Friday, 5 February 2016

When the Whanau Visits… the Familiar, the Exciting and the Unexpected

Where Al Musmak was the familiar and the falconry display was the exciting, our weekend trip to Ar Raghbah and Ushayqr was the unexpected. We’d done this road trip three years ago, and had really happy memories of the day, so decided we’d go again with our son and a group of friends. There were some certainties to the day: a picnic, a small museum to explore, desert vistas and an old watch tower to climb. Well, that was the plan. Our first stop was Ar Raghbah, 120 km northwest of Riaydh. This mud brick village was established in 1669 and although small and unprepossessing, it’s very significant historically. It was one of the targets in 1817 during the invasion of the Najd by Turks under Ibraheem Pasha. I remembered the cylindrical Al Marqab Tower, with its small slit windows, and the spiral staircase that led to an outlook point so small, two people could barely stand side by side. Sadly I'd not made it to the top. Only a few steps away, I’d turned back, claustrophia getting the better of me. But here’s what we remembered. Something that looked like this.

But this was what we found. 

One toppled tower. We were first stunned and then saddened. We looked for reasons but could think of none. Around the tower, the old town’s mud homes were also crumbling and disappearing. Talking to a Saudi friend later, she offered an explanation. She said that climate change has brought more rain, and with that the old structures at Ar Raghbah are slowly vanishing. Perhaps one day, she added, they will restore the tower. 

The town's only inhabitants giving us the once over. 

Not far from Ar Raghbah was another surprise, though just for our son this time. Our well programmed GPS led us through the desert to a very different destination. We saw piles of sand beside large rectangular ponds. This was a salt farm, quite honestly the last thing we’d ever expected to find in the middle of a desert.  

As we let the coarse-grained salt fall through our fingers, a truck opposite was loaded with bagged salt. We watched, slightly amused while it struggled to gain momentum and move forward. As we left it was still stuck, but not for the want of enthusiastic pushing from the back.

Our last stop was Usahyqr. This was a heritage village with a small museum attached. 

We walked down streets and through small marketplaces, and noticed that it seemed more in need of renovation and repair now than three years ago.

We sat beside the museum and took photos. On the ground in front of us someone had drawn a game of hopscotch and a little further away two small children stood outside a shop, enticed by its display of brightly coloured plastic toys. 

I remembered the same shop from last time we'd visited. The merchandise outside had been very different.  

As we walked back to our cars my son paused beside the Arabic hopscotch numbers. Time for just one last throw of a stone and then two hops forward. 


  1. So sad!! Raghbah tower was my favorite in that area, now it's disappeared and nobody seems to care.

    1. Yes, that's exactly how we felt. It was quite depressing.