The Asir Province is located at the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia. A (mostly) mountainous landscape, bordered by the Red Sea to the west, and Yemen to the south, it receives more rainfall than any other province in the country. The highlands provide an ecosystem for coniferous trees to grow, while the cooler temperatures make it the Queen of the provinces. Abha is the capital of the province, while Khamis Mushayt, Najran and Jizan are other important cities.
The ‘Asir Expedition‘ consisted of two vehicles and five persons. Vehicle 1 (Nissan 4 WD), driven by my friend Nashreen, accompanied by his wife Leita and their two daughters. Vehicle 2, (Suzuki 4WD) driven by yours truly. I had decided on the Suzuki, which although limited for space, had previously proved especially useful when negotiating the tracts of loose sand encountered along the costal region (the vehicle being lightweight helps enormously).
Nashreen and I had previously explored another region when we belonged to a group of like-minded travellers. A member of that group worked for an American Oil company, and had recently been working in the Asir region. He suggested that we take the opportunity to visit the area, capturing our imagination with stories of rugged landscapes, temperate climes and (for the present) a society relatively untouched by the modern world that was unfolding throughout other areas of Saudi Arabia due to the new found oil wealth.
The ‘Hanging Village’ of Habala is a small hamlet twenty miles or so south of Abha. Originally inhabited by a tribal community who fled persecution from the Ottomans, it was built almost 400 years ago by the Qahtan tribe. It is composed of a series of sandstone homes perched on a ledge about 100 metres down from the top of a sheer cliff. Originally reached by a precarious hand built path, their supplies of food and equipment were lowered by a crude rope pulley system (the name habal, comes from the Arabic term for rope.) They lived here self-sufficiently as terrace farmers until the 1980s. A cable car was constructed in the 1990s, providing access to the traditional hamlet, helping to promote tourism within the region. The photographs shown below were taken by myself in 1980 when the village had remained unchanged in centuries.
On the day of our visit, we had the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a rare occurrence. A band of rain clouds swept in from the west, and unleashed a deluge of water that lasted for approx 30 mins. As you can see by the photos, the resulting torrent of water made a spectacular sight.
The journey took us to the border with Yemen, bringing lots of discoveries mixed with excitement, trepidation and unadulterated joy.