Friday, 13 January 2012

Hofuf and the Caves of Ali Baba

We tiki toured (kiwi term meaning 'go for a drive') to Hofuf one day, a good three hour drive from Riyadh, in search of the legendary Caves of Ali Baba.  Finding them was much easier than finding our hotel in town, but that's another story.

It pays to know the Arabic name for the caves as the locals are less familiar with' The Caves of Ali Baba' than with 'Jabal Al Gara' which, we eventually discovered, is their local name.

The security man we came across at our hotel not only knew where the caves were, but had us follow him in his car to the correct highway, then gave instructions on how to get to the correct township. 

Once in the town it only took us two attempts to find the right place after asking a local Bangladeshi directions.  He gave us the intruction, 'Go strraight', go strraight' (for best effect use the appropriate accent), but didn't mention, probably because of limited English vocabulary, 'Stop at the place with the carpark out front and steps up to a takeaway shop'.  We figured that out on our second time round the mountain block.

Our first view of the sandstone mountains that have been carved over time into a row of enormous sentries guarding the pathway to the caves, was quite breathtaking.  At least, we went "Wow!"

There is a well kept footpath that dissappears around the sandstone mountainside and, if you're the highly imaginative type, you can quite believe you will have to say 'Open Sesame' at some point to be swallowed into the mountain caves.

Unfortuantely, reality isn't quite that romantic.

The entrance to the reputed den of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, a split in the sandstone mountain face, is quite clearly marked.  Once inside we found a surprising amount of room and it was a much cooler temperature from that outside. 

We went exploring the alleys and passageways, some that led to caverns large enough for a family to sleep in, which is exactly what they were doing so we left them there.  Another family had brought their lunch (something we wish we had done) and were searching out a suitable cave for dining purposes.

Some passageways became so narrow one of us couldn't make his way through to explore the other side, even after removing his shirt in the vain hope it would make him slimmer. 


Mum and I had no such difficulty slipping through the somewhat dark linear cracks that eventually opened up into larger spaces, some with shafts of light filtering through as a reminder the hot day was waiting for us outside.

We spent quite a bit of time at this location before driving off to findi, a little further down the road behind the shops of the township, another cavern in the mountain face which others believe to be the caves of the Ali Baba legend.  Two rather large phallic sandstone pillars mark the entrance to this  cave.  They also provided the only shady spot for parking our vehicle.

This cave has the obvious hand of the human evident within it and wasn't nearly as interesting as the others.

We enjoyed our time walking, exploring and oft times squeezing through the cave system on which the tales of Ali Baba is supposedly based and highly recommend it should you ever get the opportunity to head over to Hofuf.

Ka Kite,

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