RAFHA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — A desert bloom triggered by heavier than usual winter rains has carpeted the sands of northern Saudi Arabia with purple flowers, drawing sightseers from across the Arabian Peninsula.
Muhammad al-Mutairi drove nearly six hours from his hometown in the center of the kingdom to see the rare burst of color in the drab landscape.
“No one expects that this scene is in Saudi Arabia,” the 50-year-old retired teacher told AFP as he surveyed the sea of purple stretching as far as the eye can see in the desert around Rafha, close to the Iraqi border.
“The smell and sight refreshes the soul,” he said of the plants known in Arabic as wild lavender.
Winter rains brought deadly flooding to parts of western Saudi Arabia late last year, but in northern areas they have brought life to the desert.
Nasser al-Karaani traveled 770 kilometers (480 miles) from the capital Riyadh to see the colorful flowers before they wilt.
“This scene lasts from 15 to 20 days a year, and we come here specifically to enjoy it,” the 55-year-old Saudi businessman said.
He unloaded a tent from his four-wheeler and set up base with a group of friends before gathering around a fire for a hot cup of tea.
“This atmosphere makes me feel at ease,” said Karaani, wearing a heavy jacket over his traditional thobe gown.
Across the desert, visitors pitched tents and cooked food over open fires.
Residents of the area kept camels away to stop them from eating the flowers that have drawn the sightseers.
Hamza al-Mutairi, who was camping with friends, said he felt “recharged” by the natural spectacle.
“It gives a person a new motivation for life,” the 56-year-old Saudi said.
Nearby, Abdul Rahman al-Marri said he had driven all the way from his native Qatar to catch a glimpse of the vibrant blossom.
“The sight is worth” the more than 12-hour journey, he said. “It’s as if you are in paradise.”