One of the side trips we took while in the UAE was to Al Ain. This city/area is actually part of Abu Dhabi, is and is the site of the largest, first discovered oasis in Abu Dhabi. Not surprisingly, as an oasis, it was a primary cradle of Emirati civilization, having been established about 4,000 years ago. We arranged a private day tour from Dubai with Abdul Basheer at Tours by Locals (toursbylocals.com). We focused overwhelmingly on historical sights and a brief stop at the oasis and an obligatory detour to the local camel market. Among the more interesting of sights were:
- Hili Archeological Park, which contains remnants of 4,000 year-old tombs. These communal tombs, which were covered circular structures that were perhaps 100 feet in diameter about 12 feet tall, were divided into between four and eight chambers, each of which contained skeletons of hundreds of people, along with some of the objects that belonged to them.
- Al Ain National Museum described, dated and provided an historical context around the archeological objects found in and around the tombs. It also has extensive ethnological displays that explains and provides displays of traditional clothing and jewelry, educational methods, farming and weaving equipment, customs and so forth.
- Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum was a residence of the revered father of the nation, who brought all the traditionally separate Emirates together into today’s UAE. It provides a lineage of the sheikhs back to the early 1800s, portraits and current responsibilities of all Zayed’s sons and displays many of the rooms furnished in their original style.
- Al Jahhili Fort, built in the 1890s to protect the Al Ain oasis, is now dedicated to a exhibit of the photographs of Wilfred Thesiger, an Englishman who walked and rode a camel more than 5,000 kilometers through the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter to get to know and to document the people and the places of the Arabian desert.
- Al Ain Oasis, the originally irrigated section of the desert that is still home to tens of thousands of date palms. Back in the era of Sheikh Zayed, he provided plots for free use to many farmers in return for their tending the trees.He then bought the production from them to sell to domestic and foreign markets. Today, people have to take care of the tree/dates themselves and sell them in the open markets.
- Green Mubazrah Hot Springs in a landscape dominated by mountains–very different than the flat land and sand dunes we had seen previously. Joyce stuck her foot in the water and confirmed that it was hot…really hot. In fact, too hot for her foot and she quickly moved out of the water.
- Jebel Hafeet, at 1,300 meters, is the tallest mountain in Abu Dhabi. It is capped with a royal palace. The mountain, derived from an uplifted ancient sea bed and permeated with limestone caves, is traversed with road.
- Al Ain Camel Market, where camels are raised and sold for meat. Since we were not there for the weekly Friday morning auction, we were only to see the camels milling around their pens, with their tenders offering to take our pictures with their herds, or in one case, even give us a special deal on a camel, for only 6,000 Dirham, or about $1,600. Since we didn’t think we could fit him in our luggage, we were forced to refuse his offer.
It was an interesting day tour since we had the time and now we can say we were in an oasis.