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.
These highlands are intersected by a few valleys (wadis); some deep and some shallow; some narrow and some wide. The most notable valleys are: Wadi Hadhramout and Wadi Do'an.
The most dramatic and most thrilling of all the Hadhramaut Valley, is undoubtedly Wady Do'an. It has so many breathtaking sites; lush in some places and so lavish in others. Above: Al Hajerayn - the most spectacular in Wadi Do'an and one of the oldest villages in Hadhramaut.
All the houses in Wadi Do'an are made of mud bricks and they blend so beautifully with the cliffs and the date palms. Most of the houses go up to three or more storeys.
|Mud bricked houses|
Mud bricks which the people of the Wadi have used for centuries and which has served them very well. Wherever you go to in Wadi Hadhramout, you will notice mud brick houses. Every where. Many, already built. And many, still under construction.
|Mud bricked house|
The Hadharem have perfected the building of the mud, brick houses like no other people. Most of these houses are built on high grounds, very close to the hills and cliffs. This is so due to rain waters which flood the valleys when there are heavy rains.
|Seiyoun old palace|
A short distance from Seiyoun, is the City Of Light -Tarim (Tareem). Nowhere else in Hadhramaut, is spirituality elevated to the highest level as in Tarim; no where else are there as many mosques per capita, as in this ancient city.
Surrounded by a fortified wall. Five centuries old. Several times, it has been the capital of Hadhramout. It has been, in the past, an important center for trade in the Arabian Peninsula. And since 1982, has been on UNESCO's programme for safeguarding cultural heritages. Often referred to as "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world", or "the Manhattan of the desert". That's Shibam.
|Hayd Al Jazeel|
This amazing structure, at Hayd Al Jazeel, stands just as one is leaving Wadi Do'an towards Al Mukalla, and seems to be clinging, on the side of the cliff. Old and accessible by only one narrow path. The clusters of mud, bricked houses stand on the edges of the settlement. With the center empty.
Camels have been a part of the Hadhrami culture and way of life from ancient times. With hardly any fat and almost no cholesterol, camel meat is excellent for health. For centuries, camel wool - which is golden-brown, soft, lustrous, healthy to put on and durable - has been used to make rags, blankets, fabrics and clothing. As for camel urine and milk, the people of Hadhramout believe them to have several medicinal properties.
Most of Hadhramout's wildlife has been very much decimated by human encroachment and poaching. But baboons have found a way to survive. Anyone who has lived or spent time in Hadhramaut, especially in the valleys and highlands close to human settlement, will most probably have seen baboons; the hamadryas baboon, which belongs to the Genus Papio species and which is the northernmost of all the baboons.
Along the coast, seagulls thrive. Seagulls are amazing birds: they are resourceful, highly intelligent, are known to have a highly developed social structure and look very much alike; by just looking at them, it's very difficult to tell the males from the females; while most animals can not drink both fresh and salt water - seagulls can. They have a special pair of glands right above their eyes, specifically designed to flush the salt from their systems through openings in the bill; seagulls hunt and scavenge, and can eat any thing - from fish to bread to french fries. Gulls are known to sometimes live many miles away from where you see them during the day and as they breed and nest in very remote, difficult to reach places.
|Andalusian copy of the Qur'an|
Hadhramout is known as the cradle of Arabs. And its people, the Hadharem, are as religious, as conservative, and as protective of their culture and traditions today as they have been for ages. Mosques and the Nobel Qur'an are a central part of life in Hadhramaut.
|Women working in field in Wadi Hadhramout|
As religious and conservative as the Hadharem are, they are very protective and concerned of their women. Women work hard at home: taking care of the children and the household, preparing meals; and for some - they work hard in the fields with crops or taking care of the family herd. In all families in Hadhramout, men are the head and spokesmen for families; and are the main bread earners - but it is the girls and women who play the most central role and are actually the moving forces behind most families. It is the women who are the main and central foundation of families.
|Veiled with the niqab|
Whatever men do, it is always the girls and women of the family - who are uppermost in their considerations and minds. The well being and dignity of the women is always considered first and foremost, before most big decisions would be made or undertaken. Always veiled and covered from head to toe when outside their homes, most Hadhrami women are literate and can read and write.
|The niqab or burqa|
In Hadhramaut, almost every woman puts on the niqab. It is surprising to the Hadahrem, that countries that pride themselves in freedom of speech and expression, most - are those at the forefront of refusing women to put on the veil.
|Oud, incense and gold|
For Hadhramis, women in particular, few things are as valued and as appreciated as gold and oud. Hadhrami women, in or out of Hadhramaut, love and greatly value perfumes. Especially the oud which are of many varieties and scents. The oud, which Hadhrami women are good connoisseur's in and of.
