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Al Ain – The Garden City of the UAE

Introduction Al Ain

Al Ain which means spring in Arabic, also known as the Garden City due to its greenery, is the second largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates. With a population of approx. 650,000, it is located approximately 160 km east of the capital Abu Dhabi and about 120 km south of Dubai . Al Ain is the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates, and it has the country’s highest number of Emirati nationals.

Al Ain is located in Abu Dhabi, inland on the border with Oman. The freeways connecting Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai form a geographic triangle in the center of the country, each city being roughly 130 kilometers from the other two.

Historically known as Tawam or al Buraimi Oasis, Al Ain became a distinct location following independence in 1971. Al Ain has been inhabited for over 4,000 years, with archaeological sites showing human settlement at Al Hili and Jebel Hafeet. These early cultures built “beehive” tombs for their dead and engaged in hunting and gathering in the area. The oasis provided water for early farms until the modern age. A companion of the prophet Muhammad, Kaab Bin Ahbar was sent to the region to introduce Islam. He settled and died in the oasis. The forts currently in Al Ain were built in the late 19th or early 20th century to solidify Abu Dhabi’s control over the oasis.

Wilfred Thesiger (the last British explorer in Arabia prior to the discovery of oil) visited Al Ain in the late 1940s during his travels across the Empty Quarter. He met Sheikh Zayed and stayed with him at Al Muwaiji Fort. This network of fortresses served as the trading and slaving posts for the area.

In 1952 Saudi Arabia sent raiders to capture Al Ain’s fortresses and incorporate the oasis into the Saudi kingdom. Forces from the Trucial Oman Scouts as well as the army of Oman arrived to recapture the oasis. With British intervention, the Saudi forces withdrew, leaving the oasis back in the hands of Abu Dhabi and Oman.

Prior to independence, Al Ain was part of the Arabian slave trade network that extended from east Africa into the Persian Gulf. In the 1960s, Sheikh Zayed abolished formal slavery. Today, some families in both Al Ain and Buraimi are descended from these slaves.

Until 2006, Buraimi and Al Ain shared an open border. This border was closed in November 2006, and passport controls were imposed.

1) Al Ain National Museum

Contact: +971-3-7641595/764159
Timings: 08:00-19:00 (all week days except Mondays)

The museum, the oldest in the UAE, is located next to the Eastern Fort (or Sultan Fort). It is on the eastern side of the Al Ain Oasis, the largest oasis in Al Ain. It was built by the former UAE President, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The museum was inaugurated by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region, on 2 November 1971.

The museum has three main sections on ethnography, archaeology and gifts presented to Shk Zayed by states visitors. It includes finds from the Bronze Age tombs at the Hili Archaeological Park on the outskirts of Al Ain.

2) Al Ain Camel and livestock Market

This is the last souk of its kind in the UAE, east of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain is an excellent opportunity to see camels up close, and to 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. People will try to sell you a tour around the pens, but feel free to walk around on your own. In the livestock section, watch locals arrive in pickups laden with goats and sheep, ready to do some hard bargaining.

3) Al Ain Zoo

Contact: +971-800555
Website: https://www.alainzoo.ae/
Timings: check above website for details

Al Ain Zoo founded in 1968, is a 400-hectare (990-acre) zoo located in the foothills of the Jebel Hafeet Mountains in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. It mainly comprises Arabian antelopes and Oryx, eland, gazelle and hosts the almost extinct white lion (less than 200 remain in the world) The zoo features a big cat house. Lions, pumas, black and spotted leopards and jaguars are found here. In addition to this, it also has a reptile house, monkey compounds, aquarium and aviary. From February 2010 until July 2010, the Al Ain Zoo hosted the “Dinosaur Trail”, a small section which includes around 15 to 20 mechanical dinosaurs with sensors such as the T-Rex as well as information about the dinosaur such as when they lived, which parts of the (current) world they would have been found, their height, diet, etc. There is a bird show featuring Predatory birds and night birds that lasts 30 min starting at 7 PM. The dinosaur trail is open until 8PM. Wheelchairs are available on request.

