The United Arab Emirates is a Country
of extremities and confluence of various aspects and this is what makes this country uniquely intriguing. The country which was once known to be the leader of the conservative world is not rapidly opening its frontiers and society and becoming inclusive in its outlook. While the country has gained popularity because of relative stability in terms of political scenario and the rapid pace of development in some of its cities, there are corners of this country, which preserve the traditional calm and countryside serenity. One of such corners is located about a couple of hour drive from Abu Dhabi
- Al Ain, The Oasis City of UAE
An Introduction to Al Ain
|The Al Ain Palace Museum|
Given the geographic terrain of the country, most of the cities in UAE have grown along the shore - as there is a ready source of water available around. However, the travelers of deserts are aware of this beautiful blissful occurrence called oasis
- a settlement of water in the hopeless barren expanses. These water bodies become the foundations of the settlement of humankind and Al Ain is a result of one such oasis. Owing to this, Al Ain is the biggest inland city in the country and known as the Garden City owing to its greenery. With a population of about 600,000 people, the city has an important place in the country and in some aspects is considered as the place where it all started. The city is the birthplace of the founder of the UAE - Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. About 160 kilometers away from Abu Dhabi, the city of Al Ain is on the border of UAE with Oman.
We had been staying at Abu Dhabi for more than a month and had explored the city quite extensively. We were now looking for some quick getaways and a quick research came up with this beautiful city - Al Ain. A weekend trip from Abu Dhabi, the city fitted our requirements on every aspect and hence we decided to attempt a coup in this border town. As we researched our options to travel, we again settled on leveraging the public transport - the intercity bus service of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.The Journey - Onboard Intercity Bus Service
We boarded the bus for Al Ain from the Main Bus Station of Abu Dhabi - a green building around the center of the city. The bus station is a functional establishment which does what it is supposed to do and nothing fancier than that. The tickets are issued in the bus itself so we proceeded to the platform marked "Al Ain" and the bus arrived on the scheduled time. Buses from Abu Dhabi to various destinations are color-coded on the outside for ease of identification - the X90 bus to Al Ain is a maroon colored beauty. As you board the bus, the driver hands out a ticket for 25 AEDs and you can settle in one of the plush pushback seats - remember that first half of the bus is reserved for ladies.
|The Intercity Bus Service - Inside View|
As the bus leaves the city, the journey begins and the freeways become the playground for next couple of hours. Right outside the city, the natural terrain is evident and you can see the yellow sand dunes far away from the road. Interestingly, authorities have tried to put up heavy plantation along the freeway to allow for aesthetics. I would hope this also serves by preventing heavy sand deposits on roads and hence are overall a good thing. The bus stops at 3 villages en-route and within about one and half hour enters the city of Al Ain and you are greeted with a countryside town in its full flavor.
|Seated and Ready for The Trip|
|Deserts - That is the Original Terrain of the Region|
Soon the bus slides into a relatively small bus station in a corner of the city and it is time to deboard the bus at this time. After deboarding, you enter into a contemporary glass building which is the city's bus terminal and is pretty chic for the size of the city it caters. As you exit the bus station, you have plenty of taxies lined up to pick tourists. However, if you are not landing here in the mid-day sun and are physically capable, I would recommend you opt for a walk - but that is for later. For now, here is the first outlook for the city for you coming up!Al Ain - First Impressions of the City
|Welcome to Al Ain City|
Al Ain is a quite small city preserving its raw flavor and you realize this the moment you enter the city. The roads are done with colorful flowers on both sides and the spectrum of colors is simply amazing. The street lights and traffic lights have pillars decorated in hues of gold at the top - depicting the traditional popularity of the expensive metal in this region. The city has a small town touch and is away from the pace and hustle of a metropolis. A look around tells you that relative to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Al Ain has a higher percentage of Emirati population, however, they still form a distant minority. As tourist traffic to the country is increasing, Al Ain is fast getting popularity as a tourist destination. It has definitely become one of the prominent getaways from Abu Dhabi or Dubai and most tour operators offer a day tour from both these cities.
|Flowers Decorate the Road Sides|
|Notice the Golden Hues - The Perfect Symbolism|
Things to Do - What should a tourist cover
- Al Ain National Museum
Once you are out of the bus station, the oldest museum in the UAE, Al Ain National Museum is located a short walk away and it would be a pleasure if you are taking it up during the evenings or mornings. The museum was established by the founders of the country to preserve the history and transfer the knowledge from past to future generations. Established in 1969, the museum beautifully charts the history of the regions since the Stone Age and showcases artifacts up to the foundation of the country. The exhibits have been divided into three main sections – Archaeology, Ethnography, and Gifts, - across which the Al Ain National Museum offers insight into the local traditions and culture that have defined the region.
|Al Ain National Museum|
- Al Ain Oasis
With an entrance located right beside the National Museum, this is logically the next site to visit in the city. A good set-up maze of manicured pathways with ample signages, this oasis park is definitely easy to navigate. The park has thick palm plantation and this is the charm it offers to visitors. This oasis is the UAE's first UNESCO World Heritage site and provides tourists with a unique experience across 1200 hectares of date palms numbering over 147,000. The cool, shady walkways transport you from the heat and noise of the city to a tranquil haven; all you will hear is birdsong and the rustle of the palm fronds.
