The tiny emirate of Umm al Qawain has its name spelt in a variety of ways some of which are Umm al-Qiwain, Umm al -Qaywayn, Umm el qiwain and Umm al-Quwain. The emirate is a member of the United Arab Emirates but it accounts for only one percent of the land mass of the UAE. Umm al Qawain is located between the emirate of Sharjah in the southwest and RasAl Khaimah in the north east. It has a long coastline which stretches for twenty four kilometers and it’s inland border is located at a distance of the 32 kilometers from the coastline. This long coastline has enabled the fishing industry to thrive here for over two hundred years. The earliest settlement here can be traced back to when the Al Ali tribe moved here from their capital on Al Sinniyah Island in search of water.
The capital of the emirate is Umm al Qawain city. This is the home of the ruler and the commercial and administrative capital. The city has the main seaport and the Marine research institute which charts the development of the fisheries of the emirate. Umm al Qawain is located on a lagoon formed by a narrow peninsula on the west and some islands on the east. This lagoon called Khor al Bediah is well known for its sailing and bird watching sites. The emirate is also renowned for its pristine beaches which dot the long coastline though the emirate which covers only 777 square kilometers is tiny compared to the others.
The name Umm al Qawain when translated means ‘Mother of Two Powers’ in reference to the sea faring activities of the emirate. Dhow Building and Fishing along with Date farming have been the main activities in this emirate through the ages.
Not much archeological evidence is available to trace the origins of the people who inhabit the emirate though there has been the discovery of old coins which date back to the first millennium AD. However a catalogue of events is available from the late eighteenth century when in 1775 Sheikh Majid Al Mualla who belonged to the Al Ali clan founded the kingdom of Umm Al Qawain at its present location.
Sheikh Abdullah I signed the General Maritime Treaty with the British on January 8th 1820 and the kingdom became a British protectorate in a move to prevent the marauding Ottoman Turks. It remained a protectorate of the British up until 1971 when Sheikh Ahmad II joined the United Arab Emirates. The emirate was accorded Salute State Status t along with the other emirates of Dubai, Ras al Khaimah and Sharjah as it occupied a strategic position on the all important trade route to India.
Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmed Al Mualla who came to power in 1981 is the present day ruler of the emirate.
Located on the coast the emirate, is cooled by breezes from the sea and it enjoys average day temperatures of 26°C (79°C) while at nights the temperature hovers around 15°C (59°F). In the summer months however , from April to October the temperatures can be scorching at over 40°C (104°F) coupled with high levels of humidity as well. Umm al Qawain like the other six emirates which make up the UAE does not get much rainfall either.
Arabic is the lingua franca of the emirate but like other emirates Umm Al qawain also has a significant expatriate population as a result languages such as English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Farsi, Tagalog and Russian are also spoken by its diverse inhabitants.
The official currency of Umm al Qawain is the same as the other emirates which is the Dirham. The Dirham is made up of 100 fils. The value is written only in Arabic numerals and these are quite simple to memorize.
Getting to Umm al Qawain
The city doesn’t have its own airport but can be reached by a network of roads from the international airports at Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah,Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Car rentals are available at all of these airports as well as hotels belonging to the various world wide chains that have set up shop in the UAE. International Car rental Agencies such as Avis are on hand for rentals as are local companies and travel agents. When one hires a car in the UAE one is issued a temporary driving permit which allows one to drive. This permit is issued by the car rental companies after verification of one’s passport or international driving licenses. Long distance taxis are also available to take one to Ummal qawain from one of the other emirates. Unfortunately there are no bus services in Umm Al qawain so the best way to get to the emirate is to hire a taxi or a car and drive. The various hotels will also do the needful to provide you with a pick up from the airport and a transfer to the hotel.
The Pearl Hotel is one of the more rudimentary hotels of the emirate. It comprises of twenty chalets built around a swimming pool. The Hotel can be contacted via telephone on 6-7666678 after dialing the access code of the United Arab Emirates which is 971. The Palma Beach Hotel is a hotel which is made up of a variety of porta cabins, the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but it does provide room service and can be contacted for information about rates and availability on 6-76667090. The oldest hotel on the emirate is located on the west side of the Peninsula and is called the UAQ beach hotel. The hotel has 22 porta cabins a swimming pool and a restaurant. The phone number of this hotel for procurement of further information is 6-7666647.
