Memories - Saudi Part I  

Posted by CK in , ,

I'm feeling quite nostalgic today so I thought I'd revisit some of the places I've been to in the past, through pictures and memories.

I was born in India waaay back in 1980 and moved quite quickly to Saudi Arabia. My parents were doctors and they were working there so I spent the next 17 years of my life in the sun-soaked country where temperatures reach 55 degrees Celsius (that's 131 Fahrenheit, for those of you who are metrically challenged). I had a good childhood. I spent the first few years in a place called Al-Oyoun in Saudi's Eastern Province. It's a sleepy little town (oasis) about 60kms inland from the sea. It's near the populous Eastern Province city of Hofuf. It was 120 kms back and forth to school everyday which isn't as bad as it sounds when cars can speed at 130-140 kmph.

It's not abnormal to see sword-wielding Bedouins in Oyoun's quiet streets as the entire area is still unofficially under the rule of the powerful and proud Shi'ite Muslim tribes in the predominantly Sunni Kingdom.

"In classic Arabic, Ahsa means the sound of water underground. It has one of the largest oases in the world with Date Palms of the best in the world, the oasis is located about 60 km inland from the Persian Gulf. All Urban areas are located in the traditional oasis of Al-Ahsa. In addition to the oasis, the county also includes the giant Empty Quarter desert, making it the largest county in Saudi Arabia in terms of area. The Empty Quarter has the world's largest oil fields and connects Saudi Arabia to Qatar, the UAE, and Oman."

The gun and sword laws aren't really enforced because, it is rumored, that these tribes can ride out and set fire to these fields at a whim and the government would be powerless to stop them.

So, as I was saying, going to school was an adventure. It's a beautiful drive, too. When you're driving, you have nothing but the highway in front of you and the desert in every direction. The first 5 years of my life, I spent at least 2-3 hours a day looking out at the sands and dunes roll by and it seemed like they were frozen relics of a time when the country was at the mercy of the elements and humans hadn't yet found the courage to wander the unforgiving landscape or disturb it, lest they awake some primeval beast from that deceptively quiet and beautiful scene. But, I remember feeling safe despite there being nothing but openness in every direction. I felt like nothing could disturb me there and it always seemed a welcome place. Once in a while, I'd see a herd of camel roll by and they seemed not to notice us and our trespass.

After a few years, we moved to Tarout. Tarout is a little island just off the coast of Saudi. It connects to the coastal town of Qatif which is one of the largest oil-producing cities in the world. In Tarout, there was a village called Sanabes and this is where I spent the next 8 years of my life. It was gorgeous. We lived about a few hundred meters off the beach and yes, it was palm-lined and the high-tide used to bring the water to a point where it almost touched the road that ran the perimeter of the island.

We used to go for walks along the beach at night. If you notice on the map, the entire central part of the island shows no habitation. That's because it was nothing but date palms and stud farms. Here they used to breed championship Arabian stallions the way they did way back in the day and I'm sure these animals never went for less than a few $100,000. And I could see the trainers running these horses up and down the beach at times, training them, exercising them. Even as a kid, I knew that I was in a special place. From our window on the 4th floor, we used to be able to look out at all of Sanabes and then right out to sea. We could see the three oil platforms of Ras Tanura and these massive tankers pulling up beside them.

This place is even more like the land that time forgot than the rest of Saudi. Saudi is a paradoxical place. It has rich, luxurious cities with everything in the world that oil-money can buy but it is also a thousand villages, with houses built of mud and people in their thobs and burquas selling dates and drinking black tea on carpets on dusty roads. I lived for the better half of my childhood amongst these people. The nomads and the date-sellers.

"Tarut or Tarout means goodness and beauty in the Semitic languages. Additionally, the town’s name is recorded as "TARU" in historical Chinese texts and "Ashtarut " in Arabic history. Today, however, most of the new researchers argue that the correct name is "Ashtarut " because the Canaanites and Phoenicians, who originally lived there, idolized the beauty of the town and called it Ashtarut. 

We cannot separate the history of Tarut Island from the Eastern Arabian Peninsula's history. Tarut Island has survived for thousands of years and its antiquities prove that it was inhabited since the Stone Age, approximately 5000 B.C. It died several civilizations ago and was part of many Empires and countries. Some of them were before Christ, such as Dilmun, the Akkadian country, the Assyrian country, and the Persian Empire. Others were after Christ such as the Persian Empire, the Islamic country, the Portuguese Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Now, Tarut Island belongs to Qatif city in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. It was a place of economic migration because of its important strategic location and it was a trade center between Indian contraries, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq. In addition, it has a lot of natural resources, including pearl fisheries and date farms."

In the heart of Tarout, is this massive sand fortress that is, I believe, over 400 years old. I used to see it everyday passing by it, as a kid and I remember thinking that it still looked impregnable just like it must have when it was first built.

"Tarut Castle is the most famous castle in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and the oldest castle in the Persian Gulf. Tarut castle was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, on the rubbles from an event 5 thousand years before. It is located in the center of Tarut Island in Ishtarut near a waterhole known as Al-Awda in the sixteenth century. Later, it was fenced in. moreover; it is located on main beautiful streets near shops and main services. It is even now fighting nature’s force, age, and negligence to remain an important emblem of antiquities and heritage not only in our valuable country but worldwide. On the towers of the castle, the viewer can see most of the island, its shores and ardens from every direction, and can see where the blue of the sky meets the blueness of the sea and the greenness of the land. "

I loved it. Even now, almost 20 years after I left, I still remember the warm, salty sea breeze blowing in my face when we opened the windows and that is the smell I associate with my childhood.

(to be continued)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Nice piece, well written but sometimes desist from spouting trivia/facts/dates/origin/history etc. Simply because it just ruins the nostalgia. Just take my mind back to the places and the days of your childhood and let it linger there...
This is just my opinion.

December 1, 2009 at 4:21 PM

I can relate to a lot of this. Was born and brought up in Muscat so I'm pretty nostalgic about the 1980's and 90's in the Gulf. The heat, the highways and fast cars, old men on carpets on dusty roads every evening, and the impressive forts, all memories I'm familiar with.

December 1, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Well, as they say, "nostalgia is priceless".

I guess everything looks better... when viewed through the prism of sepia-toned nostalgia.

Any stories/legends involving Bedouins... ??? Mythology... ???

December 2, 2009 at 5:24 PM

@Roshmi - I'm not sure about Saudi, but regarding witchcraft in Oman, check out the post below:

December 2, 2009 at 5:36 PM

I've got a few that I remember. I'll try to put it down or get you links or something.

December 2, 2009 at 6:48 PM

@ Daniel: Thanks for the link, Daniel. Will check it out...

December 3, 2009 at 4:38 PM

@ CK: Thanks! That'll be great...

December 3, 2009 at 4:38 PM

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