Lonely Planet guide reveals Saudi Arabia’s tourism treasures

Lonely Planet guide reveals Saudi Arabia’s tourism treasures
There are dive shops across the country, especially in Umluj, where you will meet local divers and instructors. (Tharik Hussain)
Updated 13 October 2019

Lonely Planet guide reveals Saudi Arabia’s tourism treasures

Lonely Planet guide reveals Saudi Arabia’s tourism treasures
  • For its latest regional edition, the popular travel guide sent a researcher to explore the Kingdom for the first time
  • The new edition goes into detail on previously covered sites and touches on remote and never-before-covered areas

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been designated “the final frontier of tourism” by Lonely Planet, one of the world’s largest travel guidebook publishers. The sixth edition of the company’s Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula travel guide was published this month, with an extensively updated section on Saudi Arabia, which announced its newly simplified e-visa late September. 

Tharik Hussain, who wrote the section on Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that it is the most-comprehensive guide yet to the attractions of the Kingdom.




Tharik Hussain spent around two months in Saudi Arabia researching its numerous tourism and heritage sites for the book. (Tharik Hussain)  

“It’s a good time to make sure that the guidebook was brought up to speed and reflected what is really on the ground. If you look at the previous editions, coverage was minimal because Saudi Arabia was ‘the impossible country’ to get in to,” he said, adding that while Muslims could previously acquire a visa for pilgrimage, it was not easy to travel around the rest of the country.

Hussain, a Bangladesh-born British Muslim who previously lived in Jeddah, spent around two months in Saudi Arabia researching its numerous tourism and heritage sites for the book. He acknowledged that, despite its hefty expansion, the updated guide still only covers a small amount of what is available in such a vast country, but said it covers “all the compass points and major towns” and “serves as a foundation for the Kingdom’s global tourism, which can be built upon.”




Farasan Islands is historically home to wealthy pearl divers and merchants. (Tharik Hussain)

This is the first time in recent history that Lonely Planet has sent one of its researchers to travel across the Kingdom, and the writer claims it is the first time any foreigner has explored the entire country this century.

“I was turning up in places where I felt I was the only outsider who had ever been (to) that area, in the far reaches of the corners of Saudi, like Haql in the northwest from where you can see the Jordanian and Egyptian border, to the huge oasis town of Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province, I went to the Farasan Islands in the deeper south, I was in Dammam and Hail, I went to the edge of the Empty Quarter and the Red Sea. It was pretty epic,” Hussain said.




The rub' al Khali empty quarter desert aerial view. (Getty)

“I think one of the most amazing strands that rarely gets spoken about — and Saudi Arabia is really onto something if it knows how to tap into it — is Red Sea diving,” Hussain added.

There are dive shops across the country, especially in Jeddah, Tabuk, Umluj and Yanbu, where you will meet local divers and instructors (including female instructors), he explained, who mention “the pristine and almost virgin territory, because there’s never been any mass tourism. Some of these places have amazing flora and fauna and rare creatures, like the whale shark and the hammerhead shark.”

The Haramain High Speed Railway that transports pilgrims to the Holy Cities was opened last year and several new rail and metro systems are also under construction, along with new roads to accommodate the expected boom in tourism, as Saudi Arabia aims to challenge the UAE as the Gulf’s main tourist destination.




The Hijaz Railway Station transported pilgrims to the Holy cities. (Getty)

Hussain said: “Clearly they’re working hard and you see lots of infrastructure in a lot of tourism sites, especially the really amazing UNESCO World Heritage ones that date back thousands of years.”

In February, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched tourism projects in AlUla, an area in northwest Saudi Arabia so rich in cultural and natural history that it has been dubbed “an open-air museum.” 

Those projects include the Sharaan Nature Reserve and a resort designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The guide also sheds light on the ancient city of Madain Saleh, the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which lies within AlUla. The city was built more than 2,000 years ago by the Nabataeans —Arab people native to northern Arabia and the Southern Levant.




