Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some interesting images from various situations and locations

I wanted to do this since a long time. Whenever I see something that appeals to me, I tend to click photos of it and think about it for a while, then forget it. Here, then, are some interesting images of things I have seen/done/noted over the previous one and a half years of my stay in the Kingdom:

Can you guess the total number of wheels here? The trailer itself has 14 wheels and each deck of the trailers above have 24, so the grand total is 14 +24+24 = 62!

I saw this at the NCB bank, May 29, 2013, This is a pen holder that is fixed to the table top and such holders are provided outside each teller. This is pilfer free and so good!

In the manager's office in the NCB  Bank. This is one version of the kahwa-glasses -dates that forms a ready to eat and drink item making a guest feel welcome. This was really great.

Whole lamb carcasses are hung at the entrance of this eatery (Kababjee) that is a fine food joint I visited with some new friends in Ta'if.

The huge ring that is suspended by a wire from the helicopter has cameras mounted on it. I saw this helicopter make repeated  reconnaisance visits over Al Muwayh in April 2013. It was looking for road repairing sites.

The common area just outside the delivery room/and the main OR:The Filipino girls are really gifted when it comes to decorating the hospital.

These tiny flowers bloomed just outside my home about three weeks ago after a lot of episodes of rain in mid-April, 2013.\

A nicely grown date palm  near Riyadh

Well-manicured trees outside personal residences  of teachers in Riyadh
Another example of beautiful implantatiom of trees outside homes.

The inside of the first lift that took me from the zero-th floor to the 77th floor at the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh

Beautiful gardens and fountain outside the KIng Faisal Speciality Eye Hospital, where I met a doctor acquaintance from India on 16th May 2013 (Riyadh)

Two burgers made by me for personal consumption, May 2013

Barbecuing chicken in the Al Muwayh garden with Drs. from the ER (Drs. Measser and Sheshtawy)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Reading more about this country on others' blogs

As I mentioned in an earlier entry posted by me a few days ago, I have started exploring Saudi Arabia through some exceptionally well written blogs on the net. I came across one by a lady who calls herself Laylah. She is probably an American, but the fact is that she married a Saudi man, and has started a blog that has almost 500 followers, and a page on FB with more than 1500 likes. Check out some of her entries on http://www.blueabaya.com.

I read about her experience of attending a Saudi wedding. This encompasses two rather long and detailed posts on her first time at a Saudi wedding. It was thoroughly enjoyable. I haven't attended one as yet, but would certainly like to go for one if invited. 

Also, she writes about many interesting places to visit in the kingdom, and one of the posts describes a village called Ushaiger, which is an hour and a half's ride by car from Riyadh. You should probably read the post and take a look at the amazing pictures that she has posted on the site! 

Of course, Saudi Arabia has some problems, but then, which country does not? At least I am seeing a fairly good administration, well-planned, clean cities, an optimum use of the resources that they have to beautify places, plant trees, and do whatever they can to make cities livable. I would like to ask if a country like ours, i.e. India, could match the kingdom in the provision of good governance. I am not even talking about expenditure or whether India can afford to spend so much on this or that ... just clean governance, which costs nothing in money but everything in conscience. To that extent, I am gradually turning from a critic to a grudging admirer of this nation.

Someone asked me why I looked so happy nowadays. It made me think. Some standard stuff came to my mind such as my having passed part 1 of the MRCPCH, my having appeared for part 2, my having performed a visit to Madinah and performed the Hajj, my having made a decent amount of money that I could not have made had I been in India ... but at the heart of all this was the fact that life is getting to be enjoyable here because there is less stress, more peace, a slow pace of life, time to do things which one cannot ordinarily even contemplate doing in the fast hurly-burly of life in Mumbai, and such other comforts that are difficult to describe.

Yes, I miss my family a lot. I miss the snacks and the food that India is so famous for, and was one of the many reasons I regretted leaving India for, but these are common to the millions of Indians working here and in other countries in the Gulf as well as in the other countries of the world. So, we suffer, but we all do, and it is something you get used to after some time. In fact, the absence of corruption in day-to-day life, the absence of scams, the absence of terrorist attacks, the absence of the rat-race that we all become a part of in India ... you actually begin to like these things. And, thus, Saudi Arabia grows on you. Gradually, imperceptibly. As it has, on me.

