Seems I can’t stay away from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for too long, so following my earlier adventures to Riyadh and Taif this year, I found out that Tamashee was organizing a trip South this time – Asir Region – and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint.
In March, I had to take a flight to Riyadh first, and then to Taif, but thankfully the air travel is getting easier, as corona is losing its grip on us, and there was a direct flight to Abha this time.
Interestingly enough, they asked me at the airport if I’d been to Iran in the last two weeks, but I hadn’t so no issues. Met a lot of my countrymen while waiting for my flight, for some reason mostly dressed in bright pink colors, I guess that’s the trend of the season. The flight was rather uneventful, apart from my neighbor Saudi lady occasionally pressing her whole body on me because she wanted to take pictures from the window too.
Arriving to Abha, you have quite an amazing view – moody clouds hanging above the mountains, crazy roads (that we would have to experience later), and a rather small airport building greeting you all in a traditional Saudi manner – Welcome To Saudi Arabia, ahhhh I missed that.
After making a short stop at the hotel, of course we had to go eat a large meal of rice and meat, otherwise you wouldn’t be really welcome to Saudi Arabia, I suppose. At this time I discovered that I had a screwdriver in my bag (I know, random, but I was wondering why the airport security was constantly putting my bag for checking, but they were too lazy to actually look what’s inside my bag… and yes, it is for tripod fixing purposes, not for plane hijacking purposes).
Sorry vegetarians. We actually did have someone who doesn’t eat meat in our group, and let’s just say she enjoyed a lot of Saudi bread on this trip.
Trying to digest and not to fall asleep, we embarked on a mission to visit Tamniah Heritage Museum next. Well, with the Saudi driving style, where you have to be hyper aware of any possible outcome of the behavior from the surrounding drivers, you don’t feel very sleepy, I must admit. Tamniah museum had a nice collection of vintage cars outside, although they were in a bit roughed up state, still cool to see.
We also bought flowers from this young lady to be able to roam around old buildings with flowers on our heads!
Here is what you can see inside and outside the museum:
I absolutely love the “insanely colorful” decorations, carpets and doors with sophisticated embroidery. This style of decorations is endemic to this region and is called Al Qatt, but about it later. Love the cacti growing everywhere – they are called the prickly pear in English because have a fruit growing on top of them (called here Barshoomi), resembling of pear in taste. We had a joy to dig our teeth in a bunch of them on the trip and it was actually very very tasty.
On the roof of the museum we found a Saudi lady making bread, and she was such a sweetheart and didn’t want to take money for the bread we wanted to buy…
Ah, the pleasure of roaming the walls of old villages, imagining what were the lives of people who used to live there… but we gotta move on – to another village!
Next stop was Aal Yanfaa village, where we got to see more mud houses and were greeted by the humble local lady and her son. They showed us the house they restored themselves, trying to keep all the original features of it like the underground storage for food (Aisha is trying to get into the storage).
The old lady didn’t want to be pictured, and this is totally normal behavior for Saudi ladies. Many of them still believe that photography is going to steal their souls, therefore her identity will remain a mystery. While we were inside the house, we had two ladies from Riyadh who also happened to be visiting the place, so they came in without any greetings, their hair uncovered and were behaving quite rudely. I mean, technically you can have your hair uncovered and even walk around without abaya these days in KSA, especially in places like Jeddah (and I would say even Riyadh at certain extent), but I think visiting rural villages where people have very laid-back lives, you gotta show some respect. Anyhow, we ventured out of the village with a short stop for tea, arabic bread and apricots. Saudis like their tea sweet, and with herbs swimming in them and I love that. Makes it such a special drink. Someone also seemed to have enjoy his tea too much that he even lost a sandal… or maybe that sandal was sent into someone’s direction when they did some ungodly things… we will never know.
Sunset time was approaching quickly, and it was a marvelous view – clouds had an opening through which the sun was shining, and you really felt like God is smiling to you. Irony is that we went to see the rock art of ancient Arab Goddess Al Alyaa in that place. I mean, look at those clouds.
On our way we found: juniper trees, plenty of rocks of various type, sadly some trash, but can’t be otherwise in KSA (hope it will change one day), a dog, this creature of many legs…
And of course the magnificent rock carvings. You kinda don’t know how to approach these reminders of our ancestors – they are so old, and somewhat vulnerable… but here we are standing in front of them in 2022, the art forms that reached us through time and we travelled though some space to see it. Dated back to Neolithic Era (Stone Age, or at least 4000 years ago), those people had cows and horses, oryxes, camels… and apparently some pretty curvy ladies. Hope their life was joyful, as joyful as we found their art to be…
You can also see some Ancient South Arabian Script on the wall, also known as Musnad scripture which was used until 6th century CE, but later replaced by modern Arabic alphabet. Looks pretty fancy, if you ask me.
Any woman can only dream that a guy would look at her the way Mohammed Kazim looks at Juniper trees. But they are very nice, smell good, look evergreen and no drama.
Their type of greenery compliments these red/orange rocks a lot. I generally loved the landscapes of the region – unbelievable mountain views, huge rocks, greenery, misty or fluffy clouds, just anything a landscape photographer can dream of.
Sunset was lit. We were also pretty lit and sneezing after sniffing too much of juniper. Struggled a bit with our sense of direction to get out of the caves, but founding our way eventually, we directed our trusty Hyundai vehicle tires to Fatma Gallery for Asiri women’s arts and crafts to learn more about Al Qatt art. The conversations in the car were getting more and more hilarious with every kilometer we covered. Mohammed explained to us that all Saudis are artists, that’s why they drive in a style that can only be described as Saudi Fannan (fannan is the word for artist in arabic, and fan is art), and though scared of our lives every time we would find one driving at crazy speeds in the wrong direction lane, you can’t help but be in awe of this artistry.
Beit Fatma or Fatma’s gallery is an absolutely gorgeous building, which has a huge majlis area used for presentations and receiving guests, upstairs there is a studio where Fatma creates her art.
So you saw already in the pictures from the museum the colorful wall designs – this style of traditional decorations is called Al Qatt art. Let me tell you a little bit more about it:
Al-Asiri Qatt art consists of several patterns, including geometric shapes, abstract lines and symbols. It is formed in the form of layers each with its symbolism and aesthetic and cultural significance. Asiry women were able to blend the primary colors (red, yellow, black, blue) with the secondary colors to show the splendor of the Qatt ‘s art formations and aesthetics.
The lady of the house was responsible for the interior design of the house, regarding the wall decorations and that starts after the man finishes his role in the construction and installation of windows and doors, the ornaments and decorations used are considered a sort of abstract art.
We had a very-well detailed introduction to how the place operates, history, not devoid of some poetry and little anecdotes which I really tried to understand, but it was not so easy (on top of that my Arabic is an Emirati version, and though it is quite close to the Saudi one, it is still not the same).
We went upstairs with the ladies and bought some of Fatma’s art, while she showed us how it is made and the traditional colorants used in the process.
Afterwards we had a simple dinner that I must admit I wasn’t able to finish after all the Saudi bread we ate on the way to the place 🙂 More jokes, more wisdom was shared, but soon all of us started to feel the heaviness in our eyes, so it was time to go to home to sleep. Yet, do you think we slept? We barely had a moment for ourselves that day with all this excitement, so instead of sleeping some people were making videos until 2 am… or just sitting on the bed with a head full of information and amazement.
Ohhhh, it took me a whole day to just write a round up of the day one… so I guess I will split these stories into several posts.