Haql, the perfect beach getaway at northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline

Time: 15 February 2021

Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area. (SPA)

Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings

JEDDAH: With more than 1,000 miles of Red Sea coastline, one of Saudi Arabia’s northern-most towns has the potential to be a diving hotspot for residents of the Kingdom and beyond.

Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.
Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area.
Near the city lies Ras Al-Mashee bay, a little known area that has attracted divers who swim round the half-submerged Georgios G shipwreck, known as the “Saudi Titanic,” and enjoy the array of fish and coral. The British-made cargo ship, which ran aground on the coral reef in 1978, is home to moray eels, lion fish, barracudas, sand tiger sharks and garden eels.

HIGHLIGHT
Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.

Waleed Bakhraibah, 43, an advanced-level diver, has visited the site more than 20 times in the past decade, bringing along his wife and eldest son just a few months ago. Bakhraibah, a government sector worker, often thought his young children would enjoy the many pristine beaches of the area.
“I’m still in awe of the quiet beauty that surrounds the inside of the ship,” he told Arab News. “The last time I visited, I tried to stay still and take it all in and everything around me, from fish to eels, just swam freely. I was merely an observer.”
Al-Sultaniyyah beach, 42 km south of Haql, has attracted a small but steady flow of tourists over the past few months with its crystal-clear and pristine waters.
Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings. The garden abounds with palm trees, and has many areas for families and children.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands, the place to beat the winter blues

Time: 02 February 2021

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

  • The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area

JEDDAH: With most of Saudi Arabia’s residents reeling from the cold, the Kingdom’s southwestern islands are basking in the warm sun, enticing many to head south.
The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.
It was chosen as one of the Saudi Tourism Authority’s (STA) 17 Saudi Winter Season destinations.
From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds.
Divers make their way around the bright colored corals and wanderers look for glimpses of history hidden in the villages’ old stone buildings that dot the islands, including the remains of an ancient Ottoman castle overlooking the coastline.
The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area.

HIGHLIGHT

The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.

The weather is at its prime during the winter months. With a lower chance of rainfall and an abundance of sunshine, the temperature is perfect for a short trip over the weekend.
The STA has provided a wide variety of touristic activities within the Saudi Winter Season for citizens, residents and visitors of GCC countries, to create long-lasting memories and unforgettable family experiences especially during the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In its effort to promote local tourism, the season, which will run until the end of March, provides visitors with more than 300 experiences and packages by over 200 tour operators and tourism companies.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Nawras Island in Saudi Arabia attracts thousands of visitors every year

30/01/21

Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You”

Al-Nawras Island Saudi Arabia is home to many majestic beaches and enchanting islands along its Red Sea coast and Al-Nawras Island is considered one of the Kingdom’s gems.
Located in the governorate of Yanbu and highlighted among the Saudi Winter Season tourist destinations, the tranquil isle attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Most travelers are drawn to the island in search of relaxation and recreation. Visitors can enjoy Red Sea fishing trips, delicious meals in one of the numerous restaurants, or can simply camp under the stars.
Spread over 11 km, Al-Nawras Island has been developed by the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and boasts green spaces, fountains, and walking routes which are ideal for families. Paths are equipped with children’s games and also feature viewing areas offering panoramic photo opportunities.
Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You.” It has more than 17 locations throughout the Kingdom offering visitors in excess of 300 packages provided by 200 tour operators.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Exploring the hidden treasures of Saudi Arabia’s Mawan Valley

Time: 27 January 2021

The hidden Mawan Valley is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Saeed Al-Qarni and Tareq Mohammed)

  • Archaeological missions reveal human presence in the region dating back to the Paleolithic Age and the Upper Paleolithic Age

MAKKAH: The hidden Mawan Valley is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia.

Located near the city of Ad-Dilam, south of Riyadh, it is also an area of stunning natural beauty.

Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Ghazzi, a history professor and archaeologist, told Arab News: “There are two types of valleys: Ones that cannot be seen from a distance but only by standing at its head, such as Mawan Valley, and those that can be seen from a distance such as Wadi Al-Rummah, Al-Tiri and Al-Shawki.”

