Gosh, don’t tell me you wore that burka in Riyadh! Isn’t Kingdom of Saudi Arabia only about oil, desert and Islam? … the questions that still jump in and around!
Yes, I did wear Abaya! No, its not all desert! Well only when you look from the flight at the time of landing, it does feel like that but not when you are in the middle of the city.
Hubby has visited Saudi Arabia for his project in Riyadh, Jeddah and beyond, not once but nine times. I remember when he was packing his bag for the sixth time, I had declared to him, ‘Next time you got to take me along or you don’t go’. He thought I was talking insane under the affect of yet another 4 weeks of separation that was staring at us. I repeated to clear the concussion of any sort. I am coming next time.
I was very sure he would not travel again to this part of the world after he had had my piece of mind. But when he returned again next month, he informed me very politely. I am really trying my best to arrange for your visa. It may happen, it may not, I need to be in Riyadh again. Here, I must tell you its not easy to procure visa for Saudi. There is no tourist visa as such. A woman is allowed to enter Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) only when she has a male relative, an immediate one. Hubby’s senior manager at the work place was helping him with all my visa formalities because he was required to be there for two more months. I was hell bent upon not letting him go alone this time. Yes, he understood me because he was an Indian too and his wife had shifted to Riyadh to be with him. He not only helped me with my visa but also invited us to his house for dinner too.
Well, this may sound weird to many people but Riyadh did happen to me and I am among very few Indian travelers who have been there. So, the truth is I am not just lured by pretty places, I am all open to interesting and unique experiences. And today, when I talk about KSA, I would say my travel to Riyadh was no less than an adventure but of a different make. Yes, it was more about accepting religious laws and respecting a different culture. No doubt, Islam dominates here.
As I reminisce about Riyadh, I would say I never got bored of the city. Hear my interesting reasons… The curious blogger in me was never at rest and thus everything came to be new and different to me. I could not click pictures in the public but I did manage a few…
- It did not matter to me that I had to wear a Abaya. In fact, I would say, it was so convenient. There was no pressure to get dressed in the best. I would be in my tee-pyajamas all day. Whenever I was required to step out, I would just put the black cloak on the same dress. San makeup, life was so easy! The expats are not required to cover their face.
Couples cannot hold hands in public. PDA of any sort is just not tolerated. But at the top of 100th floor, we could manage this picture. It was clicked at the top of Kingdom Center!
- I was there as a wife and less as a traveler. After months of separation ( the consultant wife’s would understand my pain) I was loving my peaceful life with my hubby. I had a two room apartment-hotel to myself. I enjoyed cooking with him and for him. I was loving my life as a home-maker. A big break from my office was another high point of my life.
- I was happy to see my that my husband had amazing work-life balance there. 7-30 in the morning he would leave the hotel to be at the office by 8-30. Yes, Riyadh can boast of traffic woes because it has no public transport except a few buses. Thus, where fuel is not a problem, everyone owns a car or hires one for commutation. By 6 in the evening, he would be home. Next we would just head out to walk to the nearby malls. He actually had so much time in his hand.
- Where did we walk to? Riyadh has no dearth of posh brands and shopping malls. All that I didn’t notice in Paris, I noticed here. The Saudi women love to splurge and they are only into designer wears. Its very common to see women sporting a Prada or Gucci bag. Their Abayas have precious stones and are damn costly. They also love heading to Dubai, its more like a weekend getaway to them.
- Well the Saudi’s don’t work much themselves. There will always be some people who can be found sleeping in their workstation. But the Americans and English hold high positions there and they get really well paid, sometimes more than the local. They know how to extract work but yet after all this, an Indian has a life there. I never felt my husband had any kind of pressure. He dint had to drive to office, he didn’t had to be the last person in the office to impress his boss.
- I can never forget Riyadh for its impressive food quality and variety. For vegetarians, you have some really good restaurants but for the non-vegetarians, its heaven. Labaan (thick buttermilk), Real fruit Juices, flavored milk and Kunaafa ( a sweet dish made of vermicilli) are my favorite from there. Of course, I hogged on chicken and rice like thrice in a week. Hubby would get them packed for me. Yes, in return I never forgot to cook a veggie meal for him!
- Most of the Indian channels are banned there. Local channels and a few from Dubai rule on the televisions. I was more than happy to find my favorite Hindi channel- Colors. I watched the season of Big Boss there, I remember. Zee TV is more popular because they have a sister channel that runs in Urdu.
- I lived in the vicinity of the most famous attraction of Riyadh. The Kingdom center , the 100 floor building was my favorite and it looks at you all around the city. It had a lavish shopping mall and a great food court. Also the building looked beautiful in the night. It changed seven colors in 2 minutes. I would definitely go down everyday to see it change its colors. It has a sky bridge and the cost to get to the Sky bridge is 60 SAR. (Saudi Riyal). I could not do desert adventures in Saudi but I did not miss going on the top of its skybridge.
- Picture this, yet another click from the sky-bridge! If you look deep in the picture, you will find the trail of cars. Traffic snarls can be really bad here. Hubby and I would prefer walking around. One has to be really careful on roads. Though females hardly walk around but there is no rule not to do so. Its just that the rich have luxury cars to take around their wives and even the small malls have rides to enable them a luxury feeling.
- Also in Saudi, restaurants have a peculiar sitting arrangement. The married couples have a different section to themselves and the bachelors or the group of people who do not have a woman with them are not allowed in there. Yes, see in the picture below, the closed section. In big restaurants, there used to be individual cabins and in others a restaurant was always divided into two sections. One read- Bachelors and other Family. In some places, which did not have the division, we could not sit and eat there. Hubby would get stuff packed for me from there.
- Why Riyadh felt so safe? There were my husband’s team-mates putting up there too. But we were not given the same house because family people were not allowed to live with the bachelors. In many public places, they don’t even allow the bachelors to enter. In a way, women feel absolutely safe in Riyadh. I mean a guy could just not dare see a women, stare is too far flung idea. And if they do, they have to face the music. This is the place where you can eye the men but they cannot. However, it has its own restrictions for the females. Women cannot vote, cannot drive.
- What more I did there? Apart from reading, cooking, blogging, watching TV. I would love my trips to Lulu center, shopping malls in Riyadh. On the Sundays, I would love going to the other hotel where husband’s colleagues were putting up. Together we would cook, go out and have fun. We bonded really well. That’s about being in a new place with your own people.
So, you see Riyadh was not a travel trip but a long stay vacation for me where I was away from the madness and crazy Indian life. Tourism doesn’t mean anything to KSA but soon when the oils will drain out, they will definitely take a lesson from the neighboring country, Dubai. However, I have been reading and two big plans are up their sleeve, first they are making four mega desert cities and second, tallest building (1 Km) of the world that takes over Burj Khalifa is on their mind
Happy Traveling to me with my consultant hubby!!!