The Sanctuary of Truth @ Pattaya By Maria Jean

The Sanctuary Of Truth is a temple construction in Pattya, Thailand. Thai people call it “Wooden Castle”. It is all made of wood and they built it without using nails. In this castle, you will find how talented Thai people are. You will see beautifully crafted wooden sculptures. Entrance fee is 500 Baht per person.
Before going to the “Wooden Castle”, there’s this restaurant where you can have food and drinks if you’re hungry or thirsty and also in this restaurant or snack house, you will see some local Thai people performing Thai Traditional Dance.
Another attraction in the Santuary of Truth is no other than the famous Thai Elephant. You can ride the elephant (forgot how much you would pay, please kindly click the link for more details) or you can feed them with ripe bananas for only 100 Baht (at least i remember that ) ^_^.
When we are about to leave, a guy asked me if I would like to get my picture. I didn’t know that their photographer took a picture of me with the Thai people who performed Thai traditional dance.  A souvenir, well, why not? It’s 250 Baht but it’s complete with wood frame and a Sanctuary of Truth logo made of steal pasted on it. (Pardon for the blurry picture)
Visiting the Sanctuary of Truth is all worth it. This castle is an example of a pure Thai culture. It’s another amazing place in Thailand.
Posted in Bangkok | Leave a comment

Barcelona By Kashif Ali

P1010103

I went to Barcelona last week to attend the MWC (Mobile World Congress) 2010. This is the most prestigious event in the GSM world. All the wireless related companies stage their stalls here displaying their products and future aspirations. Leading personalities from the telecom industry address the audience.

Exhibition Place by Night  

Every flight & every hotel in Barcelona was full. We stayed in an ordinary hotel, however charges per night were 270 Euros. This was the most expensive hotel I ever stayed in my life. Weather is usually nice in Barcelona but was very cold this time. We were quite busy with customers representing our company during three days but I got the chance to explore Barcelona in the evenings as well as during the last whole day. It is a beautiful historic city.

An interesting fact about Barcelona is, it has highest concentration of Pakistanis outside UK cities (& of course Pakistan). Nealry all from Gujrat, and 90% single.

Paelle Rice Dish  

Spanish food is quite interesting. it contains a lot of fish, olive and cheese. Paella is one famous dish made with rice and sea food in a round dish called paella. Rice were introduced in Spain by Moors (Muslims). The word paella came from Latin word Patela (also used in Italian as Padella & Punjabi as pateela) all meaning the same i.e. a pot.

About Spain:

Population: 40 million
Language: Spanish (of course)

400 million people speak Spanish as mother tongue making it the 2nd most spoken language.

Spain is the third largest country in Europe in terms of area.
Spain produces around 44% of the olive oil consumed globally.

The capital City of Spain (Madrid) is the highest capital city in Europe. Madrid is 667 meters above sea level. Madrid is also situated precisely in the centre of Spain.

Spain is geographically the closest country to Africa: its province Andalucía (once Andalus, from where Muslims entered Spain) is merely 12 miles away from the coast of Morocco.

Columbus Monument at Arc de Rambla Columbus Monument at Arc La Rambla 

Christopher Columbus started his journey to America from Spain with the help of Queen Isabella. Columbus arrived in America (in Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti area). He thought he had arrived in India so called locals Indians. Initially locals were happy to see him, unaware of the death he had brought to them.

As written by Whitney DeWitt “the man was a murderer. It is true that he found a land that was unknown to the “civilized” world, yet in this discovery, he erased the natives inhabiting the land. With slavery, warfare, and inhumane acts, Christopher Columbus and the men who accompanied him completely destroyed a people, a culture, and a land.” Link to original article

Few things worth mentioning:

There is a company Qucomhaps based in Ireland who is interested in launching a whole wireless network from the air. They plan to install the radio & core on an airplane. There will be 4 or 5 airplanes flying in the air and covering the whole country. One airplane can take a load of 5000KG and can stay in air for about 5 hrs.

–    NTT DoCoMo had a strange eye-controlled MP3 player on display. The presenter was performing “play, pause, reverse, forward, volume control etc” with his eye movements. It was quite interesting. The way it works is, our eyes have positive current at the front and negative current at the back. As we move our eyes the electrical field moves and changes direction. This slight change is detected by the electrodes in each earphone. Which are then linked to a predefined command in the player. Such a device is expected in the market within a year or so.