Falaj al -Mullah
Falaj Al Mullah is an oasis town located at a distance of fifty kilometers from Umm al Qawain in the Al Batha Valley. It is an agricultural center which supplies Umm Al Qawain with drinking water. One can drive along an extremely picturesque route to get to the oasis town. The route runs along the Wadi Al Batha. On the road to Falaj al Mualla in Al Labsa is one of the most attractive camels racing tracks of the UAE. The track is located amidst the large sand dunes which hug the road. The Camels race early in the mornings on Thursdays and Fridays. The races are held during the winter months when the weather is not that brutal and amenable to spectators as well. Wooded dales exist amongst the dunes and offer a challenge to both off road drivers as well as hikers. Excursions to the dunes are organized by tour operators as a recreational activity.
The Masafi Market is held every Friday on the main highway which leads to Fujairah . The market is located near the mountain town of Masafi and has an interesting mix of vendors who sell all sorts of knick knacks along with vegetables, fruits and plants.
Historical Sight of Al-Dur
The site is located on the main Sharjah- Ras Al Khaimah highway and it dates back to a coastal city which existed here between 200BC and third century AD. Excavations have unearthed evidence of buildings which were perhaps the home of a ruler as it has fortifications and two statues of headless eagles. A temple adorned with gypsum plasterwork has also been unearthed which points to the evidence that an entire town ship existed at the site .There are also tombs within the site environs. Glassware, jewelry, pottery and large jars as well as coins have been unearthed at this site as well.
This is another archeological find which was first excavated in 1973. It is located on the main highway to Falaj Al Mualla. The site was further excavated in 1989 and 1998.A large fortification forty meters in diameter was discovered here and this constitutes the largest Bronze Age building to have been found in the Arabian Peninsula. Here archeologists have discovered that the civilization which existed at the site had links with other civilizations of that age such as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamian civilizations.
Islands surrounding Umm Al Qawain
The islands lie on the eastern side of the peninsula and are composed of Al Sinniyah, Jazirat Al Ghallah, Al Keabe ,Al Sow,Al Qaram,Al Humaidi ,Al Chewria and Al Harmala. Al Sinniyah is the largest island and a site for much bird watching for it is here that the many species of Socotra Comorant birds are found in the months of November to March. The dense mangroves, creeks, sand bars and mud flats around the islands and Khor el Bediah lagoon makes the area ideal for a variety of birds such as great flamingos, terns and gulls. The Island of Al Sinniyah which was once a settlement is now a ninety square kilometer sanctuary for cormorants, Arabian gazelle, turtles and dugongs (sea cows). The Umm Al Qawain Tourist Center located at the top of the Corniche organizes boat trips on the Khor el Bediah and to the Island of Sinniyah but tourists are not allowed to disembark on the island.
Museum of Umm Al Qawain
The Museum is located in one of the seven forts which are located in the city. The Museum with its displays of artifacts from the Al Dur site stands testament to the eras gone by. The fort which guarded the settlement of Umm Al Qawain is the midst of a restoration effort.
Dreamland Aqua Park
A prime attraction is the Dreamland Aqua Park spread over 250,000 sq meters the park is located on the Ras Al Khaimah Highway. It is the world’s largest aqua park with water slides and other rides as well as restaurants, fast food outlets and even a souq within its environs. The Park can be accessed at 971 6 7681888.
The Aquarium is a part of the Marine Research center and features a large variety of marine wonders including rays, snakes, turtles and corrals housed in twenty tanks. The Aquarium is open daily excepting on Friday from 8am to 1pm.
The Umm Al Qawain Marine and Riding Center
It was set up in 1979 on a beach which is near the fish souq and at one time the riding club had forty horses and a team of instructors.
The Umm Al Qawain Aero Club
This club was established by the present sheikh and is the first aviation club in the UAE. The club is in the vicinity of the Aqua Park and it has two vintage planes on display. The club is famous for its sky diving and parachute championships .It has facilities for flying, hot air ballooning and parachuting.