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Saif Al Tunaiji, General Manager of ‘Experience Sharjah’ – the tourism division under Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) – shares his insight into the region’s ancient Bedouin culture at the outstanding Mleiha Archaeological Centre.

Mleiha is known for its experiences. What gives it archaeological uniqueness?

This UNESCO nominated World Heritage site is one of the UAE’s most important archaeological areas which offers plenty of opportunities to explore the nation’s civilizational past, including its key cultural elements along with flora and fauna. It offers an insightful world into the pre-historic world of our ancestors. While being one of the most ancient incubators in the region’s civilizations with archaeological treasures, a treasure to Mleiha allows the visitor to step back in time and learn a whole host of information about the settlers in the region during the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron, pre-Islamic, Islamic and modern ages while discovering this time through their history, social order, rituals, pathologies, trade and commerce, art and jewellery and much more. The well-curated exhibitions, interactive displays and artefacts at Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-Tourism Project providing a detailed introduction to the past which allows the visitor to travel back thousands of years to see the UAE in its nascent stages of existence.

What inspired the development of Mleiha Archaeological centre as part of a wider Eco-tourism project?

Mleiha used to be known as a small village which is located around 20 kilometres south of the Al Dhaid region and 50 kilometres east of Sharjah city. After more than 30 years of thorough excavation and extensive research by the Sharjah Archaeological Authority, its historic aspects have been discovered about the secrets of life in that region.  The Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project was developed by Shurooq as one of Sharjah’s premier archaeological tourism and outdoor adventure destinations, due to its natural beauty, diversity of wildlife and archaeological discoveries. Nominated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site itself reflects the region’s rich cultural and archaeological heritage. The details of designing the project were also inspired by the story of the Umm an-Nar tomb and the archaeological discoveries which date back to over 130,000 years ago – In short, it was the rich heritage and knowledge of the past, that inspired us to design a futuristic project.

Mleiha camp

What values from history in the region can we carry forth today?

All our achievements and success stories are deeply rooted in our tradition and history. What we learned from our forefathers have enabled us to be more sensible, aware and open to diversity. The historical importance and unique discoveries of Mleiha also shares insightful thoughts and values. The trade-related artefacts excavated from the region points towards the diversity that we had in the region in the past and the strong connections that we maintained around the globe. It is something that proves the value of tolerance and openness that the region always upheld as knowledge about our past makes us more humble and respects the deep-rooted values and seek to sustain them.

What is your role at Mleiha and what has been the most surprising thing about the role?

As the General Manager of ‘Experience Sharjah’, which is the tourism division of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), I lead a team of experienced professionals and ensure the best exposure to the destination to create a memorable and exciting experience to the visitors. The surprising and energizing element about the role is its adventurous nature. Working at one of the most picturesque destinations in the UAE, where history, tradition and exhilarating experiences come together is truly unique.

With Mleiha being nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, how does it continue to preserve its heritage?

Mleiha is retracing the history of the earliest settlers of the region. Graves of humans and animals that have been excavated in and around these archaeological sites make for a surreal moment when one feels deeply connected with people of the past through sociocultural norms that have lived on for countless generations.  At Mleiha, we have enlightening lessons on some of the greatest migrations in history and archaeological evidence to support them. Visitors can go through carefully crafted chapters of history, and in the end, understand how the human settlement of the region began. We take our visitors on memorable journeys on which they will learn, make spectacular discoveries and unravel secrets that Mleiha and adjoining regions have been safekeeping for an incredible 130,000 years. Through this, we aim to give our guests a truly authentic taste of our forefather’s traditions, values and history, To enhance people’s knowledge and understanding of the Arab region’s history – shaped through the ages.  

Saif Al Tunaiji

Saif Al Tunaiji, General Manager of ‘Experience Sharjah’

How does the venue contribute towards environmental protection and sustainability?

Mleiha is a lot more than just archaeology and experiences. The region has a plethora of flora and fauna including some rare plants and animals that are not easily found elsewhere. One of the major reasons why these diverse elements have survived and flourished in the area is due to the foresight of the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project. Along with protecting the natural elements of the site, we also ensure that awareness is passed to the visitors. The Flora and Fauna Workshop organised by the centre is one fine example. It helps the visitors to increase their understanding of the region’s plants, trees, and wildlife. While being educated about the region’s diversity, they also discover plant species indigenous to the region and perhaps see some of the local fauna as well.

What are the other major experiences and activities of Mleiha?

While providing an educative platform to explore UAE’s ancient history, Mleiha is also known for offering a lifetime experience to the visitors that not only gives them an adrenaline rush but also invigorates their senses with breathtaking activities in the picturesque landscape. From experiencing the beauty of Mleiha’s landscape on horseback to overnight camping under the stars along with exhilarating Mleiha Landscapes adventure to a sunset lounge experience, there is a lot to discover at Mleiha. The Sunset Lounge package is one of the popular visitor’s choices – It includes an off-road drive to catch the sunset in the desert; a barbeque dinner in the desert and stargazing assisted by astronomy experts. Buggy Self-Drive Adventure, another favourite allows the visitors to feel the adrenaline rushes as they pass through landmarks like Fossil Rock and Camel Rock, exploring dune-scapes and landscapes in their buggy. Archaeo-MOG tour, Jebel Buhais trek, Mleiha adventure package, Archaeological tour, and star gazing are some other experiences that Mleiha offers.

Mleiha night camp

This is ‘The Gratitude Issue’ – what are you grateful for?

I’m grateful for being part of the rich history and tradition of this place – I truly consider it a blessing to be part of a place that connects the past with the present in perfect harmony. Thanks to the visionary leadership of the authority and Sharjah for making this possible.

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Images: Supplied