there were only old people working in the whole store and no young person was visible anywhere. This town is a dieing town as many other US towns. There are run down streets and houses and communities, the youngsters move to bigger cities as soon as they could and leave their elders to live at their own. This is very much appose to the eastern mentality where the family values still prevail and parents are taken care off.

Anyhow we were already on I90 towards Syracuse. The drive was nice especially on a rented Dodge Charger that I took because kids insisted to take that black beauty. We had couple of time cars coming next to us to probe us to have a go with them and I could not resist this mustang with two blacks in it. I told Asif on the radio that I'll slow down after a few miles run with these guys. It was very interesting race with that mustang, I thought they would not let me even touch them but it turned the other way round and the kids had a time of their life by making noise at the top of their voice and the charger was tested this way.

Campground and Lake George

We slowed down for the other car to catch up and then crossed Syracuse and moved further towards Albany the Newyork capital. As soon as we came out of the toll road we saw some smoke coming from Asif's car. We stopped at the side of the highway and noticed that after filling engine oil, he forgot to put the cap so while driving the oil kept shooting out and now it was all over the engine and due to engine heat it started to produce smoke.

After preventive measure we drove to the next gas station 10 kms ahead in Albany, to check the car thoroughly. We filled up the lost oil and the car was ready to go. We drove for another 1.5 hour to reach Lake George where we intended to camp. It was getting dark when we made it there so we thought to stay in a hotel for the night and would look for a good camping spot the next day. After some search we found a nice hotel and checked in to two suites. Lake George is one of the most visited lakes in the Adirondack region and is very popular amongst visitor, hence expensive and busy.

We are loaded like this when we have our own gear

Adirondack Mountains is a protected area of several hundred square kilometers and is name as one of the Park Preserves of US. There are numerous number of lakes and small villages with in this park. This is all low altitude mountains with a lot of greenery and fresh water lakes. The area looks like mini Europe. Lake George is the most visited place in this region, it is a long and thin lake with a number of resorts and private summer houses and mansions dotted on the shores all along making this a picture perfect lake.

Kids enjoying the weather on top of the mountain
Once we settled into our rooms myself and Asif went out to pick up some food and found a Dominos just about to close. They first refused and said it was close but when we insisted that there are still 15 minutes left they agreed to give us a take away order. Everyone was hungry after the whole day drive so did justice to food. As soon as the kids got some energy the run around started again. Playing and jumping all over, they enjoyed the small park in the hotel but it got very chilly soon and we had to come indoors.

The night was very soothing and we had a good night sleep. Yesterdays journey was exciting but long so except me everyone took some time to come out of warm and cozy beds. I loved the morning chill air and the green trees around, the view of the mountain behind the trees in front of our rooms was outstanding. I had a chat with the owner and he told me many things about the area, he also told me about some nice camp grounds to explore before deciding on one.

Crisp sunshine came out and the morning became very pleasant. There was a different sort of smell - pine smell, in the atmosphere giving a feel that one is in a hill station. Everyone was up and we got ready for our drive.
This was a small town, we drove from one corner to the other, visited some camp sites but I was not convinced to stay at a campsite that closer to the town. So we drove to the other side of the lake to explore a State campsite on the hill. It had nice views and secluded one too, we picked a spot deep in the site right on the hill under gorgeous pine trees. The trees were really tall and majestic. Campsite was not crowded so we got our private area as no one camped around us atleast, bathrooms were not far too. We pitched our tents in the next hour and kids had a look around and explored the campsite and the area. Everyone loved this spot. We drove back to the town to fetch some supplies and lunch as we had a light breakfast earlier. We had some nice fish n chips and a lots of it. There were some tourists in the market place but when we reached another small village Glen Falls, we found several people going to one big store - none other than Wal-mart.