Next to gold and oud, the henna - is so regularly used and so highly regarded in Hadhramaut that no celebration, be it a wedding or any other form of joyful occasion or special festivity, would be complete here without the henna. Women use henna almost daily: as a form of body adornment, for treating their hairs to make it more lush and stronger or as a medicament.
|Bilfageeh and Al'Mahdhaar|
As for music and songs, two have dominated the Hadharem for long and will continue doing so for a long time to come. Anyone, young and old: living in or is from Hadhramaut, or is descended from Hadhramis who still hold on to Hadhrami beliefs and culture - would definitely know Abu Bakar Salim Bilfageeh (ابوبكر سالم بلفقيه). And many too, will know of the late Hussain Abubakar Al'Mahdhaar (حسين ابوبكر المحضار). Balfaqih was and gave the voice; Al'Mahdhaar provided the words and the tune.
|Slated, dried shark|
What could or can the Hadherem do without salted, dried shark meat? For some, it 'stinks' and is 'nauseating'; but for the people of Hadhramout: salted, dried shark meat - is an essential part of the traditional Hadhramy cuisine. Wherever there are Hadhramys or descendants of Hadhramys who have been brought up in the traditional ways, invariably, there would be great demand for salted, dried shark meat.
|Dhows and sambook|
Without salted, dried shark meat, fleeing Hadhramout due to famine and hardships and traveling and migrating to distant foreign places and lands, would not have been easy. To seek a better life and security, the Hadharem fled their homeland in large numbers. By dhows or sambooks, by sea, they did. Most of them left behind, their families; many of them left their wives and even children. To the places they went, they settled; most married the converted local, native women.
When most fled and migrated, there was Al Mukalla, Al Salaam. Old Mukalla with its narrow streets. Buildings close to each other. Most, painted white. Most, four floors. All with small windows. Many windows. Made of wood. And wooden doors. Exquisitely decorated windows and doors.
|Qasr Al Ma'een|
They left behind the old Sultan's palace: Qasr Al Ma'een. The building that has been most prominent and is the main tourist attraction in Al Mukalla for the last one hundred years, is undoubtedly this old palace.
And there was Al Ghuwaizy Fort - which is today the main symbol of Al Mukalla. It was built in 1884 by Sultan Omar bin Awadh al Qu'aiti, as a guard post, at the Northern-Eastern entrance of Al Mukalla.
|Khor Al Mukalla|
Most of the Hadharem who fled never returned. Or did so after many years. Or their progenies did. Those who returned recently, found a different, transformed Mukalla, with Khor Al Mukalla at its center. The water-way, has become the main attraction and focal point of the city.
|Pedestrian bridge over the Khor|
Intersecting the Khor in two places, are three bridges. The most notable are: the two blue bridges which are used only by pedestrians. The water canal, the bridges and the many other changes - are a far cry of what the Hadhrem left behind years ago when they fled and migrated. It is such developments that has attracted many or their descendants to return home.
|Yachts in Mukalla|
And it is these developments, the sea and the other attractions around Mukalla that has attracted and continues to attract many visitors from near and from far. And there is the other one-of-a-kind part of Hadhramout - out in the sea - distant: Socotra. Amazing, spectacular, extraordinary Socotra. No other place in the Arab world or in the Middle East offers such stunning, fascinating natural wonders as what Soqotra has.
For the last six plus years, Out Of Hadhramout has presented Hadhramout, in English. It will continue doing so for as long as possible. Very hopefully, it will serve as a good, noteworthy reference on Hadhramaut, not only for the present but for many years to come.