Raha Moharrak Becomes First Saudi Woman To Climb Mt. Everest

Raha Moharrak
Raha Moharrak

Raha Moharrak has become the first woman from Saudi Arabia to climb Mt. Everest when she made it to the summit yesterday after a grueling climb.

The 25-year-old climber first had to convince her family to allow her to make the attempt, and then had to undergo rigorous training to climb the world’s tallest peak. She was part of a four-person team called Arabs on Top of the World. The team also includes Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, the first Qatari, and Raed Zidan, the first Palestinian to make the attempt. Masoud Mohammad, an Iranian, is also on the expedition.

The team is working on a rotation system with other expeditions, so the men are currently trying to make the ascent.

The team isn’t only making history; they’re also making a difference. They’re trying to raise $1 million for educational projects in Nepal. A donate button can be found on their website. This is a cause near and dear to Moharrak’s heart. She’s currently a graduate student in Dubai.

A Pre-Islamic Civilization In Saudi Arabia

Pre-Islamic Civilization, Saudi Arabia
The ancient past of one of the world’s most closed countries is beginning to be revealed.

Mada’in Saleh, about 200 miles north of Medina in northwestern Saudi Arabia, is an impressive remnant of the Nabataean civilization, the same people who built Petra in Jordan 2,000 years ago. Massive tombs carved out of cliffs tower over the desert. Some are decorated with carvings or bear ancient inscriptions dedicated to the dead who lie within. Around the tombs are the ruins of a once-thriving city at a key node of an extensive trade network.

The Nabataean Kingdom stretched from its capital Petra in what is now Jordan deep into the Arabian Peninsula. It grew wealthy from trading in incense from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean. Incense was used in religious rituals and burials and was vitally important for many cultures, including the Romans. The Nabataeans had a powerful kingdom from 168 B.C. until the Roman Empire annexed it in 106 A.D.

Mada’in Saleh was near the southern edge of Nabataean territory, perfectly poised to control the trade route. Even though it’s in the middle of a desert, there are good wells at the site and the Nabataeans managed to cultivate sizable tracts of land.

The most visible remains are the 131 rock-cut tombs with carved facades of a style similar to those in Petra 300 miles to the northwest. There are less grandiose attractions too. Here and there on the sandstone outcroppings are little niches that once held statues of pagan gods. Other stones have carved designs of animals dating from before the kingdom, back to an earlier people called the Lihyanites.

%Gallery-167884%Despite being alongside one of the main pilgrimage routes for the Hajj, the ruins of Mada’in Saleh were ignored for years by Saudi authorities who had no interest in civilizations before the advent of Islam. Now that’s changing, AFP reports. Saudi Arabia is slowly opening up to tourism and the site is drawing an increasing number of tourists. Last year Mada’in Saleh attracted 40,000 visitors and site managers want to double that figure this year. Most visitors are curious Saudis, but the country’s tourism office is encouraging foreigners to visit as well.

There are two museums on the site, although neither is about the Nabataean civilization. One is about the nearby pilgrimage route and another is dedicated to the Hejaz railway opened by the Ottomans in the early 20th century.

French archaeologists are currently excavating the site so hopefully more information about this southern outpost of the Nabataean civilization will come to light.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Sammy Six]

The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh opens, featuring bowling alley and cigar bar


ritz-carlton riyadh


The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. continues to expand into the Middle East market with their first hotel in Saudi Arabia, The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh. The 493 room hotel in the Diplomatic Quarter is adjacent to the King Abdul Aziz Convention Centre.

Of course, the hotel has to be appropriately palatial – it includes 52 acres of landscaped gardens, a massive fountain, and a one kilometer driveway.

Originally envisioned as a royal guest palace for visiting dignitaries and heads of state, the hotel’s architecture is modeled on traditional palaces and elegant Arabian residences. Native palms, 600-year old olive trees from Lebanon, and water fountains abound.

“This majestic hotel’s prime location in the literal heart of the Arabian Peninsula offers many significant advantages to visiting guests and dignitaries,” said Herve Humler, president and chief operations officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. “We are extremely proud that The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh represents our first hotel into the Kingdom. We have been aggressively seeking the right first location in Saudi Arabia for a number of years, and believe there could be no better place for a Ritz-Carlton than in this” added Humler.

The interior of the hotel is also imbued with a sense of place – guestrooms and suites use the vibrant colors and ethnic textures of the region. Highlights include not just one, but 49 exquisitely appointed two-bedroom Royal Suites, each generously measuring 4,574 square feet and 50 one-bedroom, opulent Executive Suites at 1,022 square feet. Wow.

