The Frankincense Trail
BBC2 & BBC HD
Ep1 Oman/Yemen - Thursday 27th August – 8pm – BBC2 (and BBC HD at same time)
For three thousand years before the birth of Christ frankincense was more valuable than gold. Its sweet smelling aromatic smoke was treasured by Pharaohs and Caesars because it connected them with their gods and the sacred heavens above. Their insatiable demand for the precious resin sourced from frankincense trees created a trade route from the southern coast of Oman to the Holy Lands. It was a path that saw wars fought and civilisations thrive and crumble.
The treacherous two thousand mile journey from fabled frankincense groves close to the Arabian Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean was undertaken by masterful desert traders and vast camel caravans. They carried tens of thousands of tonnes of frankincense across tribal lands that are known today as Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. Following the trail across these seven modern nations Kate explores cities of ancient skyscrapers, temples to long-forgotten gods, grand yet fallen palaces and magical cities buried in sand yet alive with legend. She also meets the characters of contemporary Arabia who live along the ancient route; from camel jumping athletes in Yemen, to Saudi Arabia's richest man, to veiled women who bless their new born babies with frankincense smoke, to a daredevil female pilot who soars above the ancient camel path in the desert valleys of Jordan.
With remarkable access to the hidden worlds of the Middle East, this is a journey full of surprises, both for Kate and the viewer. Here, astounding modernity coexists with ancient traditions and Kate discovers what it means to be a western woman in Arabia. This is a world of extremes - where endless desert meets impossibly blue skies, where the worlds of the rich and poor collide, and where ancient and new sit side by side. Kate Humble journeys along the incense route: a fragrant world of ancient legend and modern adventure.
The Sun TV Pick of the Day: BEST DOCUMENTARY
Kate Humble travels the Middle East along ancient camel routes in this visually stunning four-parter. She starts in the Oman hills from where frankincense - beads of tree sap which harden into fragrant resin - is sent around the world for use in luxury perfumes.
The Telegraph: Today's TV highlights: Critic's Choice: The Frankincense Trail
This interesting if somewhat sluggish new four-part documentary series traces the ancient Arabian frankincense trade route across the Middle East. An effervescent, frequently emotional, Kate Humble follows the 2,000-mile trail that first connected the Arab world with the West, starting high in the Dhofar mountains of Southern Oman where frankincense is harvested from the scrawny-looking trees that line the hilltops.
In this opening episode we follow Humble as she joins with an Omani tribe to trek along the Arabian peninsula to Yemen. Despite the scorching desert sapping their energy, she dances, sings and jokes along with local man Albert and his camel train on the journey.
There's some impressive sporting action, too, when they stop for a spot of "camel jumping" - not camels jumping, but men jumping over camels. On her arrival in Yemen matters get more serious as Humble is invited to the ritual blessing of a child with frankincense, and she discovers the fierce grip that conservative Islam now has on all aspects of life in this troubled country. She becomes nervous as she then journeys north to Saudi Arabia and has mixed feelings about wearing an abaya and about visiting a country with very few rights for women. It's a rare interview with the head of religious police in Riyadh's Deera Square (where public executions take place; it's nickname is Chop Chop Square) that causes her to question her right to judge such a complex society. Rachel Ward
The Guardian: Watch this
to put it mildly, a history: it was famously one of the three gifts presented to the infant Christ by the Magi. It is still highly prized in the Middle East. In the first of a four-part series, Kate Humble follows the trail of the sweet- smelling resin from source to market. She begins in Oman, source of the world's finest frankincense, and follows the 300-strong camel train of the Al Mahri tribe as they slog across the Empty Quarter desert to Yemen, where the port of Aden is the hub of the world's frankincense trade.
The Times: Pick of the Day: Thursday's Top TV
In a new four-part series, Kate Humble travels 2,000 miles along the ancient frankincense route from the Dhofar mountains of Oman, through modern Arabia and on to Israel. For centuries, 10,000 camels would make the journey every year to ply a trade that is older than Islam itself. Incense is no longer a precious commodity, but it is still valued for medicine and scent; in the spirit of the original traders, Humble buys 90kg of top-quality frankincense in Dhofar to give away as presents along the way, which sets her back just £300.
Part history and part travelogue, the fascination of the series is seeing the two worlds - ancient and ultra-modern - co-existing side by side, from the medieval fortresses of Yemen to the shopping malls of Saudi Arabia. This would have been a gruelling journey in years gone by, and it doesn't appear to have got any easier today. by David Chater
A Diverse Bristol Ltd. production