4 August 2006

Jebel Hafeet: heat-beating retreat

Want to know how to get out of the humidity for a while without leaving the UAE?

Head up a mountain.

The city of Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi emirate is close to the border of Oman, and the Hajjar mountain range which runs spinelike through Oman also invades the Al Ain environs.

The tallest peak on the Al Ain side is called Jebel Hafeet – rising up to 1240m. At the base is an area called the Green Mubazzarah – a popular picnic area with natural hot water springs. The 3-lane, 15km sealed road leading up the mountain is a work of art. It’s well–lit by halogen street lamps at night, and guarded by concrete barriers to stop the cars from driving over the edge and careening down the steep slopes to a less-than-happy fate. Judging by the scrapes and paint marks on the barriers, it appears that their presence has done much to prevent the already too-high UAE road toll from becoming even higher.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Numerous huge car parking areas have been built along the road. In our trips up the mountain with various overseas visitors in tow, we’ve never seen more than 1 or 2 cars in any of these areas. The top carpark is easily the size of 4 or 5 football fields, and the black tyre marks which criss-cross the cobblestones are evidence that much hooning takes place up there by the resident boy racers.

On a clear day, the views are spectacular. Al Ain city and its environs stretch out at the base of the mountain; the sand and rock interspersed with areas of green which are a testament to the late Sheikh Zayed’s passion and determination to “greenify” the area, and much of the greenery is watered by his Bio-saline agricultural project. The sand dunes to the southwest are awesome, as is the mountain itself. Take binoculars, as viewing the environs through them allows so much more detail to be seen.

There are 2 amazing manmade structures on top of Jebel Hafeet. At the very top sits the palace where once resided Shaikh Zayed. It’s a fantastic engineering feat perched on the very top of the ridge.

Slightly below the palace is the Mercure Hotel. The Mercure is a popular place for weekend getaways from Dubai – and the rates are quite reasonable. There's a wonderful swimming pool and waterslides for kids (of all ages!) to enjoy, as well as a mini golf course, gym, squash and tennis courts, and a play area for the kids.

On the second floor of the hotel and only accessible to the hotel guests is a wonderful viewing deck. The wide concrete railing has a mosaic map of the surrounding vista – pointing out areas of interest, as well as describing the local flora and fauna. Markers also indicate the directions of the world’s major cities in relation to the hotel.

Being elevated, the mountain has its own ecoclimate, is less humid than the lower surrounding countryside and is also colder at night. In Summer, the skin burntime is a lot less than in Dubai - as M found out to her detriment during the July visit!

It’s a great place to base yourself when visiting Al Ain to experience all the attractions of the area. The camel market, zoo*, oases, forts and museums are among the finest in the UAE.

*I included the zoo as one of the finest sites because although it was a bit rundown and lacking in the animal department when we last visited, what is there is amazing to see - and it was only 2 dirhams to get in! The reptile house alone is worth the visit with huge pythons and anacondas, as well as the smaller species of reptiles.

Just recently there's been good news for the zoo. A 15 million dirham refurbishment has added covered walkways, new facilities and revamped animal enclosures.

Plans are also underway to include a day and night safari, as well as build a water park.

Unlike the Dubai zoo, the enclosures are spacious, grassed, and from what we can see, all the animals' sleeping quarters have air-conditioners. Whether the aircon is actually used, I can't say!

I don't understand why they can't relocate some of the poor animals out of the Dubai Zoo to Al Ain until the new Dubai zoo is (ever) ready. It would benefit both establishments, and most of all, benefit the animals.

EDIT: Ahmed wrote to us to say that the palace on top of Jebel Hafeet is actually UAE President Sheikh Khalifa's residence - thanks Ahmed!

This post was also included in Gulf News' Pick of the Week on 7th August which now appears to be a weekly column highlighting posts from the regional bloggers.

25 comments:

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

What an adorably cute camel! There is something about the look on its face: "Whatcha looking at?" "mmm hmmm"

nzm said...

Do you mean the giraffe? lol. She was gorgeous - leaned right over the top of me - I think that she wanted to eat my camera!

Welcome back! Looking forward to reading your post on Bosnia - although I see a few pics of Sarajevo AND you're going away again!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

sorry.. I meant GIRAFFE!!! lolllllllll gees!...no wonder I am tired. The whole UAE thing got me all camelised. Ah well a good laugh is on me.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Looks like there are some very very rich people in your part of the world. Thanks for the pictures. The world is an amazing place.
W.

Jin said...

I love going thru to Al Ain & would pack up in an instant if Hubs told me we had to move..........the greenery alone has me drooling honestly! Jebel Hafeet is stunning, but as yet, I've never been up when there hasn't been a dusty coloured haze across the horizon :-(

A world of Symphony said...

