Travel

The colorful city of Al-Ayn, an oasis on the border between the UAE and Oman

We head out to visit different cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We travel around 160 kilometers, from Abu Dhabi, where we start, to the border city of Al-Ayn.

The quality of the roads on which we travel is very good, partly because of all the oil money. As we near Al-Ayn, the general elevation rises. Hills of sand are all around us, to our left and right. The color of the sand shifts, turning more brown.

We finally reach Al-Ayn, the fourth-largest city in the UAE. It is a very green city, an oasis in the middle of the desert. The city’s population is around 500,000. Interestingly, it is the city in the UAE with the largest number of non-foreign residents. Some people call Al-Ayn the “garden city of the Gulf” because of its greenness. The buildings here are not very tall; this is part of the legacy of Sheik Zayed, who wanted only low buildings to be built here.

The city center is very modern, with extremely ordered boulevards and smaller streets. Desert flowers and various trees decorate the city.

One of this city’s symbols is the Al-Ayn Palace Museum. It used to be the palace of Sheik Zayed, the founder of the city, but now it is a museum and a popular spot for visitors.

The city’s name, Al-Ayn, is rooted in the Arabic word “ayn,” which means “eye,” and was given to the city because it is an important local water source, or “eye” of water. Interestingly, hot water wells up from underground in Al-Ayn. The greenery so visible here is of course linked to all the underground water. The city has taken good advantage of the water, even creating man-made lakes from it.

The water that bubbles up from underground is so hot that it burns your hands, making it hard to even wash you hands with it. There are lots of thermal spas here.

We pay a visit to one of the largest date orchards here. It was a date orchard that belonged to the sheiks. Al-Ayn is actually famous for its dates, and the orchards where they grow only add to the beauty of the city. It is not date season when we visit, so all we see are branches lined with dates waiting to mature. Apparently, they will be ready for picking in around four months.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that, with all this desert around us, there is a camel market in Al-Ayn. Camels are grouped according to age here. This particular market is so important that it sets the going price for camels. People come to both buy and sell camels, and there is much bargaining around these camels at this, the largest market of its kind in all the UAE. Nowadays of course, the camel market is a much more modern scene than it used to be, with fewer tents pitched around it than one might have seen in the past.

Heading to Hafeet Mountain

Now we take time to start heading toward the peak of Hafeet Mountain, next to Al-Ayn. This mountain has an elevation of 1,350 meters, and we reach the peak and take in the wonderful view below us of the desert stretching out before our feet. With the elevation so much higher here, the air is definitely cooler. From the peak, you can see Oman, a neighboring country, including the Omani city of Buraimi, which lies quite close to Al-Ayn, but on the other side of the border.

We arrive at the border that separates the UAE from Oman. Actually, there is just a barbed-wire fence dividing the cities of Al-Ayn and Buraimi. But from here you can see everything in Buraimi, from its homes to its cars to its people. Some workers come to speak with each other over the fence while we are there, but a little while later, the police come, and they are taken away.

This is a zone where taking photographs and shooting films are forbidden.

After Friday prayers, we get the chance to meet some locals. One man, El-Mürşidi, is very happy when he learns we have come from Turkey. There are people from all over in this mosque. We meet another man, from Sudan. We also greet some Afghan Muslims who are there. Everyone seems to agree on their love for Turkey. There are many people who have come from other countries to work here. For example, we meet one Sudanese man named Tarik who has been working here for 21 years.

We decide to head for Dubai, another emirate, also around 160 kilometers from Abu Dhabi. The road that connects these two emirates is also incredibly high quality. We tour Dubai in the evening and come across a city assembly meeting, though it is not the kind you would find in many places outside the Gulf states. Here, tea, coffee, dates and other treats are offered up, and it doesn’t matter whether you are local, foreign or even a tourist; you are welcome to these meetings.

This particular assembly is kept lively by local resident Ahmad and 10 of his friends. As the evening falls, people begin showing up, and the assembly gets more crowded. Until the evening call to prayer, there are serious conversations happening here. Everything is discussed: the business world, the economy, trade, politics, international affairs. It is notable that people listen no matter if they agree with each other’s opinions, and then go on to explain their own views.

We meet a businessman named Muhammed Noor who tells us how much he loves Turkey and notes that many people from the UAE have been heading to Turkey for holidays in recent years.

When the evening prayers are read out, people leave the assembly and head for the mosque to pray.

City squares that are quiet throughout the day begin to fill up with people in the evenings. Right next to the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, there are water shows set to music at scheduled times. Many people — foreign and local — gather to watch these shows, settling in around the enormous pool here. Sometimes it’s hard to find a spot.

The giant water show here is so well done and so colorful that it really distinguishes itself from others of its kind throughout the world. It’s a real water and light show.  

Last, shopping culture is very developed throughout the UAE. The hot weather drives people indoors, into malls for shopping. The malls here are extensive, and provide people with everything they need. We decide to take a look at the Mall of the Emirates. It is one of the largest shopping centers in the UAE, and people take advantage of its air conditioning system to do their shopping. Notably, while the boulevards and streets are fairly empty, inside these malls it is incredibly crowded, not just with locals but also foreigners.

Nurdan ARSLAN
Email: 
nurdan@thelondonpost.co.uk

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