The Place: Volcanic Harrats in Saudi Arabia’s Umluj

07/11/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

The Umluj governorate has become a major destination due to its distinct, natural features that make it one of the primary landmarks for the tourist path launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority
The famous volcanic Harrats (meaning “stony areas volcanic country or lava field” in Arabic) in the Umluj governorate constitute a striking natural picture for visitors at first glance.
They are mostly formed by sequences of Basaltic lava stacking on top of each other, creating the distinctive topographical shape of the Harrats that appear in the form of volcanic plateaus.
Basaltic lava originates from lava flow through surface fissures that appear on the earth’s surface in the form of scoria volcanoes stacked in belts. The Harrats are considered one of the most important tourist assets in the Umluj governorate. The region’s lava-painted geometric shapes and dazzling colors unleash the imagination and tell stories that attract tourists.
Volcanic craters and lava create a new environment and different colors, shaping an exceptional natural painting that blends mother nature with features augmented by the volcanoes and scattered lava.
The Umluj governorate has become a major destination due to its distinct, natural features that make it one of the primary landmarks for the tourist path launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority.
The path includes diverse destinations that let tourists discover the natural, historical and cultural treasures of the Kingdom. It starts in the city of Tabuk in the northwest and ends in Abha. It also passes through 10 tourist destinations in the country, where the diverse nature and stunning climate attract all kinds of tourists.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla unveils new experiences, heritage sites open for bookings

Time: 30 October 2020  

There is an Experience AlUla app for an immersive digital guide, and visitors can speak to a Rawi (Arabic storyteller) for a more personal tour of the sites. (Supplied)
  • From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public

JEDDAH: AlUla, the historical crossroad of ancient civilizations, has officially reopened for visitors.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has unveiled the full suite of experiences that are being introduced over the coming months.
Heritage sites, Hegra, Jabal Ikmah and Dadan are the first to reopen for bookings. The Hegra experience includes a full immersion into the Nabataean way of life at the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, including Jabal Ithlib, The Diwan, Jabal Alhamar and the well.
At the ancient city of Dadan, the capital city of the Dadanite and Liyhanite kingdoms and one of the most developed cities in the first millennia BC, visitors will get the chance to become an archaeologist for the day.
Archaeologists began extensive excavations at Dadan in February to explore this relatively unknown period in AlUa’s 200,000 years of human history. From December, a family-friendly 40-minute “Archaeology for Everyone” workshop will have kids digging for artifacts to get in on the action. There will also be live immersion shows, audio tours and visitors will have the opportunity to roam the site in a vintage jeep.
From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public. While full conservation is ongoing, the visitor experience will include Rawi tours of Tantora Plaza and views from AlUla citadel, experiencing a bustling souq, handicraft pavilions, souvenir shops and new dining options.
Outside of the heritage sites, there will be plenty of other activities to keep visitors entertained.
A new Adventure Canyon area will offer a suite of experiences for those looking for high-energy thrills.

HIGHLIGHT

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.
Another trail available from mid-November is a leisurely two-hour cycling trip, which runs through palm groves and citrus trees. A horse riding trail through the oasis is also slated for later in the year.
Available from December, a family bike track is being constructed as well as a zipline at the new Adventure Canyon by experienced operators Warrior.
For a more relaxing experience, the AlUla Fresh Farm visit offers visitors a glimpse into the agricultural life with fruit picking, animal feeding and seed planting. From the 2.3 million date palm trees to the 29 different citrus fruits, farms play an important role in AlUla’s economy and daily life.
AlUla will also welcome new permanent experiences in the arts and cultural space. The former AlUla Secondary School for girls near the old town is being transformed into an arts and traditional crafts hub.
Restaurants have also been given careful consideration and further announcements are to be made in the coming weeks about some exciting new dining options. In the meantime, key local cafes Barzan and Al-Makher are working with the RCU to ensure a year-round offer of fabulous local cuisine.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla heritage sites reopen to public Oct. 31

Time: 16 October 2020  

Flights are available to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. (File/AFP)

