Movie Review: The Song of Sparrows (2008)

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Ostrich….. Goldfish….. Tomans….. Listening Aid….. Sparrow….. 

There are reasons I prefer watching International movies belonging to different countries. The biggest reason is that most of the movies produced under different banners come up with an entirely fresh story, fetch an amazing scale of presentation and watch unfamiliar and different art of film-making. By this way, you get more awareness of cultural understanding of different cinemas, their film-makers, their artists and many more. The title of the movie and trailers on YouTube were worth to convince me for downloading and watching it. And so that happen.

Karim is an old man who lives in the village near Tehran. He is a kind-hearted, simple and humble man working in ostrich pen. He has a wife with three children. His eldest issue Haniyeh has listening problem and use listening aid. One day, Haniyeh broke her listening aid. Karim takes the aid to main city of Tehran to fix in one of workshop but the technician informs him that it is of no use and have to buy a new one which is 350,000 Tomans.

He would have easily paid the amount if the very next day, one of the ostrich would not have escaped. It was a hilarious scene and in fact it is a funny movie too. The timing of comedy is realistic and full of life. Losing an ostrich means losing almost 2 million Tomans and losing Tomans simply means Karim won’t be able to buy listening aid for Haniyeh. A typical hardship begins!!

Mistaken for a cab driver by a frantic businessman, he discovers a lucrative new occupation ferrying passengers around the city on the back of his bike. During this hardship phase, he confronts with life’s amazing nature of events which is a part of life of a common man. The story goes deep with different circumstances he meet to fulfill Haniyeh’s requirement and steps many walks of life. It is not only about struggling for Haniyeh but his own life changes. Everyday he bring new discarded item to home for social betterment and at the same time collect money for his different jobs. 

When Haniyeh’s need for listening aid and bringing discarded items to house wasn’t enough, his son Hussein wishes to buy a goldfish to make it swim in the pond by removing the sludge, which Karim rejects the idea. One day Karim meet an accident when the pile of junk collapses and severely injures him. Now you have to see yourself how he buys listening aid for Haniyeh.

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‘The Song of Sparrows’ is Iranian movie produced in 2008 and directed by one of Iran’s finest film-maker Majid Majidi. The leading cast is Iran’s iconic actor Reza Naji and that was fourth Majidi-Naji collaboration in Iranian cinema. Only two languages have been spoken in the whole movie; Persian and Azeri (Azerbaijan). The movie is a blend of joys and sorrows distributed in Karim’s family.

Karim is an amazing figure and portrayal of a jeopardized father who keeps his misery aside and strives his best to make the house home. One significant feature of Karim’s role is that Naji played a role of 40-year-old man who actually was 66 at the time of making. His role convinces how rural people face misfortunes specially when they are making their bread from village to city. 

The best scenes of the movie were when Karim don’t have change of 500-note to give to street girl at traffic signal and boys dropping a big can of goldfish latter. Both scenes have tremendous timing of hiccups and picking of body language towards the making of scene which make you think. 

The Song of Sparrows was Iran’s submission for the 2008 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Reza Naji won Silver Bear in 2008 Berlin International Film Festival which made him the first Iranian actor ever to win Silver Bear and also won Best Actor award in 2008 Asia-Pacific Screen Awards.

I shall end the review with statement made by the director Majid Majidi about his intention of making this movie: “My aim was to portray contemporary people today vis-à-vis the modern world in order to show how the era of modernization has put human beings in a stranglehold. By this I do not mean that I am opposed to modernity, per se. Modernization should be at the service of humanity, yet people find themselves conquered by it. The result is that with each passing day we are becoming more distant from our own human values. . . . All of our values — including friendship, morality and beauty — become less important day by day. In opposition to this process, my aim was to say that we must return to our human essence or else face a major disaster in the future.

Ratings: 8.3/10

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Movie Review: Lebanon (2009)

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A view inside a tank from gun turret…. Faces hiding traces or disgraces…. Running car or a bridge too far… Silent house or screaming blouse…

An Israeli soldier without being reckless and haughty… his patience and sweat costing a huge amount of pulling the trigger to decide a fate of targeted person either innocent of fifty-cent, rebellion from a million, protester or protector, violent or benevolent, peacemaker or troublemaker…

Lebanon is an Israeli movie produced in 2009 by Samuel Maoz under the production banners from Israel, France and Germany. Most remarkable point of the movie is that it is anti-war movie which don’t appeal to tweet your pros and cons. Besides only 3 images, the whole movie is amazingly shot inside the tank. The outside view is all from gun turret. The entire film was shot in and around Tel Aviv.

Movie is based on 1982 Lebanon war which was fought between Israeli military forces and Yasser Arafat’s PLO (Palestine Liberal Organization), Bachir Gemayel’s LNRF (Lebanese National Resistance Front). This 3-year-war broke when Palestinian militant Abu Nadal’s organization (ANO) attempted assassination against Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov. In result, Israeli military, under heavy leadership of the-then Israeli premier Menachem Begin, the-then defence minister Ariel Sharon and Army-chief Rafael Eitan, invaded southern part of Lebanon. Director Samuel Maoz was himself a gunner in one of the first Israeli tanks which entered Lebanon in this war. This film is actually made on his experience.

It is an account of four Israeli soldiers fighting inside the tank; a driver, a loader, a gunner and a commander. Israeli air force has just bombed the place and now they have received the order from above – clean Lebanon and shoot to kill who are a threat. They were also green-signaled to use phosphorus grenade in the war to invade Lebanon. According to International Law or Treaty, use of phosphorus grenade or white phosphorus is forbidden in battles and wars.

Few more war participants enter the tank time by time e.g., dead Israeli soldier or Syrian war prisoner but the four are the main on whom the story revolves. Movie speaks the way they communicate/coordinate each other. As a matter of fact, this director’s masterpiece offers amazing body language of soldiers and multifaceted scenes. Much a hard work is done on the core casts, when it comes to complications of firing, shooting and even using hydraulic whine of gun turret. 