–    My Laptop Got Stolen & Recovered: I was standing on the hotel reception. My laptop & luggage was lying on the sofa behind. There were only two people. Suddenly I noticed a man bending near the sofa and then rushing out. I got suspicious and quickly went behind him. Before he turns around the corner, I grabbed him. He was holding my laptop which he handed back to me promptly and ran away!

Posted in Barcelona | Leave a comment

Siam Niramit Show, A review By Suhail Nasir

My recent trip to Bangkok, was quite long, so I decided to try the, much hyped, Siam Niramit Show. Its one of the most famous stage shows in the world. I took the sukhumvit line metro train and got off at the Thailand cultural center station.  

A free shuttle bus with siam niramit written on it, was waiting there.  This van leaves every 15 minutes, from the metro station. I took a seat and waited, no one else joined so I was the only one in the shuttle transported to the siam niramit show center. Many girls in traditional thai dresses, with roses in hands, were welcoming visitors. They guided me very politely to the ticket center. I must say I was impressed by their sincerity and hospitality. 1500 baht/ head was the ticket price without dinner. I used a special promotional voucher, from my hotel (Royal President Group Hotels) and got a 20% discount. Quite a saving, i would say. They however wanted to see my hotel room-key, as the proof. I was not interested in the dinner they serve, as I had read mixed reviews about it from other travelers. (though some said the buffet @ 300 baht, was not bad). I told those girls that I don’t want to eat there, they did not mind at all, and even suggested some options near by, and also arranged the shuttle van to take me to the shopping plaza. I am sure you are thinking that this is exceptional hospitality, it definitely was. I felt quite good. I took the van a second time and arrived in time for the show. The show started at 8pm, and continued without a break till 9.30pm. 

I found that the VIP seats (They call Golden Seats) were not much better than the normal ones, so I felt I made a correct decision not buying a 2000 baht ticket. The Hall is quite big and can seat 2000 people, more than 50% seats were empty. After the red shirts riots the number of tourists coming to Bangkok has declined sharply and that was the reason for the hall being half empty. 

The show itself consisted of three parts. The first part showed historical scenes of different parts of Siam (Thailand’s old name). It was quite interesting, specially if you have some interest in the history of that region. My interest had grown a lot after watching the famous movie “Anna and The King”. Chow Yun Fat, played King Rama 4, and really did put an impressive performance. If you want to understand the love and respect that the monarchy enjoys among Thai people, this movie is the starting point. In fact I have not seen this kind of reverence for a King any where else in the world. Before the actual show started, royal anthem was played which ended showing the pledge of the King. 

Siam Niramit : Most famous scene

“I pledge that I will reign with righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the people of Siam”. Short but so vast in its meaning. Thai people will tell you, that his majesty king Rama 9, has not only lived but surpassed his pledge. Long Live the King. 

In a touristy place like Bangkok, Siam Niramit really demonstrate thai culture. The shows are not only informative but interesting too. There are no to very few dialogues, so foreigners can enjoy the whole show with complete understanding. Stage was one  of the biggest that I have ever seen, and production impeccable. The music was good too and some tourists purchased the audio CD after the show. Apart from men and women the cast included goats, hens and elephants too, and I shall say, they played their roles perfectly well. Direction has been perfected , during one scene a man dives in to the river, amazing sets. 

The second act showed heaven and hell. Although heaven did not have much effect on me, but the hell was really well portrayed, and I was surprised that they had shown drinking alcohol as a sin and people getting punished for it. I am not very familiar with Buddhism rules anyway. 

After the show ended, I came out of the hall and took a walk in the model village they have built for demonstration. As it was not crowdy, I felt like really walking in a village, felt very nice. 

I would recommend visiting Siam Niramit, if you are staying in Bangkok for more than three or four days (or if you are really a fan of stage shows). Better not to take cameras with you, as they will scan you and put the cameras in a locker, which you can later collect after the show. Mobile phones were permitted though. One more tip would be to buy the tickets from some travel agent in the city, and you can get it much cheaper, I got the price 1200 from the one I checked. I did not bother as I had the hotel voucher anyway. 

(Note: cameras are not permitted, the pictures shown here I got from public domain on the internet)

Official Site: http://www.siamniramit.com/

Posted in Bangkok, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Belgrade (Serbia) By Kashif Ali

I went to Serbia in June – Below are some thoughts on it.

                                Belgrade Street
A typical Belgrade Street 
I felt home (Pakistani style) as soon as I came out of the airplane, same diesel rich air, hot weather (temp 30c), rest of the hoo ha, and on top of it a driver waiting outside. Wah wah mazaa aa giya. I am in Belgrade, capital of Serbia (which used to be Yugoslavia).

