After a light breakfast at our hotel, we set off at 7:30 AM onwards to Baljurashi. We thought we would simply drive through the city. After all, who knows when we would get another chance to come here. And from there, proceed to a dam that is located South-east of the city, one of the numerous ones in Al Baha region. Janabeen dam is the biggest dam in the region and is the provider of water to all the cities surrounding it, one of which is Baljurashi. It is located in Wadi Janabin.
Janabeen or Gnabin dam is situated at a distance of 61 Kms (approximately) from Al Baha. Now one big mistake while finding out locations to visit is not keeping the terrain in mind. We had thought that 60 Kms is an easy distance which we can cover in around 45 mins maximum. However, we did not account for the fact that it was a mountainous region. We could not drive at more than 80 KMPH owing to the steep turns and signals that came on the way. Because of this reason, we missed out on a lot of other places like Shada mountain and Wadi Jadr due to shortage of time.
Souq As Sabt or The Saturday Market
Anyway, 35 Kms down the road, and we reached the sleepy city of Baljurashi. Baljurashi region is famous for its honey production. And T is a huge fan of honey (or anything sweet for that matter). Surprisingly, there is a separate market for honey marked on Google Maps, my Holy App for all our travels. So we proceeded towards the market directly.
The marketplace was beautiful. It has only honey and Ghee (known as saman in Arabic) in all shops. The entrance gates and the boundary walls had railings in the shape of a honeycomb. So it couldn’t be mistaken for any other place really! Again, it was quite early in the morning, 9 AM, and only one shop was open. But the shopkeeper sold really expensive honey. Now, don’t get me wrong, but when you go to the place of origin, you kind of prefer having the original product and at a wholesale rate. He was kind enough to tell us that there is Saturday Market in the Central area of Baljurashi and we would get EVERYTHING over there.
When I read about Al Bahah initially, I found that there was a Tuesday Market. But of course, we went on a weekend, so I was bummed as I would miss the marketplace. For me, the old market in every place is where the heart of the city lies. Imagine my joy when I realized I had the opportunity to go to an equally fascinating place! We began driving in the city, and came across a fruit market, a vegetable market and a bit of small stores along the way. Baljurashi is comprised of four major blocks, a little bit on the outskirts and that’s all there is to the city. There was only one place which was crowded that day. So naturally, we made our way there.
The Saturday Market or Souq As Sabt, as it is locally known, was heaven! You could get each and every thing under the sun. Right from whole spices, to fresh produce, to livestock (rabbits, eagles, hawks, turkey, chicken etc.), to ancient Arabic utensils and dinnerware and of course, what we came for in the first place, honey. As this is a weekly market, there were hardly any proper shops. Mostly, people set up stalls in the backs of their pickup vans or on a sheet spread on the ground. So we bought a Kilo of honey from there for less than half of the amount the first shopkeeper was asking for. I kept hovering around each and every stall, debating with myself as to why I shouldn’t buy some of everything. As though reading my mind, T kept a deathgrip on me, in case I wander off somewhere (I tend to do that very often).
We did not click any photos of the marketplace as I was already attracting a lot of unwanted attention in my colored abaya! I had totally forgotten to carry a wardrobe suitable to the place and had packed only colourful abayas, which is normal in Jeddah. Never for a second did it enter my mind to consider the cultural atmosphere of the place that we were going to. Plus, I couldn’t see any woman other than me (except those who had come to sell their wares). So I simply covered my face with my scarf and enjoyed the marketplace anyway!
Well, we still had to go to one last place before we returned to Jeddah. So we hurriedly bought the honey and made our way to the dam which was 27 Kms from Baljurashi. You need to go off road and drive for about 10 Kms in the mountains to reach the dam. Now, one big problem is that unless you know where you are going, there is good chance that you can get lost because there are no markings on the road for the dam. There are so many forks in the road and you need to know the exact directions. It was a scary 10 Kms, I’ll say, because there was no other vehicle in sight and also, it was a single lane road on each side. T had half a mind to turn back (he worries too much about my safety!), but I wanted to atleast SEE the dam even if I couldn’t get out of the car, now that we had come this far.
It was beautiful! The dam contained water in a quantity that I had never before seen in any dam in Saudi Arabia. The view was perfect – blue water, which looked like a proper lake, surrounded by mountains. And the blue sky above completed the picture. There was a beautiful park built there for families to have picnics. Although, only locals seemed to know about this place. There were a couple of families picnicking there. I don’t know if I had simply become more conscious after Souq As Sabt, but I felt like everybody was looking at me in my weird, colourful abaya. We clicked some pictures, took in the views and left after half an hour.
We got back to Al Baha at 11 AM and decided to go to Raghadan Forest Park once again before leaving as it was nice and cloudy. But when went up the mountain, the fog was so dense and the clouds billowed right in front of us. Looked like a scene straight from a horror movie. EEEPS! It was a single lane road, quite high up in the mountains with no safety railing. So we decided to stop short and turn back to the safety of our hotel. Then we freshened up a bit, checked out, had some lunch and proceed to Jeddah. But this time, we took another route. This route goes through the mountains for all 4 hours of the drive and passes through Taif. Again, on the way, we passed Ben Rkoh ruins, which were similar to Dhi Ayn ruins and many such similar ruins which gives an idea as to how many tribes used to stay in Al Baha region. About an hour into our drive, we came across a mini honey market (tents mostly) on the highway! So once again, we got a kilo of honey as well as some ghee from a vendor there.
Also, while coming through Taif, we passed by the Al-Hada Mountain, stopped there for a while, looked over the gorgeous valley view and proceeded homeward.
That basically turned out be the perfect way to spend a weekend.