The majestic view of the valley consists of two stone structures on both sides. There are also remains of forts and castles and a pair of watchtowers reflect the strategic importance of the area due to its vegetation and water resources.

He said the valley cut west to east through a high plateau and was known for its depth and meanders.

“There are fortifications that are still standing at the main points of the valley. Along the valley there are flowing springs, crests, and bodies of water in solid lands that last for a long period of the year,” he added.

As well as Mawan, several other towns are dotted along the valley. Al-Ghazzi said: “We don’t know whether the town was named after the valley or the other way around. But, for sure, the valley existed before the town. However, the archaeological sites in the valley and on its sides have not yet been studied.”

Dr. Salma bint Mohammed Hawsawi, an associate professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “Archaeological missions revealed that human presence in the region dates back to the Paleolithic Age and the Upper Paleolithic Age — approximately 100,000 years ago.”

She said that Mawan, according to Arabic sources, meant place of shelter and pointed out that numerous Arab tribes, including the Hazzan and Rabi’ah, had lived in the area.

FASTFACTS

• The majestic view of the valley consists of two stone structures on both sides.

• There are also remains of forts and castles and a pair of watchtowers.

• The valley cut west to east through a high plateau and was known for its depth and meanders.

The valley was also mentioned in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry by writers such as Ibn Duraid, Imru’ Al-Qais, and Orwa ibn Al-Ward Al-Absi. “Poets wrote about it and the animals that were in the area, such as camels, zebras, and horses. The poets’ describing fresh water flowing in the area is evidence that humans inhabited it,” Hawsawi said.

Pottery vessels, bracelets, and soapstone (steatite) pots have been found in the area in addition to forts and watchtowers on the valley sides.

“There are two forts built of rocks and mud, and it is clear that the mud was brought from the floor of the valley, and the rocks were cut from the surface of the edge which extends to the south.”

She noted that the fort located in the southern part of the valley was a wall that resembled the Arabic letter “Baa.”

“The foundations of the wall were supported by stone slabs that are 60 to 80 centimeters high cut from the adjacent land. The wall is 6 meters high or even more. The towers are conical in shape, with their centers open to the bottom, and they seemed to be without a roof.

“As for the tower located in the eastern corner, it consists of two floors, each with its own function,” she added.

The building on the northern side consists of a yard surrounded by four connected but irregular walls, which also include a number of towers, she said, adding that some may date back to the first Saudi state.

Hawsawi said the watchtowers were used as observation posts to monitor the area and send military signals to the forts. The defensive fortifications were built to protect the region from foreign invaders.

Arabs used to move from one region to another in search of water, pasture, and stability. The apparent difference in the geographical nature of the Arab countries is the reason for the existence of two types of population: The Bedouins (nomads) lived in the desert, while the Hadaris preferred cities and worked in agriculture, trade, and industry, she added.

“We must preserve these relics to introduce future generations to the cultural heritage of our ancestors,” Hawsawi said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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From white sand beaches to orange groves, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk has it all

Time: 25 January 2021

Tabuk is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Kingdom, home to major heritage sites. (SPA)

  • Tabuk has much to explore, such as the ancient Tabuk Castle, one of the many archaeological sites, the old buildings of Hijaz Railway Station and Ain Sukkar, which is one of the city’s oldest water springs

JEDDAH: From the dark, deep blue waters off the coast to the surrounding valleys and orange farms, the city of Tabuk has it all.
The city has enjoyed a surge of tourists recently as many Saudis have opted to visit new regions and cities across the nation due to the restrictions on foreign travel.
Families and groups can explore Tabuk’s attractions either on their own or as part of a tour group through the Saudi Winter season website, which is registered with the Saudi Tour Guides Association.
Tabuk is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Kingdom, home to major heritage sites. Visitors driving to the city are engulfed by mesmerising mountains with glimpses of the Red Sea to the west until they finally enter the city limits.
Manar Al-Harthi, a private sector worker in Jeddah, traveled with her husband and family recently and was in awe of the city’s varied landscapes and beauty.
“The city’s amenities were really amazing. You had a variety of restaurants if you’d want to eat out, lots of fresh local produce for picnics, great beaches to relax and enjoy an outdoor excursion, and so much more,” she told Arab News. “This is our first time to the area. The people are so welcoming and we’ll be back for a second visit soon.”
What attracted her is not only the diversity of the geographical features of the city but how unspoilt it is.