 The old Yugoslavia has been broken into many small countries during last 20 years (see names below). Current day Serbia tried to unite/occupy many of these through military force (for example Bosnia & Kosvo) but failed (or forced to fail). Nato allies (US, UK, etc) attacked it in 1999, some damaged buildings are still visible in the city.

 Now Serbia is a small country (77,000 Sq KM) in south-eastern Europe with 9 bordering neighbors (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, & Romania). Population is about 8 million, 92% Christians (85% orthodox) and 3% Muslims concentrated in area adjacent to Bosina. Currency is called Dinar, so for sure area was ruled by Muslims for long.

Bajrakali Mosque Bajrakali Mosque Belgrade is a beautiful old city dating back up to 7000 years, a bit polluted now. Two famous rivers pass through Belgrade, namely Sava and Danube & become one here. There is a huge fortress ‘Kalemegdan’ that has been built, modeled and remodeled many times by Romans, Serbs, Austrians and Turks over a time period of more than 2,000 years. There are many beautiful churches in the city. City’s strategic location made it everybody’s darling. Greeks, Romans, Turks (Usmani khilafat), Austrian, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Serbs all fought for it, so much so that it has seen 114 wars and been razed to ground 44 times.

 It was the HQ city for that region under Usmani’s khilfat. It had 273 mosques; none exists now except one. The 400 years old Bajrakli Mosque is still in use for prayers. I went to the mosque and met few Muslims there. An Islamic books & related items shop is also functional alongside.

Muslims in Serbia Muslims in Serbia There are only two halal restaurants in Belgrade, I had the honor of visiting both. One is in the basement next to the only functional mosque. The owner is Anatolian (Turkish) Muslim. I asked him to bring some traditional dish, guess what he brought? A Hungarian dish Golash (see photo).

 It is very difficult to distinguish a Muslim by appearance in Serbia because Christians and Muslims look a like. Some Christians keep beard too. Most Muslims have left the place after Bosnian war. The tall person in the photo is a Serb Muslim. He was born and bread there. He lives with his Christian mother. His mother made sure he becomes a good Muslim; dad didn’t care (he was Muslim – how strange!). Are you a Serb, I enquired? No I am a Muslim, he replied spontaneously without hesitation. See, how he does not recognize himself as Serb even though born to a Serb Christian mother. We the Muslims are not nationalists, we belong to an ideology and hence to an ideological nation. Ethnicity is irrelevant.

 Serbs look like a mix of Greeks, Russians & eastern Europeans. I did not find them attractive (other than white skin has its charm). They appear peaceful and friendly. I guess it was the evil of Serb nationalism that made them behave like animals in Bosnia & also few mistakes made by Muslims living there. Color, race, language & geographical area based nationalism is an evil, it makes people fight. I did not dare to ask their feelings about Muslims & the war. It was clearly a sensitive issue.

Dinner at a Muslim Restaurant in Belgrade
Dinner at a Muslim Restaurant in Belgrade
Posted in Belgrade | Leave a comment

Yun Nan Impressions by Joy Wang

I was told by many experienced travelers,  ‘Once you are in Yun Nan, you will never want to leave…’ I was pretty perplexed, is it because it’s too beautiful to leave, or something else holds you up?? With this puzzle hovering around my brain, I took off on Oct 3rd, with my friend; we were sitting beside the window, watching the tarmac driving far away from us as the plane slowly lifted itself up to the cloudy sky. Like Vietnam, initially I thought even without any specific plan, we could play to our hearts content so long we were not overly adventurous. Well, we were sort of right, however we did suffer a little bit from insufficient preparation.

Mini Potala Palace at Shangri Le

The first stop was Kunming, if you want me to comment on this city, well, I would say big city was always alike, concrete jungle… but Kunming is more mixed compared to Shanghai, where the whole town was sunk in clusters of sky scrapers. If you drove for 20 min from downtown, you would reach one of the most notorious mountains—The West Mountain (西山), the local suggested lovers better not to trek there, as there used to be many heart-broken stories happened so that majority of the lovers who climbed to the top of this mountain would be cursed till they separated once they climbed down. Sounded pretty spooky… Aside from that, the tram rail which directly took you up to the mountainside in my opinion definitely got your money’s worth though the tram itself looked quite dodgy, but if you love challenge, the scenery ahead of you would undoubtedly be your best bonus.

