Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, is a city in the province of Medinah, north-west of the country is a destination that has been widely promoted in the recent years luring tourists in. One surprising fact is that you either are aware of Al Ula and you want to visit it, or you’re oblivious (Saudi is still widely undiscovered country), as when I was talking about my intention to travel there even some Saudis said: “Where is it?”
The convenient direct flying options from Dubai include Fly Dubai and Fly Nass, which are both low-cost airlines but from my observation, Al Ula airport can’t cope with planes any bigger than the one we took. To be honest, they could hardly cope with ours, and it took almost an hour to get through passport checks, but it is not the first time I am stuck at customs in KSA, so let’s just say it is a part of the experience.
After we got out to the fresh air of the night, we went to see a famous rock formation called the Elephant Rock.
The area is very fancily lit with torches and has a bunch of seating areas for groups to enjoy their experience, but I sort of wished it was more how it used to be – just a rock in the desert which you come to see. The temperatures started to plunge to a chilling 11 degrees, so F. and I decided to go get some hot chocolate to warm ourselves from inside. Somehow, we cut a Saudi guy in the queue, and he wasn’t too happy about it, so I bought him a hot chocolate too which he profoundly refused to accept, but finally accepted and warmed up to us as well. Well why would it be such a big deal? Try to buy something to a Saudi in his own country being a guest there and see for yourself.
Afterwards we settled in the hotel. We stayed at the so-called glamping location called 26 Degrees North, which had amazing views, comfortable tents and very good service for breakfast. Not to freeze to death, Mohammed (the Tamashee tribe leader and the tour organizer) provided us with farwas (the warm brown bisht with fur) so we equipped the farwas and went to sit around the fire.
When the tea was drank, the stories were told, we went back to our tents to sleep in a cold night (but equipped with the heaters).
As usual I felt way too excited to sleep, so the morning came sooner than expected. The next adventure was to take a shower (when it is 6 degrees outside), but where there is a will there is a way, so that was interesting. Then I went out to take some photos of the surroundings… hoped to see the sunrise, but turns out you have to climb up the rocks next to reception to see it.
After having input the foul madames and some other tasty things in my stomach, we have boarded the bus (called the Shariah bus, may God protect your journey) to see the ancient tombs of the previous inhabitants of these areas.
Some things that happened to be seen outside the bus window:
So most of you are aware that there is Petra in Jordan, that represents the culture of Nabataeans, an Arab tribe that lived in the area during 6th century BC (damn long ago), but not so many people know that you can see their tombs and inscriptions all over the North of Saudi Arabia as well.
We have arrived at the meeting point, greeted by jolly Saudi ladies offering us hot drink with ginger and lemon, and loaded onto the old Land Rovers to go explore the area.
As the tour guides explained to us, it happened so that this area was covered with sand, but after some heavy rains they saw the tombs revealed and started excavations.
Nabataeans were traders, and they possessed something that many wanted on their trade routs – they had water, so they constantly received visitors in these lands, and we had seen the sitting rooms carved into the mountains for people to sit around and discuss matters. They were also very tolerant with other people’s beliefs and religions, so they allowed everyone to worship their Gods while they were in the area, providing them places to do that.
Funerary monuments were represented by carved royal tombs and tombs built with cut stone. The Nabataeans paid great attention to their tombs, this was reflected in their architecture, in which a lot of architectural and artistic methods of respecting the dead were developed, which suggests the Nabataeans’ interest in the afterlife .As you can see a lot of tombs feature the stairs in their decorations. It was believed that these stairs will take you to heaven.
Next stop on our trip was the educational one, where we got to dig our own artifacts, document them, and file them.
Everything was well-explained in both Arabic and English, the tour guides do incredible job here in Al Ula, ready to answer any questions you have.
The next stop was the visit to Jabal Ikmah or the library, where you can see various rock carvings and inscriptions on the mountains – in different languages and styles. If you are interested to take a course in how to read the inscriptions – it is also available.
Of course, we were getting rather hungry after all these explorations, so we headed off to a secret location provided by the local people to take a much needed food break.
With our bellies full of delicious Saudi food, we were entertained by a local musicians who sang us some songs about the mishaps of the newlyweds and then went to see more rock inscriptions and enjoyed the views.
Afterwards we headed to the hotel for a quick break, and to dress up to go to civilization or the old town Al Ula. Instead of taking a break I tried to go capture the sunset, but I guess I didn’t choose high-enough spot or was just out of luck. Good fun anyway.
Upon reaching the old town, we did some retail therapy, me I enjoyed some street photography, and we finished our night with a big dinner in the restaurant that I can’t find on google maps so the name of it will remain unknown.
Such was day 1.5 with Tamashee at Al Ula.