Leaving behind the city lights, Travel+Leisure India & South Asia heads to Hatta, Dubai’s rugged neighborhood, with Bollywood actor of the moment and stereotype breaker, Siddhant Chaturvedi. By Bayar Jain
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographed by The pixel house
Assisted by Babu Bhimappa
Stylized by Chandani Mehta
Assisted by Arshi Farid, Aditi Jaiswal
Hair by Gautam Arora
Makeup by Poonam Surve
Location: Hatta, Dubai
The last time I visited Dubai was to see the iconic Dubai Expo 2020, where the world showcased its technological prowess under one roof. I found myself under futuristic domes, in the company of robots and massive exhibits. A year later, I am back in the emirate. This time I find myself surrounded by mountains and oases, trailers and caravans, and an array of adventurous offerings. I land in Hatta, a village about 130 kilometers southeast of central Dubai, high in the Hajar Mountains.
The 90-minute drive from Dubai International Airport to Hatta is a fitting introduction to this mystical land. The iconic skyscrapers of the metropolis disappear from view and give way to rocky terrain as we get closer to the destination. The noise of cars is replaced by the chirping of birds and crickets. When we arrive for our cover shoot, it’s quiet, almost as if the destination is waiting for the crew. Travel+Leisure India & South Asia and actor Siddhant Chaturvedi. And just like that, under a blazing sun, we discover Hatta, an ecotourism destination full of fun and adventure.
The iconic symbol of the region, the Hatta sign, keeps watch as we navigate the grounds. Reminiscent of “Hollywood” signage in Los Angeles, this Middle Eastern variant stands 200 feet tall, topping ranges. We skip the 30 minute hike from Wadi Hub at Hatta Resorts to this Instagrammable photoshoot spot. Instead, we venture to another iconic landmark of the city: the Hatta Dam.
The only man-made structure in this otherwise natural landscape, the Hatta Dam is a calm body of water set against the mountains. The teal waters sparkle in the sunlight, as does a large mural of the UAE’s founding fathers, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, painted on the walls of the dam. Popular in the cooler months, the dam is frequented by hikers who make pit stops to take photos. Others stop for aquatic adventures in the lake formed by the dam. The lake is easily accessible from the Sedr Trailers Resort, the region’s first “trailer hotel”, where visitors can camp along the banks of the Hatta Dam. Think kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, donut rides, paddle boats and more. For those looking for a less active vacation, Hatta Swan Lake fits the bill. Home to several species of ducks and swans, this serene spot is best explored aboard a swan-shaped paddle boat. Alternatively, relax and unwind over a picnic, while occasionally providing the waterfowl with light snacks.
A little further from the lake is Hatta Heritage Village. Believed to be 3,000 years old, this restored mountain village is a master class in Arab culture. The Hajar Mountains run as a backdrop to the village. Hatta Falaj, for example, provides insight into water systems from the 1800s. Prototypes, documents and life-size sculptures, as well as visuals of traditional crafts such as jewelry, weapons and pottery in clay add to the show. Spend an afternoon here getting used to the country’s social customs like wedding rituals, folklore, and traditional games.
More contemporary games, however, await you at the Wadi Hub at Hatta Resorts. Adventure and camping park, it is the ideal destination for thrill seekers. Walking through the wadi on suspended walkways that lead to a canopy and soaking up the surreal views is quite the experience. Or buckle up for a fast double zipline down a mountain on a 350-meter cable. Launch from multiple slides straight into plunge pools at speeds of 80 kilometers per hour, or slow down by sliding down a grass slide in a tube.
Mountaineers can indulge their desire for adventure by scaling a specially constructed climbing wall that features routes of varying difficulty for guests of all skill levels. Those who want something other than bungee jumping can opt for the cannon, a catapult designed to reach speeds of almost 100 kilometers per hour. If heights aren’t your best friend, jump on the large (or small for kids) trampoline or race down a hill in a giant zorbing ball. Better yet, get together for a friendly football zorbing tournament. Wrapped in a giant hamster ball covering only the head and torso, leaving the legs free to run (or wiggle!), this game turns a global sport into childlike madness and fun.
For quintessential Emirati fun, lend a hand with archery. At Wadi Hub at Hatta Resorts, the UAE’s favorite sport can be played in a specially constructed area with five lanes and a target distance of 10 meters. Those with better hand-eye coordination can increase the level of expertise and head towards the ax throwing range instead. A first for the region, this range allows guests to train with 680 grams of swirling wood and metal for half an hour before launching it straight to the leaderboard.
Keeping a younger audience in mind, Hatta Wadi Hub has also opened a new multi-purpose adventure ropes course. Mountain karting, another novelty, is the ideal adventure sport for the uninitiated; all one needs is a propensity to have fun! The activity involves riding downhill on three-wheeled carts, while enjoying the serene scenery that Hatta has to offer.
Mountain biking is another way to enjoy the scenery. The mountainous terrain is home to over 50 kilometers of cross-country cycling trails of varying quality. Ranging from five-minute routes to ones spanning an hour, these routes introduce you to Dubai’s largest and most vibrant national park.
Hiking is also a great way to explore the Hajar Mountains. Currently stretching for just over 32 kilometers on five routes, Hatta’s hiking trails are attracting more and more visitors. These are also divided into different levels of difficulty: green level, for beginner walkers and runners; blue, for those at the intermediate level; red, for those who have mastered hiking; and black, for experts who can prepare physically demanding and technical routes. Regardless of the grades, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of mountains and wadis along the way.
However, there is more to Hatta than adventure. The Hatta 360 observatory is proof of this. Dating back to 1880, this structure was once a military tower to fend off attackers from neighboring countries. Today it serves as an observation deck. Hatta Hill Park, built in 2004, offers a similar laid-back vibe, with a children’s playground, running tracks, and ample space for picnics and barbecues. Additionally, the Hatta Honey Bee Discovery Center uses a modern collection of beekeeping equipment and the best bee breeds in the world to teach a lesson in the wonders of honey via a workshop. Hatta Honey is considered one of the largest honey producers in the region.
After sunset, the steep land around me takes on a whole new hue. Mountain browns turn gray; the skies seem to sparkle with diamonds. I’m sitting by my tent, watching two cats playing in the moonlight. In the distance, I hear frogs croaking. Who would believe that I am in Dubai?
The next day, as we sit in our bus, ready to say goodbye to Hatta, I notice a group of men having a friendly duel with a ball of gel – a painless and less messy version of paintball. Further on, couples are kayaking on the lake formed by Hatta Dam. The tourism team explains: “Although we are closed during the summer months, we are often fully booked when we reopen for the season! It turns out that we weren’t the only ones discovering Hatta that weekend; the world has already unearthed this gem. And yet, we felt all the luxury of a peaceful and exclusive stay. It’s Hatta in a nutshell, a refreshing escape.
Emirates offers several direct flights to Dubai from all major cities in India. Hatta is located approximately 1.5 hours from Dubai International Airport.
Sedr Trailers at Hatta Resorts is considered the premier trailer hotel in the region. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, accommodations are equipped with modern bathrooms, Wi-Fi, TV and comfortable bedding. Doubles start from INR 21,850.
Domes at Hatta Resorts creates a luxury glamping experience for its guests. Located within walking distance of Wadi Hub at Hatta Resorts, the 15 well-appointed, domed permanent tent structures are equipped with private barbecue facilities and a fire pit. Doubles start from INR 21,850.
Related: We Savored the World at Expo 2020 Dubai with December Cover Star Samantha