Qornet El Sawda, Lebanon’s Highest Peak, To Be Ruined & Turned Into A Resort

The Arab obsession with “highest” and “biggest” and “most expensive” continues with a real estate company deciding to turn Lebanon’s highest peak, Qornet el Sawda, in the Makmel Mountain up North, right next to our most celebrated Cedar Forest, into a touristic project they are (creatively) calling: Al-Kumma.

The project will be built on a 420,000 m2 plot, and will include a hotel, club house, wellness-center, and entertainment facilities, 650 chalets, 70 villas, and a ski trail. You know, because the surrounding area doesn’t have enough of those already.

The company behind the $500 million project is Realis Development, which is owned by a family that also has shares in a Abu Dhabi finance company. The project will be financed via banks and equity funds. It is not known which banks or equity funds will have part in this, or which politicians for that matter, yet.

The first phase of the project will begin in summer of 2017.

I’m all for development in the North, Lebanon’s poorest and most deprived area, but when it comes at the expense of one of our country’s most beautiful regions and one of its most ecologically vital areas, I think a line has to be drawn.

Not only does the area already have a world-class skiing area that is visited by thousands of visitors yearly, but it’s also a major water storage site for the country and North Lebanon with it receiving the highest amount of rainfall and snow in the entire Middle East.

Qornet el Sawda is also a few minutes away from the country’s oldest and most celebrated Cedar Forest, or what remains of it, in what is commonly called: the forest of Cedars of God. I guess the thousand years of deforestation from progressive cultures that have used the wood of those trees from that area for their various construction projects wasn’t enough.

Instead of restoring the area’s greenery and contributing to its reforestation efforts to further promote eco-tourism in this country, we are doing the exact opposite. How many trees and shrubs will be destroyed for this project? How many Cedar trees will be cut for it to take place and for the few politicians as well as businessmen behind it to make a few dollars? Is our outrage at the Cedar’s dignity only in Facebook posts and never aimed at the actual trees being uprooted from their natural habitat to let way for man to come in and ruin the mountain further?

For this project to go through without any more investigation is a disgrace. How many more of our regions are they supposed to ruin just because they have the wasta and money? Where is the Ministry of Environment from all of this? Probably busy defending the seagulls being shot near the airport?

How long will it be before one of the country’s most fascinating hiking trails turns into an “exclusive” region for those who can afford it? I’m still waiting to find the maximal point of capitalist greed.

One of the most beautiful characteristics of the North is how pristine its nature is, especially the Bcharre area which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (and the entire region, may I add). It breaks my heart to see it be ruined that way. What a shame.

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Who Needs Cedars Anyway? Alf Malyoun Mabrouk Gebran Tawk

Mabrouk former deputee Gebran Tawk, even if a little early. I’m crossing my fingers you’d become a jeddo soon – if you’re not already one. Sorry, I’m not that well-versed in the Tawk family tree.  But I’m willing to learn.

I get you. I really, really do. You love your son. I love your son too – we are all brothers and sisters of this one fine mighty (maybe not) nation. Ok, Cliche season is over now. If it were me, I’d want my precious offspring to have the most kick ass Lebanese wedding that many won’t be invited to, a wedding that would befit their stature and mine (if I had any).

I heard you’ve invited about 3000 people to the wedding in question. You know what they say, go all out or go home. The festivities will last three days as well. Now isn’t that just beautiful. Speaking of which, I’m still waiting on my invite, fellow Northener and all. I want to be part of the fun too.

Your son’s wedding is so important, I heard, that it has triumphed over our national symbol. I jokingly said a few times that we only have one Cedar tree left, the one on our flag. Well, you’ve out-rooted that one as well. Who needs those pesky trees anyway? They don’t serve any function. They don’t hold fruits or anything eatable. Their ecological impact, given their rarity in this country, is minimal. They are just old. We hate old – we want new and new comes with fancy weddings to make head spins.

I want you to extend my gratitude to the Maronite church as well. I have been so busy trying to keep up with their constant rambling about the need to preserve the land, our presence, Christ in our heart, the Lord in our beings w heik that it totally slipped my mind that even someone in your grandeur would require some approval – in this case theirs – to turn part of our Cedar Forest into your son’s marital complex.

I also really hope this marital complex becomes available for future wedding celebrations. You can call it Cedars Wedding Club. A little tacky, sure. But can you imagine the amount of money it would bring in? Is that way the municipality of Bcharreh is allowing this? I would if I were them.

Quick question before I go, will you hold the fireworks show inside the main forest? I heard the reflection off those trees serves as a magnificent backdrop to your son’s first kiss.

– – – – – – –

The area adjacent to the main Cedar Forest in Bcharreh, part of the reforestation efforts that have been ongoing for years now,  is being allegedly leveled off by former MP Gebran Tawk in order to create a space for his son’s wedding, end of August.

The forest in question is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. According to this article, Lebanon, the country of the Cedars, has about 2000 hectares of trees left. Turkey has 400,000. I guess we couldn’t care less.

I’m guessing the silence of Sethrida Geagea and Elie Kairouz, the region’s current MPs, is because they are invited to the wedding too.

Pictures courtesy of LBC and L’orient le Jour:

Update: The government has stopped all works. 

The Cedars & North Lebanon’s Mountains

I finally had enough time on my hand to visit one of my favorite places in Lebanon: the Cedar mountains. They are probably the most underrated locations in the country and are nowhere near as visited as they should be because, quite frankly, very few places in this country can rival them in sheer landscape beauty.

