Saudi Arabia’s Fayfa, land of hanging gardens, offers tourists unique experience

06/09/20

Cylindrical mountain homes are unique to this region where the locals used to give each house a nickname, by which the owners of the house would be known. (SPA)

  • The fertile land is perfect for growing cereals, fruits and aromatic plants and the agricultural terraces on the mountain sides are a magnificent sight

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s stunning Fayfa Mountains — rising more than 2,000 meters above sea level and also known as “The Neighbors of the Moon” — are an ideal tourist destination.
The road to the mountains rises above the clouds, with steep slopes that are a dream for hikers and lovers of adventure.
The mountains’ highest point is Al-Absiyya, which is surrounded by the valleys of Dhamd and Jawra from the north and the west.
From here, visitors can enjoy a beautiful panorama of almost all the mountains in the region, towering over green spaces and farms, as well as the amazing scent of flowers carried on the breeze.
Al-Sima’a is another of the region’s most famous sites, overlooking the neighboring valleys and mountains, and the towns of Jazan, Sabia and Abu Arish, as well as the Jazan Valley Dam and other attractions.
The region enjoys a mild climate all year round, and its inhabitants rely mainly on agriculture as a source of income.
The fertile land is perfect for growing cereals, fruits and aromatic plants and the agricultural terraces on the mountain sides are a magnificent sight. Fayfa is also renowned for its coffee. The local farmers follow traditional practices handed down from their ancestors, based on the astrological cycle, using relative location of the sun — and which “house” it is in — to plan the planting and harvesting of their crops.
Their cylindrical mountain homes are unique to this region of Saudi Arabia, and the local inhabitants used to give each house a nickname, by which the owners of the house would also be known.
Often, these names were related to specific events, or simply a descriptive term.
Fayfa’s residents also have their own unique dialect, which researchers believe originated from ancient literary Arabic, but was later influenced by the Himyarite language creating a vocabulary that is only used in this region.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Rock inscriptions of Al-Shuwaymis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia’s Hail

05/09/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The inscriptions feature art characterized by images of humans, animals, and plant life including camels, horses, goats, and palm trees

The rock art of Al- Shuwaymis, 250 kilometers southeast of Hail, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest open stone inscription museum in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the largest open natural history museums in the world, with an area of more than 50 square kilometers.
Al-Shuwaymis is located on the edge of Hurrat Annar, near Al-Makhit Valley, which separates Hurrat Laila from Hurrat Annar. It is also near Al-Sabaq, the area that witnessed the longest battle in Arab history, “Sa’es and Al-Ghabra.”
The history of the petroglyphs dates back to the Neolithic period. The inscriptions feature art characterized by images of humans, animals, and plant life including camels, horses, goats, and palm trees. There are also sculptures of men riding camels, in reference to the trade caravan activity, and sculptures of life-sized humans and animals.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Photographer uses drones to capture tourist treasures

05/09/20

Saudi photographer Hassan Al-Hresi says many of his followers from around the world are convinced that the Kingdom is a first-class tourist destination with pristine landscapes and magnificent sceneries. (Supplied)
  • Hassan Al-Hresi showcases sites such as Wahidah Waterfalls, Ghiyeh and Al-Qahar

MAKKAH: Saudi photographer Hassan Al-Hresi looks for opportunities day and night to venture upwards into the skies and shed light on the archaeological and tourist treasures of the Kingdom’s south.

He takes his audience on journeys during all seasons of the year so that they can experience and witness the southern landscapes that he captures through his lens.
The professional photographer, who is in his thirties, has documented distinctive destinations such as the Wahidah Waterfalls, Ghiyeh, Al-Qahar villages and other locations.
And he offers an exceptional experience, as he seeks to showcase the undiscovered despite the danger that these sites pose.
“These trips spark my passion like a high that has been there since my childhood,” Al-Hresi told Arab News.
“It is a dangerous profession due to the need to move across steep mountains and stay there for days with the necessary equipment to capture moments that immortalize the sites’ beauty and magnificence. These moments shed light on the beauty of the Kingdom’s southern region.”

