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Abdullah was in high spirits. He was marching forward towards his long cherished Goal of journeying across the Empty Quarter. He had been joined by a dozen Arabs on this journey at Dulaiqiya; there were four men waiting to join his party farther south, taking the number of people in his team to nineteen. There were thirty-two camels for the journey and between them - they carried a store of food and water that would last them for the next three months. Dates and rice would be the principal diet on this journey, but they also carried among other things, salt, pepper, cinnamon, butter, tea, sugar, cardamom, and onions.

    Abdullah had done little riding on camels to prepare himself for the journey. He felt that a short ride on the first day would be wise. When they pitched their tents at the end of first day, he immediately felt something was wrong with him. The weather was extremely cold and he lay terribly stiff by the campfire unable to move. His companions piled him with cups of hot coffee. He got up but he could hardly walk. He staggered into the arms of one of the Arabs and fainted. He was unconscious for a few minutes and his friends told him later that his face had turned yellow and they thought he was going to die. They put him to bed, and he went straight to sleep. Abdullah woke up the next day morning refreshed from the sleep, without any ill effects from the previous night whatever, and they resumed the journey.

    The month of January was extremely cold in the desert. The thermometer had recorded a temperature of five degrees of frost. The water skins of the travelers were frozen hard and they had to lay them by the side of the campfire to thaw the ice before they could make coffee for all. The sand beneath was so cold that it seemed to burn tiny holes beneath their feet like red-hot needles. However, within a few days it became unbearably hot once again.

    It was also the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the whole party agreed to fast. From an hour before dawn to sunset, they fasted for thirty days. But, it was only five among the group of nineteen, which included Abdullah, that fasted for thirty days without a break. The rest had at various times had abandoned the fast midway, a privilege that had been granted to the travelers by the God, most High, of exemption from the full observance of the fast. During this period, the travelers survived on breakfast at sunset and the predawn meal at 4 a.m. The menu was rice and dates during both these times and an occasional hare captured in the desert, which was divided carefully into tiny fragments between the nineteen of them.

    They were penetrating farther and deep into the desert with each passing day, crossing the low-lying salt plains, searching for oases and reported ruins until they arrived at the outpost of Jabrin, the farthest edge of Arab civilization in the southern sands. Here, they were greeted by an old Arab, Jabir ibn Faisal, living with his family in tumbled down huts, like sentinels at the end of the world.

    Jabir and his family were the last human beings that the traveling party had seen outside their own group for 53 days. Jabir welcomed them by hosting for them a dinner by killing a young camel for meat, typical of the traditional Arab hospitality. He also presented them with a dog that remained with them throughout the journey and helped them hunt for an odd hare in the hostile desert in which they traveled. It was at this outpost, where the actual crossing of Rub al-Khali would begin.

    For days, they traveled relying for their water supply on wells, which in many cases were covered deep in the sand and completely unrecognizable to any but the keen eyes of the Arab guides and trackers in the group. During the journey, Abdullah never wasted an opportunity to collect specimens of fossils and stones to be sent to London for evaluation and examination by experts. Earlier he had sent some specimens along with old man Jabir to Hofuf and given him money to buy presents for his family living in the lonely outpost of the desert.

    All the while, Abdullah kept searching for the mysterious hidden city of Wabar. The group was heading southward and had only vague evidence of the existence of the city. During this time, the travelers have crossed the beds of two ancient rivers that had long since dried up. However, a third prehistoric river was yet to be discovered. Legend had it, that the prehistoric remains of the ancient city had been built on the banks of such a river. Abdullah had heard about this city from the past that lay hidden deep in the desert. Based on the reports reaching him, he had marked two probable sites on the map with information that had been supplied to him.

 

 

    At last, they were near to the ancient city of Wabar, about which the ancient Arab historians had told so many strange stories and legends. The group had set camp a little distance away, where they expected to find its ruins. The next day they marched further into the desert heading in the general direction of the ruined city, when suddenly one of the Arab guides in the group caught the first glimpse of this fabled city, the ancient capital of King Ad Ibn Kiní ad, in which he had partied with his companions and concubines until they had drawn upon themselves the wrath of Heavens. A fire had descended upon them, wiping them out to the last man and leaving the city in ruins. The ruins of the city lay near, what appeared to be twin volcanic craters. On closer examination, Abdullah came across a fragment of metal, which was obviously a part of a large meteorite. This led him to conclude that the craters of Wabar were not volcanic in origin and they could have been caused by an impact of a large meteorite. The large meteorite was probably buried deep inside the sand nearby.