The hotel also features 62,000 square feet of meeting space, an Aubergine restaurant, a buffet-style restaurant serving Lebanese favorites, Asian and Italian restaurants, a tea lounge and a cigar lounge that will be home to one of the widest selection of Cuban cigars in Saudi Arabia. The hotel also features an indoor six-lane bowling alley, indoor swimming pool and men’s health club with three treatment rooms. Sorry ladies, you’re out of luck here- there isn’t a women’s health club or spa. See more pictures, below:
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*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the hotel has an on-site ICU. This information has since been removed.

A journey to Mecca

The pilgrimage to Mecca, or the “Hajj“, is a once-in-a-lifetime journey required by all followers of Islam. Each year, millions of pilgrims make the journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to pay respects to their religion, resulting in a tidal wave of visitors, traffic and stress on the local economy.

Vimeo user KDMart captures the journey spectacularly in the above video, from the masses of crowds migrating towards Mecca to the circular movement around the Masjid_al-Haram. In real life, the mass of bodies in the high temperature desert can often be a noisy and crowded affair, but in time lapse, the pilgrimage takes on a macroscopic beautiful movement of bodies and nature, a beautiful display of religion in motion. KDMart does a great job in telling the story.

10 countries Americans need advance visas to visit

advance visaWe live in an increasingly borderless world and we have access to many countries that were closed (or non-existent) 20 years ago. As reported earlier this week, Americans are especially lucky with access to 169 countries visa free. Still, there are still many countries that Americans need advance visas to visit. Visa applications and processing services can cost several hundreds of dollars and take a lot of time and energy to obtain, so figure in that into your travel planning but don’t let it discourage you from visiting.

Nearly all countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East will give you a visa free or for a fee on arrival. See below for our guide to countries you will need to apply for advance visas, along with fees, useful information and links to consular websites.
Asia

  • China: US citizens pay $130 for tourist visas, single- or multiple-entry up to 24 months from date of application. Keep in mind a trip to Hong Kong or Macau counts as an exit from China, so plan on a multiple-entry visa if you’ll be in and out. You’ll need to send your actual passport in for processing and ideally plan 1-2 months in advance of travel.
  • India: Fees from visa contractor Travisa start at $50 and visas can be valid for up to 10 years, but note that you must have a gap of at least 2 months between entries.
  • Vietnam: Single-entry visas start at $70 and multiple-entry visas are valid for up to one year. Another option for Americans is a single-entry visa on arrival, apply online and pay another stamping fee at the airport.
  • North Korea: Not an easy one for Americans as there are no consular relations between the two countries, but it is possible if you go through a specialist travel agency such as New Korea Tours and realize you’ll be visiting only on a highly-restricted and guided group tour. Note that you’ll have to go through China, requiring another visa of course!
  • See also: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan

Eurasia

  • Russia: Russian visa rules are quite strict and complicated, so you’ll need to have a solid itinerary set up before you apply as visas are valid for specific dates and not extendable. You’ll need a sponsorship for your visa, typically provided by your hotel or tour operator for a small fee, and you’ll register your visas once in the country. Fees start at $140 and applications should now be filled out online. Tourist visas are generally only valid for two weeks and even if you are just traveling through Russia, you’ll need a transit visa.
  • Belarus: Similar to Russian rules, a letter of invitation must be provided from an official travel agency in order to get a visa. You also have to show proof of medical insurance and financial means (about $15 USD/day, can be demonstrated with credit cards or paid travel arrangements). Tourist visas start at $140 and $100 for transit visas. Gadling writer Alex Robertson Textor is currently planning a trip, stay tuned for his report next month.
  • Azerbaijan: The country changed its visa policy last year, and now Americans must obtain an advance visa. You’ll need an invitation from an Azerbaijan travel agency, then a tourist visa costs $20 and takes 10 business days to process. Transit visas don’t require an invitation letter but should still be obtained in advance of travel.
  • See also: Turkmenistan

Other

  • Australia: Getting a tourist visa is simple and cheap ($20). Apply online at any point in advance and you’ll be verified at the airport. Valid for as many entries as needed for 12 months from date of application.
  • Brazil: Tourist visas are $140 plus $20 if you apply by mail or through an agency. If you are self-employed or jobless, you’ll need to provide a bank account balance, and all applications should include a copy of your round trip tickets or other travel itinerary.
  • Iran: There’s a current travel warning from the US state department, but Rick Steves is a fan of the country and several reputable travel agencies provide tours for Americans. The US consulate notes that some Americans with visas have been turned away, so your best bet is to visit with a group.
  • See also: Nigeria, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Suriname

The good news for expats, students studying abroad, and other foreigners with residency is that many countries will allow you to apply in a country other than your home country for a visa. For example, I traveled to Russia from Turkey, getting my visa from a travel agency in Istanbul without sending my passport back to the US. Always check the US state department website for the latest visa information and entry requirements.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Thomas Claveirole.