By T. Salim
Our journey to Haql, via many historic cities.
Haql was our destination and our aim was to visit as many places on the way in five days. We started our journey from Jeddah. Haql is at the edge of the Asian continent, at the coast of Gulf of Aqaba.
Across the sea, northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba meets Taba, Egypt’s busiest border crossing with Palestine. Eilat, Palestine’s southernmost city, a busy port and popular resort, is also on the tip of Gulf of Aqaba. At Haql on a good night, standing on Saudi soil, you can watch Jordan, Egypt and Palestine.
We took the road through Yanbu, Umluj, Al Wajh to Tabuk. Coming from Jeddah, the greenery of Yanbu Royal Commission was refreshing. The Royal Commission was established in 1975 as a planned Industrial city. With clean and well-marked roads, lush green parks and meticulously aligned streets, that planning is worth seeing. We played football on feather beds of grass, enjoyed swimming in the blue waters of Yanbu beach. Outside the neatness of Royal Commission stood the colorless Yanbu city.
Umluj, a village known for fresh seafood and pristine beaches, is 150 kilometers north of Yanbu Al Bahr. But we took a wrong turn and soon engulfed in a sand storm. We had to stop because of lack of visibility. We crossed Al Wajh, another city known for fishing, by the evening. Crisscrossed hill road laid in front of us. It was past midnight when we reached Tabuk.
There are many farms in Tabuk. We visited one and came to know about modern organic farming methods. Tabuk war is well known in Islamic history. It represented the beginning of many Arab-Byzantine conflicts. We performed evening prayers at the same masjid where the Prophet (PBUH) led prayers many centuries back. It was in this same masjid, Turkish representatives performed their prayers during the inauguration of Tabuk station of Hijaz Railway in 1907. We played football at the park adjacent to the Hijaz Railway museum.
It’s around 230 kilometers to Haql from Tabuk. You have to be there at night to enjoy the view. We left in the morning. The rock structures on both sides of the road were stunning. After traveling around 175 kilometers we reached AlSharaf and took deviation to Al Duba, a distance of around 70 kilometers.
Madaen Shuaib, the city of Prophet Shuaib, is near Al Duba. Prophet Shuaib is the grandson of Prophet Ibrahim, who is revered by all Semitic religions. Ferries and ships from the port city, Al Duba, can reach ports of Egypt in three hours. Locals call Al Duba the Pearl of the Red Sea.
Prophet Musa settled in Madian where Prophet Shuaib hosted him. An ancient well related to Prophet Musa is still there. Maqna Beach, at the tip of Gulf of Aqaba, is 60 kilometers from Al Duba. We were amazed at the beautiful settings of the beach and the Sinai Mountains in the background. We enjoyed swimming in the narrow stretch of blue waters that separates Asia and Africa. The maximum width of Gulf of Aqaba is just 24 kilometers.
It was past eight in the evening when we reached Haql. The red sky, blue waters, the huge shadow of Sinai Mountains in the twilight created an enchanting view. Huge writings on the hillsides gleamed in light.
At the border, a few vehicles were waiting at the border crossing to enter Jordan. Coffee shops were busy and there were many police vehicles. But people moved freely, no heavy air of an international border. We stood on the road in near darkness, looking across the sea.
Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt’s jewel, and Palestine looked so close. We could see the lights. The weight of history seemed to be hanging in the air. The road is about 50 meters above sea level. Children were playing at the seashore. On our return back to Tabuk, most of us were silent. Those countries, so close but so far. History as a theater, its drama, its actors might have been playing in our mind.
On the way back from Tabuk, we decided to visit Taima, an important place in old caravan route, 250 kilometers away from Tabuk. Present Taima looked like a sleepy, languid city. Bi’r al Haddaj, extraordinary well dating back to Babylonian’s time of around 1st BC, is one of the oldest and largest in the Kingdom.
The draw wheels for bringing water using camels and ropes are still there. Taima is also one of the largest archaeological sites in the Kingdom. We arrived at the UNESCO world heritage site, Madain Saleh, by the afternoon, traveling 250 kilometers further.
Saudi Arabia is a land of prophets and civilizations. There is a huge tourism potential. The Kingdom has built good networks of roads through the deserts. The only thing it lacks is public transports to these historical sites. And most of the visitors are in dark about the importance of these places.