Category Archives: Journeyman

This category is about my expeditions and journeys….

A Trip to Hellifornia

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Al Wahba Crater

Being a globetrotter, there have been various trips I diary-milked your reading efforts. I have always felt blessing that the nature of being roady-piper became a source of understanding the secrets of marvelous sites in this kingdom which is by some range long remembered as dry and desert area. Reaching the altitudes or losing the grip down towards the surfaces made me realize that this Kingdom has advertising cards enough to send to the invitees around the world to treasure their experiences. With all the practice of longing the trips somehow, there was one trip which promised to give the unsharpened axe to hit my own head and butt. This trip was expected to be the mega-road-trip event within the kingdom covering almost a week but turned out to be the omen’s curse. Today I am sharing you a painful, embarrassing but a funny trip in six parts.

PILOT

This occurred in Mid-2014. Holy month of Ramadan was ending in July end and I requested almost 1-week internal vacations from my office on the last day and to my exuberance, the request was accepted. Google Map was the binocular of treasure-hunt and more than 35 sites were marked. Participants were approached and succeeded to take three of them.

There were four characters in this road trip:

  1. Gandalf – He had a vision, a road-trip map and stuck on it. Plans had been penned and God’s will was hoped for a peaceful trip.
  2. Alien – He was the first to be approached by Gandalf. He was the co-pilot of Shadowfax. (Old myth confirms, without their mutual understanding, trips wave in the clouds of daydreaming.)
  3. Caesar – This Roman cowboy had an unfinished business but he did join on a condition that he was to be allowed to complete his work. Approved!
  4. Deadpool – This unarmed sidekick had never experienced a road-trip. Teen by age and legal expat by document was making his traveling debut.

 E01 – AAAAAND FUN BEGINS

Gandalf had bought a new backpack from Jarir Bookstore. Alien assisted him. Deadpool had his packing done and by plan, the four creatures left Jeddah after final prayer of the day. As usual, things didn’t work and delayed in wait. The chosen Shadowfax was Hyundai Veloster 2014. All four left by midnight and ate dinner at Raheli station with Arabic rice & chicken dish ‘Matghoot’.

Petrol was filled and left for the first mark. The first mission was to reach Al Wahba Crater which is 367 km drive from Jeddah. But before this, the vehicle stopped at another station, this time for the sake of nature’s call. Deadpool had his embarrassment as he wasn’t used to of not using toilet seat. Toilet partitions were suspicious because few had no locks and water pressure in the hand shower was terribly low as compared to the residential units. Three travelers were done with the cleaning but Deadpool wasn’t coming out as he had his more frustrating adventure debut. The toilet unit he chose had no shower but a small bucket lol. Gandalf checked all the units and found the last one with the toilet seat lol. As Deadpool was washing his hands, he pointed at the unit and he took all his chance to that unit. The sidekick took time again and this time there was no water lol. It was just the beginning and left the station for Al Wahba Crater.

This Al Wahba crater is almost similar to Barringer Crater located in Arizona desert of the United States. Al Wahba Crater according to Wikipedia source is 250m (820ft) deep and 2km (1.2mi) in diameter. It is so deep that if you throw a stone from the top, you will listen its end in 6 seconds. There has been much speculation about the origin of crater. Many believed a meteorite hit the place. According to Wikipedia, many geologists agree that Al Wahba Crater is a Maar crater which is caused by a phreatomagnetic eruption. That is an explosion caused by groundwater coming into contact with hot lava or magma.

There was less but enough time to enjoy the site. The car was parked and stood on the top from where they can view the whitish surface of the base in the dark. All four travelers lied on the rug and focused on the falling stars. It was so exciting to look above the sleeping sky with millions and millions of stars and counting the one moving from its edge. Sun oped its eyes on the surface to bring beauty on the surface and time arrived to move the vehicle towards the spot where the hikers were to descend down.

Gandalf decided not to go down because he knew that once all climb back, then all will be dead exhausted and journey towards the next mark will become questionable. So he saved his energy and the rest descended down. It was a silence in the alfresco. After every 10 minutes, Gandalf used to check from the corner if he could view anyone’s feet touching the surface. In 20 minutes, he finally watched two small ants Caesar and Deadpool on the floor. Like I wrote above that the crater is 250m deep so the microscopic expectations are high from such altitude. Alien was exhausted and had told both the hikers to reach the surface by themselves as he will take rest. Was that rest going to ease his exhaustion? Here began an unexpected change of fortune.

E02 – MISS CALL FROM OMEN!

While lying in his shadowfax with the bags and snacks, Gandalf got a call from Deadpool and updated him that the Alien was in trouble and cannot climb. Before going down, Deadpool called him again informing that they somehow are trying to climb and reach. When they came back, they further informed that he had vomit and excreted loose motion. They had no remedy but Gandalf did know that by distance of 50kms, there is a general hospital in Mahad adh Dhahab. According to Wikipedia, this Mahad adh Dhahab is a gold mining area of Madinah province.

The driver tried his best to reach the spot asap and kept asking if he was feeling better. They reached the hospital and Caesar took him to emergency ward while Deadpool and Gandalf rushed towards the toilet to clear the hours-long unfinished business. Deadpool had finally used a comfortable toilet with a convincing hand shower lol since that stop before Wahbah. The alien informed the clinician that he has a history of lactose intolerance. He had his treatment for the next couple of hours and there was confusion over the ill state of the patient and time of recovery and all the landmarks they were planning to reach on this trip. There was a huge question mark and time was running. Mahad adh Dhahab was the next mark after Al Wahba Crater but from Mahad, they had to reach Al Shahanah Historical Tower in Ar Rass town in five hours by the time 4pm. But it was 12pm already.

Gandalf noticed there was a partition in emergency ward for each gender. Male and female ERs were separate by some distance and located in opposite directions. Surprisingly there was neither water in any dispenser nor tissues and water in the toilets near ERs. Plus, there were no chairs for the patient’s people in ER. So either they sit on his/her deathbed or stood firm staring hither and thither. There was a very old patient who wasn’t able to walk properly. He wasn’t provided a wheelchair; instead his son told him to sit nearby and didn’t help him sit!

Hours later, the doctor had passed him and allowed to take him with them. At this moment the travelers had mixed emotions. Caesar proposed the idea to return back as it was not safe to go ahead with not-fully-recovered Alien. But Gandalf argued that the next stopping is over 500kms from Mahad to Ar Rass, and when they reach the destiny, Alien will take all his rest and fully recover. With the series of useless arguments, they took the risk and the plan went ahead.

E03 – TIRANT & TIRANNY

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Shadowfax: First Blood

Within 10 minutes after leaving the hospital ad driving towards Ar-Rass, the vehicle suffered when one of the tires hit a huge pothole which further reduced the chances of reaching the landmark at time. Not only the tire was punctured but they had doubts over the rim. In the middle of the silent road and extreme sun-heat, the tire was replaced with the stepney small enough to limit the speed below 80kph. The new tire was the demand of the situation but more to the misery was that shadowfax had low-profile legs (17 inch rims) and availability of such leg in a small town was very low. It was 2pm already when most of the shops were closed at that time and if any shop by chance was open, they could not have arranged that particular tire.

Alien was dead sleeping, Caesar was sleepy but Deadpool was very dehydrated because the source of drinking water had also became an issue. This trip was becoming an unexpected curse as nothing was going right. After all these miseries, Gandalf changed his plan to reach Madinah instead of Ar Rass only if the low-profile tire is not found in the coming stations on the road. Caesar was insisting to abandon the trip and return back but he was convinced that the issue will be resolved in few moments. Gandalf crossed Mahad area, long broad road was inviting more exhaustion over patience as every next tire shop he checked, he found no such tire to restore the faith in completing this journey. Every time he stopped, he had to drop all the bags from the car boot to take out the dead tire to show and ask the worker if any life can be restored. And he got the same response that the new low profile tire had to be bought and won’t be possible to locate on the next stop. Finally, Gandalf made his mind to reach Madinah and buy a new tire.

All were dead slept and there was no sign of life during the destiny as the stepney-bound vehicle was driven at not more than 50kph to avoid further more obstacles and reach Madinah safely which was 200kms away.  The current scenario was exasperating Gandalf as the vehicle wasn’t able to gallop. All what he saw was a range of mountains stretched at lengths on both sides. All he could do was pray to Lord to avoid further curses and not to involve in any intrusion. With remaining distance dropping, the color of sky changed with the hailing darkness inviting the four retired veterans of hope to Madinah. Caesar woke up and witnessed the Holy Mosque. He forwarded his wish to visit the Holy Mosque but Gandalf refused to take him at the site due to the fact that the visit will cost hours and waking up early in the morning for the next destiny will become impossible due to reckless sleep in late hours.

After the tire recovered from a shop, the travelers quested a suitable hotel and found an acceptable shelter with only one room and a toilet. For Gandalf’s misery, the toilet had no lock but was bound to take bath while holding the door from one hand, embarrassing. The alien was taking a much proper rest and it raised Gandalf’s hope that his co-pilot will be all fit and on his legs by morning. For dinner, Gandalf and Caesar looked after a possible restaurant and to their huge surprise; there was a Pakistani restaurant open in late hours. The demanded food was getting prepared and took almost half an hour and while returning back; the pilot lost his way and took further half an hour. Indeed Gandalf had breathed an ill-fated day.

Before all fell asleep, Gandalf and Caesar restored their argument over hopeless future of lengthy trip. Caesar’s incomplete work had no ending as he was supposed to submit his work via internet that very night. He wanted to go an internet café nearby to finish the work but there was no such place. Then he decided to look for available flight seats, go airport and give up the trip. Somehow he postponed this decision. Yep that was Day 1.

E04 – GOOD MORNING BAD DREAM!

No special dreams were arranged for few hours as everyone woke up with best hopes and high spirits. Due to exhausting schedule and collapse of timing, Gandalf altered the plan and skipped the plan of driving towards ar-Rass town and Uyun al Jawa city which were the sites to be reached after Mahad adh Dhahab. His next stopping was Hail city which was landmarked on Gandalf’s original treasure-hunting map. Alien was still not fit and worried Caesar was still not confident to precede the next mark. Gandalf was determined with high hopes. They checked out from the hotel wearing backpack and bags in hand. Dropping from stairs of the hotel, Gandalf was informed that the condition of kidney patient had deteriorated again; I mean the new tire of vehicle had lost all the blown air. It was a major shock, sudden punch on the lurking face, start of another hopeless episode of lengthy trip and beginning of bad morning with uninvited curse.