HIGHLIGHT

Families and groups can explore Tabuk’s attractions either on their own or as part of a tour group through the Saudi Winter season website, which is registered with the Saudi Tour Guides Association.

It is said that Tabuk is the “gateway to the north,” and the relics it houses reflect the successive civilizations that inhabited it. It is also called “Tabuk Al-Ward” (Tabuk of roses) because its vast rose farms export their produce to the world.
“Not only did we visit the rose farms, but we also went to the orange groves and discovered that we have kumquats. They were absolutely delicious and I’ve never seen them grown here in Saudi Arabia before. You can see how fertile the soil is as we passed by the many farms to get here,” she said.
Tabuk has much to explore, such as the ancient Tabuk Castle, one of the many archaeological sites, the old buildings of Hijaz Railway Station and Ain Sukkar, which is one of the city’s oldest water springs.
Tour operators often include the most beautiful tourist oases on the Tabuk Mountains in their packages. One of those is Tayyib Asim, which is a few hours from the city, 314 meters above sea level, and overlooks the Gulf of Aqaba. It is known for its many palm trees, reeds, and clean water springs, making it more like a very beautiful nature reserve.
Tucked between towering red sandstone escarpments and canyon peaks, the valley of Wadi Al-Disa is known for its abundance of crystal-clear stream and palm trees. Lying approximately 2 hours away from the city and secluded from any kind of pollution, the area is ideal for hiking and camping out in the canyon and provides some of the best views of the heavens, a dream for stargazers.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Jabal Al-Qamar, located near Jeddah’s Usfan district, offers variety of tourist activities

24/01/21

The natural beauty and stunning views of the valley provide opportunities for hiking, camping, climbing, and stargazing

Jabal Al-Qamar is located near Usfan, Jeddah and offers tourist activities as part of the Saudi Winter Season that runs until the end of March.
The events were launched in 17 destinations throughout the Kingdom to offer visitors the chance to discover different regions of the country through 300 experiences and packages.
With its dark black rocks and white sands, Jabal Al-Qamar has been named after the Moon due to having similar terrain. The natural beauty and stunning views of the valley provide opportunities for hiking, camping, climbing, and stargazing.
And for those after more daring adventures, options include off-road and desert camping, and quad biking in the sand dunes while there are family activities such as camel riding, football, volleyball, and tug of war.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Visitors hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha

Time: 20 January 2021

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Split into high and low segments, the mountain is intricate and has withstood the test of time; its vast caverns have been used to house civilizations, and retain carvings that go back to the era of the Thamud and the Sabaeans. (SPA)

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Popular among commoners and poets alike, the caves have been mentioned by several Arab poets and explorers

JEDDAH: With the Saudi winter season providing opportunities for tourism investment, Shada Mountain, one of the most popular spots in the Arabian Peninsula, has transformed into a popular destination for visitors, attracting tourists from within the Kingdom, the Arab region and Europe.
Shada Mountain is located in the southern region of the Kingdom in Al-Baha, rising 1,700 meters above ground. It is geologically composed of granite rock, and contains a large variation of plants and greenery.
Split into high and low segments, the mountain is intricate and has withstood the test of time; its vast caverns have been used to house civilizations, and retain carvings that go back to the era of the Thamud and the Sabaeans.

HIGHLIGHT

Shada Mountain is located in the southern region of the Kingdom in Al-Baha, rising 1,700 meters above ground. It is geologically composed of granite rock, and contains a large variation of plants and greenery.

