Al Ain: UNESCO’s World Heritage Site
Al Ain: an Oasis City
If you’ve been to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or any other flashy city in the Middle East, Al Ain will be a pleasant surprise- a breath of fresh air! 🙂 I’d been to Al Ain around ten years ago, but this latest trip was more to discover the soul of Al Ain. You will be mesmerized by the sheer simplicity of this city 🙂
Al Ain, from Abu Dhabi, is around 160 Kilometers; it took us an hour and a half each way. An interesting fact that our driver told us was that almost all of the buildings in Al Ain are not more than four-floored buildings; a conscious decision on behalf of the authorities to preserve the garden feel of this city. Because of its cooler weather, Al Ain is also the hub of farms in U.A.E.; we spotted a lot of them on our way.
Our first stop was Al Jahili Fort; built in late 19th century, it is an expansive building with four watch towers. An interesting display of pictures from Wilfred Theisger’s travels adorn the walls of the rooms on the left. Wildred was unlike the contemporary British travelers; he believed that the modern life was ruining the Bedouin culture. Take your time discovering one of the largest forts in United Arab Emirates and the vision of great Zayed the First. Below is a picture of Zayed the First, taken by Wilfred.
Wilfred crossed the “Empty Quarters” twice in 1940s. These sayings by Wilfred made me wonder if we’ve lost peace and tranquility in our over-stimulated, information-overloaded, wanting to constantly do something or get something, capitalist/ consumerist world??!!
Pretty close to Al Jahili fort, in the central part of the city, is Al-Ain Oasis. This is one of the four UNESCO’s world heritage sites in U.A.E. When you say oasis, a lot of people imagine a water body in an arid region; however, that is not the case all the time; water can come from springs or other underground sources and make that land fertile.
What is special about Al-Ain oasis is the irrigation system called Al-Falaj, which was developed by the locals, dating back to the beginning of the first millennium BC or the Iron Age. Water in this oasis comes from wells and it taps water from underground or mountain aquifers. Initially, historians believed that this form of irrigation came from Persia, but oases in Al-Ain prove that these systems might have developed independently in Oman, U.A.E., Persia, India and other countries.
Although there was no water in the canals, it was a relaxing walk; more than 100 varieties of date palms can be found here; the lush green feel of this area will make you feel as if you were in a tropical place.
Al-Ain Palace museum was home to Shiekh Zayed the first from 1927 to 1966. This place will give you a glimpse into the life of Emiratis during mid twentieth century. As you enter the building, take a right to go through galleries, which takes you through the family tree of Al Nahyan family, in particular of Bani Yas tribe. This complex has an outer courtyard and an inner one; both of them are full of reception rooms (called as majlis in Arabic) and guest rooms.
This simple and small, yet elegant palace will make you think and feel about the humble lifestyle of Sheikh Zayed. There is no gold-plated crockery or huge chandeliers in these rooms, but furniture and roof are made from almost all parts of palm trees; simple Dallahs (Arabic coffee pots), made of brass, and finjans (Arabic coffee cups) didn’t have any fancy detailed carvings on it. One of the guest rooms has a picture of Sheikh Zayed with queen Elizabeth; this was the time when oil boom was just about to kick off.
As I ruminated about those times and Zayed’s foresightedness, I couldn’t stop myself from admiring this inspiring leader, who bought so many conflicting tribes together, yet remained a humble man his entire life.
We had lunch in a 5-star hotel; the manager of that restaurant was an Indian gentleman, who was kind enough to pamper my friend with an exclusive Indian-vegetarian dish 😀
A ride around the camel market gave us an insight into how these animals are kept in captivity. The smell of pee and poop was so strong that we could not stay there for long. This is one of the largest camel markets in the region. The only three women in this place were my two friends and I; it was full of Pathan men. I wondered about their living conditions and their quality of life; I wondered how education can change their life. We decided to drive to Jabal Hafeet mountain as we couldn’t bear the smell and the environment.
We drove up to the highest point on Jabal Hafeet mountain; the view of green mubazzra from a mid-way point was spectacular. You can also see the man-made lake from this point. The long, winding roads of Jabal Hafeet reminded me of my trips to the lower regions of Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. I’d been to Hotel Mercure Grand Jabal Hafeet Al Ain on my last trip; it’s worth a visit as it is the only secluded hotel on this mountain range.
The view of green mubazzara, surrounded by Jabal Hafeet mountain ranges, was stunning; just at the base of Jabal Hafeet is this patch of green land with fountains and swimming pools. Families arrive here with food, drinks and all the accessories needed for a picnic. You’ll find kids with their toys and bicycles, enjoying themselves thoroughly- away from all worldly matters; some of them soaked themselves in the water from fountains and artificial canals; I wondered if we adults can learn a thing or two from kids- be carefree more often, and enjoy the present moment.
Drive back home was a somber one; I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about what this country was 30- 40 years ago and what a transformation it has gone through! I think they’ve done a great job in showcasing their heritage and yet adopt modern ways of living in some ways. Can such metamorphosis happen in your life?