Al-Ain is our weekend spot during the so-called winter months here. Mind you, it really chills out at nights but it's fun when you have a warm brandy beside you to beat the chill. It's more greener there and Jebel Hafeet is simply awesome.

Mise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mise said...

I'm delighted to hear that the zoo has been refurbished..my first and last visit there 13 years ago was a pretty sad affair with parched and distressed animals baking in the summer sun without water or adequate shelter...but I always liked the trips up Jebel Hafeet, and quietness and coolness Al Ain after to the noise and heat of Abu Dhabi...

...and I'm delighted to report a balmy 24 degrees in the sunny South of Ireland on a weekend when the Cork footballers and hurlers are attempting to progress (again!) to the All Ireland finals in September ... C'mon the Rebels! :-D

nzm said...

Wendy - yes there are very rich people here - oil does that for people! But there are also some very poor, as well as those who are maxed out on their credit cards while they live the high life.

Jin - we've found the best time for clear skies is during the cooler months from October to Feb.

Louis - we also enjoy going there in Summer - it just feels so different to Dubai, and up the mountain feels like another world.

mise - didn't realise that you back in the Emerald Isle. Do you fly Aer Lingus? You must keep them in business!

Kishor Cariappa said...

Anacondas in Dubai zoo? Amazing.

ahmed said...

Nice Post. I hope Al Ain Dept of Tourism learns something from this post. They are sleeping most of the time.

BTW the palace on the top was built and owned by Sheikh Khalifa, and the one below - next to the mosque, is where late president Sheikh Zayed lived for days in a stretch.

nzm said...

Kishor - not the Dubai zoo, the Al Ain zoo which is closer to you in Oman!

Ahmed - thanks for the info on the palace - I'll update the post to include your info. It's amazing what you get told in this country - everything in Dubai is Sh. Mohammed's and everything in Al Ain was Sh. Zayed's when he was still alive! :-)

(((dXb))) said...

"Judging by the scrapes and paint marks on the barriers...

LOL. Noticed that too during our visit.

Mise said...

Yes, I do since they started flying direct to Dublin...it's a nuisance having to go to Dubai, I'm lazy that way :-), but definitely the cheapest way home...

Balushi said...

I have an Interesting story to tell about this I stayed there with a girl, the girl i found her there as well!


Story on my blog is coming soon!

BuJ said...

NZM, I can read your blog now!

yuppie.. sorry i just had to use bold for that!

i have a lot of posts to catch up! you write too fast!

anyway whatever you did it worked and thanks for that :)

I see some people are starting to like camels.. lol SS u were meant to live in the UAE hehe

anyway.. this Mercure hotel.. when was it built? jabal hafeet looks much cooler than when i last went there a few yrs ago.. probably 2001 or so...

nzm said...

Buj - yay!!

Looks like the hotel was built in 2002.

The mountain is amazing - I love going there, and it's so quiet up the top!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Oh just noticed the snail! (and may I add, this time I named the creature with its rightful name...lol)

Very true about living in the world one carries and creates.

nzm said...

SS - I replaced the Blog Day logo because it was causing crashes to Buj's Mac!

And - I'm falling of my chair laughing here - it's not a snail shell, it's a Nautilus shell! I have yet to encounter one while diving, but would love to!

I think that I'll have to start naming the animal pics on my blog for you! lol.

A world of Symphony said...

Hey Guys, congratulations are the first order of business for the day. Saw the Jebel Hafeet post in today's Gulf News. Looks like we're going there this weekend (Thursday evening) or Friday morning. You guys forced us to check it out in summer although we're regulars during the 1st quarter of every year. LOL.

nzm said...

Thanks, Louis - and have fun up the mountain!

If we're staying there over the weekend and we stay at the Mercure,we like going there in Summer as it's warm enough to swim, whereas in Winter it's too chilly! But take your sunblock - I got fried in a couple of hours!

BuJ said...

i have to admit SS is acting very blonde.. hehehe it's amusing.. but she never seems to do this on her own blog hehehe

ok.. i'll disappear now before the hurl of abuse sets in!!!

Pandabonium said...

In Palm Springs, California the average high temperatue in August is 106F (41 C) - about like Dubai. At neighboring San Jacinto mountain there is a cable tram that goes to a restaurant at the 8,500 foot level where it is often 15 degrees C cooler. Not surprisingly, this is their number one attraction.

nzm said...

I've read and seen pics about that cable car - it looks like a great ride. I think that my brother did it when he visited the US a couple of years ago. I'd like to go up there too - apparently the difference is temperature is very noticeable!

Here, it's not so much the difference in temperature as it is the difference in humidity percentage. Jebel Hafeet is less humid than the surrounding low land.

Pandabonium said...

I've been up it a couple of times back in the early 70's when I lived not so far from there. There aren't any hotels or such to stay at though, so unless you are going camping you have to go back down at the end of the day.