Tag Archives: Madinah

THE RISING OF A FAILED STATE (LAST PART)

This blog is in the continuity from my previous blog. Before you begin reading further, kindly read the first part HERE.

In the previous blog, I discussed the issues Pakistan is facing in the recent years and what points the observers have to consider in scrutinizing the government. Now I will surface the expectations on the revival of survival.

INVOKING A TABDEELI

The result of the recently concluded general elections comes to a massive surprise with a voice of change drumming almost everywhere. Being hopeless to observe the cipher-bound nation to vote the same parties repeating the same destruction and failing the country, I was believing that the same Pakistan Muslim League – N (PMLN) running the government will win the election after collecting the sympathetic votes for imprisoning their favorite leaders or perhaps Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will take the turn.

Moreover, Imran Khan‘s former wife Reham Khan sparked nationwide controversy by making blatant allegations in her recently released book. I am not aware of how accurate the allegations are. My brain doesn’t accept the kind of allegations she made on her former husband because those claims make Khan look pure evil but then, Khan had a Sita White case in the past with whom he has an illegitimate daughter. Fingers crossed or in the other words, God knows the best.

But Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are victorious with 116 seats for the National Assembly. The 22-year wait to win the general election is over. Khan’s declaration of change in the form of a tsunami which he coined in a political jalsa a few years ago all becomes true. Back in 2002, when Pakistan Muslim League – Q (PML-Q) won the general election, PTI won only one seat and that too by Khan. This election, Khan win 5 seats alone wherever he contested becoming the first Pakistani politician to record victory at 5 different polling stations. Back in 1970, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto contested elections from 4 constituencies and managed to win 3.

Numerous wonders occurred at this event. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto lost a seat from Lyari district where his party had political dominance for decades. Muttahida Qaumi Movement‘s 30-year rule over Karachi ended when PTI won 15 of the 21 seats in Karachi for the National Assembly. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) had a tendency towards changing the ruling party in the general elections every time in the past 25 years. PTI became the first party to win KPK assembly in consecutive terms which prove that their contribution for the KPK people was recognized and trusted.

Voice of change and change of voice coincides across the nation. A politician like Maulana Fazlur Rehman who in almost every general election ended winning the seat in the National Assembly couldn’t win this time. Amir Liaqat joining PTI five months ago raised the eyebrows to the standards the party had raised or lowered to the voice the change for the better cause. But how crucial was this decision? People in Karachi, who were fed up of MQM’s rule especially Farooq Sattar, decided to vote and prefer Amir Liaqat over him for the sake of changing hands and looking a better future of Karachi under PTI after listening to Khan addressing tons of promises in the last few years. It indeed is a change when so many calamities over PMLN, PPP, and MQM occur.

KHAN’S ADDRESSES – A VOICE OF HOPE

The political dynamics are changing, so are the global voices. After a few channels from the Indian media displayed hatred towards Khan, many people in India including famous names in sports and film industry are praising his success and struggle, and hoping to see a new wave in Indo-Pak diplomatic ties. Navjot Sidhu accepted Khan’s invitation to participate in the oath ceremony. With Sidhu’s arrival, I hope a dove raises the bar of peace between the two countries.

Imran Khan with scores of addresses and promises in his jalsas forwarded highly impressive addresses after the election results before and after becoming the 22nd prime minister of the country. A lot of topics came to the attention but with a powerful stature and a command in speaking with the required determination that he always possessed, what made his listeners feel good and hopeful was the freshness of words. He spoke some lines which no biggest authority in Pakistan ever did. There is a reason why most of the viewers and listeners trust him.

What I will try to do is bring a few bullet points in attention to the readers from both the addresses to understand what we are to expect and hope in the next five very important and crucial years.

01. Khan idealized that the state under him will be like Medina under the times of Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaehe Wasallam (SAW). Now, to be honest, this religious circle of vision may take the nation into daydreaming and completely avoiding the ground reality of the offense the country has suffered under the name of Islam. With people belonging to many different Islamic ideologies under the same geographical roof, it is almost impossible to convince all at a point or put them in any religious agreement.

There is every chance that his every move or decision is put to an argument if the decision is according to Sharia law or if Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. allowed. Most of the people in the country have taken the religious matter to different dimensions, they understand less, gets sentimental more. Many times, the probability of doubt towards understanding a scholar or an orator about Islam or any aspect adds more rage, fury, and risk. In such a situation, my opinion is that Khan should have avoided such an extremely bold statement because when the lumberjack chops the trunk, the whole tree collapses. 

So the nation should observe that Khan spoke about the principles of the ideal state to establish so they should not fall delusional of thinking a whole newly constructed Islamic state and begin comparing his every move for the state with the state Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. established. He, in short, has set Medina state as a prime example.