Nasir Al-Shadawi is a history researcher and owner of one of the caves that has turned into a tourist attraction. He said that he might be the first person to attempt to transform the caves, upgrading them into larger spaces that can house tourists.


“These caves used to act as homes, and they didn’t require anything but a little building with exposed sides. I also worked on adding washing basins and faucets made of granite,” he told Al-Arabiya TV.
Al-Shadawi adorned the road leading to the caves with stones to guide incoming tourists and prepare them for the experience, before they even enter the caves.
Popular among commoners and poets alike, the mountain has been mentioned by several Arab poets and explorers like Abu Mohammed Al-Hamadani and Yaqut Al-Hamawi.
Saudis have taken note of the tourist site and are excited to check it out. In fact, some were enticed to visit it after learning that it has inspired famous poets.
“I would love to sense what the poets saw and felt when they explored the mysterious caves. I think witnessing these mountains and their prominent existence adds to the historical and cultural richness that Al-Baha has,” said Amani Al-Ghoraibi, a language instructor at a university in Jeddah.


Al-Ghoraibi said that the atmosphere of the caves was its most important aspect, adding that it brings the most appeal. “There is a haunting beauty that seems to call in the visitor, urging them to explore these caves,” she told Arab News. “They seem to echo an ancient history that goes beyond what our modern day life seems to perceive.” 

Amal Turkistani, 55, has taken on adventuring within the Kingdom, and Shada Mountain has presented a new location to visit.
“The interest in historical sites and the investment going into revitalizing these sites is unprecedented here in Saudi Arabia, and it gives us a variety of activities to share among families and friends,” she told Arab News.
Growing up, Turkistani said that she lacked that luxury and often chased after history and culture in other countries. Now that the Kingdom’s wondrous sites have been revealed, she wants to know them, as well as introduce them to her grandchildren.
“One of my deepest regrets is not learning about my country, and my children had no clue either. I would love to take my family to explore these caves and try to submerge ourselves in the past for a few days,” she added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Najd doors: An entrance to the region’s culture and heritage

02/01/21

There are 30 types of decorated doors that differ according to the place. Unaizah has its own identity, and so do Riyadh, Sudair, Buraidah, and the rest. (Supplied)
  • Inspired by nature, they were an essential part of family homes and a focal point for residents and their guests

MAKKAH: The old doors of Najd are known for their rich decoration. They are inspired by nature and represent the culture and deep roots of the central Saudi region. They were an essential part of family homes and a focal point for residents and their guests.

The decorations created by the people of Najd were inspired by the region’s plants and trees. They dyed them with the colors of acacia and its seeds, as well as pomegranate, to make them brighter.
This decor was a cultural treat for guests, who enjoyed the beauty of those doors, their engravings and colors.
Historian Mohammed Al-Suwaih said that Najdi decorations had been passed down from one generation to the next. “You find that the fathers and grandfathers were carpenters,” he told Arab News. “The builders also passed their profession down to the next generations.”
He said that Najdi decorations used to be inspired by the environment surrounding the community. The shapes were inspired by wild plants and flowers, palm fronds, as these were abundant, the sun and its rays, and mountains, which were depicted as triangles and carved onto the doors.
Some of the doors are lavishly and ornately decorated. These include the doors of the majlis (room to receive guests), main entrances, and the doors separating the majlis and the rest of the house.
Builders deployed their full artistic talents when working on the majlis as it was the cultural front that received guests. The more decorated the majlis, the wealthier and more influential the owner. There are not many decorated majlises, however.
Al-Suwaih said the average person had simple majlises that were built in the shape of a triangle as it was difficult for everyone to own lavish doors and majlises.
“There are over 30 types of decorated doors that differ according to the place. For example, Unaizah has its own identity, and so do Riyadh, Sudair, Buraidah, and the rest.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The decorations created by the people of Najd were inspired by the region’s plants and trees.

• They dyed them with the colors of acacia and its seeds, as well as pomegranate, to make them brighter.