That's it for now. Do write in with your comments. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A week later

I completed a year and a half in Saudi Arabia last week. Now, I am a lot more here, and a little less in India when it comes to my mental state. I still watch Indian television avidly - so it's not that I don't care about my country, if you know what I mean - but I don't lose my sleep over whether Gurunath has bet money in IPL or whether Mumbai Indians are passionate or not about winning this season of IPL; I don't get overly concerned that there is a political and ideological divide between Sonia Gandhi and MMS; I hardly think about what will happen if Mr. Chauhan, the C.M. of Maharashtra has to go to the centre one fine day.

On the other hand, my heart still bleeds when there is a violation of children and women in New Delhi; I cry when I see what terrorists do when they attack innocents in some part of the country; I enjoy the shenanigans of the good people - like athletes, do-gooders, philanthropists, etc.; I am annoyed when I see cases of corruption in the execution of public welfare schemes like the MNREGA; I smile when I see a significant impact of some good planning on a measurable parameter of social improvement; I am thrilled to see a developmental project such as a much-needed flyover or a railway crossing being opened for the benefit of the common man.

When it comes to the bottom line, yes, I believe in India more than I did over a decade ago. Last month, I actually put my money where my mouth is, and have invested in a real estate project near Mumbai. Thus, my faith in India is alive and kicking.

A week has passed since I returned from Riyadh, where I had gone to appear for the second part of the MRCPCH exams. I was on call this week, and, thankfully, there weren't many calls or late night disturbances. I have begun walking for health once again, though I went only three or four times in the last seven days. On Thursday evening, two of my friends, Dr. Measser (a Syrian resident doctor) and Dr. Sheshtawy (an Egyptian resident doctor), and I, had a barbecue session in the garden of Al Muwayh. We went at six p.m. to avoid the strong heat of the sun, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable session where we barbecued some fillets of fish (prepared by me) and a whole chicken, which we had with Egyptian rice (made by Dr. Sheshtawy) and a lovely salad (brought by Dr. Measser). We stayed there till half past eight, and then returned home. I am publishing some photos of our experience. 

Starting a fire 

Fire is now almost ready to take the food

Fanning the flames to make the fish 

Barbecuing the fish

The ready fish (Dori fillets)

The vegetable salad

The Egyptian rice
In other news, an Indian Pediatrician by the name of Nandkumar Nenekar contacted me from a place called Nazran. He was given my number and name by my Peds friend Dr. Praful Shanbag, who is based in Mumbai, and with whom the good doctor is associated. He was basically touching base with me and I enjoyed talking with him.

Okay, so what are my plans? Currently, I am mulling the idea of working full-time to complete revising my Child Care book; once the MRCPCH results come, I will know whether to study again for Part 2 or go ahead with preparing myself for the final exam which I plan to appear for next year; I am thinking about registering for an upcoming Asian-Oceanic conference on Neurology in September in Riyadh (yes, Riyadh); I am continuing to walk as the only available means to get fitter; and finally, I am working towards  visiting more places in Saudi Arabia as a tourist.

That's it for now. 

In a couple of days, I plan to go to Ta'if and Jeddah for a well-deserved break.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I finally found my periscope

Dear Readers,

I came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exactly 18 months ago. After a brief sojourn in Ta'if, I was taken to Al Muwayh to work as a specialist Pediatrician in the Ministry of Health's general hospital. My "incoming" was fraught with difficulties, and my regular readers probably remember the problems I faced during my first two weeks in the Kingdom. Of course, the difficulties did not end then, and even today, I continue to make compromises with myself as and when the need arises.

Imagine, therefore, my pleasant surprise when I discovered so much new information about Saudi Arabia today, while surf. ing the net. I came across a listing of blogs based on Saudi Arabia on the www.expatsblog.com site. These blogs have been maintained regularly. For example, the blog http://workinginsaudiarabia.blogspot.com has been online since 2007, and has had more than a million visits! The site http://www.blueabaya.com is a fantastic blog, as is the site http://www.americanbedu.com. These last few blogs have tremendous posts, great pictures and super blog views .

I call this my periscope because, until now, I was living at the bottom of a deep well and could barely look outside it. Knowing that there are other people out there who are also bloggers like me, and who have been writing such fantastic accounts of their life in Saudi Arabia has been a shocker, no less, for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed their blog entries, although I do not see their point of view when they criticise the Saudi government. The reason is simple. If you are in a foreign country to earn your livelihood, you must not speak against them ... it is an uncharitable thing to do! So, I am going to restrict myself to writing positive things about my stay here in the Kingdom. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. So also this. I am going to concentrate on the positives. There are many, and there is no doubt there are negatives too, but it is not for me to be a judge of what they are and what they do as long as I am working here and earning my livelihood thanks to their generosity.

