Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sharaan Nature Reserve

You could never get tired of visiting the desertscapes of Al Ula. The stunning landscape - magnificent arches and towers of sandstone mountain against a backdrop of glittering stars - makes it a delight for camping. Despite this, the area was not very popular until about five years ago. Only a handful of explorers used to visit it during the winter.

It was only recently that the government finally took notice of how tourist-worthy the small town of Al-Ula is. It has loads of potential attractions: the Nabataean tombs at Hegra, the Lion Tombs of the ancient Kingdom of Dadan, the inscriptions at Jabal Ikma, the old town of Al Ula itself, and the photogenic Elephant Rock. So they formed the Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) to help promote tourism and sustainable development.

Aerial view of the Nabataean tombs

The Elephant Rock 

The RCU has created a Sharaan Nature Reserve to protect the area and bring it back to its former glory - yes, as unbelievable as it is, Al-Ula used to be even more breathtaking in the past. Vegetation flourished, supporting a diverse population of Ibex, Gazelle, Hare, Ostrich, and even the critically endangered Arabian Leopard. But overgrazing and hunting stripped the land of its greenery and drove most of the animals away. Not all of them though - last year we saw an ostrich near the area where the Sharaan Reserve would stand. The RCU intends to restore the area to what it used to be

To start, they’ve fenced off large sections of the desert to keep out domesticated animals. It’s already making a huge difference - with camels and sheep no longer nibbling on them, trees have become greener and grass has grown. We’ve been visiting this area for almost a decade, and we can see how much it’s changed in just one season. 

They’ve also created nurseries inside the Reserve for cultivating native plants and trees. These will later be planted at appropriate locations in the Reserve to help the flora recover. Since vegetation is the root of the ecosystem, this increase in plant life will support a population of herbivorous prey species (which will be reintroduced here from other wildlife reserves in the Kingdom). The prey species will, in turn, support predators like the Arabian Wolf and Red Fox. And that’s not all - they’ve got plans to reintroduce the Arabian Leopard too!

On February 10th, the Sharaan Nature Reserve was formally launched. The Crown Prince himself attended the launch ceremony, proving just how committed the government is to this project. They released some Ibex, Ostrich, and Gazelle inside the Reserve. We caught sight of the animals grazing and wandering around, but their shy and quick nature made them difficult to capture on camera.

The RCU has a Kenyan consultant for Sharaan Nature Reserve - Kenya's considered to be the best in this area of tourism. We were lucky to go for a wildlife safari in Masai Mara and other Kenyan reserves a couple of years ago. Now, soon, wildlife safaris will start in Sharaan too.

The desertscapes of Sharaan Nature Reserve have an otherworldly beauty. We’ve come here for desert safaris and camping countless times in the last ten years, and it still manages to take our breath away. Every time we look at this desert, it’s like we’re seeing it for the first time. It’s a beauty that never gets old or fades with time. No matter where we go, how many places we visit, we’ll always come back here. After all, Sharaan holds a special place in our heart.

We knew it when it was still raw and untouched and relatively unknown, and we’re excited to see how it will change now. We’re excited to see what the RCU will do with it and how it will end up. And we’re excited that so many more people from around the world will get the opportunity to experience it for themselves. 

Honestly, the stunning landscapes are more than enough reason to pay Sharaan Nature Reserve a visit - the wildlife’s just a nice bonus. It will be open for visitors soon, so make sure to check out this page for official announcements and bookings:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Masai Giraffe

Last summer, I was lucky enough to visit Kenya and see many majestic animals in the wild. One of the most memorable was the Masai giraffe. 

Masai giraffe is one of the nine subspecies of giraffe (according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) or one of the four species of giraffe (according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation). Scientists are still not sure about the classification of giraffe, since the GCF, through new DNA testing, found that there are four species of giraffe and five subspecies, but the IUCN still officially recognizes one giraffe species and nine subspecies. Regardless, Masai giraffe is the largest species (or subspecies) of giraffe. They can be distinguished by their irregular shaped spots which extend down their legs all the way to their hooves.

We got to see many Masai giraffe in the game reserve of Masai Mara. Most of them were in small groups, although we did see a few lone giraffes. It was truly fascinating to watch them in their natural habitat as they ate and walked calmly. They reached their long necks up to get to the leaves, which they slowly chewed while wandering from tree to tree. 

Giraffeworld.com says that Masai giraffe live in small groups with strong bonds between the members, especially the females. Calves form nurseries with females taking turns to look after them. Males do not usually interact with each other unless they are fighting for the right to mate.

They spend most of the day grazing and eat about 75 pounds of food per day.  They eat twigs, fruits, and flowers, but they like the leaves of the acacia tree the best.