02. Khan spoke highly of human development and recognition of the poor to be fed and paid what they deserve. He was so highly concerned of child growth that he, live on the state channel, showed two diagrams of children only differing due to consumption of nourishing food required for a two-year-old child.

03. Khan confirmed that political rivalries are the past for the sake of bringing solidarity in the country. I do not expect the rivalry to end. When he is running the government, there is every possibility in the coming years that his rivals ridicule the country’s political and socioeconomic situation in the coming years.

04. Khan clearly stated that the accountability will start with him and his ministers, followed by the others. One of the most impressive lines in his address.

05. Khan encouraged the overseas Pakistanis to invest the money in the country under the new leadership and promised the nation to protect the tax money and better the tax culture.

06. Khan innovated shaping the PM house into an educational institution and to bring in public use of all the governor houses. Because he admits humiliation for living in a palace of a country where more than half of the population are poor.

With that, he submitted his assurance that he, his governors and ministers will reduce their expenditures and adopt simplicity. The expensive vehicles which were used by the previous governments will be sold in the auction to the businessmen and put the received hefty money in the national treasury. The security will be reduced.

07. Khan talked about sending a team to China, make a report and learn the progress of the efforts the Chinese government made to overcome poverty at such a high rate.

08. Khan gave equal importance to both Saudi Arabia and Iran and voiced for immense efforts to ease the Middle East crisis. I have discussed Pakistan’s role in the Middle East crisis in the previous part.

09. Khan expressed disappointment to the Indian media for spreading negative portrayal but urged for dialogues and stepping ahead for better ties and open on trade relations and transactions.

10. Khan spoke of law amendments to ensure speedy disposal of civil cases within a year. We know that thousands of cases are shelved unfought for years and the poor is the one who suffered the most. If this happens, justice may be believed to earn its lost repute.

11. Khan stressed on the improvement in the education and the government hospitals.

12. Khan raised the issue of global warming and emphasized on a nationwide tree plantation campaign. Khan on the 3rd of September has launched a mega Tree Tsunami project in which 10-billion trees will be planted in the next 5 years against the climatic and environmental challenges. If this plan succeeds, Pakistan may be counted among the countries who raise their voice and contribute against the challenges. It may prove to be a significant turning point.

13. Khan challenged and offered cooperation to his rivals by investigating on any requested stations where the losing parties believed that the elections were rigged. This act of daring is something which the previous ruling party didn’t commit or offer.

14. Khan, in his final lines, envisioned that the country will financially prosper to the extent that there would be no tax receiver and he doubted if he may be alive to see that happen. This statement will be remembered for a long time even after his soul departs because the quality of the great people is that they, in their lifetime, utter some quotes which become the observational phenomena.

WERE THE ELECTIONS RIGGED?

Many observers have depicted their satisfaction. I am not an observer of this scenario. Rigging has always been in our blood, this will never stop. As far as politics is concerned, after every 5-year period, the victorious party claims the general election to be the purest while the rest whine. The same method was applied this time when all the losing parties assembled for the conference and decided whether to sit in the national assembly or not. It indeed is traditionally hilarious that after losing the election, the party claims rigging and later on decides to sit in the assembly indirectly and technically accepting the results, and become the opposition. Because seriously, who refuses the power of seat in the national assembly? Better to sit in the opposition and play chess.

They say that the Election Commission of Pakistan was responsible for the election. But let us agree on the open secret that there is something fishy about the happenings in Pakistan’s political affairs in the recent months. The judicial and military accountability over the-then existing political scenario troubled them, the biggest names went to prison or were declared impotent to contest any seat for the general elections. Yes, nature had its say too when the heavy rains in Lahore exposed the lies of the provincial government and the professed Paris in Lahore turned in to Venice. The army security had much of the control on the polling stations I agree. I asked a few of my friends about the situation there. But why the cameras weren’t allowed inside the stations? Only God knows what exactly happened but, to be honest, if the elections still were rigged, I am certainly okay with it.

Why so? Because the previous rigging established no hopes but sorrows. Voters voted the same parties and whined all the years. You have tried and trusted them for decades twice and thrice. You have lived in fear at certain places. This time, the rigging that brings the new faces and new hopes are acceptable, the majority of the nation is convinced that they can certainly expect better from the new ruling party. Perhaps, this was the fairest ‘rigged’ elections ever. And there is nothing wrong in hoping that the country’s broken spine and damaged reputation can be tried to fix and improve.

REALISTIC PATRIOTISM

Pakistanis are the most patriotic nation in the world because there is no country whose nation celebrates its independence like her, but unfortunately, their sincerity and passion are over-dramatic and unrealistic. I call it chauvinism with the all-is-well approach because their contribution is less to what words of their utmost love for the country they utter from their mouths.

