‘About Time’ is a British romantic movie written and directed by one of biggest names in British TV and movie industry, Richard Curtis. Curtis is the founder of Britain’s ‘Comic Relief’ and hugely responsible in making career of legendary comedian Rowan Atkinson. This is Curtis’ third directional venture after ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Boat That Rocked’.
Story is about a guy Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson). He has crossed a rough teeny era and now at 21, he is cranky. A nature boy who lacks self-esteem is told by his father James Lake (Bill Nighy) about a special ancestral quality which is only common in their men – travel in time. That means, just close your eyes and press your hands while hiding his identity from the others which will rewind him to a past to correct the things to have a better future. Strange init??
Enters gorgeous Charlotte (Margot Robbie) who is friend of Tim’s sister KitKat (Lydia Wilson). Charlotte has joined his family to stay for a short period and Tim starts taking interest in her. Watching this movie, we all will surely fall in haste to wish for once we could ever have that special ability to travel with time and solve our matters. Obviously the ability is unrealistic, but Richard Curtis makes this unrealistic thing look realistic that not every power has its every say. If you have power that doesn’t mean that you can control everything… Tim loses Charlotte despite using his ability.
The quality of this movie is that there is a huge chance that you will take the role of Tim by heart. Following his each and every move, you do are travelling with time, falling in love and waiting for the next moment. Now you (I mean Tim) moves to London to pursue his career to London. Faces the reality! Tim now lives with his father’s old friend Harry (Tom Hollander) who is pretty goofy and spooky. A struggler who write plays.
Six boring months passes and then Tim fells in love with a girl Mary (Rachel McAdams) in a restaurant. Many viewers will get confuse of the bizarreness of picturising the dinner scene of first Tim/Mary encounter in restaurant in total darkness. Why a blackout in restaurant?
Actually this restaurant is Dans le Noir, a French chain restaurant and spa. This was launched back in 2004 in Paris. This chain was founded with a concept of serving the guests in total darkness which is also named ‘Dark Dining’ or ‘Blind Dining’. Experienced BLIND waiters serve the visitors in this chain. Visitors are asked to place all their possessions (i.e., watches, mobile phones, bags or any object that projects light) into a locker. Dark Dining traces back its history in the 19th century.
Anyhow due to a rare site chosen by director, the first visible on-screen pairing of Tim/Mary is also electrifying. You will never feel unromantic the way they begin conversing and growing their relationship with time. But hello!!! hello!!!! what a supernatural twist!! Tim attends Harry’s play where the actor forgets his line and to make the play successful, Tim travels with time due to the fact, the memoir of his meeting with Mary erases by settling his participation in Harry’s play. Oh what have you done you nincompoop!!!
Life is full of chances. Magic happens and love is magic. Next morning, he meets Mary in a Kate Moses art exhibition but Mary obviously won’t recognize him because he erased the past with Harry’s play. And to more a tragedy, Mary now has a boyfriend.
Unacceptable!!!!! Tim has to pretend to be sanctimonious by using his supernatural power. Scene changes again, story rewinds back now to a lavishing party where Mary is now single. Tim now is convinced with the situation and furthermore has the advantage of knowing that she is huge fan of Kate Moses.
Things work and both are simultaneously in love. They begin dating. One day, Tim meets Charlotte and go for a dinner. There she confesses that she perhaps would have accepted his love if traveled back to time. Oops!!! will he enjoy this wild fantasy? Tim is in brink of confusion between the two. Charlotte even signals him to have ding-dong in the hotel where she is staying. At the eleventh hour, Tim decides to run away to Mary and proposes her. A power of commitment in love!!!
No clutching but cramping. Mary is pregnant and Tim introduces her to his family. She is warm welcomed. Tim announces their wedding and her pregnancy altogether. Everything goes well, everything moves well…. They marries and rains heavily. The joy of Tim’s family knows no bound, as baby girl arrives. Tim/Mary and baby settles in new home with no need of using his time-traveling ability.
Once the baby is born, Tim’s ability make a turn around. His father tells him that once his child will born, travelling back to a time before the child’s birth will in fact stop that child from ever being born, as time will happen differently in every aspect of his life.
Tim lives his life happily and another baby is born. He also enjoys a successful career as lawyer winning many cases with his team. One day a news breaks that Tim’s father suffers from cancer. Tim cannot change this tragic news. I will leave you here to watch yourself what happens in last half an hour. I assure you it is dramatic and heart touching.
‘About Time’ is the movie about life and turnarounds. It speaks a volume of notion and emotions you are surrendered and surrounded with. The movie is produced for an ordinary human like you to think if God had granted you a lifeline or a special ability or an extraordinary talent or a timeless opportunity…. to live your world, to change nature of things, to pick rights or wrongs…. how exactly would you execute.
