Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 621: Some introspection and some truths ...

It  is after a considerable hiatus that I decided to calculate how many days have elapsed since I came to work in Saudi Arabia. It is now Day 621! It seems as if the past can be encapsulated in a small box and presented to whoever wants it ... and yet, a lot of water has flown under the bridge. I spoke about the change of perception I have experienced. However, this change, that I speak of, has also occurred in my family members.

If the reader wishes, he/she can go back to this post to read about the various goals and purposes I set for myself before coming to the Kingdom. As may be apparent, I did mention that I wanted to make my female platoon at home independent and on their feet. 

Well, I can proudly say now that this target has been achieved too! My wife, Nishrin, is able to handle most (not all) financial affairs without asking me; my elder daughter, Inas, has been working in a salon all on her own since the last eight-odd months, and has been completely independent; even Hannah, whom I used to always think of as a weak but very loving daughter, has grown up and is able to deal with her life quite without major turmoil. 

Now and then, of course, all of them need me, as I, them, and that's all right, since we are a family. On the whole, though, things have been great, as the females of my household have all learned to live without my presence; in fact, if I may say so, at times, they seem happier for it, since I am not a perfect father or husband, and my attitudes have not ALL been great when it came to fathering my children or husbanding my wife. 

So, it has been a win-win situation for all. While my clinic + Nishrin's salon was located at the same place, many of her clients found it awkward to visit her; now that my clinic has been "abolished" and the place converted into a full-scale beauty salon, her clientele are happy and the salon is doing better business. The cash flow has increased too, I may well add. And, Nishrin is happier too, as there is now no "interference" by me in her business.

I am not utterly happy, but, for a long time, I was quite unsatisfied with my professional income. Now that the Indian Rupee has been replaced by the Saudi Riyal, I am, for the first time, planning things like holidaying abroad or giving shape to the Child Welfare Charity that I will establish. In addition, we have been investing the surplus in the hope that money will draw in more money in future and liberate us from the stress of having to earn enough through our entire lives. 

As I planned earlier, I intend to spend just a year or a little more than that in the Kingdom, then move on. What I will do next is not yet certain. I would prefer to cross the bridge when I reach it. But, suffice to say, I am extremely satisfied with the way my life is going at the moment.

Please do leave your comments. Thank you.

My first Ramadan Umrah

As I stated in my previous blog, I intended to perform Umrah during Ramadan this year. However, things started going wrong when my partner was asked to fill in for an absent doctor in Khurma. He went away from Monday, the 22nd of July to do the locum duty. As he was to proceed for his annual vacation on Friday, I was now worried if I would be able to perform the Umrah. In the event, Dr. Yasser returned on Wednesday ... late at night, and called me around 3:00 A.M. (Thursday early morning) to tell me that he had returned and that if I wanted to, I could now go for the Umrah.

This was great news. However, I decided to go after the Dhuhr prayers, as going in the morning would mean that I would arrive at Makkah in the heat of the day. Doing the rituals of Umrah would then be a tough job as Makkah is a very hot city. Hence, I stayed at home in the morning, and visited the hospital once to meet Dr. Yasser and wish him a safe journey and a nice vacation. Also, I informed him that as I was leaving in the afternoon, it would be at least Friday morning before I returned from Makkah. He told me that would be fine as his flight from Ta'if was late on  Friday night.

I prepared myself in the usual way, which means doing the things needed to be done before going on the Umrah. One has to trim one's nails, shave the hair from the arm-pits and the nether areas, and perform a ritual bath and a special prayer before leaving the house. I decided NOT to take any bags. I just took my "ehram" cloth and a few other basic things only. I left the house at a little after 2:00 p.m., and drove to Makkah via Ta'if -> Hada -> Makkah. On the way, I stopped at the Meeqat Wadi Haram, did a bath, changed into my ehram, did the special salat in the Meeqat mosque, then drove on till I reached a point where my car was stopped for parking (at around half past five). The drive had been event-free and peaceful thus far. At a designated point, every Umrah pilgrim had to park his car in a large parking lot and proceed to Makkah by either public bus or private taxi.

I parked my car in a blank spot near to the bus services, got off and climbed into the "Hafil" bus that stood there to receive new passengers. The ticket was SR 5/= and the ride was comfortable. I reached the precinct of the Haram at about six p.m. 

