Monday, August 6, 2012

Saudi Overland



Saudi Overland


July 2012




Deserts and mountains


Holy cities of Makkah and Madina, mountains of Taif, coastal cities of Jeddah (on Red Sea) and Dharan on Arabian Sea

Total Distance Covered:

5300 KMs


We waited for a few years to try a multiple Saudi visa so that we could extend our overland trip to Saudi, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. However Saudis are tough in issuing visas and finally we decided to take the available visa (Umrah) and visit as many cities within the jurisdiction of that visa in Saudi Arabia.

Our preparations included full truck maintenance, our own stuff packed in the best way for a long trip etc. Other than these the logistics involved getting Saudi visa, and permission documents for our car to travel across the border. The visa process was fairly simple by giving our passports to an agent who processed our visa and charged us 250 per head to do so. For car documentation we had to go to two different departments, one was the ****** where they issue a carnet and a permission letter to the RTA. RTA issues a no objection certificate after receiving this document. This is all done if the ownership is on your name and the car is not leased from a bank. The first department charged AED 350 as a fee and AED 500 refundable deposit, which will be given back upon return from the trip.

We were all set to go after all the necessary documentation was completed. We packed our car at night on the 9th of July 2012 to leave early in the morning on our spiritual and tourism trip to the Holy lands and Saudi Arabia. It was my and children’s first trip to Saudi, however my wife visited Saudi before our marriage. There are restrictions on women driving in Saudi putting back all the driving responsibility on my shoulders.
There were three main objectives to be achieved from this trip. First and the foremost was to perform Umrah and visit the Holy sites of Makkah and Madina. These places are the most sacred place for Muslims in the whole world and millions of Muslims visit these two cities everyday all over the year.

As per Wiki Makkah is defined as
Mecca[2] (play /ˈmɛkə/Arabic: مكة‎, Makkah, pronounced [ˈmækːɐ]) is a city in the Hejaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located 70 km (43 mi) inland fromJeddah in a narrow valley at a height of 277 m (909 ft) above sea level. Its resident population in 2012 was 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during Hajj period held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
As the birthplace of Muhammad and a site of the composition of the Quran,[3][4] Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in the religion of Islam[5] and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj isobligatory upon all able Muslims. The Hijaz was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger empires. It was absorbed into Saudi Arabia in 1925. In its modern period, Mecca has seen tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure. Because of this, Mecca has lost many thousand-year-old buildings and archaeological sites.[6] Today, more than 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually, including several million during the few days of the Hajj.[7] As a result, Mecca has become one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the Muslim world,[8] although non-Muslims remain prohibited from entering the city.[9][10]

Although Muslims object on the spellings used for Makkah on many websites and map portals but somehow I fail to understand why it is so difficult to get this implemented with having millions and millions of Muslims around the world. I wonder!!

Makkah is the most holiest city in the world for Muslims because it has the Kaaba and it is the birth place of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). This is what wiki says about Kaaba.

The Kaaba (or Qaaba; Arabicالكعبة‎ al-Kaʿbah IPA: [ʔælˈkæʕbɐ]; English: The Cube)[1] is a cuboid-shaped building in MeccaSaudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam.[2]
The Quran states that the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), and his son Ishmael (Ismaeel in Arabic), after the latter had settled in Arabia.[3] The building has amosque built around it, the Masjid al-Haram. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. From any given point in the world, the direction facing the Kaaba is called the Qibla.
One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so. Multiple parts of the Hajj require pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction (as viewed from above). This circumambulation, the Tawaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).[2] However, the most dramatic times are during the Hajj, when about 6 million pilgrims gather to circle the building on the same day.[4][5]

One could imagine the importance of this place as compared to any other place. Madina is the second most holiest cities in the world and this is what Wiki says about Madina.
Medina (/mɛˈdiːnə/Arabic: اَلْمَدِينَة اَلْمَنَوَّرَة‎, al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah, “the radiant city” (officially), or اَلْمَدِينَة al-Madīnah; also transliterated as Madinah, or madinat al-nabi "the city of the prophet") is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, and serves as the capital of the Al Madinah Province. It is the second holiest city in Islam, and the burial place of theIslamic Prophet Muhammad. Medina is historically significant for being Muhammad's home after the Hijrah. Before the advent of Islam, the city was known as Yathrib, but was personally renamed by Muhammad.
Medina is home to the three oldest mosques in Islam, namely Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque), Quba Mosque (the first mosque in Islam's history),[1] and Masjid al-Qiblatain(the mosque where the qibla was switched to Mecca).
Because of the Saudi government's religious policy and concern that historic sites could become the focus for idolatry, much of Medina's Islamic physical heritage has been destroyed since the beginning of Saudi rule.
The Islamic calendar is based on the emigration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina, which marks the start of the Hijri year in 622 CE, called Hijra (هِجْرَة).
Similarly to Mecca, entrance to Medina is restricted to Muslims only; non-Muslims are neither permitted to enter nor travel through the city.[2][3][4] Muslims believe that the latter verses of the Quran were revealed in Medina and its surrounding outskirts, called the medinan suras.[5][6]