On Oct 4th, we decided to desert Kunming for a while and drew ourselves closer to the world marvel—Shangri-la. Rome can’t be built overnight, when we checked the bus timetable in the hostel, it would take 13 hours from Kunming to Shangri-la county. This time in order to reserve more energy for this trip, we chose to fly to Kunming rather than the economic sleeper on the train, we didn’t want to be too knackered to walk around right after we arrived Shangri-la, either. The optimal means was to have a stopover on our way there, a couple of days rest would retrieve vitality, but the nodus was where the stopover would be. After several round of screening, the answer was obvious: either Lijiang or Dali. What further exacerbated us was the bus from Kunming to Lijiang took 8 hours, to Dali, 4 hours; whereas, Lijiang to Shangri-la 4 hours, Dali to Shangri-la 8 hours… the total amount of time we would spend overland was no difference, it depended on if we would like to suffer sooner, or later? I was a bit reluctant to go to Lijiang as I was overheard heaps of negative comments against this town thanks to its over exploitation. Whatsoever, Lijiang has been color-printed on every must-visit attractions in Yunnan. Skip Lijiang as if we skip the Great Wall in Beijing… Thence, we opted to suffer sooner rather than later.

A Li Jiang Damsel

The first day in Lijiang was almost blown us away. Its unique architectural features, pagoda like tile roofs with red lanterns and copper bells hanging on the eaves; dark grey bricks stacked houses closely adjacent one from another with sophisticated auspicious patterns carved on the wood-made window panes; granite paved roads polished shine by thousands and millions of steps contributed by the tourists from around the world; the meandering streams from the Jade river acting as a moat across the whole town and pasting all the houses… It in a sudden rewound me back to Hong Cun Village situated in Anhui province and West Street in Yangshuo County, Guilin. But Lijiang Old town happened to be listed as one of the world cultural heritages for the sake of its 800 year history starting from Late Song Dynasty, as well as its unequalled Naxi Minority culture. I went to watch the most renowned Naxi Ancient Music show upon arrival. More than half of the performers aged 70 upwards. Three of them were almost 90 years old, who were playing the those antique musical instrument which I’ve never seen anywhere in my hometown. They were described as the ancestors of the modern Chinese instrument. Their music used to be played during the heyday of the glorious Han and Tang Dynasty and probably during the time of Confucius himself. Many pieces tended to be cleanse your soul and express exquisite joy of living. Dr. Xuanke was the most well-known advocator of this ancient music. Due to his great effort, Naxi Ancient Music has traveled around the world, and passed down from generation to generation.

The current Lijiang to me was more like a heaven for shop-holic. Almost every household restored its ground floor to a boutique shop, selling kindreds of Naxi deco, trinkets, accessories and some handcrafts, which were similar to those in any tourist attractions around China. The most exclusive handcraft is Piao shaped wood-craving. Piao is the dried and hollowed-out shell of the gourd, often cut into half, used as a drinking utensil. The indigenous craftsmen first shaped a block of wood to Piao, then carved directly on the bulge of a curve with very sharp graver, from a conventional drinking utensil to a piece of artwork, this extraordinary ancient technique has on the other hand refined Lijiang’s minority culture.

Impression on Lijiang was more or less controversial, when you peak through its materialistic appearance, you could still capture the deeply-rooted ethnic culture that fortunately is still being recognized and preserved fairly well. As we are flocking into a new era, we can’t allow this old town stagnant as it was, modernization will in the end be a must and incorrigible, the only thing we could do might be more tolerant against what have happened to it, and retain and respect its unique culture that differs itself from the rest.

We ended up in Lijiang for 2 days, because my friend experienced terrified altitude sickness, whenever she ate anything, she started to vomit in no time… the dream of going to Shangri-la turned out to be a bit dim. God may have noticed how strong our will was, sent a lucky angel to help us out. We got to know a driver who agreed to drive us from Lijiang to Haba Snow Mountain with the price of 60rmb each, then to Shangri-la in the following day. En route, he gave my friend some free medication particularly for altitude sickness. We eased ourselves for one night in his house when we reached Haba Snow Mountain. It was a small Hui Minority village, composed of 80 households, people all knew each other, after we put away our backpacks, we followed Master Bao (our driver) to drop around. Almost every household we stopped by knew Master Bao, showed their greatest hospitality to us by giving away so many fresh walnuts, apples, papayas etc as presents, abundant fruits, vegetables, and corns made this little village relatively prosperous compared to the others. However, we were told that they started to have electricity not long ago, which was out of my imagination…After all, agricultural richness is not equivalent to the industrial prosper.

