|Country Information & Lifestyle|
On The Old Silk Road
The United Arab Emirates was formed from a group of seven tribal organised Arabian Peninsula Sheikdoms on the Old Silk road, the southern coast of the Persian Gulf and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman.
The seven Emirates; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah occupy an area of 83,600 miles along the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Qatar lies to the west, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and Oman to the north and east.
Despite four-fifths of its land area being arid desert; the UAE is a country of contrasting landscapes, from awe-inspiring dunes to rich oases, precipitous rocky mountains to fertile plains. Along the Arabian Gulf coast are offshore islands, coral reefs and salt marshes, whilst stretches of gravel plain and barren desert characterise the inland region. The western interior of the federation, most of which is Abdu Dhabi territory, consists mainly of desert interspersed with oases.
To the east lies the Hajar Mountain chain which reaches north into the Musandam peninsula at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf. The rocky slopes rise to 1300 meters within UAE territory, falling steeply to the UAE's East Coast on the Gulf of Oman where a fertile alluvial gravel plain separates the precipitous mountains from the ocean. To the north-east, a fertile gravel plain also separates the mountains from the coast around Ras al-Khaimah.
The UAE's climate is strongly influenced by the Indian Ocean and there are noticeable variations in climate between the coastal regions, the deserts of the interior and mountainous areas. Local north-westerly winds (shamal) frequently develop during the winter, bringing cooler windy conditions.
Arabic is the official language but English is widely understood. In Dubai the Persian language spoken in Iran, Farsi, is spoken, and Urdu is spoken by the large number of Pakistani expatriates living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The UAE is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has wealth fuelled not only by gas and oil, but by the burgeoning property market.
The UAE is one of the safest countries in the world and Dubai is the most developed of the seven Emirates.
Dubai was originally a small fishing settlement and was taken over in about 1830 by a branch of the Bani Yas tribe from the Liwa oasis led by the Maktoum family who still rule the emirate today. It is a landscape of skyscrapers and tower cranes close to beautiful beaches, and within a few hours of the sand dunes, and by the turn of the century was reputed to have the largest souks on the Gulf coast. The terrain is flat, barren coastal plain merging into rolling sand dunes of vast desert wasteland with mountains in the east.
The main sightseeing circuit in Dubai is split between Bur Dubai and Deira which lie on opposite sides of the water, and the gently curving Dubai Creek is an attraction in itself. Wandering along Deira's alleys you can explore covered market places, the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk, as well as visit the historic quarter of Bastakia. The beautifully restored Al Fahidi Fort has served as both palace and prison, and now houses the Dubai Museum.
On the Bur Dubai side, located in the Shindagah area is the Heritage Village, located in the Shindagah area, where you can watch potters, weavers and artisans at their crafts. The adjoining Diving Village offers a cultural microcosm of pearl diving and fishing. Within the same complex is the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, a museum restored from the house of Dubai's former ruler and dating back to the late 1800s.
Driving west from the city centre is the popular suburb of Jumeirah, home to some of Dubai's finest luxury hotels and resorts, unspoiled stretches of sunny beaches and water sports complexes. In Jumeirah is the Grand Mosque, re-built in 1998, with the city's tallest minaret, nine large domes and 45 small domes - a distinguished landmark and an important place of worship.
Dubai is a veritable shopper's paradise! The city is one of the largest retail gold markets in the world, selling everything from ingots to intricately hand crafted jewellery. The gold Souk in Deira has glittering street-front stores and hides dozens of alleys housing smaller shops. Browse through the older markets and the narrow walkways located in the Meena Bazaar, Karama and Naif areas, dedicated to inexpensive reproductions of international brands; leather goods and textiles; computer and electrical accessories and Arabic perfumes.
Dubai is also home to some of the Middle East region's most prestigious shopping malls, boutiques and department stores that house retailers of haute couture, hi-tech electronics, home furnishings and accessories or traditional Arabic crafts. Dubai is famous for offering top international brands at unbelievably reasonable prices.
Dubai has a very eventful social calendar. Varying from the world's richest horse race - The Dubai World Cup, and international jazz festivals, to the home grown Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai also hosts regionally significant exhibitions and trade shows on a regular basis.
Dubai is an exciting year round destination that offers unlimited opportunities for rest and recreation, be it a walk through a lush green family park, an adventurous day in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, or a pampering session at one of the many health spas.
Some of Dubai's beaches are attached to private hotels, where, for a small fee, you can spend the day on the sand and in the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Other beaches and waterfronts - the Corniche and the Creek - are free for public access, and feature a range of water sports offered by several operators.
One of Dubai's most popular tourist attractions is the desert safari: a unique experience that combines an adventurous 4 WD car ride over sand dunes with camels, belly dancers, henna designers, falconers, and a barbecue dinner by starlight. Other attractions include sand skiing, sand boarding, sand karting and 4 WD desert driving.
The warmth and shelter of the Gulf attract a large variety of fish, and several local companies provide full and half day trips to the best fishing waters about 12 Km offshore from the mainland.
