Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Al Kharj and the Eyes of Najma


This weekend we hired a car and drove to Al Kharj.

Well, our friend hired the car.  He figured it was his turn because we, or rather Glenn, hired the vehicle last time.  I'm not allowed to hire a car because I'm not supposed to drive one - although, apparently I can register two cars in my name.  How screwed is that!

Probably not as screwed as the Saudi women who have travelled to other parts of the globe, studied, done their flying hours and received a pilot’s license.  So, theoretically, they can fly over home and wave to the whanau but they can't drive past the house.  Weird world huh!

Anyway, how did our combined Kiwi/Finland excursion fly?
Well, we were considering our destination options as we drove out the gate. 

Boys:  Where are we going?

Me: Ummm, well, we could go to Al Kharj or Pools of Shai’ib Luha or Usahyqir….


Boys:  Sounds good.  What are they?

Me:  Ummmm….I don’t really know.

Boys:  What shall we see first?

Me:  Weelll, how far do you want to go?  And do you want a desert walk or a long drive?

Boy Driver: Which way am I heading?

Me:  Ummmm….head down King Fahad and we’ll decide definitely on the way.

We ended up a on a Tiki Tour (kiwi lingo for look around) to Al Kharj because we got on the wrong road to go where we finally decided we would go.  The highway around Riyadh is not that well signposted and you can easily end up going around in circles.  Well, we can.

Travelling with a map in hand is not something we are very good at.  The only boy scout in our group never made it to 'Travel Preparation' badge and the rest of us had just got of bed so we simply never thought about a map.  To be honest, I don't even know if there is an up to date road map of Saudi Arabia in print.  Google maps at this point isn't particularly helpful either - Saudi seems to have this aversion to the rest of the world knowing where it, or anything in it, is.  Anyway, travelling without a map is an excellent reason to drive 100 km south because that’s the way our nose is pointed.

On the way we had to do a little detour looking for a convenience.  Someone visited an Indian restaurant the previous night and the meal was still going through.  We spotted a mosque, which happened to be inside the gates of a Saudi Defense base.  Fortunately, enough Arabic was known to ask the guards for a toilet and they had no issue with helping out.

The Riyadh based Saudi’s I asked about Al Kharj some weeks ago (my two friends) both said ‘It’s very green’. 

That is also all they said about Al Kharj.

I deduced, after our drive down there, that their comment was in reference to the agriculture.  Al Kharj is an agricultural town with date and vege farms; camel, sheep and goat farms; and, somewhere out that way, an Al Marai dairy farm (didn’t find that this trip – obviously a return drive is on the cards).


I’m still coming to terms with the difference between Saudi Green (rows of green plants against a backdrop of desert brown, barrenness) and Kiwi Green (lush forests and grassy lawns that need regular weekly mowing) which has nothing to do with Coromandel Green – a homeopathic remedy made from mari-juana.

Saudi is not a tourist destination, something we tend to forget.  Finding a list of touristy ‘things to see and do’ at the local Tourist Information Center ain’t gonna happen.  Asking someone in the know about sightseeing locations and directions before you go is highly recommended.

Failing that (we failed) driving around and talking to the locals once you arrive is your next best bet for finding out what sights of interest a town or city might hold and directions to the aforementioned.

We found our directions at McDonalds after meandering into the center of town.   

Our directions.
So what is there to see in Al Kharj? 

Well, there is the Water Tower which apparently has a restaurant.  We decided to forego that.  There are also two giant craters, known locally as Ayuun aS Seeh, or Ayuun an Najm (take your pick). Those sounded rather interesting, so with hand sketched map in hand, that's where we went.

The official name for the craters are Tara Boli Ain Samhah and Ain Ad Dhile - not nearly as dramatic sounding as Eyes of The Stars.  Rumour has it that the holes were caused by meteorites (or stars) falling out of the sky - hence the starry name.  The craters were used as wells in days gone by.  The pumping gear and pump house built right next to them is evidence of that.  

Al Kharj is good for agriculture because it has, or rather had, lots of underground water.  Which brings us to the second theory of the holes in the ground – they simply caved into an underground river.  If there was a river. It’s gone now. 

Both the wells were fenced though one, fortunately, had the gates open  so we Kiwi/Finnish explorers took that as an invitation to have a look around.




The other had a hole in the fence – not really an invitation….but it was the middle of a beautiful, yet hot, Saudi summer day so no-one was around to see the Kiwi/Finnish contingent take advantage of that opportunity, too.


There was evidence, however, that others had been here before us.





We enjoyed our little outing to Al Kharj.  The city itself is undergoing development.  The people we met (Ok so there was only the Macca's staff and the cheeky boys who wanted to know where we were from) were nice and now I can say I’ve been there.


Map To Ayuun An Najma



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





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