He said that many of his followers from around the world were convinced that Saudi Arabia was not just defined by camels and the desert, that it was a first-class tourist destination with pristine landscapes that were unimaginable by both locals and foreigners.
“Something fascinates you and takes your breath away as you film. It is the clouds covering the mountains and villages, the people living their lives amid continuous rainfall, Sarawat’s cold weather and Tihama’s moderate weather during winter, and how Saudis go about their daily lives in all their details according to a village life full of love.”

It is a dangerous profession due to the need to move across steep mountains and stay there for days with the necessary equipment to capture moments that immortalize the sites’ beauty and magnificence.

Hassan Al-Hresi, Saudi photographer

Al-Hresi said that photographing Al-Qahar mountains — a massif located 80 km northwest of Jazan with peaks rising 2,000 meters above sea level — was a fun trip particularly when using his drone, which has helped to uncover and depict such scenery in a wider and more comprehensive way.
“These images showed the villages located along the Kingdom’s deep south along with the simple village life of their residents, living at the heart of an unending natural beauty found in the greenery, the fog and the rain.”
The volcanic peaks that enrich Asir’s nature invited people to discover their scattered green areas that added to the region’s beauty, which he believed was unmatched by any other place in Saudi Arabia.

“This is particularly true in Mount Tahwi’s Ghiyeh village, which represents beauty in small, eye-catching and breathtaking geographical areas.”
The rock formations showcased in Al-Hresi’s images are, according to him, “some of the most important pillars of tourism in the world.”
He said it became even more worthwhile to document the Kingdom’s natural wealth amid the global coronavirus pandemic, which turned the focus of Saudis inwards and toward local travel and tourism.
He spoke of fortified and beautiful villages that showed off a particular type of architecture and construction, with forts built high in the mountains.
The fog-covered villages stand at high altitudes exceeding 2,400 meters above sea level, particularly those located in the areas of Al-Baha and Asir, and require twice as much effort to reach, especially when moving with equipment and drones.
“Al-Qahar mountains feature narrow valleys containing forest trees, along with drawings and inscriptions,” Al-Hresi said, adding that it was difficult to reach the mountain peaks due to their rough terrain.
“The rainwater falling on top of the mountain ends up in Wadi Bish Dam.”
Al-Qahar mountains stand tall on the cusp of Al-Raith governorate, east of Jazan, forming a fascinating scene. They are considered one of Al-Raith’s most beautiful sites due to their breathtaking nature and terrain, moderate weather and continuous rainfall throughout the year.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudis try sandboarding as domestic tourism booms

04/09/20

While the international airport and borders remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudis and expats turn to domestic tourism, many heading for a sandboarding experience on the dunes of the “Saed” desert area, 110 km east of the capital Riyadh.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Zabal Castle in Saudi Arabia’s Sakaka

29/08/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • Aside from being an archaeological marvel, the fort sits on the highest point in the area, offering panoramic views of the city

Built on the ruins of a Nabataean castle outside the city of Sakaka in northwest Saudi Arabia, Zabal Castle has one gate and four surveillance towers and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

The castle is believed to have been built 300 years ago, and is open to anyone interested in the region’s rich Arab history. Its mud and stone walls tell tales of the past.

Aside from being an archaeological marvel, the fort sits on the highest point in the area, offering panoramic views of the city.

This photograph was taken as part of the Colors of Saudi collection.

This article was first published in Arab News

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A westerner’s journey through Saudi Arabia

Time: 26 August, 2020

Alex Woodman embarked on a two-year expedition to experience Saudi Arabia, and his new book and accompanying documentary, “The Land of Adat,” marks his trek. (Screenshots)
  • Alex Woodman embarked on a two-year expedition to experience Saudi Arabia
  • His new book and accompanying documentary “The Land of Adat” marks his trek

LOS ANGELES: A university professor with a long-standing interest in the culture or “adat” of Saudi Arabia has produced a book chronicling his journey through the Kingdom.

