Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mada'in Saleh

After we returned from our trip to Jeddah in January, I resolved to see more of the Kingdom before we left. I didn't want to say that we had lived in Saudi Arabia but all we saw was one city. Luckily we had found a tour company on our trip and they could arrange to make my resolution a reality. Last weekend the Mister and I travelled with a group to Mada'in Saleh, just north of the city of Medinah.

There are a few different versions of the story of Mada'in Saleh: the story that our tour guide told us, and the one on all of the UNESCO plaques. This is something you get used to when travelling in Saudi Arabia. Our tour guide told us the story of Saleh and the Thamudians, a story from the Quran that Christians would say closely resembles that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Basically the prophet Saleh, a distant decendent of the prophet Noah (the guy with the ark), arrived in this already-built civilization filled with pagans and he tried to convert them to monotheism (this was all before Islam, about 10,000 years ago). The Thamudians weren't buying the whole there's-only-one-God thing so they challenged Saleh to prove his deity's strength and produce a giant camel. To quote our tour guide, the Thamudians said, "We made these giant houses out of stone, you make a giant camel out of stone."

And he did. Saleh prayed and God produced a giant, pregnant (bonus!) she camel the size of one of the houses like the one behind us in the photo. The Thamudians still weren't sold, they killed the she camel, and God punished them by wiping out their civilization.

According to our tour guide, the city lay empty with nothing but the Thamudian remains until the first century AD, when the Nabateans (and UNESCO) pick up the story.

The Nanateans were the same people who carved Petra in Jordan. You can wikipedia them to get their story.

All that to say which ever story you believe, Mada'in Saleh was pretty darn cool. Here are a few more photographic highlights from the trip:

The rock formations had a fancy geological name. Ben, one of the guys on the trip, told us the name and the science behind how the honeycomb formation was made...but I've forgotten both. World's. best. blogger.

This was the first of the ruins we came upon. Our tour guide, Saad, blazed the trail as the tourists were still back in the parking lot snapping photos! It was pretty funny.

A carving over one of the front doors.

I thought it was so cool how the rock looked like a melted candle.

This spot had the best breeze! It looked like last scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

We went to the deserted and newly restored main station on the Hejaz Railway. This is the same railway that Lawrence of Arabia blew up. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't feel bad. I haven't seen the movie either)

Saad took us to the top of this mountain and we got to see this amazing panorama just before sunset.

The next day we sent to see the newly restored Al Ula old city.

The remains of the old city kind of blend in with the natural backdrop, don't they?

This door was decorated so you knew a woman owned the house. Saad said people lived in these old houses until just 35 years ago. He wasn't sure whether it was the original inhabitants or the last ones that did the painting.

I tried on a niqab at a beduin market.

I'm really glad the Mister and I went on this trip. We actually saw a part of the country that most Saudis haven't seen! As an added bonus we got to meet a group of really great people. I only wish we had found this tour company longer than a few months before we make our big exit from the Kingdom.

Vicariously yours,