So, what is the periscope showing me? I read a post on ten things to do when you are in Abha. I read a beautiful post on the people and the village of Ushaigar (2 and a half hours' drive to the north-west of Riyadh). I read a post about the liberal lifestyle and dress of the Saudi women in the 1950s and 1960s before abayas and face covering were made compulsary. I think these posts have opened my eyes to the beautiful things that Saudi Arabia has to offer and it will be my endeavour to discover these things for myself in the months to come. Do stay with me, dear reader, for more revelations about this country.

Thank you for reading. That is all for today.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Trip to Riyadh: Sunday 12th May 2013 to Friday 17th May 2013 - III

This is the final installment of my trip to Riyadh. If you need to go back to the earlier posts in this series, please go to the "Older post" link and go backwards till you reach the first part of the series.

Thursday, 16th May:

Today, I decided to go to "Old Diriyah" district, which is listed as a heritage area of Riyadh. Fortunately, this district is only 6 km from my hotel. I searched Google maps with GPS to see how to reach there, and kept the GPS on till I was actually at my destination. I was expecting some ruins or castles ... or something equally interesting or romantic. In the event, the visit turned out to be a damp squid. The reason is that their so-called "old houses" look more or less like today's houses in Indian villages! In fact, old Diriyah wasn't even a defunct or relic area. It is a thriving area with residents, restaurants, and all the other similar things that cities have!

It was almost noon when I finished scouting the area. There was an Afghani restaurant here, so I decided to have my lunch here. They served me Alu Palak, and it was really delicious, so I ended up ordering some take-aways in the form of an extra plate of alu palak, and a plate of a chicken curry. I then received a message from an Indian female Ophthalmologist by the name of Dr. Deepti Chauhan. She has recently come to Riyadh for a short 3-month assignment to work in the King Faisal Specialist Eye Hospital and we had been in touch by phone through a mutual friend, as she needed guidance on how to manage one's life in Saudi Arabia, esp. as she would be travelling and staying here as a single woman.

In any case, she and I set up a rendezvous to meet at the hospital itself. Accordingly, I went to KFSEH, reaching there at around 3 p.m. The hospital is set amidst picturesque landscaping which includes aesthetically designed buildings, manicured lawns and large water pools with flowing water and sprinkling fountains. Take a look:

We met in the reception area of one of the buildings where she has her office. Dr. Deepti is a down to earth eye surgeon with over 16 years (I hope I got this right) of experience in Mumbai, India. She told
me she accepted this assignment for two reasons; one of them was the fact that it seemed the right thing to do to improve her C.V. The second reason was that the interviewers actually persuaded her to accept the post as she has a British MRC Opth. She is considering completing the assignment for now and returning to India thereafter, but, at the same time, she seems open to accepting an extension, or returning in the capacity of a specialist or consultant in the Kingdom.

Having had a good deal of chat with her, we parted, and I returned to the hotel.

In the evening, after the Maghrib prayers, I decided to go to another area of Riyadh known as Malaz. A couple of Indian servants in the hotel recommended that I go there to buy old audio cassettes. (I've been looking for pre-recorded old cassettes to play in the audio system of my old, old car). As it turns out, the long ride of over 20 kms proved to be mostly useless. There were a few cassette shops here, but none that had old cassettes - well, actually, I didn't see any, but was told thus by an Indian pedestrian who I had stopped on his way to ask about my need.

I was a little annoyed, but not overly so, and I brightened up the evening with some shopping for jalebi and breads in a bakery shop in one of the side lanes. Next, I called up Mohamed Siddiqui (about whom I wrote in an earlier post in my Riyadh series), and asked him where I could get these audio cassettes. He told me very clearly that Malaz was the wrong place to look for old Hindi songs cassettes, and countered with an instant invitation for me to go to Lulu's Hypermarket (owned by a Keralite) where he was with his family, and also invited me to join him for dinner. I was pleasantly shocked! I agreed to go where he asked me to go, and after a drive full of wrong turns and utter confusion, I made it to the mall.

