World’s longest zip-line: the newest addition to Dubai’s must-do list

There are some places that you instantly fall in love with. There are some which grow on you with time. And then there is Dubai. I have tremendous admiration for the rulers of Dubai who transformed the desolate desert into a premier global business and tourism hotspot. But Dubai, at least going by my first encounter with it, is not my kind of city. Not for me the opulence of never-ending malls, cloud-kissing skyscrapers and artificial islands. I would rather embrace the warmth of a Hanoi, vibrancy of a Bangkok or the sheer chaotic energy of Mumbai.

That said, the trip to Dubai was not without some high points. I admired how, despite being a melting pot of people drawn from so many nationalities, the city functioned like clockwork. I was blown away by the futuristic infrastructure – very few big cities can claim to have a future-ready urban infrastructure.

Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek

I loved the walking along the banks of the Dubai Creek and crossing it on the local boat while admiring the mindboggling ethnic diversity of my fellow passengers. I found bliss is the amazing Sheesha in the joints in Al Ghubaiba lining Dubai Creek. While I am not a big fan of malls, the Kinokuniya bookstore in Dubai Mall is quite simply the largest collection of books I have seen under one roof and it was my version of Disneyland. I quite enjoyed taking cab rides from Pakistani drivers and eating in Pakistani restaurants though not without lamenting that this might be the closest I’ll get to experiencing that forbidden land.

But the highlight of the trip undoubtedly was heading out of Dubai to the Jebel Jais mountain in the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah and experiencing the longest zip-line in the world. But I’ll come to that in a bit.

Hostel in Dubai

The Dubai trip got underway with a stay in Dubai Backpacker Hostel, located near Burjuman in the older part of the town. It was to be my first ever taste of a backpacker hostel and I was super excited. And it didn’t disappoint. The start wasn’t great though. I was welcomed into the room with a mild stench of sweat, the sight of a bunch of shabbily dressed strangers lying on their bunks and the news that the air conditioner in our room was out of order. I took a deep breath, told myself that I would take things in my stride and enquired about the party scene in the hostel. The manager directed me to the kitchen.

The group seated there was a collection of some really colourful, easygoing and warm bunch of people drawn from many different nationalities. There were people who had made the hostel their home for months together and there were people there spending just a night. There were Dubai veterans initiating Dubai virgins in discovering the pleasures of the city. We had everything from friendly small talk to intellectual banter and passionate discourse on morality. Within an hour, I was felt I was meeting long lost friends and not perfect strangers!

The hostel was sparkling clean. Burjuman, where the hostel is located falls on both the Red line and the Green line which makes for cheap commuting. I can strongly recommend it for solo travellers or groups of friends, both male and female, as long as you don’t mind some adventures. At less than $25 a night for a bed including breakfast, this was a steal.

Old Dubai

The next morning, nursing a slight hangover, I made my way to explore the Gold & Spice Souks of Old Dubai. In my fantasy, the souks of old Dubai were open markets with traders from all over the world assembled to sell everything from exotic food to ancient curios and magical lamps. That is what my recollections from my childhood reading of Arabian Nights had led me to believe.  Alas, I was in for some disappointment. The market was an array of glass and concrete stores, much like you would find anywhere else. The collection of spices, dry fruits and incense though was impressive.

Dubai Spice Souk
Spices from the world over make their way to Dubai

After indulging in some shopping, I took one of the local boats that ferry you across the Creek for AED 1 ($ 0.25!!!) only. On the other side is Bur Dubai. Bur Dubai is the historic part of the city housing the Al Bastakiya historic area and the Dubai Museum. It is a lovely place for a short stroll. The prices on this side of the creek are significantly lower. It’s a good idea to buy spices, dry fruits or souvenirs here rather than at the spice souk (where at hindsight, I got ripped off). Even so, you must compare prices at several stores and bargain hard to get a good deal.

Old Dubai
Old Dubai

The Sheesha joints lining the creek at Al-Ghubaiba are as good a place as any to cap off your day in Dubai. The breeze is pleasant and the sheesha is strong and flavourful. While watching the dhows (boats) gently cruising along the creek, I began to feel that Dubai wasn’t so bad after all.