Dubai has the unique distinction of being the only golfing center in the world to host major international tournaments on both the European and Asian PGA circuits. Visiting golfers can choose from various clubs and courses, each of championship quality and presenting a different type of challenge.
The UAE's cuisine is the staple Middle Eastern fare of fol, (paste made from fava beans, garlic and lemon), felafel(deep fried balls of chickpea paste served in a piece of Arabic flat bread), humoumos and shwarma.
Abu Dhabi, the capital, is the largest and most populated of the Emirates and the Federal capital of the UAE. One of the most modern cities in the world, it is the centre of government and business life in the UAE, headquarters of the emirates oil operating companies and embassies are based here. With the discovery of oil in 1958, Abu Dhabi was the first emirate to export oil from the Umm Shaif offshore field in 1962.
Abu Dhabi stretches south to the oases of Liwa where some of the world's largest sand dunes can be found, and east to the ancient oasis of Al Ain. The architecture of its modern buildings and sky scrapers is the finest in the Middle East. Large gardens and parks, green boulevards lining all the streets and roads, sophisticated high-rise buildings, state-of-the-art communication services and transport, the presence of all the international luxury hotel chains, rich shopping malls, cultural centers and events provide tourists a one-of-a-kind experience all the year round.
The emirate was inhabited as far back as the third millennium BC, but the Abu Dhabi of today only truly came into existence in the latter half of the 18th century when it was first settled by the Bani Yas tribe in 1761. In the early days of the 20th century the economy of Abu Dhabi was centred on camel herding, date oases, fishing and pearl diving.
The city's progressive vision is tempered with a deep-seated respect for traditions and culture, and tucked away between modern towers are heritage locales that tell tales of Abu Dhabi's past. Priority has been given not only to future development but to rediscovering the past through archaeology, the restoration of buildings, museums, establishing indigenous wildlife parks and much more.
Traditional musicians, calligraphers, artists and craftsmen are encouraged to develop their skills and thereby prevent their ancient crafts from dying out. The artefacts and tools of pearl divers, fishermen and dhow builders are carefully preserved and displayed.
Especially honoured is the Bedouin way of life. Even though nomadic societies leave little in the way of permanent structures, the people of Abu Dhabi aspire to the noble traditions and values of their desert ancestors.
Sharjah is the third largest emirate straddling the peninsula overlooking the Arabian Gulf to the west, and the Gulf of Oman to the east. Sharjah probably has the most colourful history of all the Emirates. From the days of early trading with the east, to the settlement of the Qawasim seafaring tribe and into the first half of the 19th century, Sharjah was the most important port on the lower Arabian Gulf.
The emirate boasts some of the most diverse of sceneries and superb waterfronts. Sharjah is a blend of the old and new, a city of learning and the arts, as confirmed by its 1998 UNESCO designation as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. Well laid-out parks and gardens, lakefront apartment buildings, restaurants and beautiful mosques, Sharijah is renowned for its souks both traditional and new.
Trekkers can hit straight for the rugged mountains, and fresh water streams of Khor Fakkan, on the east coast, or go into the interiors of this spread out emirate spending some time in a Bedouin village oasis. Relax on an unspoiled beach discover the archaeological heritage or simply take a quiet stroll through one of the parks.
AJMAN is the smallest of the seven emirates and is centrally located on the western coast of the UAE along the Persian Gulf. Ajman also includes Masfut and Manama, two small enclaves inland in the Hajar mountains, rich in agriculture and farming. The city has experienced tremendous development and construction is booming in the last few decades.
Like the other emirates Ajman also has a pleasant blend of the old and the new, the simple and the sophisticated. While beach combers could splash away in any one of the beautiful beaches of Ajman, bargain hunters could do well with a visit to the Ajman souk renowned for its architectural splendor.
Ajman is also noted as the world's largest dhow building centre, where these ocean-going vessels are built using traditional tools and manual skills. The museum is housed in an 18th century fortress, a symbol that reflects the region's rich heritage. On display are treasures of former rulers, and the social ways and traditional professions of the past.
Fujairah is the only Emirate located on the Gulf of Oman rather than the Arabian Gulf. Unlike other desert emirates Fujairah has the distinction of being a narrow coastal strip at the edge of its mountainous terrain. This makes the emirate naturally endowed with scenic beauty. The important resort of Khor Fakkan has excellent beaches and water sport facilities.
Miles of unspoiled sandy beaches facing the aquamarine blue seas with the majestic Hajar mountains forming a backdrop, provides a magical postcard picture effect. The Hajar mountain range that divides the UAE in two, from Ras Al Khaimah to Al Ain has kept Fujairah separated from the rest of the country.
The region experiences higher annual rainfall allowing farmers to cultivate crops. The port is an important one for container liners and for the world's largest livestock shipping companies who have set up their main holding station for sheep and cattle for the entire Arabian Peninsula here.
In the past the country's main occupation was fishing and agriculture, now tourism is taking off, and with clean beaches, numerous water sports like swimming, yachting, water surfing and deep sea fishing, there is plenty for people to do.
The Emirate of UMM AL QUWAIN extends 23 kilometres along the coast of the Arabian Gulf, a small peninsular emirate lying between the emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. The city of Umm Al Quwain has also witnessed a boom in development activities with modern buildings, roads, parks, and other amenities being the feature.
