The Wizard Of The Lost City Of Hegra
Our trip to Hegra had been canceled. “Canceled?!” I was horrified. Until the new year, there were no spots available on the bus that takes tourists to Saudi Arabia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site. The tickets were all sold out! I felt as if my trip to AlUla was now pointless. It didn’t matter that instead, I was getting tickets to Dadan, a biblical city that dates half a millennium prior to Hegra, located right here in AlUla. And that archaeologists have discovered even more ancient rock structures dating back to the Stone Age on some of these mountains. At that moment, I just felt defeated. Moreover, I was confused about why I was feeling this way because, until a couple of days back, I had no idea that the historic city of Hegra existed. And yet, led by some unknown force I had come all the way here, only to be turned away. Was this some kind of cosmic joke?!
Little did I know that it was only a test of my patience. Less than two days after, courtesy of the Royal Commission of AlUla, our Canadian-Indian family of four was to be taken on a private tour of this 2000-year-old city.
Although Petra, in neighbouring Jordan is more well-known among tourists, Hegra is an untouched jewel of the enigmatic Nabatean kingdom. To put the dating into perspective, at the time that Nabateans were constructing Hegra, the Han dynasty was beginning the construction of the Great Wall in China. The first site in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage, the parts of Hegra that they have discovered so far have hundreds of tombs carved into sandstone mountains spread across this desert. The rest of the city is under our feet and yet to be excavated.
Upon our arrival in a sky-blue, open-top, classic Land Rover Defender, Atif Al Bolawi, a self-proclaimed “nerd of Hegra” was waiting for us. As we exited our ride, already awe-struck by the terrain, Atif cheerfully exclaimed “Welcome! I’ll be your guide in Hegra”. Filling up our tummies with the welcome drink of Arabic coffee, dates, and candied citrus fruits, our party of five walked…