The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East Asian region, is in possession of the world’s largest oil reserves and is the largest exporter of oil in the world. Bordered by Jordan in the north, Iraq in the north-east, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE in the east, Oman in the south-east and Yemen in the south, this third largest Arab country still remains as enigmatic to the world as it was when the tales of 1001 nights was released for the first time.
This country is unique in a number of ways like it has its coasts with the Red Sea as well as the Arabian Gulf, it is home to the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina and is one of the three countries in the world which have been named after their royal families, the other two being Jordan and Liechtenstein. When it was founded in 1932, the founder King Abdul Aziz Al Saud named it as being the Saudi Arab Kingdom and since then it has been formally referred to as the K9ingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Being a fundamentally Islamic state, Saudi Arabia follows a rigid and restrictive admission policy although many of the laws have been relaxed in the recent years. Transit visas are easy to obtain and tourist visas for pilgrims, Muslims or Invitees are readily granted but for others acquiring a visa might be a difficult task. A Saudi Visa is unique in the sense that the entry visa and exit visa are different and are granted separately. Also, unlike visas of other countries, expiry date on a Saudi visa is mentioned in accordance with the lunar calendar and has to be translated into Western months in order to be cognizant of the date of expiry.
Saudi Arabia boasts of three international airports located in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam and the national airline Saudi Arabian Airlines is popularly referred to as Saudia. Many airlines have their flight services’ landing in these airports and during Haj the rush is further accentuated by charter flights carrying in pilgrims in large numbers and since these flights prefer not to return empty they often try to rope in customers at heavy discounted prices.
Bus services between Saudi Arabia and its neighbours are frequent and reliable and extend beyond the Middle East to include Cairo as well. Although there are no railroads, borders between countries are porous with the exception of Iraq thus facilitating automobile crossings. There is a ferry service as well connecting Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Sudan and in spite of being slow and uncomfortable it is one of the most convenient ways of carrying vehicles across.
After having dispensed with the entry formalities, there are no restrictions to movement within the country unless it is a restricted or military zone. Being a large country, there are domestic flight services, long distance buses, car rentals and taxis linking all corners of the country together. There is a Saudi Railways Organization as well but it is underdeveloped to the point of being used only as the last resort.
Saudi Arabian culture has been predominantly influenced by the austere Wahhabi form of Islam which came into being in the 18th century and preaches conservatism at its zenith. Therefore, daily life is all about observing the various legal and social enforcements pertaining to behaviour, dress, consumption of alcohol, holidays, public forums and prayers.
Recognized all over the world as the cradle of Islam, this country is home to many significant Islamic heritage sites, the list being inclusive of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. However, it is once again the strict adherence to Wahhabism which preaches against revering any physical structure which has led to the demolition of many historically significant buildings many of whom have been replaced with contemporary landmarks and public utility services.
Saudi dress code is strictly based on the Islamic Principle of Modesty, known as Hijab, and this is applicable to both men and women. Likewise, artistic development has also suffered since the 18th century with expression permitted only in areas of calligraphy, abstract and floral designs. Literature is subject to strict censorship and although poets and novelists have won accolades in other countries, it is at the cost of antagonism in their own. Contrary to these fields, music and dance have always received encouragement and the traditional fiddles and percussion instruments generally draw collective participation.
In Saudi Arabia, there are no permanent rivers and lakes due to which most of the country is characterized by desert terrain. Summer months are really hot and winters are cold in this oil-rich country whose capital is Riyadh.