For a soldier from any nationality or faith, fighting a war inside the tank is never easy specially while using gun turret. The soldier who use the turret has never fired or used the turret and will face the consequences. The first shot fired will haunt the rest inside. The tank covers few critical sites where danger is alarming or suspicious are thought barning. Few scenes give you second thought or reluctantly check the scene again like troop of soldiers scanning the threat, firing in one shop but after a little pause, leaving a small kid on his feet.

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‘Lebanon’ offers a bulk of sharp contrast on behaviors of soldiers towards the first hours of war and the way they take this fight to suffer depression and disagreeing verbal exchanges. It is a wonderful translation of psychological aspects of the soldiers. They are all amateur and young soldiers who are put on duty to receive and follow the orders in such a massive war.

‘Lebanon’ was an extreme luggage of critic’s necessity worldwide with most positive reviews. It was rated R for disturbing bloody war violence, language including sexual references, and some nudity. It won the Leone d’Oro at the 66th Venice International Film Festival becoming the first Israeli-produced film to have won that honor. A must watch drama with all war-iffic elements of film making. 

Ratings: 7/10

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Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

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Black….. Nigger…… Slavery…… Physical Abuse….. Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup was a 19th century Afro-American migrated in New York and born from a father who was freed from slavery at his master’s will before migration. By profession, he was a carpenter, farmer and violinist. His surname Northup was brought up by his father Mintus on his own. His father bought a state-owned property which was a big thing in those days for a freed slave. Solomon and his brother got education among fellow New Yorkers which was also worth notable.

Solomon got married in 1829 and raised three children. He built and earned high reputation as violinist. Then came the moment when in 1841, he was offered by two men to join a musical crew of their circus company to Washington as a violinist. He accepted their offer and left without informing his family. He was kidnapped and deceived. Washington in those days was evil to black-free unlike New York and cotton expansion had widely profiteered the business of slave trading. Here began a series of 12-year slavery to Solomon.

I feel sorry for Platt oh I mean Solomon Northup, not only for being slave for 12 years but also for making a movie on you which after watching it, I don’t understand what stood applausable for critics and panel of juries to recognize it one of best movie. To be honest and exactly try to speak my opinion, the movie wasn’t that good.

The biggest failure of this Brad Pitt movie is direction that never impress and is like a second-graded cameraman shooting but trying to avoid director’s CUT. Unimpressive physical-abuse scenes besides one you will read later. The moment Solomon got kidnap lacked a reflexive screenplay. 

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Few book readers of same title have argued that sexual encounter in the beginning of movie was never mentioned in the book. I guess the girl was director Steve McQueen himself who used Solomon’s hand for orgasm :S The slave who was stabbed in the boat while trying to save fellow slave of getting raped is also not written in the book. Instead, the guy died from smallpox.

Fight between Solomon and Edwin is more to mockery of film making. Once Edwin fell in pig pen from the back, he is absolutely clean in the next shot. Clap Clap Clap!!! Carefully notice the drink toasting scene in the beginning with Solomon and the kidnappers. Solomon glass is half-filled while one of kidnapper has his glass empty. Next scene!!! I was surprised that the kidnapper was drinking empty-glass!!!! I was forced to click few seconds back and woaaahhhh his glass which was empty before was actually half-filled with wine in next shot!!!! LOL Was someone peeing from the top??

Husband of Solomon’s daughter looks like if he is unhappy of his return enough to trash him back to slave traders. Mercy on film making, where the f*** did the director find such annoying character??

The most impressive of all and the thing which classifies it an art was the leading actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s role of Solomon Northup. With a natural haunting boo-face, he just revitalized his character with every step and new field of slavery. A physical role that demanded anger hidden in his patience was so violable like the real Solomon. He just shaped a hunger of freedom and mental capacity of madness towards returning back to New York to his family which was negro-free in mid 19th century.

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The most remarkable moment in movie are not one but actually two different scenes. One is which justifies the role Chiwetel Ejiofor has remarkably played and exemplifies in a-minute-and-half non-stop half-throat hanging scene of Solomon. Goodness me! the viewers who got amazed of Chitewel’s role till the hanging scene is about to begin, will keep their eye balls wide without plucking in the lashes and will keep noticing Solomon’s neck and movement of his feet. These non-stop action scenes are a great test of any actor’s capability of what caliber of performer he/she is and that is where an actor deservedly win your heart. Same eye-open bravura caught my heart last year when Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables performed ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ in a single shot.

The other scene is when Patsey played by debuting Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o is brutally tortured by Edwin for her absence in plantation. She is stripped and tied with tree and receive the whippings. If height of torture wasn’t enough, then comes an emotional scene. Edwin hand his whip to Solomon to make the squeaky beatings. Intolerable and mischievous act by Edwin force him to obey his cruel master but give soft whips in despair. Enraged Edwin seizes whip from him and make wild whipping.

Brad Pitt!! what a waste of cameo like seriously!!! Meaningless background scores when it should not have been played. Overall an awful movie and if it worth to watch, that is because of truly marvelous performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Ratings: 4/10

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Movie Review: About Time (2013)

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‘About Time’ is a British romantic movie written and directed by one of biggest names in British TV and movie industry, Richard Curtis. Curtis is the founder of Britain’s ‘Comic Relief’ and hugely responsible in making career of legendary comedian Rowan Atkinson. This is Curtis’ third directional venture after ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Boat That Rocked’.

Story is about a guy Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson). He has crossed a rough teeny era and now at 21, he is cranky. A nature boy who lacks self-esteem is told by his father James Lake (Bill Nighy) about a special ancestral quality which is only common in their men – travel in time. That means, just close your eyes and press your hands while hiding his identity from the others which will rewind him to a past to correct the things to have a better future. Strange init??

Enters gorgeous Charlotte (Margot Robbie) who is friend of Tim’s sister KitKat (Lydia Wilson). Charlotte has joined his family to stay for a short period and Tim starts taking interest in her. Watching this movie, we all will surely fall in haste to wish for once we could ever have that special ability to travel with time and solve our matters. Obviously the ability is unrealistic, but Richard Curtis makes this unrealistic thing look realistic that not every power has its every say. If you have power that doesn’t mean that you can control everything… Tim loses Charlotte despite using his ability.