The faces were dropped to meet a new low. They didn’t have enough money to checked-in the same hotel nor can they all sit in the car to increase chances of further problems in the vehicle. It was hardly 6 in the morning and to injure further expectations, it was Friday; so the chance of meeting a mechanic in an opened shop at this time was also very low. So the refugees took their bags out from the vehicle, and sat in the waiting area and let Gandalf drove the effected vehicle in hope to spot a mechanic in any part of the…. city.

Gandalf drove the vehicle hardly at 10kph. Embarrassment was that a lot of people were staring the vehicle and its driver. In fact some labor-class Pakistanis were smiling at his fate and whispering the case to the others. It was very awkward experience, in fact more annoying when he was at traffic signal and had to hark horns of crazy drivers behind despite the fact that he had turned on the hazard lights. He drove in this fashion for 20 minutes and to his surprise, he found a Pathan mechanic in one shop working on the other vehicle. Sigh of relief!

The mechanic’s verdict was dispiriting one and he declared the rim to be more problematic than the tire. He advised him to drive slow and safe but change the rim asap. Gandalf returned back to hotel to see sleepy faces. He was still positive to overturn the curse and proceed towards his plan. When they came to know he was still reluctant to return back, Caesar insisted to him to reconsider his courage.

Then the silent Alien, his best-man in all the trips, requested to drop him at bus station so that he will return back home and the rest may continue their journey. His illness had seized him to bring any positive intention for this trip. He had given up. This was the moment when Gandalf lost his edge and realized the highly promising trip is meeting its unfortunate conclusion. His determination met a severe low and dropped all the plans. It was finally concluded that they were collectively giving up the plan and returning home. Alien’s giving up was the only way to overturn his decision. It was a very sad but acceptable end of the trip. Taking a chance out of this concluded bad luck, Caesar humbly asked in soft tone if he could now let him visit Holy Mosque!!! He still refused and left Madinah city.

E05 – THE FASTEST SLOTH TO PENINSULA

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Shadowfax: Last Blood

The time was hardly 8 in the morning and the vehicle was driven at mere 40kph. It was a huge drop in speed to escape any remaining curses. The temperature was heating high and all were dead sleeping once again. It was a very ugly traveling debut of Deadpool who had toilet and dehydration issues the whole time. He had given miserable updates to his family at home during the whole trip and this time he had informed that they were returning back.

Distance between Madinah and Jeddah is roughly 450kms and the cars at normal speed reach the distance in 4 hours and 20 minutes. But in their case, the calculations and expectations were painful. Gandalf had to play his random songs to normalize his mood because he was still enraged of this terrible fate. Caesar was excited to return back and that excitement was infuriating him. So whatever random song he asked to keep it play, he tuned to the next song and behaved like a sheepish child. After some time he was back to normality because it was foolish to depict sadness on the concluded one.

Less than 100kms were left when the rim changed its mind again and decided to irritate the travelers by excreting air from the tire. It was noon and sun was above their heads on a highway full of running trucks. It was easily the unluckiest trip ever suffered and the stepney tire was fixed again. The vehicle in most part of the journey was at pace lower than the heavy vehicles but faster than any of Terrence Malick films. They finally reached home in almost 7 hours. More than half of the duration was taken in driving the vehicle at 40kph which forcibly turned into max 80kph later. Gandalf was physically done and dropped himself to bed with body ache. He was not in his senses and all his ears heard were from his father in the other room saying “Perhaps God had not accepted this plan”.

The remaining days of the short vacation were also spent mostly in pain as Gandalf suffered loose motions on long run. Perhaps he was lucky to return back on time to suffer this at home instead of the places he had never been too.

This unforgettable incident happened in 2014 but I began to write somewhere in Oct.2015 and is now finally completed by the end of July in 2016. I don’t know if I should thank the participants to make this trip unforgettable (for sad reasons) but I would like to apologize to them for rude behavior caused from the events full of misfortunes. The real identities of four characters I named in this blog will not be disclosed.

May you readers and travelers not face the obstacles and enjoy the trip with excitement, Amen.

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The Four Principle Characters of The Story

The Old Ruins of Khuraybah

One boring day, I was sitting idle on my office chair, had less burden of work and no idea of what-to-do was existing. Then I began clicking my old Facebook albums and I found few albums of my past trips with my globetrotting buddies. And I realized that the year 2015 was empty of any attempt of exploration. Then my brain cells discovered a puffy cloud of thought that I should dig some interesting sites on Google Maps. Minutes later, I found a route between Rabigh and Yanbu, opposite to Mastourah which lead towards two ancient villages of Al-Abwa and Khuraybah. The pictures of ruin sites on the Google Maps looked very interesting. I marked the place and informed my fellow Pirates of the Arabian the new spot to dig the treasure of history.

Weeks passed by, and our commitments didn’t match to drive any weekend till 18/9. Our plan was to reach the destiny at the time of sunrise to avoid unbearable temperature. But somehow the plan didn’t work and left Jeddah by sunrise. The place is 257km away from Jeddah but if you drive between 120kph-140kph, you can easily reach within three hours. The chosen transport of legitimacy was Mazda 6 2014.

Route to al-Abwa & Khuraybaah

Our first stopping was at the Raheli station where we bought a can of Pringles, few Bison energy drinks, couple of Kit-Kat chunky, Max-Chili flavor of Lay’s, bottles of cold water, half kg of bananas and a packet of seeds.

Some plans hesitate our desires and get delay and that was the very same case with us when we left by sunrise at 6 am but the advantage of leaving late was that we had all benefits to get our eyeballs seduce to the nature’s beauty existing on our left and right. The sun rising on my right promised mountain eclipse with the light rays waking the land and our sleepy mission. I didn’t sleep that well because I generally am much used to of sleeping maximum 1 am but for this plan, I had to change my normal routine and off to bed at 11 pm and coming out of grave at nearly 3 am.

My friends, Athos and Porthos, have been in major contribution in all my/our expeditions that include Madain Saleh, Johfa Fort, Thee-Ain Village and Wahbah Crater. This Abwa-Khuraybah plan was our first expedition since Nov.2014. Yeah, commitments and responsibilities have delayed/postponed our plans to that amount of time. This was the first time that we three drove the same car in any trip. Most of the time, not more than two were driving in any trip. I always had issue of mobile battery charging as my Xperia Z is always spitting life faster than blood due to tremendous use of making high-quality videos and images. But this time, my buddy brought inverter.

The temperature was touching in mid-30s and was promising that the heat will folk us hard. We three always share common understanding of playing roadies musical tracks in our vehicle. Mostly these are trance and house music. So we basically have no musical disagreements while the destiny is breathing.

We never realize that the time passed so fast as the destiny was less than a dozen kilometers. Our first mission was to spot a site of religious significance; the grave of Bibi Aminah (R.A.), the mother of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). Aminah (R.A.) was Qurayshi by tribe from Banu Zahrah clan. When the prophet was 5 or 6, Aminah introduced him to Yathrib (Madinah) and his extended family. While traveling back towards Mecca (Makkah), she fell ill and died. And she was buried in the village of Al-Abwa God knows where this grave is? Hellooooo anyone!! I am in the middle of the road! On my left were some suspicious mountains which make me feel the probability of her grave and on my right was a small village where my fellow diggers were using the toilet.

It was pretty silent place and I saw few children playing until they stared at us and ran towards their guardian. Didn’t know if I scared them *feeling annoyed*, do my face carry a haunting image? Oh I also noticed a herd of sheep staring at us. They do respond and speak in God knows very very strange voice. I did ask one of the kind if it knew the grave but failed to understand its gesture.

Baa-Baa Interrogated…

We actually were too urban for the place and its inhabitants as the car approached towards us and began interrogating. He was a very rude man who had no intention to help us in locating the spot and told us to leave asap. We did leave and relied on the Google map.

We stopped to the opposite site of the mounts where we were predicting the possibility. We climbed one of the easiest low-altitude mountain and began sniffing around for 20 minutes. There was no help and we googled the site and found some images of her grave with the stones colored green and some had the stones covered with green cloth. With confusion arousing and rising temperature welcoming, we left the spot with disappointment. Fate was not with us to stand near the grave of prophet’s mother and I was scared of our plans meeting further failure when the village of al-Abwa was nothing but a wasteland with few dozens of people holding their heart and walking on the street. As it was Friday morning, so there was an understood silence with all the shops closed. There were many ruins and wild bushes installed to make the place look either interesting or distressful enough to expect a zombie by our next stopping.

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After 10 minutes drive, things became lively when we saw a small farm. In our surrounds, there were mostly private properties with land cruisers. Google Maps was confusing us in picking an exact route towards Khuraybah where I had my target for the purpose of this trip to view the old ruins what I viewed in my first attempt while sitting idle at office once. Those were improper roads going towards Khuraybah but it wasn’t that hard. Reaching such hard tracks with ease is comfortable if you have a SUV.

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Yesssss we made it!!! By some distance I stared an ancient mosque which was in google maps. There was some life back in our mission as we reached the spot. The place surely is not well-known to the common travelers as we found an ancient mosque and some 63 same-dimension ruins of most probably shops or houses. There is some sign of civilization far a distance but there is no sign-board to explain us what history lies here. Sun heat was getting worse as I began sweating and our mobiles warming. Making videos became a problem as we tried to cover most of the important figures of the site.

Spot Discovery…

I explored the interior and exterior side of the ancient mosque with no dome and minaret above the ceiling. The ceiling work is all wooden furnished which gave us some idea that the work is not that ancient as compared to the houses built on marble mountain in Thee-Ain village where the ceilings were made from juniper trees. The same juniper case was in Deira City of al-Ula, the old town consisting of 1032 houses.

Presentation…

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Presentation 2…

My fellow pirates decided to climb a nearby mountain to explore and have a complete look of the view on an altitude. Meanwhile, myself down near the mosque, I spotted a large rock with ancient islamic calligraphy with the words of Shahada. And that was the only rock I found. I tried to locate more familiar rocks but that was the masterpiece.

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Some historians or archaeologists should dig this place and come with some useful results. This place is inviting and explorers like we did feel the heat but found an amazement in checking such historic place. I have tried to research this place on the internet and some literature sources are indicating that sites of Rabigh, al-Abwa, Khuraybah and Johfah were once a pilgrim station for Syrians and Egyptians.

The mountain climbers descend down as we approached towards the vehicle to take rest. Minutes later, we left towards the ruins again. These are 63 ruins, each carrying almost same width as the height cannot be considered because some of these are incomplete. Each ruin is consisted of black stones. There was nothing in these ruins. Only few were covered with thorns and wild plants. None of the ruins had ceilings which creates further more doubts of its ever being houses or shops. How come the houses or shops never have ceilings? Out of 63 ruins, 23 were partitioned. Yeah we did count below the teasing sun. Our stay at Khuraybah was not more than 90 minutes but exploring with such amount of time at the temperature somewhere near 40s is still some craziness.