I left my slippers in one of the shoe stands and went in for the Umrah. The first part of the Umrah is performing seven circumambulations around the holy Qaaba. The crowds were there, but it was possible to complete this circuit before the Maghrib prayers started. At that time, people paused to break their fasts. After this, I proceeded to the Masaa (the place where you perform the second part of the Umrah - the "saai" or the seven crossings between the Safaa and the Marwaa mountains). I was unduly exhausted, as the day had been quite busy thus far, and all I had eaten between my noon lunch and this point of time was a few dates (I wasn't fasting). I completed my saai just a few minutes before the Ishaaprayers were due. Soon, I left the Haram, arrived at a stall that sold food, ordered and had a chicken sandwich and a tea, and rushed to a salon to get my hair shaved.

I completed all this by about fifteen past nine p.m. The next thing to do was to find a way to go back to my car which was parked at the parking lot about 20-25 km away. I reached a Hafil bus and asked the driver if he would take me to "Sharaya", which is what I had been told about the location where my car was parked. The driver (and the few passengers) all said that Hafil buses did not go to Sharaya. I should have immediately investigated this matter, but I kept asking many others, including volunteers at the Haram as well as some policemen how to go to Sharaya. I was told that the buses for Sharaya would leave from around the other side of the Haram, and these would be SAPTCO buses. This sounded very strange, but I was so tired at this point, that I did not think I had the strength to walk that much to reach the other bus stand. I therefore got into a cab and was taken to Sharaya for SR 50/= 

Imagine my consternation when I discovered that this was NOT THE PARKING LOT WHERE I HAD LEFT MY CAR. I was in a near-panic. I approached a few cabbies, and it was after my discussions with them that I learned that there was another parking lot for cars that came to Makkah via Ta'if -> Hada. This parking lot was not at Sharaya but at Arafah. I was further informed that the charge for taking me there would be SR 100/= Oh my sweet God, I thought! However, it was nearly 10:00 p.m., and I was in no mood to fight over this, so I engaged a cab, and got to the correct parking lot in the next half hour.

My car gave me no trouble as I drove out of the parking lot, went towards Makkah to find a U-turn, and having found it, turned around to proceed towards Ta'if. The drive to Ta'if (up the mountain road) was event-free, and I reached Ta'if at about half past eleven in the night. I went to the Asian restaurant to have my dinner, parcelled some food from there, and then proceeded onward to Al Muwayh.

By this time, I was not only tired but sleepy. I decided to take a nap inside my car when I stopped it at a road-side resting area run by SASCO (an organisation that runs motels, restaurants and petrol pumps all over the Kingdom). I actually slept for over an hour. When I woke up, it was almost 2:15 A.M. I drove on to Al Muwayh, completing the remaining journey in about 75 minutes. By the time I hit the bed, it was almost half past four. Thus was my Ramadan Umrah accomplished.

Just to complete this record: I slept for almost seven hours after this, and woke up at half past one in the afternoon. I called up Dr. Yasser to inform him that I had returned, and thereafter, spent the evening doing this and that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Just a link

I travelled to Kaas Plateau in Satara, Maharashtra, in September 2011. I recently posted some pictures of this experience on Facebook. To view these pictures, go to: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.541946659202978.1073741825.181179861946328&type=1&l=73b38ff7d9

Nearly half done ... Ramadan goes on ... as does life.

Life has a way of creating events that we generally do not foresee. I have often desired one thing, and planned for it, and been diverted into a completely different direction. Belief by the devout Muslim is that Allah is with you all the way, and when you appear to be thwarted, He is actually protecting you against harm that you did not foresee, or is diverting you to better action that you may get benefit from. I have come to believe this, although I cannot really claim to be a devout Muslim by any stretch of imagination. I just try to be a good human being.

In my conversations with Muslim friends both here and in India, I have been told that once one says that one is a good Muslim, the statement that one is a good human being is implied. I am not sure that this is the case. For example, if you read or see the news events of revolutions happening in the largely Muslim world of the Middle East, you will find that the actions of some very devout Muslims translates to deaths for other, also devout, Muslims. Would you then call being a good Muslim also an act of good humanity? Whether one is talking of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE or any other ME country, innumerable such examples can be provided where an act by a "good" Muslim has led to pain, misery, poverty, death and destruction. 

