The Desert-Falcons,Camels and Dune Dragging

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Three forms of recreation that I found in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are falcon training, riding camels and dune dragging.

The Bedouin lived for millennia in the desert, a harsh, unforgiving place that required developing every available tool for harvesting its scarce resources. The ultimate hunting weapon in such an austere environment: falcons. Today, even as Abu Dhabi and Dubai have become rich, the old ways persist, and behind almost every camel stable and desert retreat is an aviary of saker falcons. Though hunting is severely restricted in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, (falconers travel to hunt with their birds in places like Syria or Iraq), the birds must be flown and trained daily.

I also learned a lot about camels. A camel’s hump does not store water. It stores fat, lessening heat-trapping insulation around the rest of the body. One reason camels can go long periods without water is the shape of their red blood cells. These are oval and so will flow when they are dehydrated rather than clumping, as ours do. The camel is the only mammal to have oval red blood cells. We were told by our guide that the hump stores the food and the legs store the water-enough for one month!

In terms of the dune dragging, this is something that people love to do and for good reason! You have to let a lot of air out of your tires to do it so the car is more stable in the sand. The danger, of course, is that occasionally you can get stuck (pictured!). After you are finished, you pump your tires back up-everyone keeps the equipment in their car. I also learned that you should always go with at least two cars- so if you get stuck, you can pull each other out!  Of course as these two areas grow, there is less and less desert that is wild and free.

Grand Mosque interior-Abu Dhabi

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They never really tell you how much it all cost to build this incredible Mosque but they DO tell you some facts which are:

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has seven imported chandeliers from Germany that incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier is the second largest known chandelier inside a mosque, the third largest in the world and has a 33 ft diameter and a 49 ft height.

The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet made by Iran’s Carpet Company and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. This carpet measures 60,570 sq ft, and was made by around 1,200-1,300 carpet knotters. The weight of this carpet is 35 ton and is predominantly made from wool (originating from New Zealand and Iran). There are 2,268,000,000 knots within the carpet and it took approximately two years to complete.

The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl, one of the few places where you will see this craftsmanship.

The muaadhin (prayer call) comes from the Mosques to remind all to pray 5 times a day. When the first prayer of the day(fajr) is called at the break of dawn the muaadhin also adds a small phrase that says “prayer is better than sleeping”.  This is a reminder to the faithful that it’s time to get up and pray.

You will also notice that in all shopping malls and commercial buildings in Abu Dhabi, there are prayer rooms.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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We planned a trip to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The regulations for clothing are quite stringent(see sign!) so we were given abayas for the body and sheilas for the head to wear at the Mosque. These clothes address the Muslim need for modesty but they are also influenced by the scorching climate. The black cloth protects their skin from sunburn and because it is black,it can be thin fabric without being revealing.They were surprisingly cool to wear in the hot sun.

The Grand Mosque is one the world’s largest mosques, with a capacity for an astonishing 40,000 worshippers. It features 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers –10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing twelve tons. The mosque’s first ceremony was the funeral of its namesake, Sheikh Zayed, who is buried at the site. It was finished in 2007.

There were more than 38 contractors and thousands of workers involved with completing various elements of the structure and decoration. Materials were also sourced from many countries including Greece, Italy, Germany, China, Austria, India and New Zealand to name a few.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is well known for its diverse Islamic architecture and pure white colour.  White marble clads the external walls and columns and features relief carving of verses from Holy Quran and Islamic ornamentation.

 

 

 

 

Chinese Antiques in Abu Dhabi

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One of the days in Abu Dhabi we went to a friend’s house who lives there. She had just moved from Beijing to Abu Dhabi and had beautiful antiques from China. I have to admit- I had never seen true Chinese antiques before and I was fascinated by them. I loved her paint brush collection,her day bed and most of all I loved her opium day bed-a place for people to REALLY relax! The colors and fabrics were beautiful.

Pearling in Abu Dhabi

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We went on a morning trip “pearling” in Abu Dhabi. Pearling was a big industry for them, although a very tough one. Once the Japanese were able to create pearl farms, the business died down in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Fortunately for them, that was around the time that oil was discovered. On the tour the guide explains the logistics for diving for pearls (below). We were able to each pick an oyster and see if there was a pearl inside-in the end they made sure that everyone had one. They varied in color-from pink to gray to white. It was very interesting!

The lulu (locally qamashah), or pearl oyster was a source of wealth in the Emirates, long before the discovery of oil. Pearl oysters occur naturally on relatively shallow banks (fasht) in the Gulf.

Outsiders were forbidden to engage in pearling without the permission of the rulers and pearls were to be gathered only by the traditional practice of diving, for which the use of modern diving equipment was banned. For this reason, the time-honored methods, first developed thousands of years ago to harvest pearl oysters, continued to survive until the demise of the industry itself.

Despite much nostalgic reflection on the communal spirit encountered in pearling, there is no doubt that life was extremely hard for the average diver. Diving commenced about an hour after sunrise, the divers having breakfasted lightly on coffee and dates, and proceeded right through until an hour before sunset, except for prayers and sometimes coffee and a short rest at midday. The hard-working diver, nose pegged with clips of turtle shell (ftam) and ears plugged with wax, plummeted to the bottom with the aid of a stone (hajar) attached to his foot, which was subsequently pulled up by his attendant hauler on board ship. Fingers protected by leather caps (khabt), he quickly filled an attached basket (diyyin) with as many shells as possible, finally signalling by a tug on his rope that he needed to be hauled to the surface. The diver rested in the water after his arduous task, holding onto his rope in characteristic pose, while his basket was being emptied. But it wasn’t long before he was again descending to the deep.

In the early 1930s, the worldwide economic depression and the Japanese discovery of the cultured pearl (a pearl created by placing a shell bead inside an oyster manually) spelt disaster for the Gulf’s pearling industry. The vision of the Skeikh meant that Dubai, thanks to its free trade port, was not as badly affected as the rest of the region. Nevertheless, it was a serious blow to the local economy – one from which it would not fully recover until the discovery of oil.

excerpts from: UAE Interact and and article by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Abu Dhabi

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Home to the Grand Mosque,many beaches and amazing water parks,race tracks,beautiful hotels…Abu Dhabi is in the process of change and significant development. 60 years ago, it was mostly desert. We were in a helicopter so were able to see it all from the air.

Abu Dhabi  is the capital and the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates in terms of population and the largest of the seven member emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. The city proper had a population of 921,000 in 2013.

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, an event that led to quick unification calls made by UAE sheikdoms. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and the British started losing their oil investments and contracts to U.S. oil companies.

By 1966 it became clear the British government could no longer afford to govern what is now the United Arab Emirates.

The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971. On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al -Khaimah joined later, in early 1972.

In the beginning of the 1960s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys and the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai”s oil exports commenced in 1969, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum the ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people.

 

excerpts: Wikepedia