    From here, Abdullah pushed deeper into the desert. The Arab guides, who accompanied him, were getting restive and they longed to return to their homes. The country had become more forbidding with the passing of the days and the Arabs were reluctant to journey to the dreaded mountains of Hadramaut, which they believed was a place of death. The Arabs used every argument that they could think of to make him see reason and turn back to where they had come from and they constantly whispered among themselves. But Abdullah remained unmoved. With a combination of tact and persuasion, he brushed aside their arguments and at the same time increased the pace of their journey towards its proposed destination. The Arabs had been charged with the task of serving Abdullah well on this journey, comply with all his requests, and bring him back in safety. They knew very well, what would happen to them if they failed.

They were penetrating farther and deep into the desert with each passing day, crossing the low-lying salt plains, searching for oasis and reported ruins

    Nevertheless, Abdullah pushed them onward - they reached Shanna, which marked the beginning of the last part of their long perilous journey across the desert. From here, they would be traveling across the waterless desert, where they feared thirst and death. Some of the guides even threatened to leave his side during the rest of the journey. But Abdullah would not yield to any demands to return back and ultimately, his resolute will won the argument. The group decided at last to make a dash at once across this great waterless tract to Sulayil.

    The Arabs were weak and disheartened with hunger. None of them had undertaken such a journey before, and no human being had ever attempted to cross the Empty Quarter from side to side, they declared truthfully. Abdullah knew that his companions were suffering, for he suffered with them. They had not eaten anything since they had left Shanna, four days back, and the hunger was extremely painful. Conditions grew worse, and the nerves became frayed as the travelers pushed forward on their journey. Even the animal life in the desert seemed to have disappeared and there was no game to hunt for meat. The camels, too, began to show signs of weariness due to the rigors of the journey. They went on still farther into the no manís land, which had been untouched by rain from the past several years. Plant life also had disappeared; the few remaining bushes had been stricken to death because of lack of water for their sustenance on the desert.

    Abdullah and his companions had traveled one hundred and forty miles into the desert and had more than one-third of their journey behind them. He knew that a steady effort would see them through the very end of their journey only if those accompanying him cooperated in the task ahead of them. Regardless of the consequences, he decided to push forward on the fifth day. There were no signs of life throughout the day save for the presence of one brave solitary raven and a tiny desert warbler. At midday, the camels gave out and collapsed due to sheer fatigue. They would simply have to find some water. The whole party decided to retreat to the wells of Naifa, one hundred and twenty miles away. Here Abdullah had his first drink of fresh water since he had left Hofuf.  

    Then suddenly it rained. Rain fell with thunder and lightning. Whirlwinds caused by the storm caused the sand to be flung across the landscape in terrible black columns. Typhoons swept down their camp uprooting their tents and burying them in the sand.

    On March 5, the traveling party prepared itself for the last dash that was needed across this waterless waste to complete the journey across the desert. They eagerly began their trek that would lead them to human habitation. The march across the desert revealed that it was the worst section that any of them had passed through until now. There were no signs of plants or animal inhabitation in this lifeless sand. The birds too had disappeared. Even the rare desert animal that had chanced upon this waterless wasteland had met its death in the sands, with its flesh dried on its bones. The carrions of the desert did not dare to venture into this part of the desert to pick on its bones.

    There were still a few more days left to complete the journey, but the worst part was yet to come. The dash across the great gravel plain of Abu Bahr was like nothing that any of them had ever seen before. Even the Arabs, who for centuries had been the dwellers of the desert, could not foresee that this part of the country would be devoid by all types of vegetation. These were the most critical days that they had encountered on the whole of their dreadful journey.

    The party had started the great push at 2 a.m. in the morning, on the 11 th of March 1932. At 10 p.m, nearly twenty hours later they were still on the march, pressing their animals to their outmost limits. The animals were already run down due to the desert heat and hunger. Notwithstanding the fact that the animals could collapse anytime now, the group had relentlessly pushed forward until they were on the brink of human civilization.

     The next day, the travelers found the badly needed fodder for their animals and refreshed themselves from a stream that ran from the mountains. They sensed victory at last, for suddenly animal life, which had been non-existent for the last three hundred miles of their journey, began to reappear. They had to still cover a distance of fifty miles to complete their journey, but the going was paradise compared to the privations and difficulties that they had face in the journey that they had just been through. At the end of their journey, they were back in civilization.

     On the morning of March 14, the party was welcomed by the mayor of Sulayil as the first people who had found their way across the Empty Quarter. For many the journey of Abdullah and his companions would mean nothing. It was not a story that would be carried in the front-page headlines of newspapers of the world. Nevertheless, this story should be told for it was one of the greatest achievements in the history of adventure and exploration of the modern times. It was the triumph of human spirit for Abdullah had achieved the unimaginable by crossing the Rub al-Khali. He had pushed hard even when his Arab guides lost their nerve and wanted to turn back. In doing so, he became the first man to lay bare the legends of the desert, which had been hitherto been passed around as oral traditions among the people of Arabia. In the process, his name became a household legend among those who knew this great man and his magnificent adventure across the desert.

 

 

   

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