An oasis of tranquillity amidst the magnificent Rub al Khali desert

I have been finding treasures in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take. Forgive me, O Gracious One; for I have been closing my ears and eyes for too long. I have learned that miracles are only called miracles because they are often witnessed by only those who can see through all of life’s illusions. ― Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem.

In hindsight, Suzy could have been talking about me, as I undertook a journey to this beautiful oasis of Tilal Liwa quite recently. Being born of the desert, my husband is more at peace in the sand dunes (than in water) – so it was only befitting that we usher his birthday month on the edge of the magnificent Rub al Khali desert – with the entire family in tow. After driving for nearly 3hours (approx. 245kms from Dubai), we finally reached this serene oasis – our home for 4 nights. And good Lord, words fail to describe how beautiful this desert resort looked, set against the expansiveness of the desert. Simply breath-taking!

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After an efficient and friendly check-in, we were ushered in to our Oasis room – which overlooks the swimming pool with its own private terrace and sun lounger beds. Kudos to the hotel management for keeping a chilled bottle of bubbly ready for us – brilliant caring gesture, giving our parched throats and the long drive from Dubai. A quick note about the room – tastefully decorated with arabesque features at every nook and corner coupled with modern creature comforts, it made for a delightful union of the traditional with the modern.

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Quick change of clothes later, we met up with Carlota, the effervescent manager who showed us around the hotel and explained the various desert activities. The better half was excited at the prospect of exploring the desert on a quad bike, as well as the camel ride – both items featured in my UAE bucket list, so there was no way I could leave this oasis without checking them off my list. But first, a delectable late afternoon high tea session awaited us at the Layali Lounge – where we regrouped with the rest of our family members, refuelled ourselves and exchanged notes on what to do during our stay. Maybe it’s me, but I find moments like this truly cherishable – good food, laughter abound and the entire family having a good time.

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One too many cups of jasmine tea later, I decided to walk around the resort – and you can’t help but notice a certain aura of romantic magic lingering in the air. Maybe it’s because of the décor, the prospect of falling in love with the desert or maybe just growing up reading 1001 Arabian nights – but truth be told, we found a story waiting to be heard as we uncovered certain parts of the hotel. It did help that this resort is a photographer’s dream come true.

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Come evening, right before sunset – we decided to try out our first desert activity – something light to ease us into our love affair with the Rub al Khali desert – and lo behold Ahmed was waiting for us with one very happy looking camel. It seemed like it had a permanent grin on its face, and the funny thing is – when it saw us, it was making all manner of noises, as if trying to converse. We found it quite amusing to say the least. Earnestly speaking, ever since I set foot in the UAE, I’ve wanted to ride a camel – but now that this magnificent creature stood before me, I felt a bit apprehensive. With a quick assurance from my husband and the camel grinning at me, I put aside my nerves and climbed atop. To say that I felt like a desert princess would be an understatement – such a gentle creature, effortlessly walking in the desert – I grew to respect the camel even more. It made for a majestic royal experience, and would recommend it to anyone – forget the horses and the elephants, try out the camel.

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Throughout my travels, I’ve learnt that when checking into an idyllic resort in the middle of nowhere – be it on an island or in a desert – it’s always a good idea to go full board when booking a room – especially when the hotel throws in an all-inclusive meal deal. For dinner, we all reconvened at Al Badiya – an all-day dining restaurant with an open kitchen serving dishes buffet style. Have to say, we were pleasantly surprised at the different dishes served throughout our 4 nights stay – that’s what kept eating here, very interesting. The Chefs, the servers all wore a huge smile – and extra points for the desserts – absolutely yum!

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The next morning we decided to try out the infinity pool, overlooking the Rub al Khali desert – one moment you’re walking in the sand, next moment you’re cooling off in the pool – amazingly brilliant. With drinks and light canapés served by the friendly attendants from Al Liwan, I found time to catch up on good ol’ plain reading – as the hours just trudged by.

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So far, so good as they say – but I was excited about the evening, as I had planned for a very intimate Bedouin style romantic dinner for my husband. At around 8:30pm, we made our way to a very quiet area few steps away from the hotel – a red carpet was literally laid out, the pathway adorned with fire lanterns leading to an enormous Arabian styled tent. The look on my husband’s face was completely worth it – he was gobsmacked alright. We’ve been to many a fine dining establishment, but I know for a fact that something different, something personalised always brings a smile onto his face. The five-course menu served with choice wines, proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. With us gazing into each other’s eyes, whilst being treated to delicious food, good wine and the silence of the desert – well let’s just say that time stood still, and allowed us to connect with each other on a whole different level.

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More food, another round of great hospitality at the restaurants for breakfast and lunch, and more pool time (honestly, with me being a water baby….I can’t get enough of the pool. I must have been a mermaid in my previous life) – we waiting eagerly for early evening, as we were booked for half an hour sessions of quad biking. Oh yeah, anything to get the adrenaline rushing every once in a while, gets my vote. After being handed over the keys, and with excitement in the air we rumbled and revved up our quad bikes, and off we rode like desert raiders – the sand sifting behind our every turn. My husband knows a thing or two about conquering a dune, so after carefully watching him strut his stuff – I conquered my very own dune with a burst of speed – and I couldn’t be any more alive.

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Three desert activities, over three different days – with each being very different from the other – I can’t put a finger on which one I enjoyed the most. But if I were to really press myself and select one – I would say, the quad bike made me feel very alive, for it was something I hadn’t done before.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJZmJwigO6c

Come to think of it, I’ll come back to Tilal Liwa once again when the weather cools down a notch to try out an extensive session of dune riding!

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Last day in this desert paradise, had us just relaxing before our eventual drive back to our respective busy schedules in Dubai. So we opted for breakfast in bed. Why would you want to get out of bed, when you awaken to a scrumptious spread of pure morning goodness?

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Followed by more pool time and relaxing in a hammock….

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…and then even more swimming at night. Sometimes I pretend I have fins; mermaid for life.

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Closing notes, I am glad that we undertook this journey and found Tilal Liwa resort – a gem of a place in the middle of nowhere, where we reconnected with ourselves amidst the serenity of the magnificent Rub al Khali desert, where I shall leave my heart, only to come back later this year and be united with it.

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Until next time, many thanks for the memories and ma’salam.

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