Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter attracts daring adventurers
The treacherous landscape and otherworldly allure of Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter tempt the most daring and adventurous of travellers.
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RIYADH: The Empty Quarter, or Rub Al-Khali in Arabic, has long fascinated the world's most adventurous explorers with its magical beauty and seemingly boundless horizons.
Saudi Arabia is home to the world's largest sand desert, which extends into Oman, the UAE, and Yemen.
Its rolling dunes and unique palms have drawn visitors for centuries. The first reported travels over this magnificent but dangerously huge area were published in the early 20th century.
Saudis revere the Empty Quarter. King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's founder and first monarch, camped in this wide desert before seizing Riyadh from the opposing Al-Rashid family in 1902, establishing authority over central Arabia's Najd area.
Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Khalut and English explorer Bertram Thomas made the first Rub Al-Khali crossing in 1930. Two years later, the famed English explorer Harry St. John Philby entered the Empty Quarter by camel.
He dreamed of crossing for 20 years. “This beastly obsession which has so completely sidetracked me for the best years of my life,” he told his wife Dora.
He meticulously chronicled not only the natural environment and geology but also the physical and emotional challenges of crossing this seemingly boundless region, which covers 650,000 sq km, nearly the size of France.
Philby popularised the moniker "Empty Quarter," claiming the Bedouin who lived there called it that because of its huge, mostly empty terrain, free of human settlements except for the Bedouin tribes' shelters, who still live there today.
This desert is still considered suicide without a guide.
The Rub Al-Khali has little water, a confusing maze of sand dunes, and high heat. “One who can exit it, must be born again, while those inside, remain missing,” says a local saying.