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We left the spot with some great experience and while we were taking u-turn towards Jeddah, we swiftly decided to check Masturah beach. Masturah sea is located exactly opposite road of the targeted site. We were hoping to witness heaven of sea-view in Masturah but happened contrary. It was unexpectedly a very dull and boring place with no life at sea. Not a single human existed on the beach and it was understood.

Masturah is not only a beach under the surface of Red Sea but carries historic significance. Islamic geographers and travelers in old times have mentioned few way stations and one of them existed long time ago in Masturah where water was abundant. It also was a small sea port in early Islamic period. Masturah today is differed with new and old areas divided by old road that leads between Makkah and Madinah. The old Masturah was a station as mentioned above, and there were huts and plenty of wells. Each well was 8 meters in depth and its wall 1 meter thick.

Anyhow we left the spot with no change in emotions. While returning back, I was driving and my fellows were extremely tired and taking a nap. It was a wonderful trip and folk yeahhh!! we did miss Friday prayer lol.

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Heavenz to Baha-way (Part II – Racing the Lifeline)

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It took me three months and four days to finish the unfinished business of completing an incomplete story of my memorable trip to Baha. To the readers of this blog, this is second and last part of ‘Heavenz to Baha-Way’. Kindly read the first part here before you jump to an incomplete story. 

The connotation of annotation rhymes with agitation, due to the fact that all our comforts turned into discomfort. Our rest in peace turned into wrest in pieces. Outside the village and beneath the sun heat, here lied our graves of intention. The mood went bood as the car determined never to vroom.

The street, where the car was parked, was narrow. The only solution was to turn the face of car somehow back towards the ascending slope. One sat in the car and the other two turned things into wings. It was a comical sketch. We moved half way towards the street joining the main road as almost dozen fellow Pakistanis kept staring us moving the car instead of helping -_-

Anyhow one Saudi gentlemen helped us by charging the battery. His son’s face was like a pumpkin brutally smashed sitting in…. Things didn’t work and directed us to ask any driver who could take us to one of mechanic at nearby places. We thanked and wished him. Call to Jummah (Friday) prayers and we rushed towards the masjid (mosque) close to us. The namaz (prayers) had began and I was performing wuzu (ablution) in haste.

Embarrassment began as the masjid was full of worshipers, and I couldn’t find the prayer rugs. At the entrance of masjid, I was about to lose the first rak’ah when I heard the chapter he was reciting was about to finish. The only solution was to open the left gate and make space. As the imam (the one who leads the prayer) finished the surah (chapter), I was still trying to open the gate. The f***ing lever of the door leaf was stuck -_- and the worshippers behind me (who were about to lost the first rak’ah) were slapping my back to move ahead instead of hindering.

It was absolutely embarrassing situation. They were so enraged but were obviously not in position to curse me at the entrance. So one stretched his face like a flamingo to check if space was inviting, then ran behind. But one fat guy was a flusher he just moved ahead of me to look for space as Imam called Allahu Akbar and fell in ruku (moment of bowing in namaz). I was still trying to open the gate and the fatty moved his body by force between the two. He couldn’t bow as his ass hit the wall and it almost tickled my rib but tried to control. I had lost the rak’ah unfortunately, so I gave up and prayed the same place where I stood.

After I finished my prayers, I didn’t see the fatty but my fellow travelers who perhaps performed ablution as faster than me and entered the masjid. I moved ahead, stayed in masjid and prayed to cross this miserable car battery situation. Life was at peace for few minutes. In masjid, I realized many of the worshipers were either Pakistanis or the Arab teenagers supporting their grandpas looking exactly octogenarian. I saw one Pakistani smiling in prayers when he saw a fellow Pakistani crossing him and leaving masjid.

15 minutes later, I left masjid and wished the matter goes solved asap. Almost 100 meters away, I saw my fellows standing at each side of the road. Till I reached to them, they found a Saudi to whom they convinced to help us. The driver left with him and the debutant traveler stayed with me for the next hour.

So the introductory phase of hi-hellos were carried out as it was my first meeting with him. He noticed my book-reading habit in the car and informed me that he has a group of book-readers and embarking the group meetings in cafe to initiate plans to develop the habit into a source of more intellectual community of learning and sharing. It sounded very interesting and fresh but I will ponder to join the group due to my working commitments. Have a lot of things to do and not easy to manage time. But I do wish such initiative proceed and succeed because I don’t see such formation of group on basis of book reading. Rare groups like these will take time to rise and develop but surely will grow because I have faith that there still are people who are loyal to books.

We were standing behind a shop for half an hour when shop-keeper advised us to sit in the shop without any hesitation. In the shop, we saw an old man eating his heavy lunch of traditional rice chicken. The first-timer bothered to inform the old man the situation and requested our comfort in shop for a while. He not only granted us permission but forwarded his lunch to join him. Series of bother words began between us. Then he gave us Ghandooresque chewing gums. The old man told him to open the fridge and chose the drink whatever he wish. We had no answers of such gesture, such humbleness, such height of hosting.

Further hosting was propelled though contacting our poor fellow who told us that the Saudi guy (with him) is trying to reach every unit of mechanic shop as much as possible but are usually closed after Jummah prayers. He further stated that he is calling to his friends and relatives close in the limited circuit for the least possible favor they could deliver. It was beyond our imagination that an Arab will touch the hosting height to such level to the expats living in the Kingdom due to the bitter fact that you cannot expect such behavior from most of the Jeddawi Saudis that he will serve an expat to that level. I am sorry to say but I have seen more rudeness in Saudis of Jeddah as compared to small cities. I tasted the same hosting experience in al-Ula and now al-Baha surprised us well.

He came back with him and charged the battery as we thanked the old man of his humbleness and service. Now we met this Saudi guy. His name is Meshaal and is a well educated guy and chemical engineer by profession. He surely was never a destitute because he was the man with Tahoe. Charging the battery for almost 5 minutes and racing at rpm between 2 and 3, the vehicle was still silent without even a miss call. After couple of minutes, our car showed some sign of survival and all of a sudden, it began working. Phoooff Alhamdulillah, the misery had its last say probably but one thing was sure, the car will be stopped in Jeddah. All the excitement of revisiting the forestry area of Thee-Ain shut the doors of our intentions.

Mishaal the savior (left) with globetrotters
Mishaal the savior (left) with globetrotters

It was time to thank Meshaal and his generosity took our heart. The hosting and gesture of friendship towards non-Arabs or expats like us imparted that people of such qualities will perhaps be found in small cities and we never bothered to claim to Meshaal that few people in Baha like the old shop owner and he are the best examples of hosting and we will hardly meet any Saudi of his caliber in Jeddah at least. All what he could do was smile. He gave the bandana of his local football team to our friend who own the car. Before he left, we did ask him to do one last favor…….. we asked him “which road shall we take for Raghdan forestry?” :P

After all what happened with the car and the fact that the car had a limited lifeline and will stop breathing anytime, we were eager to take the risk….

Meshaal left the scene and we drove towards al-Baha while keeping in mind that the car will never go off until we reach our home back. Oh boy o boy!!!! to reach Baha city, one has to drive to the most beautiful heights of the mountains. Colors of heaven flowing a sharp contrast on the pile of rocks, henge of stones and blade of grasses. The wonderful nature and a dramatic change in weather was inviting. The temperature which was 33 degrees 10 minutes ago in Thee-ain ridiculously dropped to mid-10s due to reaching the heights.

There are many corners at the heights with a limited space where the cars can be parked and families can have a proper sitting. We also stopped the car… no no no!!! we didn’t off… just kept in on for few minutes, so we can hang out in this cold air and enjoy the weather modeling in front of camera. Baha is located on a tremendous height elevated at over 7000ft. It took half an hour to reach al-Baha.

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Ascending the heights of beautiful mountains, we found the noble tribe of hooting baboons from Hamadryas. Like I told you before in my Thee-ain blog “Rocky Doodle in Centuries-Old Ville”, these baboons belong to the baboon species from Old World Monkey family to be mostly found in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Time to look for the forestry of Raghdan and we followed the navigation. There are many hill stations in the city and by locating the spot, one of hill stations attracted us. It was very cold and the view was hallucinating with the angels riding the dark clouds. I was loving this cold atmosphere in such a beautiful surface of sphere. Then I noticed that there was a route on mountain to climb. The sleepy slept in car and the rest of us decided to leave him with the car on hold, keeping in mind that now if the car stopped… it will be a huge FML to bear. The risk was taken and off we go.

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The route on mountain was actually made and I counted like 21 storeys which I comfortably climbed. The kingdom of greenery was installed on the mount reminding me the Hobbiton area of the rural Waikato town of Matamata in New Zealand. My excitement and joys knew no bound, I was like escaped from unbearable chaos or unaccountable babel. Seems like days of glory were back. I feel fresh afresh, pathetically unwounded. We could not hold our patience and efforts to lift our courage to move ahead what was inviting above our heads, plus the fate was lying with the car engine on safe mode without any jerks. We left the spot furnishing a moment to remember for long.

Drove back to modesty, a humble sketch of greenland and darkness of clouds dancing on your heads. But during our driving way back, we did oppose to run straight and were forced to stop at a spot which was quite appealing. A tower of stone shaped like a resting pyramid with a proud history of thousand-year-old myth. Rolled to the other side was more of hullabaloo. A small hole like a cave can deserve and the space inside wasn’t more than couple of meters. All what my eyes saw inside was hmmmm ahmmm a mattress with Saudi national emblems on the cover!! I simply didn’t understand the whole fuss. What the eff is the mattress doing inside a rare tower of stones? But the point to admit is that whoever designed that tower is an architect of remarkable caliber.

Tower of Stone
Tower of Stone
The Inside View of Tower
The Inside View of Tower

Tired and exhausted, descending down the sliding stairs of mountains from Baha till Thee-Ain village with no strength of photo-shoots at any stopping. The driver had gone drunk off his sleepy eyes contesting a showdown on the sliding road at minimum 80kph. Twice I woke him during the coronation of enemies on opposite road (about to kiss you). I threw my words on him to stop and sleep for a short but he had some other dreams on waiting list unapproved -_-

Alhamdulillah we descended safely but we were hungry now and located the desi restaurant where we ate the last time we came . Last time we ate chicken karahi and mutton karahi on that site, and was the delicious karahi I ever ate. After long search of the restaurant’s whereabouts, we found a desi restaurant and showed them the picture of that site from the previous Thee-ain blog I posted. They were surprised of attending such a bunch of special customers with committed hunger reserved for that particular place and so passionate to pic a glimpse of it.