The quality of this movie is that there is a huge chance that you will take the role of Tim by heart. Following his each and every move, you do are travelling with time, falling in love and waiting for the next moment. Now you (I mean Tim) moves to London to pursue his career to London. Faces the reality! Tim now lives with his father’s old friend Harry (Tom Hollander) who is pretty goofy and spooky. A struggler who write plays.

Six boring months passes and then Tim fells in love with a girl Mary (Rachel McAdams) in a restaurant. Many viewers will get confuse of the bizarreness of picturising the dinner scene of first Tim/Mary encounter in restaurant in total darkness. Why a blackout in restaurant?

Actually this restaurant is Dans le Noir, a French chain restaurant and spa. This was launched back in 2004 in Paris. This chain was founded with a concept of serving the guests in total darkness which is also named ‘Dark Dining’  or ‘Blind Dining’. Experienced BLIND waiters serve the visitors in this chain. Visitors are asked to place all their possessions (i.e., watches, mobile phones, bags or any object that projects light) into a locker. Dark Dining traces back its history in the 19th century. 

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Anyhow due to a rare site chosen by director, the first visible on-screen pairing of Tim/Mary is also electrifying. You will never feel unromantic the way they begin conversing and growing their relationship with time. But hello!!! hello!!!! what a supernatural twist!! Tim attends Harry’s play where the actor forgets his line and to make the play successful, Tim travels with time due to the fact, the memoir of his meeting with Mary erases by settling his participation in Harry’s play. Oh what have you done you nincompoop!!!

Life is full of chances. Magic happens and love is magic. Next morning, he meets Mary in a Kate Moses art exhibition but Mary obviously won’t recognize him because he erased the past with Harry’s play. And to more a tragedy, Mary now has a boyfriend.

Unacceptable!!!!! Tim has to pretend to be sanctimonious by using his supernatural power. Scene changes again, story rewinds back now to a lavishing party where Mary is now single. Tim now is convinced with the situation and furthermore has the advantage of knowing that she is huge fan of Kate Moses.

Things work and both are simultaneously in love. They begin dating. One day, Tim meets Charlotte and go for a dinner. There she confesses that she perhaps would have accepted his love if traveled back to time. Oops!!! will he enjoy this wild fantasy? Tim is in brink of confusion between the two. Charlotte even signals him to have ding-dong in the hotel where she is staying. At the eleventh hour, Tim decides to run away to Mary and proposes her. A power of commitment in love!!!

No clutching but cramping. Mary is pregnant and Tim introduces her to his family. She is warm welcomed. Tim announces their wedding and her pregnancy altogether. Everything goes well, everything moves well…. They marries and rains heavily. The joy of Tim’s family knows no bound, as baby girl arrives. Tim/Mary and baby settles in new home with no need of using his time-traveling ability.

Once the baby is born, Tim’s ability make a turn around. His father tells him that once his child will born, travelling back to a time before the child’s birth will in fact stop that child from ever being born, as time will happen differently in every aspect of his life.

Tim lives his life happily and another baby is born. He also enjoys a successful career as lawyer winning many cases with his team. One day a news breaks that Tim’s father suffers from cancer. Tim cannot change this tragic news. I will leave you here to watch yourself what happens in last half an hour. I assure you it is dramatic and heart touching.

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‘About Time’ is the movie about life and turnarounds. It speaks a volume of notion and emotions you are surrendered and surrounded with. The movie is produced for an ordinary human like you to think if God had granted you a lifeline or a special ability or an extraordinary talent or a timeless opportunity…. to live your world, to change nature of things, to pick rights or wrongs…. how exactly would you execute.

Precisely it is strange to follow a story-line which is untrue but looks to be true. But apply in real life and talk about it. You will understand and even realize the mistakes you had made or are about to make. Had things gone wrong, how would you ever have corrected? Tim keeps turning the table in his favor but the director actually is successful to present that every power in the world has limitations. When child is born, Tim can never go back.

The movie has all potential to grab your attention and watch it till the end without an element of getting bored. Dialogues are simple, narration is frank. Script has life little humorous little sentimental. Many scenes are glompy. Father-son chemistry is remarkable and will never upset you.

Domhnall Gleeson-Rachel McAdams’ on-screen pairing is fabulous. Supporting cast has a good show specially Bill Nighy as Tim’s father. Background score is equally balanced with the pace of movie specially playing of piano at many critical scenes. Selection of soundtracks for the movie is excellent and picturised at suitable situations. Even Jimmy Fontana’s Il Mondo played at the bride’s arrival in church fitted very well.

No doubt, ‘About Time’ is one of best English movies of 2013 and very worth-watching.

Ratings: 7/10

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The Breezing Ula (Part III – Madain Saleh)

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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!!

discovering-saudi-arabia-madin-saleh-cap-arabie-azensys  DSC_0394

  • 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.

DSCN8121
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)

AlUla_Panorama1-1075x323

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. 

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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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My Selfish Diary: Travelling with a Zero

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Al-Rashid Mall (Al-Khobar)

This was my 3rd trip to the Eastern Region of the Kingdom. My previous visits in the Kingdom were boredom as work was consisted without perk. Had no idea what to enjoy in this silent and dry place. I just had designed my framework to this region for the month of December with the understanding that this region will please you with a cold weather. I saw that coming and that did happen.

To the exact opposite of Al-Rashid Mall is Rotana Hotel,  where I stayed for couple of days last time. The cornered rooms of all the three floors had the plus of a panoramic view of Al-Rashid Mall. I wished to see happen that again. Soon as I reached the mall, I straightly went to the hotel to test my fate. My wish came true when I got the very same corner once again. Room environment was sound with a big passage, couple of bathrooms and accustomed kitchen.

Food serving in hotel was fair as the food ordered would reach within an hour. Net service was extremely slow and limited. I forgot to bring 2-pin connector and paid the price. One night, I lost my laptop’s battery and left only 15%. Now mine is 3-pin plug but all in my place was 2-hole sockets. I found one luckily but that too in bathroom -_- It was midnight already and had no solution but to connect and let it charge.

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Workers in the hotel were very multinational. Receptionist and dealer were Syrian, cleaners were a Bengali, Tamil and Filipino each. A very quiet passage of hotel with workers itself watching TV lying on the sofas. My colleague, who came with me, was a Filipino and he was glad to see his native working here. Like I said in my previous blog, they are very friendly to each other and often get very open in first encounter. So it was convincing for him to sit and talk with him all the night down the passage and do skyping with his relatives.