Precisely it is strange to follow a story-line which is untrue but looks to be true. But apply in real life and talk about it. You will understand and even realize the mistakes you had made or are about to make. Had things gone wrong, how would you ever have corrected? Tim keeps turning the table in his favor but the director actually is successful to present that every power in the world has limitations. When child is born, Tim can never go back.
The movie has all potential to grab your attention and watch it till the end without an element of getting bored. Dialogues are simple, narration is frank. Script has life little humorous little sentimental. Many scenes are glompy. Father-son chemistry is remarkable and will never upset you.
Domhnall Gleeson-Rachel McAdams’ on-screen pairing is fabulous. Supporting cast has a good show specially Bill Nighy as Tim’s father. Background score is equally balanced with the pace of movie specially playing of piano at many critical scenes. Selection of soundtracks for the movie is excellent and picturised at suitable situations. Even Jimmy Fontana’s Il Mondo played at the bride’s arrival in church fitted very well.
No doubt, ‘About Time’ is one of best English movies of 2013 and very worth-watching.
I fell on my death bed after 40 effing hours. Smooched in the dark and slipped across the narrow gate of utopia. Stood in long queue but the ticket towards heaven was expensive enough to feel cumbersome my pocket. I found it fishy, hung my neck towards the signboard. It said ‘Hell Station’ -_- On the contrary, I moved to the other foggy place and the place looked scary and very helliffic. A lot of fire with a protocol dire. Capitalism of jumping the grave was persisted. The hardest route was cleared, then a moment of surprise. A peaceful land with visibly 7 gates of heaven. To my dismay, no dead man walking towards the gate. I was the only to enter the gate as compared to a long queue at Hell Station. A golden escalator took me to the virgins.
Yeah I dreamed a dream. You can take me as Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or you can make me Tom cat from Tom & Jerry’s 1949 episode ‘Heavenly Puss’ but that was me. Enough of romance on the clouds, my eyes ope very early morning as the morning prayers of Fajr were offered in all masjids. I was fully dressed like I was the whole past day and even shoed. I was back to normality after unusual heavy exhaustion.
The coast is clear with nothing to bear. I am back on my feet and very fit now but alas Lionel Messi is yet to clear his fitness. I slept again and this time, woke up at 10 am. The plan of moving our ass early morning heavily failed. All woke up late. Time to bath and geyser is about to mess with you. Mr. geyser had an unusual habit of delivering hot and cold water at its wish. I literally had to wait a couple of minutes for a normal water.
Bags were packed, and we were checking out from hotel. Outside hotel, the place was like a curfew. This city is not wild like Jeddah. But I did see couple of boys in street having fun. One boy who wore Real Madrid jersey was chasing a boy who wore Barcelona one lol. Keep chasing!!
Our first target was to finish few of historic sites before we move to Madain Saleh. But the problem was that the routes were not understood well. We searched on the websites, but we didn’t find a proper route towards the sites which became difficult to locate. I slowed my car and flamingoed our necks on the main road left and right. Reached the district of Dedan where we were going to locate a very historical site of Al-Khuraybah. To our absolute bad luck, the place was neither opened nor the visiting times were written on the site information board.
So what is al-Khuraybah? It is an archaeological city of Dedan located in the eastern part of Salamiya Farms and north-east of al-Ula. The history of the site can be traced back more than 2500 years ago. It represents the remains of the ancient city of Dedan between the two mountains. Like I wrote in the 1st chapter of ‘The Breezing Ula’ of my blog before, the Kingdoms of Lihyanites (Lihyans) and Dedanites (Dedan) were the two who ruled the city as Lihyans were the original settlers to al-Ula. And this city was the capital of Kingdoms of Dedan and Lihyan from 6th to 2nd century B.C. This site of al-Khuraybah fell under the same Kingdoms timeline wise.
Inside al-Khuraybah are further more sites which I found worth exploring but our fate that the gate was closed don’t know why. One is the Lions Tomb carved by the Lihyanites in the 6th century B.C. The numerous tombs are mostly plain burial chambers carved into the rock, but a small number of them have lion sculptures above them.
The next site was to search Umm Daraj. Umm Daraj means ‘Mother of Steps’. It is located in the Western part of al-Ula on Harrat Uwayrid or al-Harra mountain. You have to climb on this dangerous adventure to witness an ancient Lihyanite temple, inscriptions and petroglyphs. The location was very complicated and we unfortunately could not locate the exact spot. The time was speaking a lot and was getting very limited to complete ‘Madain Saleh’. So we just gave up and moved for the trip’s biggest target.