Chicken Karahi & Mutton Karahi
Chicken Karahi & Mutton Karahi

 

Alas we came to know from this restaurant that it finished the business. We could not hold our strength to defeat hunger and intended to eat the same food at that site. I wasn’t surprised of the quality of deliciousness of karahi we ate later on but it satisfied my zeal and filled my stomach. On this particular moment, I really missed the two of our globetrotters who were with us in last Thee-ain visit.

It took further more hours of wait to reach Jeddah as the vehicle was humbled at mere 120kph, even when there was no sign of flashing meadows. During the returning drive was a short moment of rich black clouds with a lightning heritage of hiding the moon to seduce the earth in an earthly manner. It was very black-and-blue above with a terrific eye-catchy glimpse. Very Godly nature, sparking the beauty on the bearded clouds of wonders. The stars were praying and the clouds were playing. Watching those clouds above, my ear drums were tuned to Enya’s ‘May It Be’. Ah the beautiful scene!! the clouds kept trying to hide the moonlight but the beauty kept exposed, I felt like if Anne Hathaway is about to get undress in front of my eyes. Sumbuddy stop me!

Back to Bedlam…

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The Globetrotters
The Globetrotters

Heavenz to Baha-way (Part I – Thee-ain Thy-plain)

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Well then, the sprout of a caricature fortuned at the eleventh hour but before it was too late a call. At least a-week-old expedition plan last weekend was to climb a humongous un-expectation of disappointment but things fairly went right for us in our path as three winter-seekers left their city to trip Al-Baha.

Two different group of winter-seekers chose two different path. One left to Wahba Crater, the place on which I wrote a blog of my experience http://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2013/09/21/a-footnote-at-volcanic-crater/. And we left to revisit that centuries old Thee-Ain village existing, surviving and producing its natural phenomenon on a unique marble mountain.

Script from the very beginning is bizarre and worth narrative in three different angles. Myself (physically prepared and organized for the trip) was all of a sudden participating as a freedom-fighter in a civil war at commode -_- The other guy was already blue and walking in the clouds until he got a call to get ready for his first ever expedition. Things went further crazy as the man who made the call to the sleeper steeper, left his car key in the car in a haste. And he was supposed to pick the man who was still fighting the war with demotivating symphony. Summarily, we left our homes late as usual :P

With a plentiful joy and excitement on our faces like those flock of sheep in ‘Shaun the Sheep’, we equally had left the turmoil of working discrepancies of 5 days/week. The plan was to move our asses from house at 1am but wasn’t acceptable to God and added two hours. Due to the fact, the plan to eat a heavy dinner of local franchise Al-Furooj broasts turned into a small box of chicken shawarmas. We were in nothing-to-lose situation but the driver had limited his speed at 120kph to avoid traffic violence. So it was pretty sure that we will reach to our destiny a little late. The man in blue lied in his coffin behind and vanished. He wasn’t informed at time to make him mentally and physically prepare. Had a minor shopping to buy some drinks and chips.

We had covered almost 200 km and the darkness began to disappear at a low pace. Visibility of beautiful landscapes twinkled with grey clouds. Of all the songs the driver played, the most impressive track I found was Abdullah Qureshi’s Sufi Medley. The track was acceptable to my mind and ears because it gave an access to accept the beautiful nature installed on the farmvilles, crops, mountains, rocky houses and black camels which were hailing us.

The car was forced to break at couple of sites for the pictures. The temperature began losing its heat and dropped below 20 degrees. The expedition debutant was very excited to enjoy this whole destiny. We stopped at one of houses made of slate stones (the picture below). Observation was necessary because I did see such similar architectures in my last trip. There were many different bushes, mostly wild. Very old branches of trees and thorns occupy the house. ’twas 7 in the morning and that house appealed a wonder. Oh I remember now, the house had an incomplete ceiling made of juniper trees. Behind the house, there was a passage to go up but you have to defend yourself from shattered and hanging thorns attracted to your jeans and jacket. And there are numerous houses on our way to the destiny. At 9am, we reached Thee-Ain village with the knowledge that security guy is absent :S

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Before breaking the jaw of security guard, let me tell you what is Thee-Ain Village. The history of this village is about 400-600 years. Centuries ago, the villagers of the land had witnessed the battle between Ottoman Turks and their inhabitants. There has been a local incidence in the legacy of village that a long long time ago, an old Yemeni man was asked to find water using a golden dowsing stick. When he struck the source, it is said that the stick jumped from his hands and took out one of his eyes. From that incident, the name of land widely became “one-eye village” which in Arabic the name you will trace over there is “Thee-Ain Village”.

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Due to the absence of security guy, we parked our car outside the gate like other visitors. I know that feeling to be honest the way the readers have just read the line of watchman’s absence few seconds ago. It indeed is a critical concern of the safety of heritage sites. It is quite a mockery the way people responsible for tourism are taking care of. I had observed the laziness in taking care of the site of such prominence in Madain Saleh couple of months ago (http://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2014/01/23/the-breezing-ula-part-iii-madain-saleh/) and now there was physically no custodian in this marble village to sit and check the visitors. Only farmers were working inside. So basically few of visitors including us parked our cars outside and walked by foot towards the site without paying for an entrance ticket. The most expensive ticket was for a family consisting of 5 members which was 40 Saudi Riyals. And I myself noticed at least three families  entering the site without paying due to absence of security guard. Standing ovation for the people handling affairs in the Ministry of Tourism!!!!

Unexpectedly, the temperature wasn’t that favorable. It was peaking at almost 30 degrees (perhaps we reached very late and sun had began to speak). Glad to see some work has been done by the local contracting companies. The wreckages have been pulled out to keep the houses clean with a space. More juniper trees are installed to fill many ceilings. Cleaning and maintenance have been a subject with more proper care in many corners. Forestry and banana plantation farmville offers more marshing and water channel was still tricky to locate its roots flowing towards the other territories. Also we found a Bahraini wallet, recognize yourself if that really is yours :P

fjfjgy

Last time, my pal and I had climbed many number of houses. This time we completed the remaining one (I hope so). The alibi of my previous experience of this site can be found in (http://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2013/10/11/rocky-doodle-in-centuries-old-ville/)

Time to look for Albert the toad in the forestry area. My pal caught the lil creature twice in the pond last time. This time we perhaps found its cousins. The low-level water streaming is still a face therapy. No matter the water was clean or dirty, but it was cold enough to throw my bald in it. Aaahhhhh felt fresh in microsecond.

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We moved forward to reach the place which was heaven beneath the sky where I lied above a big rock under the shadow of large tree. I found that rock and thank God no one occupied because village now produce more visitors than before. When I stood above the rock, I found feces. And when I had a close look at feces to realize what these were, all of a sudden I heard troop of baboons gibbering  -_- Haaaaiiillllll FML!!!!

Last time I discontinued locating the origin of water streaming but now I moved further steps to note where this water reveals from. It wasn’t more than thirty steps when the path was closed. The water was flowing from a mountain, the rest is mystery yet to reveal. I and my friend watched a lizard preying on dragonflies. That wasn’t an ordinary lizard, this one had a neck to lift and see hither and thither. Moved its body and ran at a pace towards the prey. When it ran, the long and pointed tail lifted up. I don’t know what we name such type of lizard but luckily I have a picture. See yourself and help me out if you can.

dgm

One of our guys was eager to catch a dragonfly modeling in the pond. There we noticed that dragonflies are of many colors. Red was understood by the name itself, but we found blue and even grey. Actually dragonflies and damselflies are different insects under same classification but look pretty similar. When we see these insects altogether, we claim to see only dragonflies. You can read their difference here http://insects.about.com/od/identifyaninsect/a/dragonordamsel.htm There were innumerable dragonflies flying and mating. Dragonflies are the fastest flying insects in the world with an average of 4.5 meters per second.  

While moving towards the plantation site, baboons over the mountains were screeching, fighting and showing their ass on us -_- When I get closer, few of them began staring at me don’t know why -_- My pals joined me and began producing sound like these creatures. It wasn’t of any use.

Left the apes on their own and moved to the promising site. That is a huge important site which cannot be ignored. We three were little exhausted as well as my Xperia as it was running out of battery. We were stuck in mental confusion whether we should sit in the car, take rest and charge the batteries OR should we step in the plantation area, cover as much as we can and leave to the next site?

If we sit in the car, our body language may force us to leave and move to the next site but I guess it was a right decision because we do needed to reboot ourselves. Well, off we go to take rest. The security guard has finally arrived but the door and window are closed, bravo! I am yet to understand the system.

Doors are opened, time to key the car but helloooo…. not responding!!! Tried again, twice, thrice, price, dice, mice, vice… but never started. Opened the bonnet, checked the whole anatomy. Tried to start again, but it the battery which didn’t respond. Jeepers!!! Whatta shocker!!!! It was unexpected and uninviting. Precarious to the situation that car has stopped breathing at an entirely weird place i.e., outside the gate of Thee-Ain village. And the road is contrary to sloping as we are in ascending position. Also, there is no taxi in surrounding. Wanna know more? Yeah it is Friday prayers time. This is called genuine or epic O-TWADDI FML -_-

Thanks for reading ;) and do wait for the next part under ‘Heavenz on Baha-way’…. Feel free to comment below and have a good day.

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The Breezing Ula (Part III – Madain Saleh)

Madain_saleh_panorama_-_Saudi_Arabia

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.

Gateway to Khuraybah closed!!
Gateway to Khuraybah closed!!

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.

For more details, click here http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1293

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

Kings of Nabatea
Kings of Nabatea

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.

First Nabatean Coin were produced in Aretas II era
First Nabatean Coin were produced in Aretas II era

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.

Coins of Aretas IV era
Coins of Aretas IV era

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.

Coins of Malichus II era
Coins of Malichus II era

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.

The story is recorded in the Holy Quran and mentioned at many places. [http://quran.com/7/70-90] [http://quran.com/11/61-68] [http://quran.com/15/80-84] [http://quran.com/26/141-159] [http://quran.com/27/45-53

For more details about Thamud, check http://www.madainsaleh.net/Thamud_Tribe.html

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.

Qasr al Farid
Qasr al Farid

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.

Qasr al Bint 'Palace of the Daughter'
Qasr al Bint ‘Palace of the Daughter’

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.

ad Diwan where religious meetings and sacred feasts were organized and performed
ad Diwan where religious meetings and sacred feasts were organized and performed

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’.

al-Khuraymaat where 53 tombs are situated
al-Khuraymaat where 53 tombs are situated

HEJAZ RAILWAY MUSEUM & HISTORY

Hejaz Railway Museum (built in 1907)
Hejaz Railway Museum (built in 1907)

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.

Hejaz Railway Museum (1980)
Hejaz Railway Museum (1980)

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.

Hejaz Railway Museum (The Inside View)
Hejaz Railway Museum (The Inside View)

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).

