- 29 نوفمبر 2001
تمثال وجد بمعبد المقة للملكة العظيمة (بلقيس بنت شراحبئل) رمز المرأة العربية من موجدات المتحف البريطاني بلندن
Queen of the desert [/color]
Saturday June 8, 2002
[align=left]It is five in the morning in the Ramlat al Sabatein desert - an expanse of sand that stretches between Marib and Shabwa in Yemen - and we have stopped for a spot of shooting practice. My driver, Abdel Qawi - translated as "slave of the strong" - passes me his Kalashnikov. I aim the rifle at the top of a sand dune and fire, sending a cloud of dust dancing like a genie into the pink-streaked sky, shattering the eerie silence of the desert dawn.
In a country with 50 million guns - and a population of only 20 million people - Yemen may strike you, initially, as a somewhat lawless place. With recent reports of kidnapping and, post-September 11, the rumoured presence of al-Qaida cells hiding in the mountains, the country has developed a reputation for danger. However, despite its image as the wild west of the Middle East, Yemen is, for the most part, an overwhelmingly friendly place. Yes, young boys do brandish guns, but they also greet visitors with the most dazzling of smiles; one of the many paradoxes in a country which can almost be defined by its contradictory qualities.
Patches of fertile lushness nestle among barren, dessicated crags. There are, it seems, virtually no traffic rules to speak of, but if you want to travel by car you have to endure the dogged bureaucracy of countless police checkpoints. Outside the major cities, little has changed since Freya Stark travelled through Yemen by donkey nearly 70 years ago, a journey she documented in the classic book, The Southern Gates of Arabia. Women, swathed in black and wearing pointed straw hats, tend the sorghum and millet fields and the air is thick with the heady aromas of roasted cumin seeds, mint and cardamom-spiced coffee. Camels lollop across the sands and Bedouin take shelter from the molten-hot sun in the shade of their cooling tents.
The best place to start a tour of Yemen is Sana'a, its capital, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. A walk in the old walled centre - one of the biggest preserved medinas in the Arab world - is a thrilling experience. Tower houses, built from mud, look out over secret gardens; elegant minarets stretch up to meet the cornflower blue sky; and, in the distance, the jagged crags of the Central Highlands encircle the city like an ancient fortification. Teenage boys and men sport "jambiyas", or daggers, at their waists, as a sign of manhood; women glide by wearing black veils, with only a slit through which you can see their dark, kohl-lined eyes; and barefooted children scamper through the dusty, rubbish-strewn streets, their urchin-like faces wide-eyed at the sight of a group of westerners. (Astonishingly, apart from those on my tour, I did not see another tourist.)
As I walked through the Bab al-Yemen, the Gate of Yemen, and into the suq, I smelt burning frankincense, the essence of exoticism. Nearby, the resin was being sold as chewing gum; a tiny piece, which tastes faintly of eucalyptus, was enough to freshen the breath. Boys selling watermelons, green chillis, coffee beans, and an infinite variety of spices including cumin, cinnamon and saffron all jostled for attention.
One of the most popular stalls was selling bundles of sackcloth containing qat, a basil-sized leaf with high-inducing properties. (If you can't stomach the taste of qat - and in my opinion, it's rather like eating grass -but are desperate for drink, don't worry. Although guidebooks tell you it's impossible to find alcohol in Sana'a, try the Sheraton Hotel or ask a taxi driver to take you to bars such as Maxim's or Denis'.)
One of the biggest draws of Yemen must be its proliferation of ancient archaeological sites - the splendours of what was once Arabia Felix - many of which are located a few hours' drive from Sana'a, near Marib, once the bustling capital of Saba or Sheba. Three thousand years ago, it's thought that the area, at the centre of the frankincense trail, was ruled over by the Queen of Sheba, the subject of a major new exhibition at the British Museum.
From a distance, the mud tower houses of old Marib, which were built around 300 years ago but which rest on 8th-century BC foundations, rise majestically from the sands. Yet as you drive closer, it's obvious that that these elegant structures are now nothing more than empty husks, wrecked by the bombing of the 1960s civil war. Only a couple of poor families scratch out a living here; a dust-covered donkey treks through the rubble and an old woman, wrapped in black, her hands worn like dark brown leather, peers out from a doorway.
Five kilometres south-west of old Marib lies the remains of the Old Dam, the 8th-century BC structure which was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Today, the wadi, the seasonal river bed, is a dry, sun-bleached wilderness, but once the whole region was a lush oasis of palm trees, its fertile fields able to produce enough food to feed up to 50,000 people.
As I gazed at the broken ruins of the dam, destroyed around 570AD by flooding, a catastrophe which marked the end of a civilisation, little children dressed in brightly coloured clothes appeared from nowhere, clutching treasures in their tiny hands.
