Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Socotra the Island of Bliss

    Socotra Island is the largest island of the Land of Sheba (Yemen ), approximately 120 Km long by 40 Km wide and a population of 55000 with their own district language and culture. Being virtually isolated from the rest of the world for a long period of six million years, Socotra remains one of the most fascinating places on earth. An island that provides unique opportunity & challenge has Arabia's greatest plant & animal diversity. Many animals & plants that live today on Socotra are found nowhere else on earth. The name Socotra is derived from a Sanscrit name, meaning "The Island of Bliss". Socotra is a member of a group of four outlying islands Abd Al-Kuri, Samha & Darsah.

From the aqua lagoon at Qalansiya to the snow-white dunes at Ras Momi, from the alpine meadows of the Haggier Mountains to the desolation of Nowgad, Socotra is a land of surprising contrasts. The climate is harsh, hot and dry, and yet - the most amazing plant life thrives there. Situated in the Indian Ocean 250 km from Somalia and 340 km from Yemen, the wide sandy beaches rise to limestone plateaus full of caves (some 7 kilometers in length) and mountains up to 1525 meters high. It is one of the oldest inhabited regions worldwide transports visitors back into the world of thousand and one nights. Close to nature and unspoiled natural beauty, Yemen this age-old center of civilization preserves a way of life that has hardly changed since the middle ages. 

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree, which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree is the source of valuable resin for varnishes, dyes, and "cure-all" medicine; also used in medieval ritual magic and alchemy. The branches spread out into the sky and from below appear to hover over the landscape like so many flying saucers and from above they have a distinct mushroom look. Dorstenia gigas - apparently does not require any soil and sinks roots straight into the bare rock. There is also the Desert Rose (adenium obesium) which looks like nothing so much as a blooming elephant leg. Also found in Socotra's landscape is the ever-strange and extremely rare Cucumber Tree (dendrosicyos socotranum) that provide fodder for starving animals during times of drought.

This island is a birder's paradise as well, with 140 different species of birds; 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. A unique Socotra sunbird, Socotra starling, Socotra bunting, Socotra sparrow and cisticola are among the ones found here. There is even an endemic monotypic genus of birds, the Socotra Warbler (Incana incana).There are also Socotra Cormorants. Few terrestrial mammals live on Socotra although there are some bats and a species of genet. 

The sea surrounding the island teams with whales and dolphins, however, Sperm Whales, Short-finned Pilot Whales, Spinner, and Bottle-nosed dolphins have all been spotted close to shore. Socotran waters also abound in fish, ranging from tiny bright-reef dwellers to great spotted Whale Sharks more than 15 meters long. Crystal clarity makes this a divers dream.

The island was recognised by the (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

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