For our second excursion, we chose Manakha, a mountainous area 2 1/2 hours southwest of Sana’a, popular with trekkers. Probably best as an overnight trip, time constraints made it that we had to settle for a day trip. The entire region lies high in the Haraz Mountains enjoying pleasant year-round temperatures. En route, you pass near the highest mountain on the Arabian Peninsula, Jebal an-Nabi Shu’ayb rising 3760m. For centuries, agriculture has been carried out on terraced fields carved into the side of these high mountains which capture the sparse rainfall of the area. Among the fields are numerous ancient villages. Two mountain-top villages well worth visiting for the spectacular location and architecture are the 12th century village of Al-Hajjarah and nearby Al-Khutayb, home of the Ismaili sect of Shi’ite Islam, originally from India.
As we only had a short time for our first trip to Yemen, we were unable to partake of any of the riches away from the capital city, such as the Red Sea coast, the port city of Aden, the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, or the villages of Wadi Hadramawt in the east with the more famous city of Shibam, another World Heritage Site of spectacular 400 year old mud brick skyscrapers in a desert landscape.
Yemen is surely an up and coming tourist destination, though western perceptions of the Middle East will probably keep development limited, at least until the current political situations are resolved. Towards that end, interactions on a personal level made possible through tourism to an isolated country such as Yemen can go a long way towards creating an atmosphere of respect and understanding between the peoples of the east and west.