|Palm Grooves Plantatio|
|Shadowy Walkways Make Life Easy|
The site introduces visitors to the delicate oasis eco-system and the importance it has played in the development of the emirate. The oasis landscape of Al Ain is shaped by a complex shared water supply based on both wells and ‘falaj’, the UAE’s traditional irrigation system. Al Ain Oasis has plenty of working examples of the falaj which have been used for centuries to tap into underground wells. It is an interesting sample of traditional farming and agriculture of this region and is a must visit if you are in the city. Again, a visit in the evenings or mornings would provide the best time to visit but even during the day, the thick plantation provides enough shadows for you to enjoy a visit. Every weekend post lunch there is a cultural program organized within the oasis campus where food stalls serve local delicacies and cultural performances.
|The Falaj Irrigation System|
- Al Ain Palace Museum
Located on the western edge of Al Ain Oasis, the Palace of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was built in 1937. It was converted into a museum in 1998 and opened to the public in 2001. The original structure comprised a private residence for the ruler and his family within a complex of courtyards. Recently two more buildings have been added to the campus to provide all essential infrastructure needed for the museum.
The architectural design and construction of Al Ain Palace is typical of historical buildings of the UAE. It features the characteristic ventilation structures that are designed to keep the buildings cool in the summer. The palace museum showcases the life of the founders and rulers of the area and provides insights into the history of UAE.
|Bringing The Royal Flavor - The Palace Museum|
- Al Jahli Fort
Historic cities often have forts as these were the guardian structures of the city during the reign of rulers. A land like this where the geographic terrain is predominantly barren deserts, these small settlements around oasis are definitely an eyesore for others. Having an imposing castle or fort is the most obvious structure to come up as first buildings in such settlement. Al Jahili Fort is one of the largest castles in Al Ain and best-in-class example of local military architecture. This 1891 structure was the residence of local governor and acted as headquarters for the scouts guarding the territory and precious palm groves. The fort is set with well-manicured gardens all around it and visitors can spend a good time here especially along with kids.
|Al Jahili Fort Area - Well Maintained Gardens |
The fort would need you to take a taxi from the Palace Museum as there is a couple of kilometers of travel involved. Obviously, buses are available too if you have the patience.
|Al Jahili Fort - The Imposing Structure Protecting the City|
- Al Ain Zoo
Al Ain Zoo is another considerable drive from the city center and you could take a taxi or bus from Al Jahili Fort. Given the distance, it may make sense to wait for a bus if you are one of those who explore budget travel options. This 900-hectare park near the base of Jebel Hafeet is where visitors can see a large animal collection in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitats. There are plenty of green public spaces for picnics and also playgrounds, a cafeteria and a train tour of the wildlife area.
The Al Ain Zoo is home to over 4,000 animals, with at least 30% of its 180 species considered endangered. The facility is maintained in close coordination and partnerships with similar set-ups around the world including San Diego Zoo, the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami, and the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The site offers opportunities for visitors to interact with various animals - feeding Giraffe, riding camels and other such activities.
|Al Ain Zoo - A Plethora of Fauna|
- Green Mubazzarah Recreation Area
A recreational area has been developed strategically located at the feet of the Jebel Hafeet Mountains. The Green Mubazzarah Chalets are a splendid retreat away from the clamor of the metropolis providing guests with a deluxe lodging and intimate access to the great outdoors. Green Mubazzarah occupies part of the rocky mountainside and been landscaped with rolling grassy hillsides alongside streams, hot springs, and waterfalls. Visitors can also enjoy a ride on camel and horses and it is a good place to spend evenings. It is about half an hour drive from the Al Ain Zoo and on the same side of the city center so the two visits can be clubbed. There is a bus from the city center which covers both the Zoo and the Chalets.
Things to Remember and Consider
|Rocky Slopes and Well Manicured Gardens - A Retreat|
|The Local Work Horse|
- Local Transportation - Taxis are pretty easily available at most of the tourist attractions and bus stations. Bus service is available too and most routes have a frequency of about half an hour. There is a useful application of the public transportation department which uses your GPS location and destination name to help you out with routes and nearest bus stop.
- Facilities - One of the interesting concept I found in the city was the automated facility for washrooms. These are automatically operated and timed and pre-recorded voice guides you through the process. These are generously distributed across the city and were a novel concept for adoption.
- Late Night Excursions - UAE is a country with one of the lowest crime rates across the world however, Al Ain isn't a city as metropolitan as Abu Dhabi and Dubai and hence we would recommend returning to your base at reasonable times. It is better to avoid venturing to the woods late in night.
- Al Ain Camel Market - This is the last souk of its kind in the UAE, east of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain, and is an excellent opportunity to see camels up close and see and hear traders discussing the price and merits of their animals. There are some excellent photo opportunities, but be careful where you point your lens and always ask permission first.
Tempted to visit this inland oasis city? Like what you were taken through? Have some comments or views? Shoot them all out in comments or drop us a note!