Experiential travel stories from India and 31 other countries!

Riyadh, A City dressed in Black and White

You see as you grow but you see much more when you travel…..  🙂

A new country, its people, culture, food and unknown surroundings always give lots to pocket in. November was about exploring the part of the world that I had never seen before. First I tagged along hubby to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia for his work and then we were headed to Dubai for our holiday.

Camels, tents, horses, goats, oases, that kind of things come in mind when one thinks of deserts of Saudi however I saw more of sky rise buildings, Toyotas, Ford and BMWs, great roads, traffic snarls, glazing shopping malls at every nook and corner, impressive international and regional fashion-wear stores and non-veg delicacies. The Saudi capital gave me experiences of different flavor. 

Olaya Street

Wearing a burka was one of its kinds. The moment I got down at the airport, I wore it. Suddenly the colors of my dress were gone and black took over ot from shoulders to the toe.  I didn’t know yet that I had come in the city that thrived in BLACK and WHITE.

There is no early morning rush to catch up the sunrise or run around with the camera to click pictures or plan a itinerary for the day. None of the these holds important when you are here. People rarely come as tourists here. When I decided to come in here, I had only few things on my mind as in to eat, read, relax, write and take in observations and experiences. A holiday of one of its kinds for me. I got to live an experience like a housewife who is home all day and waits for her husband’s return in the evening. And obviously I waited for the time when I could step out to experience the life on roads and observe the people, the Saudi men, women and children.

At the Olaya street, high rise buildings, decked up malls, lavish hotels are a treat to watch for in the night for their play of lights. The two tallest buildings of the city Kingdom Centre and Al Faisaliyah Center were on the left and right of my hotel apartment. The seven changing colors of the Kingdom Centre (below) makes it look captivating in the night and this tall building with 100 floors chases you everywhere in the city. 

Kingdom Centre in Riyadh

No wonder, exploring the city in an Abaya is another unforgettable experience of my life. Along with it, I covered my head too with a stole so that my hair did not show much. The feeling was neither good nor bad but I definitely wonder how do the native females tackle it all their life and how does it feel to pull a black cloak over their colorful dresses. To my luck, I did not get a chance to interact with Saudi woman.

If one doesn’t follow the dressing up rules here, a mutawa, religious police walks up to you and instructs you to do so. (Stories told by locals are that they come and actually scold you for not abiding by the rules) And also if they do walk up to you on the street or shopping mall, one must listen to them obediently. 

Before stepping out, Me in Burka

Things I did… you can try too

  • Shopping at LULU center was fun. Finding everything and also everything that we use in India made me happy.
  • There is variety of cheese, juices, flavored milk, thick buttermilk called Labaan, pulpy fruit juices , green veggies , packed Drinksmeat to choose from.
  • Gorging on non veg food for almost four times a week. There is lots of food around. (McArabia and KFCArabia not be missed)
  • Savored the big rotis here, 6 rotis available for 1 Riyal, thats 16 INR. (Khabus is also a form of bread found all around here)
  • Visited the malls like Kindom centre, Al Faisaliyah, Akaria, Al Jajeerah, Tamimi, Lulu centre etc
  • Try the food at Anatolia Turkish Grill, it is awesome. 
  • Enjoyed the skywalk at the tallest building of the city. The city of Riyadh from the 100th floor looks beautiful in the night. The beauty and the architecture is not comparable but the height above the ground did remind me of the visit to the top of Eiffel Tower.
  • Be cautious before clicking pictures, its not casually allowed in the city.

Observations, Experiences and Perspective

  • The kingdom follows a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law.
  • 5 times the city comes to a cease for ten to fifteen minutes as per the prayer timings, best religious practice ever seen by me.
  • Walking around on the road at Namaz time is prohibited.
  • Men in thobe and women in burka all around in the city. Thus I lovingly call it the city of blacks and whites.
  • Macho culture all around.
  • Exclusive ladies banking, gyms, spas, schools etc.
  • Women not allowed to drive at all, there have been anti campaigns but no progress yet.
  • No subways or over-bridge to cross roads, I felt nervous while crossing road as cars zoomed at high speeds.
  • Mostly all restaurants have a separate bachelor section and a family area.  
  • Alcoholic beverages are banned in here.
  • No cinema halls or theaters in the city so not much except the malls and food galleries to explore.
  • Lots of free time for the women and are best used for shopping and hogging.
  • Friday and Saturday make the weekend. Friday night is the party night minus the booze. Friday is a special day at the mosque and later becomes a family get together day.

Riyadh from 100th Floor

Hence if you thought so….. Saudi Arabia is not only about the deserts and the richness in oils.

7 thoughts on “Riyadh, A City dressed in Black and White

  1. Always love to read travelogues, good read reminds me of ” Thousand splendid suns”these things do exist?:(:( u looked quite real in the snap:)

    1. Thanks mam.. O.. I m glad u were reminded of something so well written…
      He he, thnx for noticing the pic..

  2. Good lord…I never knew it was as bad as this. How do expats live and thrive? Surely, the rules must be eased up for them? Even tourists wearing an abaya it just too bad 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.