NABATEAN WELL

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.

Nabatean Well - Description Plate
Nabatean Well – Description Plate
Nabatean Well - The Depth
Nabatean Well – The Depth

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!!

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  • 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’.

Jabal Sakhrat al-Feel 'Elephant Rock'
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.

al-Fun lol
al-Fun lol

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.

Follow me on Twitter @saminaik_asn

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The Breezing Ula (Part II – Reaching the Heights)

That Cheap Hotel!!!
That Cheap Hotel!!!

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.

Le Mazaaq!
Le Mazaaq!

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.

A view from my hotel window!!!
A view from my hotel window!!!

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.

A Hawk-Eye View from the Top!
A Hawk-Eye View from the Top!

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…. 

Not this one but very similar...
Not this one but very similar…

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. 

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A shoe box duh!

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.

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The Dinner is Served!! <3

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!

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The Breezing Ula (Part I – An Old Town)

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Couple of weeks ago, the blogger was in al-Khobar. I visited Jarir Bookstore in al-Rashed Mall to look for a proper reading masterpiece but failed. My eyeballs glanced and paused at an eye catchy handbook. The handbook was about ‘Madain Saleh’ with scores of attractive pictures and detailed account over its history and civilization. I was already planning my expeditional tours in upcoming vacations and had visited the place TWICE before but couldn’t complete the whole site in exploration within a frame of limited time. This time I attired my expeditional vision to finish the unfinished business in the city of al-Ula where the history and ancient civilization speak and where Madain Saleh is nearly located.

I have finally taken the vacations to avoid my mental adversity of working and the plan has been framed. My fellow musketeers are ready for a 2-day trip to the city of al-Ula.  The chosen transport of legitimacy is my Hyundai Veloster 2014. The plan is simple and fair. We will leave our city at midnight, reach al-Ula by morning and visit few historical sites. We will stay in a hotel till next morning and at last visit Madain Saleh before we depart back to Jeddah.

By road, there are two ways to reach al-Ula from Jeddah. Either you reach the mark via Yanbu, with a travelling distance of 692km and reaching in approx seven and half hours if driven at an average of 120kph, OR you chose reaching the destiny via Madinah, with a travelling distance of 750km and reaching in approx eight and half hours at the same average speed. The choice is yours, just set the navigation and choose your route which ease you more. I preferred the Yanbu one.

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Driving at 120kph, things didn’t look normal to me for a long run. My hand palms were tickling to press the accelerator hard and cross the limit. I knew that Saher ‘the vehicle speed detector’ was installed in our way but where exactly? I guess we crossed the Saher and I should break the 120kph barrier. So once I increased the speed to 140kph, mr. Saher welcomed me for a photoshoot -_- FML!

Our destiny forwarded towards the beautiful night-view of Petro Rabigh and futher on Yanbu Industrial area where the immense use of lighting in an absolute dark night attracts. We stopped by a side to take pictures of Yanbu factories.

Another embarrassing moment almost to happen was that my car began losing all its petrol. We had crossed more than 300km and realized that something conjured my understanding that I will regularly find petrol stations. I was trolled by a huge absence of the stations and speed from 160kph was brutally cut to 40kph at around 5am. The weather was cold and pleasant, the temperature dropped from 27 to 19 degrees celsius , but our blood temperature almost broke the mercury.

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At the last hiccup, we finally saw a closed station on our opposite road with a masjid and store. It was Fajr prayer by then. Temperature had further dropped to 14 degrees celsius. One musketeer slept in the car and the other decorated the dinner at the engine of car. We had butter chicken and a packet of bread to eat. Two more guests joined and waited for their turn with shivering meows to grab the attention. The petrol was filled and ran towards the destiny.

The sun rose, street lights got off, beautiful landscapes brought freshness to me and the mountains as usual touched the heights of sky. A lone warrior ran towards the mark early in the morning with unwelcomed speed breakers at the entry of each small towns and villages. Shops began to open. The smoke revealed from the laundry shop, customers were seated in the cafeteria and ful tamiz (fava beans and Afghani bread) shop, salon opened with the barbers sitting on customer seat watching TV, septuagenarian Yemenis and Egyptians sat on their bamboo bed and goats ate grass.

We now have entered the city. Let me brief you about al-Ula. The city is Saudi Arabia’s northwestern part. From Madinah, it is located north 341km far. The city is the closest to Madain Saleh (22km). Al-Ula is very much about God-gifted natural mountains. It has many sandy mountains bordering from the east such as Mount Almojder and Arezikea Mountains from the west.

Al-Ula is 825m above sea level and the climate is moderate. The temperature doesn’t rise more than 45 degrees celsius in summer but is very cold in winters existing in December and January with the temperature of 9 degrees celsius. The average rate of annual rainfall is 250mm.

To more attraction of interest in knowing Al-Ula, the word “Dedan” used in Bible Old Testament is the biblical name of Al-Ula as well as used in Assyrian and Arabic writings. Dedan means ‘low ground’ and people belonging to Dedan were called Dedanites. In Bible, if you read all 36 verses of The Book of Ezekiel – Chapter 27, you will understand that the chapter was about the roster of trading routes and partners of the city of Tyre. Tyre is modern Lebanon and Dedan were their trading partners dealing in precious clothes used in chariot as referred in verse no.20.

If you visit Madain Saleh and ancient historical places, there is huge probability of confusion over the mentioned Kingdoms in very informative plates installed on the sites i.e. Lehyanites, Dedanites, Nabateans. Let me try to clear the confusion which I suffered the same on my own primary attempts of research. Actually the Kingdoms of Leyanites (Lihyans) and Dedanites (Dedan) are the two who ruled the city as Lihyans were the original settlers to Al-Ula. According to Arab genealogists, Lihyan tribe are from the Adnanite Arabs (west and central arabians and opposers of Qahtanites of south arabian) from Ismail. This tribe is still surviving, settled in the desert between Makkah and Madinah.

This ancient city was capital of Kindoms of Dedan and Lihyan from 6th to 2nd century BC. From the 2nd century BC, the Nabateans took charge of the city until 106 AD when the Romans conquered their capital, Petra.  So the Nabateans made Hegra (the modern Madain Saleh) their second capital and we musketeers first stepped to the oldest town of the city before booking a room in hotel.

Like I said before, this is the 3rd time I travelled this city for research and exploration which has become my passion to know what lies beneath the country where I was born. The significance of travelling by road towards the city is rare and strange mountains. Your eyes are always forced to stare at them. Most of the mountains are of unusual shapes. I am precisely not into orology and due to the fact I have no words to describe the nature of mountain. I didn’t even know if I am supposed to feel blessed or in contrary, considering a wrath of Allah with the understanding that a sound wave struck the region by Allah on the idol-worshipers of Thamud region according to the Holy Quran?

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The plan to first check-in hotel was abrupted as the old al-Ula town known as Deira District appeared to the screen first. So we made our mind to explore the world of Deira and then move to hotel. So what is all about Deira. This Deira district (which was once a city) is nearly 700 years old. According to wikipedia sources, “The city of Deira was built with the re-usage of stones of the Dedan and Lihyan ruins. al-Ula now became the major settlement of the region again until the modern times. A railway station was built for the Hejaz Railway in 1901-08. The railway line was built through the western part of Al-Khuraiba some twelve kilometers to the north of the old medieval town which is believed to be the site of the old Dedanite and Lihyanite town. In the 20th century, the new town center was established besides the old town and eventually the people left the old buildings. The last family is said to have left in 1983, while the last service in the old mosque was held in 1985. Both the ruins of the medieval town and the site of the Liyhanite settlement now lay within the limits of the modern town.”

Exploring Deira city was exactly like our trip to Thee-Ain village in Al-Baha. You may click here for the details of our trip.(http://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2013/10/11/rocky-doodle-in-centuries-old-ville/) A very quiet place with renovation work under process. Glad to see Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities working with local contracting company for the development of cultural heritage to attract the tourists and create awareness. The cement is supplied from Tabuk Cement Company.

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No humans to shelter, no stopping of helter skelter. There is easy foot stepping towards the 1st floor and ceiling in many of houses. As similar case like Thee-Ain village, ceilings are made of bamboos and juniper trees. When we entered the city and walked inside the streets, we felt little creepy and mysterious place. Stiff walls and few small store rooms. Numerous walls are arrowed and doors are numbered. Passages are broad. 

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Walking through the passages and streets, I separated myself from my fellow musketeers and tried to focus on the language of silence of 700-year-old civilization. This place was once a trade route to Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. I could listen the truck lorries and labors shouting, lifting heavy sacks and shifting materials. With the understanding that it was a proper Arab community living scores of years here, this place dramatically went wild and alive. An Arab social and cultural fantasy was in front of my eyes and all of a sudden, it was ‘Sami in the Arab wonderland’.

My mind played Shayne Ward’s “Breathless”. Near my sight sat an old sexagenarian Yemeni drinking a traditional huqqa (hookah). I turned my head towards the other side. Two meters far, I saw a bamboo table decorated with dominoes game and two Ismaili Egyptians sat on their wooden chairs playing the game. From the door close to the game, entered a teenage boy with a wooden tray carrying traditional koshary shai (tea) and a plate of ful medames with sliced hard-boiled eggs. The boy’s friends shouted at him to join the gang who have found a snake and were eager to tease it.

My clothes got little wet by the vapours dispatched from the garments handed by the old ladies standing on the ceiling in order to dry it. To the bottom of very same building, oped a wooden door and came out two young Syrian girls in their twenties in black veils going to a madrasa. One carrying school bag was plumpy but the other one was attractive with two copies in her soft hands decorated with coiled bangles. She placed the copies on her upper chest, kept an eye on me. When I gave her the same look with a paroxysm of smile, the fatty began whispering in her ears and both laughing. That Syrian schoolgirl surely was daughter of that old lady on the top, who caught me staring her and all of a sudden began shouting with agony :S In panic, I edged towards the wrong way and hit with a milkman and his bicycle. I dropped my mobile and ‘Breathless’ met an end with a pin drop silence…

In very few houses, I saw old Lihyanite and Arabic scriptures. More to a mystery were very weird looking graffitis specially star of david with a minaret :S Weapons were also graffitied on the walls. After wandering like a vagabond, I found a large wooden gate. Entered and I found a masjid. It was in extremely shattered shape. Don’t know how old was that masjid but I found a ‘Tat’ fan hanging on ceiling.

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Overall, this old town is consisted of 1032 houses and is formed of two lanes named al-Hilf and al-Shaqiq. Each house carries two storeys. Each first storey was built out of stones carried from the ancient site of al-Khuraybah and allocated to receive the guests. While every second storey was built out of mud brick and used as living area. The whole town was designed to make the defense easy. Many houses were built attached to each other forming fortification around the city. The town originally had fourteen gates that were opened in the morning and closed in the evening.

