Having wanted to go to Madain Saleh for a long time, we thought lets do a road trip and explore more of Saudi Arabia. Russ got busy and got maps out and found all sorts of places to see. It was a fantastic trip with very unexpected surprises along the way.
One of the surprises was the often spectacular and beautiful scenery we drove through during the trip - there was always something new and different to look at, the rock formation were absolutely amazing! So many colours in the layers.
Wherever we went the people were really friendly and helpful. We only saw one lot of expats at Al Ula and that was all. So it was very quiet and we felt like it was the best time to come.
Hejaz Railway Stations
Along the way we stopped and looked at many Hejaz Railway Stations. The Hejaz railway was built by the Ottomans in only 8 years to carry pilgrims over 1300km from Damascus in Syria to Medina in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed by “Laurence of Arabia” in the first world war.
Forts that we looked at were fenced and had signs marked Archaeological site keep out. Many of the places we found were falling apart and derelict some with graffiti on. Currently the Saudi Tourism Council are holding a competition to get as many photo’s on locations of landmarks and historical sites in Saudi Arabia. The competition close on 6th October 2015. They have got some amazing photography being sent in. Worth having a look here. Saudi Arabia is a wonderful diverse country with a rich culture that needs to be preserved.
For those who would like to learn more about the Hejaz Railway look here.
The grounds of Madain Saleh as you go in are very impressive with all the work that has been done. Just inside was the Hejaz Railway Museum, we asked a Saudi man who was standing outside if we needed to pay. He said “No” and waved us through with a big smile.
We arrived at Al Ula resort at 6pm Al Ula was a real surprise to us. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by huge unusual rock formations. They were quite spectacular. Depending on the time of day the rocks/mountains would change colour from deep ochre/orange to rich red/brown to soft pinks. Some parts looked like they were giant melting ice bergs. We studied them for quite some time as we drove around. Pointing out animals shapes and faces to each other.
When we were driving around the town we noticed many red clay mud houses, many of which were all but destroyed. After a little research of our google maps and more driving we found a fort in the old part of Al Ula. The Fort was built to protect the city. We climbed up all the steps to the top. When you looked out over the valley, we could see 360°, so it was a perfect defense spot for the city. A rabbit warren of joined mud houses and shops could be seen over a wide area. It reminded me of the Medina’s in Morocco. One could easily get lost. Tunnels and stairwells in the mud houses led to the rooftops. Allowing for easy escape for would be invaders. The rooftops were made of palm branches and mud.
We found the remains of Al Ula Old Hejaz railway station which was all fenced off with a high steel meshed fence. Barbed wire ran all around the top of the fence. The gate was padlocked. A sign on the fence saying it was an Archeological Site.
Tubuk has massive roadworks being done and development going on everywhere. New buildings, parks and housing. We only stayed overnight in Tabuk.
As we drove around Tubuk we passed by the Hejaz railway station. It was lovely to see it preserved.
We were up early in the morning, as we had a few miles to go and some “off roading” planned. Our GPS lady wasn’t very cooperative we discovered unless you wanted to use the Saudi super highways which criss cross the country, she had led us up the garden path a few times. Not all her fault mind, as digital maps are sometimes not accurate in Saudi, although the road network is extremely good.
After quite some miles we turned and went off road to a well maintained track along a large wadi (river). All going well until we came to a fork in the road which wasn’t on the map. You guessed it we took the wrong one. So turned around and went the other way only to get to a dead end. So we had gone the right way after all. Finally we arrived at the mountain where some archaeologists believe is the correct location of Mt Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments. The local name for this place is called Jabal al Lawz ( Mountain of the Laws) and I had watched a film about it and saw where there were inscriptions on rocks etc. and the alter of the golden calf. There was a large fence all around this location saying that it was an Archaeological site so sadly we couldn’t go in and have a look. We could see the blackened mountain top, which is lava from a volcano, also described in ancient scriptures - It was very interesting.
On the way to Al Wajh on the red sea, we visited the Gulf of Aqaba, where you can clearly see Egypt across beautiful blue waters. It was here that the crossing from Egypt by Moses is thought to have happened.
As we entered Al Wajh we noticed it was very clean with no rubbish anywhere. Even the building sites were tidy with big skip bins. We arrived at our Hotel just as the sun was setting.
The next day we went off to look around the town. The Corniche was beautiful and went for miles. Fake grass was used on the ground which made it look lovely and cool and neat. All along there were plenty of children’s swings and activities for them to play. Al Wajh was once a large entry port for Pilgrims and a fishing port but now it looks like a great holiday spot as well.
We found a supermarket and bought a few things. Russell was heartily greeted by the locals, asking “where are you from?” They were all quite curious to see us. I got lots of looks because I wore a black Abaya with gold trim/blingy on and no head covering. All the woman wore black and full face head coverings, accept the eyes. We hunted around until we found a butcher shop to get some meat. The butcher had a clear plastic bag over his right foot. You could see blood all inside it. Didn’t look good! I said “what is wrong with your foot?” He motioned with his knife that he dropped it on his foot and sliced it open. I said “you need to go to hospital.” He shrugged his shoulders and hobbled around. He proceeded to cut off 2 hunks of meat from a carcass that was hanging in the window. We didn’t know what it was, or if he had used the same knife. Anyway after cleaning and marinading it we went to the beach with a portable BBQ that we had bought with us. The coals got nice and hot and then turned red so Russell cooked the meat. It was like old boot leather! You couldn’t chew it let alone try to tear it apart. So the local cats thought it was Christmas!
On our last day in Al Wajh we went to see the Old City. There was of course a fort and an old Palace there. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around going in and out of old ruins.
While we were there a man pulled up in a car with his son. His son got out and handed us a bag of meat. At first I said “No it’s ok we don’t need it”. Then I realized it would be offensive not to take it, as it was Eid. This man had a large black garbage bag full of bags of meat. He said to Russell take a photo. So we did.
When they left we put the meat in the fridge of the car. As we were leaving the old town, we saw a man sitting on the side of the street, so we offered him the meat. He was chuffed and called his friends over to let them know what he had.
We went for a drive out of town off road to the beach. It was deserted. The ground was originally part of the sea bed. Fossils of coral and shells were everywhere. It was incredible how many seven finger spider conch shells were there. Some of them were in excellent condition. This fossil coral reef has been exposed by the drop in water levels in the red sea, but from the waters edge into the sea a new living coral reef exists. At Al Wajh the coral lagoons and reefs give the water beautiful vibrant colors of blues and greens.
Only people who reside in Saudi Arabia have the opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia. (Saudi does not allow tourist here) Unless you are a Muslim who comes for the Hajj or are fortunate enough to be an Expatriate like us who work here.
Below is more about Madain Saleh, Al Ula and the Hejaz Railway for all those that are history buffs who cannot come here to see these wonderful places.
Click on the images to make them larger if you need to.