Working and staying in Dammam will always be a blessing with enjoyable weather this time and company’s 3 shops out of 4 located in this Rashid Mall (the other is in Dahran Mall). Once I visited Dahran Mall and as usual I began scanning the displaying standard of my company’s showroom. Then I noticed that one of window display of Charriol brand had a backpanel featuring a lady with seductive eyes hiding her face and displaying one of advertised watch. It was further stickered with a small piece of Charriol page.

I felt pretty strange that a lady with her face veiled, qualified to install in any shop in particular region of Saudi Arabia as human faces in many malls are not allowed due to strictness from religious officers of the ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ (CPVPV). To their bad luck, the office of CPVPV in mall was also located opposite to the shop. I asked the salesman in charge the reason of further stickering. He replied that they (CPVPV) further objected the model’s hair and forehead -_-

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The salesman Mr. Baraa of TagHeuer boutique in Rashid Mall was frustrated of lack of sales. But I became blessing for him, he sold 2 expensive watches in consecutive days in both my visiting attempts. He became a good friend of mine who assisted me in most of my work in Al-Khobar. He asked me if I like drinking hookah (sheesha in Persian). My joys knew no bound as I had no knowledge of existence of hookah in the Eastern region. I replied my definite YES.

Baraa is from Palestine and is son of our Showroom Manager for Eastern region. Born and raise here like me, enjoys a good but limited life. I did ask him if he has time enough for me to gather and enjoy sheesha. He was like me, enjoy without tension at full scale. There is a cafe at the outskirt of Al-Khobar, Ole’ Cafe. A huge cafe expanded like 40-45 meters with at least 100 seats and a dozen TVs. Now the most important aspect was quality service and quality flavor of sheesha. That surpassed my expectation. Baraa told me that double-apple is the best flavor of sheesha and he was correct. The moment I sip my first, I felt like if I ate a red apple with smoke gasped from the chewed part.

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Ole’ Cafe
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Inside View of Ole’ Cafe

 

Sitting and drinking, my brain began sinking. But the brain cells started half-flourishing when MBC 2 showed Robert Rodriquez’s ‘Machete’. I had never watched the movie but do wanted to. Aaaah! watta movie. Baraa is an old customer there, drinking for years. So a good service from workers was expected. That day, a new worker had joined. He was from Bangladesh. Very scared of his first attempt and confound. His senior was shouting at him to serve quickly. That wasn’t enough. Even customers had their loud say when he could not settle down the charcoals on the top of sheesha.

Same charcoal story in my side. He decorated 5 small charcoals and I was stunned. He lost his edge again and expected the shoutings from my side now but I politely told him to place 3 big charcoals and I will do the decorating. He apologized to me by saying he is innocent and new in the Kingdom, and poor guy looking for work to feed his family in his country. A story of millions spoken by one I encountered. I was helpless to help and just a keen listener of his dismays.

Once I finished my work in Rashid Mall, I had an hour to check out from hotel. So I intended to go Jarir Bookstore to check any interesting findings. Recently arrived Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography was available at SR.130. First time I got so disappointed with the collection of books I saw. Most notably I was enraged to see the West’s nowadays darling Malala’s book ‘I am Malala’ in two different corners. I checked the book and saw few pages. It was like reading a 10-year-old baby’s diary -_- That book wasn’t enough. There was a small corner under Kid’s section. Believe it or not! there were around 5 different books on Justin Beiber -_-

Checked out from hotel and with all due respect, the workers in hotel delivered a proper goodbye and well wished me. Baraa did his final serving by favoring us to drop at airport through his friend. Reached the airport and my tour ended. That wasn’t enough because few stories are more to write you.

I met my brother’s friend Omer Shahid. I am not a lot into hi-hello with him but met at a rare moment. We shared our talks and opinions about living in Saudia, working environment stuff and presently dipping performance by Manchester United. His flight was late by 30 minutes but still 30 minutes on board before mine. While waiting our turn to drop our luggage, the man in uniform told him to stay on thin red line and wait for his turn. Our turn was after him and when I reached to drop my luggage, two Arab boys stood on my extreme back :S I told the officer to keep them stay on thin red line, he avoided -_-

There was an old Arab couple in their 70s. The good thing about them was that they were smiling and goofing instead of murking.  The handbag carried by man was seized by his lady and vice versa. In sitting area, they were the only odd talking aloud. The talkative lady checked her boarding pass by every half a minute. She all of a sudden wanted to go toilet when boarding was on. But she want to go with her handbag :S Her hubby won’t let her do that. She ran like a penguin and returned within couple of minutes. The man was laughing.

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Travelers in queue as gates were opened. People from every walk of life and miscalculated sizes stood in one line to show their boarding pass. My turn came and the officer stopped me :S Hiccup! The computer wasn’t accepting my boarding pass. He made me stood aside. A moment of embarrassment! Then I checked the date on boarding pass and realized the pass belonged to my previous flight from Jeddah to Dammam. I had presented wrong boarding pass and the correct one was in my bag. Now all is fine.

Entered the plane. It was A320 -_- Plane gets smaller with my travel I guess -_- Even in this flight, air-hostesses carried same boring faces to face the unlucky travelers. Time to sit on my booked seat but hello! some buddy already placed his ass on my seat :S I had my second thought over legality of my boarding pass instead of checking his. Then I forwarded and cleared my throat to seek his attention. I requested him to off from my seat and check his number. He kept staring me until the air-hostess came to settle. He was off to my seat.

The flight and service was ordinary. Ate the same food I had in my previous morning flight, cheese sandwich -_- I was expecting a dinner to serve for me, not the same repeated breakfast for dinner -_- This time it was a little better sandwich to chew and pass my esophagus. Plus, I asked for a coffee and enjoyed reading Babaji Ashfaq Ahmad sahab’s “Zaviya”. As I told you in my previous blog that I began reading this masterpiece, but I went so deep in reading babaji’s stories that I realized how distinguished personality was he. The plane landed safely with a temperature outside double of Dammam’s one. The nights in Dammam were in tens but returned here in twenties.

