Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Al Ula - The Ancient City

Al-Ula is an oasis town 400 kilometers away from Madinah on the road to Tabuk, known for its spectacular scenery and archaeological remnants. Madain Saleh (also known as Al-Hijr) archeological site is just 22 kilometers from Al-Ula and was in news recently as UNESCO proclaimed it as a World Heritage Site.

I had added this to my 'must to see places in Saudi' after reading a lot about it. But not many of my friends or relatives here were aware of this place and there was very less information available on reaching there. Saudi society considers it as a cursed place due to some verses in the Qur'an titled Al-Hijr that describes about God's curse on a society (Prophet Saleh's people) lived there, when they didn't obey orders from the God.

[Complete story from Quran: Saleh was a pre-Islamic prophet. Medain Saleh means the "City of Saleh". The people in Medain Saleh refused to believe in God. The prophet Saleh tried to convince them otherwise, and even asked what they needed in order to believe. They replied that wanted a miracle. So in those hard times, he brought in a giant white camel, and if the people allowed the camel undisturbed access to their well every second day, the camel would give them enough milk forever. Not wanting to believe, some of the inhabitants killed the camel, with the result that they were destroyed by a bolt from heaven in retribution.]

Another issue was my Umrah visa which didn't allow me to travel to any places other than Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. Due to this, no taxi people were ready to take me there.

Finally I got one private taxi guy named Yusuf, a very interesting Keralite chap, who was more than willing to take us there and guide us through the sites. He planned the whole trip and we started our much awaited voyage in his 5 year old Mazda 323 car on July 21 night from Madinah. The 5 hour long ride was interesting as Yusuf kept saying stories after stories, mostly from his eventful life. The passion he showed and his narration style were unique enough to keep us listening all the time without getting bored.

I wanted to drive a car in Saudi as I had never done it before and Yusuf was immediately ready to offer his car when I requested. In our whole trip I did the driving most of the time and Yusuf found himself happy in story telling.

We reached Al-Ula by midnight and I and my wife checked into a nice hotel room Yusuf had booked for us. Yusuf's friends had a shop near by and he rested there.

Next day morning, we started sight seeing in and around Al-Ula. This ancient town (known as Dedan earlier) is totally different from rest of the Saudi with its numerous red sandstone cliffs in spectacular shapes and patterns. It reminded me of the Red Rock regions in Nevada and Arizona, USA. But this place was more beautiful and the red cliffs, vast sand deserts, and the blue sky with pure white puffy cumulus clouds was a feast for my camera.


  1. i visted makkah ,madhina, riyadh,damma, al hasaa , ras al khor, february (pirivinayirunnilla !!), but nobody told me abt this places..
    nice 2 c this.

  2. Thanks for sharing the pictures... Looks like you lost a lot of weight :)..
    Do keep in touch ...

  3. Nice one Sameer.....got to know a lot.

  4. Sameer Ekka.. as always you are a very good narrator.