Marion Ainge enjoyed the experience of 'glamping' in a desert tent at Kingfisher Lodge, Sharjah.

The magic of those Arabian nights under the stars in the Mleiha Desert

Marion Ainge is a former newspaper women's editor/columnist and now, regularly contributes travel features to various print/online media outlets. Marion recently experienced 'glamping' under the stars in Sharjah.

In Sharjah's Mleiha Desert, knowing I'm tracing the steps of my ancestors, some of earth's first human inhabitants, sends a shiver down my spine. This Ice Age cave, a shelter for migrating humans and animals, is carved into the rock of the Faya Mountain.

Our four-wheel drive Land Cruiser climbs honey-gold dunes at speed. It swerves, climbs and cuts the sand like a knife through butter. With no-one and nothing in sight but a vivid orange sun setting in an apricot rose sky, on our desert safari, we could be the only people on earth.

Night falls as we settle into camp for a barbecued dinner under the stars, sheltered by Fossil Rock Mountain. Our expert astronomer provides an outline of the celestial bodies, visible constellations and planets.

Through a powerful telescope I spot constellation, Orion, chasing the sparkling Seven Sisters, and view the clarity of the moon's craters. T

he third largest of the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah lies between the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Considered the centre of Islamic culture, it is a land of rugged mountains, rolling sand dunes, lush nature reserves and white sanded beaches.

On our tour of the Heart of Sharjah, we learn about the ongoing, ambitious historical preservation and restoration of the city. By 2025, the heritage district will be revitalised as a vibrant cultural destination.

New structures following classic, traditional architectural styles will become hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and markets. A designated natural area will include mountainous, rural Bedouin and marine environments.

Marion standing outside the Ice Age cave and in the Mleiha desert with dinner under the stars

Within the Heart of Sharjah district, the Al Bait, five star, luxury heritage hotel fuses traditional with contemporary. A total of 53 guest rooms stand within a 90 year-old manor house.

As a mid-morning snack, open boxes of treasures, one between two, arrive at the table. White curling smoke lifts to reveal a mele of multi-hued sweetmeats – macaroons, chocolate truffles, marzipan fruits and mini trifles plus dainty, savoury bites.

We feel welcome everywhere and are invited into magnificent, Ottoman-style, Al Noor mosque. Females in our party put on the Islamic abaya (black cloak) and shyla (veil). It is light and comfortable, but immediately I feel quietened and move slowly, possibly because the long cloak pools around my feet.

I volunteer to wear the battoulah or burqa which covers the nose and mouth. In this traditional dress, I wonder how I would play football with my small grandsons. Or bounce on a trampoline in the park with my young grand-daughters.

Party in Mleiha desert with sweetmeats and savoury titbits

Inside the most famous of Sharjah's 600 mosques, smiling representatives of Sharjah's Centre for Cultural Communication explain the significance of Five Pillars of Islam and present us with Arabic coffee and dates.

Nearby, within stunning tropical gardens, is the warm, humid Butterfly House of plant-covered walls, where around 200 paint-box-coloured, winged insects call it home. Species include the chocolate pansy, blue glassy tiger, autumn leaf and common rose. Just reading their names makes me feel happy.

The Formula 1 Powerboat World Championships is a platform for, among others, the rich and famous. With prime VIP seats, we hear the roar of the engines as we watch the world's foremost international series of inshore circuit powerboat racing.

We feel an adrenalin rush and the thrill of the race, like the competitors as, at full throttle, they implement their skills to outwit and outshine others, skimming the foaming water, their craft almost rising above it in a quest to break records and their rivals' hearts.

We return to the Mleiha desert to join 600 invited guests for a gala dinner. It's a balmy night, but, on low Arabic seating, we sit round open fires under a dark, starlit sky.

Marion dresses in an Islamic abaya (black cloak) and shyla (veil) at the Al Noor Mosque

Young men in white Arabic dress, sing, dance and play the drums, loudly. I opt for a henna hand 'tattoo' then, at a stall, queue to have my first name hand-written in coloured ink on paper, in Arabic. I chat to mothers and children enjoying the party. A spectacular laser show precedes a thrilling firework display.

But a world away, is the tranquil, desert wetland of the Khor Kalba nature reserve in Kalba city on Sharjah's east coast, home to mangroves, tidal creeks and beaches rich with birdlife and a nesting ground for turtles.

A small, covered boat crosses a tiny creek to the Kingfisher Lodge estate, one of the first eco-tourism property developments in the UAE. Buggies take us to our individual tents, or pavilions! There are 25, each with a plunge pool, four-poster bed, sitting area, designer, contemporary bathroom and private terrace with views across the Indian Ocean.

Kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding and other outdoor activities are available and there are spa facilities and treatment options. When it's time for dinner, a buggy arrives to transport me to the restaurant tent, where the food is sublime.

Then it's back to my own luxury tent for the night… if this is glamping, then count me in!

FACTFILE:

wwwvisitsharjah.com

www.discovermleiha.ae

www.heartofsharjah.ae/souq-al-arsah

www.ghmhotelscom/en/al-bait-sharjah

www.shjculture.com www.alnoorisland.ae

www.www.f1h2o.com

www.sharjahcollection.ae/kingfisher-lodge