Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a destination where none of us would travel for leisure. May be because it is perceived as the country with strict principles and imposed policies. To many of us, the country reminds only of oil wells, dates and filthy rich sheikhs with their 4-5 wives in Burqa but there is so much beyond that. Jeddah, the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia lies on the coast of Red Sea in Asia. The place is famous more so because it is the gateway for Muslim pilgrims to their holy place – Mecca and Medina.
My visit to Jeddah was to meet some business purpose, but I couldn’t resist myself from exploring the city’s culture beyond its deemed conservative and fundamentalist nature. It was a quick ride from King Abdulaziz International Airport to my Hotel Red Sea Palace, all thanks to the city’s broad smooth roads. The swanky cars on the roads could not to be missed!!
The city very much reflects as an Islamic country due to its architecture, the tall minarets around the tomb shaped mosques give it a very typical middle eastern facet.
I was famished after my long flight and left my hotel to discover the city’s local dishes. You can’t miss the refreshing fruit juices that are available at every nook and corner. People love chicken here and you can relish it in the forms of Chicken Biryani and Fried Chicken.
I was stuffed and was set to explore further. Next, I made my way to Al-Balad district which is the shopping paradise. Now, don’t think cheap shopping is available only in the Southeast Asia. You can find anything from branded perfumes to cheap watches and from electrical devices to apparels. The most interesting part is the Souq area which can be accessed through a restored gateway right of the Queens Building.
Next on my list was King’s Fountain, a 853 foot fountain that is reputed to be the tallest fountain in the world and looks splendid when illuminated at night.
Other point of interests include Jeddah Aquarium and Al Tayebat International City but unfortunately I missed as I was engaged in work. Being a Muslim I was under obligation to visit the beautiful city of Mecca and Medina. Mind you no other religion is allowed inside these twin cities, that makes it pretty much a Forbidden Cities.
Mecca – The Forbidden City
The holy city of Mecca has its own airport but Jeddah is only 85 Km and only takes 1 hour by car. Mecca the birthplace of Muhammad and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj and is statutory for all physically able Muslims. Kaaba is described as Islam’s holiest site. Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world’s third tallest building and the building with the largest amount of floor area. A friend told me that as the expansion of the Kabba is taking place the Saudi authorities will demolish the Mecca Royal Clock tower and build more floor with wider area of Kabba which shall accommodate more Muslims for the Hajj period. The expansion plans are taken care by the famous Bin Ladin group which is owned and managed by the famous Osama Bin Ladin’s family. 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually, including several million during the few days of the Hajj.
The clock tower
The holy city of Medina is only 400 km away from Jeddah and only takes 3.5 hour by car. The burial place of the Prophet Muhammad and is known it is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca. It is the home to the three oldest mosques in Islam which were built in the days of Muhammad. The fascinating thing there was the gigantic umbrellas which are automatic and folds in the night time and opens in the day time.
I am glad to take out some time from my busy schedule and explore these places. Mecca and Medina made my visit complete and totally worth it.
Note: It’s a good idea to hire a car in the city. If you are not Muslim, you will not be allowed to enter the city of Mecca or Medina.
Juned Sheikh can be best described as an ‘Explorer’. He keeps penchant for writing and believes it to be a necessity for rejuvenating the soul. Follow him @ juned11blog.wordpress.com.