Socotra – The Alien world

Is it the giant mushroom right out of the Tintin’s “The Shooting Star” adventure, or is it for real ? It appears on 100 Rials currency note of the country of Yemen (Arab Republic).

“Dragon’s blood tree” , scientifically known as Dracaena cinnabari, this tree is native to Socotra archipelago (a group or chain of islands), is part of country of Yemen (Arab Republic). It is so known , due to the blood like liquid sap that oozes out on cutting the bark of the tree. This sap has been used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

The Socotra archipelago itself is a unique place , one of the most isolated lands on Earth, with very limited accessibility. It lies in the northwest Indian Ocean near Gulf of Aden. The archipelago about 250 kms long , lies about 380 kms south of main land Yemen , the country that it’s part of. Consisting of 4 island and 2 islets, it appears on an ariel map like an extension of Horn of Africa. The Socotra island within the archipelago, itself measures about 132 kms at the longest stretch, 49 kms at the widest and about 3800 sq kms area. It is also topographically diverse coastal plains, limestone plateau and Hagghier mountains.

Unique geographical fact : Though a part of Yemen which is an Asian country, geographically Socotra is termed to be part of the continent of Africa

Image source credit : Wikipedia –

The remoteness of the island can be gauged from the fact that it is accessible for visitors and explorer by minimal air flights , generally once a week from mainland countries. A trip to the island itself is then an adventure, needing a full week stay before one can take a flight back to mainland.

Socotra is known for it’s extensive biodiversity, with rich flora and fauna. 37% of 825 known plant species, 90% of reptile species and 95% of its snail species are “endemic” – they do not appear anywhere else in this world. Isn’t that amazing !. Visiting Socotra is almost like visiting an alien planet !

The biodiversity does not end with the flora and fauna. The marine life is also very diverse , with 253 species of reef-building corals, 730 species of coastal fish and 300 species of crab, lobster and shrimp.

No wonder Socotra is designated as UNESCO World Heritage site , also referred to as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”

Such a mystical remote island is bound to have fascinating and intriguing myths and stories around it.  From ancient times of Greeks and Romans, Socotra was a place of sorcerers , genies and monsters. The beliefs include flying snakes, Phoenix nest and home to the Roc bird, the huge bird in the stories of Sindbad the Sailor

The origin of name Socotra itself has a few explanations being offered. One goes, that it comes  from the Sanskrit term “dvipa sukhadhara” meaning “ the island of bliss” , with a support from studied history that Indians resided on the islands for almost 6 centuries about 1600 years ago. Another one attributes it to Arabic origin coming from “souk” meaning market and ‘qatra” meaning a small droplet , possibly referring to the frankincense trees found in abundance on the islands. Or even possibly the blood like drop from the Dragon’s blood tree.

Historical evidence also suggests that Socotra island was once an important halt on sea route for trade  between India and East Africa. For many centuries , Gujarati sailors from western India referred to this route as “Sikotro sinh” meaning the lion of Socotra -possibly referring to the roaring seas near the island.

The mainland Yemen country is today engulfed in civil war. In stark contrast,  this remote island of the same country , is home to  about 50000 inhabitants, living in harmony with the diverse nature. Giving us a hope that such peace and harmony will extend to the entire country one day.

About Yemeni Currency

CountryYemen (Arab Republic
Region (Continent)Asia (with Socotra Islands in Africa)
StatusUN recognized country
LocationWest Asia near the Horn of Africa
CurrencyYemeni Rial
Currency Note Displayed100 Rial
Catalog PickP-37 (Year 2016-2018)