Getting Lost in Al Qattara Oasis
Since our return from Lamu Island at the end of October, and the onset of cooler weather in the UAE, I’ve been itching to explore more of Al Ain which has been inaccessible during the stifling summer months. On Friday morning, after being badgered by various suggestions, my husband agreed that we could visit the Al Qattara Oasis.
We found a parking spot, and as we entered through the nearest gate, it felt like we were transported into a parallel universe. Suddenly all the city noises grew vague and softened into a gentle background hum, while nature took over. The cooing of doves welcomed us, while the birdsong of unidentified birds teased us with their cheerful calls to explore the pathways curving and snaking through the tranquil date palm gardens. Unexpected sounds caught our attention: chickens clucking, water running and goats and sheep bleating. We kept following our ears in search of glimpses of sound.
The tall, towering palm trees created lush shade with only the occasional bright patch of sunlight to remind us that it is still hot at noon.
After strolling for a while we found an open gate and sat down on the stairs leading into one of the gardens to soak up the peacefulness of our surroundings. The oasis was empty and devoid of human voices, but we were still careful not to trespass. The sound of a car interrupted our thoughts and soon after a big SUV with tinted windows slowly drove by. We guessed that it was someone who came to do some work in his garden, but as we later strolled past the parked car, we caught a surprising glimpse of a family unpacking a picnic lunch. We felt happy in the knowledge that some owners clearly enjoy these precious enclaves of tranquility, especially as we have wondered out loud only minutes before why people do not spend more time on their land.
At one of the exits we caught a glimpse of what looked to us like a fort, but on closer inspection realised that whatever it is, most probably form part of the Al Qattara Arts Centre adjacent to it. On the edge of the oasis we spotted what looked like ruins. A sign informed us that it is the “Bin Bedouwah Al-Darmaki House” that is undergoing a painstaking restoration. The interesting thing is that the mud bricks needed for the restoration are being made on the spot, and with a life span of about 30 years, all the mud brick buildings that dot the UAE need constant work, attention and rebuilding.
By now we only had a general direction in which we thought our car was parked, so we re-entered the oasis and before long, again stumbled upon some beautiful, but mysterious buildings that look old and interesting. Great was our delight when we realised that one of these buildings houses the Heritage Village Restaurant. We entered through one of the back doors and were pleasantly surprised by the airiness of the space. Apart from a couple of locals quietly sitting smoking shisha pipes, the enormous space was deserted. The service here is friendly and we indulged in Haloumi Cheese Saj, Mixed Grill and cold Karkade (hibiscus tea) until we felt that our tummies would burst. When it was time to go we happily discovered that we parked our car at the entrance of the restaurant without even realising it. What a lovely morning we had “getting lost” in this part of the city that will most definitely see us returning, because as my husband sensibly points out: “You can go for a walk, while I sit and smoke shisha.”
GPS co-ordinates for Al Qattara Oasis and Heritage Village Restaurant: N24°15′50.1″ E55°44′57.7″
Find more pictures in the gallery section by clicking here.