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.

No comments: