Al Ain Road Trip: Of Oases and History

Al Ain is the second big city in Abu Dhabi. Sometimes people mistook it as an emirate in itself, probably because it’s bigger and more popular than the other emirates. Known as Garden City because of its lush vegetation (of course compared to the rest of the nation), Al Ain is also famous for the only (so far) UNESCO World Heritage inscribed site in the United Arab Emirates.

The city is a favorite destination for a quick escape from the busy metro. That being said, we, burnt out human beings from Dubai drove all the way to Al Ain for a change of scenery. The trip took almost two hours, passing by a rather boring E66 or Al Ain-Dubai Road.

What a better way to start the trip than paying a visit to the city’s highest peak (and the country’s second highest). The Hafeet Mountain, more commonly known as Jebel Hafeet, is accessible through a long, meandering road constructed along the slopes of the mountain. Occasional parking areas and view decks were provided offering stunning views of the city. Atop, there’s a bigger parking lot-slash-viewing platform and a restaurant/café.

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I will always remember the first time I saw Jebel Hafeet. I was barely knew in Dubai then and the construction of all things “new” (and ridiculous) was a boom. Upon seeing the interesting rock formations of Jebel Hafeet, I doubted it for a sec and asked if t’was real or manmade. I guess you can’t blame me after visiting a manmade palm-shaped island and a ski on a mall.

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Next, we moved to that big green spot on the foot of Jebel Hafeet. Green Mubazzarah is a nice place to lay your mat and have a picnic. There are food kiosks available and barbecue pits as well. If you fancy a dip, there are hot springs and pools. And the best part is entrance is free of charge.

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After lunch, we continued to visit one of the many oases in the city. Of course, we chose to see the largest of them all, the Al Ain Oasis. Growing up, my perception of an oasis is a green patch with water located in the middle of a desert. So I was pretty surprised to know that Al Ain Oasis is located within the city centre and bordered by important buildings such as Al Ain National Museum. Well, they have probably built around the oasis or maybe it’s another definition?

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A wide footpath led us to walled date palm plantations, (supposedly) irrigated the ancient way, via a water channel called falaj. Unfortunately, when we got there, these narrow channels have dried out so we’re not really sure if they still use the old irrigation system.

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We stopped by our last destination before sundown- Hili Archaeological Park. Together with the oases, Bida Bint Saud and the Hafeet tombs, the archaeological park forms the group of sites inscribed by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2011.

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We arrived in Hili Archaeological Park at around 3:30 in the afternoon but refused entry due to salah (prayer). When its gates finally opened, we were kinda unsure if we’re on the right place because it looks like a normal park – y’know, the one with big lawns and meandering footpaths. But at one side of the park, we came across a large circular structure with small openings. Turns out, this is the Great Hili Tomb, an ancient burial place that dates back to Umm al Nar Period (sometime in 2000 BC). This engraving of two oryxes is a nice detail to an otherwise boring structure.

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We found more ruins like this old settlement, but they’re pretty less interesting compared to the Great Hili Tomb.

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We rented bikes and toured around the park. At around 5, when we’re on our way out, people started coming in (surprise, surprise!).

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Our day ended with a two-hour drive back to the base. A day is definitely not enough to get the most out of Al Ain. There’s the mother of all gardens in the desert – the Al Ain Paradise; Al Ain Museum, Sheikh Zayed Museum and Al Jahili Fort for a bit of history and culture; Wadi Adventure for the thrill seeker; Hili Fun City for the kids and Al Ain Zoo for families and animal lovers. I know there is so much more than what I’ve mentioned. Which means, we will be back for another round of sightseeing in the city of Al Ain.

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