x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Roads pave the way for reviving traditions

New roads that provide access to mountain villages are paving the way for young people to explore their roots.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // The new road to Jebel Jenet will not just be for tourists. The development also has the potential to help people reconnect with their heritage.

The wadi that leads to the new road is surrounded by clusters of stone houses, half underground, that were abandoned in favour of modern homes in the cities after the formation of the UAE.

Abandoned but not forgotten, says Rashed Ahmad.

He is one of the many who has come back to build a house in his old village, thanks to lower transport and construction costs, which are direct spin-offs from the network of mountain roads.

For Mr Ahmad, 50, the new roads signal a return to the old life. "I will return once more to my mountain home," he said. "All people are building new houses in the mountains. Now there are roads, there's electricity and we can return to our place."

Construction at the base of the mountains has boomed as people build weekend homes and, increasingly, permanent residences, closer to the mountains where their grandparents were raised.

Though the older generation never stopped visiting their mountain homes, the mountain roads make the villages more accessible to a younger generation who were disinclined to spend hours trekking to villages.

New roads can do as much to preserve and keep heritage alive as any museum, says Mr Ahmad. "Children didn't come here before and now they can," he said.

Mr Ahmad's new majlis is built of orange rock chiselled from the mountain. It overlooks wheat fields that gave his family sustenance and a cistern that holds a deep pool of water, even after a winter of little rain. In a room off the majlis, he keeps his honey collecting gear.

"This is all mine," he said, referring to the mountain more than the property.

Though the original stone houses are seemingly deserted, there is still a strong sense of ownership and some are upset that they have not been compensated for the land that the new roads are built on.

In one section, a road that was constructed 11 years ago is directly beside an unfenced graveyard that - to the untrained eye - is a collection of unmarked stones.

Mr Ahmad's family used to live at a second village further up the mountain from May until June. This family home was rarely visited before due to its inaccessibility. Now, the Jebel Jenet road has cut the journey to a one-hour hike and made it possible for Mr Ahmad and his son, Ahmad, to visit once a week.

Of course, some have reservations about construction in the mountains, but more people have become supportive as they see the benefits of the development - so long as the traditional way of life is protected.

"This street is important so we can go up," said Mr Ahmad. "Many people are upset, especially the old people. They want to keep their land safe and quiet. Some goats have died by the road by accident and goats are very important to us."

"We want from the Government to save this place and to inform tourists not to litter or disturb old places, and break the old houses and cut the trees," said Mr Ahmad.