Those who claim that terrorists aren't really Muslims will probably rubbish my observation; the truth is, however, that these perpetrators ARE recognised as "Good" Muslims by their own supporters, who may number in their millions. Supporters of Mr. Mohammad Morsi, for example, belong to the "Muslim Brotherhood" or the "Ikhwanul Muslemeen". Mr. Morsi has been overthrown by his own countrymen, who, too, are Muslims. Both sides claim that they are in the right. Both sides comprise huge swathes of the Egyptian population. How can this be explained as an act of the benevolent religion that is called Islam?

I had planned to go for Umrah this week, but my plan was thwarted by an act of the Ministry of Health. Suddenly, they wanted a Pediatrician to go for substitutional duty in Al Khorma, a town that is about 170 km away from Al Muwayh. This time, it was my colleague Dr. Yasser's turn to go, and this effectively put paid to my plans and I am therefore right here in Al Muwayh, doing my duty as the lone pediatrician. It means that unless I wrangle a day from Dr. Yasser when he comes back on Thursday, I won't be able to perform the Umrah during Ramadan at all, as he proceeds on his annual vacation on Friday night. This also means that for nearly two months from then on, I won't be able to leave Al Muwayh until the fourth week of September, when he is due to return.

This is the chain of events that led to the substance of this post. Do let me know your experiences when you wanted to do something, and something unexpected came up and "spoiled" the fun for you. Thank you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Loud thinking - charting a course for the final exam of the MRCPCH series and some other stuff.

A weekend is about to end, with little activity at the hospital. I am gradually gearing to start my studies for Part 3 of MRCPCH, which I intend to appear for in 2014. We have a study group on Facebook, but currently, there is hardly any activity here. I have downloaded many videos and files from the net, including many from Youtube that are actually posted there by Dr. Mostafa Elbaba via his MRCPCH 2009 website. I am planning to attend a workshop for the exams in November 2013 ... if possible. 

I am also investigating which books will be needed for off-line studies, but haven't figured out this yet. There are no online courses for part 3, since much of the knowledge needed for this examination will be based on case studies, clinical experience and communication skills. I have to work out how to present clinical cases as there is no case work in Al Muwayh. On the other hand, my theoritical knowledge can be increased to a much higher level than before if - and that is a big IF - I can sit down to serious reading.

What distract me from studying are my various online activities, TV viewing, sleeping, chatting and roaming around in my village. I do not yet know how I will cut down on all these things as the days pass. So far, Allah has been benevolent with me and I passed both the first and the second parts of the exam at first attempts. Whether the same will happen with part 3 or not is something only Time and my own efforts will tell. 

My partner Dr. Yasser is due to leave for his annual vacation next week. Thus, I am likely to be grounded for the next few months in my village as I will be perpetually on call. I wish to take at least one break, provided the Muderiya will find me a substitute to replace me for 4-5 days. This would be when I go for the Asian-Oceanic Neurology Conference in Riyadh in mid-September. I haven't registered for this conference as yet, as I am not sure I will be allowed to take leave for the conference when the time comes.

In other news ... there is nothing happening, except that I do not have many emergency calls. The resident doctors of my hospital here are now well-trained to handle ER cases in pediatrics. This weekend, I had just one call from the delivery room to attend a newborn. Nothing else so far. The weekend ends in another 9 hours. Let's see what the night brings.

That's it for now ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I believe the One is watching over me

Dear friends - 

First of all, thank you for allowing me to repeatedly intrude on your privacy with my presumably boring details of a life lived in Saudi Arabia. I admit that my meanderings have kept many of you interested, not the least because you enjoy my style of writing, but mostly because you care for my well-being, and this is what touches me all the time.

In addition to your collective concern and prayers, the One who rules the world, call Him what you will - Allah, God, Ishwar, super-power, Energy - also cares for my well-being. In my last entry, I shared my dejection with you all as I was being held back at Missan for another week ... and every week spent away from my own place in Al Muwayh is a week spent away from home, no matter that it is still in foreign country, that it is in a desert, that it is in a place that is very, very hot compared to Missan (which has a super cool climate) - is still away from home.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when the powers at the Muderiya in Ta'if gave in to my genuine concerns and decided to send another pediatrician to replace me at the very beginning of the new week starting last Sunday. Dr. Zahrani, who is the man in charge at the Ta'if Health directorate, listened to me when I spoke to him the previous week, and agreed to allow me to return to Al Muwayh. He sent a pediatrician from Zalm to replace me. 

