Day two of our AlUla sightseeing: we arrived at the meeting place in the parking lot off the highway, for “Experience AlUla” ticket holders, and boarded the tour bus bound for Dadan and Jabal Ikmah sites. This is all on one ticket, and included two separate places to visit. The tour takes about 2 hours. On the way to Dadan site, we passed many date palm farms, which I tried to capture in the below photos. You can get an idea of the view from the bus window below! I was fortunate to get the photo of the farmer and his goat herd, as the bus drove by. You can see animals being raised in among the date palms, which afford them shade from the hot sun, green grass and water. It is an agroforestry system of silvopasture, as the trees are intensively managed, usually in rows, which produce an excellent shade area to grow grass as fodder for the animals like sheep, goats, and chickens.
Palm farms line the roads in many places in Al Ula. The old houses are ruins inside the farms, and are used as fences like in the photo below.
Dadan had the best visitor center and history timeline for the area. You can learn so much from this one stop, especially if you are into archaeology. The guides are great and give the tours in Arabic and English. The archaeologists working at AlUla are really just starting to put the pieces together, of the area’s history. There is a lot more to discover! Apparently the large statues they found at a temple in Dadan are currently touring the US.
One suggestion: Bring an umbrella with you if you need some shade. I had a hat, but wished for an umbrella to shade me from the constant hot sun. All of the sites are outdoors. By the end you will be happy to be boarding the air conditioned bus. If you have a handicap, know there is a lot of walking around the archaeology site and at Jabal Ikmah. Jabal Ikmah is where my family ditched me, to wait with the guards in their air conditioned station. If you have kids, they may only do the Dadan section of this tour. However a nice outdoor tent with great food treats await you at Jabal Ikmah.
The tour begins inside the air conditioned visitor center where you can relax in style, have a bottle of water, some dates and peruse the archaeology and history of this place. If you are into history and archaeology, this tour is definitely for you. Next step out the rear of the building to view the Lion Tombs. At this time, we are only allowed to look from the courtyard area with binoculars, to see the squarish tomb cut-outs from the rock above. The stairs that lead up to the tombs are in need of repair. Dadan was the capital of the kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan. These date from around the 8th century BCE to 1st century BCE. (Experience AlUla, 2020) The courtyard area is in the photo below.
This stop is brief, and you get to ride another bus bound for the Dadan archeology site down the road.
Here the bus drives out into the landscape and you exit to a short foot trail to where the excavation site is. Currently there is no digging, however the temple site can be viewed. It is not much to see, but areas of rocks and pieces of carved stones. I hope that there will be a nice drawing of what it used to look like “in the day”, once the archaeology digs give us the full picture.
After viewing this area and returning to the waiting bus, there is one more stop to be made at the famous site of Jabal Ikmah. This site is all outdoors in the sun. Very little in shade to be had, so make sure you have your umbrella or hat, for a more comfortable time. When we arrived there was an outdoor shaded refreshment area, truly a treat when you’ve veen out touring!
The Arabic hospitality is expressly illustrated here, with elaborate food presentations and choices. How do I say very fresh dried fruits, without it sounding like an oxymoron, however they are probably the best I’ve ever had. Strawberries, mangos, apricots, kiwi, dates, mulberries? or some berry like it, hot tea and water. You can sit and relax on pillows and cushions Saudi-style and enjoy the view of the mountains around you.
Once you feel refreshed, the tour begins with a walk to the mountain area on a paved stone path. Our guide that day was excellent. He was really knowledgeable not only in answering every question anyone had throughout the tour, but also in his knowledge of the history and archaeology that is recorded there in stone. Tour was in Arabic and English, with ample time to peruse the rocks and take photos. Climbing on any of the ledges or up the canyon is prohibited, as there are literally inscriptions all the way around, and probably more to be discovered and studied, as well as petroglyphs.
Between two areas of rocky mountain, there is a good path leading us to inscriptions carved right into the rock. Some are in relief, and in various languages. The significance of this site, is that pilgrims and travelers coming from other countries, would record messages for others here in the rock. There are instructions for who to see at the temple, (name of priestess), how to make offerings, (at Dadan temple site), etc. The photo below gives an idea of the language style found inscribed in the stone. As quoted from the sign, “Most of the inscriptions are written in Dadanitic, whose alphabet was written from right to left, with 28 letter forms. A vertical line or two dots placed on top of each other were used to separate words.” If you want to read more about this language specifically, click on this link to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dadanitic
This place is advertised as a “living library”, which makes a lot of sense. Much like other important places found with diverse languages, such as Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia, here you have a record of time, travel, beliefs, customs, language and human history. From the sign above languages, “include Aramaic, Thamudic, Dadanitic, Minaean, Nabataean, Greek, Latin and Arabic languages.” Anyone into the study of “classics” would love to see this site.
Personal story: As we were following one another on the path towards the inscriptions, I spied what looked like a dried palm frond in a tree that grew along the path. It had a odd shape and I made a mental note to check it out further when we would be returning. Along with our tour guide, whose name I wish I could remember as he was really so good, there were other guides with our group. One of the young Saudi guides said it was hot for him too, and he was there until the end of March when his job finished. Well we were talking on the way back and I stopped at the tree again and looked up into it, and sure enough, you can recognize a wing shape, finger/toes of a desert-dried bat. It must have died and got stuck up in the tree where it still hangs. I showed the guide and from his reaction, it must have been one of the more horrible things he has seen in awhile. Not so fun for him if he doesn’t like bats, etc., as he has to pass it every day in his work. Some things that one person finds interesting may not be so great for others! What was kind of nice to know is that bats apparently inhabit this area.
More blog posts in this series:
If you want to see and read about Day 1 — tour of Hegra and Old Town, check out the blogs: https://datepalmsncamels.com/2021/05/15/al-ula-in-2-1-2-days-march-2021-1-of-3-many-videos/
Day 2– After Jabal Ikmah, the evening’s tour of Elephant Rock blog: https://datepalmsncamels.com/2022/01/04/alula-elephant-rock-not-to-miss-4-of-4-videos-the-best-way-to-finish-your-visit-to-alula/
To book your tour at this site and others in Al Ula, go to the Experience AlUla website at: https://www.experiencealula.com/ This is the best site for all information on current events and information, prices, etc.
The Middle East Institute has a wonderful write up of the AlUla region. There is a lot to read and learn. I haven’t read it all, but need to return to do that! You will enjoy this one! Click the link below: