Saudi Arabia Travel

Saudi Arabia Travel

Saudi Arabia (officially Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is an Asian country and at close to 2,149,690 sq km, it is the largest country of the Middle East and the eighth largest in the world. It has an estimated population of 28 million. Jordan and Iraq lie on its north and northeast border; the east sees Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Oman is to the southeast and Yemen south. The Persian Gulf expanse lies to the northeast and the Red Sea to its west. The official language is Arabic, with many natives conversant with English.

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by Bryn Pinzgauer

Saudi Arabia hosts the annual Haj pilgrimage to the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, which house the two holiest mosques, Masjid al-Haram and Masjid Al-Nabawi. It is essential that a Muslim pays obeisance to these holy places during his lifetime and the Saudi Government has a system in place to regulate the inflow of millions of Muslims. The pilgrimage occurs during the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar.

Masjid Al-Nabawi

by *Siddiqi*

Petroleum exports fund Saudi economy, as the Kingdom is the world’s primary petroleum exporter and oil provides 90 percent of exports and 75 percent of its revenue. Saudi Arabia is either desert or a semi-arid region. Its traditional Bedouin population is fading out. About two percent of the kingdom’s total area is arable. Most people live on the eastern and western coasts and oases such as Hofuf and Buraydah to the interior.

There is not much to see in Saudi Arabia for the tourist. The Najd (Central Region) is a stony desert plateau, isolated from the rest of the peninsula. The royal capital, Riyadh, is a modern city built on the site of the first town captured by Ibn Saud. Apart from a few traditional Najdi palaces near Deera Square, nothing else remains. Other places of interest in Najd are Aneyzah, Hail, Shaib Awsat, Towqr, Tumair, Wadi-al-Jafi and Wadi Hanifa, among others.

Hasa (Eastern Region) has fertile coastal flats, inhabited by the kingdom’s Shia minority, who, historically, live by fishing, pearl diving, growing date palms and trading. Saudi Arabia’s vast stocks of oil lie under Hasa or the Gulf, and oil workers from all over the world outnumber the locals. Places worth a look include Hofuf, a lively oasis with a camel market; Jebel-al-Qara, for potteries and Abqaiq, with an operational 5000-year-old salt mine.

The Hejaz (Western Region) includes the west coast, a trading centre; Mecca and Medina, and the city of Jeddah, the erstwhile Saudi diplomatic capital; Taif, a resort town on top of a 900m cliff close to Mecca and the official summer capital, with a climate milder than the rest of the country. Other towns in the Hejaz include Khaybar, Wadi Fatima and Yanbu, among others. The Asir (Southern Region) is a range of coastal mountains. Wild vegetation, mostly palms and evergreen bushes are seen here. Millet, wheat and dates are grown using old fashioned methods. The locals are darker than other Saudis, part descended from African slaves. The ancient gasaba towers, phallus-shaped and of unknown purpose are unique to Asir.

Saudi Arabia has a desert climate, hot in winter and hotter in summer. Riyadh, which is inland, gets the occasional heavy rainstorms. Local food has strong flavours and uses spices freely. Lamb and chicken are most popular. During the holy month of Ramadan, it is advisable not to eat in public. Alcohol is banned except within Embassy premises. National specialties are pitta bread (flat, unleavened bread), rice, lentils, chick peas (hummus) and cracked wheat (burghul); kultra (chicken or lamb on skewers) for lunch; kebabs served with soup and vegetables and mezze, the local hors d’oeuvres, which may include up to 40 dishes.

Saudi Arabia Airlines, the national carrier, has 89 modern aircraft, with 70 more on order as and when certain aircraft are replaced. It has four international airports, Dammam, Jeddah, Riyadh and Medina. It also has six regional and twenty-seven domestic airports. Roads are excellent, as are the vehicles. It has launched an expansion of its railways, connecting Dammam on the Persian Gulf to Jeddah near the Red Sea, with links en route.

Saudi time is at UTC + 3 hours. Its currency is the Riyal (SAR) and the current exchange rate stands at 1 US Dollar = 3.75 Saudi Riyal.

Date posted: 30th July, 2018

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