Hence, on Sunday, I was in better spirits. I completed my ward rounds, and did all my work with a new-found enthusiasm and energy. Also, I went around the hospital and said my good-byes to all the doctors and nurses I have come to know and like in the hospital. 

The hospital's admin sent me on to Ta'if with a Saudi person Mr. Mishaal, who works in Missan but stays in Ta'if.  This is the same man who had taken me to Ta'if on my last visit to Missan. He simply left me outside the Health Ministry's garage instead of facilitating the reservation of the next vehicle to take me to Al Muwayh. It was then up to me to go and meet the guy in charge Mr. Gazi and ask him to assign a vehicle and a driver to take me back to my village. 

Mr. Gazi is a middle-aged person who is emphatic and strong, but it was a problem even for him to arrange for a car and driver as this is, after all, Ramadan, and the drivers had disappeared instead of staying on duty. I had to wait for the driver for two hours. Ultimately, a young man did come and he was assigned to me, but, as he later told me, he was not actually a driver but an office worker, and he agreed only on the condition that he would get two days' leave in lieu of performing this duty ... and because, as he told me, he wanted to do somthing "good" in the holy month.

Ugghhh ... I thought, but on the whole, Mr. Abdul Rehman Otaibi, as he is called, turned out to be a nice man and he continued to chat with me all the way while driving at the usual Saudi speed of over 160 kmph.

I reached my house at about 5 p.m., and decided to skip the night shift at the hospital as I had to do a lot of things to tidy up my home, wash my clothes, iron them, cook some fresh food, purchase some stuff from the super-market, etc. I did visit the hospital after midnight, and met the ER staff there, including Dr. Measser and a new Sudani female resident Dr. Aasiya. After an hour or so of being with the staff etc. I returned home to end the day with blessed sleep. 

That's it for now ... continue visiting, reading, advising, commenting and praying ... for me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Now, back at Missan

Dear Readers,

Perhaps you read about my first stint at Missan General Hospital last month. It was a substitutional duty for which I was sent to Missan to work for a week. The first experience had been quite enjoyable. I put up pictures of a green Missan that time. Also, it was an opportunity to meet new doctors, new nurses and new helpers. I had extolled the virtues of this hospital at that time. However, first impressions aren't always correct, as I will tell you now about my second arrival at the same place last Monday.

On Sunday, my hospital director informed my colleague Dr. Yasser that he was to go to Missan (it was his turn, as I had already gone there last month). Dr. Yasser simply refused to go, and when told that the Muderiya (the Health Ministry's Ta'if office) would take action against him, he stuck to his guns and said that even if he was told to exit, he would not go to Missan. His reasons were that he wasn't well, of late, and also because his annual vacation would soon be coming up. 

The director then asked me to go as there was no pediatrician to take charge at Missan. If my readers remember, the pediatrician who was working there had died a few months before, and the vacancy has not yet been filled. I was reluctant because, after all, I had just come back after a week of roaming around, and also, because I was home-sick. However, I could not refuse. The paper made out for me by the director stated that I was being sent for 4 days. However, that was not a doable thing, since the orders had come from Ta'if and they were explicit. I had to go for a week.

Anyways, so I was taken to Missan as before. The Al Muwayh vehicle took me to Ta'if and from there, a car from Missan would take me to my destination. As it turned out, due to delays from both the drivers, I actually reached Missan at half past three in the afternoon. My lodging was once again in the male ward in the last room, and once again, the room had no TV and no internet. However, the adage that forewarned is forearmed proved correct for me. This time, I had brought my STC connect with me, and thank God, it worked ... and is still working ... just fine in my room.

The last five days have been more or less the same as before. I have had more work, though, because the current period of school vacations means more people are in Missan than during the school days. There are at least three to five calls each evening and into the night. Today, as I write this, I have had to go to the ER four times, and have admitted three children already with gastroenteritis. 