Al-Ula was a major station along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah. Pilgrim caravans used to halt at al-Ula in order to obtain provisions and water. Some of the pilgrims used to leave a portion of their baggage with people of al-Ula and then collect on upon their return. Those were the golden days because one cannot expect or rely on a person you don’t know to leave his property and receive it back from him. Syrian merchants used to travel as far as al-Ula to sell supplies to pilgrims.

To be more accurate with the history, Islamic history compulsorily lies here. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) during his ghazwa (war fought by Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.) against Tabuk, made a temporary stay in this town and prayed in Masjid al-Izam. Izam means bones and is known due to the fact that Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) designated mihrab using a bone.

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This heritage village is not only a town of 1032 houses and a masjid from Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.)’s era. This ancient town also has a castle. The castle was built back in 6th century BC to defend the town and renovated many times. Lihyanite inscriptions and Nabatean coins were found in its archaeological strata. The area is 180 square meters and 45 meters high above the town level. Till 2009, it was difficult to ascend the top of castle due to deterioration of stairs. Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities implemented the project to restore the stairs. Now there is an access to reach the top of the fort and enjoy an amazing view of the whole ancient town of al-Ula and the farms in the surroundings.

Now the castle is known as Musa bin Nusayr Fort. According to the historians, famous Islamic commander of 7th Hijri, Musa bin Nusayr, lived and died in it. The castle has walls covered on the top surrounding the top of the mountain with the openings to monitor and shoot in the wars fought in the past. Many informative plates are installed for timeline education. The water could be supplied to the castle from a well dug in the rocky area down the mountain. We found that well close to the graveyard. 

Fort_HDR

It is almost 2pm here and temperature wasn’t touching 20 degrees celsius since we arrived the city. It was impressive and very convincing to observe that renovation of half of the town has been almost completed. The passage and streets have been cleaned and lanterns are hanged on the ceilings. Electricity work has been done and signboards are installed on the streets. That specific half, most of the wooden doors have been closed. So in near future, I see that happening in the remaining half. We are lucky to enter the rooms, use the stairs to go to the upper floor and ceiling of many houses. We even sat on the top boundaries and also jumped on the rough surfaces. We walked on the bamboo and juniper trees used for ceilings. These exciting stunts might not happen but I am glad to see that Deira’s Old Town will be alive with a lot of tourist attraction very soon.

Off from Deira district hungry and exhausted. Time to look for a hotel and eat lunch, so we can reboot our system and hunt for more sites. To our major surprise, we have found a hotel for a day for only SAR.120!!! Gosh rates in winter in al-Ula are cheaper than expected. About to look for food and have just found that I forgot to bring the charger of my laptop -_-

Would love to read your feedback below and you may ask me questions related to my trip. Stay tuned for the next chapter under ‘The Breezing Ula’. Until then, good-bye.

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Zee Ain Heritage Village – Al-Baha’s Jewel

Thee-Ain Village
Thee-Ain Village

Tumultuous but gratuitous… Epitome in a page of the diary is unable to wit the writ… Gradually, I am intensive but evenly persuasive to prolong a gospel of wonder imagined to be true, which my eyes want to sue…

Although I am not a historian but a treasure collector from an unknown mystery island. There is a village in Al-Baha, province of Saudi Arabia, which is known as ‘Marble Village’. Yes, exactly a brain cell gimmicked me. To trace the history of the village, some say 400 years and some say 600 years. Centuries ago, the villagers of the land had witnessed the battle between Ottoman Turks and their inhabitants. There has been a local incident in the legacy of the village that a long long time ago, an old Yemeni man was asked to find water using a golden dowsing stick. When he struck the source, it is said the stick jumped from his hands and took out one of his eyes. From that incident, the name of the land widely became “one-eye village” which in Arabic the name you will trace over there is “Thee-Ain Village“.

Coming back to the compass of Keyhole, Inc’s greatest geographical spying gift to mankind, Google Earth, the navigation of route towards the destiny was fixed. The three musketeers were all ready for another adventure as D’Artagnan joined Mousquetaires de la Garde. d’Artagnan is my own brother. The chosen transport of legitimacy is Hyundai Accent 2013. Moving from Jeddah, the total distance toward the destination point is 403 km. We will reach in 4 hours at a limited speed of 120 kph. But we won’t!!! There are numerous places to enjoy during the journey.

Route from Jeddah to Thee-Ain Village  
Matghoot
Matghoot

We left at midnight with an empty belly and intended to consume fats by filling a heavy dinner and drinking fuzzy drinks. After crossing the territory of the local city, we stopped the car at one of the stations where we ate madghut. Madghut is a Yemeni traditional rice with chicken, decorated with the rope of onions and a grove of lemons on a large plate suffused on the plastic sheet. With the final burping of appetite, we left the spot.

 Toy Shop

Toy ShopBefore the beginning of Leith valley, we had another stop with a bizarre gesture of visiting a toy shop and getting interested in considering buying some toyish stuff. Having a toy shop with different varieties to offer, working at the station of one of the non-busiest spots was quite strange a view where surely not many customers will raise their eyebrows despite all attractions. We saw soft hanging car toys of popular characters like Shawn the sheep, Spongebob, Sylvester the cat; different bicycles for kids, varieties of pairs of slippers and sunglasses, and much more. 

The dawn began while crossing Al-Lith located on the Red Sea coast. My wish to see the marking point of destiny at dawn was lost with my dismantled patience waving in my brain cells. I was feeling exaggerated about not reaching the place on time but the chamber of my heart was diverted by God knows a natural slideshow of landscapes. A temporary foggy atmosphere with rays of light burdening some excuse to reveal, the desert was flat silent on the plat. The breeze blew on them and thorny wild bushes stood like a statue of liberty in a sleepy Sahara.  There were numerous towns with petrol stations installed with no. of restaurants and masjid each after almost every kilometer. Many a time signboard bewared us from running camels but the caravan of camelus stayed aside.

We stopped the car on this almost 275km-long road to capture shots of sunrise revealed from the mountains. That was such a lovely view and throughout the trip, I realized that nature was compassionate to us.

Destiny finally had a turn after a long straight road and we moved to the left to reach Al-Muzaylif. From there, more landscapes and huge mountains were welcoming us. Few villages are existing there where we see activities of cultivation and fertilizing. We stopped at a couple of spots to capture wonderful scenes of truly gifted nature. 

Almost 50 km away from Al-Mikhwah, we actually stopped the car for like 20 minutes at a site where we four showed the height of joyful madness by lying and posing in the middle of the road. With no running transport to bargain a piece of time, we utilized the space by posing in a group with a few moody gestures and impatiently waited to listen to the clicking sound of the camera mounting on a tripod. For naturally obvious reasons, we preferred to listen to the clicking sound instead of the raucous horns of speedy vehicles. In any case, our ears had a natural sense of hearing more than a dolphin for the time being to avoid any danger. As soon as we heard a clicking sound, we all started moving our asses swiftly and running simultaneously to look back if a vehicle was close to us. It was a hilarious and worth unforgettable scene, laughing at our tramping behavior. 

We are almost 30 km away from destiny, and here goes another stopping on witnessing innumerable troop of Hamadryas Baboons. Hamadryas baboons belong to the baboon species from the Old World Monkey family. These species are mostly found in the ‘Horn of Africa‘ which includes Eritrea and Djibouti.  Also, you will view the species in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They were sacred animals in ancient Egyptian religions. The fur of males is silver-white in color while females are brown. 

Entered Al-Baha and we saw many ancient stone and slate houses on the hills. Many mountains and greenery attracts the place. Al-Baha is the capital of Al-Baha province and is easily one of the Kingdom’s fittest touring cities. One ‘Sharif of Makkah’ named the city ‘The Garden of Hijaz’.  Al-Baha province is the smallest province in Saudi Arabia with a population of 533,000. The province has 31 administrative centers and more than 50 forests.

Two leading traditional tribes here are ‘Ghamd’ and ‘Zahran’.

1) Roots of Ghamd tribe traces back to the most ancient Arabian tribes of as-Saba’iyūn (a Kingdom that came to power in 1st Millennium BC) which nowadays is Yemen. Under the editorship of George Walters, in the book ‘Arabia’ published in 1920, the tribe of Ghamd is described to be growing and exporting tobacco to Makkah. Nowadays you will find most of Al-Ghamdis in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam.

2) Like Ghamd, Zahran also is the oldest and largest tribe not only in Saudi Arabia but throughout the Middle East. Most Zahranis migrated to metropolitan cities decades ago for the betterment of life. In Islamic history, Zahranis are known to leave their houses, and properties to join Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) in Madinah. Tufayl Ibn Amr and Abu Hurairah were Zahranis… Both the branches of tribes have sixteen more tribes but in total, 13 tribes work in trade and agriculture while the rest are nomadic.

Al-Baha is divided into two sectors. The eastern region is a mountainous area, 1500 to 2450 m above sea level known as Al-Sarah sector. Out of the six main districts of the province, four belong to Al-Sarah which are Al-Aqiq, Al-Mandaq, Al-Qura, and Baljurashi. The western region is a lowland coastal plain known as the Tihama sector. In Tihama, the climate is hot in summer, warm in spring and mild in winter. The rest of the two main districts lie here in Tihama which are Qelwa and Al-Makhwah. Al-Makhwah is the district where Thee-Ain ‘marble’ village is located.

Entrance
Entrance
Welcome
Welcome
Park
Park

After crossing many curvy roads and lookalike hills, we are welcomed by the signboard ‘Welcome Thee-Ain Heritage Village’. The wonder of historic nature is falling on our right. To our good luck, the visiting timings are complementary and convincing. You can visit the place from 7am-7pm every day. Adults have to pay SR.10 each while a family has to pay SR.40.  We reached destiny at 9 am. It is a very quiet place with a couple of families and a group of few friends entering the place before us. There is a parking lot with a minimum of 50 cars to be easily parked. Also there are 30 seperate small-sittings with roofs surrendered by playground, plants and trees, and street lights. Nearby places are a cafeteria and a stone-made modern masjid. Still, renovation is under process in the whole area for recreational activities of visitors. The renovation work is done under ‘Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities‘ and ‘Fahad M. Al-Suwayegh Est.’

The village was built on a small marble mountain which is one of Sarawat range of mountains. It is comprised of more than 40 houses, many of them have 2-4 floors. If you take a close look in the bottom of most of the boundaries, you will see a lantern almost every 10 steps. The ceilings of houses are made of slate stones with help of wood and juniper trees. To my huge surprise, no mortar or mud (might be little) has been used for the construction of these old houses. which is quite extraordinary. Stone lintels are used for doors and windows.

