Al Qudra lakes

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This calm oasis is part of a desert reserve called Saih al Salam. A recently established site, maintained by Dubai government’s civic body, the Al Qudra lakes are perfect for picnic and birdwatching. We spotted several ducks and a few other exotic birds. According to the UAE birding website several birds have been introduced in the lakes by the Dubai municipality including Black-necked Swan, Mute Swan, Barnackle Goose, White-cheeked Pintail among others. The area also includes a long cycling track and trek shop selling cycling equipment along small cafeterias.

Road trip to Sur

In March we drove to Muscat and then to the scenic town of Sur in Oman. We had estimated a four hour drive to Muscat and then an overnight stopover at a cousin’s place. But ended up spending almost six hours on road owing to no particular reasons that left us wondering how on earth do all the guidebooks mention the Dubai to Muscat drive as mere four hours. The trip really took off once we left our cousin’s house in Wadi Ameerat the next day. With rocky mountains on either sides the drive instantly became picturesque. Maneuvering through a winding mountain road we first reached Wadi Daqyah Dam in Quriyat. The emerald green coloured dam water interspersed with the brown mountains creates a splendid view. The dam can store 100 million cubic metres of water and even has a small stretch of green where visitors can spread a picnic hamper and enjoy the view.

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After soaking in the beauty of the Daqyah Dam we drove towards Sur, which is over 200 kms from Muscat. Accompanying us all along on one side of the road was the blue sea and rocky mountains on the other side.
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It took us around 3 hours to reach the Ras Al Jinz Turtle reserve. We were booked for an overnight stay here to see the turtle hatching. It seemed a unique activity but soon we discovered that it was an unforgettable one as well. At around 9 pm we gathered in the hotel lobby to go for a group tour of the turtle hatching on the Ras Al Hadd beach. Packed in a mini van around 20 of us were driven through a bumpy road to a lonely stretch on the beach. Our Omani guide told us to stand quietly while he combed the beach area for nesting turtles. Waiting on the pitch dark beach in silence with the magnificent starlit sky above our heads listening to the sounds of the waves became a deeply moving natural experience for me. While I was still soaking in the beauty of the night our guide returned with the good news that he had spotted a turtle. As turtle hatching is a natural phenomenon there are no guarantees that you will get to see one on a tour. So, we were elated at our luck. In a hushed tone he told us about the nesting habits of the endangered green turtle. We were  also warned against taking any photographs of the turtles as flash lights could scare and stop the hatching process. Unfortunately, it means I have no pics of the actual turtle hatching we witnessed.

Huddled together we followed our guide who took us to a part of the beach where a lot of sand had been splattered around. Deep inside a sandpit sat a huge turtle. The turtles fling sand with their flippers to create a pit to lay eggs. Under a dim torchlight our guide showed us how the turtle was dropping eggs into the pit by the dozen. The entire experience was truly magical. We also caught sight of a few baby turtles that had hatched from other pits crawling back into the ocean. The reserve also conducts these tours at daylight when tourists are allowed to click pictures. Alas during our morning trip no turtles were sighted. But the bright sunrise and the beautiful Ras al Hadd beach made up for this as we spent some quiet moments watching these wonders of nature.

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After breakfast we drove back to Muscat and did another stop over at the Bimma  Sinkhole. Located in Najm Park the sinkhole attracts locals and tourists. Although sinkholes are created as a result of soil erosion there are many folklores associated with this one including one involving a space crater. Through a narrow staircase tourists can take a dip in the cool green waters of the sinkhole. Soon we were back on the road with wide smiles to cherish yet another memorable trip. 
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Bubble Art

The little boy looked up in a wonder. “Should I poke it or should I soak in it,” he must have wondered wrapped inside a giant soap bubble standing on stage. ‘Plop’ soon the bubble burst and the audience clapped. The boy still mesmerised by the act enjoyed the attention. As part of Dubai Shopping Festival celebrations this unique performance was part of a bubble show by Italian Canadian artist Silvia Gaffurini at Mercato Mall.
Round bouncing bubbles, tiny floating bubbles and colourful bubble creations Silvia enthralled the audience with her her visual treats.
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Lilting music accompanies her enchanting show wherein kids especially line up around the stage to catch and burst the floating bubbles. Trained by famous Vietnamese bubble artist Fan Yang Silvia has done shows across several countries.
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Pink Flamingos at Ras al Khor

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We captured this beautiful sight at the Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary. A viewpoint lets visitors catch a glimpse of these pink legged flamingos amidst hectares of mangroves. The site is open on all days except Fridays.

HER – an exhibition by Matilde Gattoni

Gulf Photo Plus, Al Quoz, is showcasing an exhibition of photographs titled HER by award winning photo journalist Matilde Gattoni till Oct 31. Photographer Matilde Gattoni’s career has spanned 15 years in which she has travelled to over 35 countries and four continents. She has encountered and photographed thousands of women from all over the world — from war refugees in Kenya, Lebanon, Syria to Tsunami survivors in Indonesia to women accused as witches in India. Matilde shares that even though the stories of these women are disparate they all are symbols of courage and resilience. Shunned by their countries the women are the backbone of their families.

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Rabiah, a Syrian immigrant was photographed by Matilde in Lebanon in 2012. Then only aged 15 she had left school and a life of fear to escape to a new country. Syrian women at that time had lived in constant fear of being killed and kidnapped. “I wake up crying and screaming,” she had said, remembering her constant nightmares.

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Forty four year old Bhudni Tudu cannot cope with what happened to her. “I don’t have any hope for the future. I want to kill myself,” she said. A resident of Birbans, Jharkhand, India, Bhudni was accused of witchcraft by her family and forced to flee the village.