Lions and hyenas are their main predators, targeting vulnerable calves. They avoid the adults, since their powerful kicks can break a lions spine or skull. Masai giraffe can also run at speeds up to 35 mph (or about 56 km/s). Their kick and their speed are their only defenses. These might work against their natural predators, but they cannot protect them from poachers or from the loss of their habitat because of human activities. 

According to the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, poachers and habitat loss are the reasons why the Masai giraffe has been recently declared Endangered. There are only 35,000 mature Masai giraffe left in the entire world. Giraffes have been listed as Vulnerable since 2016, and their numbers are only decreasing despite conservation efforts by the GCF and other NGOs.

Seeing the Masai giraffes was one of the highlights of my visit to Kenya. I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to watch them in person. It was a remarkable experience, and one I hope many future generations will get to enjoy. This will only be possible if we work to save giraffes. We need to act now before it's too late, or the iconic giraffe will be gone forever.

Click here to find out what you can do to help.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An Evening at Ambesoli National Park

A while ago, my family and I took a trip to Kenya. We visited many places and had an amazing time. We made loads of great memories, but one that stands out the most is simply watching the sunset on our first day in Amboseli National Park.

We were staying in a small, pretty lodge just outside the park when we decided it was a good idea to go out for a while to look at the sunset and take pictures. Our sweet and friendly guide, Muya, drove us out and we stopped when the lodge was out of sight. Even during the very short drive we could see many pretty birds flying about and playing with each other. 

He cut the engine and we got out of the car. It was silent except for the sound of birds and insects. Yellow - green grass grew on the sandy ground. Small bushes and the occasional tree dotted the landscape. In the distance, we could see the shadow of Mount. Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. The sun hung low in the sky and cast an orange glow over the landscape. The beautiful scenery and quietness of the moment made it very peaceful and serene. I think this memory stands out so much for me because of how happy I felt there.

After the sun set, we went back to the lodge and had some food. Then we went to bed still feeling peaceful and contented.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wadi Lajab

Wadi Lajab is a stunning valley 130 KM North-East of Jizan. The drive there from Jizan is equally amazing. Mountains surround you and the road snakes through them, steep and treacherous. You can’t see what’s coming after those hairpin bends, and that adds to the thrill. If both the car and the driver are good and know what they are doing, you will enjoy it. You will notice the green mountains and the small picturesque houses and villages. They make this drive one of the most beautiful I know.

You exit the road and enter the valley through a small opening that is very easy to miss. 

High mountain walls surround you as you drive on a narrow gravel trail through what looks like another world. 

Flowing seawater appears under your wheels as you go further, and keeps increasing. The gravel eventually turns to big stones, and you have to stop and continue on foot.

You follow a stream, walking in what is one of the most beautiful places in Saudi Arabia. 

The high mountain walls still surround you, and green trees and vegetation appear, fed by the flowing water.

The stream forms pools, where tiny black fish dart about. Sometimes it gets deep, and you have to wade in it and get wet.

The boulders get very large at places, and you climb them, until you finally get to the end of the valley. 

The valley becomes narrower and the two mountain walls meet. Cold water cascades down into a pool where you can swim for a while and relax before returning.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wadi Tayyib al-Ism

Last weekend my family and some of our friends went on a three-day trip to see some places in Saudi Arabia, one of which was Wadi Tayyib al-Ism.

Wadi Tayyib al-Ism might be the 'Valley of Lemuel' where Lehi's family stopped for a while after they left Jerusalem. 

We went in and after a while, there was a small bridge with a kind of barricade that cars couldn't cross so we continued on foot. It was cold and a very small stream stayed with us as we went inside, disappearing at intervals but always joining us again.

From inside the valley, you could see the tops of the mountains and it made you feel a bit small, but it was a good feeling. You were in this space surrounded by the tall mountains and it was so peaceful and quiet.

It was very relaxing to be in the Valley and it was sad when we had to leave. I hope we go there again and you definitely should if you ever get the chance.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


"Stop!" I kicked and punched as the thing masquerading as my mother seized me. 

My brother watched silently from the doorway as she started dragging me towards it. I screamed again as tears started flowing from my eyes.

"Help me!"

He just looked at me and frowned. "We have to do this, Claire. It's for your own good."

My eyes widened. They had gotten to him too. I sobbed and screamed, struggling harder. It was of no use. She was too strong for me to get away. In desperation, I screamed one last time and tried to kick her away. She gripped me harder.

 "Oh my god Claire just do your homework."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pride and Prejudice

Most of you have heard of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and if you are anything like me, have probably dismissed it as 'one of those boring old classics'. However, when you read it, you will find that it is an amazing book. You will probably have to look some words up in the dictionary, but that is a small price for a good book.