It is a huge mall and has an enviable reputation among the malls of Riyadh of selling Indian goods and masalas. I met Mohamed on the first floor. He had with him his wife, his son and daughter and his nephew and niece. They were all waiting to enter a quaint Indian restaurant called the "Durbar" Restaurant. We hugged each other and he introduced me to his wife, his son and daughter (both teenagers) and two kids who are his nephew/niece. After a wait of about 15 minutes (during which  I went out and strolled down to the basement where the "bazaar" is located. There was a bewildering array of Indian stuff, and hundreds of Keralite customers browsing the mall!) we were shown a table, and the food arrived after an hour. We had a tandoori platter, followed by butter chicken and Chicken 65 with rotis/kulcha, and then biryani/fried rice. 

Mohamed Siddiqui has been in the kingdom for nearly 2 decades; he works with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) in a non-technical capacity and is worried that he may have to go as the company has started trimming staff. However, he kept up the banter and made me very comfortable with his family members, who are going to stay with him only until mid-June, when they have to return to India on account of the schooling of his children. 

After the dinner, we decided that I should go to his home where he would hand over to me some audio cassettes that he had with him and which he was no longer using. Great, I said, and we all walked to our car, only to discover that I had forgotten to turn off the headlights, and as a result, the battery had drained off completely. I was shocked. Mohamed and I requested a couple of cabbies to help us recharge the battery, and with the cabbie in the driver's seat, and the two of us pushing the car, we managed to re-start the battery after about half an hour. In the meantime, his family had already left for their home in a cab. I took Mohamed to his house, which was only 10 minutes' away, and he made good his promise to hand me over 8 audio-cassettes. We parted then, and I returned to my hotel by around mid-night.

Tonight would be my last night in Riyadh, and I would drive back to Al Muwayh the next day, listening to some very pleasant songs by Kishore Kumar and all the rest of the golden voices from India. 

Friday, 17th May:

En route, I made just two or three halts, twice for mental relaxation and imbibing of tea, and once at Al Khasra for lunch. My return journey was as peaceful, if not more, than my journey to Riyadh five days before. I checked out of the hotel at half past eleven, and reached my home in Al Muwayh at half past six. 

All in all, it had been a memorable journey.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Trip to Riyadh: Sunday 12th May 2013 to Friday 17th May 2013 - II

This is the second installment on my trip to Riyadh. To read the first installment click HERE.

Wednesday, 15th May:

I decided not to run around much today, but relax, complete my internet downloads to take the maximum advantage of the free wireless services offered by Mersal Suites, the hotel in which I was staying, and eat fast food from nearby. 

Accordingly, I got up late, and after a lazy bath, I settled in my room to download some great TV serials and movies. You won't believe this, but I was able to get very fast downloads here in the room! Take a look at this download speed. 

In the afternoon, I went to Herfy again for a meal, and enjoyed their chicken burger with french fries and a large coke. I wouldn't dare say this to you all, but the fact is that I did enjoy it!

I watched some programs on TV, including science items from CNN and BBC world, half of a Hindi movie on Zee Aflam, and some other stuff on Al Jazeera International. Let me add here that Al Jazeera is a very good broadcaster when it comes to news of the Middle East and Africa. It isn't so wild on European or US news, but that is fine, since it is a regional world channel. It does cover south Asia very impartially as far as I could see. When I first came to the Kingdom over 18 months ago, I only knew that Al Jazeera had been the channel that had broadcast the live video of Osama bin Laden, and also the beheading of the American journalist (?Pearl) by the bin Laden group over 10 years ago. The more I have seen of this channel, the more I have begun to like it.

Okay, so what did I do in the afternoon? I went to visit the Kingdom Tower, the tallest structure in Riyadh, and indeed, in all of Saudi Arabia. Housing many international companies' offices, and the Four Seasons Hotel, this 100 storey tower that is shaped like a vertical elliptical cylinder with a large hole on its upper 20-25 floors (I think you saw the night-time pictures in my earlier installment), this tower makes a very impressive statement on the skyline of Riyadh. My visit started with the ground floor, through a large courtyard and walkway into the main building. I reached for the nearest lift, but all it did was to take me to the 28th floor. There were no floors to be accessed upwards from this lift. There was an office of REGUS here, and I popped in to ask how to go upwards. A helpful executive informed me that the way to go to higher floors was by another set of lifts that were accessible from the other side of the building where the shopping mall was located.