ALULA: The historical and cultural open-air museum of AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia will reopen its heritage sites to tourists on Oct. 31.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has confirmed that the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, the ancient kingdom of Dadan and the whispering canyons of Jabal Ikmah will be the first sites to reopen to the public, largely having been closed to visitors for more than two years.
RCU has announced that residents of AlUla will have the chance to access the sites exclusively on Oct. 30 for free on a first-come, first-served basis for the entire opening weekend. Visitors can sign up to experiencealula.com to find out about the bookings available for the heritage sites and when other experiences are live.
Visitors will enjoy significant airport enhancements, new comfortable transport options around town and the heritage sites, and information provision at two new visitor centers.
AlUla’s new quality assurance program will also ensure that visitors receive a warm and professional welcome.
Safety measures for the coronavirus pandemic have been put in place in adherence to Ministry of Health protocols, which align with the “safe travels” guidelines published by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The measures include mandatory pre-booking of tickets, temperature checks at the airport, distancing and limitations of visitors at heritage and other sites, increased sanitation measures and mandatory mask-wearing.
Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, said that he was delighted that the sites were reopening in October.
“There is no doubt it’s been a challenging year for all industries but our teams have worked hard to deliver this important stage in our tourism journey, and in the next chapter of AlUla’s journey through time,” Jones said.
Activations and immersive experiences at the heritage sites, as well as adventure experiences and events, will be announced over the coming weeks and will be phased in over the winter months, with the full suite of experiences planned for the winter season expected by the first quarter of 2021.
AlUla Old Town will also be open as a visitor experience to the public for the first time from December.
“We are developing engaging, authentic, light-touch tourism experiences that hero the essence of AlUla — our heritage sites, natural assets and of course the AlUla community,” Jones said.
He added: “We have a full team onsite to get the destination ready to welcome those first visitors and we’re excited to give the local community a chance to revisit their heritage sites before the rest of the world, while we continue to build on the experiences.”
“Through our team of travel industry professionals, we are setting up the foundations for a fully integrated booking and travel distribution system to make visiting AlUla an easy, value-driven and seamless experience, and to get international-ready for when visit visas are reinstated,” Jones said.
Flights are available with Saudia airlines to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
AlUla is a 10-hour drive from Riyadh, a seven-hour drive from Jeddah, and is just over three hours from Madinah and Tabuk airports. It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Red Sea, which visitors can add on to their trip.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Raghadan Forest Park, natural beauty in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha

10/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • The forest park has undergone major redevelopment with new stone pathways allowing tourists to gain easy access to wooded areas

On arrival at Raghadan Forest Park in Al-Baha region visitors are often taken aback by its breathtaking green landscape and cascading waterfalls.
The forest is located on a rocky slope 1,700 meters above sea level overlooking Tihamah and is known for its tranquility and natural beauty.
Perennial juniper trees cover 90 percent of the estimated 600,000 square meters of parkland and their intertwining branches create large shaded areas that help protect the forest ecosystem.
The forest park has undergone major redevelopment with new stone pathways allowing tourists to gain easy access to wooded areas.
Other improvements include gathering places, entertainment areas, booths, lighting, green spaces, a new communications network, and paragliding facilities.
Special lighting effects have also been used to make standout features of some of the park’s waterfalls.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Murabba Palace in Riyadh built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937

03/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there

Murabba Palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh.
The complex was constructed on a plot of land called Murabba Al-Sufyan, which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
The palace was built in traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design, and it is surrounded by gardens in the south, the Batha Valley in the east, Wadi Abu Rafie in the west, and rolling hills to the north. It is located just 2 kilometers away from the old Riyadh city, and mud bricks, local stones, tamarisk trunks, and palm-leaf stalks were used in the construction of such palaces.
King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there.
The palace witnessed many historic events and royal decisions including setting up the Ministry of Defense, the launch of Saudi Radio and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, issuing Saudi currency, formal schools, and the establishment of the railroad between Riyadh and Dammam.
Other national milestones played host to at the palace included the emergence of oil in commercial quantities, and the issuance of transport, housing, employment, retirement, commercial, and passport systems.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Beauty of Taif Heritage

26/09/20

  • Taif is famous for its magnificent tourist attractions such as museums, parks, flea markets, fruits, roses and aromatic flower farms, as well as cultural attractions.

