AL GHAT - The other side of Saudi Arabia

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Middle East » Saudi Arabia
February 9th 2010
Published: February 20th 2010
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Two weeks ago my husband announced that on that upcoming weekend we were invited to one of his student's farms. We would be staying over night, along with a few other teachers and the student.
I got excited at the prospect of leaving Riyadh and seing another place in Saudi Arabia.

The weekend came soon enough and Andy and I loaded our backpacks into the newly purchased "Galloper" 4WD which the Jones's had picked up just a couple of days earlier. Josh, Kristy and Brian where already in the car.

The drive took around 2 hours and as usual was totally unimpressive. Once one has gotten over the intial fascination with the desert scenery, it becomes just another sand dune. Driving through the Arabian desert is nothing like you may imagine it to be. It is just plain boring. The petrol stations along the way are the only entertainment and we did make sure we stopped at at least one, where we ended up spending half an hour shopping for very unhealthy snacks from the attached mini-market.

Signalling our arrival to Al Ghat, two giant teapots with cups sit pretty on each side of the road as you
The bungalowsThe bungalowsThe bungalows

Photo by Alexia Berta
enter the small town. A giant replica of an incense burner symbolises the same thing which elephants do in India. "You are welcome!"

We had had a fun ride behind us, chatting and laughing alot. Kristy had informed us that the student was actually a prince of the prestigious Al Saud line. He apparently owned the town and thus had told Kristy that we would not need to wear our abbayas during our stay there. Abbayaless? Outdoors? this weekend was getting better by the second!

Mossa'ad, the little prince (well actually he is like 17 years old), came to greet us at the entrance of the town and guide us back to the farm. His black Ford F 150 customized pick up truck struck my hubby's carloving chords immediately. I did hear a lot about that car over the next couple of days. Trust me.
We drove up a narrow little road and once we turned the corner we found ourselves in Spain!
No I am not still drunk from last night (hint hint, we are in Abu dhabi at the moment - Andy is at a training and I'm recovering from last night's alcohol induced antics in a very stylish hotel room overlooking the F1 track. are you jealous? You should be!)
Back to Spain, errr I meant Al Ghat then...

The farm, was a huge plot of land amidst the dry arabian desert filled with beautiful gardens and green green grass. An Oasis if I have ever seen one. A handful of small hacienda styled bungalows lined the stone path that wrapped itself around the farm. We were ushered into a bigger bungallow upon arrival and by the time I made my way throught the entrance door, Josh, Brian and Andrew were already filling their plates from the breakfast buffet. "Straight into it then?" Kate smiled at me. "I guess so" I replied, making a mental note never to have a large breakfast again before leaving my home when being invited to a prince's farm for the weekend!

Twenty cups of tea and several pancakes with nutella later, the maximum I could master was a grunt in reply to our hosts question as to whether we would like to move to our rooms now.
I peeled myself of the super comfortable chair and left the gloriously bright and gorgeously designed breakfast room behind. Andrew
The date factoryThe date factoryThe date factory

Photo by Claude Sgro
and I were assigned to Villa 18. My husband's enthusiasm over the welcome basket of dates and the soda stocked fridge didn't manage to infect me. I was unfortunately distracted.

My camera, i.e. my baby, did not do me the favor of functioning for the first photos of our arrival, but I soon made peace with the fact that I would have to shoot everything manually focused, and even then there was no guarantee that any of my images would not be horribly over exposed and unsharp.
The distinctive click of my shutter curtain closing warned me of the message I would be seing on my display once I pulled the camera from my nose. Err 99. Every aspiring photographers nightmare.
The official Canon Website aswell as all the other forums on digital photography online list an array of things that could be the problem. From lens compatibility , to battery and CF card issues, nothing is clear, nothing is definate and nothing so far has solved my problem. And so it is that in every electronic device's life there comes a point that you just have to let it go. A sad moment for ABD. Four years my
Al GhatAl GhatAl Ghat

Photo by Alexia Berta
EOS 350D and I have spent together globetrotting. Four years of increadible adventures and some very fine photos if I may say so myself. I was having separation anxiety and could not accept that I would have to let my little REBEL XT go. One more shoot, just one more shoot.

My darling husband, sweet as always tried to console me with promises of a new Canon. He ended up carrying the camera around with him the whole day, lucky me! Lucky, because it started working for a little throughout the day and so I got just enough shots of our wonderful experience in the Arabian dessert. So back to that story then...

We left the area where our accomodation was and loaded back into our 4x4's. Only minutes later, we stepped out into another elaborate garden in the centre of which sat proudly a typiocal arabian building.
The library that Mossad's grandmother had founded opened it's heavy wooden doors and welcomed an enthusiastic group of teachers. It consists of adjoining libraries, mirror images of each other, one for men and the other women.

Our next stop was another short drive away. The date factory of
Outside the ancestoral homeOutside the ancestoral homeOutside the ancestoral home

Photo by Alexia Berta
Mossad's late grandfather. Atop a hill overlooking the plantations and the factory itself, sits the old mans tomb, as per his last wish.
An impressive operation, the date factory, staffed solely by Indian males. My excitment with not having to wear an abbaya and an earlier offer from Mossad to drive! led me to believe upon entry of the factory that the champagne like bottles where filling the champagne flutes with real alcoholic champagne instead of the highly deceiving and extremely dissapointing alcohol free date-pagne we ended up drinking. The bubble bursted there. I did however get to learn by tasting the differences between the various sorts of dates. Don't ask me to list them though, my fascination did not go that far!