Pride and Prejudice is a story told through the eyes of the second eldest daughter of a middle-class family in 19th century England -  Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzy). Young and spirited, she makes a great heroine that you will want to stick by for the rest of the book.

The story starts when the charming and rich young gentleman called Mr. Bingley (along with his friend Mr. Darcy and sisters Mrs. Hurst and Miss. Bingley) takes up residence nearby. Nearly all the girls in the neighborhood want him as their husband. Mr. Bingley favors Jane, Lizzy's eldest sister, and a proposal is expected soon.

On their very first meeting at a ball, Elizabeth hates Mr. Darcy. For one, he is arrogant, full of pride, and he thinks that all the commoners are beneath him. Elizabeth also overhears him making a comment about not wanting to dance with her due to her being "not handsome enough to tempt me."

A new officer, Mr. Wickham, arrives in the militia stationed nearby. He is charming, handsome, and liked by all he meets. He tells Lizzy that Mr. Darcy had cheated from him the fortune that was to be his, and Elizabeth's opinion of Mr. Darcy sinks even lower. She is now determined to hate him.

Meanwhile, Mr. Collins, her cousin, who is to inherit Mr. Bennet's (Elizabeth's father) estate after his death due to his having no other male relation, comes to stay with the Bennets. He is a silly kind of man, empty-headed and tending to make long, tedious speeches. He also thinks very highly of his patron, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He has come to pick a wife from among the Bennet daughters. His initial choice is Jane, but after Mrs. Bennet tells him that she is probably to be engaged soon, he starts to favor Elizabeth. He proposes to her but is rejected completely. Instead, he marries Elizabeth's friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte only wants to marry him to financially secure herself; her parents are unable to give her much money after their death. Moreover, she is plain and unlikely to get another marriage proposal.

After Charlotte and Mr. Collins leave for London, Mr. Bingley suddenly departs too, leaving Jane broken hearted. When he does not return for a long time, Elizabeth is convinced that his sisters, who want Mr. Bingley to marry Mr. Darcy's sister, are trying to keep Jane from Mr. Bingley. Jane's health is declining every day, and to improve it, Elizabeth sends Jane away to London to stay with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.

Elizabeth soon goes to London herself with Charlotte's father and sister to visit her and Mr. Collins. After her being there some time, Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, come to visit their aunt, who is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. From something that Colonel Fitzwilliam unknowingly revealed, Elizabeth realizes that Mr. Darcy has been the main factor of separating Mr. Bingley and Jane. She grows even more mad at him and hates him even more.

Mr. Darcy reveals his affection for Elizabeth and proposes to her. She refuses him, telling him that she does not like him and accusing him of the deprivation of Mr. Wickham's fortune and of the separation of Mr. Bingley and her sister. He leaves, upset and angry. The next morning she receives a letter from him, revealing that Mr. Wickham was actually the culprit and that he is not at fault. He also explained his motives for separating Mr. Bingley and Jane. Elizabeth was forced to accept the fact that they were true, and, upon some reflection, decided that perhaps she had judged him too harshly.

After some other circumstances (including Elizabeth seeing Mr. Darcy again at his house and estate - Pemberly, and her sister, Lydia, eloping with Wickham and being brought back by Mr. Darcy) Elizabeth realizes that she loves Mr. Darcy and had completely misjudged his character. However, she already rejected him. Does he still love her?

Pride and Prejudice is a novel bursting with richness. It tells us about pride - Mr. Darcy's pride in his money, rank, and social position and Elizabeth's pride in her own quick judgment. Mr. Darcy's pride leads him to have a prejudice against all that are outside his social circle. Elizabeth's pride leads her to form a judgment of Mr. Darcy too quickly and thus be prejudiced against him. They both need each other's help in overcoming this pride and prejudice. The novel also describes how family is important in the education of children. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's negligence results in Lydia's foolish and immoral behavior. However, Jane and Elizabeth have better role models in the Gardiners and so develop better virtues and are more sensible. Also, Mr. Darcy is kind and generous like his father.

It is clear that Jane Austen is against the position of women in her time, when most women had to marry for the sake of securing their finances (like Charlotte Lucas in the book). She believes that, like Elizabeth, women can be as smart and sensible as men.

Overall, I think that this is an absolutely great book and everyone who can read it should. This novel has a lot to teach and everyone can benefit from it. If you don't understand what it is trying to teach you, you'll understand the story. And if you do understand what it's teaching, that's great!

Sharaan Nature Reserve

You could never get tired of visiting the desertscapes of Al Ula. The stunning landscape - magnificent arches and towers of sandstone mounta...