Approaching the Kingdom tower

The beautiful Kingdom tower

One of the framed photos of the tower inside the lobby that leads up to the lift to go up to the Sky bridge.
Hmm ... so I descended to the ground floor, found my way to the elegant mall that encompassed the basement, ground and the first two storeys of the entire building. The unique thing about this mall is that the second floor is open only to women and they are free to remove their abayas there and shop for their stuff!

After asking around, I finally managed to find the entry to the lift that took people to the top floors of the building. There is a charge of SR 35 to go to the Sky bridge that connects the two arms of the top 20 storeys to each other. The Sky bridge is an attraction not many people miss when they visit Riyadh, and it offers glorious views of the entire city of Riyadh. I purchased one ticket. The journey is made in two lifts. The first lift (which has an interior that resembles a starry night) takes you to the 77th floor, which is the last FULL
The highly informative ticket

The starry-night interior of the first lift

floor and has a lounge cum restaurant on it. If you wish not to go to the Sky bridge, you need not buy the ticket at all, since access up to here is free. This first leg of the journey is by a fast elevator, taking only 50 seconds to go from the first floor to the 77th one. You then disembark, and are taken to the second lift, which takes you to the 99th floor in 40 seconds. When you exit this lift, you are at the entrance of the Sky bridge. It is an arc-like floor with viewing windows (sealed with glass, of course) on both sides. The views are simply marvellous. Here are some pictures of this unique place. 

View from the Sky Bridge



During my ten-minute stay here, there were no other visitors, but I am told that the bridge gets fairly crowded on weekend evenings. After taking the above pictures, I went back down. 

I went to the basement and to the food court. I purchased a meal from an Indian eatery. It was a great meal with lamb curry, chicken tikka masala, a Punjabi samosa, rice and a Nan, all for SR 27 (including a bottle of water). Having had my meal, I left the tower and drove back to the hotel.

Relaxed there and slept at a little after eleven p.m.  That's it for now. More to follow in my final post on this trip. 

Trip to Riyadh: Sunday 12th May 2013 to Friday 17th May 2013 - I

Although I had gone to Riyadh with the objective of appearing for Part 2 of the MRCPCH examinations of the Royal Society of Child Health and Paediatrics, I stayed for a full five-day week ending on Friday morning, when I decided to take myself back to Al Muwayh.

Read this to see my arrival in Riyadh on Sunday evening. After I had settled in my room (# 204 on the first floor), I went for a bath, then unpacked my stuff, called for a tea, and relaxed for some time. Later, I went around the corner to visit Herfy to check out their menu. I did not, however, wish to eat at that time. The Panda supermarket is next to the Herfy store, but again, I did not visit it tonight.

I studied for a few hours, but mostly, I just whiled away the time. Soon, it was time to sleep. I had a long day of studies ahead of me.

Monday, 13th May:

Most of my day was spent indoors, but I did step out in the morning to eat some light breakfast at a small place two lanes down from our place. Such places are usually staffed by Asian or Yemeni cooks, and they can serve you "sandwiches" stuffed with lamb-mince, shredded chicken, scrambled egg, chicken liver pieces or something similar, all for SR 2 or 3 a piece. They also serve tea and coffee, soft drinks and juices and sell bottles of water. I enjoyed this low cost breakfast! After this, I went in my car to the examination center to practice how to go in, where to park the car, how to exit, and how to take the car out and back to my hotel. This was a great relief to me, since I would be doing this for the exams the following day.

In the afternoon, I had a Herfy fish sandwich with a coke and a medium pack of french fries - all this for SR 17. In the evening, I was brought a meal of roti, chicken tandoori, and pasta (which I set aside in the room refrigerator for breakfast on the next day). They did not even charge me for this meal, saying that it was meant for them but they would be pleased to share it with me. It was really touching!

I studied for about 4-5 hours during the entire day, and went to sleep at around mid-night.

Tuesday, 14th May:

This was the D-day, as it were. I woke up at a little after half-past seven, bathed etc. and then read a little here and there, and whiled away the time till it was time to leave. For breakfast, I had some of the pasta that I had set aside yesterday night. One of the Indian servants (Aalam) handled the whole thing for me - he took the pasta, got them heated and loosened and returned with tea and the pasta.

I left for the exams at a little after eleven a.m., and arrived at the center after a gap of 10 minutes. Some of the invigilators were present there already. They advised us to continue revising but not after twelve thirty, when they would take us into the hall, retrieve our books and mobile phones and enable us to find our seats and settle in for the long haul of 2 1/2 to three hours.