Any Muslim visiting Saudi definitely goes there to visit these two Holy cities. We visited these two cities performed our Umrah in Makkah and visited Masjid Nabwi and other places in Madina. In addition to this, our secondary objective was to visit Saudi for tourism and meet our relatives who moved to Saudi many years back and are now Saudi Nationals. Visited cities are Riyadh, Makkah, Taif, Jeddah, Badar, Madinah, Al Khobar and Dahraan.

Day 1

The distance we covered was about 1100 kms. First 400+ was through UAE and was fairly normal drive along the coast on the Southern side of the country and most of the drive was through the State of Abu Dhabi. The roads were decent although there were not facilities available beyond Abu Dhabi city. Border crossing was fairly eary. UAE charged us AED 35 to cross the border and they charge this amount consistently on all overland border crossings now. Saudi entrance is under construction and is in quite disarray. As soon as we entered Saudi we saw heaps of empty plastic water bottles and garbage bags scattered all over and hung on the barbed wire on the sides. We already knew we entered Saudi after seeing that. Process on the Saudi side was very easy and we didn’t need to get off the car, our visas were stamped on one window and the next window we had to buy insurance for the car. We bought for 15 days and it costed us 100 riyals.

We were already in Saudi. We took a break as soon as we entered Saudi and already knew that the services on the Saudi side are going to be quite poor. There are two roads from here those lead to Riyadh, one that goes in a very straight line to Riyadh but this road is a truck road and is two way traffic. Looking at Saudis driving standards I opted for the longer route which is and proper highway and goes through Al Hafoof but adds a couple of hundred kilometers to the journey. But it is important to be safe than sorry.

There was some road construction as soon as we took that highway but it didn’t last long and we were on a nicely paved road. After driving for a while we started to experience our first sand storm. One of the two lanes was covered by mountains of sand and there were bulldozers working to remove the sand from the highway. Practically there was only one lane available to drive. There were no signs of work in progress and we had to look out for them ourselves in a very poor visibility. We found most of the trucks on the highway and a fewer smaller vehicles. This highway also serves to Qatar so we passed very close to reach Qatar at times. Once we turned towards Al Hafoof and Riyadh the Bay was right next to the road, the waters were greenish blue and the scene was breathtaking. We stopped for a prayer and also to enjoy the beautiful views. The drive continued until a break for lunch that our Mom prepared for us before leaving. However we had to buy some food from a restaurant because in Saudi they don’t sell bread separately unless you buy a dish from them. This restaurant was the best of the lot on the way but still with basic facility. The services on Saudi side were very poor and one wonders where all the Oil money is going, if not spent back on the public. May be the elite and the royals have not yet filled up their pockets. The condition of the bathrooms was miserably bad and there are hardly any restaurants for families on the way though there are some for truck drivers as they were the majority of the population on the highway anyways. We had a few more stopovers for rest and for the kids to come out of the car, however it wasn’t easy to do so in the intense 50 degree centigrade of heat outside the car. I kept my zero tolerance policy if feeling tired or sleepy and I pulled over as soon as that happened and we put the curtains down in our truck to have a 10-15 minutes nap. This really helped and we didn’t take any chances as long as we stayed on the roads.

I must mention about the drivers on the Saudi roads. They drive at very high speed, doesn’t matter the road condition or the weather condition. They will come behind you in a zip and if there is not enough time for you to change the lane they will use the shoulder (if any) to overtake you. That was the norm while driving on the Saudi roads. There were plenty of old American cars seen on the highway. There was no driving courtesy followed by anyone on the roads whatsoever. So anyone driving there has to be careful about such things, you got to be driving faster than the speed limit anyhow but you got to be alert for changing lanes quickly because of other drivers or the road clearing bulldozers.  

