Emirati hikers explore the UAE's mountains as a form of meditation

Post-pandemic, three friends turn exploration into their weekend mainstay as they find balance among the peaks

Emirati hikers Jameela Ahli and Huda Bin Redha hiking Fujairah Adventures Al Dahir Hiker Trails. Photo: Ruel Pableo for The National
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For UAE dwellers, spending Saturday morning trekking the country's mountains might be a now-and-again event. Especially when the weather's right, and they've had enough sleep to brave the early start.

But that's not the case for friends Jameela Ahli, Al Anood Mubarak and Huda Bin Redha, as they spend almost every weekend challenging themselves to take on a new adventure across the Emirates.

“We primarily did road trips before starting hiking – we liked to explore the UAE. We'd open Google Maps and think, 'This place looks beautiful,' and just go there,” Ahli, 34, tells The National.

While their friendship deepened during their initial drives – which started just shy of a decade ago – it wasn't until after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that hiking became the driving force for their weekend excursions.

“When we are in nature, we automatically feel relaxed. Personally, it's my kind of meditation,” explains Bin Redha, 31.

The more they spent time exploring on two feet rather than four wheels, the greater well-being benefits they reaped. From family life to friendship dynamics, the Emirati hikers discuss how the active hobby has had an impact on their lives.

Soothed by nature

Spending the weekdays at work, each friend expresses how a change of scenery is a big draw of hiking. “For me, it's a stress reliever to be in nature,” says Bin Redha. “It's true that hiking can be tiring, but at the same time, it's a fun experience. It's an achievement to me that I do this consistently.”

Ahli enjoys the variety her weekend adventures in the great outdoors provide – during the week, she spends her free time in the city, socialising with friends and family in cafes and restaurants.

“Maybe in the future I'll devote my life to nature, but for now, it's a good mix,” she says.

Likewise, the change in environment evokes a sense of balance for Mubarak, 32. “For me, I realised that the more I am out in nature, I genuinely feel it heals, and it's nice to be away from city noise.

“You stay in a nice quiet area, all you can hear is the wind,” adds Mubarak.

Striking a balance

While nature has provided Mubarak with a sense of balance within, ensuring she has enough time to spend with her loved ones has been more of a challenge.

“[Hiking] did affect my dynamics with other friends and family,” she says. “There was no balance back then, but I really enjoyed it and needed to disconnect for a while in order to reconnect again.”

Nowadays, Mubarak dedicates time to better planning, so she can enjoy being outdoors without compromising relationships with friends who don't share her passion. Learning to balance life at home and life in nature, she now dedicates Fridays to family, leaving her the rest of the weekend to indulge in her hobbies and wind down from the week.

“Having a full-time job exhausts me during the week, but I still try to make plans with my friends who don't enjoy hiking,” she explains.

Capturing the experience

Taking on new heights, Mubarak details how she makes an effort not to post any pictures or videos on social media that might scare her friends and family. With 15.6k followers on the social platform at the time of writing, it seems plenty of people are interested in catching a glimpse of her journeys into the wild.

Capturing their hikes is clearly a crucial part of the experience. “When you see the pictures, you relive the same feeling and experience,” says Ahli, who often posts to her 19.1k Instagram followers. “I can't go and not take pictures, it's to document the beauty of the place and not just the area, even the stuff that happens between us.”

Bin Redha, likewise, shares stunning scenic imagery with her 31.9K Instagram followers, but keeps some just for her. “To capture the moment, we take a lot of pictures, but we only share a fragment of these,” she notes.

From meditation to mindset

While everything in life comes with highs and lows, it seems the benefit of taking up hiking as a hobby has been a net positive for these three friends.

Alongside the meditative experience out on the trails, the experience has moved mountains for their mindset in everyday life, too.

Bin Redha summarises how hiking brings her a sense of achievement, explaining that she's developed a new mentality. Just as on a particularly arduous hike, “if you want something and you set your mind to it, you can actually do it, no matter how hard it is”.

Updated: March 04, 2024, 6:30 AM