Wherever we went, we went all together. All houses were certainly of the same structure. We entered one from a centuries-old wooden door and the passage was surrounded by different stones. The ceilings were made of wood pasture and juniper trees. We entered more rooms inside and there was a way to go up. The historic village can never ever be without birds or insects. There are many beetles taking proper care of houses.

While reaching the second floor, a couple of bats one by one flew over us all of a sudden. Never saw them so close.

Many houses are in ruins and need to be properly renovated because reaching the top floors or the fort is a little risky. Despite my weight problem, I had to risk myself climbing and moving slowly on many danger-inviting stones. The plan was simple! reach the TOP. Things did work when we found a passage to reach the top. The top area of the mountain are forts which were used to defend and protect the village from raids or monitoring purposes.

With more altitude above sea level, more air was blowing and became difficult to make videos of the place until I entered one of top central fort.  Same story, many stones were raw and too risky to step forward.

Like I said, the place needs renovation. The families are the most likely to suffer, injuries are most possible. On the top, I certainly was the weakest to attempt the top height i.e., the ceiling of fort. So I sat on the boundary for a while. Furthermore, uninvited insects were serving me to welcome. Yep, bumblebees. They never stung me but their presence so close to me was enough to lose an edge.

Then we began descending down. Drank water and sat in the car. There was another route on our left and we drove on it. We began reaching the height of the top of the fort and when we reached there, we realized that to climb the fort, you have to join this route to reach its back. I had no energy to climb again so other fellows went back. I took rest in car. On my right, I was amused to see a small Saudi Arabian flag waving on top of one large thorny bush.

Ancient Masjid
Ancient Masjid

Returned to the parking lot. There was a cloud of question-mark in one’s mind and asked us if we should go to the plantation side? That beautiful green land was yet to visit. With my energy rebooting in these last 30 minutes, I thought it really sound interesting to make this intention a go. d’Artagnan was exhausted, so the musketeers left him in the car.  There is an ancient masjid of perhaps those times, made of stones without mud or mortar. Prayer rugs are properly placed in all 5 rows.

Boundaries are made to view the entire farmville. Here begins the green forest of your dream. A perfect farmville as if you really have entered the green wonders of most spectacular nature. We found spring water down the plantation and followed the route from where it actually begins. The beauty of green nature was compassionate on us as we witnessed tiny waterfalls. It was already afternoon but it was never warm.  Then I came to understand the origin of the name Thee-Ain. There is a spring which is known for the abundance and continuous flow of its water. The water flows down from the mountain peak, running between rocks disappearing and reappearing at different points painting a rarely ever seen image. This popped out water from the mountain is known as Thee-Ain which is flowing around 750 m above sea level. According to local villagers, this Thee-Ain spring never dries through the year and continuously supplies fresh water and feeds the agricultural production of the area. Thee-ain also means “having the spring”.

Praise to be Lord! This wonderful nature gifted from God to such a historical place is the main factor for the abundance of farms, palm trees and banana trees surrounded by mountain village, and the fact that banana trees need a high percentage of water. This farmville goes more lively with troop of Hamadryas Baboons dancing on the palm trees and counseling the plantation with their hooting, chanting and screaming all over for I guess nothing. This Baboolon visibility was enough to remind my childhood of repeatedly watching one of my favorite animations Walt Disney’s 1967 classic “The Jungle Book” where Baloo tries to rescue the man-cub Mowgli from those chanting idiot chimpanzees. I sketch the same siting where baboons are staring at me and trying to understand with all efforts as to why the bloody hell am I staring these lovely funny creatures. They try to come close, and I intend to make a move towards the water. d’Artagnan joined us.

Albert The Frog
Albert The Frog

One musketeer went ahead before us, returned and informed us that the mystery water starts from the mountain and has no access to make the proceedings. He and d’Artagnan left me and other fellow on our own and we went beyond to view this heavenly forest. He was so excited to see the baby frog hosting him as he began to catch the tiny creature. The baby frog jumped with its utmost efforts for self-defense but our friend didn’t let him go easily. In a few minutes, he dropped it and caught another baby frog. 

At one edge of the stream, we didn’t move beyond to trace the origin of the flowing water. The place was like a myth now. I saw large rocks, floating water, frogs and small fish swimming. I felt a steady breeze. Tyranny of sunlight disapproved and overshadowed by silent large trees. Labyrinth of my world rocking under a utopian nature of daydreaming where I hark chirping of birds and hooting of baboons. Aquatic nature is lighting the bottom layer of rocks.

Never climbed a tree in my life as my mind was in confounding state of higgledy-piggledy whether to try to climb or not.  My fellow musketeer helped me climb the branch of a giant tree like Bagheera of The Jungle Book making the Mowgli climb. The core difference was that Mowgli was very skinny and I carry weight. I climbed and was as if a statue was lying on the branch of the tree. Scared of moving a muscle might slip me down, I remained big-eye open, freaky silent with my legs folded with a branch protecting myself to be dropped down. My fellow eased and encouraged me to lose my limbs and stay low as my weight was easily balanced on the branch. He took snaps and I kept lying for 10 minutes until my belly fats began hurting and overburning. I came down easily on the rock and sat breathing heavily. For me, it was an experience never to forget. A heaven in forest, the joy I harvest…

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Lied on the rock and took a minor nap. Every single existence was like silent with only sound of streaming water. Under the shadow of the tree, I looked up at the branch and kept staring at it. Red ants are not bothered by my lying as they kept marching from hither to thither. Far I can easily see the fort. I daydreamed about beautiful fairies and charming topless mermaids, might they all of a sudden reveal from water and come close to me, call my name, and kiss my lips.  But that never happened. In fact, our waiting fellows came back to see us in agony. They were waiting for half an hour in the parking lot as car key was with us. We left the heavenly forest and left the village.

On our way back, we searched Pakistani restaurants for desi food. As almost all the shops and restaurants were closed after Friday prayers, we felt if we are going to have a heavy lunch in hours. But after ending of Al-Baha territory, we found a Pakistani restaurant where we were the only visitors.  We ordered chicken and mutton karahi plus beans with a loaf of bread. Waited for 20 minutes until the heavy lunch was served with a smell forcing our mouth to eat the fleshes swiftly. It was without a doubt, one of the tastiest karahis I had ever eaten in my life. With a rope of onions and frozen cucumbers add the taste like a sauce or a paste.

Karahi
Karahi
Pakistani Hotel
Pakistani Hotel

We returned to our city at approximately 9 pm. Tired and exhausted, lying on my bed reminded me the rock I was lying on with tree branch on the top. My movement of limbs within a quilt sensed back my slipping from raw stones. Even while sleeping in the usual dark, I felt those couple of bats flew on me. The ringing of the mobile in deep sleep was like screaming baboons from the palm trees. The floor of my room became marble gloaming in the night. Out of my room, my cats walking on the floor were imitating beetles on hard surfaces. I daydream of lying in the forest while working in the office. I wish to go back there. I will go back with my fellow musketeers soon before year ends in winter.

Interested visitors must keep in mind;

  1. Visit the village early morning between 6 am-7 am to enrich the beauty of farmville and marble village.
  2. Have your bag packs with compulsory cold mineral water bottles and first-aid kit.
  3. Go from the backside if you are interested to climb the top of the fort.
  4. Not rely on any ceiling of the floor filled with raw stones.
  5. Wear hard shoes which will guarantee the safety from stones and rocks. 

In the end, I conclude with special thanks to my fellows who took part in the adventure as always and made the trip so special. I also am thankful to the Ministry of Tourism which is working with its best efforts to renovate such places and attract more customers. Last of all, thanks to God Almighty for gifting us heaven on earth where we can explore nature. 

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists – Charles Dickens

Fantastic 4 - Wasey (left), Alpha (center left), Myself (center right) & Taha (right)
Fantastic 4 – Wasey (left), Alpha (center left), Myself (center right) & Taha (right)

One Morning At Wahbah Crater

Al-Wahba Crater

Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” He was right… He is right… I guess he was the lover of his dreams who believe to shape his dreams into reality. He dropped high school to join the army but was rejected for being underage. Drove ambulance in France, after the armistice was signed in WWI. He was a cartoonist for a newspaper company but the big boss didn’t like his creative ideas. But he kept dreaming big which soon became reality. To date, no man has ever won more Academy Awards than this dreamer, 26.

Sparingly, I indulge myself in dropping from all social workouts, crop the tyranny of bumbling de facto and focus on the belle of my utopia. Sit on tip of the iceberg and profess heaven.

Suffering the boredom in the Kingdom of the driest land with no drop of rain on my naked head, I chose long-distance-traveling my habit like jumping like a rabbit. Tired of working trauma, I chose a path of glory like a mallory. With me joins two more adventure-bonafiders. Time to travel somewhere, make a plan, choose our destiny, and off we go.

Mr. Disney’s dream met an end as toony, but we ended to dream a lil moony. There is a crater, a volcanic crater, in the Kingdom where I live. That view astonished us and we planned to go there. On the first attempt, we couldn’t drop down the surface as we couldn’t locate the spot where we were supposed to descend and the plan went like a toxic fabricator. But the very next chance we got, we didn’t miss it. Here go the three musketeers again…

Pack up your bags, fill the petrol, and set the navigation on your mobile to safely reach your destiny. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, all live in Jeddah and the mark-point is 437 km away from us. And for your kind information, there is no d’Artagnan on the whole trip. The chosen transport of legitimacy is my Hyundai Veloster 2014.

The total distance towards the destination point is 437 km. We will reach within 5 hours at a limited speed of 120 kph. The route or plan is simple, we will drive (A) from Jeddah towards (B) Makkah which is 75.7 km away. While reaching Makkah, we will move (C) towards Al Huwaya which is 116 km. From Al Huwaya is a long straight road (D) towards a village known as Umm Aldoom which stretches 184 km. From Al Huwaya is a short road (E) 28.5 km towards Nimran which makes you reach the crater (F) with the remaining distance of 32.7 km.

Route to Al Wahba Crater

On our way to Makkah, I had a mini-shopping at one of the stops. To ease my brain to an extent, I bought a large can of Pringles (original), 6 cans of Bison energy drink, a couple of Galaxy Ripples, a packet of Klast chewing gum, and a few bottles of mineral water. Had dinner at the same stop with a local franchise named ‘Al-Furooj’ (not to mix with a U.A.E. fast food chain with a similar name) with 4 pieces of chicken, french fries, a large size of 2 loaves of bread, and dozens of garlic sauce. I am an extreme lover of garlic sauces and is a compulsory appetite with fast food franchises.

