Hajar Ali: Woman across Arabian Desert

Posted: Apr 12, 2012 01:35 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) Hajar Ali finished a motorized crossing of the Empty Quarters; starting in Abu Dhabi and ending six days later in Salalah. The Empty Quarters is a desert spanning across the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Hajar told Explorersweb that the Empty Quarters attracts her because of “its history of explorations by some of the greatest explorers of the time - Lawrence of Arabia, Thesiger and renowned Arabists Thomas, Philby as well as Rosita Forbes as the putative traveling partner of Philby.”

Daily experiences

Day one started with a the roof rack dislodging from her car and slid down whilst navigating mild sand dunes, hitting the bonnet, bringing the water supplies and petrol crashing on the sand. Fortunately, Hajar said in her debrief, only half a jerry can of water was lost and the windscreen was still intact.

The second day they traveled across Umm As Samim, or Mother of Poison, known for its quicksand.

Day three they had to find their way around oil fields. She remarked, “It’s interesting that while Thesiger’s journey was predicated on the locations of water wells and the politicking of warring tribes, the modern expedition through the Empty Quarters is predicated by the location of oil wells and country borders.” That night they camped among dunes up to 400 meter high.

The night of Day 5 they experienced their worst sandstorm. The last day the road stretched across “dunes of soft, pillowy sands” and many kinds of different sands.

Temperatures and sandstorms

Telling about the temperatures they had and keeping hydrated, Hajar said to ExWeb, "We had gone during the shoulder season - where it had not reached the 60 degrees Celsius. It could during summer but temperatures in the desert have gone up to over 40 degrees when I was there. In the winter season though, nights in the desert can be a little chilly (about 5 degrees C).”

“The dryness and lack of humidity is a concern. One can get dehydrated without realizing it.”

She experienced sandstorms, but how do they appear and what survival techniques are there? “Sandstorms come suddenly and without warning. You see thermals picking up in the afternoon - mini twisters travelling across flats, shifting sands but that's no indication of how bad the sandstorms would be at night.”

“During a mild sandstorm it's just about your tent flapping madly during the night and at times sand being deposited inside your tent through the porous openings of the tent.”

“A bad sandstorm comes and abates suddenly before picking up again. The best thing to do would be to take shelter inside the vehicle and roll up the windows. You can bring the windows down a little for ventilation but it does get rather stuffy.”

Hajar says the best clothes to wear is what you'd wear on a safari. “Thin, light clothes that travel well are also useful.”

The world's largest sand desert, the Empty Quarters (or Rub Al-Khali) is characterized by as much as the traditions of the Bedouins inhabiting its fringes as much as for its reputation for being one of the most extreme environments.

Hajar Ali, founder of Urbane Nomads, was travelling past the Dead Sea with her parents as a child when she had seen the solitary vision of a man, wrapped in all white, galloping a white horse on its shores. That moment inspired a lifelong fascination with horses and horse cultures; horse-themed trips forming a significant part of the trips offered by Urbane Nomads. A graduate of Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (now RSIS), Hajar lends an understanding of the complementary forces of international relations and her travel reflects a concern for the social, cultural and historical nuances of destinations visited.


Surreal landscapes combining plains and high dunes, describes Hajar her desert journey.
Image by Hajar Ali, SOURCE
Hajar map reading.
courtesy Hajar Ali
The route.
Image by Hajar Ali