Alex Woodman embarked on a two-year expedition to experience Saudi Arabia, and his new book and accompanying documentary, “The Land of Adat,” marks his trek.

“I don’t believe in sitting in another country and writing about another country is the way to do it,” Woodman said. “You know, you have to go there. You have to live with the people. You have to live the tradition to understand them.”

Inspired by the tawaf Hajj ritual, Woodman traveled counterclockwise around Saudi Arabia, beginning in the south, then traveling to eastern, central, and northwestern areas, and ending his journey in Madinah. At each stop, he was taken aback by the diversity of natural and manmade splendor.

“Each city, each village has its own beauty. I would highly recommend people to visit the Kingdom and see the hidden beauty.”

The main focus of his journey was to be immersed, to learn from the people he met, and introduce and educate the West about the importance of Saudi Arabia’s adat, which means tradition.

“Keeping adat in our human texture is very important because yes, we’re moving on, there’s a lot of technology, a lot of progress. But if we don’t learn from the past, then we cannot move to the future.”

And Saudi Arabia is moving into the future with its Vision 2030 reform plan, which is granting travelers like Woodman unprecedented access. Now, either through accounts like “Land of Adat” or by traveling in person, the world is seeing the country in a new way.

“I’m sure the world will see what Saudi Arabia can do,” Woodman added. “I want to quote one of the ambassadors that I recently met with. He said: ‘The world needs to learn from Saudi Arabia, not Saudi Arabia from the world.’”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi woman explorer wishes to visit Empty Quarter again

Time: 26 August, 2020

I live for such adventures and experiences, says Azza Al-Rashidi. (Supplied)
  • ‘I have always had a strong sense of adventure ever since I could remember,’ says Azza Al-Rashidi

Azza Al-Rashidi’s experience of crossing the Empty Quarter in 26 days, which she describes as “a dream come true” serves as an example for others especially women to follow in her footsteps and explore the marvels of the huge desert.
Al-Rashidi, an ambitious Saudi woman with a strong sense of adventure, was the only female in a team of explorers who had joined her from different parts of the world on that memorable trip.
Recalling her 2019 experience, Al-Rashidi said she would love to join an expedition to the Empty Quarter again.
Al-Rub Al-Khali, which is translated as the Empty Quarter, is a desert that occupies most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. It occupies 650,000 square kilometers. It is so big that it includes parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen.

Azza Al-Rashidi told Arab News: “The earth is my starting point, and my ambition goes beyond the sky, determination and confidence paddle my boat in the sea of achievement. I was born adventurous; I have always had a strong sense of adventure ever since I could remember. I live for such adventures and experiences.”
She said it was an adventurer’s dream to explore this mysterious sandy expanse, and that her background in social sciences had further sparked her curiosity for the desert.
“Standing in the desert of the Empty Quarter, learning about its natural environment and discovering its ancient geological history represents an urgent desire of every traveler and adventurer. Crossing it was a wish fulfilled and my desire to explore it increased because of my specialization and academic qualifications, social sciences, as this includes history, geography, science and sociology.”
Al-Rashidi traveled with Rakayib Caravan and it was the first trip ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to explore the desert.
“Rakayib’s first trip is a journey that was ordered by the crown prince to discover the Empty Quarter after the journey that took place in the time of King Abdul Aziz in 1932, 88 years ago, by the explorer Harry St. John Bridger Philby, and to learn about its geographical nature,” she explained. “From here, the convoy set out to cross this desert, which makes up a quarter of the Kingdom’s size, with follow-up from the crown prince, the efforts of supervisors from the
Camel Club, the leader of the trip, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al-Obaida, the organizers and collaborators from the Saudi Geological Survey, and us, 66 adventurers and travelers.”
The trip lasted 26 days. Its starting point was Ubar and the endpoint was Yabreen. Four of the days included training on how to prepare the camel for riding, how to feed it, and follow-ups on providing water for the animal.
The training also included guidance on how to use the sleeping bag, the tent, and even learning words that contributed to interactions with the camel.