Babaji’s take on the world, his philosophies and heart touching incidents circulated my deepest thoughts in brain. I wasn’t feeling normal for once at all. From departure from A320 till arriving home, babaji’s chapters on life made a remarkable full stop. It actually was like ‘travelling with a zero’. I was like Lucky Ali’s album ‘Sifar’ or Ronan Keating’s “Life is a Roller Coaster”.

Being so mystic with life circle, I entered the bus with more stories. There were two wheelchair travelers with different problems. One entered with a Bengali helper was an octogenarian Yemeni who suffered with old age. He wasn’t able to walk and lost his temper every second. When the helper made him close to the bus door, he began shouting on his helper and protesting his entry because of the height of door the wheel chair was about to lift inside. I was forced to smile when the old man snatched his stick from him to hit but failed. All of a sudden, entered the second helper and lifted the wheel chair and entered the bus with ease. He kept shouting at the entry but then he turned silent. Being silent, he stared every traveler with rage.

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Sat on the other wheel chair was a disabled teen, to whom I was observing from Dammam Airport sitting area. He spoke nothing and wore casual dress with a careful eyesight under his normal specs. I never dared to ask his helper if he was paralyzed or not able to speak also. But his hand movements and finger alignments weren’t normal.

How thought provoking was his behavior under my observation! The travelers, almost 20 meters far from him, walked towards joining the queue on board. He stared their legs and his left hand middle and index fingers made movements like walking. That was speechless!!

Then in the bus (dropping to Jeddah airport) I saw him again. This time his eyes caught a few months old baby crying under his mother’s lap. They were Sudanese family I guess. With intention to stop his cry-bullying, he struggled with his right hand to finger-snap. He wasn’t using his index finger a lot and his middle and ring fingers looked more crook and close. So he struggled to finger-snap with his thumb, middle and ring fingers. Within half a minute, the baby actually stopped crying.

What a nature of Allah!! Babaji’s reading really made me take more careful observations of earthlings. Both wheelchairs were together with a tremendous and strange on-the-spot chemistry with no match but different stories mixed altogether. I was noticing his finger-snapping and the baby. Once the baby got silent, I wanted to observe the baby more but avoided because yet again in the bus, the lady (the mother of kid) began staring me like if her eyes recognized the murderer of her husband -_-

The wheel chair stories weren’t enough. Entered a lovely young Arab couple in the bus. Precisely in 20’s and hand in hand they stood in the bus. I don’t think if the girl’s left hand and boy’s right hand ever ever untouched each other’s skin. Their love had a scent of jasmine and their innocent behavior to each other made sense of their new relation was a bed full of roses. To her bad luck, no seats in the bus were empty (fully occupied by ladies). Her man of honor made her stood holding the bar. That wasn’t enough. When the bus ran, he hold the supporter with his left hand and she pressed his shoulder from her right hand. Their other hands were still tightly grabbed to each other. The boy was in his casual dressing, a sporting cap decorated on his head behind. The girl was veiled with beautiful eyes decorated with decent black eyeliner. They were whispering in each other’s ears. All the time smiling to each other every few seconds. Ahhhh love!!! Love is a gift of Allah to mankind indeed…

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I have landed Jeddah and time to pee. Entered the male toilet and there is no hanger to hang my bag and suit. An Indian cleaner offered me to hand him my handbag and suit. It was risky but I took it. He kept holding both my stuff until I finished my toiletivity. Babaji’s worldly simplicity mashed again. I felt a lot for his service. He surely was poor guy like I met that Bengali worker in cafe, have to do nothing here in life then only cleaning the toilets. My heart humbled and gave him money for his service. He didn’t expected this and stared me with innocence with a million-dollar thanks and regards. I felt a spiritual comfort performing a good deed. My soul was well satisfied till I went colorless when no one stood to receive me. The message was conveyed on call that my brother and his friend are waiting outside airport :S Vow what a reception.

Returned home. My all 4 cats stared at me :S I began sneezing. Drinking water not available as water supplier is absent for days. Water even not coming in bathroom :S Welcome back to Jeddah Mr. Naik!!

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My Selfish Diary: A Flight to Dammam

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My work is my decision and my division is my provision. Multitude of harkness or gratitude of happiness. I am not familiar with ‘my selfish diary’ or ‘e-notebook’ but one thing I know about me is I am too awesome in O TWADDI (desi FML).

I borrowed a peace of time from my local librarian of colorless books and informed them my plan for almost a week stay in Dammam-Khobar with my fellow colleague of justice league.

First reaction: What? -_-

Second reaction: Why? -_-

Anyhow, things went right for me and my fellow. Packed the bag and off we go. Good morning at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah and goodbye to my brother (who dropped me). When I go to airport, I have a special feeling. Walking around and wandering hither and thither. Emotional faces all over (specially South Asians :P ). We witness to see different class of people related from all walks of life altogether. Travelers like business class and some professionals never have more than a luggage but families (specially South Asians :P ) travel with dozens of luggage (roughly taped and using marker to write their address), with a f***ed up radio tuned to baby’s 99th symphony and scores of zamzam cans.

There are two groups usually to be seen in my almost every short-stay at airport. A) Bunch of beautiful and ugly air-hostesses B) Indonesians :P Admittingly in my case, I see a decent staff when luggage is to be thrown for cargo but a three-cent staff when I and my handbag are about to be scanned. I am not a lot into the airport daily/regular affairs but for me is a hiccup of ‘What’s next?’. I feel like if I am desi version of Viktor Navorski in Spielberg’s ‘The Terminal’.

Last time the man who checked me this January (when I was going to Riyadh) told me to off my shoes and keep my belt on. This time, my shoes were not penalized but the belt was crucified :S The guy who checked me wore a Ted-Turner moustache and eyes staring on every passenger like a complaint letter. There was no thin red line on the floor to statue before my turn. He rudely stopped me thrice to wait for my turn (3rd STOP! he looked pretty stupid because I never moved even an inch, probably his English slipped from Move to Stop).

Moving from a bookstore for me is like scent of a woman. But witnessing a Justin Bieber book in that collection is like a sudden heart attack in public place. Then comes the sitting area which I had a second thought because it was like a sleeping area where most of travelers had their faces bent down. Then I realized that they all were committed to their toys.

