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.

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