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In Dubai, the hours just before dawn are nothing short of magical. The air, yet to be warmed by the relentless, Middle Eastern heat is deliciously cool and the stillness holds a silence that is deafening. Despite a setting so languid, the hour of daybreak in Dubai has an exciting secret to share.
At 5:30 am, a sleek, black car arrives to collect a well-heeled couple from where they wait within the lobby of a glittering Dubai hotel – its arrival heralding the start of an exotic day, and what promises to be a beguiling desert experience. Inside is Hendri, a falconer with Royal Shaheen Events. As one of the United Arab Emirates most well-respected falconing groups, Royal Shaheen provides everything from interactive VIP falconing experiences to falconry training for competitions around the world, to ‘on-camera’ talent for film production and photo shoots – indeed collecting their guests in style is just one of the many upscale services the day will bring. Also in attendance is Rogue, a beautiful Kestrel Falcon as well as Khaimah, a stunning, greater spotted eagle. The scene is far from what travelers may think of when contemplating a trip to this indulgent destination, yet for the birds and falconers of Royal Shaheen; mornings like this are just another day in Dubai.
Traveling from the center of the city to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where Royal Shaheen is one of just a handful of operators who have been granted permission to set up camp, is an event in and of itself. With the hooded birds their silent companions, guests within the luxury vehicle travel past stately Oryx delicately picking their way through sandy dunes and caravans of slow-moving camels, their outlines silhouetted by the day’s first rays of light until finally reaching the gated entrance to the Reserve and ultimately, the Royal Shaheen ‘camp’. Marked by a lone, scrubby tree and a rustic, reed fence designed to ward off desert winds; the camp consists of a brilliantly hued rug upon which a welcome breakfast of thick, Arabic coffee and sweet dates has been laid out. The collective effect of the simple meal served against a pristine, desert landscape is stunning – more so when one’s view broadens to include the nearby collection of perched, hooded raptors waiting patiently for their turn to soar.
After breakfast, Khaimah is freed from his hood. His brilliant, black eyes blink and in a flash, he’s off. The Falconer slips on a leather glove takes a piece of fresh quail in hand and raises his arm. Almost instantly Khaimah appears on the horizon, the majestic bird slicing through the morning sky before landing squarely on the falconer’s arm to collect his prize. Time and time again, the eagle hits his mark and time and time again, his spectators are left spellbound. “Ready to give it a go?” the Falconer asks and with a rush of excitement, the first guest nods his agreement while thrusting an arm into the heavy glove. The air stirs from the eagle’s approach and then all at once, there he is. Having ‘come to glove’ Khaimah is standing regally on the arm of a traveler who before this day had only dreamt about how such an experience might feel. The passion of its founder and president, Peter Henry Bergh, Royal Shaheen Events has catapulted the ancient art of falconry into the center of luxury travel’s very modern spotlight. And in doing so, has given well-heeled travelers another – perhaps unexpected – reason to visit Dubai. That is a quintessential travel moment. And the experience of a lifetime.
For more information on the art of falconry and Royal Shaheen Events, please visit www.royalshaheen.ae
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Photos By Gina Samarotto