Farasan Islands is historically home to wealthy pearl divers and merchants. (Tharik Hussain)

The new edition of Lonely Planet goes into more detail on the sites that it has covered in the past, but also touches on remote and never-before-covered areas, including the Farasan Islands, which were historically home to wealthy pearl divers and merchants. 

“Most of the houses are in semi-ruins but are being slowly refurbished,” Hussain said. “The architecture is completely different to anything else (in) the rest of Saudi Arabia and (it) really blew me away. You could see the style had been influenced by the Islamic art and architecture of places like India, which the pearl merchants would have been trading with.”

The southern Asir region is included in Lonely Planet for the first time. “Asir is the only place in the whole of Saudi Arabia where they have forests and these amazing mountain villages that are completely different from the rest of Saudi Arabia,” Hussain said.

Asir National Park is home to the Kingdom’s highest peak, Mount Sawda, part of the Sarawat Mountains. It stands more than 3,000 meters above sea level, with cable cars, viewing areas covered in a juniper-type forest, and several picnic spaces.




Asir National Park is home to the Kingdom’s highest peak, Mount Sawda. (Tharik Hussain)

“All around that region and tucked away in the valleys are these beautiful villages of stone houses that look like they’ve been carved into the face of the mountain. They are absolutely stunning,” Hussain said, adding that many of them were uninhabited and used as tourist attractions, like the ‘Hanging Village’ of Al-Habala, which used to be accessed solely via ropes.

The guide also highlights Jeddah’s old town of Al-Balad — another UNESCO World Heritage site — as a must-see destination.

The district’s buildings are made from Red Sea coral and feature beautiful hanging “mashrabiyas” — huge wooden lattice balconies that allow cool air to flow in but keep the sun and prying eyes out.




Coral reefs decorate the Red Sea in Jeddah. (AFP)

There are also the ruins of the Hijaz railway that was built by the Ottomans to transport pilgrims betweeen Damascus and Madinah. Remnants of the project, including overturned locomotives, can be found scattered across the country and some of the bigger old stations have been reappropriated. Those in Tabuk and Madinah have been turned into museums.

For Hussain, the chance to describe these sites at the time of such a highly anticipated change in the Kingdom’s tourism sector was a unique opportunity.

“Saudi Arabia is so diverse in what it has to offer and, generally, it’s an absolutely amazing place to travel around,” he said. “I hope this guide shows just how much potential it has as a tourist destination.”


Nominated actor Tahar Rahim debuts unreleased Louis Vuitton watch at Golden Globes

The Franco-Algerian actor wore custom Louis Vuitton to the Golden Globes 2021. File/Instagram
The Franco-Algerian actor wore custom Louis Vuitton to the Golden Globes 2021. File/Instagram
Updated 01 March 2021

Nominated actor Tahar Rahim debuts unreleased Louis Vuitton watch at Golden Globes

The Franco-Algerian actor wore custom Louis Vuitton to the Golden Globes 2021. File/Instagram

DUBAI: The Golden Globes 2021 kicked off on Sunday night, heralding the start of the annual awards season calendar. When it came to red carpet style, just like their female counterparts, the men did not disappoint with their sartorial choices. 

French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim, who was nominated in the Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture category for his role in “The Mauritanian” made a fashion debut during the virtual awards ceremony wearing a head-to-toe Louis Vuitton look that included the French maison’s newest watch: The Tambour Street Diver.

The 39-year-old actor, who watched the virtual ceremony from his Paris hotel suite, wore the Skyline Blue model, customized with a black strap, that matched his navy blue, double-breasted suit. 

The unreleased timepiece will be unveiled at Watches of Wonder in Geneva in April and launch on April 9.

Rahim was nominated for his role as Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who was held for 14 years without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The film is based on Salahi’s 2015 memoir, “Guantánamo Diary.” 