The tourist centre is located in the lagoon where the natural green islands provide shelter for several square miles of clean and unpolluted water without the hazard of rough open sea. Across the creek from Umm Al Quwain city lies the island of Al Siniyyah Island, a haven for birds. The bird sanctuary is also noted for its mangrove swamps, representing an extremely delicate and a fast-dwindling ecosystem.
Falaj al-mualla is the oasis town which lies in Al Batha valley and is rich in agriculture and is connected to the Umm al Quwain by an exceptionally scenic road running for much of its length alongside wadi Al Batha.
Ras Al Khaimah is the northernmost emirate and its history extends into antiquity. Archaeological excavations reveal that a settlement existed in this region, an advanced civilisation that carried on trade with the Indian sub-continent. Later historical records cite that the town of Ras Al Khaimah, then known as Julfar, belonged to early Muslim Caliphs. In the 18th century, after invasions of the Persians, Portuguese and the Dutch, it finally became a part of the Al Qawasim State. It was also once the centre of the naval strength of the southern Gulf States.
The sea around Ras Al Khaimah abounds in tuna fish. The mountains have enabled the set up of stone quarries and a cement factory, also the oilfield of Saleh, has boosted the revenues of the emirate.
This northernmost of all emirates, lying at the foot of the Hajar mountains and bordering the Sultanate of Oman to its north and east, has an important port, besides being one of the main agricultural centres. Between the sandy coastal plain to the west and the mountains to the north and east is a fertile land with farms producing a variety of fruits and vegetables including more than 45 different types of date palms.
Scenic beauty is another feature of this emirate with its high mountains and natural hot springs, the water of which is known to have medicinal properties, as seen at the resort of Ain Khat.
Ras Al Khaimah Museum was originally an 18th century fortress used by ruling families as their residence, the museum exhibits a good collection of rare relics and fossils from different eras.
The 4th largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi Al Ain remains a popular draw for intrepid visitors who come to explore the Buraimi Oasis area in which it sites. There are forts to discover and desert safaris to embark upon making it an outdoor enthusiast's playground.
Al Ain is an important staging post on the caravan routes of Arabia. Located right on the border with Oman its strategic importance should not be overlooked, and yet until recently it was a quiet oasis backwater. The discovery of oil has changed that and now it is a thriving town replete with several historical forts and archaeological sites.
The tag as the Garden City is well deserved with many parks are all beautifully kept and well worth a visit. They feature play areas, benches under shady trees, meandering walkways and elaborate fountains and offer tranquil hideaways for visitors and residents alike.
Al Ain has numerous attractions from camel and livestock markets to museums and aquariums. There are shady parks with fountains to enjoy. Highlights also include Jahili Fort, the Old Prison and the views from nearby Jebel Hafeet, enjoy sunset from here it is magical!!.
Close to Al Ain is Jabel Hafit, a craggy mountain rising steeply from the surrounding desert. An area noted for its flora and fauna(it is one of the last remaining habitats of the rare Arabian Tahr), the mountain can be accessed by excellent roads which wind its way right up to the summit.
On the edge of Al Ain is Qattarh Oasis, a small, beautiful sylvan oasis studded with daet palms and fruit orchards and noted for its archaeological sites.
Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter a world of harsh extremes that may rank as both the least, and most, hospitable place on Earth. For thousands of years this territory has resisted settlement as one of the Earth's hottest, driest, and most unyielding environments. Yet it's also home to a culture on the edge, a proud Bedouin society working to adapt its mix of Islam, ancient tribal custom, and new found oil riches to a demanding and fast-paced modern world.
Taking up a fifth of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub al Khali (literally, "quarter of emptiness"), or the Sands for short, is the world's largest sand sea. At more than 225,000 square miles (583,000 square kilometres), it takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates to create an arid wilderness larger than France. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter's size but composed mostly of gravelled plains and rocky outcrops.
Because of these sandy expanses, not to mention its profound heat, the Sands have long been judged too unforgiving for all but the most resourceful humans, considered more a wasteland to cross than a landscape to settle in. Still, along its edges and venturing across it from time to time the dozen tribes of leathery and enterprising Bedouin, also known (especially in Arabia) as Bedu, have survived here since before recorded time.
Liwa,like a sentinel on the edge of the Empty Quarter, is gateway to the Empty Quarter and is one of the largest oases in Arabia. Around a five hour drive from Abu Dhabi the oasis is the traditional home of the Bani Yas tribe who were the Bedouin forefathers of today's ruling family.
Featuring plenty of freshwater pools and date plantations, the oasis is made up of a number of small towns and villages, with farms right up against the dunes, which often reach hundreds of meters high. Camel tours of Liwa's dunes and a trip to Merheb Dune is a popular destination along with dune safari, dune bashing and sand skiing. Nights in a desert camp reveal millions of stars and provide the perfect opportunity to relax.
The UAE is a mix of old and new without losing its' heritage and is not only a wonderful tourist destination it is also an excellent place to live or have a second home.