In between, I visited the waiting hall of the main hospital lobby next door to the College of Medicine (where the exams were to be held), and lounged on one of the sofas to read a little, but couldn't manage to read anything substantial.

I wrote Paper 1 from one p.m. to half past three, after which we all took a break. The next paper was from five p.m. to half past seven. At the end of this, I emerged out of the exam hall, chatted with some of the others who shared our hall, and then made my way to the car parking lot from where I retrieved my car and proceeded to my hotel.

I called my mom, and my family in India, then posted a few updates on my exam on FB.

Later in the evening, I went by car to the Olaya computer market. It was almost nine p.m, when I reached the market. I found a service station that looks at Acer computers,but his simple reply was that yes, he could get a new battery for my laptop, but I would get the laptop after 7 days. Seven days! Was this a joke people? I was not going to stay in Riyadh for seven days, so I decided not to hand over the Acer machine.

I have an internet-friend here in Riyadh, an unassuming Andhraite guy by the name of Mohammad Siddiqui. He has been living in Saudi Arabia since over 18 years and works for a computer-based job in a government  telecom company. I sought his help to search for a nice restaurant with Indian/Asian food, and he recommended SHOLAY  restaurant in Olaya computer market. 

I had my dinner here. The singles section was decent but small, with about 24 covers. I ordered a Ginger chicken, but it wasn't spicy enough, so I had the waiter take it back to spike it with more chilli. I felt that the chicken was a staple boiled shredded chicken and that sort of spoiled the taste for me. Anyways, I had 2 roomali rotis with this, and followed it up with a tea. The bill was SR 32 and I gave the waiter a tip of SR 3. 

On the way back to my hotel, I clicked some pictures of the roads by night, and especially the beautiful Faisaliya Tower that came en route. 

Driving down one of the roads
Faisaliya Tower
Faisaliya Tower
Kingdom Tower by night
Changing lights atop the Kingdom Tower
Upon reaching the area near my hotel, I saw a Baskin-Robbins outlet, and I stopped here to purchase a sugar-free Chocolate ice cream to celebrate my daughter Hannah's 19th birthday (which also fell today) and my release from the study cycle. Nibbling at the ice cream, I returned to the hotel by mid-night and went to sleep.

More to follow in my next post.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Journey to Riyadh - An overview

A strange rock atop a small hillock
 I was to appear for Part 2 of the MRCPCH exams on 14th of May. The venue was the ground floor of the College of Medicine next to King Khalid University Hospital within the King Saud University complex. I had made up my mind to go by the SAPTCO bus service as I felt less than confident of being able to drive the entire distance from Al Muwayh to Riyadh, which is over 600 km. The reason for my lack of confidence was two-fold: a) My car is nearly 20 years old b) I have never driven over 250-270 km in my entire life (Mumbai-Pune, of course). 
The effects of sand erosion on a desert landscape

However, in the week preceding my departure, I made up my mind to be a little daring and adventurous. I have driven my car to Ta'if, and in March, when I went to India via Jeddah, I drove it from Ta'if to Jeddah as well. But 600 km is not the same as 200 km now, is it. So, justifiably, I was nervous. In the end, though, I simply sat in my car on the morning of the 12th, and drove to Riyadh. Did I do a good job of it?
Undulating hills in the distance ...
The ghat section with unique carved cliffs on either side
Well, as you can see, I did. Starting from my house at 7:00 A.M., I drove down Highway 40 to Riyadh, taking 3-4 breaks in between. I stopped for various reasons, but the most engaging ones were the places where I got down for food, for petrol, for rest (with eyes closed under a shade) and to take pictures of interesting landscapes. During one phase in the journey, I came across a ghat-like road which kept climbing up, with high peaks on either side, the walls of these peaks with strange linear markings that I suspect have been made by machines while carving out this road along the desired track.  The photos I have uploaded to this post tell their own story, and little is left to your imagination, dear reader.

A close-up of the carved cliff
 As you can see, the roads were large, and though there were vehicles zipping past you in the fast lane (and sometimes from the other side too), the journey was by and large free from the tension that one feels when one is driving on Indian roads. Except for the expressways, most Indian highways are either one or two laned. By contrast, Saudi highways are always three-laned or above. This makes for a very easy to follow system. If you are planning to drive fast, you take the fast lane; if you want to take an exit, move to the slow lane; and if you want to drive at a steady speed, stick to the middle lane. You won't go wrong this way, though there is one risk: if you miss a turn-off, your next opportunity to exit may be tens of kilometers away!

