Saudi Side Trip: Mada'in Saleh

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Prior to moving to Saudi, I knew of three cities here: Riyadh, Jeddah, and Yanbu (which until I talked to people actually living here... I swore didn't exist.)
Live here for awhile and you find that there are some pretty cool places you can see during a little weekend trip.  So, this was our first (and not last).  One of our friends here put together this great weekend trip to Mada'in Saleh.  Saudi's version of Petra.  I was kinda skeptical at first, I mean what else is there to see here besides sand...right?  Wrong.  (and I don't say that lightly as I'm rarely ever wrong)  ;)
some of the tombs
Little background info:
Mada'in Saleh is a pre-Islamic archaeological site, located within the Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia.  A majority of the vestiges date from the Nabatean kingdom (1st century CE).  The site constitutes the kingdom's southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, its capital.   
According to the Islamic text, the Thamudis, who would carve out homes in the mountains, were punished by Allah for their persistent practice of idol worship and for conspiring to kill Saleh (an Arab prophet mentioned in the Qu'ran), the non-believers being struck by an earthquake and lightning blasts. Thus, the site has earned a reputation down to contemporary times as a cursed place— an image which the national government is attempting to overcome as it seeks to develop Mada'in Saleh, officially protected as an archaeological site since 1972, for its tourism potential. (** my note: there are Saudi's that won't come near this place)
In 2008, for its well-preserved remains from late antiquity, especially the 131 rock-cut monumental tombs, with their elaborately ornamented facades, of the Nabatean kingdom, UNESCO proclaimed Mada'in Saleh as a site of patrimony, becoming Saudi Arabia's first World Heritage Site. (Wikipedia)
Elephant Rock

doing a little rock climbing

We had a pretty large group going, some went by bus, others drove their own cars.  We were part of the later group.  It was just easier for us...the kids were comfy in their seats...with seat belts and they could watch their movie and just chill.  
We arrived pretty late, but everyone was in good spirits.  The hotel had a buffet of food all ready to go and we dug in...then headed to our rooms to crash.
The next morning we were heading out to see the rocks and tombs.  We were all pretty disappointed because the sky was an ugly brown color.  Leftover sand particles hanging around in the air...ah well, at least it wasn't wicked hot out.  We drove to where the tombs were and climbed out of our car.  Best part?  I didn't have to wear my abaya here!!!  How sweet is that?  I have no idea why the rules didn't apply here, but I wasn't about to argue!  Everyone wandered around checking out the different tombs.  The tour guide tried to get the group to circle up and listen to what he had to say, but when you've got open areas and little kids, well, yeah...say bye bye to a few grownups.  
The tombs were pretty impressive and we had a lot of fun wandering through the sands and over the rocks.  From there we drove to another location and did a bit of climbing.  The area really reminded me of Arizona (though my husband kept repeating that it looked like Utah)  Either way, it was something I never would have guessed would exist here in Saudi.
From there we headed to see the Hejaz Railway.  The main purpose of the railway was to establish a connection between Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the seat of the Islamic Caliphate, and Hejaz in Arabia, the site of the holiest shrines of Islam and the holy city of Mecca, the destination of the Hajj annual pilgrimage. Another important reason was to improve the economic and political integration of the distant Arabian provinces into the Ottoman state, and to facilitate the transportation of military forces.
The railway is remarkable both for having had no debt when completed and for having many miles of track below sea level.  The kids had so much fun playing on and around the trains. 
Everyone was pretty wiped by now, and we headed back to the hotel for lunch.  Another nice buffet spread and we were all stuffed.  
After lunch we headed back out to see an ancient village.  Though, up until 40 years ago people still lived in these mud houses.  I love seeing old towns and homes and I loved this.  We could actually go inside some of the homes and see what they looked like.  The kids really got a kick out of it as well.  (downside...had to keep our abaya's on here)  The guide told us that the people who lived here were very tight knit and even today, the families remain close.
Back to the hotel for dinner and a movie...well, dinner for and bed for those with kiddos.  Those not so attached went and watched "Lawrence of Arabia." (which I still need to see)  Once our own kids were tucked in, we sat out on the little patio outside and chatted for a couple of hours with our good friends...totally amazing you can have a great time sans alcohol!  who knew?  lol     
more rock climbing

ancient village, and inside the homes

The next day we woke, and saw that the haze had pretty much lifted and you could see some blue skies.  After a nice buffet breakfast, we headed off to see Elephant Rock.  I think it looks more like a mammoth, but hey, that's just me.  We were hoping to go to a date farm, but being Friday it wasn't open to the public.  It was also time to head out...it was a great weekend and I'm really glad we went.  It's nice to be able to see more of Saudi (especially knowing that not just anyone can come visit here) and it was great spending time with friends.  Looking forward to the next trip!    
more tombs and the old train station

our hotel, and some local small towns on the drive home


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