We made it to Riyadh after sunset/Maghrid but it took us a while to find the address where we were staying for the night. Our cousin Khalid extended his home to us for the stay as he has moved to Dubai and has a maid and a driver there to take care of the house. The driver had a bad sense of giving directions and so we had to go in circles before making it to our destination.

Finally we made it there after having several calls with the driver for directions. We settled in the guest house and got the pool area open for us to relax. Kid's accumulated energy exploded here and they enjoyed swimming, Jacuzzi and sauna very much. By the time we came out of the pool we were all as fresh as ever. Food took a while to come as the driver got stuck in the rush but once it came we enjoyed it and crashed for the night.

Day 2
This was the day that every Muslim waits for, we were to enter the Holiest city of Makkah by evening to perform Umrah and to see the Holy Kaaba with our own eyes - Live. The distance was about 950km to our destination today. We had our breakfast and left by 8am. In no time were on the highway and were making good progress towards Taif where we would be taking bath and men would be changing into two pieces of unstitched white cloth as a requirement for performing Umrah. The journey to Taif was uneventful and we made it safe to Taif, bought some sleepers for everyone and reached the Masjid where Meekat is. Meekat is a place on either side of Makkah where one needs to clean him/herself before entering Makkah if going for Umrah. Women have to take bath and cover themselves modestly and have no condition for any particular clothing as men do. We changed into the necessary clothing and said two Rakkats of Nawafil before driving towards Makkah. We reached Makkah in less than hour from Taif and asked for directions to a parking place from a truck driver. He was a very nice gentleman and asked us to drive after him until he stopped, from there he told us where exactly to park our car and take a cab to the Haram area. The parking had a lot of empy places, I picked up one that was next to the main road so that at night time it gets lights from the road for safety purpose, although people told me this parking was safe.

We took a cab to our hotel that was right in front of the entrance to the Masjid Al Haram. We were dropped by the taxi driver a couple of hundred meters away as the road was closed due to Maghreb prayer and we had to walk that distance with our luggage along a grand demolishing site. When we reached our hotel Maghreb prayer was in progress as the hallways of the buildings were full of worshipers for their Prayer/Namaz. We walked through and checked in at the Al Safwa Royal Orchids Hotel, this is the very first hotel in front of the Gate No. 1 of Masjid Al Haram and hence it was going to make our stay and prayers extremely convenient. We were lucky enough to find a room with the Kaaba view although we had to bend a bit on the right most window of the room to see the full Kaaba, but it was good enough for us. At the first sight of Kaaba we made our special DUAS. We settled in and called our cousin Adel who was supposed to reach Makkah around the same time with his family. It was a coincident that our dates coincided while in Makkah and that turned out to be a great help for each other. They checked into their hotel at the same time we did and we were going together for the Umrah after feeding our kids before going to the Masjid. We took two wheel chairs and fixed the two younger kids on each one of them, one driven by Adel and one by myself. The remaining group joined one of our cousins who lived in Makkah and came along for performing Umrah. So basically we divided into two groups now. We started with the Tawaf (7 rounds of Kaaba) from the Corner stone of Hajr-e-Aswad. There was no way we could get closer to that corner to kiss or touch the Holy stone so we just pointed our right hand towards it and prayed to start our Tawaf. There were so many people around Kaaba and there are always people around this place. Because, we were with the wheel chairs (for kids) so we stayed in the outer rings to avoid rush but still we finished Tawaf with a slow progress. This was after Isha prayer and the temperature was bit better and nothing like the 50 degrees we experienced during the day. We made duaas of all kinds during our Tawaf and then moved to do the Saeee after saying two rikats of Nawafil. Saeee as per wiki

Performing the Sa'i, also known as Sa'ee,[1] (Arabicسعى‎ saʿy "ritual walking") serves to commemorate Hagar's search for water and God's mercy in answering prayers.
Dr. Ali Shariati in his book, Hajj: Reflection on Its Rituals describes the Sa'i:
Sa'i is a search. It is a movement with an aim. It is depicted by running and hurrying. During tawaf (circumambulation) you acted as Hajar. In Ibrahim's position you acted as Ibrahim and Ismail. Once you begin "trying" (Sa'i) you are acting as Hajar again. Here is a true demonstration of oneness. Shapes, patterns, colors, degrees, personalities, borders, distinctions and distances are destroyed. Naked man and stripped humanity are on the scene! Nothing but faith, belief and action are eminent! Here nobody is spoken of; even Ibrahim, Ismail and Hajar are only names, words and symbols. Whatever exists is moving constantly, humanity and spirituality and between them only discipline. Furthermore, this is Hajj, a decision for an eternal movement in a certain direction. It is also how the whole world moves.[2]
[edit]In the Qur'an
Al-Safa and Al-Marwah are also mentioned in the Qur'an.
Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good,- be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth.
Umrah’s definition as per wiki is.
The Umrah or (Arabicعمرة‎) is a pilgrimage to MeccaSaudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year. In Arabic, Umrah means "to visit a populated place". In the Sharia, Umrah means to perform Tawaf round the Kaaba and Sa'i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, after assuming Ihram (a sacred state), either from a Miqat like Zu 'l-Hulafa, Juhfa, Qarnu 'l-Manāzil, Yalamlam, Zāt-i-'Irq, Ibrahīm Mursīa, or a place in Hill. It is sometimes called the 'minor pilgrimage' or 'lesser pilgrimage', the Hajj being the 'major' pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.