The front view from my car's windshield
One of the road signs that show how far Riyadh still was
The second thing I learned is that to drive safely, one must always use the GPS of one's smart phone (or have a GPS navigator device if one can get it). Plan the trip ahead of time, research the roads on http://www.maps.google.com, download road maps to your phone with the "Sygic" app (which is free to try, but one has to buy it if one wants to keep using it), and ensure that the phone is fully charged (as the use of GPS drains the battery very fast).  One should also carry a good supply of crunchy snacks, water, and other such material so that one does not feel the need to stop very often. Even in a sparsely populated country like Saudi Arabia, one will find small towns with mosques (with bathrooms) at least once every 20-50 km, though I did see one gap of 80 and another of over 120 during my 7-hour journey.
A Herfy outlet on the way in one of the smaller towns

It was a delight to pass sand-eroded hills, empty roads, beautiful desert landscapes and so on. At the same time, it got lonely at times, and one actually yearned for good music or company while doing such a long journey.

A close-up of the Herfy outlet
It was about half past one when I saw the emerging suburbs of Riyadh, and then, I was past them and into the heart of the city. Asking around, I managed to locate the way to the venue of the university. It seemed like a prudent thing to do, so that I would be able to decide where to take a room in a hotel. The condition would be that it should be near enough to the University.

Who says Saudi Arabia has no greenery?
At first, I went to King Saud University. It is so huge! The campus is spread over thousands of acres. Their Preparatory school, which is just opposite my hotel, is bigger than the entire main building of Bombay University with the surrounding grounds (at Fort). You don't see many students as they must be arriving/departing from parking areas. Anyways, so I went in, and began searching for the actual venue. I called up the office of the examinations secretary a few times and so, managed to locate the building. However, the entry and exit roads are extremely complicated. You cannot enter the areas freely and have to get used to the ways - entering the wrong way is never an option as all the ways are just 1 vehicle in breadth, and have spikes installed on the ground to enable entry only from one side and not the other. This was a bit off-putting, and eventually, I went to the visitor's parking lot and parked my car. I then walked back to the venue and scouted out the ground floor of the college of medicine to see where I would be sitting for the exam after a few days. It was just as well I did, because, in retrospect, I would have been unable to find my way if I had decided to go on the day of the exams.
Near a small village

From here, I returned to King Abdullah Road, and stopped at a McD for snacks. I still did not know where to stay. I called up my net friend Mohd. Siddiqui, who told me he had booked a room for me in an area known as Haara. When I asked someone how far it was, I learned that Haara was 25 km from where I was, and would be more than 20 km from the University. Thus, Haara was NOT an option.

Approaching the outskirts of Riyadh
I hailed a youth who looked Asian. I requested him to guide me. He actually stood with me and drew the map of the area on a large A4 sheet, then guided me to a rental apartment which was just 2-3 minutes from one of the entrances of the University. It was next to a Panda store, on the corner of Prince Turki Road and a side road in Nakheel area. It was also opposite the Prep school that I mentioned above. I thanked the man ... he told me he was a Pakistani in response to my question as to where he hailed from. Bless him. 

A view from the car of an interesting hill-scape
I drove to the site mentioned by him. The hotel I finally took a room in is called Mersal Suites. It was a very fine accommodation, and I settled in at around 5 p.m., thoroughly exhausted after a very very hard drive. On the other hand, though, I was thrilled to be here, as I looked forward to a lot of interesting time post-exams.

That's it for now.                                                           
Do write in with your comments!

P.S. Here is a list of the towns one passes as one travels from Al Muwayh to Riyadh:

Zalm (54 km)
Houmiyat (140 km)
Al Khasra (259 km)
Halban (307 km)
Tuhayyh/Sanaam ( 351 km)
Ruwaydah ( 362 km)
Mizel (417 km)
Quwaiyyah (432 km)
Al Jelleh (490 km)
Muzaymiah (537 km)
Kharj (575 km)

In addition to the above, there are off-shoots to tens of other places, but I haven't named them since these places are not ON the highway, but off it, at a variable distance from the highway. You get to know them only because of the link to the roads that lead to these places.