Bringing the beauty of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea to surface

26/06/2021

As a scuba diver Ali Bakhtaour was able to discover the secrets of the Red Sea, and sail for days to find new locations and witness the beauty of the coral reefs. (Supplied)

  • A passion for photography has led to a 49-year-old Saudi laboratory technician uncover striking images

MAKKAH: The vibrant rainbow hues of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coral reefs and surrounding habitats attract divers and photographers alike.

And for Ali Bakhtaour, a 49-year-old Saudi laboratory technician, a passion for photography and scuba diving has led to him uncover striking images from beneath the Red Sea.
Photography was already a hobby for Bakhtaour when he took up scuba diving in 2007.
Bakhtaour, a resident of Haql in the northwestern coast of the Kingdom, told Arab News that he had developed a special relationship with the sea over the years, heading to the water every day as a child with his friends or family.

As a scuba diver he was able to discover the secrets of the Red Sea, and sail for days to find new locations and witness the beauty of the coral reefs.
This love prompted him to take up underwater photography. “I love taking photos of the Red Sea environments as they’re among the most beautiful sea environments in the world. I’m talking about its biodiversity and coral reefs, and its importance for being far from the open oceans,” Bakhtaour said.
“We would meet with other scuba divers, go out to sea and head underwater for long photo shoots, which require accuracy, flexibility and tranquility,” he said.

“We photo-shoot with professional cameras worth more than $10,000, and we photograph every detail in the Red Sea, praising God Almighty for the beautiful colors, their homogeneity, the diversity of the species and their livelihood, whether big or small. It’s also a form of meditation.”
Some of Bakhtaour’ dives were as deep as 120 feet, however underwater shoots are not possible beyond 60 feet deep due to lighting requirements and the demands of photographing maritime wildlife, a delicate task that requires patience and care.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Ali Bakhtaour, a resident of Haql in the northwestern coast of the Kingdom, told Arab News that he had developed a special relationship with the sea over the years, heading to the water every day as a child with his friends or family.

• Some of Bakhtaour’ dives were as deep as 120 feet, however underwater shoots are not possible beyond 60 feet deep due to lighting requirements and the demands of photographing maritime wildlife, a delicate task that requires patience and care.

• Bakhtaour dreams of shooting a documentary about marine life in the Red Sea to serve as an academic reference and to help develop understanding of its many marvels.

And underwater photography is not without dangers, as Bakhtaour discovered while diving in a heavy current during a shoot.
“I was following this turtle and was very focused on the shoot and soon found myself so far offshore and farther than anticipated from the boat than I expected,” he said. “I forgot not to cross into a certain area, and was well deep into the sea, barely seeing my colleagues’ lights, so I rushed back to the beach while trying to track my friends. It was an exhilarating and scary experience.”

Bakhtaour experienced a different type of exhilaration during his participation in an underwater photo expedition in the Red Sea with a Polish team for seven consecutive days.
He says that there have been challenges, but beauty everywhere, during his underwater adventures. For example, for years he has been fascinated by a British ship, complete with full military hardware, deep in the Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve. This is one of the most important natural reserves, characterized by its pristine state and diversity of maritime environment and flora and fauna.

Bakhtaour dreams of shooting a documentary about marine life in the Red Sea to serve as an academic reference and to help develop understanding of its many marvels.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s holiday season full of ‘Summer Vibes’

26/6/2021

Tourists who are longing for outings but have to forgo foreign trips due to the pandemic are encouraged to explore the diversity of Saudi destinations — from the clear water beaches to rugged mountain tops to bustling cities. (Supplied)

  • Saudi Tourism Authority’s program, bringing 500 rich and fun experiences across 11 destinations, runs until September end

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s “Summer Vibes” is bringing 500 tourist experiences across 11 destinations to Saudi residents this summer in what promises to be a rich and fun experience for all.

The Saudi Tourism Authority has launched its Saudi Summer Program 2021, running from June 24 until the end of September, offering tourist experiences through the Visit Saudi platform alongside 250 private-sector partners.

The “Summer Vibes” program targets local and international tourists with some of the best destinations available — from the shores of Jeddah and Yanbu to Umluj and King Abdullah Economic City, to the cooler mountainous regions of Taif, Baha and Asir. Experiences can also be enjoyed across the historical and heritage areas of Tabuk, AlUla and Al-Ahsa, and the Kingdom’s beating heart, Riyadh.

Dania Al-Ali, a 33-year-old mother of two, decided to forgo any international trips with her family this summer due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news of the program excited her as the long summer will need to be filled with some sort of activities for her young children.

“We’ve made it a habit to travel every summer but things changed since last summer and we don’t really want to risk it this year,” she told Arab News. “It’s better to be closer to home and to experience something new, and there’s so much to see here. I think this is going to be a good one just like every other summer vacation.”

“The launch of the Saudi summer program this year highlights the determination of the tourism sector in the Kingdom, despite the ongoing challenges facing the global tourism sector, to edge closer to achieving our ambitious goals,” said Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

“In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which seeks to cement Saudi’s position as one of the most important tourist destinations in the region, the launch of the Saudi summer program is a key contributor to strengthening the efforts of the tourism sector, to develop our destinations, provide investment opportunities, create permanent and seasonal jobs for local communities, and contribute to advancing economic and social development in the Kingdom,” he said.

CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority Fahd Hamidaddin said: “Once again, we encourage tourists to explore the diversity of Saudi’s summer destinations, from the clear water beaches to rugged mountain tops to bustling cities. The efforts of the Saudi Tourism Authority are supported by our partners in the public and private sectors and are key to the creation, implementation and success of all programs,” he said.

Information is available on the Visit Saudi website and phone app (search “Visit Saudi” in the app store), with details available in several languages. Tourists can also contact the Tourist Care Center (930) and speak to the dedicated team working around the clock to answer all inquiries.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Assafah Plaza in Riyadh

04/07/20

Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms
Assafah Plaza is located between Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque and Qasr Al-Hukm (known as the Justice Palace) and overlooks Al-Adl Plaza in the west. The royal entrance to Qasr Al-Hukm is at the southern end of the plaza and two pedestrian bridges cross eastward and westward connecting the palace to the capital’s grand mosque. Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms.
This photograph was taken by Hisham Shamma as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘In Saudi Arabia, one finds his soul in the desert’

04/07/20

Desert tourism will play a massive role in the growing tourism sector. (Supplied)

A group of adventurers and history enthusiasts is opening new horizons for tourists in Saudi Arabia
JEDDAH: In our hectic world, nature escapes have become a growing trend, attracting different types of people with a range of experiences and adventures, and creating new business opportunities and nature-based adventure tourism.

Now, after months of lockdown, residents of the Kingdom are seeking new ways of experiencing life’s adventures and there is no better place than our own backyard.
In Saudi Arabia, desert adventures are gaining increasing popularity among citizens and residents, as well as international tourists seeking the ultimate desert experience to discover the culture, customs and nomadic way of life.
Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, including the Empty Quarter, for a varied clientele.
Though it may suggest emptiness, loneliness and a lack of basic needs, deserts are diverse and they attract different types of tourists.
Some people look to the desert for a digital detox and to escape the bustle of demanding city life, while others, such as hikers, campers and nature lovers, seek fun adventures. Deserts also offer something for archaeology and history enthusiasts.
Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.
Bin Khamis has written over 50 works of literature, poetry, criticism, and history.
“We have a long accumulated experience and knowledge about desert trips for more than 40 years, as we used to accompany our father,” Muhammad bin Khamis told Arab News.

After their father died, the two brothers continued planning trips with friends and families, as well as diplomats, and by the end of 2018 had established their company in Riyadh to provide their services to travelers and break new ground in the area of desert tourism.
Delta Adventures designs trips in accordance with their clients’ requests, and is the first in the country to specialize in organizing trips to Rub’ Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), also known as “The Abode of Emptiness.”

BACKGROUND
● Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula.

● Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.

The vast area of desert located in the southern half of Saudi Arabia was not unexplored until the 1930s. Though the name suggests a barren, desolate place, many explorers consider it the ultimate resemblance of nature’s sheer beauty and power.
“Considering that desert tourism is an emerging market in the Kingdom, this gives us an opportunity to invest our experience in these type of projects to develop domestic tourism,” bin Khamis said.
“We aim to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Saudi government to contribute to the advancement of this sector in the country, in accordance with Vision 2030 that aspires to make tourism revenues contribute 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Desert tourism is a perfect choice for visitors looking for tranquility, rest, and connection with nature.
It will also appeal to cultural visitors as well as gastronomic and nature lovers. Delta Adventures offers a wide range of long and short trips to different destinations with natural and historical value around the Kingdom, with a wide range of prices, too.
“By the end of our trips to unreachable places, we want to make our customers permanent ambassadors of Delta Adventures in their communities,” Bin Khamis said, adding: “We have been keen in choosing diverse sites for our trips to meet all tastes and aspirations. Until now, residents in Saudi Arabia have been our main customers, and we have previously taken five ambassadors and three of their wives on a 10-day trip to the Empty Quarter.”
He added: “There is also an increasing interest in such activities from overseas tourists and citizens. This season was our biggest so far, and it is encouraging us to offer our best.”
Bin Khamis said that desert tourism will play a massive role in the country’s growing tourism sector, especially with the Kingdom’s deserts’ enchanting and diverse beauty.

Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nat ure and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.

Muhammad bin Khamis, Delta Adventures

“Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nature and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.”
According to Bin Khamis, desert tourism is possible over three seasons of the year and varies from one region to another. For example, the Empty Quarter trips start from the beginning of November till the end of February, while trips to the northern regions such as Hail, Al-Jawf and Al-Ula begin from mid-September to mid-May.
Bin Khamis said the spirit of adventure and exploration is part of human nature, but has shrunk in modern life.
He said that people traveling in Saudi Arabia find their souls in the silent world, far away from any polluting sight, under the deserts’ night sky.
“People have the right to fear leaving their lives’ welfare, but as the Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shabbi said: ‘He who doesn’t like to climb mountains will forever live among the hollows,’” said Bin Khamis.
He added that adventure tourism is different from any other type of travel, and is a fuller experience, as it relates to suspense, enjoyment, self-exploration, and discovering and learning new things.
Bin Khamis agreed that adventure tourism had become one of the most prominent tourist trends in recent years, and is more popular among young people.
Delta Adventures welcomes anyone who is in good health to join its trips.
“We provide participants with everything from a sleeping tent and bedding for each participant, in addition to meals, refreshments, as well as care and assistance.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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