Deprived of travel due to the pandemic, Radhika Tandon reminisces about another year of crisis when she packed up the kids and flew to Dubai for a life reboot.
This is only the second year in two decades when a ‘big’ holiday didn’t feature in my calendar until August. This time, a global pandemic was to blame. The last time was a personal crisis, my life’s lowest point. It involved an ugly divorce, a near-empty bank account, and a ridiculously uncertain future. Caught up in all the unpleasantness, the summer passed by me. Realising that I had to do something to take control, I did what only an insane person would do: I bought three tickets, packed up the kids, and ran away for a holiday to Dubai.
I look back on that reckless, feckless, impulsive trip as an important Aha! moment in my life. It taught me three key lessons about why I needed to travel. Right now, when the only long journeys most of us can take are those that go backwards, in fond nostalgia, it seems like a good time to share this story.
My only agenda then was to have fun with the kids, and for this, Dubai is a wonderland. The malls are hubs of child-friendly attractions, and the omnipresent opulence is jaw-dropping. At the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (thedubaiaquarium.com) in The Dubai Mall (thedubaimall.com), we fed sharks from a dhow on the water, indoors! It blew me away. We also took an ice-skating lesson at a rink on the ground floor. On another day, I dropped off the children at KidZania Dubai (dubai.kidzania.com) for an afternoon and treated myself to some grown-up time, shopping and catching up with a friend. At Ski Dubai (skidxb.com), the 4,500-square-metre indoor snow park in another mall, we spent a happy day taking lessons and playing in the snow park, stepping out periodically to warm ourselves up with hot chocolate. The dancing fountain at the Burj Khalifa was the perfect way to round off long, happy days. We soaked up all of Dubai’s unique brand of indoor-outdoor fun, giddy with the ridiculous, outrageous scale of it all. It was a world away from what I’d left behind, and it brought me back to myself like nothing else could have. That was lesson one.
The other no-brainer kid-friendly activity in Dubai is visiting a waterpark. At Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark (atlantis.com), we came upon an invitation to ‘cuddle and swim with dolphins’. The decision of which waterpark to visit required no further discussion. The dolphin meet-and-greet was preceded by a long safety briefing and donning of gear. We were introduced to Katherine, our dolphin, by her trainer. The highlight of the encounter was when Katherine gave my son his ‘first kiss’—a joke that turned him scarlet with embarrassment at the time, but has now gone down in family lore. It was a fun experience, though a little short-lived and tame for my taste. However, it’s ideal for younger kids and worth every penny of the exorbitant tickets if you walk away with a story like that.
The waterpark too was lovely, with some of the best rides and slides I have seen anywhere, and the kids still talk about the time my daughter nearly got separated from us in the rapids, or how we (okay, just I) finally worked up the courage to take the Leap of Faith, a near-vertical drop that ends in a shark-filled lagoon. We finished the day at the Cold Stone Creamery in the hotel, where waiters juggle and throw scoops of ice cream to each other while preparing your order. I hadn’t told the kids to expect this, and the experience of watching surprise, incredulity, and delight take over their faces as the performance unfolded has never left me. Atlantis offers several other delights: an aquarium, zip-lining, and a private beach with cabanas for lounging, among others. To this day, given the choice between buying an exquisite souvenir and splurging on a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’ll go with the latter every time. That made up my second lesson: memories make the best souvenirs.
When we got saturated with the city, we headed out for an overnight desert adventure with Lama Dubai (lamadubai.com). Dune bashing involves driving over sand dunes in a four-by-four. It’s not for the faint-hearted; there are heart-stopping plunges and near-miss sideway lurches and a great deal of screaming. My kids recall boogie-board surfing on the dunes, an evening of whirling dervishes and belly dancers and henna tattoos, examining a nest of scorpions in the sand, the smell of meat roasting on fire in the cool desert night, and falling asleep under a canopy of stars. All of this was true, but I remember it slightly differently. We were lying next to an enclosure of camels. If you have never had the pleasure, there is a particularly pungent, sickly odour that a caravan of camels can produce that defies description. It seeped into our blankets, our clothes, even our hair. Then, a large group of British tourists celebrating a birthday decided to crank up the speakers just as we were going to bed. My kids slept through it all as only happily tired children can, but I sat up seething, because my desert idyll was being ruined by raucous tourists and smelly camels.
Finally, unable to take a second more of the racket, I stalked over to the group, intent on giving someone, anyone, a piece of my mind. They greeted me with smiles, invited me to join them, and even took turns to help check on the kids for the rest of the evening. Before I knew it, I was sitting around a fire with a bunch of strangers in the middle of the desert, having a drink and a laugh. That random event reminded me that there was more to life and to me than the burden of pain I’d been dragging around like an invisible cloak. That night I surrendered—to hanging out with complete strangers, to the absurdity of the smelly camels and the blaring music, and the splendour of the stars in the desert sky. It shifted something inside me. I came home from that trip refreshed, able to find the balance and perspective to stop wallowing in victimhood and pick up the pieces of my life. It was a shift so subtle I didn’t even see it until much later in life. That was lesson three. Travelling often leads us to new sights and insights, and sometimes, it just helps to uncover the ones we had inside us all along.
Occupying a unique position between the aquamarine waters of the Arabian Gulf and the shimmering Dubai skyline, Atlantis, The Palm dazzles its guests with world-class dining curated by celebrity chefs, waterpark adventures, and opulent accommodation. From INR 16,455; atlantis.com