After our visit of Emara Palace, we drive further west to visit the Aan palace. On the way, we spot several mud tower houses in the distance. It turns out that the palace is closed for the afternoon, and we decide to drive to Khbash instead. For some reason, we have a feeling this must be a traditional village, although we have not read anything about it anywhere. Driving east gives us an idea of how spread out Najran really is: it is the fastest growing city in Saudi Arabia. On our way further east, we drive into the enormous Rub' al Khali Desert. We see Yemen just a few kilometres on our right. We pass a new town which seems completely uninhabited, and wonder if this is intended for Yemeni refugees. Khbash turns out to be a modern settlement: we don't see any traditional house and decide to turn back to Najran right away. We are rewarded with a beautiful sunset. The next morning, we decide to go to one of the old traditional tower houses we have seen the day before. When we get closer, we actually see more of them. Four floors high, square adobe buildings, some of them well maintained, others crumbling under the onslaught of climate and a lack of attention. We walk around one of them, a neatly looking building. Then, a big fourwheeldrive turns up, and parks right in front of the building. A man gets out, and walks straight to us.
He speaks English fluently, introduces himself as Mansour, and tells us that this is his family's house. His father lived here, as well as his ancestors. He smilingly, and almost apologetically, says that the family is rich now, and doesn't live in this traditional house anymore. He immediately says that we will be his guests for the rest of the day. We politely say that we are actually on our way back to Abha, but that we would love to hang out with him until we leave Najran. He understands, takes out the keys, and opens the old wooden door of the house. We cannot believe our luck as we step inside the adobe building which we have admired from the outside. The interior is clearly not as well maintained, and we now realise that this is indeed an old building. We see massive wooden doors with traditional locks. Small rooms with partitions. Handmade plastered stairs with variable steps. Every floor has electrical light. To reach the rooftop, we need to step over a hole in the stairs: Mansour is worried the mud steps might not hold us. But we manage to make our way up without a problem.
We are rewarded with a 360 degree panoramic view of Najran. Mansour explains that the terrain surrounding the building is all family property. He points out modern buildings belonging to uncles and brothers. With the advantage of being higher up, we now get a better understanding of the surrounding area. We see several other traditional tower houses, as well as Aan Palace in the distance. In between, patches of green. Once upon a time, all Najran must have looked like this. We ask him about the maintenance of the house, and the effort the government takes to protect these traditional houses. We have seen many mud houses in a sorry state, falling apart and almost in ruins. For us, it seems unthinkable to let these beauties wither, and let their survival depend on whether the owners make an effort to protect them. Mansour insists of taking us out for a drink. On the way, we see many more dilapidated adobe buildings, and he tells us that many are torn down to be replaced by modern buildings. We have tea in a rooftop bar next to Emara palace, have our photo taken, and talk about his time in Belgium where he lived with his family. He even manages to speak some Flemish. Oh, how we would have loved to spend the day with him and meet his family. But we really need to be on our way north. We say goodbye, quickly walk around the old streets of Najran, and then finally leave Najran much later than we had anticipated.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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