Once we complete our Saee we had to cut our hairs, men could get their heads shaved off or just cut some hairs from all sides of the head. Women just get one little part of their hairs cut. Alhamdulillah we completed one of the most important rituals of Islam successfully. Everyone was tired now, so we headed back to the hotels to have some rest. Day was over and we wanted to have some sleep before going back to the Haram for Fajr prayer as it was already quite late at night.

DAY 3, 4 and 5
These days were spent in prayers and Tawafs. Other than that we hired a cab to visit some historical places around Makkah. These places carry significant value for Muslims. We visited the following sights.
Ghar-e-Hira (didn’t climb al the way up as the temperature was close to 50 and we had to make it back for Duhr prayer also.)
Ghar-e-Saur (again saw that from far and didn’t hike up)
After the Ziyaraat we came back to the hotel. We also purchased 10 bottles of Aab-e-Zam Zam – the Holy water and left the bottles in our truck during this time.

During these days we mainly stayed in and around the Haram and didn’t go anywhere else. We took full round of Masjid Al Haram without kids and them took them around on the first floor to take a full round of Kaaba on that floor. 

Kaaba is magnificent and glorious and I found this place quite peaceful despite the fact that thousands and thousands of people visiting this place every day. This is the symbol that is keeping the Muslims facing towards one place for their prayers even from different sects and followings. This is the place that is being Tawaf 24x7, and only at the prayer-time the Tawaf stops and as soon as the prayer is over people start it again until the next prayer. It is quite an experience offering prayers at this place cause you are surrounded by people from all over the world not even knowing each other’s languages but still going through their prayers without stopping. It seems that everyone wants to get the maximum rewards from their prayers.

The only thing that needs to be changed and thought of is the way some people want to get closer to Hajr-e-Aswad or other important points within the Masjid. These scenes were quite chaotic and people got pushed around, the stronger people getting through somehow. This made me real sad as that reflects the Muslim’s current situation; everyone is caring about themselves and not about others. There is lack of discipline and application. I could very well understand that is very very difficult to implement with such a big number of people but still the way Saudis are managing it is quite commendable. We are lagging in unity and discipline and that is exactly portrayed here. Extremely sad state of affair!!

Today was Jumma and we planned this day in our trip to pray the Jumma prayer in the Holy Masjid before leaving Makkah. We left our hotel before 11am to get inside the Masjid and pray Jumma with Kaaba in the view. This Masjid fills up quickly and then you would have to pray outside and that was not an option for us after driving two and a half thousand kilometers just to reach this Holy place. We ended up with what we wanted and found a place in the first verandas with the Holy Kaaba right before our eyes. It was a revealing experience, the Masjid just got jammed packed right after we settled down at our places.

We offered our Jumma and then left to pack up in our hotel. Took a cab and came to Qudai area parking lot where we left our truck 3 days back. We found everything in good order here. We did a quick check up before heading out towards Al Hadda which is the highest point in the Taif Mountains.

The road was good and we made it to the top within one hour. The weather was good here as we were at about 2000 meters above sealevel; people were doing picnics in the open. It was the most pleasing thing we saw after coming from 50 degrees heat.  We also bought some traditional food and took a spot on the road side on some green patch. It was very nice and more so because we were all hungry. The BBQ chicken that we bought along with brown rice was delicious; the sweet dish was tasty too. We drove a little off road to find some monkeys those roam around freely in these mountains and finally found them right next to the main road. We stopped there and enjoyed their games for some time before starting our descend.