Traditional Li Jiang

Within two days, we’ve already fallen in love with this little town, where was cultivating so many warm-hearted villagers, untapped virgin forest, and delicious gourmet. We were extremely reluctant to part with Master Bao and his family, but our journey needed to be carried on. Next stop—Shangri-la… a name only appeared in the book titled “Lost Horizon” written by a British author James Hilton, now officially has been used as a county’s name in Diqin Tibet Autonomous prefecture. In the British encyclopedia, Shangri-la was explained as a distant and secluded hideaway, usually of great beauty and peacefulness; or an imaginary, remote paradise on earth; utopia. In Tibet language, they also had a homonym called “Xiang ba la”, meaning opposite bank, where people have no diseases, greed nor hatred.

To see is to believe. As soon as we stepped out the car, we almost jumped to our feet, but an unexpected blast of chilled wind swept through our face. We never anticipated how cold Shangri-la would be, well, there was no point crying over spilt milk. As soon as we feet our way to a guesthouse nearby, we eagerly asked for some hot brown sugar ginger tea to warm ourselves up. While trembled and curled ourselves in the corner of the sitting room, we were sneaking a peak at a young charming girl with pure black straight hair knitting beside us. I managed to exchange a few words with her in order to distract my attention from the unbearable coldness. She said she was Hui Minority, same as me, living here and running this little guesthouse for quite a while, had a 6 year old kid, but she was still in a pretty standard shape. We could tell from her blissful smiling face that life treated her well. She suggested us to work out a little bit by wandering off around the Du Ke zong Old town; also in the Si Fang Lou courtyard, at 19:00pm every night, most of the Tibetans would gather together to Tiao Guo Zhuang (perform Guo Zhuang Dance). That would be a not-to-be-missed opportunity to get to know of Tibetan culture. Guozhuang is the homonym of Tibetan language “Guo Zhuo”, meaning dancing around the bonfire in the backyard, normally to be performed in a family feast or reunification. It’s an iconic dance for Tibetan people, of which the form may vary slightly from county to county. We stepped out of the room, followed by the typical Tibetan music reverberating in the air. Since we were away from Shanghai, we never saw so many people like that night, sprays of crowds worn in various colourful costumes and turbans surrounded in a circle, hand in hand, shoulder by shoulder, kicking their feet back and forth after the rhythm of the music, we were also being cheered up by its festive atmosphere, feeling like being part of them, imagining everyday was a festival, how exhilarated we would be. We danced, sang, laughed and shouted till midnight as if we were like a 6 year old kids, lightheartedly immersed ourselves in such a delightful ambiance. No worries, no hassles, nothing would ever bother us at that moment; we were just ourselves, absorbing the long lost bliss that we should have had ages ago.

My friend’s altitude sickness has been soothed a lot after drinking ginger-brown sugar tea and Yak Butter tea; also because we slowed down our journey to acclimate the various altitudes along our way. Most of people would feel some effects above 3000m…the time we reached Shangri-la, the altitude was up to 4290m, eat as local, do what Romans do would be the only solution to keep you away from the sickness, if you couldn’t stand the high altitude, never risk your life…

We were lucky enough to continue driving upwards to Deqin where the most sacred mountain—Meili Snow Mountain was situated, each step en route formed a new scenery, even the air turned out to be considerably fresh and crisp albeit lack of oxygen. The virgin forest over there were very special compared to South East Asia, for the sack of shortage of moisture, those trees didn’t have gigantic roots, but were covered with light green lichens, a type of fungus, forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks, which only survived in pollution-free areas.

The local Tibetans were extremely friendly who held deep faith in their divine peak of the Kawaboge (Chinese: Mt. Mei Li), anyone who did bad things would be punished by Meili. Along our way, we were all ears towards the myths and legends the locals told us, it sounded incredible, but no reason of not believing them if you knew how honest and down-to-earth the Tibetan people were. In Tibetan group, there was a saying:” as long as you can talk, you can sing, you can walk, you can dance…” which fully reflected how versatile and artistic this ethnic group was… every one of them could hum a nice tune, or sing several lines in Tibetan language with no hesitate, which entertained everyone around them. Even if we had no idea of what they sang, by our educated guess, they must be glorifying the massive land that nurtured them, holy realm that sent them spiritual power to conquer all the tough barriers, and first-class views that feasted everyone’s eyes…

In the end we weren’t able to see the marvelous moment-Ri Zhao Jin Shan (Golden Snow Mountain: the morning sunlight turning the snow mountain to golden) due to the monsoon season. The thick veil of the haze was torn for a moment, to display the jagged outline of the peak, then closed in two shakes, as though Mt. Meili was playing peekaboo with us. However, time didn’t allow us to have this endless waiting, left a piece of shame, we had to wave to say goodbye. Nothing was perfect in the world, so was each journey, a little feeling of incompletion will trigger me to head there again some day. Mt. Meili, let’s take a rain check!      