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Matilde captured this young lady enjoying a splash in the sea in Indonesia, where the Tsunami had made most residents fearful of venturing into the sea.

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Matilde’s exhibition featuring many such women is a tribute to their bravery in times of insurmountable challenges during wars, natural calamities and prejudices.

Dubai Butterfly Garden

I am seated on a wooden bench surrounded by bright flowers and green creepers, the chirping of birds in the backdrop is music to my ears. In this natural paradise flutters in a blue butterfly. Her wings, the colour of the sky, settle on a piece of sticky banana slice kept amidst a pot full of white chrysanthemums. All around me several colourful butterflies sit pretty on flowers and creepers. I experienced this blissful atmosphere right here in Dubai at the Butterfly Garden. Opened in March 2015 it is located adjacent to the Miracle Garden. This indoor air conditioned park is spread across four domes and is open all through the year.
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Around 20,000 pupae are imported from Costa Rica, Philippines and Colombia every week. These pupae are then introduced into the garden. The life cycle of a butterfly is only for around two weeks that means the new pupae need to be introduced to keep butterflies numbers in motion.
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Although you are not allowed to touch the butterflies the park authorities do not object if the bugs willing come and sit on you.
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One of the butterfly garden domes also has a few varieties of caged birds.
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Yet another attraction at the park is a gallery with butterflies in frames. Here is one that creates the face of Sheikh Mohammed.
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Meeting author Sophie Hannah

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This post was long overdue as I met author Sophie Hannah at the Emirates Lit Fest in March 2015. Being a huge Agatha Christie fan it was an unmissable event as she is the only writer to have brought back the indomitable Hercule Poirot back in action since Agatha Christie’s death. In her latest book The Monogram Murders Sophie gives Christie fans yet another chance to discover the eccentricities of one of the world’s most loved detectives.

At the Lit Fest Sophie shared several interesting aspects of writing this novel. She spoke about creating a Scotland Yard detective called Edward Catchpool who assists Poirot in solving the triple murders at the Bloxham Hotel in London. Catchpool is also the narrator in the book and appears loosely based on Captain Hastings, who featured as an associate of Poirot in Christie’s books. To write this novel she read and re-read the entire Agatha Christie book collection and relied on Catchpool as the narrator because she did not want to write in the voice of Agatha.

Authors often take inspiration from their own lives while creating characters and situations. In The Monogram Murders Poirot is living in a lodge a few yards away from his own home because he wants to enjoy a month of “restful inactivity” but he does not like the idea of being far away from home. Sophie recalled that her own father detested travel and in summer holidays when the family was excitedly making plans to visit new destinations he would suggest staying at the hotel in the next lane. “We can walk across and come back whenever we want to said Dad.”

She is also the author of several other bestselling crime fictions such as  The Carrier, which won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards. Two of her crime novels — The Point of Rescue and The Other Half Lives have been adapted for television. She started her career as a secretary and was later offered a writing fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. Sophie told the audience that she always has a rough plan of the book she is writing and aims at finishing at least thousand words in a day. She also puts in a lot of research and counts on a few policemen as her friends.

Beauty of clay

On our way back from a weekend trip to Oman on the Dubai Hatta road we spotted several shops selling carpets and pottery. When we stayed in Delhi we often visited local blue pottery shops but in Dubai it’s virtually impossible to find such roadside markets. Besides giving me that desi feeling of buying something from a roadside vendor it was also a great opportunity to add some unique pots to my balcony garden. These shops sell a wide range of pottery items such as jars, flower pots, incense holders, garden accessories, cups and piggy banks. The sellers are eager to show you around and ready to bargain.

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This is what we bought. We have now painted two of the small jars and are hoping to paint the fish pot in bright hues. For now it holds a red flower plant I got from Ikea recently.

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Street Con 2015 at Ghurair Centre

The lanes around Al Ghurair centre, Deira, have come alive with striking wall graffiti, colourful installations and interesting stalls as part of the STREETCON (Street Art Connection). The festival showcases street artists, photographers and musicians. We enjoyed an evening listening to live music, exploring the stalls and posing for pictures along the bright walls. As the event is spread across various locations around the mall we were only able to see a portion of it. The first visuals that caught my eye were these stunning close ups of cats.  The photo series is titled, Stray and is by Jandri Angelo Aguilor. It attempts to bring out the artist’s yearning to own a cat, which he cannot because his tiny bed space does not permit him to.

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Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra uses bright colours and bold lines to create kaleidoscopic art. His installations are usually huge and spread across a building. We spotted one here.

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Along the inner road of the mall there are also several stalls displaying variety of art forms. Explore vintage posters, paper art and handmade toys. We were particularly intrigued by the Dubai Moving Image Museum stall. This unique museum is located in Tecom and claims to be one of a kind in the world. The stall showcased traditional animation equipment, books, cards and optical toys.

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The entire street was a visual treat with local graffiti artists spray painting the walls, musicians jamming on stage and skateboarders skilfully manoeuvring their boards mid air. We hope to see the Miracoco Luminarium, the box art exhibit, bike art and the doodle wall in the weekend. Ending the post with this beautiful image of lamps.

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Cafe Ceramique

The whole idea of sipping tea while creating your own work of art is so charming that it’s easy to fall for it. At Cafe Ceramique in Town Centre, Jumeirah, you get to choose from a wall full of ceramic pieces and a menu listed with sandwiches, burgers and desserts. You also get a variety of paint brushes and assorted colours to unleash the Picasso in you. After much deliberation we picked a car shaped piggy bank among mugs, tiles and figurines displayed on the shelf.

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Messy fingers and work in progress

The cafe glazes the art work and heats in a kiln. The creation is ready to be picked up in about a week’s time.
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And oh yes, their desserts are delicious too, but the artwork is what everyone heads here for.

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