Madain Saleh!! The first site of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be registered as ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO (United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 2008. Madain Saleh ‘Cities of Saleh’ was coined by an Andalusian traveler in 1336 CE. It was back in 1880s when Charles Doughty became the first European to visit Madain Saleh.
Time schedule of visiting the site has been shorted by an hour due to early sunset. Opens at same 9am but now the gates are closed by 5pm instead of 6pm. On Fridays, the visiting hours further reduces to 3pm-5pm. Plus there are no lights there due to the fact of its being a cursed place. Why cursed place? I’ll explain later. The temperature was 19 degree Celsius. Enter the gate and I see some beautiful architecture of buildings. Toilet units are installed for both males and females. This is the very site, by knowing it my traveling hobby was born. My 3rd attempt to finish the exploration of this site is same like José Mourinho returning to Chelsea football club for the unfinished business. The place is a landmark of history itself where Nabatean Kingdom ruled from 168 BCE – CE 106.
THE KINGDOM AND ERA OF NABATEA (168 BCE – CE 106)
Who were Nabateans and their Kingdom?? Once former president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, Thomas C. Barger, wrote an article on Sep-Oct print edition of Saudi Aramco World back in 1965 about Nabateans. He stated, “In 312 B.C., about 10 years after the death of Alexander the Great, a Greek general who had served with Alexander led an expedition against a city called Petra in what is now Jordan. He captured the main fortress, looted it and retired with the city’s treasure. As he retreated, however, the defenders of the city counterattacked, in an unexpected night raid, massacred the Greeks and recaptured the treasure. The defenders were called Nabateans and this was their first appearance in recorded history.” For further readings of this article, kindly click here: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/196505/notes.on.the.nabateans.htm
According to historians, the Nabatean Kingdom at its peak stretched from modern-day Yemen to Damascus and from western Iraq into the Sinai Desert. The capital of this Kingdom was Petra, the ancient city of Jordan. Other cities besides Madain Saleh and Petra, which were ruled under this Kingdom were Bosra (a town in Southern Syria was the first Nabatean city in the 2nd century BCE) and Nizana (ancient city in Israel close to the Egyptian border).
In total, 11 Kings ruled the Nabatean Kingdom in period of 274 years (168 BCE – CE 106). It all began from King Aretas I (al-Harithas in Arabic). Now the most interesting fact I researched about Aretas I which will surprise the readers is that his name was found on the oldest inscription of Nabatean in Haluza and Haluza is in Negev, the desert area of Israel. Haluza is known to be the most potential place where the Biblical city of Ziklag is predictably present and Ziklag is the place, where the Judas kingdom ruled.
Successor of the first King was King Rabbel I, but for how long? It is uncertain. The next King was Aretas II who ruled the kingdom for 24 years from 120 BCE till 96 BCE. Nabatean minting of coins began under him. He belonged to almost the same ruling timeline when Judea was ruled by Alexander Jannaeus under the Hasmonean Dynasty. Jannaeus seiged Gaza in 99 BCE but Aretas II failed to help the Gazans despite the fact of asking for help. Gaza was destroyed and lost.
Rivalry between the Nabateans and Hasmoneans continued. Three years after the loss of Gaza, entered Aretas II’s son Ubadah I. Ubadah I took revenge from the Hasmoneans and defeated them in 93 BCE on the Golan Heights. 8 years later, Nabatea was invaded by Antiochus XII Dionysus, one of the last ruler of Seleucid Empire (an empire founded and built by Seleucus I Nicator in 306 BCE, who was infantry general of Alexander the Great). The battle was fought between Ubadah I and Dionysus. As result, both were killed but invaders were defeated and the Nabatean Kingdom was somehow saved.
In came Aretas III, Ubadah I’s brother, who ruled the kingdom for next 23 years till 62 BCE. He was the most powerful of all Aretas and a revolutionary to the Kingdom. His biggest achievement was taking on Damascus which worked as a commercial trading route between Mediterranean Sea, India and the Middle-East. First silver Nabatean coins were produced under him. He strengthened Nabatean culture by introducing the architectural style of the Greeks and Romans in their capital of Petra.
Next was Ubadah II who ruled for merely three years. His son Malichus I (Malik in Arabic) came who ruled the kingdom for next 29 years from 59 BCE till 30 BCE. In 40 BCE he helped the Parthians overrun Syria and Palestine. After the Romans expelled the Parthians in 34 BCE, they confiscated Malichus’s date groves around Jericho and his Red Sea harbors. Herod also fought Malichus, defeating his army near Philadelphia (present-day Amman).