10 days allowed me to discover nothing but a tiny top of the iceberg. It’s not even close to the end of the trip, but indicates the onset of more exploration…

Posted in Yun Nan | Leave a comment

My Hajj Story By Kashif Ali

  I & my wife went for Hajj this year (Dec 2009). It was a great experience and we learned a lot from it. Believe me friends it is not an easy task. It requires a lot physical effort and even more patience. Hardship and sabr (patience) are the essence of Hajj, and these carry great rewards from Allah Ta’ala. Please do it while young, and within next 2 or 3 years while weather is cooler. When my mum came back from Hajj, she just slept & slept for two weeks. I was wondering why, now I know exactly why!

Arriving at Jaddah Airport for Hajj Arriving at Jaddah Airport for Hajj 

  Read some do’s & don’ts of hajj, and some important points.

  There are a huge no of people on Hajj, about 3 million. Saudia has a system in place to deal with them – it works but is very lousy – credit to Saudis but it can be enhanced & atomized.

 We wore ehram chadors (& chappals) at Heathrow airport. Initially I felt very strange having nothing on body except sheets (not even underwear). But ehram is really a liberating dress. Surprisingly it is very easy to manage. People at airport were thinking we are some kind of monks.

  Our flight left UK around 11 am, landing us in the Jeddah airport around 10 pm. To-be-hajis did wuzu (ablution) or whatever so much that water finished halfway on the flight.

  Hajj is but Sabr (Patience) & Hardship:

  From here the real test of sabr & hardship started. We spent next 10 hours in the airport passing through many stages from airport buses, immigration, luggage and wait for coach to Makkah. Each stage has a story of its own, e.g. finding luggage was really a task because flights were landing one after the other and porters were piling up luggage near conveyer belts. Thousands of similar looking bags! You really have to dig down to retrieve your luggage. I decided to put red tape around the bag handle as a distinctive mark. To my surprise many others had red tape also. On top, literally!, airline check-in staff ensured that she puts check-in tag right on top of the red tape.

  After nearly 24 hrs from leaving home, we managed to board a bus to Makkah. Distance between Jeddah and Makkah is 50 miles. However coach took about 8 hrs to reach hotel. It stopped at many places on the way, where different checks were done. Anyhow we reached our hotel, checked in, & after a while with huge excitement, we decided to go to Masjid-e-Haram (Khana-e-Ka’aba). There were a lot of people on their way to Haram Shareef.

First Sight:

Duaa on first sight of Ka’aba carries acceptance so I had a long list of wishes to ask for. I was so conscious that I did not feel much while seeing it first time. However as the environment sank in, I began to realize where I am standing. Ka’aba is awesome & magnificent; its glory is impossible to explain, it can only be felt. It will just stun you. Lighting at night makes it glorious. Lighting is so good that it feels like natural day light. This is the best sight I have ever seen.

Kaaba

  We performed our first twaaf at ground floor, which is almost impossible during hajj, especially if you have family with you. You have to go to 1st or 2nd (roof) floor. Tawwaf here is easy but longer.

  Next day we performed umrah in the morning and some exploring around  in the evening. The area is filled with accommodation places, hotels and souvenir shops.

  Most of the hajis come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia & India, being the larger nations. Majority workers & restaurants are Bangladeshi. Urdu is understood by most, even by Arabs but no English at all.

  A shopkeeper (or any stranger) is called by Ya Muhammad.  It is fair to say that all spiritual benefit from hajj goes to Muslims (insha Allah!!), and all material benefit goes to china because each & everything there is made in China.

Rush Increases:

  As Hajj days drew closer, crowd increased, so much so that by hajj time it was not possible to move around in streets.At times we could not even get out of our hotel reception near namaz time. One has to go hours before namaz to get into Haram Shareef. Unfortunately we Muslims hate discipline or order of any kind. People were behaving like a mob. Biggest issue was people sitting in the walkways, stairs & entrance blocking entrance & exit. This often lead to accidents but Alhamdu Lillah nothing serious happened this year. We had a narrow escape ourselves. We were going upstairs using electric stairs. Suddenly people at the top stopped right at the exit because there were hajis sitting there. People coming behind them started piling up & pressing each other as escalators kept bringing people up. It was only a matter of seconds before few could have been crushed. Luckily people at front quickly cleared away avoiding an accident.