The Dinner is Served!!
The Dinner is Served!!
A combined love of appetite for garlic sauces for the eaters...
A combined love of appetite for garlic sauces for the eaters…

During the travel, we had many chilling moments like cracking jokes and singing. But the most hilarious of all was teasing the opposite side of cars by flashing the light over them, as a result, many drivers braked the car in fear of crossing the speed limit. Once a group of almost 10 cars was coming from the opposite end. We were ready to buzz up the consequence. When flashed, all of them fell astray and braked. We had gone fuckin’ crazy but our madness stayed for only 20 minutes.

There are so many curves on our way but the car normally runs faster than 150 kph when there is no speed limit sign. We crossed scores of towns and villages. While reaching Al Huwaya, I took the Airport road which you might assume is a notable road. This road makes way to Prince Sultan Military Hospital (on your right), Taif Airport (on your left), and a Sports Complex (on your left). This road will make any driver wild to drive faster as he wants. It is due to the fact that it is then direct access to reach places like Dammam and Riyadh and even Bahrain and you won’t see the few speed limit signs or cops.

After almost 150 km on this road, a bridge towards the next stop a village Umm Aldoom comes after crossing Radwan town as I turn left towards a dark path trusting on your car lights. As most of our journey at the night was dark because of the lack of street lights but that path was darker than the rest. On this path, I saw small pups running out of life in the middle of the road as unexpected travelers are about to unexpectedly squeeze the tiny creatures.

Before reaching Umm Aldoom, I turned left towards Nimran and from there, it is almost 35 km from the place of the volcanic crater which is called “Al Wahba Crater”. The musketeers left home at night and reached the spot before sunrise. A breeze blew due to the higher altitude. One of my friends taking a nap in the car and the other striving his best to take the best pictures from his DSLR.

Two Fridays in a row have I turned my intention to view the majestic site. While I reached the spot on the first attempt, I wasn’t able to view it because of car lights. But I noticed on my right some whiteness at the bottom and told my friends to turn off the lights. The rest was a beauty. At night, you will enjoy one of the most beautiful galaxies of stars above which is probably hard to find in any Saudi Arabian location. My friend made the most possible glimpse of happening above the sky. Watching those stars justifies David Bowie‘s take on stars in his 1972 song ‘Starman’ as if there really is someone who wants to break down and come and meet the earthlings. 

An Eternal Beauty captured from my friend's DSLR
An Eternal Beauty captured from my friend’s DSLR

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hes told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

The sunrise charms the place as we waited for a time of visibility of the route to descend. We found the route and prepared for descending.

Al Wahba Crater according to a Wikipedia source is 250 m (820 ft) deep and 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter. It is so deep that if you throw a stone from the top, you will listen to its end in six seconds. The bottom of the crater is covered with white sodium phosphate crystals. It is under the protection of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), which is responsible for developing and implementing plans to preserve wildlife in Saudi Arabia. This crater is almost similar to Barringer Crater located in the Arizona desert of the United States. 

There has been much speculation about the origin of this crater. Many believed a meteorite hit the place. According to Wikipedia, many geologists agree that Al Wahba Crater is a Maar Crater that is caused by a phreatomagmatic eruption, which is an explosion caused by groundwater coming into contact with hot lava or magma. As far as size is concerned, maar measures 200 to 26,000 ft across and from 30 to 660 ft deep. The other notable characteristic of Maar is that they form natural lakes.

David J. Grainger, the Senior Geological Editor with the Saudi Arabian Directorate General of Mineral Resources, stated about this crater in the journal ‘Geology Today’ issued back in January 1996 that “A Quaternary phreatic event drilled out a crater 2 km in diameter through Proterozoic basement rocks and Quaternary lava flows. The crater is rimmed with a tuff ring of debris from the explosion, around which were diverted Holocene basaltic lavas.”

Descending way down to the crater was expensive thinking for me as I never had tasted such an experience. Descending and climbing a mountain or a crater for me is no less than landing on a moon or reaching the peak of Mount Everest. It took me hardly 25 minutes going down. There is only one route to descend which I praise the work done on it. From the beginning to the end, the route is easy and conveyed, and don’t need a guide to whom we follow. In fact, the henge of stones welcomes you to step on them to move straight where destiny meets its end. For a couple of minutes, we stopped and took snapshots and made videos of the beautiful crater. Not to our surprise, there is no mobile signal over there.

My ears got close-open the whole way down as air resistance reduce. While gazing down; large stones, thorns, and bushes look microscopic as only the saltville is everlasting eye-catchy. Once, my friend and I lose the plot and took the wrong route as we contested to go down against large rocks. We succeeded in the contest.

But later on, a couple of steps later, we realized that the forgotten route was only a couple of steps behind the route of coming down from stone. It was a hilarious moment.

I land down with a scream heard only by my fellow musketeers (we three friends were the only humans existing there) with a bottle of mineral water almost finished with the assignment of climbing back remaining.

Land down, rock on, and musketeers-come-geologists explored the land which is covered with white sodium phosphate crystals. Numerous wild plants, thorns, and bushes breezing and hushing. The normality of a straight walk is suspended beneath the field as you are about to walk and examine the face of the land. I’m not a student of petrology or geology so I am not able to give a genuine explanation of the surface. 1/3rd layer looks like a whipping cream frosting over a cake or Mövenpick chocolate chips ice cream. Many layers have scoopy curves and you have to be very careful of walking over there more than a pedestrian. 

I walk the maze of moments
But everywhere I turn to
Begins a new beginning
But never finds a finish
I walk to the horizon
And there I find another
It all seems so surprising
And then I find that I know

This world simply fits with Enya‘s “Anywhere Is” as it is pretty strange when you really walk the maze of moments. I am lost in this saltville, my shoes are hitting hard with different layers and rocks altogether as if shoes began screaming and scolding me, “Where the fuck have you landed today?” When I touched the layer of skin, it is like papadam, simply touch it and crack it.

There are many many lava stones and quizzy paths of dead branches and bushes. Few bloggers and visitors claimed they saw a snake in the field but we couldn’t. Although we did see tiny lizards and I’m sure they may be excited to see our presence in this silent theater.

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With a kilometer walk of the diameter, a shadow of comfort was naturally installed with a pale of lively grass as we intended to take a rest on one of the corners. The intensity of the heat was growing as time had reached 8 in the morning. While sitting a couple of minutes on a rocky surface, our ASSets had droned army of red ants as we changed the sitting place in fear of the army’s revenge keeping in mind that the unity in ant’s army is more peculiar to unity in Mousquetaires de la garde.

Going back to where you come from is the devil wears prada. And the song tickling my musical mind is James Blunt‘s High. Your return to climb from here is like a filmmaker anxiously waiting for a weekend box-office report for collections. I am not crushing my feet, in fact, my feet are crushing me towards the same all odd layers. In normal cases, hikers first climb, then come down. But my case was contrary to the fact of being my first hiking experience with the harsh truth of carrying a stocky weight beyond normality. 

While stepping down, I roughly had drunk 3/4th of the bottle of mineral water and by mistake in preparation, this was the only bottle in quantity I carried for both scenarios. Now it is all up to my supernatural instinct to climb the I-M-POSSIBLE mark where my car is waiting for us to go back. One of our friends reached the destiny first, so the other musketeers are in different awe. One caught asthma and the other overweight hiking debutant met extreme backache and that’s me.

As climbing demands more muscles workout, my pain had no stopping as even my ribs began squeezing. Till climbing the 50 m mark, both geologists have stone-rested like a dozen times. Sunshine is disturbing while its heat is perturbing. Exhaustion has no limits as we have begun breathing heavily. While stepping a few stones more, looking up the trail is like looking at a hawk staring at you. Like I stated before that, descending took us 25 minutes but back-bite epic climbing clocked almost 90 minutes to reach the point. I had climbed almost 200 m with my friend where I began stumbling and becoming hopeless of ever reaching the mark. The back pain knew no bounds and suddenly found a long-lasting shadow. I dropped myself over there, unable to verbally communicate with my asthmatic fellow. Lying towards and beneath steepy wall and over hundreds of pebbles. That resting site was more than a bed of roses for me as I took a nap for approximately 20 minutes. I wonder how Aaron Ralston survived but in those exhausting moments, the movie “127 Hours” is what precisely reminded me.

Woke up with a pin drop silence but breezy sounds and hopeless desire. I began invoking God for safety, strength, and courage. Feeling extremely thirsty with the last drop of hot water remaining in the bottle. I finally drank it and stood up. When I backed my fellow and myself for the run, our mileage crossing friend came to us like an angel with a shopping bag of mineral water bottles, orange juices, and Bison energy drinks. To my good luck, I passed the car key to him before climbing. This time I sat with comfort drinking all possible drinks and enjoying the sudden breeze confirming the approval of my invocations. Now I muster up my courage and within 15 minutes, we have reached the point. Despite my physical exhaustion from climbing, I was fit for driving back with a Bison drink enough for cheering me like Stone Cold Steve Austin‘s “Hell Yeah”. 

Towards all your long-distance traveling, one thing which will impress you is that you will prominently find a petrol station and masjid at almost every stop in 10-20 minutes that will ease every Muslim traveler to offer prayers at a time and every driver to fill up the fuel before an FML moment. On such a destiny, you will find many small towns with a couple of masjids and many small muddy and concrete houses. I saw a caravan of camels intersecting our way, one of them actually stopped in front of the car reminding me of Robin William‘s “Jumanji” scene. 

To sum up my experience by forwarding the readers some interesting ideas, you must note the to-do-list for further enjoyment:

a. Better you leave for this Crater Trip at night to reach there before sunrise and enjoy a cool breeze. Prefer hiking at dawn. 

b. Going in a group of 10??? If you are willing to reach there at midnight, then better take a bedouin tent with a couple of thick mattresses.

c. Make a BBQ and cook lamb or chicken (roasting marshmallow is plus)

d. Campfire, Playing Guitar and Singing

e. Compulsorily have a backpack for hiking the crater and do prepare a checklist.

My Wahba-Crater Hiking Checklist:

  1. extra water (min 3 large bottles)
  2. pack of snacks
  3. first-aid kit
  4. pocket-knife
  5. extra pair of hiking shoes
  6. whistle
  7. bandana or hat (for sun protection)
  8. pair of gloves
  9. binoculars
  10. insect repellant
  11. toilet papers (plastic)
  12. plastic bags (garbage)
  13. duct tape
  14. 2 sets of hiking ropes
  15. small microfiber towel

In the end, I am thankful to my fellow musketeers who made the trip delightful, unforgettable, and worth of adventure. I am hopeful of my new hobby of adventure will touch new heights in my life. To rise high, you should dream high.

Oscar Wilde once quoted, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

The Three Musketeers - Myself (left), Alpha (center) and Taha (right)
The Three Musketeers – Myself (left), Alpha (center) and Taha (right)