Views, architecture and heart stopping ride
trip up is a little expensive
If you visit Yemen, you MUST visit Shaharah
Shaharah and the surrounding area has to be one of the most stunning landscapes not only in Yemen but the entire Middle East. Travellers are far and few between here and the locals are not used to mass tourism but they all know that you are going to Shaharah to see the incredible bridge. The first glimpse of the bridge is quite dramatic because you have to walk over the mountains edge to see it (10 min walk from the village) and it is one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen in my life. A 500 year old bridge linking two villages over 9 or 10,000 ft in the air. The bridge looks thin in pictures but it is very strong and wide and villagers still cross back and forth over it with their supplies. Shaharah was one of the most amazing places I have ever been period.
Walking through the village to the bridge, continue uphill on the other side of the gorge to the top that mountain (10 minutes). Some spectacular views and cliffs, especially towards the West (your left hand side).
Shaharah is still a middle age village. All the houses are still builded in hihglands style: high towers made of stone. The only decoration is the painted white marks on the walls.
The village have several waterpool in order to collect rainwater to water their crops. As in many other fortified villages in Yemen, these pools were also used as water reservoir when the village was under siege. You should remember that different families of Yemen was usually at war between them.
The village is divided in two areas, joined by the famous bridge. Each neighborhood is placed on a different peak.
To get to Shiharah from Sana'a drive North towards Sa'adah (that is: leaving Sana'a in northwestern direction). Past Amran (bigger city, old town worth a stop) and Raydah (one of the few remaining places with a small Jewish community - look out for guys with 'dreadlocks') you'll reach Houth. Don't continue North, but turn left (West) towards the Tehama coastal plains. After about 20 mins turn left again in the first village, Al-Ashshah. To this pont yo have travelled some 200 kms in maybe 2 hours. The next 25 kms will take another hour and the last 10 kms again another hour. No more asphalt from Al-Ashshah, only sandy and gravel roads (4WD recommended) to the foot of the mountains. There is a village here (a bit difficult to find without a guide) where you can leave your vehicle and board a pick-up (Landcruiser from the first series, named 'habba' in Yemen) to take you up to Shiharah. It is a bit costly (YER 10,000 or USD 50, can be shared between up to six people), but the road is tough. These guys know every inch of the road. The downside is the condition of the vehicles (tires, brakes, clutch etc). The advantage is that the next day (after a stay at a Shiharah hotel) one can walk down along donkey trails - very worthwhile. The Landcruiser will pick you up if you like on the road somewhere halfway down to your own car (included in the 50 bucks you paid).
If you drive up yourself you'll want a car with low gear, both for the way up and for the way down.
Getting to the village is half the battle, it is an intense ride up a mountain that has no roads and only huge boulders. The road winds up down around to the point that if you get motion sickness you will be sick within an hour. The landcruiser hits the bumps at a decent speed so hang on because this journey will rattle your muscles and bones :) The ride to the top of the village and back down costs $50 US (but well worth it) and the ride up takes about 2 hours. The ride down takes 1 hour. The entire journey is usually set up from Sana'a because you need permits and a driver that can arrange the guide for you. Enjoy !
Shaharah has been known for being unreachable for so many years and half the battle is just getting there! I have travelled on some bad mountain roads in my life in Pakistan, India and Nepal but nothing compares to the road from Wadi Qabi to the actual village of Shaharah. If you are afraid of heights or terrified of a driver that doesnt speak English and loves to drive near the edge of a mountain that has no rails then maybe this journey is not your cup of tea. I thought I was going to die on about 12 different occasions but my driver had absolute confidence in his skills and despite coming close on several occassions he got me to the mountain village alive and in one piece. It is very hard to explain the feeling of being in a truck with Arabic music blasting while your driver chews qat and comes insanely close to falling 3000 meters over the edge. Nerves of steel are required on this journey.
Favorite thing: Travellers beware that when you travel from Wadi Qabi to Shaharah your driver ( A local from the wadi) will probably pick up some of his buddies along the mountain route who are just looking for a ride up into their villages for free and to be honest I dont blame them because I wouldnt walk or hike those mountain passes everyday either! The men will most likely jump into the back of the pick up truck sporting the Yemeni dress with a machine gun over their shoulder. Dont be alarmed because it is the norm for northern Yemen, I mean war was the way of life for a long time. They were really nice to me (they dont speak English) and a few key words in Arabic will ease the tension if you feel nervous. Good luck!