  There was hardly space for standing let alone sajdah during hajj time, you have to do sajdah in your feet. People would walk right in front of you while praying. Men & women were mixed all over. Pushing, rushing, cutting through was common. However one has to be very careful of not doing any of these because these are not allowed normally, and with ehram you are not even allowed to pluck a hair or break a leaf. I just managed to touch Maqam-e-Ibrahim. Hajar-e-Aswad (black stone) was very crowded, it was not possible to reach it without pushing, so I avoided even trying to touch it.  

  On the night of 8th Zul Hajj we were taken to Mina camp, a huge city of tents. It again took us many hours to reach though it was only 10 KM away. we lived there in tents for about 5 days. Here men & women have separate tents. It was a good reminder & experience for people like me who are used to live in luxuries. Though it had all basic facilities and was clean & comfortable enough. By the time we left it was badly littered & spoiled. Piles of rubbish were lying around. A lot of food provided by Saudis as gift was wasted.

Mina_Camp

  During our stay we spent one night in Muzdalifah under open sky. It was very cold night due to rain & wind. Toilets were only few. There was a long queue for toilets. I stood in the queue for about 1 hour before getting in. It was really patience-testing. Many people lost temper on it. Actually we are not used to making queues. So some people were jumping in and were getting told off by others.

Stoning:

  Next stage was throwing stones on shaitaan. This event used to be the toughest one and used to claim many lives every year. Now government has done lots of improvements to make it safer. There are  long walkways and many separate paths/levels making it less crowded. It is still very tiring though. As I was turning away after stoning the shaitaan, bang, someone hit me right at the back of my shaven head. Oh boy, it was painful. Do I look like shaitaan???

Huge Crowd Arriving for Stoning Shaitan Huge Crowd Arriving for Stoning Shaitan 

  After stoning, we came back to Makkah for Tawwaf & Saee. It was the hardest tawwaf because everyone has to do and at the same time. Our hajj was complete now, Alhamdu Lillah.

Hair Hair Everywhere!

After Hajj (& Umrah) everyone has to shave or trim their hair, so there were hair lying everywhere after Hajj. There are many temporary barbers who do the job on spot for 5 or 10 riyals. They are unskilled & really rush the job, I saw a man with a lot of cuts & bleeding on his head. I avoided these and did my own shave. Nothing was left on my head to shave after third Umrah anyway, so I just rubbed the razor on head symbolically.

To Madinah:

  Next day we left for Madinah. The coaches took about 12 hours to reach Madinah (normal time should be 6). Masjad-e-Nabvi is very beautiful. I went in and said salam at Rozah Mubarak. There was a long queue. I managed to pass though Riaz al Jannah (place between minbar-e-rasool (SAW) & Rozah Shareef). It was hugely crowded & people were pushing hardest I have even seen. The feelings I had here can not be explained. This is the place where Muhammad SAW walked & lived.

Roza-e-Rasool Allah (SAW) Roza-e-Rasool Allah (SAW) 

  It is unfortunate that Saudis have demolished each & every old building in Makkah & Madinah, even qaboor. I wanted to get the feel of what it would have been like where Muhammad SAW, Umar RA, Abu Bakar RA, etc., & Abu Jahal & co once walked, but I could only imagine. I visited Masjid-e-Quba (first mosque), Masjad-e-Qiblatain (where Qibla was changed to Makkah), jang-e-Khandaq (place of battle of trench) & mountain Uhad. It was really amazing experience.

I saw the small hill near mountain Uhad where Muhammad SAW asked about 50 sahabah to stay put, and not to leave in any circumstance. But as Muslims nearly won, these sahabah left the place. Khalid bin Walid RA (then kafir) realized this and attacked from that side. Muslims suffered badly, even Rasul Allah (SAW) got injured & lost teeth. After seeing this place I can imagine how it would have happened.

View of Masjad-e-Nabvi View of Masjad-e-Nabvi 

  I bought dates from Madinah. There is a big Tamar (dates) market which has a lot of variety. Next day we left back for home. We nearly missed our flight because we were dropped at wrong terminal. However we managed to board and reach home safely with the help of few kind Saudi officials at air port, thanks to them.