Being a Friday, today there was no OPD (the out-patient department), but the previous four days when there was an OPD, I had more work than what I had last month. Due to the month of Ramadan, the duty hours are split between mornings and night. I worked from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then from 9.30 p.m. to 12.30 a.m. In between, I am free. 

The other bombshell that was dropped on me was that the Muderiya wanted me to stay for ONE MORE WEEK. I tried to wriggle out of this, saying that I did not have the requisite stocks of clothes or medicines. However, the final verdict from the doctor who is in charge of these appointments (he is Dr. Zahrani, and he works in Muderiya at Ta'if) - was that there was no choice for me but to stay on.

So, here I am, feeling really down, as I have to stay on for eight more days in Missan. To add to my woes, my friend Dr. Bala from India, is also not here as he has been sent elsewhere for substitutional duty. The last time had been easy because of his company. 

Anyway, life goes on. I got my clothes laundered in the hospital laundry yesterday, so I am good for the next four or five days. About the medicines, I may have to use whatever is available here .... till I go back to Al Muwayh, hopefully at the end of next week.

Thank you for reading. Won't you please comment on my posts? Thank you.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Week before Ramadan - Days 5 to 7: the return journey

After my two nights in Abha, about which you must have read in my previous entry, I was reluctant to even start on my return journey, but I had to, since I was expected back on duty the coming Sunday! I woke up at about eight a.m., and left the hotel at about nine. I intended to cover the distance. At that time, it had taken 7 1/2 to eight hours, at an average speed of just about 45 kmph. I now felt a lot more confident about the road, and planned to complete the 350 km journey in about six hours, give or take.

I still had my camera by my side, in case something interesting came up. I was going to look for old Abha-style houses, and perhaps some more street furniture. In the event, I got myself a lot of interesting pictures. While the pictures tell their own story, I have done some research on these heritage houses and would like to share them with you.

Historically, building designs and materials in Saudi Arabia were dictated by the climate, geography and resources available. In the Asir province, as the region is mountainous, there is a good degree of rainfall, esp. during March and April, and later, during the summer months. The houses of olden times needed protection from rain, and hailstones. They were designed as roughly squarish blocks with multiple flanges of mud on the exterior walls to allow the water to drain off without damaging the walls. This is the result of such an architecture: 
A building right inside Abha city near the Mobile phones market

Samsan village inside Abha has these ancient homes even today

Broken down home outside Abha

A broken cylindrical column, also typical of Asir province.

A broken cylindrical column on my way back to Al Baha

Near Namas, on my way back to Al Baha

The artifact I purchased from a vendor at the Al Soudaa is similar to the first picture above. It appears that many modern builders try to replicate the shape and design of these old homes. I witnessed this when I drove about town on my second day in Abha. 
This is a mosque with architectural design similar to the ancient homes

This is a modern residence, but the building looks a bit old.
Be that as it may, the search for old homes threw a lot of interesting stuff, didn't it? 

Okay, so I stopped at Billahmer for a late breakfast ... at a Pakistani restaurant, where I had a vegetable dish with roti; and later, at Bani Amr for tea. Other than these two stops, I drove non-stop to Al Baha. I made an average time of about 63 kmph, and reached Al Baha at about 2.30 p.m., which means that I covered the distance in just over 5 1/2 hours. At Al Baha, I had a decent lunch at the Madinah restaurant (also Pakistani). My lunch consisted of kheema and roti, followed by a glass of milk-tea. After this, I set off straight to Ta'if.

I covered this leg of 220 km in about 3 hours, more possibly because of the delay inside Ta'if, with a lot of vehicles and traffic regulation on account of the vacation crowds. I was finally in Ta'if at half past five, or perhaps six p.m. As the return route passed by the garage of Mr. Chowdhary, I went straight to him to resolve some minor issues with my car. He was extremely cooperative. After he had tinkered with my car, we parted, and I went to my hotel (the Ahle Saif) and registered my stay at a discounted price of SR 150 per night. Mr. Chowdhary and I had decided to go to the Chinese restaurant inside the Panda restaurant for dinner, so I had to await his coming to my hotel to pick my up. This time, too, he footed the entire bill! 