The eighth Nabatean King was Ubadah III, son of Malichus I. It was during his days that the Romans attempted to discover the sources of the perfume and spice trade. He ruled the next 21 years. King Aretas IV was the ninth king who enjoyed the longest reign of 49 years over the kingdom. Aretas’ daughter married Herod Antipas, tetrarch of the Galilee. When Antipas took another wife, Herodias, Aretas’ daughter returned to her father, who went to war against the Jewish tetrarch and defeated him. Antipas appealed to Emperor Tiberius, who dispatched the governor of Syria to attack Aretas. The episode was an important factor in the beheading of John the Baptist.
The tenth king was Aretas IV’s son, Malichus II who ruled the Nabatea for the next 3 decades. This was the era when downfall began and lost Damascus. The Romans changed the spice and perfume trading route from the Nabateans to Egypt.
The last king was an absolute failure to his kingdom. Rabbel II was Malichus II’s son who was made sit on throne as child. So his mother took charge of running the government whereas his daughter became the Queen of the Nabateans. Rabbel died in 106 CE and the most powerful and successful Roman Emperor, Trajan, took an advantage of his death and annexed the Nabatean Kingdom and incorporated it into new Roman province of Arabia Petraea. Bosra was made the new capital.
PROPHET SALEH AND THAMUD CIVILIZATION
As I mentioned before that this site is widely accepted as a curse place. Allow me to present you the history behind it. This blog may lose its prominence of educating to the readers about Madain Saleh without speaking about the pre-Islamic history over this place.
It was somewhere in the 3rd millennium BCE. The ‘Aad civilization of Prophet Hud (alayhi as-salām)’s time was destructed by a thunderous storm from Allah Almighty [http://quran.com/46/24-25] after the prophet had sent them the message to worship Allah instead of worshiping idols and ask for forgiveness but they rejected [http://quran.com/11/50-57].
Entered the Thamud civilization who followed the footsteps of their predecessors. This civilization was very powerful in architectural skills as they carved mountains to build huge mansions and castles. The greater the civilization, the greater disobedience towards Allah and they worshiped almost 50 idols.
Prophet Saleh (alayhi as-salām) appeared as Prophet with Allah’s message to obey Him and ask for forgiveness. The King or people of Thamud ask for a sign or miracle to convince that he was the Messenger of Allah. The prophet asked their wish and they demanded to produce a camel from a mountain. The prophet prayed to Allah and the miracle happened when all of a sudden, the she-camel revealed from the mountain. The Thamudis were stunned. The prophet confirmed them that he has fulfilled their wish and the she-camel is now their guest. He added that the she-camel will drink water from well and no one will touch her with an evil intention.
For few days, the Thamudis tolerated the guest but couldn’t last long. Few of them planned to kill the guest. They hamstrung the innocent creature and gruesomely slew her. The calf born from the killing of its mother ran back to the same mountain with a loud screaming. The news of killing reached to the prophet and warned/prophesized the Thamudis of a severe wrath to appear on them in upcoming three days. They paid a huge price.
It is said that on first day, their faces went pale. The next day, it turned red and on the day of destruction, they were black. The Prophet Saleh and the believers left the city as their souls leaving their lifeless bodies in the midst of an disaster stuck via sound wave. A huge explosion took place in the night at dawn, which was followed by a horrifying earthquake. The civilization was dead.
Madain Saleh is also called al-Hijr in Arabic whereas the old inhabitants of Thamud and Nabatea called the place ‘Hegra’. The place was the second largest settlement of the Nabateans after Petra. You will see a large amount of diverse and multifaceted monuments and necropolis. The site is spreading around 13km. Sign boards on the paves and description boxes are presented for all the face hangers of the visiting cars written in both English and Arabic.
CLASSIFICATION OF TOMBS AND NECROPOLIS IN REGIONS
Around 130 rock-cut tombs of the Kings and people of Nabateans can be found. 45 of them carry Aramaic inscriptions outside the doors. These inscriptions detail the period of tomb’s constructions and for whom it was built. For furthermore easy access; the teams that have been working on this world heritage site, have grouped the total of tombs into various names. Let me try to distinguish the places of Madain Saleh where the tombs and necropolis are separately classified;
a. QASR al-SANEH – Mostly recommended to the visitors to begin the Madain Saleh tour from Qasr al-Saneh. This group has two sandstone hills; one has a large tomb and the other has six small chambers. Built around 50 CE, Qasr al-Saneh was in use for just fifty years before the Nabataean kings were overwhelmed by Rome.
b. TOMBS of RESIDENTIAL AREA – I didn’t get the meaning of it but has nearly twenty tombs in one large sector.
