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Bureidah - Qasim Camel Market - Ha'il

Camels, Al 'Arif Fort, and Ha'il old souk


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Disclaimer: I accidentally deleted all the photos from this day from my camera, so what you see here are a few that I managed to salvage from my phone.

Ali, our guide who came down from Riyadh with us, spent the night with his brother, who lives here in Bureidah. He and Bacha, our driver, pick us up at 06:30 for the short journey to the camel market.

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We're not the only ones going to the market

Qassim Camel Market
Worried about my ability to walk, Bacha drives us around some of the various pens holding sheep. I never knew there were so many different varieties!

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Ardi goats

I have always found it difficult to differentiate between sheep and goats in some parts of the world, and here is no different.

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This is a sheep

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Goats on the left, sheep on the right, two friendly traders in the middle

We continue to the area selling camels.

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The large open area is full of hobbled camels, and the noise is deafening.


The odd loose camel tries to run away, but none get very far before they are captured.


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Prospective buyers mingle with their intended purchases, checking them out. There are three categories of camels, some of which are sold for breeding, judged by their looks, or destined for the cooking pot. Ali tells me that most of the camels in this area will become dinner at some point.

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Discussions then take place over a cup of Saudi Coffee, and a price is agreed upon. We too are given coffee and dates by the friendly traders.

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Once the business deal has been settled, the camel is secured with a rope and hoisted up into a waiting truck by a crane to be delivered to its new owner.

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I love the photobombing camel

Best Western Hotel, Bureidah
We return to the hotel for a shower and breakfast, dropping Ali off at the railway station on the way for his return trip to Riyadh. Before we check out, we go to the coffee shop to pay for the cakes we took last night (with permission). The girl behind the counter doesn't seem to understand English, so the receptionist translates for us. Before the assistant has had a chance to work out how much we owe, the hotel manager has stepped in, shaking his head: “It is on the house. You are our guests, it is the least we can do. We are so happy you are here”.

Somehow I cannot imagine that happening in a Best Western in the UK or most other places.

After freshening up and having something to eat, we continue our journey through the KSA, to Ha'il. I sleep all the way in the car.

Desert Rose Hotel
We arrive at the hotel around midday, and I am concerned that it will be too early to check-in. We go through the usual scenario:

“Do you have a reservation?”

“Who is paying for the room, you or the company?”

Once this confusion is all sorted, we are asked to show our visa, and are told the room is ready.

The bed is huge, but interestingly, the bathroom lacks toilet paper and anywhere to dispense it from. Thankfully every room seems to have plenty of facial tissues over here, and we always bring our own, so it is not a problem.

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As with many places in the world, traditionally Arabs do not use toilet paper, instead, they clean up using the hose next to the toilet, rather like a bidet.

Shougaf Grill
As suggested by the local guide (who we've not yet met), we go for lunch at this fast-food restaurant. We take a seat, Bacha joins us, and we sit and chat for a while. Confused as to why no-one has come to take our order by now, or at least give us a menu, we send Bacha up to the counter to find out. He comes back telling us that the menu is via QR code stickers on the table. I didn't even see those, and anyway, I am not prepared to use expensive mobile data on a lunch menu, so Bacha goes off again and comes back with a tablet with pretty pictures (albeit with a cracked screen).

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I order Arayes chicken and tabbouleh, which is way too much food. I expected the tabbouleh to come as a side salad, but it is a meal on its own. David chooses chicken tawock, which comes with some unusual puffed bread rolls.

A'Arif Fort
After lunch, we meet up with Abdulmajid, the local guide, at the fort. Dating from the 17th century, the fort is the oldest historical building in the town.

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Initially built for defense purposes, the fort was then used to signal the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan to the citizens of Ha'il.

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Following restoration, it has been opened to tourists as a museum.

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From its lofty position atop a hill overlooking Ha'il, the fort offers a view of the town below.

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Qashlah Palace
Once back down again, Bacha, Abdulmajid, and the museum curator take time out to pray, before we continue to Al Qashlah Palace, built as an artillery and weapons depot in 1941. The purpose of building it was to make it the central location for the army troops arriving there. Later it was used as a prison before being re-purposed as a historical building by the government and declared a heritage landmark in 1995.

Hidden behind huge hoardings and covered in scaffolding, the palace is currently undergoing restoration and is closed to tourists. This is becoming very familiar. Abdulmajid partially opens the gate to let us see the entrance, but we are not permitted to enter. He claims it is the largest mud-brick building in the world at 20,250 m², but I can find no confirmation of that online.

The Old Souq
While described as “old”, the market is surprisingly modern in my opinion, and I am sorry to say, not that exciting.

We are shown some very traditional cookies, called maamoul, which are made from a thousand-year-old recipe. They are delicious, and we buy a small bag of them just in case this hotel doesn't serve food.

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Butter mixed with date syrup is stored in animal skins – the smallest is that of a lizard, and the largest is from a camel. It tastes surprisingly good.

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The stalls in the inside part of the market are mostly clothes, shoes, handbags, and handicrafts. We are given some more complimentary Arabic coffee, which is mixed with cardamom and served in small cups. The cardamom flavour is a little too strong for me, which is surprising, as I frequently use the spice in my cooking, including my morning porridge.

We get to try the best dates of this season, which I must admit are absolutely amazing. I am not really a fan of dates, but these are delicious – the best I've ever tasted!

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We leave Abdulmajid chatting with a friend inside the covered market, and wander back out again. continuing to the open-air stalls, which are mostly fruit and vegetables.

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I try not to get people in my images, just in case they don't want to be photographed (taking pictures of people without their permission carries a hefty fine in the KSA), so I am a little concerned when one of the stallholders gets up, quickly followed by another. He grabs a punnet of grapes, and his colleague takes a couple of bunches from his stall and places on them on top. He runs towards my open window and hands the large punnet of fruit over. “Welcome to Saudi. We are so happy you're here”. Wow!

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Desert Rose, Ha'il
On return to the hotel at the end of the tour, we struggle to get into the room, as the card key is not working. It was temperamental earlier too, but finally worked after numerous attempts. This time it is most definitely on strike. A nearby cleaner uses his key to let us in, and kindly goes down to reception to get the key re-programmed for us. We have met such kindness from everyone we have encountered so far on this trip.

I was right to suspect that the hotel does not have a restaurant. There is a juice bar next door, however, so we have a dinner consisting of shortbread cookies with fresh raspberry and mango juice. Plus grapes, of course.

At 21:30 we receive a phone call from reception asking us what time we would like breakfast. I suggest 08:30. They seem happy with that. I expect we are the only ones staying here, and that they don't want to prepare unnecessary food, which makes perfect sense.

While getting ready for bed, David switches on what he thinks are the bedside lights, and creates a whole new atmosphere in the room. Oooh, la la!

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Goodnight from Ta'il and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this exciting trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:51 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged fort market palace sheep grapes reservation camels best_western souq goats saudi dates butter cookies middle_east saudi_arabia red_light hail ksa delsey_dining bureidah camel_market qassim desert_rose toilet_paper shougaf_grill artillery_and_weapons_depot aarif_fort aarif arif_fort chicken_tawock arayes_chicken qashiah_palace qahiah closed_for_restoration maamoul camel_skin lizard_skin arabic_coffee key_card mango_juice

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Comments

Always a pleasure to see your lovely pictures and read about your travel stories.

by Aadil Desai

Thank you so much fro reading and commenting Aadil.

by Grete Howard

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