When I returned to Dubai, I was struck by the luxuriant greenery: lawns, flower beds and well-tended palm trees, all irrigated by Gulf water, run through desalination plants. This sight reminded me once again how far the people of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates in general had come from the stark world of dunes and sandbars I’d known only a few decades earlier. At the same time, I was moved by how fastidiously they cared for their environment, now that they had the resources.
In contrast, much of what was once parched and desolate is now a landscape of environmental cultivation. Many millions of new trees have been planted, thousands of new farms have been created, and countless acres of virgin land have been ploughed. Below are pictures from my recent visit.
Examples of cultivated greenery in and around Dubai and the Emirate of Sharjah
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An aspect of desert life that I grew to appreciate while living the UAE was the centuries-old sport of falconry, once an integral part of desert life. Its origins lay in hunting––to supplement the Bedouin diet with meat. In traditional settings, obtaining food with birds of prey was seen as a more efficient way of securing protein than using the cumbersome array of snares, spears, and arrows. Once firearms were readily available, falconry became more of a sport than a way of supplementing food supplies.
In the UAE the preferred species of falcons is the saker, usually the Bedouin’s bird of choice, and sometimes the peregrine. For these birds of prey, their main quarry are MacQueen’s bustard, hare, or houbara. So prized is the sport of falconry in that part of the world that today the UAE even has a cutting edge falcon hospital staffed with specialists from around the world.
In 7 ½ Places of Wonder, I describe how it was through falconry that I met Dubai’s current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, an enthusiast of the sport.