There is something new I learned: during the weekends, the mall is open to men only until 10 p.m. After this, the mall is open only for families, and single males are asked to leave. Thus, while we were eating our dinner (in the males-only area), some unescorted females entered here, and the watchman came to us and asked us to finish our meals early so that the females could eat their food in peace! I think this was a highly unfair thing to do, but there is no use fighting the establishment in the Kingdom, so we just finished our dinner as quickly as we could and left. During the last ten minutes, the watchman came to nudge us with increasing irritation in his voice at least three or four times. At the same time, the females who had already come in and were sitting with their unopened food packets kept glaring at us as if their glares could drive us away or make us disappear. So rude, isn't it? 

After dinner, we went to a roadside coffee outlet and had Mocha coffee with cream - a delightful combination. I said my good-byes after this and returned to my hotel.

I spent the next two nights in Ta'if with no specific agenda other than a visit to the bank to transfer part of my recent salary amount to India, and doing a little shopping. On the third afternoon, after Asr' prayers, I checked out, and returned to Al Muwayh, reaching there at half past six on Saturday evening. 

It had been an absolutely absorbing, enjoyable vacation ... lasting for six nights and seven days. It has fed my appetite for travel, but only made me more curious to discover more of the Kingdom as and when the opportunities present themselves.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The week before Ramadan - Day 4: Abha

Abha is considered to be among the top must-see sights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It had always been my intention to travel there, but two things had prevented me from doing so until now: the lack of time, and the fact that it is very far from Al Muwayh ... about 750 km, to be exact. After my successful trip to Riyadh in May, I was more confident of my driving, and this time, I made sure my car was brought up to a good standard for a long trip. As readers may have read in my earlier post a few days ago, even my completely overhauled car had not been overhauled completely, and the repairing person Choudhary Shabir had left out the replacement of the fuel pump and fuel filter. Be that as it may, the car gave me a lot of trouble on my way from Ta'if to Al Baha, but, after replacing the two malfunctioning parts, I was able to drive without trouble from Al Baha to Abha. 

Now that I was in Abha, which is, by all counts, a nice, cool place, I had to discover what to do next. I had heard about two main attractions - the Soudaa mountain, with its Asir National Park, and the Green Mountain. I left my hotel room at about half past nine, and set my car in the direction of the Green Mountain. The name comes from the carefully planted trees and shrubs over the last 100 feet or so of the top, and from the green tube-lights that illuminate the entire top area green in the night.

Abha seen from the Green mountain
 The route to the Green Mountain, as seen on the Navigation map of Google on my S3 was about 3-4 km away, but a route map won't really tell you about single way roads, elevated roads, and the finicky traffic police. At one point, when I was dilly-dallying about whether to go straight or turn left, a traffic policeman shouted at me to move on ... with the result that I had to go ahead about 200 m, take a U turn, and then a right turn to effect my left turn!

The top houses a trolley and a restaurant and recreation
At about 300 m below the mountain, the GPS tells me to enter a smaller lane, which I did; at one point, it asked me to turn right. Now this right turn was an extremely steep road that I could not climb in the second gear; so, I gently reversed, then switched to the first gear, and
 accomplished the feat on my third try. The rest of the climb was easy, and soon I was before a gate. There was a SR 30 fee to take the car up, 
The housing for the trolley
 so, I decided to park my car down there and then climb up. I did so, and the climb was quite  steep and tiring, but I managed to get to the top in one piece. On the way, I shot pictures of Abha as it looked from above, and also took snaps of the building on the top. As it turned out, both the views were excellent and educative. The top area has many birds, especially some birds of prey and a lot of cream-underwinged robins. There are con

The cables for the trolley
 -tinuous rows upon rows of green strips of metal, on the inner side of which are affixed hundreds of tube-lights that go all around the mountain top. When these light up at night, the effect is of a very beautiful green mountain.

On the top, there is a car-park, a station for the trolley and a large restaurant-cum-relaxation area, most of which is open to families and not to bachelors. However, barring some areas on the top, I was able to look around everywhere since there were no families at this morning hour. The 
arrangements are fantastic, really.