Should one wish to walk around the zoo and see all the animals they would need approximately 2 hours (the Dinosaur Trail should not take longer than 10 to 15 minutes, inclusive of taking photographs).

The zoo also has a “train” with open carriages. It does not enter the “yellow” section which hosts the African Lion, Bengal Tiger, Chimpanzee, Puma and Salt water crocodile, Panther, Nile crocodile and Leopard.

The zoo is currently preparing to expand with work on its perimeters going on at the moment in order to build new sites such as the conservation and breeding centre, African Safari, World Desert Zoo, Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre.

4) Hili Archeological Park

Contact: +971-80555
Website: https://www.abudhabi.ae/
Timings: Saturday to Thursday: 4:30 AM – 9:30 PM
Friday: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

The tombs of Al Hili settlement were used for collective burials over centuries and their funerary goods give valuable evidence of life in the oasis. The largest stone tomb in Al Hili, commonly called the Great Hili Tomb, is 2.5 metres high and 8 metres in diameter. It was built during the Umm Al Nar period (2700-2000 BC). Two entrances display engravings picturing humans and oryx antelopes. The findings show that people were buried in collective graves, with several chambers, built of stones. In the case of the Great Hili Tomb, a total of six chambers were found, arranged in two halves of the circular building, which is divided by a cross wall. Since the tomb was strongly damaged, it was restored in 2005 to give visitors an impression of its original appearance.

Though only fragments of human remains were discovered in the Great Hili Tomb, scientists found several intact pit-graves to which the bodies of the original tombs were probably transferred during a later period. Since more than 600 people of all ages have been buried in the pit-graves, their examinations resulted in valuable insights into the daily lives of the people who inhabited the UAE more than 5,000 years ago. The average height was around 157cm for females and 171 cm among the male population. Furthermore, people suffered from malnutrition, which led to serious tooth problems.

5) Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum

The museum is based in the palace of the former UAE President, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his family. It was originally built in 1937 on the western side of the Al Ain Oasis, the largest oasis in Al Ain. Sheikh Zayed lived here until 1966. It was made into a museum in 2001. The museum presents many of the rooms in the palace, including an art gallery. Many of the rooms are majlis or meeting rooms for receiving visitors. In one of the courts there is a replica grand court tent, representing a link with Bedouin life. There is also a Land Rover similar to the one driven by Sheikh Zayed in the desert to visit Bedouin communities.

6) Jebel Hafeet

Jebel Hafeet is a mountain on the outskirts of Al Ain. The mountain straddles part of the border with Oman and rises 1249 meters and offers an impressive view over the city. Jebel Hafeet was a well-known landmark throughout the area’s history and is a contemporary tourist attraction. At the foothills of Jebel Hafeet lies the Green Mubazarrah, a well-developed tourist attraction where hot-water springs gush forth in little streams and form a lake. Swimming pools and Jacuzzis are scattered all over the Green Mubazarrah. Jebel Hafeet is also home to a wide range of animals including bats, foxes, snakes and the rare Egyptian vulture.

The Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road extends for 7.3 mi (11.7 km) up the mountain, rising 4,000 ft (1,219 m). With 21 corners and three lanes (two climbing and one descending), the immaculate road was called the greatest driving road in the world by Edmunds.com. The road scales the mountain and ends at a parking lot with only a hotel and a palace belonging to the country’s rulers. The road was built by Strabag International of Cologne, Germany.

7) Wadi adventure

Contact: +971 3 781 8422
Website: https://www.wadiadventure.ae/
Timings: check above website for updates

Wadi Adventure, the Middle East’s first man made whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing facility.

Jump into a raft at Wadi Adventure, home to the longest man made whitewater channels in the world, and get ready for an unforgettable experience. Whitewater rafting is an activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family and requires no previous experience or skill. Wadi Adventure has three whitewater channels, each providing a different experience and thrill factor, which our experienced guides will tailor to your ability. All raft trips include a professional guide, a short briefing on the fundamentals of rafting and essential safety information, as well as all the technical equipment needed

For reservation, send your inquiry to: info@arabiantours.com

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