The film also stars Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The accolade ultimately went to the late Chadwick Boseman, who was awarded the Golden Globe for lead actor in a movie drama for his emotional role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”


Netflix’s ‘The Girl on the Train’ with Parineeti Chopra goes off-track

Netflix’s ‘The Girl on the Train’ with Parineeti Chopra goes off-track
Updated 01 March 2021

Netflix’s ‘The Girl on the Train’ with Parineeti Chopra goes off-track

Netflix’s ‘The Girl on the Train’ with Parineeti Chopra goes off-track

CHENNAI: “The Girl on the Train,” the bestseller written by British author Paula Hawkins in 2015, told the story of three women in bad relationships drowning their woes in binge drinking. The novel was on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list for 13 consecutive weeks before being adapted into a Hollywood film in 2016 by Tate Taylor, with Emily Blunt as the girl on wheels. Netflix has now brought out a Bollywood remake directed by Ribhu Dasgupta. Also entitled “The Girl on the Train,” it stars Parineeti Chopra (the cousin of actress Priyanka Chopra).

Dasgupta sticks to the thriller genre of the book, but instead of narrating the story through three women, he focuses on Chopra’s Mira Kapoor, a brilliant lawyer whose life spins off axis after she gets a man convicted. Practising in London (why this city was chosen remains a puzzle) and once happily married to Shekhar Kapoor (Avinash Tiwary), her relationship suffers after a tragic motor accident.

“The Girl on the Train” stars Parineeti Chopra (the cousin of actress Priyanka Chopra). (YouTube)

The audience watches as Mira takes a train back and forth from central London every day, passing the house where she had lived in absolute bliss. Seeing happily married Nusrat John (Aditi Rao Hydari) with her husband, Anand (Shamaun Ahmed), Mira becomes obsessed with what could have been her own life. Fueled by alcohol, she is driven into a self-destructive cocoon. Finally, when she is accused of murder, with British-Asian policewoman Inspector Kaur (Kirti Kulhari) leading the investigation, Dasgupta’s effort begins to sway as wildly as Mira’s tottering steps.

Parineeti Chopra is an amazing actress, but the script has been so shoddily written that it becomes clear midway that she has had a raw deal. A terribly tormented woman should have been offered a better script, but the director settled for smudged makeup and stage tricks — there is hardly any depth in the way her character has been built.

Tiwary gets nothing better — the minute he displays his darker, sinister side, he is sidelined with a fresh twist.

The one person who sparkles is Hydari, who manages to rise above the sparsely written part in a short screen time with a remarkable range which swings from love and care to anger and fear.

With contrivances and coincidences at every turn, the train goes way off track. While the original work invested in emotional trauma and psychological brutality, which the girl fought to emerge from the mess, Dasgupta offers a murder mystery whose carriages seem uncoupled. The work is so choppy that a lot of talent, including that of Kulhari, is wasted.


Model Shanina Shaik shows off trip to Dubai on social media

The part-Saudi model jetted off to Dubai this week. Instagram
The part-Saudi model jetted off to Dubai this week. Instagram
Updated 01 March 2021

Model Shanina Shaik shows off trip to Dubai on social media

The part-Saudi model jetted off to Dubai this week. Instagram

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik has landed in the UAE, according to her Instagram Stories. 

The catwalk star, who has walked the Victoria’s Secret runway five times, announced that she landed in Dubai by way of a clip shared with her 2.2 million followers that showed her at Dubai International Airport collecting her luggage at baggage claim. “Landed in Dubai,” she revealed to her fans. 

The Saudi-Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian star flew in from Los Angeles and it’s uncertain whether she is in the UAE for business or for pleasure. However, she made sure to document how she spent her trip on her Instagram account.

The model flew in to Dubai from Los Angeles this week. Instagram/@shaninamshaik

After checking into the Waldorf Astoria, where the 30-year-old was greeted with a floral bouquet sent from MAC Cosmetics Middle East as soon as she arrived, and she made sure to show off her treats from Mama Rita, the food delivery concept launched by Australian-Lebanese model  Jessica Kahawaty alongside her mother Rita Kahawaty. 