c. QASR al-FARID – Unarguably the most attractive of all Madain Saleh sites is Qasr al-Farid ‘The Lonely Castle’. Due to a tremendous and potential architectural feature, this tomb has gained more awareness than any other in whole Madain Saleh.
d. QASR al-BINT – Also called ‘Palace of the Daughter’. This place has two sandstone hills just like Qasr al Saneh. One has twenty nine tombs and the other has only two.
e. MOUNT ITHIB – There is a place ‘ad-Diwan’. This was a sacred place and religious gatherings were done. Between the two mountains, is a narrow natural rock passage called Siq. We saw inscriptions and symbols on both sides of the passage. On the right of this passage is square-sized chamber containing three large stone benches. That chamber is thought to be a place where the religious meetings and sacred feasts were performed. After crossing the passage, a temple is located on the heights of mount Ithlib.
f. JABAL al-MAHJAR – This group of tombs is located to the northwest of the complex of Qaṣr al-Bint and occupies three elongated sandstone hills, containing a total of fourteen tombs; six in the first group, 5 in the second and three in the third.
g. al-KHURAYMAT – This sector covers nine mountains where fifty three tombs are located. There is some archaeological evidence of plasterwork on the facades and a suggestion that people feasted outside familial tombs – a Nabatean ‘Day of the Dead’.
HEJAZ RAILWAY MUSEUM & HISTORY
Hejaz Railway Museum is a well-preserved place located in Madain Saleh. To our bad luck, it was closed. But inside the museum is history. It was built in the times of Ottoman Empire back in 1907. The major reason to build the station was to connect Constantinople with Madinah and Makkah so that the Muslims can easily perform Hajj. The other very critical reason was to bring economic and political integration of the Arab provinces into the Ottoman state and facilitate them with the transportation of military forces. And the point worth noting is by that time, the German empire was backing the Ottomans.
Like I wrote in the first chapter of ‘The Breezing Ula’ that pilgrims from Damascus used to perform pilgrimage by entering al-Ula’s ancient town and Syrian merchants used to sell supplies to the pilgrims. So I think there might have been a consideration by the Ottomans to propose a platform to connect the Muslims from the close neighborhood to perform Hajj with ease. But the then Emir and Sharif of Mecca, Hussain bin Ali, sensed some kind of threat through the railway connections as it provided the Ottomans an easy rout towards Hejaz, Asir and Yemen. After the fall of Ottoman Empire, the railway connection was abolished.
So that is the summarized story of this Railway Station. Anyhow the station has 16 buildings all built in the Ottoman Empire. They were used as accommodation and rest area for passengers, and a large railway workshop (with a restored WWI-era engine).
There are more than 60 water wells in Madain Saleh, some of them are more than 30 meters in depth. Many of them collapsed in different space of time. But the one officially is termed as Nabatean Well located in a very restricted area. The signboard clearly says that visitors are not allowed to trespass and violators are subjected to penalties. But that day, gate was open. We entered and saw that very messed well of Nabatean times. White fences are installed for the safety and taking the picture of the depth of well is at your own risk. Excavation teams have discovered a network of water channels and the work on it is under process.
Madain Saleh is under supervision of SCTA (Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities) but to be precise and perfectly honest, my observation is that this World Heritage Site is in sorry state of any proper care. The place need a careful study of the implementations made for safety and security. The site is a massive national tourism treasure and can easily grab a huge no. of visitors and has a sharp contrast of attracting the foreigners due to its vast rich history and the abandoned culture and civilization.
SCTA must consider the following points which I am sure many visitors have noticed and are raising eyebrows over the site’s safety:
4×4 and other vehicles enter the site areas but don’t park in parking lots. Vehicles do enter the sites and sometimes due to extreme sandy surface, the vehicles go stuck in it.
There is no guide to serve and inform you the history behind the sites, only information plates are installed, which is never enough.
There is not a single security guard in a 13km-spread Madain Saleh site which has cost this world heritage site a depth nature of the beauty of its attraction towards the visitors.
Many nonsense visitors have marked some signs and words in their languages. They have sprayed some of the wall graves. Imagine the impact on foreigners and tourists touring from different parts of the world!!
Even more disaster is that you will find empty plastic water bottles, drink cans, packet of cigarette on many many tombs. Despicable!!!
No matter how disappointing the behavior of few visitors are but the blame should go the SCTA management who are hugely responsible of not taking steps to add Tour Guides and Security Guards to a UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site.
After a stay for an hour or two with most of the sites covered, we were satisfied enough to depart from that marvelous site. I can’t say if that is my final visit ever but surely I may visit after a long period of time. This was my third visit in past four months.
