Hello again my fellow readers,
In this blog post, I am going to cover my spiritual journey & how to spend 2 amazing days in Riyadh.
Before planning your trip, make sure you read below what you need to do first.
Make no mistake, this is going to be expensive. When I booked my plane ticket, I checked on Passport Index that I would have to pay on arrival for an eVisa. But I didn’t realise I had to pay €130. Yes, you read it right. This includes a full covered insurance that you are forces to buy regardless of your situation.
If you are planning to transit through any Saudi Arabian airport, regardless of how long or short it is, you will have to pay the same amount. I am not sure if this applies to everyone, but it did happen to lots of people I saw standing in the queue from Europe.
Tip: You can also pay online or there at the cashier, but I would recommend to do it online even though you might pay a little extra on transaction charges. This will save you a lot of time (especially if you have a connect)
Little intro to Saudi Arabia lifestyle
I don’t have an exact order of things, but I will just share with you things that I observed and that might be helpful.
Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia and the local currency is the Saudi Arabian Rial (SAR).
All toilets in Saudi Arabia are free and you will be able to find them in the city.
The cultural mix of different Arab ethnicities is fascinating. In Riyadh only 60% are Saudis, the rest being split mostly between Indians, Egyptians, Jordanians & Philipines.
You might feel the high pollution in some areas in Riyadh due to the lack of public transport infrastructure. But the Arab 2030 Vision to transit into green energy looks very ambitious and promising.
The kindness of all Saudi people that I met is something that I haven’t seen before. Being part of Islam, this comes with a spiritual & disciplined package inflicted from an early age.
The fruits & food in general is affordable and I was really surprised lots of restaurants stating below their brand that ‘food is free if you cannot afford it’
It happened to me a couple of times in Riyadh to meet such humble people whilst I was looking around in the market for local fruits or sweats to just hand me those as gifts without any expectations.
In my first day in Riyadh, I visited the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, which btw it’s a MUST. The entrance is free and you will be amazed of how big this museum it can be.
Back to my story, whilst I finished my time travelling through different periods from Saudi Arabia, culture & the Islam influence, I went strolling to one of the most beautiful parks I have ever been grateful to witness. There I have been invited by locals to join for a cup of local tea with condensed milk & lots of sugar. They were very friendly & curios about my journey and spiritual motives why I chose Riyadh as my first stop in South East Asia.
As I explained to them, the whole purpose of the journey is purely spiritual. Meeting new people that believe in different faiths, understanding the principles and the foundations of their believes which will finally answer some of my open questions that intrigued me for a while. Main ones being:
Where do we come from?
What is our purpose on this Earth?
Is there life after death?
After that entertaining chat we had about political views, faith, life in general, family, I went to a market near Maska Fortress where I tried some local clothes. Very important to keep this in mind because I was debating buying something that would use too much space in my luggage from day 1.
After my stroll in the market, I went straight to the fortress but funnily enough, I wasn’t allowed to enter with my tea.
I waited patiently outside witnessing the beautiful architecture of the fortress and overheard a group of Romanians talking near me. Naturally, I started smiling because I wasn’t expecting any locals to be there, and they kindly invites me to join their free guided tour of the Fortress. Was that faith or pure coincidence? Continue reading and I will let you decide upon that.
The guided tour was operated by an NGO called Scientific NGO. Their mission is to raise awareness about the local culture & giving everyone free information about Islam.
During the tour I found out a couple of things:
– there were 72 tribes in Saudi Arabia and that the government is using Saudi’s last name & a couple of questions to locate them in the genealogic tree.
– all camels have a built-in GPS – they use their nostrils to smell the humidity from miles. Their milk is sweat which helped Arabs survive the lack of water in the desert
– The National Flag has 2 swords because of the 2 Arab regions that were united.
– Their 2030 ambitious vision is to create jobs for 17 million people
– They use ‘miswak’ daily to freshen up their teeth. Is basically a natural plant.
– Back in the days, in the Arab culture it was considered to be polite to have plenty of food to serve guests. The tongue was suppose to be a special organ which was only served to the most important guest – usually that guest was either a poet or philosopher.
After the whole tour lf the fortress, the guide surprised us with a special moment when a dressed-up local came handing a falcon. My all time favourite animal. I kid you not, in that moment I had to force myself not to cry on the outside, but I was literally crying out of happiness on the interior.
Is it this also another coincidence ? For some time I was debating with my fiancee, the possibility of adopting such a superior & beautiful predator such as the falcon. Being able to keep the domesticated bird in my hand and pet it, just took my faith in one direction. Was that a sign?
After the surprise. The guided tour was not even close to be over. They arranged for us transportation to an important mosque where we were welcomed with tea & sweats. There we got a small presentation about the Mosque and we were able to witness an entire prayer.
Our guide was such a calm person and explain what each verse of the prayer means, the main pillars of Islam stated in Quran and the washing procedure before every prayer.