Visit Kashif Ali’s Blog

Posted in SAUDI ARABIA (for HAJJ) | 4 Comments

Jordan And Dead Sea By Kashif Ali

 

    As I reached the Royal Jordanian airline check-in counter to board the flight to Amman, capital of Jordan (Urdan). Lady took my passport, tapped in my name into the system and then disappeared into their office asking me to wait. I waited and waited, seeing all passengers finishing checking in. After 15 worrying mins she came back & enlightened me that I have already been checked in. what, I enquired! Don’t worry she replied, it is only a mistake done by my colleague who checked in someone else as Mr K Ali. So nice of her; as a result I was allocated a seat in the LAST row, right on the tail of the plane; meaning an uncomfortable and noisy flight. Luckily I managed to change my seat on board to a comfortable one.

Flight got delayed by two hours. Just like majority of the airlines, RJ selected the MOST Boring Movie ever possible. Just like majority of Muslims airlines, alcohol was also served (except PIA, Zinda Baad!). I didn’t even touch it – promise – I’m a Haji now J. Food was bland & little, became even tiny as I successfully managed to pour some on the next seat passenger’s trouser. On top of it, girl sitting left to me was making noise while eating, putting me off completely (-:)

 Beautiful Jordan

  Jordan is a small country bordering izra eel, Palestine, Iraq & Saudia, with 6 million people, 60% Palestinian origins, 30% locals and 10% others, all Sunni Muslims. No wonder everyone here hates izra eel deeply. Others do also but Jordanians have first hand experience of their aggression. As said by one Izra eeli prime minister, our (izra eel’s) first defence is muzlim leaderz in surrounding countries. This is true.

Jordan’s culture is similar to Arabs but Jordanians seem livelier. Country is greener & climate is moderate than Middle East. Nearly all houses are white / cream coloured and built with square windows & straight walls & (like a cube).

Houses in Amman Houses in Amman 

  I tried a local dish Mensaf (lamb cooked in yoghurt & eaten with rice), it was really tasty. They eat many types of dressings & salads with the food, especially humous, lemon and vinegar pickled vegetables. Actually food here is quite nice. It is very meat oriented and has influence from Greeks, Romans & Arabs, who were present here at different stages in history.

Mensaf - A Traditional Jordanian Dish Mensaf – A Traditional Jordanian Dish 

  Visit to Holy Places

Holy places distance & direction from top of Mt Nebo Holy places distance & direction from top of Mt Nebo 

  I went to visit Jabl-e-Nebo (Nebo Mountain) which was, as Christian history describes, visited by Musa (Moses) AS before his death. Allah promised Moses AS the land of Izra eel. However it was not granted to him but only shown near his time of passing away. Moses AS was buried somewhere here after his death; no one knows the exact location. Jesus AS baptising place is also few miles away. Many holy places of Palestine & surroundings sacred for Jews, & Christians & Muslims are within 50 miles from here.

 
Memorial of Moses AS at Mt Nebo Memorial of Moses AS at Mt Nebo 

As narrated, there were two villages of nation of Hazrat Lut AS called Sodom & Amoorah (Gamoorah by Christians). Allah Ta’ala was displeased with their bad deeds. He commanded the angle to put their villages on his wings, go high & then flip them down. As a result Dead Sea was created, which is the lowest place on earth, a place to learn lesson. Prophet used to pass away quickly from such places of punishment.

Pillar believed by Christians to be Lut AS's wife Pillar believed by Christians to be Lut AS’s wife 

 This pillar of rock near the Dead Sea (image above) is believed by Christians to be the wife of Lut AS, who looked back at the punishment being inflicted on the people and as a result was turned into a pillar of salt. According to the Holy Quran, the wife of Lut AS was inflicted with punishment but her turning into a pillar of salt is not specifically mentioned. Allah SWT knows best.

 

Dead Sea 

Dead Sea, also known as Salt Sea or Lut Lake, is really a wonder of the world:

Dead Sea Shore Dead Sea Shore 

–          It is a salt lake in the west of Jordan and in the east of Israel & West Bank area.

–          Its surface & shores are 422 meters below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth’s surface on dry land.

–          The Dead Sea is 378 meters deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world.

–          It is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, with 33.7% salinity (salt).

Salt Rocks at Dead Sea Salt Rocks at Dead Sea 

–          Its water is deadly. There are no fish or any kind of swimming, squirming creatures living in or near the water.

–          Fish accidentally swimming into its waters from river Jordan that provide water to the dead Sea, are killed instantly, their bodies quickly coated with a preserving layer of salt crystals and then tossed onto shore by the wind & waves.

–          You won’t drown if you swim in it, rather you will float.

Floating in Dead Sea Floating in Dead Sea 

I also had a float in the Dead Sea. I liked so much that I got late and hence missed my flight.

Posted in Jordan | Leave a comment