“Had to try,” Shaik captioned a picture of herself holding a white Mama Rita bag. 

Instagram/@shaninamshaik

The star later met up with her close friend, Dubai-based influencer Mahmoud Sidani, who is commonly known as Mr. Moudz to his legion of social media followers. 

“Look who’s in Dubai,” he excitedly announced in a video posted to his Instagram Stories of Shaik indulging in a dessert from local healthy restaurant Krave. “So, Shanina’s never tried a cheesecake from Krave,” he said, adding “I’m about to change your life. Have a bite.”

The next morning, Sidani picked up Shaik, AKA his “workout buddy for the day,” and the two headed to 51 Gym Dubai for an early bird sweat session. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mahmoud (@mrmoudz)

In a recent clip, the Los Angeles-based beauty revealed that she hasn’t been traveling as often due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

She also shared her travel essentials for when she does hop on a plane. 

Instagram/@shaninamshaik

Among the items she can’t travel without are her silk pillowcase from Slip – “for hygienic reasons” – melatonin for sleep, gut probiotics, Vitamin C capsules and Zinc.

“That comes with me everywhere,” she stated.

Prior to going to Dubai, the jet-setting star was recently in Mexico and in Ghana, where she spent New Year’s Eve.


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan speaks up against racism toward Asian community

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan speaks up against racism toward Asian community
Updated 01 March 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan speaks up against racism toward Asian community

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan speaks up against racism toward Asian community

DUBAI: US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan on Monday spoke out about racist comments towards the Asian community that she says have “increased dramatically” since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2019 in China. 

On her makeup brand Huda Beauty’s Instagram page, she shared a story writing: “At Huda Beauty, we stand against racism of any kind. Today, we want (to) draw attention to the violent hate crimes against the Asian community that have increased dramatically since the pandemic began.”  

Instagram:@hudabeauty

The makeup artist and entrepreneur added: “Sadly these alarming events have had very little attention with the media, and that is not okay.”

Kattan shared a series of images that gave her 47.8 million followers insight into the issue. The source of the statistics presented in the images is not immediately clear.  

Kattan also shared a video by Michelle Lee, host of The Science of Beauty podcast, who addressed this issue. In the video, Lee said: “Racism was always there, but the pandemic has given people an excuse to act on it.” 

In the 84-second clip, Lee shared videos of Asians people being pushed, thrown objects at and made fun off. 

“No one’s going to pay attention to you. You’re a stupid blue Asian haired girl,” said one man in the video. 


MAC Cosmetics teams up with Nadine Njeim on new makeup range

It is the second time the former Miss Lebanon collaborates with MAC Cosmetics. Supplied
It is the second time the former Miss Lebanon collaborates with MAC Cosmetics. Supplied
Updated 01 March 2021

MAC Cosmetics teams up with Nadine Njeim on new makeup range

It is the second time the former Miss Lebanon collaborates with MAC Cosmetics. Supplied

DUBAI: MAC Cosmetics has developed a 15-piece cosmetics range in collaboration with Lebanese actress and model Nadine Nassib Njeim. The collection features eye, lip and complexion products that come in striking Japanese cherry blossom-inspired packaging.

The former Miss Lebanon, who has previously launched the Mosaic Masterpiece collection with the beauty brand, appears wearing Zuhair Murad in The Black Cherry x Nadine N. Njeim collection campaign, which was lensed by photographer Desiree Mattson.

“I’m so excited to reveal my second collaboration with M·A·C Cosmetics, starring in the campaign for the new limited edition Black Cherry collection!” wrote the star on Instagram alongside images of the ad.

“Transform a brief moment of Cherry Blossom bliss into a full season of new looks, with this stunning color collection for eyes, lips and skin!” she added.

The Black Cherry x Nadine N. Njeim collection. Supplied

The collection includes a limited edition mascara, liner, lip primer, three lipsticks, four lip balms, four blushers and a Cherry Blossom Fix+ Spray that will hit shelves on March 10 in MAC Cosmetics boutiques as well as online.