As soon as we were entering back into Makkah to continue towards Jeddah our final destination for the day, I spotted a bypass road and took the turn thinking that it was a highway too. However that turned out to be a very rough road with a single lane and no traffic. I estimated it to be a 50 kms road and continued on it. It was quite an unforgiving landscape on this road and the evening added to its horror. The road was not maintained and I contemplated a few times to turn around but somehow continued on it and covered the 50kms at the sunset. We took a break and offered our Maghreb prayer as soon as we joined the actual Jeddah highway.

From here Jeddah was just less than an hour. We made it with one of cousin’s guidance to our aunts place who is very old and sick. She was such a loving personality that we decided to stay at their place although we had something else lined up too. Adel our cousin came to see us and stayed with us until late night. He was such a nice and humble fellow. He is the brother of our cousin Khalid at whose place we stayed at Riyadh and he had helped me in planning the whole trip.
Day 6
It was a leisure day for us. We got up late to have an easy start as we didn’t have much to do during the day. There was a family dinner planed and we were free to do anything until then. Heat was not that intense here as we visited the Red Sea and the whole cornice Jeddah offers. We also spent some time in the Red Sea Mall and found an interesting outdoor shop there. We bought some camping gear from there too that will be used in the winter camping this year.

After we were done in the new city we drove to the old Jeddah and found it just like any other South Asian old city with smaller streets, dirt and garbage flying around etc. We were not too much impressed with that face of the city. We had the famous chicken from the Al Baik. This is very popular in this part of Saudi and we loved having it. They offer very delicious meals at very reasonable cost, highly recommended.
We drove back home to have some rest and left again in the evening although we were called back as some more family members came to see us. We came back and then couldn’t go out again as then some more family came to see us that followed by a delicious Arabic dinner. A busy day was over late at night. We had to take some sleep to have another long drive the next day.

We left Jeddah after having breakfast and meeting our Phupho (Aunt) and our cousin Adel. Although before leaving I found out one tire flat that was probably the gift of old Jeddah’s beaten streets. I followed Adel to find a good place to get the tire fixed as I didn’t want the check puncture fix. The tire was fixed, some drinks and grocery was bought for the way and we took the old Madina road instead of the new highway to visit Badar on the way. This road goes to Yanbu which is another industrial city of Saudi. The road was newly built but there were no facilities on it. Even for fuel you would have to go out 5-10 kms. There was not much traffic on the road. We made good progress and made it to Badar in the afternoon at 49 degrees. Badar is the place where the first battle between the Muslims and the Kuffars tooks place. There is only one monument erected there with the names 14 Companions of the Prophet who died (got Shaheed). There was a police car there who told us to go back in the car and move on. So we just took a photo of the place and drove to some restaurant to have a bite.

The road from Badar to Madina was a good highway too and we made it to Madina without any difficulty. It took us some time to find our hotel though. We stayed at Anwar-Al-Madina Movenpick that is situated right at the door of Masjid Nabwi – The second Holiest place on earth for Muslims. We were there and first time had a glimpse of this glorious Masjid where our beloved Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is buried.
We said our Maghreb prayer in Masjid Nabwi and saw the Prophets Roza Mubarak (Where The Prophet is buried). It was very hot in Madina and even hotter than Makkah. After the Isha prayer we bought some food and brought that to the room to have our dinner. Taking some sleep was the next thing we did.

Day 8 and 9
We went Ziyaraat next day and opted to do those ourselves this time. We visited Masjid Quba (The first Masjid in Islam), Masjid Qiblatain (where the Qibla was changed towards Kaaba), place where Ghazwa-e-Auhud took place (we even climbed to a small cave where Prophet was taken after his tooth got Shaheed, this place is closed by a wall with a small opening at the top. Me and my son climbed up the wall and could smell very strong perfume there but don’t know the background of it, we visited a few more places before coming back for the Duhr prayer. We did visit a Dates factory and bought loads of dates (Khajoors) especially the most sacred ones ‘The Ajwa’

At night we had a family dinner planed by the family members in Madina. Before Isha the time was spent in the hotel or at the Masjid. After Isha we were picked up by our Uncle to have dinner with them at their place not far from the hotel. We also met few of our cousins for the first time. We met our cousin Madni and Doctor **** who made our booking for Makkah. It was a good night out before coming back to the hotel late at night to start another day early next morning.

After the Fajr prayer we took a full round of the Masjid. Had our breakfast at the hotel and moved around in the small malls under all these first row hotels. We had a lunch planned at our cousin’s place after Zuhr prayer. We met these kind people and had the sumptuous lunch before being dropped back for the Asr prayer. There was some leisure time available now so we did some shopping for everyone in Dubai. The rest of the day was spent either shopping or praying. Next day we were going to drive back to Riyadh from another route.