“I arrived from Jeddah by plane to Sharourah, Najran, and from there I and those who were with me took cars that were there to receive us. They transported us to Al-Kharkhir, we reached Ubar, and then we arrived at the camp, which was prepared for a gathering of participants coming from inside the Kingdom and from outside.”
Al-Rashidi said 21 foreign countries were taking part and that participants had something in common: A love for adventure and a passion for achieving that goal.
Participants were divided into seven groups and were given instructions and rules. “We set out for a new life in which we adapted to an environment that differed from what we knew and lived in,” she added.
They had three hiking days and a camping day to rest and recharge, starting the first day by traveling a distance of 15 km by camel. The distance increased from 30 to 45 km in the last two days, ending the journey by crossing 55 km and traveling 8 hours a day.
The journey started at 7:30 a.m. and went on until sunset, and there was an hour’s break at noon.
“During the trip, we arrived from Ubar to areas of mineral-rich water wells in the region, such as Bir Nifa and other stations at which the caravan stopped by following its route until we reached Yabreen. It was breathtaking. Looking at the dimensions of this desert draws me, for its land is the bed of the Tethys Ocean, which has receded during the Earth’s various geological times, leaving evidence of snails, shells, fossils, and millions of insects. The desert that has the four largest sand terrains in the world, whose height reaches between 250 to 300 meters.”
At the end of the trip, the adventurers were received by the deputy governor of the Eastern Province, Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman.
Al-Rashidi received a certificate of honor, a medal, and a Rakayib Caravan medal.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Qasr Al-Farid, in Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site

22/08/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • Qasr Al-Farid is the only tomb whose facade is decorated with four columns topped by a single Nabataea crown instead of two

Qasr Al-Farid, in Madain Saleh in the AlUla governorate, is a unique place — a tomb with the largest facade in the archeological site, measuring about 13.85 meters. In 2008, Madain Saleh was selected as one of UNESCO’s historic heritage sites, making it the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in Saudi Arabia.
Qasr Al-Farid is the only tomb whose facade is decorated with four columns topped by a single Nabataea crown instead of two. Because it stands alone in the open, is called Al-Farid, which means “unique.”
The tomb is intriguing, as it was never completed, nor was it ever used as such; there are no traces of burial sites within it.
This photograph was taken by Nasir Al-Nasir as part of the Colors of Saudi collection.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s southern mountains offer peak camping conditions

17/08/20

The southern mountainous region is blessed with good weather year-round and, with cool rainfall in the hot summer months. Its beautiful sceneries are a potent draw for hikers and campers. (Photos by Khalid Siddeeq/ Abdullah Shannan Al-Zahrani)
(Photo by Khalid Siddeeq)

Siddeeq had been putting off accepting friends’ repeated invitations to their hometowns in the south for years, until he was left with no choice.
“I was expecting to witness beautiful scenes and landscapes, but what I saw exceeded all of my expectations completely.”
During his 14-day journey Siddeeq visited Al-Souda Mountains, Bani Mazen in the Abha region, and Al-Habala and Tanumah in Asir.
“I loved camping in Al-Souda mountains and the villages of Bani Mazen. The first thing you will see when you wake up is the sight of clouds as far as the eye can see, as if you were dreaming. I also liked Al-Habala. It is a very vast and beautiful area, while Tanuma has many natural parks beyond anything I could imagine.”
The generosity of locals, their kindness, warm welcome, and the region’s diverse cuisine has caught visitors’ attention. The region is also blessed with good weather year-round and, with cool rainfall in the hot summer months, its beautiful green fields and mountains are a potent draw for hikers and campers.

I was expecting to witness beautiful scenes and landscapes, but what I saw exceeded all of my expectations completely.

