05 April, 2008

The Highlands of Hadhramout

A few kilometers from Al Mukalla and the narrow Coastal plain, are the highlands of Hadhramaut: a rather broad, barren, pebbly plateau averaging about 1,300m to 1,400m above sea level, intersected by a few valleys (wadys); some deep and some shallow; some narrow and some wide. The uplands are very sparsely populated by a few Bedouins; while the valleys, like Wady Hadhramout and Wady Do’an, are densely peopled.

About 30 kilometers from Al Mukalla, the mountains begin.

At some points - there are steep escarpments and at some, the hills gently rise. And as the land rises, it gets cooler and drier; the heat and the humidity decrease.

High up on the Plateau, it's mostly cool and air is totally dry through out the year; during winter, it can get and be - very cold, with temperatures dipping to zero Celsius or even lower, at nights. People have been known to freeze to death due to the cold winters here. Most people who have never been to deserts, do not realize that hot deserts can get to be very cold; and as the cold is dry, it can be very discomforting. And dangerous to health if one is not properly dressed in warm clothing.

It's mainly when the rains fall heavily on these highlands, that the valleys below get flooded. Many times, the populace below, in the valleys, does not know when it has rained heavily up on the Plateau. And so, when the waters come streaming and gushing down - many are caught unawares; and at times, the floods can cause enormous devastation to crops and buildings - specially in the low lying valley of Wadi Hadhramaut; and many people get killed. I, personally, have lost relatives and friends to such floods.

During winter, these mountains, at times, especially late at nights and in the mornings - are covered with fog and mist. Sometimes, from a distance, the mists look like floating clouds; and when one is higher, that can be a sight to behold: seeing clouds floating below! As the mists and fog can get very thick and very much reduce visibility, driving on the roads, snaking up and through the Plateau can be very dangerous. Many, and some of the deadliest, accidents in Hadhramaut, happen during this time; on these highlands.

Above, is one of the highest peaks: Qor Al'Saeban. The story goes that, it's around these peaks, the Hadhramy freedom fighters, years ago, won one of the fiercest battles against the British who were allied and assisted by the Sultan.

With the harsh weather conditions and very rugged nature of these highlands, very few people are willing to live here; a few Bedouins can be found in some of the valleys. Oil is already being produced under some of these highlands. It's said that some of the largest underwater reservoirs in the Middle East, are found here; the piped water that we use in our homes in Al Mukalla and the surrounding areas, comes from under these mountains. As Yemen continues to rapidly develop and as its population increases as fast as it does - these highlands won't remain unpopulated, undeveloped and pristine for long.