Exploring Saudi Arabia: A journey through the lens

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In 2015, Abdulaziz Aldakheel formed the Earth Aerial Documentary Team for his projects. (Photos/Supplied)
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Updated 16 February 2020

Exploring Saudi Arabia: A journey through the lens

  • Abdulaziz Aldakheel flies a two-seater aircraft to take aerial shots of heritage sites of Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Abdulaziz Aldakheel, a businessman and adventurer from Madinah, flies a two-seater aircraft and takes aerial photographs of Saudi Arabia that have been creating waves on social media.
“I like to explore and document sites and everything I see from the top. As a pilot, I know how to get the best spots (to) capture a good photo from the right angle. I also know the right altitude,” he told Arab News.
“Aerial photography is unique and unlike regular photography on the ground, which everyone can do.” He said he has licenses to fly over some banned areas and zones in Madinah.
It all started in 2014, when Aldakheel set off to explore a volcano crater in Madinah. “I also took photographs, which won the admiration of many of my friends and followers on social media,” he said.
“My friends and I started to search for exotic places to explore and learn more about, and also to document them, as we all shared the belief that the Kingdom boasts exotic and great archeological sites, including Islamic and historical ones,” he added.
“We decided to form a team of professional members who are capable of making such explorations and documenting what we see. In 2015, we formed the Earth Aerial Documentary Team, the first and largest volunteer team that uses light-sport aircraft for photography.”
Some of the most aspiring photography experiences for him and his team are rare natural phenomena in desert areas across the Kingdom, such as snowfall.
“Flying is our hobby. We fly twice a week ... The Saudi deserts are the most mesmerizing during the winter. Besides, flying during cold weather is better,” Aldakheel said.
His favorite photography tools are two Nikon D850 cameras. “This type of camera is the most professional and helps you capture photos with very high precision, and zoom in and out easily while flying an aircraft,” he said.
“We fly aircraft as volunteers to serve our country and with the full support of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman and his deputy Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal. We’re grateful for their continuously encouraging the whole team. We’re proud that they put up the photos of the team in the emirate building in Madinah. We view this as a major achievement and an inspiration that will spur us on to do more,” Aldakheel added.
“Our ambition is to get approval for other sites in the Kingdom so we can document them.” He will be documenting remote areas in the Eastern Province, the Southern Region and the Empty Quarter.
“We’re getting ready for our exhibition in Madinah, where we’ll showcase our works as well as our aircraft, vehicles, photography and camping equipment,” he said.

Safe Eid staycations in the UAE

The UAE extended the curfew to start at 8 p.m. as of May 20. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 May 2020

Safe Eid staycations in the UAE

DUBAI: If you have been repeatedly pinching yourself to wake up from a bad dream, you are not alone. In the midst of the all-consuming coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the world has been forced to reconcile with a new order.

After several stages of grief for what was, and disbelief for what lies ahead, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and realized that summer is just around the corner, the same corner I had been walking to and from to stretch my legs since the UAE announced in March new measures to implement social distancing.

With this in mind, I decided not to stifle the ever-potent wanderlust that has powered me throughout the years. After all, there are places in the world with safe enough infrastructures to navigate the aggressive motorways of intercity traveling. So, I pumped my car with enough gas and hit the road.

Here are some tried and true (safe and in line with the directives of the Ministry of Health and Prevention) day trips and staycation destinations to keep you hanging in there:

Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach

The UAE Residents Key package starts from 1,100 Emirati dirhams ($300). (Fourseasons.com)

If you want to lose yourself in a micro-universe of (US filmmaker) Wes Anderson-esque opulence, look no further than the Four Seasons Resort on Dubai’s Jumeirah Road.

The UAE Residents Key package starts from 1,100 Emirati dirhams ($300) and is inclusive of a 20 percent discount on all in-house food and beverage outlets with early check-in and late check-out.

Upon arrival, guests are instantly beckoned by the tantalizing waters of the Arabian Gulf glistening through the panoramic windows of the lobby like a Henri Matisse painting.

Before heading out though, visit the Shai Salon near the check-in counter and bask underneath the lattice ceiling which resembles a starlit sky. While the kitchen is currently closed for dine-in, you may order from a selection of aromatic teas and nibble on finger foods on the terrace of your room.

After ample relaxation, it is time to soak up the sun. All beach beds are 2 meters apart, and if you forget sunscreen, worry not, as staff will come to the rescue.

The soft waves of this beachfront oasis, coupled with the tranquil, grainy white sand make for a dreamscape. Interspersing your cheeky dips in the water is a friendly ecosystem of shoals of bream, shellfish, and exotic birds.

Now that you are properly sun-kissed, head over to the SeaWake counter for some watersport playtime. Guaranteed to awaken the child within, you may choose a 45-minute wakeboarding session, a boat cruise to the canal, or a simple donut or banana ride into the sunset.

To answer the growling call of hunger, do not forget to claim the meal that comes with the UAE Residents Key package which offers a signature dish and dessert at Nammos by the sea.

Al-Qudra Lake, Al-Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve

It is the perfect spot to read that book you have been putting off all year. (Shutterstock)

A pleasant 30-minute drive takes you to this man-made wonder on the southern outskirts of Dubai as you bid farewell to the city’s skyline through the rearview mirror.

It is a habitat for flora and fauna, jaw-dropping migratory birds as well as local wildlife. You can spot deer, swans, flamingos, and some 200 bird species that have taken up refuge by the lake, some of which are endangered such as the Asian Houbara.

Catch the sunrise with a flask of hot tea as the birds announce the day or let the night sweep in as you stargaze under the silky skies. It is the perfect spot to read that book you have been putting off all year.

There are no on-site facilities at Al-Qudra, so be sure to stock up on food and drink. If you find yourself in a bind, head to nearby Bab Al Shams.

Ras Al-Khaimah Public Beach

The beach is on the same stretch as the famed Hilton Ras Al-Khaimah Resort and Spa. (Shutterstock)

This is not a de facto public beach but rather a serene strip of water that I stumbled upon while searching for a gas station.

On the same stretch as the famed Hilton Ras Al-Khaimah Resort and Spa and opposite the ADNOC station by the fish market, it is a little off the beaten track, which only adds to the mysticism.

The barren land surrounding it juxtaposed against the turquoise waves is a sight to behold. The boulders lined up on the side make for a nice little hiking challenge or a seat to prop you up for a sunset-tinted journaling session.

Just when you think you have the place to yourself, jellyfish swim up the shore. Do not forget to head back to the city before the curfew and grab an invigorating fresh pomegranate juice from Eat & Drink.