The Ula-tic journey didn’t end here. We musketeers had to march way back to look for that Umm Daraj which had became impossible due to lack of guidance en route. Our ribs tickled to see a noted old rock which is in shape of an elephant. We saw its sign board 5km near to Madain Saleh. So why not make a short tour of that particular place?
A very sandy route towards the rock and many tourists and visitors camping that site. Hanging our necks left and right to locate the spot and somehow our eyes caught a rock with a massive height with its shadow spreading almost a mile. We realized that we were looking that noted rock from its back and drove the car towards the front. It was a stunner!! Almost a 50-meter rock of elephant shape which is called Jabal Sakhrat al-Feel ‘Elephant Rock’.
There is no specific history of this rock formation. People used to say that this rock was naturally furbished by massive sandstorms produced in last thousands of years. Once again the disappointment is that many visitors are marking some signs and wordings on this rock and destroying the look of its formation. We galloped to the distance for pictures and videos and after a 20-minute short stay, we left to locate Umm Daraj as final call.
Sun was setting, darkness was harking at unusual pace like always. At one of route, I sensed if the ‘Mother of Steps’ can be witnessed in one of small village located towards the mountains we thought if they were al-Harra. I took the risk, drove my car and paid the price. The car stuck in sand. With no street lights in the village and limited source of one-eye halogen in car, we were suppose to enjoy an FML epic. We collected some juniper tree skins and flat woods and lied above the sands parallel to the normal route towards a proper street. It worked and thanks to my musketeers.
Had a normal dinner in the restaurant with that same funny name ‘al-Mazaq’. Navigation on mobile was set and left al-Ula at 8pm. These 750 kilometers of distance were swiftly covered in nearly 5 hours of crazy but proper drive.
After crossing Yanbu beach, the police had their role of very strict checking to all the vehicles. Many of cars with group of boys were taken out and scanned them. I guess the inspection team were alerted by some alarm. Myself was fined for over speeding (most probably due to running on radar).
I am very thankful to my readers who read my travelling account composed in three different episodes. Hopefully I have brought some attention towards the travelers who are keen to march towards different tripping spots in this dry Kingdom. Also my words won’t stop ending without saying a proper thank-you to my fellow musketeers. Without them, this trip would have never brought any meaning of enjoyment we had everywhere altogether.
With all the excitements, fun and loads of explorations; we treasured a moment of unforgettable experience. This was my story. This was a story of three musketeers who framed a 2-day trip towards a whole bunch of amusement. A life temporarily settled in the Breezing Ula will be a memory to cherish for a long period of time.
Speak of the destiny? Here the musketeers march from Jeddah. I was asked for autograph by Saher ‘vehicle speed detector’ with all due respect. Petrol was filled twice. Speed breakers never missed call me as law breakers. Beautiful landscapes and larger than life mountains were repeated to cucumber my eyes. Had reached al-Ula within 8 hours, traveled almost 700kms, and successfully explored and completed al-Ula’s oldest city currently known as district of Deirah. Found a hotel with very impressive price of only SR.120/day. Unpacked our bags and time to eat our lunch…
The local restaurants are located in hotel surroundings and by the way, there are no popular food chains in the city. We all three walked the nearby places. And believe me, with an impressive 3-hour-exploration on Deirah, I imagined every small residential buildings in my surrounding as ruins of Deirah town. Yeahh apologies!!
While searching for hotel, my fellow musketeers had x-rayed a shawarmatic site in the town. So we reached the spot with all high hopes of delicious shawarma but all in vain. Only broasts were ready enough to serve us. We ordered and returned hotel with all haste of hunger. The name of that restaurant for we South Asians was a bizarre. The name was ‘al-Mazaaq’ which literally means ‘Fun’. With a broad meaning, you may say Mazaaq means ‘making fun of’ or ‘having fun’. Oh my! it was terrible to receive our food from a ‘mocking’ restaurant but the food was delicious.
Time to take a rest with full mood of using my laptop and transfer the data from memory card to there. It came to my lame understanding that with every considered stuff in my bag I remembered, I did forget to bring one very important thing and that was my laptop’s charger -_- The battery was left 19% and FML moment was that begging for help to use their chargers won’t even work due to the fact that I carried ASUS laptop and they both had Acer -_-
Our room was luckily with a view… a majestic view!! <3 A small bridge connected the two lanes, the two areas. On the opposite end was a beautiful masjid calling for prayers at our disposal. A view far behind the masjid was specific mountains of unusual shapes which we had been observing in our whole trip in the surrounds.