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My colleague and I did our breakfast at a French restaurant La Cuisine with a chocolate donut and espresso. Such a quiet place and waited for our turn to come. Then gates of heaven opened to meet our virgins. I was the last man to enter the bus. With all men standing and all women in black sitting. I unintentionally had a glimpse of a fatty for a second or two. In response, she in veil was like if she recognized the rapist :S Witch please!

The chosen aircraft to destination was A330. I knew my seat because I had done the boarding pass work last night. As usual, I began staring air-hostesses. Most of the products were Manila but not Vanilla. Few non-Manila (Arabs) were surprisingly aged with a make-up more than a clown. I always thought if PIA (Pi**ed In A**) were the only to recruit such aged ladies with a death certificate. A330 began moving like a roller-coaster going towards the top.

All air-hostesses began a Marcel Marceau. To be honest, when they were giving instructions, they looked like a fade-up constable. They had no facial expressions and body language. Poor Manila babies! I always expect them to give instructions by dancing on ‘One Night in Bangkok’. The plane flew with ease. It was my first traveling when mobiles were allowed to use while touching the sky. So I began playing words-finding game app.

All of a sudden from the back, 2 demons came with an offer of forbidden tree. The trolley was full of Caesar juices. The Arab air-hostess with a huge nostril and Groucho Marx eyebrows asked me my choice. It took me less than couple of seconds in choosing until her eyebrows grew more hair and reached to the nose tip :S Before I launch my new FML chapter of getting embarrassed by a lady shouting at me in front of all, I politely asked for a cup of Caesar juice of orange. Next question by Hatima Tai was about sandwich. The options were flora and fauna. I swiftly chose cheese instead of tuna. What a rude rodent!! she never smiled on any traveler and duration service to every person was like approx 15 seconds because she took a lot of time in picking a cup from the packet and placing tissue paper below it.

I noticed the a-hostesses in both rows and calculated an unmatched comparison between an Arab a-hostess and a Manila one. The Arab one had began serving the travelers way before her but ended up 2nd to her with a huge-margin. It was not like if Tagalog beauty was quick to end serving every traveler by throwing and attending the next. She served every traveler mere 6-8 seconds with pluses like smiling and “enjoy your breakfast”.

Ahh leave it!! let me concentrate on my breakfast. Vowww what a breakfast!! This sandwich wasn’t kept in an oven or warm place but my guess is Greenland’s igloo -_- The bread had just arrived from the Robben Island, produced 40 years ago to serve the prisoners (even ignored by that time). What’s inside? aah yes! how come I forgot what I ordered? exactly ‘Cheese’ that’s it -_- nothing else. Every bite of this sandwich, chewing and crossing my esophagus literally took 5 minutes -_- I felt I was deceived of the unexpected service (‘trolled’ is an applicable word here).

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Book reading was my hobby which now has become my weakness. Had somehow finished reading the remaining half of Andrew Crissell’s “An Introductory History on British Broadcasting” in last couple of days in Jeddah because I made up my mind to start a new book in my new destiny. Now in plane with half destiny reached, I began reading ‘Zaviya’ by Mr. Ashfaq Ahmad. Ashfaq sahab is one of Pakistan’s finest writer, philosopher and critic, hugely responsible for writing memorable stories and plays in Pakistan Television’s golden era like ‘Man Chalay Ka Sauda’. This is my first experience of reading an Urdu-language book.

Time to lose eardrums with 3rd degree pain -_- I tried to focus on Zaviya stories but minute after minute, a curmudgeon angel hit a needle on my eardrums -_- The children began crying in pain -_- We landed safely and got unseat with ease when most of travelers had left. Reached King Fahd International Airport (min 25 kms away from the main city). A very quiet airport with no busy routine like Jeddah’s one. Took our luggage, bought a 15-Riyal-ticket for bus to Al-Khobar. I knew it will take minimum an hour in reaching the spot with a bitter truth that the driver was a Filipino, so I began reading ‘Zaviya’ where I left.

Driving at max 100 kph, he was listening hits of Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. The ticket I got from the conductor had four blanks to fill with no idea what the ticket asked me to do. So I filled this way…

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Depending on my limited resources of the whereabouts of popular place Al-Rashid Mall, I kept staring at many of malls crossing from my sight. The bus kept going for 40 minutes. After that, I told my colleague to speak in his Tagalog to his kaibigan (friend in tagalog) to make him understand. The moment he spoke to the driver, all kept staring at him (don’t know why). One thing is good about the Filipinos, their nature is very friendly and well communicative to everyone. In their first encounter, they get in touch with their fellow natives so deep that ‘rude’ is not a word in any dictionary then. I used the word ‘Rude’ because mostly in my fellow Pakistanis, I don’t see that coming. In first encounter, they will ignore you at the time of knowing where actually you from. Rudeness is harked when the two don’t meet at the smallest point in agreement.

If you really want to see the cultural difference between Pakistanis and Saudis here in the Kingdom, just witness the minor vehicle accidents. If two Pakistani vehicles get hit here, the national assembly (of Pakistan) will establish without a speaker. The two parties will blame each other, begin shouting and respecting each other’s mothers and sisters, cursing and sparingly coming on for a one-on-one. As contrary, many incidents occurring between the two locals first meet with a proper handshake and exchange of regards, smiling and calling the traffic police to finish the matter with ease. Besides few of incidents of extreme heated exchange of words, you usually will see them apologizing and talking politely.

And now we reach the spot, off from the bus but the luggage door is not opening from us -_- Anyhow we have reached our destiny, got the hotel opposite road to the Mall. It is a comfortable place. Alhamdulillah for a safe flight, nice hotel and a lovely weather. Nowadays, it usually is not more than 25 degree by day. Nights are cold like approx in the 10s. The ordered food has arrived with the doorbell ringing now. Time to eat and burp…

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The Battle of O TWADDI in Muharram

The Battle Of Karbala - Muharram

Why Muharram is the chosen one? It is because Hussain (R.A.), grandson of Muhammad (S.A.W.), was martyred in the Battle of Karbala. The battle was fought between Yazid of Umayyad and Hussain of Banu Hashim. Shias commemorate the battle and heavily mourn on martyrdom of Hussain (R.A.). So you expect more clashes and bashes in Muharram. But to whom you blame? Sunnis or Shias? Both of them or none of them?

