Nothing could be a greater contrast to the stark aridity of the desert and heat of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, than the province of Al Bahah with its stunning mountain scenery and beautiful forests where people breath cool, clean air and where old traditions are still respected and treasured. Traditional artefacts are now to be found in the collections of ‘Heritage’ museums which include unexpectedly bright colourful costumes and traditional jewellery in their ethnographic section.
The region abounds in wildlife so much so that hunting and shooting birds is a favourite pastime.
From Al Bahah town, we drove to Baljurashi from where there is a truly dramatic descent on roads with innumerable tight hairpin bends to the coastal plain.
The coastal region of Al Bahah is extremely fertile and supports many farms and villages.
The Tuesday market in Al Mkhawat was busy with smiling , welcoming stallholders, selling an array of colourful wonderfully fresh produce, both fruit and vegetables. Further on there was the poultry market and beyond that a section for sheep, goats and camels.
A welcome was everywhere in Al Bahah.
This area of Saudi Arabia has been inhabited for thousands of years.
From the market town, we drove up into the hills in Range Rovers, through lush vegetation to a village where people have lived in caves, possibly for their own protection, for centuries. The road becomes an impossibly steep and narrow track as it passes between huge boulders as it approached the troglodyte village with its fields of coffee, cotton and vegetables in pockets below.
Shada al Asfal
We had arrived at Shada al Asfal with its homes built into the mountain.
Among the rocks is a spring which is channelled to provide drinking water and water for washing.
Several of the caves have been adapted for 21st century living, but still have their ancient ‘Thamudic’inscriptions inside or on the rocks outside,testimony of their antiquity.
One such home is now a comfortable if simple guest house… the Shada Guest House.
From here the views over the coastal plain to the south and to the mountains behind are breathtaking and the peace and tranquility of the surroundings palpable.
The warmth of the reception we were given by the owner was a truly legendary Al Bahah experience.
In the garden, we wandered amongst the coffee plants and cotton, the marigolds and the sweet smelling flowers.
The rooms are cool and brightly painted in traditional designs and motifs and in the ‘majlis’ [guest reception room] there is a welcome pool of cool water.
We sat on the floor on carpets with brightly coloured cushions and enjoyed bowls of honey comb served with freshly baked bread, fruit and drank cups of Saudi Arabian coffee poured from the traditional ‘bird beaked’ coffee pot.
This was followed by a dish of rice, meat and vegetables served on a large round tray.
It was an unforgettable experience.
One could have enjoyed several days in this peaceful, exciting region of Al Bahah, and based in the Shada Guesthouse, have enjoyed walking and exploring in the surrounding hills with a guide.
On descending from the cool granite mountain slopes of Shada Al Asfal we continued to what should be known as one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest cultural sites – the spectacularly located village of Zee Ain.
Perched atop of a mountain, with the Sarawat mountains forming a dramatic backdrop, Zee Ain is a spectacular example of a traditional Al-Bahah village.
On arrival, we wandered through the restored 400-year-old lanes that separate the 49 tower-like dwellings built of polished stone and Sidr wood. Our guide pointed out the massive lintel of one doorway had been reused and was covered in ancient markings.
Beyond a small mosque we entered Zee Ain’s lush green surrounding oasis of fruit trees and date palms and followed a running stream to the village’s great pride – a tiny ‘waterfall’. We felt as though we could have been in Arcadia – rather than in the midst of the Arabian Peninsula. It was extraordinary.’
Explore mountainous Asir and Al Bahah in southwestern Saudi Arabia on our 10-day Arabia Felix: Asir & Al Bahah private holiday. If you have any questions about holidaying in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, please get in touch, and our destination experts would be delighted to discuss the options.