Come on in and discover the emirates beyond Dubai and Abu Dhabi, revisit those old favourites, discover some of the UAE’s hidden gems, learn the history or find a new activity to try with great views. Check the menu to look for something specific or scroll down for ideas.
Wadi al Hilo is one of Sharjah’s several enclaves. Just off the old Kalba Road, the valley lies on the old caravan trade route and has applied to be listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site as part of the Gateway to the Trucial States.
Helo, as you may know, means sweet, so it is called The Sweet Valley. This is mainly attributed to the sweet water in the area which has made the land very fertile and particularly good for growing fruit. Farms can still be seen in the area growing different fruits and dates as well as fodder for animals such as goats.
It is also one of the many protected areas in the Emirate of Sharjah due to its biodiversity. It is home to many species of birds, rodents and reptiles as well as fish.
But Wadi al Helo is most famous for its rich history. It has ruins, graves and other archaeological sites from several periods and evidence from digs points to it having been more or less continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years.
Sites and relics have been carbon-dated as far back as the Neolithic Period with dates given as at least 8000 BC. Later sites indicate settled life in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pre-Islamic and Islamic Ages.
A copper mining workshop dating back to 3000 BC was discovered during one of several archaeological digs. The larger area was one of the important copper mining centres and it was exported to Mesopotamia. Some relics can be seen in Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. And if you look closely at the surrounding mountains, you may still see copper veins running through them.
Rock art of people, animals, symbols and inscriptions was also discovered in the area dating back to different periods.
The mosque, which has been restored, and the village nearby are around 120 years old. The main house had a courtyard and a staircase and was surrounded by about twenty other houses as well as stores, fields, tobacco drying rooms, cemeteries, wells and the nearby watchtower. This indicates that they were fairly well off.
On one side, on top of the hill, you can see three watchtowers in a row which safeguarded the area. If you’re fit it’s a fairly easy climb up from the road in good weather and you can enjoy the view over the valley. There are also hiking groups which run organised trips.
Park near the fort and explore the ruins from different ages nearby and then as you drive further up, you will pass many other structures on your way. It just goes on and on! The road itself is not paved, but it is a firm surface with grit and small stones. It is also one-way so you may find yourself backing up if you meet someone en route. Watch out for goats suddenly appearing on the road. As always, make sure you’re prepared for going off the beaten track.
What could I combine it with for a day trip?
The villages also has houses, stores, and a mosque all built of rock and clay. The rocks used were very large and some of the buildings, such as the mosque, are built into larger rocks. As the rocks used were from the mountain area itself, it’s hard to see the village from a distance and you can easily drive past it without noticing it other than the fort.
Al Miqsar Village was built around 300 years ago and is located atop a small mountain in Wadi Shie. The small fort at the top is known as Wadi Shie Castle and has high slits through which to aim a rifle and also to provide ventilation. It is also part of the defence network of Khor Fakkan City which includes Al Adwani Tower, Al Rabi Tower and al Hisn Fort in the city itself. The lookouts would warn each other by gunfire.
The village is currently being restored by Sharjah Planning and Survey Department along with several other historical areas of Khor Fakkan.
It can currently be reached by following the road to Wadi Shie from Khor Fakkan, after going through the underpass, keep to right at all forks. Or take the walkway under the Khor Fakkan Rd by taking The Walk on the dry side of Rafisa Dam (although the underpass is not yet very accessible to all). To take this route, park at Rafisa Dam, follow signs for The Walk and follow the path all the way under the highway. There is later to be a parking area for visitors there.
If you have driven around the northern parts of the UAE, you will no doubt have noticed that you pass from one emirate into another and then suddenly back again or you may find yourself in an emirate you thought you were nowhere near.
UAE geography is clearly not straightforward. This goes back to territories owned by different ruling families before the birth of the UAE as well as gifts of land between the families and change of allegiance to rulers. And as in so many countries, there was also a British political officer involved in drafting territorial maps.
Ras al Khaimah has a northern and a southern region separated by a strip of Fujairah. Fujairah itself is separated by Sharjah. The emirate of Ajman has two enclaves, one inland, Manama, and one in the east, Masfoot, whilst Dubai has the enclave of Hatta in the east. To add to this, Oman has a few enclaves within the UAE.
Sharjah is probably the most interesting and most scattered emirate. The main part stretches from the city of Sharjah into the central region which includes Dhaid, Madam, Maleha and many other small towns and villages.
On the east coast, the small enclave of Dibba al Hisn is sandwiched between Dibba Fujairah and Dibba Oman. As you continue your journey down the east coast you chop and change between territories, starting in Oman (the enclave of Musandam) then passing through Sharjah (Dibba al Hisn) then Fujairah, then Sharjah again (Khor Fakkan) then Fujairah, then back to Sharjah ( Kalba) before finally going back to Oman. Dibba, Khor Fakkan, Kalba and Wadi al Helou (a mountainous region to the west of Kalba) are known as the Eastern Region.
The most fascinating of these must surely be the tiny enclave of Nahwa which is situated inside the Omani exclave of Madha. Madha is bordered by Sharjah (Khor Fakkan), Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah and has a population of around 3000. Apart from the area of new Madha, it is mountainous territory with numerous beautiful oases scattered through it.
Madha became part of Oman around 80 years ago when its people chose to align themselves with the Omani Sultan rather than the leaders of RAK, Fujairah or Sharjah as they believed at that time that Oman could help them more.
Nahwa covers an area of just 75km² and contains a tiny village made up of new Nahwa and old Nahwa. It consists of fewer than a hundred houses, a police station with a fire and ambulance service, a health centre, a primary school, a sports centre, a small play park, a grocery and several farms. It is governed and serviced by the municipality of Khor Fakkan.
If you haven’t visited any of these places yet, it’s time to get your map out and start exploring!
I had a really fun morning last week while attending a Community Programme at Sharjah Heritage Museum. It was the second of four open mornings, each day with a different theme. The day before had been traditional medicine and volunteers from amongst the visitors had hijama, a form of cupping. We were warmly welcomed by the local ladies who were hosting the morning and taken to the majlis (sitting room) to enjoy an Emirati breakfast in the majlis (sitting room) which consisted of Tharid, meat and vegetable stew served on layers of Ragag, wafer thin bread, Balaleet, a dish of slightly sweet vermicelli and egg, Khameer, a type of bread and Legemaat, dumplings drizzled with date syrup. Having eaten our fill of the delicious offerings, we had a quick tour of a relevant part of museum and were shown the tools for making Arabic gahwa (coffee) and some other traditional cooking utensils and spices and herbs. Next we moved to a sheltered area outside the majlis where tables had been set up with portable gas stoves and pans. a delightful Emirati lady started to instruct us on the best way to make the balaleet we had just eaten. It was quite intense as it is quite a quick process to get it just right and I couldn’t help feeling I was on Ready Steady Cook or Masterchef! A very enjoyable morning was had by all, even though we did go home feeling rather stuffed 🙂