Once we were done we came back to have the town and visited lake at different spots. We took a big round and went up on the hills to have a view. The area is really beautiful but full of summer homes of the rich. Most of the streets leading to the lake are private roads. Roads are well paved.
We stopped at a marina to click some pictures when suddenly some clouds, dark black and full of thunders came and rain started. Just before myself, Sajeel and Asif entered the car a lightning hit the pole next to our car and there were kind of fireworks all over us. We hurriedly entered the car and were definitly terified because of the ordeal. The sparks fell on our cars and us but luckily we were safe and thanked the Almighty. It was a close call.

Our campsite in the tall trees
We drove off to continue our ride around the lake and enjoyed the remaining afternoon by sightseeing. The rain and clouds added to the glory of the scenery. It rained a few times during the day for short spells followed by some sun shine and clouds again. It was a very nice drive, the trees were green, the water in the lake was like crystal, the huts and lodges on the lake banks looked unreal but spectacular, the boats and cruises in the lake were providing a mesmerizing view. We did not feel tired at all due to the freshest air and cleanest environment. This lake offers all sorts of water and mountain activities and has become so popular and a must see in New york.

It was dark when we made it back to the site. It was time to cook food and make a big fire at the camp. Kids love to burn the match boxes and love to sit and play around the fire. Its a natural instinct I believe. There were no clouds now but we could feel the humidity and freshness in the air. The ground was wet but due to on the slop there was no accumulation of water whatsoever. Perhaps this was one of the cleanest air we were breathing in the whole trip. We sat around the fire, we chat around, we had a walk around, visited bathrooms in flash lights and did the necessary chores before retiring that night.

Sajeel, Iman and Moosa in good mood but looked tired

The next day was planned full of action too. We went to take a cruise and boarded on a nice and spacious one. We and a few other families occupied the seats right in front on the deck to have the nicest view. Cruises are always good for a few hours and then they become boring unless you are on a big cruise with all the facilities and you are traveling for few days in it as a home. Especially with small children, they get bored quickly of the static scenery. But this couple of hours gave us another angle of enjoying the beauty of the lake. Looking at the lodges, hotels, houses from in the lake was amazing. It is definitely one of the best lakes having such big mansions on it.
Once the cruise was finishing we met another patch of clouds coming our way. We rushed to the cars and then drove off to the highest hill in the area managed by the senior citizens. You need to pay toll to use the paved road snaking up in the mountain. A nice 30 minutes drive. It got all cloudy in a few minutes and we were driving right through the clouds. At one view point we got a clear window and had such a nice view of the lake, it looks different from different locations!!

Once we reached almost to the top it was raining cats and dogs. We were the only ones in the last parking from where they drive you to the summit on mini bus. We waited for some time for the rain to stop before asking the bus to take us to the top. It was a real feel of being in the mountains, the smell, the colors, the atmosphere and every thing. After a while when the rain became drizzle, we all boarded the mini bus and the old man drove us to the top. He asked us if we wanted to get down as it started raining again as soon as we reached the top. We could not resist, so we got off at the top in the rain. It was a small park cum picnic spot at the top and we saw signs of picnics that people would have enjoyed during better weather. However for us, this cloudy weather and rain was the perfect time to visit this place. Soon this place was fully covered with clouds and the visibility reduced, but the rain stopped. This was a good time.

All the kids wanted to stay there more but we started our descend through the trail and did not take the bus for the short ride. The walk was through the slippery trail and we carefully started going down. The dead or fallen trees were providing compost for others. Therefore the jungle was lush and healthy. Once we were down at the parking and in the open area, we let the children loose to run around and burn their energies - the excessive one. Driving down we got good weather and stopped at the look up points to click some snaps.