Many Saudi families still maintain traditional attire and encourage their children to learn more about the clothing of their forebears.
Photographer Afnan Al-Samhan captured this award-winning image of a child in Taif province wearing traditional dress. The photo was one of the winning images in the Colors of Saudi Contest. Taif is famous for its magnificent tourist attractions such as museums, parks, flea markets, fruits, roses and aromatic flower farms, as well as cultural attractions such as Souk Okaz, which has been improved by the National Authority for Tourism and National Heritage through the organization of the Souk Okaz Festival during the past few years.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Museum telling Jeddah’s historic story to open in 2022

21/09/20

The building, designed in typical Jeddah style, bears white walls made of a heady mix of coral stones extracted from the nearby reef along the Red Sea shores, and purified clay from nearby lakes. (Photo/Supplied)

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Murabba Palace in Riyadh where King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and heads of state

19/09/20

  • The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design
Murabba Palace at King Abdul Aziz Historical Center in Riyadh is one of the city’s prominent historical landmarks.
The palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom King Abdul Aziz in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh. The palace complex was built on a plot called “Murabba Al-Sufyan,” which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to the documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and visiting heads of state and make historical agreements at Murabba Palace.
The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design. The huge walls and internal and external ceilings are built with tamarisk and palm tree fronds. Stones were used in the foundations and columns, and wood was used for doors and windows.
This photograph was taken by Mohammad Abdu as part of the Colors of Saudi collection.

This article was first published in Arab News

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For climbing enthusiast, Saudi Arabia offers up a wealth of options

Time: 15 September 2020

  • It is more of a sport which is learned from other people and through experience

JEDDAH: Fear has held many people back from enjoying even the simplest activities with friends and family such as swimming, going to theme parks and many more.

Nasser Al-Zuhufi, a 29-year-old Saudi, told Arab News he had always been a scared anxious child and fear hindered him from joining in the fun with the rest of his friends and family members.

He decided to break away from his fears unconventionally. He picked up the adrenaline pumping sports rock climbing.

“For as long as I could remember, I was always scared of everything, literally everything. Cats, the mountainous road driving to Taif, speed and rollercoasters. They were unexplained fears. There were no reasons behind them.

“Growing up, this feeling bothered me so much, that I’m holding this much fear. I even adjusted my life to suit my fears, like when I’d go to the theme park, I’d only go to the arcade, not the rollercoasters.”

One day, he decided to face his fears one by one and rode his first rollercoaster at 24 when he was studying in the US.

“It was the first time I felt like I faced a fear. I decided I’ll try it and there’s no going back no matter how I feel. After that, I felt this amazing empowering feeling, it was so liberating. I never felt an adrenaline rush before. That 5-minute experience changed my life.”

His first rock-climbing experience outdoors was in Al-Shafa, a village in Makkah in the summer of 2019.

“The first time I climbed, I feared the height of the rock. I felt like I was going too high too fast and I had to take it very slow to get used to it at the moment. The fear was not overwhelming and it all went away when I reached the end of the route,” he said.

Al-Zuhufi’s most difficult climb was in Lebanon, and he said it was both physically and emotionally stressful. He highlighted the importance of trust between climbers and belayers.

Zaki Kazmi has trained many people for various levels of climbing. (Photo/Supplied)

“Physical because the route was very high so it drained my muscles by the time I got to the hardest point in the route, and emotional because the whole area was new to me, I was climbing with people that I had met for the first time so I did not spend enough climbing time with them to build the trust needed between the climber and belayer.”  “And I never finished that route,” he added.

Saudi-based couple from Pakistan 30-year-old civil engineer Zaki Kazmi and 24-year-old biologist Arshia Zahra Akhtar created an Instagram page (@ our_monkey_business) that documented their rock-climbing adventures in the Kingdom.

The couple said the climbing community is small in general and particularly in the Kingdom, however, it is now rapidly growing.

“It is more of a sport which is learned from each other and through experience. Thus, we always welcomed and supported new climbers. For 8 years in Saudi, I have already trained many people for various levels of climbing, especially outdoors. My wife has also served as a trainer for indoor climbing at a local ladies’ gym, Riyadh,” Kazmi told Arab News.

“We welcome and are available to guide anyone who is interested in the sport or just wants to try the experience,” he added.

Kazmi said he enjoyed climbing in Tanomah, a small town in the south, between Baha and Abha. “I call it the “Yosemite of Saudi Arabia”. I first climbed there in 2016 before it was completely developed by the Saudi Climbing Foundation.”

