18 January 2007

Return of the King

Travelogue: Saudi Arabia
Daily Notes.
Important – The nature of my profession entrusts on me strict confidentiality. Hence the entire travelogue skips the professional happenings, learnings and observations. This would unfortunately make the travelogue sound like a merry making jaunt which it certainly wasn’t.

Day 0/1: Initial jitters are laid to rest. But as usual I am the last to clear customs, last to collect baggage. By the time me and colleague came out … deserted! Cold of the night.. even far colder was the ‘country’ feeling. Cabs are pathetic but cabbies are good men. Hey ..this is day 1. Looooved the sight of Kingdom Towers.. pukka visit hai. My hotel Riyadh Palace room 835 .. Quran kept in the drawer… held it, turned the pages, kept it back. Turkish Bath .. well maybe on a holiday. Hotel food.. ok. Almost mistook beef for smashed potatoes! On the flight, read an article on the origin of Islam and the life of Prophet Mohammed. Extremely interesting. Off for dinner.. need the sleep desperately

Day 2: Taxis have meters but the charge levied is interesting. The greatest multiple of 5 is charged. So if the meter reads 11/12/13/14 I pay 10. I think this stems from the fact that lower denominations and coins are sparsely in circulation. Bangladeshis are a considerable portion of the demographic pie. Ladies branches are separate. You are not allowed to be in public with a woman who is not a blood relation. All women whether Chinese or Costa Rican have to cover themselves from head to toe. Heard of something called as ‘moral police’ but couldn’t verify. All restaurants have singles section and families. Hope I can start reading ‘The Heart of India’ by Mark Tully before I zzzzzzzz…

Day 3: No Entry

Day 4: Taxis, restaurants return empty bills without entering the amount. Have been traveling extensively in the city, not once have I come across a gruff, disrespectful cabbie, not once has anyone haggled over fare. Even at work, Saudis are the most professional guys I have ever come across in my short eventful career. Indians stink.

Day 5: Noticed a metallic arrow pasted on the ceiling of my hotel room. It says ‘Al Qiblah’ and has the picture of the Mecca Qiblah. Hmmm … so if I want to pray, that’s the direction I face. Went to Panda hypermarket and read the overhanging notice ‘Dear Customers, We have removed all Danish products from all our stores’. Saw a couple of youths playing cricket.

Day 6: Stomach Upset! Damn.. Saw Apollo 13 on TV.

Day 7: Found out a shady Snacks centre .. on a board was hand written ‘Gajar Ka Halawa’, below that ‘Indian Carrot’ lol. The spellings are funny here.. unda bhorji, Aloo pratha, masala dhosa, Iddali, dry or grave chicken !! Whenever locals meet, even if they are strangers they greet each other ‘Salaam Alaykum’. It basically means I am in peace with you. So you must return the greeting by saying ‘Alaykum asSalaam’

Day 8: The King doesn’t call himself ‘The King’.. his official title is ‘Custodian of the two holy mosques’. A wonderful thing happened. While returning from work we got a Pakistani cabbie. From his accent, I judged he was from Peshawar. Poor old man was thrilled to see people from his land! He showed us a street saying ‘yeha sab ajnabi hai lebnani, syriyayi’ . Outside the sub-continent, Indians and Pakistanis are very very close to each other. Same food, same language, same social structure, same lifestyle, same dress, same sports .. why do we hate each other??

Day 9: Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a constitution. It has adopted the Quran as its constitution. Crimes and respective punishments .. 1. Drugs trafficking – Death (beheading by sword) 2. Homosexuality, Adultery and associated – Limb Amputation or flogging 3. Bodily Harm – the victim’s family decides or limb amputation. 4. Theft – body whips .. numbers and intensity based on presiding judge’s discretion; range from a few to thousands over days, maybe months.

Day 10: Interesting observation is the vast number of hospitals, pharmacies. A lot of specialized clinics like diabetes research, radiology, dermatology, cosmetic surgery, hearing aid instruments & moulds. Saw the air base entrance. They have a ministry of defence & aviation.

Day 11: Sitting at King Khaled International Airport.. 2 hrs before I am airborne to Mordor. All terminal staff are courteous, helpful but I somehow got that ‘this-is-not-where-belong-feel’ again. Read some free brochures on Islam. I can see part of the runaway but its night. There is a beautiful fountain whose top I can see from where I am sitting on the second floor. Yeah one interesting thing .. the airport security! They have machine gun mounted jeeps, mini tanks at all checkposts. I noticed these guns can be veered skywards as well. Amazing.


Blogger Jas Bhambra kuchh to bolti...

You made it back! In one piece!

10:52 AM  
Blogger yogsma kuchh to bolti...

Welcome back!! BTW I had a similar incident of meeting a pakistani taxi driver while I was in Bethal for two weeks. And during the project , he was my regular taxi driver as I was not knowing anybody else there.We used to chat on bollywood stuff so much that later he became very good friend. On my last day at Bethal, when I met him and took taxi to Bus Station, he did not took fare from me. Can you believe it? I was stunned. And I realized why we behave so good when the both governments does not even bother to settle the things properly or just pretend to do so.Sometimes some questions remain unanswered and have to keep them unanswered. Hope you are good and will be back on blogosphere. Enjoy!!

9:59 PM  
Blogger Fanaah kuchh to bolti...

I enjoyed reading this post a lot. A lot indeed :)Write more.

10:52 PM  

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