OUR recent trip to Al-Baha, located 438 km southeast of Jeddah at an altitude of 2,500 meters from sea level, was awesome. It was an enchanting experience to escape from the hurly-burly city life and high temperatures in Jeddah to the serene beauty of the mountain ranges of Baha with its pleasant weather.
Al-Baha is one of the Kingdom’s prime tourist destinations situated on the Sarawat Mountain ranges that run parallel to the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The “Pearl of Resorts” and the “Garden of Hejaz” are other names given to this picturesque region with dozens of forests, dams and tourist resorts characterized by a natural tree cover and agricultural plateaus.
Al-Baha city is surrounded by over 40 forests, including Raghdan, Al-Zaraeb and Baidan. The smallest of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces, Al-Baha is considered as the capital of the Ghamdi and Zahrani tribes in the Kingdom. The province has 13 other settled tribes working in trade and agriculture and five nomadic tribes.
It is surrounded by a number of cities, including Taif to the north, Abha to the south, Bisha to the east and the coastal city of Qunfudah to the west. The province consists of half a dozen cities, including Al-Baha, Baljurashi, Al-Mandaq, Al-Makhwah and Al-Qilwa.
Accompanied by fellow journalists, some of them with families, our weekend trip to Al-Baha was most enthralling. The 50-member group enjoyed the charm of the mountain city in a very pleasant weather even at noon.
Our first destination was Raghdan Park, which covers an area of 600,000 sq. meters just 5 km from the city center. Situated on top of the towering Sarawat Mountain ranges, Raghdan along with its exquisite natural beauty enables a panoramic view of the vast Tihama plains below.
The Bani Kabeer Dam in Baljurashi offered another tantalizing view. Despite rain shortage this season, the dam’s water level was reasonably high.
Amdan forest is another attractive tourist spot, which abounds in olive trees, and other natural vegetation. The Wadi Feig forest is 8 km from Al-Baha, and it is encircled by a green valley dotted with apricot, pomegranate and grape orchards. The region is also well known for production of high quality honey.
Al-Baha boasts of 1,001 traditional towers, featuring the unique Asir architecture, and these towers were built to protect villages, roads and plantations from rivaling tribes. While moving around the city along the zigzag mountain roads, we could see some of these towers, which were abandoned and are partially or completely in ruins.
A sizable number of the 100,000 population of Al-Baha are expatriates, especially those from the Indian subcontinent. The Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance in Al-Baha (Jaliyat Center) has been undertaking a great mission in disseminating the sublime message of Islam among the expatriate community. The center hosted a reception for mediapersons from Jeddah at its office in Al-Baha.
Addressing the gathering, Sheikh Ahmad Safar, assistant director of the center, underlined the need for presenting the true image of Islam and removing misgivings about it, especially through the use of advanced technology.
Ahmad Madeeni Perambra, head of the Malayalam wing of the center, welcomed the gathering. Those who received the group in Al-Baha also included Mansoor Kolappuram, O.V. Saleem, Siddeeque Koottayi, Muhammad Ali, Suhail Areekkara, Shareef, Mustafa Thampi, Yousuf Ali and Mansoor Kozhikode.
The expertise of C.K. Morayur, a local journalist, in managing the tour programs, contributed significantly to the success of the memorable trip.
Traveling along King Fahd Mountain pass that connects Al-Baha City with Al-Makhwah on the plains of Tihama was a wonderful experience. The sharply winding zigzag road consists of tunnels at different lengths and elevations. These tunnels, 25 in number, are an architectural marvel and it is extremely enjoyable to watch the picturesque views of the surrounding natural scenes.
An outstanding view of Tihama plains, waterfalls with chirping birds, and monkeys waiting for leftovers by visitors, were among the exquisite scenes along the route. Parking areas along the route allowed visitors to enjoy many of the spectacular scenes from vertiginous viewpoints.
The Al-Baha Municipality recently inaugurated an ambitious project of installing lamp posts along the mountain pass, enabling the visitors to undertake night time journey.
Qaryah Dhee Ain or “The Village with the Spring” is the major attraction that awaits visitors on the lower part of the mountain pass. The village has been placed on the list of tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites thanks to the efforts of the Saudi authorities. According to the UNESCO website, “the traditional village of Dhee Ain in Al-Baha is an outstanding example of traditional human settlements that are perfectly adapted to their involvement and their social and economic raison d’être.”
At the gate of the village, officials of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) are seen receiving the visitors. Wearing traditional Al-Baha dress, an official greeted us with non-stop description about the features of the village.
Situated near Al-Makhwah, about 24 km southwest of Al-Baha city across the King Fahd Mountain Road, the heritage village is also popular as “the marble village” as it was built on a small marble mountain. The village has 49 houses, 9 of which are composed of one floor, while 19 have two floors, 11 with three floors and 10 consist of four floors.
The village was constructed using load-bearing walls and the structures are roofed using cedar wood. The multi-story houses are marvelous as their walls were simply constructed by stones laid one atop another, with timbers that form floor beams to provide stability to the stone structures. The big rooms are roofed using columns and above the cedar wood there is a kind of stones that are covered with mud. The lower floors are the reception and living areas while the upper floors are for sleeping. It was an inexplicable experience to enjoy the cool temperature inside these houses at noon time.
The village dates back to about 400 years, and it witnessed many battles and tribal feuds before the unification of the Kingdom by King Abdul Aziz. The most important of these battles was when the Zahrani and Ghamdi tribes fought the Turkish army led by Muhammad Ali Pasha. The battle ended with the defeat of the Turks, who suffered huge losses in men and material. Their burial place, which is known as “the Turks graves,” is found properly maintained near the pavement and stone stairs leading to the houses. The houses are now empty but some doors are still open so that visitors can enter and experience how the life of the inhabitants was several centuries ago.
The historical village, which is the jewel of Al-Baha, was named after a nearby natural water spring flowing continuously from the nearby mountains to several reservoirs and provides water to a lush oasis surrounding the bottom of the hill. The villagers say that the marble village glows at sunset. The area was famous for its fruits such as banana, lemon, pepper, basil and Kadi plantations, which still grow there, apart from and palm trees.
It was amazing to experience the coolness of the spring that never dries through the year and continuously supplies fresh water. And that of course gave us fresh energy and enthusiasm as an invaluable takeaway from the weekend trip.