A small boy with almond-shaped eyes gestured towards me and, as I bent down to see what was nestling in his palm, he whispered the words, "Solomon, Sheba and baby," a reference to the three figures carved into a piece of black, volcanic stone. Legend has it that after Sheba visited Solomon, the beautiful, all-powerful queen bore the King of Israel a son, Menelik, who went on to rule Ethiopia.
It's worth spending at least one or two days in and around Marib, visiting the impressive temple of the Moon God, who was worshipped because caravan travel was often done in the cool of the night; the Mahram Bilqis temple, an enormous ovoid structure containing a peristyle hall fronted by eight tall columns, mostly buried under sand; and Baraqish, a ruined and deserted fortified town with 5th-century BC foundations, about an hour's drive away.
As we travelled around this area, we were accompanied by two truck loads of armed guards, a protective measure against kidnapping, a real risk in the region; for the rest of the trip, however, we were able to move around unescorted.
Although theoretically it is possible to organise one's trip from Britain and obtain the necessary permits before entering Yemen, the country's system of police checkpoints, and its accompanying bureaucracy, makes independent travel too difficult. Groups, however, usually have no problem. The Foreign Office line at the moment is that travel is unadvisable unless you are familiar with the situation (there have been violent incidents involving tourists). The FO talks, too, of the easy availability of weapons.
From Marib, we rose before dawn, and travelled in conveys of four-by-fours into the Ramlat al Sabatein desert, passing camels, desert foxes, Bedouin and an endless sea of sand dunes caressed by the early morning sun. After six hours of driving, we reached the ruins of Shabwa, the ancient capital of the Hadramawt, which sits on a hill overlooking a vast wadi, and a further two hours brought us to a roadside shack, roughly translated as the Traveller's Rest Restaurant, just outside Al Qatn. Lunch was chicken broth flavoured with cumin and cinnamon; chicken salta, a spicy dish made with lentils, beans and coriander; grilled chicken; khubz or flat bread and lots of sweet tea. The huge meal cost around 600 riyals, or less than £3 each.
By early evening, dusty and exhausted after a 10-hour journey, I arrived at the luxurious Al Hawta Palace, an immaculate, tastefully renovated mud and clay structure dating back 150 years, situated in an oasis of palm trees just outside Seiyun. The hotel is a perfect base from which to explore nearby Shibam, one of the most memorable sights in Yemen and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With its impossibly tall tower houses, built from mud-bricks, packed into a relatively compact area, the town sports the name, "the Manhattan of the desert". Seen from outside the city walls, banked by a row of lush palm trees, Shibam looks like somebody has transported the superstructures of Central Park to Arabia. In fact, it's only the smell of goat and the sight of donkeys laden down with enormous bundles of millet that offer a clue to one's real location.
If you get the opportunity, try and travel from Seiyun down to the coastal town of Mukalla, not by the road which runs between the two, but through the Wadi Daw'an, tracing the same route taken by Freya Stark. The detour takes 12 hours by car, but the experience is truly unforgettable, as you pass through Al-Hajjarayn, meaning "two villages", twin towns located on opposite sides of the wadi, mirage-like mirror images shimmering in the desert heat. The area is famous for the quality of its honey, regarded by locals as an aphrodisiac.
From Al-Hajjarayn, drive south past Qaydun and Sif to Al-Khurayba, with its hidden grove of palm trees which carpets an otherwise dry, sun-parched valley, up on to the lunar landscape of the jawl plateau, before finally descending to Mukalla. Roadside stalls offer freshly picked coconuts and luscious fruits, perfect after the arduous journey, while if you want something more substantial stop at the Al-Khaiam restaurant in the centre of town. Here, you can feast on flat bread served on newspaper, a spicy garlic, cheese and chilli dip and chilli-coated snapper straight from the sea all for a mere 500 riyals (just under £2 a person).
Take your time to explore Mulkalla, with its once-elegant colonnades and Indian-influenced architecture. In 1925, the Qu'ayti sultans - who ruled over the town - built a palace overlooking the sea, which today serves as the National Museum housing archaeological finds and original items owned by the family, including a lavish throne made in India and the fantastical furnishing of the opulent Red Hall.
Yet as I walked out on to its terrace, overlooking the glistening blue waters of the Arabian Sea, I caught a whiff of reality - the unmistakable smell of fish from the nearby market.
Down by the sea, hoards of men bartered over the latest catch of tuna, snapper, marlin and sardines. One man squatted on the sand, cutting open the bellies of fish, deftly selecting bad prawns from those which, although recently swallowed, were considered clean and saleable.
Freya Stark wrote in her book on Yemen, "If I were asked the most agreeable thing in life, I should say it is the pleasure of contrast." Perhaps this particular contrast was one that was a little too much to stomach.[/color]
الان لا يوجد وقت لترجمة هذا الـ مقال الرائع جدا لاندرو ويلسو كتب عن اليمن وارض بلقيس و((مأرب العظيمة) بالغارديان البريطانية
غدا ساترجمة انشاء الله
تصبحو على خير