Inside restaurant area only for families
 I climbed down the way I had gone up, and then visited a local artifacts gallery. The boy who was working there was a Hyderabadi Indian, and he allowed me to take a few pictures of the exhibited items. Here, I have shown a few of the displayed items. There was an entire traditional room on display, as well as models of the heritage houses, chimneys, and a lot of stuff made from straw (caps, bags, mats, etc.). Also, there were handicrafted items of a decorative nature, costing upwards of SR 250 and up to SR 2000 a piece. 

Interesting route to the recreational areas above (closed)
For the purpose of remembering Abha, I purchased a small memento here for SR 10. This turned out to be a slightly expensive purchase, because, later in the day, I was able to buy a much larger and coloured artifact at the Soudaa market - also for SR 10. After this, I returned to my car and drove back down the hill to the place from where I had started. My next destination was the Al Soudaa mountain, which would take me even higher than the Green Mountain, but I would be leaving Abha to go there. 

Models of the old heritage houses and columns
I did not actually know how to proceed to this new place. The signboard to go to Al Soudaa pointed to the right of the road, but there was just a small lane there. I went past the lane, but no luck. No right turns for another 300 m. I returned to the starting place, and asked a young boy how to go to Al Soudaa. He told me he also wanted to go there, so I requested him to get into the car and guide me. 
All these cost more than a handful of Saudi Riyals!

He was constantly busy on the phone. I was thinking that the destination must be a part of Abha and should not take more than 5-10 minutes at the most. In the event, the place was over 20 km away, and took the better part of half an hour to reach. On the way, the boy (about 25 years old) asked me to halt at a small right turn. What I saw was very unique.
A re-modelled room to give the authentic flavour

It was an artificial lake, created by a dam. There were many cars and tourists here, and I can only thank this guy for showing me something I would have otherwise completely missed as there were no sign-boards. I think this is drinking water ... that is why there are no sign-boards. The climb to the top of the dam was a very tough one, so I gave it a pass. However, it was really nice to see a water collection.

From there, we kept going further, till we
The expensive decorative items
reached a flat expanse. Here, there were hundreds of cars - going in and coming out of what seemed to be a very vast recreational area. A sign-board said "Welcome to Asir National Park". Another one announced paid helicopter rides over Abha (from a company called Abhasky). A third one announced that this was "Abha Festival" and there were many things to be bought from the exhibition inside the park.

The lake behind me
En route, we also saw many areas of Go-karting on the sand. Many parents had put their kids inside those karts and they were all having fun.

When I tried to enter the park, a policeman stopped me and said the park was only for families ... but I could go in without the car. Aw dash! These Saudi rules can be so funny. So, for the second time in a day, I had to leave my car and start walking. My Saudi friend and I parted company, and I then went in.

A closer look at the lake
The entire park is dotted with trees that give shelter and privacy. A lot of cars had parked themselves in the park, and nearby would be screens mounted on the ground to shelter the females from prying male eyes. Entire families were picnicking, with large utensils mounted on fire to make lunch, I suppose. The children ran around here and there, and there was an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment everywhere.

There was a huge air-conditioned exhibition tent, stalls selling ice-cream, corn, and similar other fest stuff, lots of children's game areas (trampolines, slides, water zorbing, water boating, cycling, merry-go-rounds and what not) and so on. From the exhibition, I made a few purchases, including a Pakistani utensil for making tandoori items in the house on gas, and some trinkets for my daughters. I had some food too, and then, tea. After this, I left the park. Right opposite was another shopping area from where I picked up a colourful, larger memento of a traditional Asir house for SR 10/-

I have enclosed some pictures of the people having fun at the park below. Take a look.

The women are not to be left behind! An all-women affair

Perfumes and scents on display

Trinkets and artificial jewellery

This deserves a caption

See how the cars are stacked up inside the trees?

After completing my activities, I stopped for a cup of tea at one spot, and ate a roasted corn at another (for SR 3/- the corn was very steeply priced). Presently, as I was driving back down, it started raining heavily! The rain stopped after about 5 minutes, and I then drove back to my hotel to rest for the evening. I debated on whether I should drive to the neighbouring town KHAMIS MUSHAYYAT, but decided I had had enough of sight-seeing for the day. I took a siesta, then went out for dinner to Herfy's and returned to the room for more surfing and snoozing, before sleeping at half past eleven.

That's it for now. Please do comment and encourage me. Thank you.