In the past, apparently, muslim people used to pray 50 times a day, but because of evolution and cultural change, they gradually decreased that to 5 times a day.
The ultimate reason being that for each prayer you do, you get 10x in the afterlife.
After the Mosque, we went to an authentic restaurant where they expected us with traditional food. The main surprise for us was the the traditional clothing. They offered us different colors of clothes for both women and men and we had to dress before feasting in an authentic Arab way.
Cherry on top – at the end of our feast they arranged accommodation for everyone’s place which was super nice given the fact that everything was in fact FREE.
In the package, I got the full clothes, a bag with souvenirs and a big bag of fresh dates.
Next time I am coming to Saudi Arabia, will schedule more time to do the Hajj from Mecca to Medina. Hajj is basically the Pilgrimage and of the 5 pillars of Islam that every muslim people need to do at least once in their lifetime. This applies to everyone that is physically & financially capable.
Note: You are not able to go to Mecca or Medina mosques unless you are Muslim. Those are sacred places which represent the journey profet Mohamed took in Islam.
When I arrived at my hostel, my new Saudi friend took me for a spin at the local cuisine where we delighted ourselves with a super late night local shawarma and Mango Lassi.
I started my day very late because only when I arrived 2am and did my check-in for my next trip to India, I realised that for the eVisa they would require up to 72 hours to check everything and come back to you with an answer. I got panicked.
My hotel was booked, all my upcoming flights were booked, and I started to reflect about my careless behavior to leave important things at a toss of a coin.
This made me realise that in every order there is chaos and those types of situations could’ve been avoided. But again, we are human beings and we are allowed to make mistakes. What I find important is being able to learn from them.
Back to the story, I had 2 feasible options
1. Re-schedule my flight somehow, wait for the Embassy feedback and enjoy Riyadh for another couple of days.
2. Buy a cheap connect from New Delhi and use it as a backup to buy some time until I get an answer. Reading through the Indian Immigration law, I discovered that you are allowed to pass India Visa-free if you have a connect within 24hs. The main risk here would be either being deported or continue my journey through Nepal.
What do you think I choose? To stay or to risk? I debated again the pros and cons, but eventually I entrusted my faith in a local coin flip. Smart, right?
Tails. Stay. Forget about the ticket. Insh’Allah everything will sort by itself.
I was lucky enough to fully enjoy my 2nd day here with my Saudi friend, Mansour. Since it was lucky to be a National Day, everyone was free, so traffic was a bit insane.
We went to see Riyadh from the top at Al Faisalia Tower where we saw Riyadh 360. It was breathtaking.
Tip: Book a reservation at top restaurant at Al Faisalia and get an overpriced coffee. The 360 view from there worths all the money.
After that, we went feasting at a local restaurant where I got local salad and pineapple fresh and he ordered a T-Bone steak and salad as well.
The food was absolutely mouthwatering, but to keep our insuline spike in check, we did our siesta in an Arab style. Electric bikes. We explored the main Bulevard, raced there and witnessed the Arab traditions and dances.
Many restaurants would compliment you with local tea, fresh dates or sweats, and we were invited to see the people wearing Arab clothes from old times, on top of horses and keeping a falcon on the hand. Those being the important symbols of Saudi Arabia.
Late in the afternoon, just 2 hours before my flight, I got an email from the Indian Embassy informing me my VISA was granted and that I was able to enter the country. Tears of joy filled by adrenaline rush and strong will, put all the pieces together.
If it weren’t for Mansour speedy driving skills, things wouldn’t happen to be in my favour in such a busy day.
Thank you again Mansour for all your efforts and hope to see you again soon. My home is your home.
So many coincidences of events, luck & hidden wishes all accomplished so naturally.
If you plan to fully immerse into the Arab culture, try to approach it from a mindful way of seing things. Being observant & grateful for all the good energy that surrounds us. Embrace it, feel it & give everything back. Be aware of the opportunity to be where you are right now, to do this & how amazing it is to be alive.
There is always a reason why everything good is happening. Is it God? Karma? is it self reflected energy?
Best view over Riyadh
If you are looking for the best place to see Riyadh from the top, there are 2 special places where you can do that: Al Faisalia Tower & Almamlakah Tower.
Questions I asked before going:
Is it safe?
Of course it is. Saudi Arabia is one of the safest countries on Earth. In The Muslims religion, they respect every culture, they are very empatic and compassionate. The guns are illegal and make no mistake if someone would offer you something for free with no expectations whatsoever.
For this time, I chose a to spend my time in a hostel which apparently was a converted 3 bedroom apartment with 2 bunk beds per room. The flat had a super nice patio where I used each early mornings & late nights to assemble my thoughts and views over every day I spent in the city. I met both hosts and both of them are really humble and ready to help you with everything they can.
I had an issue with my Indian Visa because I didn’t apply some time in advance but they made sure I had a bed in the hostel. Thank you again guys & best of luck!