“The supportive community, dynamic landscape and the rapid development of new climbing places should position Saudi Arabia in one of the top adventure travel destinations.”

He said rock climbing is therapeutic and a chance to connect with nature, away from city distractions.

“Rock climbing is a sport which is nearest to nature. It gives climbers a chance to get away from the city lights and hustle-bustle and get their dose of weekly meditation. It is not just a sport of physical exertion, but also mental strength. A person can strengthen their mental and physical health with continuous climbing therapy.”

Akhtar is currently pursuing her MD/Ph.D. in the US and continues to rock climb there. She said the Kingdom has ideal rock climbing spots and the Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming.

“I have climbed in Massachusetts and Texas in the US, while studying here, and I can say Saudi Arabia does have quality rock climbing locations. The country has endless potential and so many places are yet to be explored, so it is definitely a hidden gem,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming, along with the availability of a vast range of climbing and bouldering routes. So if you are an adrenaline junkie, looking for new climbing routes and are down to explore untouched places; you need to climb in Saudi,” she added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Young Saudis help restore and preserve ancient stone castles in Jazan

Time: 08 September 2020

The 40-strong restoration team includes engineers, architecture enthusiasts and others. The youngsters were motivated to restore the castles due to a huge influx of Saudi and foreign tourists who visit the area each year to enjoy its architectural and artistic beauty. (Photos/Supplied)
  • Al-Dayer is a mountainous governorate that is home to a great number of stone palaces

MAKKAH: Forty young Saudis from Al-Dayer governorate in the south of the Kingdom have started restoration and preservation work on historical stone castles in the region, to help protect them from damage caused by heavy rain and floods.

Under the guidance of experts in the field, they began by repairing damaged canals.
“Al-Dayer is a mountainous governorate in Jazan that is home to a great number of stone palaces and castles, to the point where some people see it as the largest archaeological concentration of historical castles in the world,” said Yehya Sharif Al-Maliki, an adviser to the restoration team.
Almost every part of the region has forts and castles, he added. Al-Yehya area alone is home to a large number, along with five small villages.
“After noticing the effects of climate factors and manmade practices, the team fenced off the sites and began to restore the castles, in line with technical consultations, to preserve their very old, historical value,” he said.
The castles date back as far as 4,000 years and are renowned for their strength and outstanding durability, Al-Maliki added. In 1940, for example, an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 struck the area and the castles were not damaged at all.
He said the restoration team includes engineers, architecture enthusiasts and others. They were motivated to restore the castles by the large numbers of Saudi and foreign tourists attracted each year by their architectural and artistic beauty.

FASTFACTS

• Dating back as far as 4,000 years, these castles are renowned for their strength.

• The historical castles of Al-Dayer feature ancient inscriptions and engravings.

• Al-Yehya is on the slopes of Al-Areef mountains, surrounded by virgin forests to the east and water-rich valleys.

“The historical castles of Al-Dayer feature ancient inscriptions and engravings, reflecting the religious culture of the Himyarite and Sabaean civilizations,” said Al-Maliki. “Linarite, a type of stone known for being abnormally strong, was used in building these castles, thus preserving these inscriptions for thousands of years.”

The leader of the restoration team, Jaber Ali Al-Maliki, said some villages in the region have experienced natural disasters, which motivated the team to take the initiative to protect the castles from the effects of strong winds and heavy rainfall.
“The team has repaired the canals and fenced off the sites, especially the castles that are located in residential neighborhoods, which increases the chance of their collapse,” he said.
Local residents interested in preserving heritage and culture have joined the preservation efforts and a “plan of action has been developed to study the restoration priorities” he added
Al-Yehya is on the slopes of Al-Areef mountains, surrounded by virgin forests to the east and water-rich valleys, including a manmade valley to the west, created long ago, with lavish architecture that showcases the rich history of the area and its peoples.
Although the geographical location of the area provided it with some protection from invasion and conquest by the armies and nations that have ruled the region since ancient times, such as the Sabaeans and Himyarites, the influence of these eras and cultures can be seen in the architecture.
“These castles reflect the architectural advancement of the successive civilizations,” said Jaber Ali Al-Maliki. “Built with beautiful stones, some of these castles are higher than four floors, with wooden doors and geometric patterns.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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