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دولة الامارات العربية المتحدة (United Arab Emirates) - In with the New, but out with the Old?


Travel pictures from the United Arab Emirates

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn


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In November, 2005 I attended a United Nations/ESA/NASA Workshop on the International Heliophysical Year IHY 2007. This was the first time I visited an Arab country for any length of time. I flew into Abu-Dhabi. From there I was picked up and driven 160 km (99 miles) to the oasis of Al-Ain, on the border to Oman. The highway from Abu-Dhabi to Al-Ain has trees and other plants on the median, as well as lights along the whole length.

Abu-Dhabi is one of the seven Emirates that form the United Arab Emirates. It is one of the wealthiest ones. Abu-Dhabi and Dubai are the most modern of the Emirates. They try to attract and build up industry in preparation from the time when the oil runs out.

The conference was in Al-Ain. Most of Al-Ain is very modern, it seemed as if most of the buildings and roads are not more than 15 years old. Al-Ain loves traffic circles, it has over 200 of these. Many of them are decorated with big statues of strange things, like coffee pots. Traffic is not very heavy, I never saw any congestion. One thing that is immediately obvious is the greenery. The city (as well as the whole highway from Abu-Dhabi to Al-Ain) is full of plants. In this desert climate, this means that every little plant needs its own water supply. There must be many hundreds of miles of black plastic tubing in Al-Ain, and much more on the highway between Abu Dhabi and Al-Ain.

Cars where about 2/3 Japanese and South Korean and 1/3 German (mostly Mercedes and BMW). I saw only 3 or 4 American cars, including one Ford Mustang and one Corvette.

The food was excellent throughout the whole trip. I gained about 8 pounds in weight because of that    :-\).

Taxis are quite inexpensive and abundant, so you don't need a car in Al-Ain. I took a cab up to Jebel Hafeet, the only mountain in the vicinity. You have a great view over Al-Ain from there. Another trip was to Buraimi, the Oman part of the Oasis. Oman is not as rich as the Emirates, since it doesn't have oil. But Buraimi is not very different from Al-Ain. You can cross the border without any checks in either direction. The border checks are done further into Oman, in order to keep the two parts of the Oasis together as much as possible.

One of my excursions was a desert tour with camel ride. It was a bit expensive (~$120), but interesting. The first stop on this trip was the camel market. Camels still are very important to the people there. They also have camel races, but I didn't go to see them. From the camel market we drove out into the desert for about ½ hour. The tour operator had a camp in the desert. We first drove around the area in a 4WD Toyota through the sand dunes. Then we went on a sunset camel ride. After we got back, we had dinner at the camp. The food was again pretty good. The other two tourists went back to their hotel at that point, I stayed overnight. They had lit a small fire and brought me a water pipe (sheesha).The tour guide and the camel driver both went home and I ended up alone in the desert. I watched the fire for an hour or so, smoking the water pipe, and then slept outside, since it was pretty warm. Unfortunately Al-Ain wasn't really far enough away, so the sky was pretty bright from the city light. Seeing the stars from a desert camp still was very scenic, I enjoyed that short trip very much. In the morning I went for sunrise camel ride, and then had breakfast at the camp, before returning to Al-Ain.

Modern as Abu-Dhabi is, you can still see some of the old Middle East. Many (but not all) women still observe the Hijab and wear the long, black shapeless dresses, a head cover and veil. Polygamy is still practiced there, a man can have up to 4 wives. And on Fridays, the Muezzins call from the numerous mosques almost continuously. Mosques are everywhere, from very small ones like in the Al-Ain oasis to the large one in the center of Al-Ain.

One thing I was a little concerned about was the question of alcohol. It turns out that in Abu-Dhabi, the hotels have bars, but there are no regular bars in the city. The hotel bar at the Al-Ain Rotana hotel was very good. They had a trio of Cuban women, called Las Corrales, playing music and singing. They were really good, I enjoyed their music very much.

The United Arab Emirates are not representative of more traditional Muslim countries as far as I can determine. Most of the emirates are very westernized and modern in most aspects. It was an interesting trip, unfortunately I didn't have time to see more than just Abu Dhabi. It would have been interesting to see more of the other emirates.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn


HighwayThe highway from Abu-Dhabi to Al-Ain. Notice the trees and bushes. They all need to have water piped to them. (238k)
Al-AinCenter of Al-Ain with the main mosque. Notice the threatening clouds. This turned into sandstorm. (385k)
MosqueThe largest mosque in Al-Ain. (608k)
SandstormA very sudden sandstorm had come up and the visibility got really bad. This view of the mosque shows the beginning of the sandstorm. (394k)
MosqueA medium-sized mosque. (1178k)
MosqueAnother local mosque. (635k)
Small MosqueA tiny mosque in the middle of the Al-Ain oasis. (1641k)
PalaceThe palace where the current Emir of Abu Dhabi grew up. (507k)
Palace insideInside the Emir's palace. (456k)
Palace insideInside the Emir's palace. (637k)
WellA well in the Emir's palace. (556k)
Jahili FortThe Jahili Fort. (617k)
Inside the Jahili FortInside the Jahili Fort. (554k)
Inside the Jahili FortInside the Jahili Fort. (554k)
RoundaboutRoundabout in Al-Ain with fancy decoration. (487k)
RoundaboutAnother view of the coffee-pot roundabout. (455k)
Water fountainWater fountain on one of the roundabouts. There are lots of water fountains in Abu-Dhabi, a showcase for their wealth. (539k)
Al-AinSuburban street in Al-Ain. (534k)
Suburbia4-car garage in suburbia. (414k)
HouseTypical house. There are not may windows on the outside. The windows are to the courtyard inside. (463k)
OasisView of the Al-Ain oasis with dade palms. (1940k)
StreetOne of the small streets through the Al-Ain oasis. (551k)
PalmA dade palm in the Al-Ain oasis. (2268k)
WadiOne of the wadis (dry stream beds) going through Al-Ain. (1387k)
Construction siteIn general Al-Ain was very clean, there were always street sweepers around. This was the only place I saw some garbage, probably because it was a construction site. (456k)
Rock formationsRock formations on the way to Jebel Hafeet. (445k)
DesertView of the desert from Jebel Hafeet. (559k)
Al-AinView of Al-Ain from Jebel Hafeet. (526k)
MarketMarket in Al-Ain. (551k)
MarketStreet market. (613k)
WomenWomen in Hijab going shopping. (424k)
GardeningGardening on the streets in Al-Ain. (670k)
BushesBushes in Al-Ain. Notice the water pipes leading to every bush. (993k)
MuseumThe local museum in Al-Ain has some nice pieces. (393k)
Stone age carvingsStone age carvings. (614k)
carvingsMore recent carvings from a building. (332k)
geckoA gecko. (1310k)
BirdA bird in the oasis. Birds and lizards were the only larger animals that I saw. Note the black watering pipe. (591k)
BirdI don't know what kind of bird this is. (460k)
OryxA Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah) in the zoo of Al-Ain. I only saw a few birds and some lizards in the wild. (513k)
Oryx and IbisScimitar-horned Oryx and ibis in the zoo. (536k)
ChimpanzeeChimpanzee house. It was very sterile, no plants or wood, just concrete and steel. It didn't look very comfortable for the chimpanzees (371k)

Al-Ain Rotana Hotel

Al-Ain Rotana hotelThe Al-Ain Rotana hotel. (483k)
Las CorralesLas Corrales, a Cuban band, playing in the Rotana hotel. They were really good. (1669k)
Las CorralesOne of the singers of Las Corrales. (1622k)
Las CorralesOne of the singers of Las Corrales. (1511k)
Las CorralesOne of the singers of Las Corrales, playing the violin. They all played several instruments. (1483k)
Las CorralesOne of the singers of Las Corrales. (1484k)
Direction of MeccaEach room in the hotel has an arrow on the ceiling that points towards Mecca. (1153k)

Desert trip

DromedaryA Dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) at the camel market. (656k)
Camel marketCamel market. (555k)
CamelCloseup of one of the camels at the camel market. (427k)
CamelsOur camels for the desert ride with the camel driver. (583k)
camel driverThe camel driver with his camel. (466k)
Desert viewDesert view from camel back. (420k)
Desert viewThere are a few bushes in the desert. (505k)
Desert viewSand dunes with ripples caused by the wind. Notice the tufts of grass everywhere. (465k)
Desert viewOur shadows on the desert sand, just before sunset. (429k)
On camel backOn camel back into the sunset. (442k)
shadowsOur shadows on the desert sand, just before sunset. (377k)
camelsOur camels during a sight-seeing stop in the desert. (364k)
DunesThe wind was blowing towards me, creating little sand avalanches on the lee side of the dune. (406k)
DunesYou can see the sand blowing over the crest of the dune. (285k)
SunsetSunset in the desert. (325k)
CamelCamel feet are pretty wide and soft, made for walking in the sand, unlike the hard hoofs of horses or cows. (448k)
OasisA small oasis in the desert. (367k)
CampThis was the camp building in which we had dinner and breakfast. In the back was my bed. I didn't use it, I slept outside in the sleeping bag. (721k)
SheeshaSmoking a sheesha (water pipe) at a fire in the desert is wonderfully relaxing. (429k)
Desert sandDesert Sand. Note the different size ripples in this picture. I don't know what causes this difference. (383k)
Animal tracksAnimal tracks in the sand. (354k)
SunriseSunrise over the desert. (366k)
CamelThis camel had a very floppy lower lip. (389k)
PidgeonsI think these are pigeons, but I am not sure. (418k)
animal tracksAnother couple of animal tracks in the sand. The larger one is most likely a bird, the smaller ones may be lizards. (596k)

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© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
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