Zip-lining in Ras Al Khaimah

The following day was to be the highlight of the trip. It was time for some adrenaline rush at the brand new Zip-line opened in Jebel Jais in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Jebel Jais is the tallest mountain in the UAE and the closest I have been to a lunar landscape. The zip-line is Guinness certified as the longest (2.83km long) in the world and has opened to the public only on 31st January 2018. We were among the first 1000 people to be experiencing what is sure to become a globally renowned adventure destination in the days to come. But being a trailblazer also comes with its challenges.

The first challenge was booking the experience. The online booking site is not easily discoverable. The zip line is operated by Toro Verde and here’s the link to the booking site. There is another zip line in Jabel Jais operated by Via Ferrata but it’s a much shorter one.

The tickets are priced at AED 650 ($ 180) at present. After booking online, we received a confirmation with the guidelines. There was a link to a map which marks the parking area for Toro Verde. From there they operate the shuttles to their office and the launch pad. The place is almost 60 km from RAK city so budget sufficient time to get there. It took us close to four hours to get there from Dubai. After driving on through the deserted mountains for what seemed liked eternity, we finally arrived. The naked mountains are breathtakingly beautiful in their own way.

Jebel Jais mountauns
Hauntingly beautiful Jebel Jais

To get there you can take a bus from Dubai to Ras al Khaimah and a cab from there to the zip lining spot in Jebel Jais. Buses leave every 1.5 hrs from Dubai’s Union Square bus stop for Ras al Khaimah. Hourly buses also depart Al Jubail bus stand in Sharjah for RAK city. The taxi from RAK city cost about AED 1.5 per km which means you will pay ~100 AED (~$30) for a drop off to the Toro Verde parking lot. Note that there is no provision for return transport so it would be a good idea to ask the cabbie to wait which he will do for a waiting charge.

Zip-lining at Ras al Khaimah
Zip-lining at Ras al Khaimah

Upon reaching there, adrenaline kicked in. A team of experts from Puerto Rico will brief you about the flight and fit you up with the requisite gear. The feeling when you plunge headfirst into the abyss with the intense winds gushing against you at tremendous speeds is electrifying, to say the least. The view below, with barely a soul in sight and rugged barren mountains as far as the eyes can see, is majestic and haunting at once. This is the stuff legendary Go-Pro videos are made of. Alas, I didn’t have one. This was the closest I had ever come to actually flying. I couldn’t help but fantasize what it would possibly be like if I were ever to be miraculously granted that superpower.

The zip-line flight doesn’t require any great physical agility or fitness. It can be undertaken by pretty much anyone who is not afraid of heights (or is at least willing to fight the fear). This was sure to be an experience that would stay on in my memory for a long time.

Jebel Jais
Jebel Jais

After the exploits at the Jebel Jais, I made a brief stop at the beach in Ras Al Khaimah. It’s a nice, clean beach drawing a mix of locals and tourists. Don’t expect turquoise waters or powder white sand.  But it’s as good as a place as any in the Emirates to watch the sun go down.

Sunset at Ras al Khaimah beach
Sunset at Ras al Khaimah beach

Humour me a little for I can’t end the story of the Dubai trip without a word about the Pakistani friends we made. I found Pakistani drivers to be full of humour and hospitality. They were very vocal in expressing their liking for Indian cricketers and artists and actually Indian people in general. Meeting so many of them reinforced my belief. The purported hatred is just fanned by politicians on both sides to justify their actions. It is not a reflection of the average citizen’s emotions.

The younger ones rue the day they got lured into coming to Dubai because they miss their families and the familiar warmth of their homeland. But once they get used to earning in Dirhams, it becomes virtually impossible to go back to the simpler lives in their villages. The needs and wants expand fast to match the increased earnings. The older ones, some of whom have spent decades in Dubai, have made peace with this life. They just feel happy that the income generated from their hardships here means folks back home are well provided for.

I have to say, Dubai did start growing on me by the end of the trip. Maybe it didn’t have a culture of its own, but the mish-mash of migrant cultures was also worth experiencing.