Khalid Siddeeq

The region perfectly illustrates a common Arab saying: “Three things remove sadness from the heart: Water, greenery, and a beautiful face.”
Siddeeq’s advice for first-time campers was to be well-prepared for sudden weather changes, pack winter clothes even in the summer, buy a waterproof tent and make sure it was well set up.
“Moreover, you will see many monkeys,” he warned. “Do not leave your important things in the place, and walk away in anticipation of any potential raid by a troublesome monkey.”
He said that he would make a longer trip next time because 14 days were not enough, and that he would travel with an SUV to access more challenging terrains and off-the-beaten-track places.
Majed Alharbi, who is also from Riyadh, did not want to miss out on traveling with an SUV and took off for a quick two-day camping journey to escape the capital’s scorching conditions.

“It’s a long-awaited plan,” he told Arab News. “I’ve always wanted to visit the (southern) region, but I used to prefer traveling abroad over domestic tourism. However, as the flight suspension coincided with the hottest time of the year in Riyadh, I chose the southern region because of its good weather and its proximity compared to other options. The biggest plus is the weather. For someone like me, coming from Riyadh’s heat, it was incredible.”
He was surprised by Abha city’s traffic congestion and crowded parks, as well as Al-Souda, so decided to avoid the big cities and instead ventured out into the villages to explore.
“That pushed me to visit less popular places and reach more interesting quiet areas with virgin nature, which was honestly amazing. Although I was not well equipped with all I needed for camping, the experience was still fun.”
Al-Harbi headed to Al-Namas and visited towns such as Ballasmar, Ballahmar, and Tanumah. He found good camping spots away from the city and crowded areas.
“What I liked the most were Ballasmar and Tanumah. I loved the virgin nature, where there was no human intervention of any kind, that is why I love camping in the first place. I’ll definitely revisit the region to discover it further, but I’ll make sure to be fully equipped with everything I need.”
One of the downsides with newly discovered areas of interest is crowds who can leave waste behind. Siddeeq suggested that municipalities distribute bigger trash containers and give out garbage bags to visitors. “This may encourage everyone to maintain cleanness and leave the place better than it was.”
Al-Harbi had another solution. “It would be great if authorities designated specific protected areas for campers for a nominal cost, where they can find what they need while enjoying virgin nature. I wouldn’t mind paying a nominal cost to enter an area that is vast enough for a complete camping experience that is safe, clean, with stations where we can find toilets, showers, equipment, and food.” He also said that such services would encourage more people to try these activities. Wild camping is a special experience that comes with risks. Campers might encounter wild animals such as hyenas and snakes as these are quite common in the region.
Al-Harbi said he faced no problem even in the most isolated and rugged places he reached. But Siddeeq, on the other hand, used a stick to lightly hit the rocks to check for dangerous animals.
“It is known that the mountainous regions in the south are considered fertile environments for many snakes. However, and because my visit to the Asir region coincided with the first 10 days of the Hajj month (early August), there were daily rains in most villages and mountains of Asir. The abundance of water makes harmful animals — especially snakes — move away and not approach humans, which helped me a lot.”
He added that Saudi Arabia had great treasures that deserved to be discovered. “We may have been a little preoccupied with the outside world, but domestic tourism deserves our attention.”
Al-Harbi said that an official camping guide for Saudi Arabia would help many people who wished to enjoy such an experience but lacked proper information and guidance.
Abdullah Shannan, a 33-year-old teacher and Al-Baha native, said the number of visitors to the region had increased tremendously.
“What makes Al-Baha different is how large the area is, allowing more room for campers to search and discover new places,” he told Arab News. “There are valleys and forests that are very easily accessible by car unlike other southern areas.”
He recommended that visitors explore other lesser-known areas where there was likely to be more scope for privacy, as authorities had designated entry and exit times for certain camping grounds such as the one in Prince Mishari Park and others.
“They did this in order to provide campers with more privacy and (ensure) less noise in the area,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Mideast travel group’s Saudi odyssey

16/08/20

The association will provide services to help Saudi travelers plan their trips. (SPA)

This article was first published in Arab News

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