In Dubai, Pamela Wade meets a cranky camel who takes her on a peaceful and relaxing ride.

Nothing complains like a camel. Her mouth wide open, snaggle teeth on full view, Jumeelah was letting it be known at maximum volume that she had no desire to be saddled up. Merilla, however, just laughed and kept heaving on the ropes.

"She's always the same," he said affectionately, tugging on her halter to get her to fold her legs and collapse awkwardly on to the ground.

It wasn't as though she was overworked. At the Al Sahra Equestrian Centre, half an hour into the desert from Dubai, she and the other three camels in the team pad through the dunes just a couple of times a day, a 45-minute circuit taking in distant views of the city's extraordinary skyline and close-ups of blowing sand, wind-sculpted ridges and occasional encounters with gazelles and desert foxes.

After a short briefing about camels - one-humped dromedaries, they have 34 of those ugly teeth, two rows of gorgeous eyelashes, are able to go three weeks without eating or drinking, and can live to 50 - we clambered aboard and clung on tightly as our mounts lurched to their feet. That was the drama done and dusted: what followed was a gloriously peaceful and relaxing saunter in the fresh air.


Swaying back and forth, leaning comfortably against the back-rest, bending down occasionally to stroke the head of the camel behind as it pushed impatiently forward, it was the perfect antidote to the artificiality of the air-conditioned aeroplanes, buses and cars that had brought me here.

On our return no one was quite ready to get off; but the inducement of a shot of camel milk was a consolation. Rich and creamy, with a salty after-taste, it's the latest superfood, high in vitamin C and other nutrients.

As the sun dropped, and with it the temperature, the centre began to bustle with people coming from the city to school their horses. Some of their mounts were Arabs: beautiful animals with leaf-shaped ears and high-set tails. Mine, though, was a less glamorous quarter-horse, an amiable chestnut mare, who set off through the sand with no fuss, hardly turning a hair when a couple of the promised gazelles suddenly leaped from behind a bush and bounded gracefully to the top of a dune, posing against the skyline.

While our Indian guide, the improbably named Royston, instructed our group's novice rider, we trotted ahead through the desert's stark beauty. At the top of a dune we stopped and turned to watch the sun drop into the purple haze along the horizon. It was a cliche, of course, literally an everyday event: but it was glorious.

Dubai can be just about skyscrapers, shops and souqs - or it can deliver something more real, more authentic. It can offer a chance to experience a different nature and culture, and to witness whingeing taken to another level entirely.

Riding in the desert: See Al Sahra Desert Resort Equestrian Centre.