Using my iPhone 5’s panorama feature, I was able to capture what I believe are pretty decent shots of the drive up to the mountains, the town of Becharre with its snowy mountainous backdrop, the Cedar Mountains themselves and part of the Kadisha Valley known as Qozhaya on the way back.

These locations may be far from Beirut – about 130 km – but they’re worth every single minute spent driving and every dollar spent in gas. I think I’m lucky that I live nearby and only need about 30 minutes to get there.

The slopes are superior to those of Mzaar/Sectarian-Kfardebyan and while they are less taken care of, they’re much cheaper and you will be able to get your full money’s worth out of them. The people are a whole lot friendlier as well.

So while many Lebanese are overjoyed that some international publication (click here) has chosen Beirut as the #1 city destination of the region – as if that’s a very hard thing to pull off – I felt like I ought to highlight something in Lebanon that is so ahead any form of “best of” competition in this region that it’s #1 always.

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 4

The Mountains from the village of Qnat

 

 

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars 13

The view from Hadath el Jebbeh

North Lebanon Mountains Becharre Cedars

Becharre (on the right) with its mountains behind it

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 6

The drive up to the Cedar Mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 7

Some of Lebanon’s Cedars – not the main forest, obviously

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 8

Panoramic view of part of the mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 9

Part of the Cedar forest

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars Qozhaya

The drive to Qozhaya

 

North Lebanon Mountains Qozhaya Annoubin Kadisha

The view from St. Anthony of Qozhaya convent (on the left) – part of the Kadisha Valley



 

 

 

Summer in Lebanon: A Trip Through the Lebanese Mountains

After much talk, a few friends and I decided to go on a North Lebanon road trip yesterday that took us through Batroun to Tannourine from which we crossed over to Becharre, descended to the Bekaa and then returned to Ehden.

Massive amounts of driving aside, I took a few pictures that I figured I’d share with you. All of these pictures were taken with a Nikon D5100 and weren’t modified in any way. I’m also not a professional photographer so these aren’t supposed to be perfect – they’re there to show the beauty of the Northern Lebanese mountains.

Some of the cedars at Tannourine

The cedars of Becharre

Residual snow

Lebanon’s highest peak – Kornet el Sawda

The Bekaa valley

Saydet el Hosn – Ehden

And the following picture I took with my iPhone and modified using Camera+:

This is what you see when you’re literally above cloud nine

 

Winter in Lebanon: Snowy Landscapes from the Recent Snowstorm

After posting a few pictures of a trip I took to the Cedars, I figured I’d help show another side of Lebanon that most people don’t get to see (especially tourists). And what better side to show than the one showcased by the recent snowstorm?

I did not take these pictures. I got them, after permission, from the Lebanon Weather Facebook page. I’ll try to go on a roadtrip around the Batroun area soon to take pictures. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, we present:

Zahle

Anjar

Assia, a village at 700 m of altitude in Batroun

The Chouf

The view from Hasroun, in the Bcharre Caza

Jezzine

Kawkaba, in South Lebanon

Knise Moutain in the Metn region

South Lebanon

Toula, in North Lebanon

West Bekaa

West Bekaa, again

And this is a picture my friend Firas took of the Cedar Mountains from his hometown in Koura:

The Cedar Mountains from afar

And people ask me why I’m “hating” on Zaitunay Bay when it’s getting all the attention and scenes like these are getting ignored. I guess that’s the way things are – you have money and power, you get noticed.

 

 

Winter in Lebanon: The Cedars

This past weekend, I decided to go with a couple of my cousins on a quick drive around the beautiful Lebanese North, which happens to be where I’m from.

The area in the pictures below is about a thirty minute drive from my hometown in the Batroun caza and the road is paved with gorgeous scenery as well. I had wanted to post this yesterday but the Telegraph article took precedence. Check out my commentary on that article here.

So in a way, this post will serve as further proof to what I presented in my commentary yesterday. Perhaps what was very surprising to me was that, despite it being a very sunny Saturday, the number of people hitting the Cedar slopes was very little compared to how popular Faraya seems to be even though this is a much nicer area to visit.

Moreover, while driving around these mountains, your mind is taken out of your car and to a whole other place altogether. You cannot simply drive around without forcibly stopping to try and take a picture that barely encompasses the beauty in front of you. They call the Cedar forest in North Lebanon: The Cedars of God. I think I know why it’s called as such: if God wanted to choose a place to live in (during winter), it’d be this.

It’s absolutely breathtaking.

The view from a town on the way: Hadath El Jebbe

Entrance of Bcharre, the city.

View from Bcharre, the city

Church in Bcharre

The Cedar Mountains as seen from Bcharre

Another view of the Cedar Mountains from Bcharre

Leaving Bcharre towards the Cedar Mountains

Note to self: Converses are a bad idea in such circumstances

Awesome house. Can you imagine living here in winter?

Your visit to the Bcharre region won't be the same without 2145 posters of gorgeous Setrida Geagea

The Cedars of Lebanon

The Cedars of Lebanon - again

The snow on the Cedar Mountains

Another view of the snow

The Cedar Forest from afar

 

And then, just before leaving, my cousins decided to remember my brother, Joseph, who happens to be in the US as a foreign exchange student. So this is to Joseph:

All these pictures were taken with my iPhone 4S and were not modified in any way.