Patriotism is a form of emotional madness towards liking and loving a particular geographic piece of land with the addition of developing aerial theories which most of the time doesn’t make logical or lacks common sense. People with such mentality loses conscience and begins to believe that they are superior to the others.

Failed governments have destroyed the societies for decades and as compared to the golden period of their cultural integrity, we have observed more moral calamity, rage, hatred, delusion, frustration, madness, negativity, lie, manipulation, backbiting, brainwashing, abuse, killing, and firing.

Further destruction came in the education when so many lies while teaching the country’s history wrecked and manipulated the generations and developed disturbance and confusion towards the reality which they declared frailty. After all of this, if the nation thinks that they really are patriotic, then it is a lost case and doesn’t make sense.

Thinking and understanding towards the religion and tolerance have dropped a severe low, also in decades, when religion was used as a political tool and many many many so-called religious organizations came to existence to fool the illiterate and ignorant people. Many flags under the motive of spreading the message of Islam clashed the brains of common and aided with false and wrong beliefs. The wrongs and fongs became traditions and rituals. Some of those organizations became political parties and some campaigns for spreading terrorism.

The passion of the-then nationalism and patriotism which was highly delusional on paper with zero motive now have a new voice and new hope. Under a new leadership, this jazba can flourish and help to contribute an honest cause and build them a new mason.


I am not a nationalist or a patriotic individual but I feel disappointed to observe a country in such a miserable condition and totally lost on the purpose of its existence. I admire Mr. Jinnah’s charismatic personality but do not believe in the vision of Mr. Jinnah and strictly disagree with the partition of a land into two on the bases of a two-nation theory which is built on strict racism and hatred. Both Hindus and Muslims have lived together for centuries. The existence of both the countries became a possibility thanks to the conclusion of World War II which pushed the British Empire to release the countries from the colonization. God knows how long we all would be colonized if this war would have never happened or never ended.

I am not a rebel nor a time traveler to rectify the blunder of the country’s founder but with the passing of time, I have to compromise and recognize the existence of this country and I, like other people, build HOPE to see a better future of this country with the new masons enrolled.

People should not jump waiting for the results from the day after taking the oath. People must realize that much a loss in shape of money has been suffered. The act of begging by the previous governments towards the institutions and supreme authorities has led the country in bad repute.

After some years, we will look back and observe how the revelation of the Panama Papers and Microsoft’s Calibri font ate PMLN. It looks no less than a wonderful script of a political drama.

What is Naya Pakistan? It is a substantial imagination of building a utopian state which failed to create in 71 years. It is a renovation of the destroyed building. This is not coming to reality soon. I have observed the craziness on the social media about people asking and questioning the possibility of observing Naya Pakistan in a few days and weeks. This is sheer nonsense. Even the final results of your board exams do not show up that quick as the people are demanding.

Tremendous patience is required. It is about rebuilding a country, not a school or shopping mall. It will take years to produce the genuinely positive results. Enough addresses from Khan, action has to be implemented. The government should be judged after at least six months and should be highly discussed when the first federal budget under this government is announced. But people must realize that Khan cannot do this alone, the nation has to cooperate and contribute. The nation has to do the favor to aid Khan to produce the expected results. If the level of trust has raised a few percentages under him, there is a possibility to believe because hoping is believing.

No government in the political history of Pakistan has ever completed its 5-year tenure. Will Khan be able to complete? Will Khan fulfill the promises? Will the ruling party surpass the expectations of the nation? Will there be a booming economy? Will the poverty decrease and the workers earn the deserving? Will the justice serve the right and prevail?

Time will tell…

Rise…

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The Old Ruins of Khuraybah

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

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

Route to al-Abwa & Khuraybaah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baa-Baa Interrogated…

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

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

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

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

Spot Discovery…

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

Presentation…

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Presentation 2…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Green Passion

The place where I open my eyes… The place where my father was allowed to earn his livelihood, to bring his spouse and make his family…. The place where their people allowed to have my own national school and complete my education….

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The place where Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) was born… The place where Islam was born and the God’s message revealed… The place where earth’s two of the three holiest mosques Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi are protected by those who call themselves it’s custodians…

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The chosen nation whose chosen leaders not only serve their people but the entire Muslim brotherhood by providing you the best possible service in your Umrah and Hajj… Whose leaders invest billions and billions of dollars in holy mosque expansions to facilitate our prayers and worships…

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It has been 85 years when King Abdulaziz announced the country as a kingdom. There is no such example where the religion and its followers are served in that massive capacity with token of respect… And today we celebrate this day with love and respect…

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Saudi National Day 2013

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May God bless my Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….

May God bless my King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman ibn Abdulaziz al Saud

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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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