At the marina just before the lightning struck the electric poll next to our car

Once we were down, we stopped at a bike rental shop where they were renting two wheelers and tri-wheelers motor bikes. Had we known earlier we would have rented that. There we got to know about the latest forecast of another thunder storm full of heavy rain hitting the are in the next few hours. We had a round of the shops and then headed back to the camp to cook our dinner. There was some light left in the day when we reached our site on the banks of lake george but as we picked up a secluded spot up in the mountain we could not see the lake from our camp but only the feel that we were on the lake. Because we did not carry our camping gear due to long travel therefore we had borrowed stuff from other, and we were missing our kitchen tent badly. So we had put a 8x10 tarp between trees to make our kitchen. We had one table with bench on either side right under the tarp. And we had another tarp-smaller in sixe attached to the roof tarp to cover one half side. We were making daal chaawal (boiled rice and lentels full of herbs) for the dinner. We thought to prepare and eat the dinner before the storm hits us as it was forecasted to hit the area after a few hours from now. But the nature had other plans and we started to hear thunders up in the sky to the south of the lake. The clouds soon took over from the sun and we were under very dark and thunderous clouds in a real bad mood. Dare devils continued to cut onions, garlic and prepare fresh dinner for the night. In a few minutes it started to flash and thunder in such a way that we had not seen in years. The lightning was every where and the water was coming down as streams not rain. We were under very tall trees therefore the wind was not really much but the rain was very heavy. We tucked ourselves under the small tarp and the kids were having a different exposure. It was definitely a scary time for many. The food kept cooking, the thunders kept roaring, the lightning kept striking as if its gonna hit us, and the rain kept coming down very very heavy. The thunders were scarring the women. Pitch dark and then a heavy flash of light followed by a big thunder, continued for the longest time of 2-3 hours. During this time we ate and stayed under the tarp for these endless moments. We were not sure if the tents were leaking or sustaining such a storm as it was so heavy and was difficult to set things up in any way.

After several hours it slowed down a bit and the life started running into our bodies. We checked the tents and everything, there was water gathered at the top squared place on our tent and I pushed it up from inside to remove water from the top. There was some water seeped in due to this accumulation at the top but we were ok overall. The other tent sustained it nicely. Everyone was kinda numb due to these few hours and espacially due to the lightning falling around us so closely. The thunders were so loud and seemed bombs bursting into our ears. But for now it was over and we were safe. I thought we should take some break and let everyone come to normal, so we all went back the town for a stroll and to have a look in the stores. There were a few other people like us in the market place roaming around. We had a nice round of ice cream and everyone cheered up. The skies were not absolutely clear and the weather forecast said, more thunders on its way. So we drove back to the camp to settle down before more rains hit us and it did. As soon as we packed extra stuff and entered into our tents the rain started again with the same intensity and the thunders and lightning woke up again. But now we were in our camp so we tried to put kids to sleep and then kept listening to the thunders and the heavy rain hitting our tent. There was no sleep in my bags at least and it became another night without dreams for me. I had to remove water from the top square of our tent due to its design, again and again and to make sure there is no water coming in from anywhere and everyone is tucked into their sleeping bags nicely.

The rain continued almost into the early hours of the morning and then it stopped and I slept.
The morning was clear and crisp and there was water on the top square meaning it rained again after I went to sleep. There was some water inside the tent towards the slope but I was amazed to see these tents really surviving a severe storm bravely. We really appreciated the manufacturers - thanks to them.

Breakfast was prepared with eggs and other items. We had a plan to continue to New England states but Asif n fmly insisted going back due to some work related stuff and suggested us to continue. But we came together so decided to cut our trip short and would visit Detroit instead of continueing. Therefore we all started to pack up.
Once loaded we went to the mini gold that we promised our children from yesterday and everyone had a 18 whole mini gold. Once completed we decided to take the smaller roads out of Adirondack through some nice scenic area and would also touch a few more lakes like Lake Placid, Sarnac Lake, Tupur Lake. This will add to our distance but we had the full day to drive back to Mississauga, from where we stared our journey. During this journey towards the Thousand Islands we came across many picturesque lakes and scenery. Lake Placid, where once winter Olympics took place was in a very beautiful setting. We passed through dense jungles, open green fields, and were met by rains and thunders twice before we came out of Adirondack area. It became very dark due to the dark clouds during day time and the scenery became more attractive. We had a break at the last gas station in Adirondack and then moved on towards the Saint Johns River to cross over into Canada near Kingston. We crossed the Thousand Islands bridge when the day light was diminishing. Border formalities only took us a couple of minutes and soon we were on 401 towards Toronto.