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28 February 2024

Sharjah's new tourist trails: Valley of the Caves, Camel Rock tours...

Valley of Caves in Mleiha (Supplied)

By Staff

Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) will develop Mleiha into a major tourist, archaeological and eco-tourism site over the next three years.

More than Dh250 million will be invested in the multi-phase development of the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project to make it one of the most important archeological sites in the UAE. Sharjah’s investment body will also invite third parties to establish hotels and resorts for tourists in the proximity of Mleiha’s archaeological aeas.

Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq, said the project will be officially opened on Wednesday, January 27, 2016, saying it will attract investment to the Central and Eastern regions of Sharjah and create job opportunities for the local community.

Camel Rock (Supplied)

The first phase will see the opening of the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which will be a starting point for people visiting the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project through guided tours.

Al Sarkal also said the project will house a range of archaeological sites, such as the Umm an-Nar Tomb, the Valley of the Caves, the Mleiha Fort, historic horse and camel graveyard, the ancient farmhouse with kitchen, the pre-Islamic Mleiha Palace.

“The project includes a variety of natural terrain, such as mountains and desert, and there is also considerable diversity of rare plants in the region. We are currently conducting a host of studies and research with relevant bodies to find ways to increase and protect the plant diversity, which characterises the area. The project is expected to attract thousands of visitors, particularly nature and heritage lovers, to introduce them to the region's rich archaeological heritage,” Al Sarkal added.

Among other activities there will also be guided walks on camel trails to see the paths people of ancient civilizations took to cross the desert

There will be various sporting activities such as the Adrenaline Adventures with dune buggies and quad biking activities.

Visitors will also be taken on tours to seven main tracks around the site including the Fossil Rock, Camel Rock tour and the Valley of the Caves. Visitors will have the opportunity to camp out and undertake environment friendly off-road activities in 4X4 cars.

Among other activities, there will also be guided walks on camel trails to see the paths ancient civilizations took to cross the desert.

“Our key markets include Emirati families for picnicking, camping and desert driving, professional residents of various nationalities and independent overseas tourists and holiday tour groups,” added Al Sarkal.

“The project will provide a range of exploratory sporting activities, such as the 'Struggle for Survival' camp, Horse-riding Tours, Walking and Bicycling trips and the "Stranded Family" camp. Special programme of visits will be allocated for archeology lovers and college students.”

Al Sarkal revealed that Shurooq will soon embark of phase two of the Mleiha project in collaboration with relevant partners. The second phase will involve the construction of Mleiha National Desert Park over an area of 450 square kilometres. The park will serve as a wildlife reserve that will see the release of a range of animals such as the Oryx, gazelles and the mountain deer, in collaboration with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority.

Shurooq allocated three areas within the project to be designated for resorts and bed and breakfast style hotels which will be offered to investors who want to benefit from promising opportunities available in the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project and the Central Region.

The second phase will also include the setting up of the Night Camping Park, which will be fully equipped to cater to the needs of camping lovers, in addition to a motel for overnight stays. Development work is underway to renovate old buildings at the site to serve as a motel within the project.

Phase Two will also see the establishment of an astronomy observatory in cooperation with the Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences, allowing for enthusiasts to enjoy the stars and sky from the center of Mleiha.  Telescopes will be installed on the roof to allow tourists to get a glimpse of the stars and space.

Dr Sabah Jassim, Director of the Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities, said: “Mleiha was the cradle of rural life, and an essential part of trade routes. It was in contact with other civilizations in the Mediterranean, South Asia and Mesopotamia, as well as with the southern northern and eastern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Eastern Arabia.”

Dr Jassim explained the reason for the strategic location of the findings may be due to its route towards the trade network. “Some findings date back more than one million years, and to the pre Islamic times. It is located between the sea of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, on a strategic route towards trade routes,” he said.

“We have found more than 300 skeletons including those of horses and camels. There have been very many significant relics found in the burial sites that are the remains of daily life including some pottery and iron tools. In the caves we found antiquities that back 125 thousand years BC. This coincides with human immigration from Africa.”

He said, “In 1991 the fort was discovered and due to its very thick walls we know this was a building designed for defense. Here we found molds for coins and many coins indicating this was an important administrative building and suggests it was the centre of governance for the region. We are working tirelessly to bring more attractions and findings for tourists.”

The Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project  is unique tourist destination due to its natural beauty, diversity of rare wildlife and its archaeological discoveries which has seen it nominated by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

The project will also help preserve the outstanding archaeological sites that date back to the third millenniums BC, and also protect rare wild animals, such as the Arabian Tahr, the Arabian Oryx, sand gazelle (Al Reem), and Damani gazelles and ostriches. It also gives tourists an opportunity to enjoy an exciting adventure from one of the three luxury hotels that will be set up there, and to explore archaeological treasures and rich ecological and biodiversity in Mleiha and its surrounding areas.