The time was almost 6 in the evening and the temperature was conveying the message that ‘Winter is coming’. The plan was to reach the heights on one of top of the mountains. It was 26kms drive towards that mark. I am not a detailed narrator of the locations and addresses but according to my knowledge, there is a bridge which connects you towards Madain Saleh, Hail, Khaybar and Tabuk. I was suppose to take a u-turn and join the road going towards the mountain. The easy access was a signboard with the name ‘Harrat Uwayrid Park’ coming on that same road telling you to turn towards the right.
So I joined that road and in our surrounds were those unusual shapes of mountains. With no street lights to offer, that destiny towards the top became more scary, creepy and mysterious. With the sun almost set and darkness harking, the nearby mountains were like corpses and very shamly inviting.
I was supposed to trust on my vehicle lights (with only a right side of halogen working). Oh boy oh boy! it was absolute dark and the next wierdo thingy was two small pillars (one each on right and left) made from henge of stones placed for an unwelcomed welcome. Now at that point, we realized that we actually were on right path relying on navigation. The road now had many short and dangerous curves. It might slip at your losing of an edge due to the fact that the rising will begin.
My car was ascending at 40-60kph and building a height were eardrums stopped beating. There was no two way and hazards were on. Kept driving like that for further five minutes with not a single street light offering a dangerous path to drive at your own risk. The temperature was speaking and many huge stones were snoring at edge-ends. There was no stopping and had to expect the car might arrive from the opposite end.
That wasn’t enough at all. After all ascending and dangerous climbing, we were back on base with a complete blackout. Five minutes later, my vehicle lights provided us an opportunity to view a sudden shock. With no life stored on the top in the blackout, we witnessed a caravan of black camels :S In a limited lighting, those camels were not less than a sudden-cameo epic of slender man.
The rising was abandoned and were driving flat. All of a sudden, we saw a communication tower hub 100 meters far which convinced me that life is stored for humans on the top. Non-serious speed breakers guided us to locate the mark. We parked and reached the destiny. Here I felt the real cool breezing Ula. Air was blowing and temperature was dropping. We shivered with cold and began walking to the top. It was a decent park with proper sitting areas and shades to avoid sunlight.
The name also is King Abdul Aziz Park National Park which is located on al-Harra mountains 6500ft above sea level. The protective fences are installed to avoid danger. We reached the end and witnessed a beauty. A hawk-eye view of al-Ula. I fell in love with that heavenly view. The temperature had touched almost 10 degrees celsius. We forgot to wear gloves as advised and were freezing. It became hard to make videos and pictures from my camera due to excessive cold.
We stayed there for an hour or two. My fellow musketeers intended and sat on the rocks ahead of the fence close to the end. It was very risky but I gave my second thought of having a larger than life moment in this trip, so why not make a go and join them. My legs were shivering as one epic blunder might make ill fate of all of us but Alhamdulillah, that never happened. I lied on the rock where both were sitting and enjoying.
My eyeballs were fixed more towards the sky. Being almost 2000m above sea level, I imagined myself close to the stars. I had cut myself from the world. Lying on the rock, my heart beat had a burden, the whole body was like lifted in the air above the skies to feel the beat of new age music. Closed my eyes and sound of wind blew across my eardrums. Ascended towards the sky and Djembe was played around with the herd of camels below groaning. I couldn’t move a muscle of my leg. My thigh muscles were frozen dead and myself not normally breathed.
For approximately 10-15 minutes, I was connected with the stars or if they were twittering me. I was panicking as monsters on the stars were gobbling. I realize that they were not monsters but legends, angels and pious earthlings. They were shining of good deeds and were satisfied of what they have fed and how they have served the inhabitants on earth. Is it reminding you ‘The Lion King’ scene? Yeah it happened with me too. This was the magic of breezing Ula!! Billions of stars were welcoming the Jeddawis…
I kept lying there as my fellow musketeers began leaving. They began calling me as it was time to leave. With all my weight on the rock and being at edge, I felt a little oops as I tried to pull myself and got worried not to slip to the other side of rock as legs began shivering again. With no danger I was back then.
An unforgettable experience was yet to come. We were returning and just crossed the communication tower. The next was complete blackout. Without any sense of logic, I turned the car lights off and stopped to feel the horrible darkness. But it turned to our surprise when we turned our heads above the sky. Our eyes were invited by the next door to heaven. It was not about those billions of stars twinkling. It was about my first ever lucky experience towards the site people would ever love to view. Yes, a Milky Way….