Date factory behind we headed to the next point of interest and this one was truly interesting! Well for me at least. I had always dreamt of visiting a village just like this one with all the true arabian flavors. Although in ruins, the magic was there and one could almost see the jinns dancing in the vestiges of this clay village. According to our host, the prince Mossad, this village was inhabited for a hundred
6. Three layers6. Three layers6. Three layers

Photo by Alexia Berta
years but no details where given to us as to why it was now dilapitated. The only house in habitable condition was the recently rennovated ancestoral home of the prince where his great grandfather and grandfather had both lived since it was built 150 years ago.

The restoration work done to the place was amazing. It was like walking into a time warp in a way, but with all the comforts of today's homes attached. A very tastefull rennovation however keeping true to the original. This home is planned to be used as a guest house in the future and we were supposed to stay there but that was not feasible this time due to some security issues. Shame, it was gorgeous! maybe next time. Inchallah.
We climbed up to the roof of the house and to my surprise my camera responded for a few precious moments. Even this lifeless piece of equipment understood that this was too good a photo op to be missed! I was revelling in the freedom to photograph Saudi men in their full garbs infront of their ancestral homes.

It was early afternoon and although we did ot feel hungry we were taken back to the farm where a huge spread was laid out for us once again. Lamb and potatoes and rice and salads and the most delicious oreo desert I have ever tried. The boys, Josh and Andrew both gorged and could not bring themselves to move an inch after that feast. All I was thinking was how on earth I was going to get around avoiding dinner, as it is an insult to refuse food you have been offered by your host.
We slowly made our way to another part of the house and had some tea and dates in a comfortable lounge area. Our host were eager to take us for dune bashing and although we felt tired, the idea enthralled us all. So off we went into the dessert after changing into something warmer. The sun was hanging much lower in the sky and it would soon be dark.

The dessert had just been bathed in a luminus orange tint by the warming sun as we opened the doors of the 4x4 and walked onto the sand dunes. The feeling of freedom hit me with the sandy breeze that swept over the dunes. I was once again
The sun setting over the desertThe sun setting over the desertThe sun setting over the desert

Photo by Alexia Berta
in nature! A different kind of nature, but still magically captivating. Andy and I both became overwhelmed with a feeling of pure joy as we walked along the dunes and soon enough we were both jumping of the dunes and falling into the soft sand.

Dune bashing followed and I have only one word for it - FUN! That is probably becasue I was strapped to the inside of a car with an experienced driver and some pretty good MJ tunes. Had I been the one tumbling around in the back of that pick up truck, maybe I would have felt different. After getting stuck in the sand, getting the kids injured and having to be pulled out by another 4x4 post a certain frenchmans driving, we were ready to head back to our little bungalows and have a shower and a rest.
Although the sun had set, we were told that the night was young, an Arabian BBQ in the dessert was to follow and we would be partying this night away in a beduin tent!

And so it was and it was nice and some things dear friends and family, can not be described in words. So for this part I will let the photos of the night do the talking and allow your imagination to run wild, for it was like in the story books and better!

The following morning we woke up to the silence of the dessert. We had both slept incredibly well the night before and alhtough we were not served one single drop of alcohol, we felt bizarly hung over. The smell of smoke from last nights woodfire was still hanging in our clothes and in my hair and so the first action was a warm shower. breakfast was served once more in the beautiful breakfast room and i overdosed on pancakes with nutella yet again.
Before making our way back home to Riyadh, Mossad took us for a drive around the rest of the property that we hadn't seen the day before.
Horses, goats, pigeons and rabbits all live on this farm and the children couldnt believe how cool this weekend was becoming. For us ladies there was also a special trea, we got to drive from one place to another around the huge farm and I felt normal for once in Saudi Arabia.

We started engines back
Nasser starting the BBQ fireNasser starting the BBQ fireNasser starting the BBQ fire

Photo by Alexia Berta
to Riyadh shortly after 1pm. The "Galloper" was filled to the brim with endless boxes of dates, a farewell gift from his royal heighness. A bit over the top, in true arab fashion I suppose, each individual received 2 boxes of dates, making the Dutton household by 4 cartons of dates richer. I am still not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing!

So that was it Ladies and Gentlemen, now let the date jokes begin......

Additional photos below
Photos: 45, Displayed: 30


1. the beautiful b'fast room1. the beautiful b'fast room
1. the beautiful b'fast room

Photo by Alexia Berta
1.Door Detail1.Door Detail
1.Door Detail

Photo by Alexia Berta
4. Al Ghat from a distance4. Al Ghat from a distance
4. Al Ghat from a distance

Photo by Alexia Berta
Inside the home of the princeInside the home of the prince
Inside the home of the prince

Photo by Alexia Berta

21st February 2010

LOVED reading all about your saudi adventures!!! and Alexia your photos are amazing! really! esp. love the one outside the ancestoral home and the 3 layers. Keep 'em coming! xox
21st February 2010

Thanks so much. Who is this message from? xx
15th June 2010

he is not royal higness
your host is from alsudiry family , they have relations with royal family but they are not a royal family
22nd June 2010

what can I say, we don't know the Al Saud family tree inside and out. I mean there are 30.000 royals as far as we were told and also we were told that this dude is a prince so who the heck am I to doubt it? If he wants to be a prince, fine by me. Could not care less either way. The whole social structure is not to my particular liking anyway.
3rd November 2010

how I wish I've been there too, my husband is working in a farm in Al ghat, ...I thought it was like a lifeless place but, I was amazed by the sunset and and dunes... its amazing and beautiful.... See you there dad...

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