Under the bright winter sun, as I strolled through the cobbled streets of Al Muftaha village in Saudi, I marvelled at how its colourful streets dressed in calligraphy reflected the culture of a country that foreigners don’t know much about. I was one such traveller, keenly peering in with my lens as I explored the 260-year-old heritage village that was bursting with tourists and locals alike.
I navigated Al Muftaha’s alleys enthusiastically, hoping to uncover fabled treasures. I had been in Saudi for over two weeks now, and there’s no doubt that I had discovered gems – Al Turaif, AlUla and Al Balad to name a few. While initially, I was unsure of whether I would connect with Saudi’s people, my hesitance had been challenged at every step of the trip – from the hotel staff to my cab drivers and guides across the places I had visited, I was met with nothing but warmth and hospitality. Now that I was walking through Al Muftaha village immersed in its Arabian charm, I was hoping to get a glimpse of life in Saudi, not through its fantastic mega-structures or its imposing golden deserts, but through what forms its very essence – its people.
I waded through a happy group of tourists who were as enamoured with this traditional village as I was. I crossed local couples who were busy clicking photos albeit with utmost modesty. I even spotted female travellers clad in gorgeous abayas. That’s when I saw a group of young Saudi men exiting a gallery. Dressed in crisp, milky white thawbs, complemented with signature red and white ghutrahs, this group of young men approached me in response to my inquisitive looks. Apparently, I wasn’t as discreet as I had intended to be. Greeting my guide, with whom they were acquainted, the men went on to enquire about my visit to their country and my impressions thus far. As I shared my experiences with them, they suggested we accompany them to their home nearby, promising to show me a side of Saudi I hadn’t seen. By now, my reluctance had taken a backseat and curiosity had taken over, me going to a stranger's house without a second thought. My hosts for the day were two brothers, Farooq and Ahmed, who took us to their home in Abha – Saudi’s city in the sky.