Ohh what a view!!! <3 Allah Almighty gifted us this wonder. There was a world lying behind those stars. Hidden but not forbidden. Carved but not starved. Lasered but not tasered. One cannot deny this magic of lighting. The major part of whiteness under Milky Way was like a feast ready for the Kingdom of Elves. I was lost in this world but staying for long with my car lights off was not less than any sign of danger. What if those black camels become the dragons? LOL So we left the spot in haste and began descending the same route of mountain properly.
Returning home, sleepless for around 40 hours!! I was exhausted with a minor backache and eye balls falling low. I was yet to sleep or at least stretch my back to bed. The dinner scene was on in couple of hours as one musketeer had a client here in this city to work for a very short-notice. I lied on bed for hardly an hour and half.
One of us wanted to have a small shopping. We went to a garments shop. Clothes were cheap. We entered the shoes section and our eyes stuck on one shoe box with the title never fitting with the product. A weird message with no connection but salute to the logic of box designers. They surely were mentally retarded.
Our musketeer met his client and after 10-minute exchange of regards and words, the rest of us were introduced with a plan that we will have dinner at his client’s ‘House of Commons’ where even hookah ‘sheesha’ will also be available for drinking. It sounded exciting to me. With more than 40 sleepless hours and a minor body ache, it was a ‘Yes’ for me.
The place was a 5-minute-drive and we met some other of his client’s friends in their rest house. There were around 10 people of different sizes and ages, and to no surprise all were Bedouins. It was pretty pleasant atmosphere as the people under the rest house were friendly and good hosts. They excused us for the dinner to wait for an hour. One musketeer began working on his assignment and the other replied his guesting feedback to the friendly hosts by playing Arabic songs from his laptop.
All were nice people having fun but the one just put me in embarrassment or u may say for me was an embezzlement. When introduced that we all three were Pakistanis, one old gag spotted me and doubted me of being a Pakistani. He went on to say that I resembled like a guy from Madras (Chennai) or Sri Lanka -_- I know most of the readers here will make a guffaw but surely you won’t put yourself in my place and ask yourself how does it really feel if a guy speak this way to you in front of ten new faces in unfamiliar environment in a different city. It surely was a harsh comment to bear but had no option. May Allah Almighty direct him.
One guy offered us an Arabic tea and a basbousa sweet. The other offered us sheesha. Sheesha was double-apple flavor with four big charcoal cubes decorated on the top. It was very well prepared and the outcome was passport to heaven. My fellow colleague had a sheesha with lemon and mint flavor, with the same excess of smoky excitement.
Feel the beat or smell the meat. You certainly can expect that is coming close to you. Specially more closer when you feel hungry, when your physical strength hasn’t met its fate to bed in a long run, when your eye-balls are failing to muster up the tales in the dreams and so and so. I was bound to sit on floor and eat because I am used to eat on table. I am not comfortable eating on floor. Traditional rice with chicken was served in large plate for all hungry men. It was so delicious and heavy. Every flesh of chicken made my tongue watered.
One thing I learnt from the Bedouins of the city. I am not fluent in Arabic but my fellow spoke to one of the host and repeatedly used the term ‘Vannas’. Even other hosts used the same word many a time. I sensed there was something special in it. I asked him and he told me that the word ‘Vannas’ is obviously an Arabic word which is used in this city for compliment. For example, if I say “this food is awwwweeeesome”, it will be like “this food is vannnnnnas”. I do like the complimentary term because the food was delicious but more than that, sooo vannas :) We kept eating and vannasing.
After the food, I wasn’t feeling well for two major reasons. a) After a long time, I got very physical in my activity… my fellows had taken rest and slept in the car during the destiny as I solely drove the car all the way from Jeddah to here, straightly explored the old town, reached the peak of mountain for a hawk-eye view and now a heavy dinner plus drinking sheesha phewwww and b) I didn’t sleep for at least 40 hours at all. I met a huge headache, my backbone was killing me, my legs were getting cold. My body was breaking, my soul was shattering and level of anxiety was about to cross its limit. I suffered the pain for further half an hour because one was waiting for the client to return to rest house and make a proper thanks for all his kind service and wish him good bye while the other was busy on an urgent call. I wasn’t able to walk normally and pain was growing. I badly needed a bed or a grave to lie like a harlot for a night stand.
I was like losing my consciousness and I had a feeling that my fellows aided me to lie on bed. Tomorrow we are leaving home. But before we leave, the musketeers will march towards the most critical exploration land near al-Ula, Madain Saleh. Let me die for a temporary period, let me enjoy my wild fantasies with my virgins lying and waiting for me in the clouds. Hope I recover and new knowledge I discover.
Thanks for reading and do wait for the last chapter under ‘The Breezing Ula’. Till then, reply the blog or give your feedback. You may ask any questions related to the trip. Good night!