A Trip to Saudi Arabia

Getting a Business Visa to The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was probably the most difficult thing to do next only to probably United States of America for ordinary Indians. But due to diligent preparation under expert guidance of my travel desk, I was finally able to obtain one after a waiting time of one month.

I had learnt lot of negative things about Indians traveling to Saudi Arabia but was quite anxious to be there. The Kingdom was just off the Iraq War and the American soldiers had already left the country. The Oil economy was back to its boom days with a number of infrastructure projects in the pipeline. I was traveling to Dammam which is located in the north eastern part of the Kingdom and was the Base of Americans during the Iraq war. Getting into Dammam was not easy. I landed in Bahrain which is a weekend pleasure hang-out of Arabians. After obtaining a visa on arrival, I hired a cab to take me across the causeway into Saudi Arabia. The causeway was a smooth drive although it is jam packed with vehicles on Thursday afternoons with people from Dammam rushing towards the pleasure haven.

I went through strict frisking on the causeway and carrying any prohibited materials like drugs, alcohol, adult CDs or magazines can attract severe punishment. I had lost my baggage in the Airlines transfer in Dubai and was looking for a provisions store where I could buy my bare essentials. I found them in a store nearby which was only a walking distance from my hotel in Al-Kohbar. I did not realize the heat of the place as I had been there only during the cool hours at night. The morning began at 5 o’clock and it was already too hot there. People start for work at no later than 7 o’clock to beat the afternoon heat. The highway was full of all large cars of the world zooming past us. I was explained that people could not afford smaller cars here as they would be simply smashed by these large speeding ones. The lamp-posts were plenty standing aplomb to the booming oil economy. The density of the lamp posts in any other developed country would be about one third in Saudi Arabia.

Huge construction projects were underway with labour employed from Third World countries. These laborers were also seen at un-airconditioned petrol bunks attending the big cars. I learnt that there are a number of deaths reported as a result of working under such extreme conditions. The official Thermometer displayed at prominent places showed the temperature of 50 Degrees Centigrade! Otherwise all the factories, hotels and houses are centrally air conditioned to beat the desert heat. Saudi Aramco is the largest company in the city and a number of American and European Expats work there. These Expats live in separate colonies where they have a world of their own. Living there is much easier than living in the open due to strict religious and governing rules. The “Muttawa” or Police is quite strict in the Kingdom. Besides the law enforcing agency, they also bear the responsibility of cultural police. Almost no women are seen in public places or if seen are completely covered head to toe in traditional burkas.

  مشاريع السعودية  

People wear a heavy load of gold all over their body. Besides the traditional market, modern electronic gadgets are easily available in the market. Latest Sony laptop models were readily available at the place. Clothing brands from all over the world is available in the stores. And Baskin Robbins is ready for rescue to cool off your heels as well! I could realize that I was almost in the middle of the desert only when traveling to the airport in Dammam located outside the city. A peep from the aircraft’ window confirmed the fact. Large barricades were provided on the highways not only to prevent the camels from ramming into the vehicles but also to hinder the progress of sand dunes on the roads thereby blocking it. To summarize, it was a memorable experience and it eliminated all my apprehensions I had in the beginning of the journey.

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