He explained that every city had a grand master who specialized in this art. Those who were acquainted with this art knew the cultural background of a door from the first time they looked at it. Such doors used to get traded and are still in demand to this day.

Al-Suwaih said that the person who decorated walls was different from the one who decorated the doors. “Each has his own method, style, and colors. The doors of Najd were distinguished from those of other Saudi cities in that they included decoration and engraving as well as colors, an aesthetic flair.”
The decoration of Najdi doors is known for the intersection of lines, inner rings, and triangles. The front door of a house includes its name, date, some expressions of praise, thanks to God, and prayers for Prophet Muhammad. The date would be added to the door and the majlis, and some of these still exist today.
Among the decorated doors were “kamer” doors that were built in the form of two small doors. Some of them are decorated on one side only, while others are decorated on both sides.
Similarly the door separating the house from the majlis had two panels, and it was usually decorated on both sides for residents as well as guests.
He explained that there were types of decoration that spread in Najd, including the “hadaire.” This design comprises triangles as ornaments placed on the house’s exterior in a circular shape covering the entire house. The tops of these triangles point down and contribute to the flow of the water in a streamlined manner so it does not affect the wall’s durability.
Another type of decoration is the “lahj,” which comprises triangles engraved in the walls to create windows that are arranged in a way that controls the entry of light and the exit of smoke when wood is burned for heating and cooking. These were also used for storage.
Al-Suwaih added that a builder would repeat the triangles, squares, and lines, and the circles would overlap until there was an aesthetic decoration. “The builders preferred plant and geometric motifs and avoided human and animal ones due to religious beliefs. The most famous decorations are the intersection of the circle in the form of a flower. Stars were also used. The most preferred colors are green, purple, scarlet, and yellow, and the colors were bright and taken from trees – green from acacia and yellow from the fruit of acacia.”
Al-Suwaih explained that, with time, powders were imported from abroad, and these were mixed with some local substances, such as molasses, pomegranate peel, and sugar in order to protect the colors on the doors and make them brighter. Pomegranate was cooked for long hours until it was used as glue for these colors.
The decoration on the doors was a cultural element for guests to enjoy and avoid boredom. “It was as if the guests were listening to a song, reading a poem, or looking at a painting. Guests would feel welcome, enjoy the aesthetics, and feel relaxed.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s Wadi Khitanand

02/01/21

(Photo: Supplied)

This large valley stretches from the Sirat mountains to Belad Al-Awamer in Saudi Arabia’s southwest Tihamah province.
Wadi Khitanand is known for its beauty and scenic attractions, but also holds archaeological value. Quaib Tomb, a fenced burial site with an abandoned well, adds to the haunting mystery of the place.
Remnants of a small village, Shibahand, can also be found in the area.
The valley was also the site of one of the strangest conflicts ever fought, according to historians. The War of Basus began over the killing of a camel and lasted 40 years before the two warring tribes, the Taghlib and Bakr, resolved the dispute, ending a cycle of violence and revenge.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Bait Sharbatly, a special place in the hearts of Jeddawis built in 1910

26/12/20

Considered one of the oldest homes in Historical Jeddah’s neighborhoods, Bait Sharbatly holds a special place in the hearts of Jeddawis as it has withstood the sands of time.
Built by Al-Sharif Abdulilah Mihanna Al-Abdaly in 1910, it was later bought by Sheikh Abdullah Sharbatly years later and has since been associated with the family name. 
Similar to Historical Jeddah’s homes, the whitewashed four-story building is known for its beautiful mashrabiyya with its wooden lattice balconies spanning all floors with windows and balconies decorated by the Hijazi-style rawshan wood designs.
It was once the headquarters of the Egyptian mission to the Kingdom for 20 years and where leading Egyptian entrepreneur and founder of Banque Masr, Talat Harb Pasha, stayed while visiting the port city of Jeddah. The building went through a number of restoration projects with the latest in 2009 after torrential rainfall and flooding and has since featured a number of art exhibits and cultural events.

This article was first published in Arab News

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