A Travellerspoint blog

Riyadh - Ushayqer - Bureidah

Camels, salt production, and a Heritage Village


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having picked us up at the hotel this morning, Bacha, our trusted driver, heads for Riyadh railway station to pick up Ali. The station is very modern, with a large car park where Ali will leave his car – although he is technically our Riyadh guide, he is with us today and tomorrow morning, spending the night with his family in Bureidah (our next overnight stop) before catching the train back.

Ali suggests taking a different route to Bureidah, with a little detour for a couple of interesting things on the way. I am all for that.

As we head out of Riyadh, the air is thick with desert dust, creating a muddy haze. I immediately think of a line in an old Smokey song: “Dust that hung from the desert sky, run though we run it still burned our eyes...” That is exactly how it is this morning: the sand in the air making our eyes sting.

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Dotted over a large area by the side of the road, are numerous large weekend camps, with Bedouin-style tents, BBQ pits, and quad-bikes for hire. Popular with families from Riyadh at the weekend, they are mostly deserted today.

Riyadh Camel Market
This market used to be near the centre of the town, but as Riyadh expanded, the officials decided to move it further out of the city, partly because of all the dust the camels and trucks generate.

On the approach road to the market, we follow trucks with sheep and camels on the back, confirming that we are definitely heading in the right direction. As we get out of the car, the assault on our nostrils reinforces that.

Most of the large pens are empty (the auction is not until this afternoon), but Ali points out this male camel who is being sold for breeding purposes. When looking for a camel stud, prospective buyers will assess the camels mainly on their physical appearance.

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This guy looks pretty handsome to me!

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Getting the camel ready for sale by cleaning it with a power washer!

These females are likely to be sold for around SAR 12,000, whereas a good-looking male can fetch anything between SAR 20,000 and SAR 50,000.

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These camels just laugh at Ali's derisory offer of SAR 500!

As well as being sold for breeding, there is the fiercely competitive camel beauty contests which are big business in Saudi Arabia. Some of the younger animals also end up in the cooking pot.

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Mummy camel will always try to position herself so that her baby is in the shade of the piercing sun. Her little darling is only a few days old and already seems to know exactly how cute he is!

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Another section of the market is reserved for accessories – no self-respecting camel would be seen without the right adornments.

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Cords for identifying your camels

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Ropes for hobbling your camel when you don't want it to run away

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These are feeding regulation devices, to make sure the camels only feed after sunset and that they share the milk between their human family as well as their babies.

We are also shown different types of saddles.

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Modern Nomadic Tents
My romantic notion of camel caravans roaming through the desolate desert with their train of trusty steeds carrying all their possessions, stopping at the end of a tiring day to erect their distinctive black and tan camel hair tents as the sun sets over the dunes, is instantly shattered when Ali points out that these days camels are herded using 4x4 cars and their 'nomadic tents' have been exchanged for enormous mobile homes.

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Huge trucks are usually used to transport the homes from one spot to the other, with the families staying in one place for several weeks. Most also have air-conditioned houses in town which they retire to during the blisteringly hot summer months.

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I am really surprised to learn that this 'small' car is capable of towing such a massive load!

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The route from here is mostly through huge open expanses of flat desert – I have to admit that I expected to see more sand dunes – with mountains appearing in the distance and a few palm trees and acacias dotted here and there. It is all so different from the clean and modern capital city. We pass by small communities as we make our way on smooth, wide, and almost empty roads.

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Qasab Salt Flats
These are said to be the largest salt flats in Saudi Arabia, producing 200,000 tons of salt annually.

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It is the primary source of salt in Saudi Arabia, and has been famous since ancient times for its high quality.

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Large holes are dug in the ground and filled with water. As the water evaporates in the fierce desert heat, a crusty layer of salt is left behind.

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There is no-one else here, no other visitors, nor workers, just machinery and heaps of salt, also known as White Gold.

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Nearby is the ancient city of Al-Qasab.

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Ushayqer Heritage Village
Initially settled by nomads 1500 years ago, the current buildings we see here are largely no more than 400 years old.

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I am really surprised to see all the electricity wires and advertising hoardings, especially at the entrance to the village.

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The village is built in a traditional design, with outer walls (now mostly demolished), and an inner courtyard where the market would have been held.

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The whole place is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, shaded pathways, and timber-framed walkways, crossing between hundreds of houses made from mud.

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Restoration is still very much in progress, and bricks are still made the traditional way by digging out the mud, adding straw, and drying the bricks in the sun.

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Fufalgiya Mosque

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As with most mosques, women pray separately from men, behind the curtain you see on the left of the image, to allow them privacy. As Ali explained, the women do not want the men looking at their posteriors when they bend over in prayer.

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Almassi Alref Restaurant
We take lunch just outside the old town in a modern restaurant accessed across a bridge over an artificial stream complete with some pretty large fish.

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The upstairs part of the restaurant is a little more westernised than downstairs, with some garish plastic flower decorations.

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There is a menu with pretty pictures, and we order chicken kebab, shish tawock, and iced mocha.

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The kebabs are served atop fanciful bowls on legs filled with hot coals to keep the food warm.

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It's all very tasty, and the iced mocha is delicious!

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From here we continue our journey along strait smooth roads, perfect for a post-lunch snooze.

Best Western Plus, Bureidah
The hotel is nice, clean, modern, and bright, and they do have a copy of our reservation.

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Our luggage on the porter's trolley. Did someone say "travel light?"

Our room is large, with a seating area in a cute little alcove.

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The hotel also has a restaurant on site, so we wander down to grab a bite to eat. Neither of us are particularly hungry, so when we find out that dinner is served as a buffet with no a la carte option available, we decide to get something from the coffee shop instead.

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There is no-one in the coffee shop, but we ask at reception which is right next to it, if we can have a brownie and a tiramisu. The receptionist explains that he is not permitted to sell any of their goods, but suggests we just take what we want and then come down tomorrow, tell them what we had and settle it then. Such trust!

And so another day in Saudi Arabia comes to an end, with an early night in a much softer bed than we had for the last three nights, and a strong smell of garlic in the room. I am pretty sure it did not come from the cakes.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this great trip to the KSA for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:56 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged desert mosque cake camels salt nomads coffee_shop salt_flats riyadh middle_east brick_making saudi_arabia ksa kebabs heritage_village bureidah camel_market saddles qasab salt_production al_qasab ushayqer best_western_plus almassi_alref

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Comments

Loved the camel 🐫 story and pictures. Great experience you've had there. Thanks for sharing it here.

by Aadil Desai

Thanks so much Aadil ♥

by Grete Howard

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