Being Sunni, I have no business with Shias but what subjects both communities to boil each other’s blood and hear insults to the prophets, caliphs and wives of Muhammad (S.A.W.) from one side? The answer lies precisely towards the dirty politics of the West. Remember the 1979 Shia Revolution in Tehran? When Pahlavi dynasty met an end after Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi left Iran in Jan.1979 defeated by the demonstrators and followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. If anyone remembers, Pahlavi dynasty was backed by United States. Khomeini arrived Iran on Air France Boeing 747 the very next month with grand return and welcomed by his millions of supporters.

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Since then, sectarian tensions began to boil in South Asia and Gulf countries. The impact was huge and critical. In non-Muslim world, Islamic ideologies and revolution were on heavy talks. Khomeini was the name to whom the world began thinking that the super-power of world control might lose balance under the cradle of attorney since Hitler’s impact. With the overthrow of monarchies, it was a heavy alarm for fellow neighbors where Sunnis were/are dominating and Shias were/are in minorities. Entered USSR and Afghan war began. US-backed Osama bin Laden was their Uncle Sam in Afghanistan. Followed Iran-Iraq war, tag-team partners in this war directly/indirectly were Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France, UK, USSR and with no surprise United States. Oil became a ‘mermaid on a shore’, swam by all infected and addicted countries governed and schemed by the masters from the West.

Sectarian politics did built tensions and confrontations in Pakistan as yearly casualties were immense. Never tolerable, extremist groups did target the places of worships in order to bring the heated battle back on track. Last decade met more severe blood-bargaining clashes after US-invasion of Iraq and disappearance of Saddam Hussain in 2003. That was where political Sunni-Shia clashes re-awoke. King Abdullah II of Jordan quoted, “If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government, a new ‘crescent’ of dominant Shia movements or governments stretching from Iran to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, could emerge.”

So my take is that Iraq invasion is where in 21st century, Sunni-Shia wrestle mania began and political conspiracy let to other countries to flame fire between the two. The very same year, Shia cleric Yasser Al-Habib of Kuwait was arrested months later and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment by the Kuwaiti government on charges of cursing Abu Bakr (R.A.), Umar (R.A.), and Ayesha (R.A.). Seven years later in 2010, his citizenship was revoked by the Kuwaiti government when he brought huge Sunni-Shia outcry by calling Ayesha (R.A.) as ‘Enemy of God’.

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Sectarian political unrest spread to Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen and now Syria. And now the understanding is that killing each other in the name of Islam will down pardon the consequences. Mourning turns into frowning; and sponsors and agents of the riots are enjoying the overwhelming corruption of sectarian unrest.

Demographically, Shias in Pakistan’s 180-million-population are mere 20%. Many prominent figures in this country follow Shia faith. Political biggies like Mohammad Ali Bogra, Khawaja Nazimuddin, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Faisal Raza Abidi, Zulfiqar Mirza, Qaim Ali Shah; and artists like Sadequain, Jon Elia, Rahat Kazmi, Talat Hussain, Abida Parveen are famous shia personalities. Unarguably the biggest name, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan, was Ismaili Shia.

Before existence of Pakistan, the Shias can be traced back in centuries, even in Moghul eras. Qazi Nurullah Shustari was the most prominent Shia scholar of Moghul era. In Akbar’s time, he was appointed Chief Qazi of the Moghul Empire due to attaining immense trust and respect of Akbar. In Jahangir’s time, things went worse for him as his rivals in Jahangir’s court were in powers to wreck his position. A fatwa was passed declaring him heretic and for his beliefs and faith on Shi’ism. He was executed on Jahangir’s words at almost 70 and was called ‘Shaheed-e-Salis’ (third martyr) after Muhammad Ibn Makki and Zainuddin al Amili respectively.

So what is Shia belief and faith. Very shortly, they believed Ali (R.A.) to be Muhammad (S.A.W)’s successor in the caliphate due to the fact that he was his first cousin and closest male relative as well as son-in-law. But that never happened. The Rashidun Caliphate ‘rightly guided caliphs’ was established and successors were Abu Bakr (R.A.), Umar (R.A.), Usman (R.A.) and last appointment was finally Ali (R.A.). First 3 successors are unacceptable to Shias and they actually curse them.

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There other beliefs are that the Holy Quran is incomplete whereas Allah says in Surah Al-Hijr (Quran 15:9) “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” Shias also curse wives of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) who are considered Ummahat-ul-Momineen ‘Mothers of the Believers’. They also pray only thrice a day instead of five and their azaan ‘call to worship’ is different. When it comes to marriage, Shia have mutaa system which means temporary marriage. As the meaning clarifies, the duration of this nikah contract is agreed in advance. In brief, time limit is fixed and wife is known as temporary wife. One of critical difference which separates the Shias and from biggest understanding far from religion is the shahada ‘declaration of faith’. Their kalima is edited with additional wordings in the end ‘wa ʿalīyyun walīyyu -llāh’ which means that Ali is Allah’s wali.

Happy new year to all the Muslims (who follow words of Allah and his Last Messenger S.A.W) and the other 72 sects. There is one more sect which was introduced in a British Sitcom ‘Citizen Khan’ which was termed blasphemy and mockery over Islam specially in Pakistan.

REASONS?? It is blasphemy and mockery over Islam.

REASONS?? It is blasphemy and mockery over Islam.

(I ask again) REASONS?? It is blasphemy and mockery over Islam.

THAT’S IT?? Ahh never mind…. I found O TWADDI sect far funny than all the sects which are based on school of thoughts whose deans have rendered valuable services to the world in producing and expanding ignorance in Muslim ummah. Few of sects are in fact insects on whom you need to spray insecticide who instead of following words of Allah and his Last Messenger S.A.W., follow their revolutionaries and missionaries. These betrayers produce their own books, and lie and deceive. Spread wrong message from their beehive and indirectly attack the moral faith.

