United Arab Emirates – A Brief…

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain form the United Arab Emirates. Each of them is unique and has something different to offer to a tourist. Abu Dhabi is the Capital but each of them is ruled by a Monarch. Natural gas reserves and oil make it a very sought after country to work in. There has been a shift though in recent years to more business and tourism to boost the economy. Islam is the official religion and Arabic its language.
In the early days, due to the harsh desert environment, there were many nomadic tribes. They hunted and did some basic agriculture and animal husbandry to survive. Pearling was also widely popular. In the 1920’s the British, who had figured out that oil was abundant in this area, set up drilling units for oil. The boom began and several oil companies were set up.
In 1962, Shaik Zayed bin Sultan began construction of schools, houses, hospital and modern roads. This was aided by the increasing oil revenues. Dubai began its modernization in 1969 and gradually became the global city that is now world famous. The other Emirates followed suit.
In the present day, the Emirates have much to offer. Read on…

Abu Dhabi
Dhabi refers to a kind of gazelle that was once native to that region. Abu means father – so Abu Dhabi literally means Father of the gazelle. In modern times, Abu Dhabi is famed for its skyscrapers. Notable among them are the Etihad Towers. Must visit is the Grand Mosque. A marvel in architecture, this was built using marbles, semi-precious stones, crystal and ceramics. The Yas Marina circuit hosts the F1 once a year as also other super car events. Ferrari World is a theme entertainment complex and you can spend a day here. The National auto museum, History Museum and Aquarium, Saadiyat Island etc are good places to visit. There are many malls if you feel like you have many dhirams to spend!

This place is like no other – I never cease to marvel at how this desert has been converted into an oasis with huge buildings, roads and flyovers, malls, gardens, canals etc. You can shop in comfort at huge malls, stay at humungous hotels or resorts, see the worlds’ highest building and fountain, eat whatever cuisine you wish to, travel in comfort in cabs, buses or the metro! A melting pot of cultures – you have people from every part of the world here seeking their fortune. There is much to do for children – adventure parks, indoor skiing, ice skating..you name it, it’s there. For the male population there is sport – golf, tennis, sky diving, desert safaris etc..it teems with people and there is a buzz always. A sense of excitement pervades the atmosphere and you never know what to expect. It’s amazing! There is opulence everywhere and it reflects in the buildings, food, roads, malls, transport system etc.

The emirate adjoining Dubai is Sharjah. Rents are a bit cheaper here and you will find people living just across the border and travelling to Dubai to work. Point to note – the consumption of alcohol without a license is prohibited in this emirate so be careful. Known as the Islamic culture capital, Sharjah exudes its own charm. Several museums showcase art, history, heritage, Islamic art and culture. You will see many mosques as you drive along. It has two major covered Souqs (markets) which are good to visit. Sharjah overlooks the Persian Gulf.

Ras al-Khaimah
Literally means “Headland of small huts” – probably because of numerous buildings that used to exist along the coastline. This emirate has very fertile soil due to good rain and the supply of underground water from the Omani mountains. You can visit the National Museum, Dhayah Fort, ruins of a medieval palace, a ghost town Al Jazirah Al Hamra or just sip tea and nibble on a sandwich at the Waldorf Astoria.

Famous for the fishing industry and seafood export, this small Emirate has other things to offer for the tourist. The Ajman National Museum which is situated in a fort is worth a visit. The Wasit Wetland Centre attracts migratory birds. For the bird lover, this place is paradise. You can see rare birds like the glossy Ibis, Marbled duck, greater Flamingo and grey Heron. About 350 species of birds flock this place. The Al Zorah natural reserve is a natural mangrove forest and is a haven for birds and marine life. There is a waterfront and several water activities. For golf enthusiasts, there is a championship golf course nearby. Shaik Zayed Mosque and Al Murabbaa watchtower are worth a visit.

This emirate is the only one to have its coast on the Gulf of Oman and not the Persian Gulf. Whilst the other emirates are mostly desert, this emirate is mountainous and has good rainfall. Must visit are the Fujairah Fort and Museum. You can parasailrkel or para sail at the various beaches (Dibba, Sandy, Umbrella) that dot this emirate. Wadi Wurayah is great to visit. Home to over 300 species of birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians it also has a super waterfall in the Hajar mountains. The Arabian Tahr (a kind of wild goat), Arabian leopard (not been spotted for some years now) and the caracal Lynx live in this habitat.

Umm al-Quwain
Located between Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman, this is the smallest of the Emirates. Translated, it means Mother of Two Powers, with reference to sea faring amongst tribes. You can sail in the calm lagoon waters or get adventurous and surf, water ski, kayak or water ski. You can parachute jump, go in a hot air balloon or sky dive at the Aero Club. The Motor Racing Club has race tracks to do buggy driving or off-road dune motoring. There are some good bird watching sites for keen birdwatchers. You can watch camel races or falconry. Something to do for every age really.

Whilst most tourists only visit Dubai, there is so much to see at the other smaller Emirates. You need to plan well so that you can make optimum use of your time.

Mavis Mendonca Smith

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