We said our Fajr prayer and left Madina after breakfast. We were on the correct highway in no time and then there was just the long drive back to Riyadh. One of Uncles got in touch with us from there and prompted us to go straight to their place and not where we stayed in our previous stay there. The landscape kept changing during the drive and we passed different types of deserts with sand of different textures. There were some mountain areas with single hills of extra ordinary sculptures. Then we passed through some farms lands etc. Late afternoon we entered Riyadh and followed Uncles directions to make it to their place to settle in. We were going to meet some more family members the next day. We had a great meal at night and then crashed to take some rest.

Day 10
After the breakfast Uncle took us for a city tour and drove us through the whole city. We stopped at some old fort and museum in 50 degrees heat. The day was extremely hot. We came back home in the afternoon and had lunch. One of our cousins Samir joined us with his family; I met him for the first time.

After a chit chat we said goodbye to them drove towards Dhahran Aramco to meet two of our cousins living there. The third would visit us from Bahrain while we would stay at Dhahran.

The drive was just 3.5 hours so a short drive as per our routine for the trip. We made it to Aramco and registered ourselves there to enter their fortress created by the Americans some 40 years back to milk the Saudis for their wealth – The Oil. This was a State within State and the only place in the whole of Saudi where women could drive. They have everything of their own and it is a mini America with in Saudi Arabia. The houses are just like they are in many States of the US, the speed limits are followed promptly, Saudis stop at the STOP signs diligently etc. etc. Ironical indeed!!

We settled at our cousins place Ejaz and had a very delicious dinner. Although there were too many things cooked so it was hard to do any kind of justice. We had a long chat before sleeping!

DAY 11
First day of Ramadan! We got up at Sahoor time and had our Sahri, today was the first Roza (Fast) and the Holy month had started prompting us to go back home.

The hot day was spent having a city tour with our cousin. We also drove half way on the bridge that joins Saudi with Bahrain, it is still considered to be the longest bridge in the ocean.

At night the dinner was with our other cousin who also lives at Aramco. As expected it was delicious and too much to eat. Khurram move to Aramco just one year back and we had kept in touch all these years. Ejaz’s kids and Khurram’s kids are of the same age groups as of ours so kids enjoyed their age groups and made a lot of noise.

Another cousin of our who lives in Bahrain came after Isha and stayed with us until the morning. We met after a long time and had good chit chat the whole time. We slept for a couple of hours as we had to drive back to UAE.

DAY 12
We started our drive back to the UAE at 11 after saying goodbye to our cousins. The distance to cover was about 900 kms. The road condition was good however we ended up missing the Al Hafoof bypass that was not correctly marked and entered the city. There were detours due to construction and we passed several signals before finally coming back on the highway that was not busy. We were not too far from the border when we stopped at a traditional roadside convenience store that carries from carpets to stoves to hunting equipments to utensils to what not. So we picked up a big rug and couple of other handmade things before driving off.

Border crossing was smooth however when we came to the UAE border post to get our visa stamped the gentleman asked me for a slip which was given to us from the first window on the Saudi side. However the second window on the same side took it from us. Hence we were sent to the immigration office who questioned us that we were there instead of getting our stamp on the window outside. I explained the situation to him and he was kind enough to make another slip for us and stamped our entry without any further hassle. It was scorching heat in the open, close to 50 degrees and the wind was blowing sand everywhere make it feels like more than 50. Thanks to the car AC that never made us feel anything unless we were out of our truck. We entered UAE and continued driving on the road towards Abu Dhabi.
Evening was approaching as we tried finding a place to break our Fast. Just before the sunset (Maghreb prayer) we found a small place with a big Masjid so we took a U turn on the highway to settler ourselves there to break our Fast (eat and drink). There was a big Ramadan tent there already filled up with workers from the area. This place must’ve been under development as there were so many workers there. There was an old man who arranged for our Iftar in the ladies area and because there were no other ladies they let the whole family settle in the ladies prayer room to have our Iftar. They provided us with rice with chicken and some dates. We offered our prayer after Iftar and started our drive back home in the dark now. We were still more than 300 kms away.

We crossed Abu Dhabi and were in our own territory and made it back home after 10pm. We finished our overland journey through the Holy lands of Saudi and enjoyed our tourism part of the journey too. Till the next journey……

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