So what is the battle of O TWADDI? Before marching towards an answer, let me tell you a story stamping in East Coast in the late 70s. In NYC, there were block parties residing in Bronx, mostly African Americans. In such parties, there were plenty of DJs who used to play Soul or Funky music originated from Jamaica. So when I say Jamaica, then it is understood that thousands of Jamaican immigrants turned to NYC for livelihood. One of them was DJ Kool Herc who later in this era introduced a music genre from these soul/funky music. That was called Hip-Hop.

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In the hip-hop culture, rapping was introduced which is an art of singing in a vocal style using only lyrics in rhyme. Early 80s grew more intensifying as rapping popularity increased. Competition existed not in rapping but bullying. Participants mostly black Americans entered the challenge to rap, bully and manhandle each other. One of early famous rapping challenge was between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starski back in 1981 or perhaps 1982, which Kool won. This was the beginning of battle which is known as Battle Rap.

Sooooo the battle of O TWADDI is like a battle rap where 2 rappers put-down, diss and insult each other while rapping. This battle is fought every Islamic year in the Holy month of Muharram between Sunnis and Shias. My perspective is Pakistan, oh I mean Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In rest of 11 months, there are very few incidents where disturbance between the two in the name of Islam occurs but Muharram is the month when they actually lose their temper. The hatred policy between the two has been traced for thousands of years but in Pakistan and other Islamic countries, it has heated more.

This country separated from it’s origin 66 years ago and came into existence based on theory (if I am not wrong  then the only 2 countries existed on theory – other being Israel). The mission was to establish an Islamic state which unfortunately divided into many groups (few for socio.political reasons). The biggest hurdle was following an existing heritage of Sufi religion inherited from centuries-backed Hindustan. The new geographic blood adopted the same tradition and followed their peers. Till now, Islam is what your forefathers have taught you with much a probability of error. You will obey them as a disciple.

Today, your religious mind is limited. Innovations (bida’ah) are trafficked and words of Allah are mostly ignored. Peers are your messiah and parrot is the messenger of your fate. Your life is not based on your prays but the trump cards. You won’t get scare of fighting or killing your own brother but surely when a black cat cross your path. Even if you don’t believe in that superstition, you surely will make a second ‘if’. Quite bizarre to a fact to observe just how a black cat in a cricket match can make a million viewers superstitious for a second. Your ears won’t hurt when hard rock music is played but your ears will fell trauma when playing with scissor will sound you omen.

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We belong to a country like many nationalities, where mostly those people argue or debate, who first of all lack knowledge. Having wisdom is the second thing but first, we are history’s greatest liars. We lie about our history, we lie about our religion. We speak like an angel as devil lies underneath. We criticize other rather than correcting them. And most bizarrely, we always get very aggressive. And for losing the temper, we pay the prize. I remember the incidents of Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy, YouTube release of movie Fitna and Quran-burning campaign from Pastor Terry Jones. When Muslims from many corners rose their voice with peaceful protest and even distributed copies of Quran at different places to show faith in humanity and proving Islam as religion of peace, the people from Pakistan side came up with some extraordinary laughing stock. They protest so rudely with anger that they began looting the malls, burn the personal properties and brought an uprising which obviously showed no sign of love for beloved Muhammad (S.A.W.)

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For few months this year, British Pakistani presenter Adil Ray’s “Citizen Khan” was fired and blasted by many Muslim viewers (mostly Pakistanis) quoting the sitcom mocking Islam and Pakistan. When the program was first aired, it received almost 200 complaints and accused of being disrespectful to the Quran. Many even filed petition to prevent the program airing on BBC One. Once I had noticed a short clip of the program for the first time, I knew it and told myself that on any part of the world, where the name ‘Pakistan’ is involved will surely meet a controversy.

For me it was absolutely pathetic and simultaneously funny to see Pakistanis complaining that a British sitcom mocked their religion, the Holy book and their beloved country. How sincere and loyal they became of their faith and country!! What token of love and respect they are temporarily depicting? From where does that blasphemy and mockery came. Why digging deep and exploring the blasphemy in a British sitcom?? Instead, go and correct yourself first. Are you really loyal to your faith enough to defend?

The O TWADDI sect in 1st episode of Season II got hugely negative remarks. Many claimed that a Pakistani is shown selling his pride and making joke of his religion in front of catholic dean by creating an imaginary sect ‘firqah’ in order to make a successful attempt in his daughter’s admission. I was like “SO WHAT?”. Two things came in my mind. One, sect is already a joke for me with an understanding that all 72 sects will be thrown in hell besides one following a right path (mentioned in Sahih Hadith). Two, bitter truth is that we Pakistanis (not all of us) are international beggars and can go to any limit for begging. It is nothing new for me to see people spreading their hands in front of others. Just look at our politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats; how they beg in front of IMF, NATO and US.

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The objection itself becomes a mockery when negative viewers objected that most of the cast playing Pakistani roles were actually Indians which brought the image down. This clearly showed that they knew nothing about sitcoms and movies. Actors are selected by judgment and suitability of character, not by nationality. How about Christopher Lee playing Jinnah and Mark Zubair playing Iqbal in ‘Jinnah’? How about Om Puri playing Ziaul Haq in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’? Stop talking pathetic. If you cannot take a British humor, then go elsewhere and enjoy your local programs.

Those negative Pakistani viewers who have so much time complaining, cannot fall back and stop the bloody battle yearly fighting in Muharram. Instead, they themselves fall flat and do the same what they thought Mr. Khan was doing. Doing battle rap with each other, confusing and making your religion complicated, bringing Quran, Muhammad (S.A.W.) and Ali (R.A.) in your senseless heated arguments and killing each other simply proves that none of the party was ever correct or up to their words. All fall in same category. And blood got spilled, masjids and Hussainias got bombed, prophets and caliphs got insulted, and wives of Muhammad (S.A.W.) were abused. So that is an outstanding example you set to the whole world how peaceful you are.

Your neighbors have every right to laugh on you with the fact that fight between two different faiths are understood but killing each other under the same banner is never understood with the pre-understanding of separating from India in 1947 to establish an Islamic state. What a joke! Next Islamic royal rumble will be organized next year in early November with more casualties and mourning to come. Stay tuned…

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