Archive | Travel Diaries RSS feed for this section

{Travel Post} The Doha Diary – Katara Cultural Village and the Torch

16 Oct

Thank you to all who enjoyed reading the last  post and felt they were able to extract the essence of Qatar’s purposive balance between the old and the new. It is important for any culture/nation to refurbish the diminishing coat of traditional ethos in order for the generations of the future to enjoy and take lessons.

Katara cultural village overlooking the Doha skyline

Katara cultural village overlooking the Doha skyline

A single day is quite enough to change perceptions and this epiphany happened every step of the way on the trip. Primarily known for welcoming working immigrants, Qatar’s other facets fascinated me no end. After our enchanting visit to Souq Wafiq, I have strong doubts whether anything else on this excursion was going to trump that. But I was proved wrong in no time, when Mr. Jamal our guide took us to the Katara Cultural Village.

The Katara Cultural Village – Katara is a cultural hub that allows the interaction of myriad cultures through theatre, literature, music, visual art such as paintings and photography. A splendid celebration of all the human senses, Katara Cultural Village is a great place for families to come and enjoy a day in appreciation of arts and crafts. I noticed there  were  some workshops that take in students, young and old, temporarily to give them a feel of the different art mediums. The cultural village houses the Qatar photographic society which is to support the growing photographic movement in Qatar.

D9

D10

Vintage doors are such an attraction

Fanar - the lighthouse / beacon - to act as a guiding light to whole of mankind, and to help all non-Arabs to have a better understanding of Islam and culture of Qatar.

Beautiful Turkish lamps adorn the ceiling/ Fanar (right) – ( literally translates to the lighthouse / beacon)  a center to help non-Arabs to have a better understanding of Islam and culture of Qatar.

D18

Passed by The Royal Tandoor in Pearl Qatar (left)/ ornate tap in the Katara Cultural Village(right)

D19

Mr. Jamal , our tourist guide, the Doha skyline and the model of the solar system at the Katara cultural village

Katara Cultural Village was such a visual treat with interesting dimensions to it. This is where we had our sumptuous lunch at the L’wzaar Seafood Market( highly recommended) where we tried different kinds of seafood dishes ( risking my allergies). Gorgeous food and gorgeous servers!

There two most striking features about Katara Cultural Village which I enjoyed the most:

1. Amphitheater – This Grecian inspired space is stunning with a seating capacity of 5000. This gargantuan amphitheater has played host to several celebrities such as the renowned actor Jeremy Irons and Angela Gheorghiou, the soprano.

The amphitheater overlooks this statue of an Abaaya – clad Arab woman, wielding the world in a piece of cloth representing the country’s forward thinking attributes.

D15

2. Gandhiji’s three monkeys in the modern world – This is a series of sculptures created by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, representing Gandhiji’s the principle “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” There were two things about the sculptures fascinated me. One, all of them were in military gear and second, they were made from stainless steel cooking utensils, aluminium buckets and such. One of the sculptures had glasses portraying ‘see no evil’, the other wearing a hood expressing ‘hear no evil’ and the third one wearing a gas mask signifying ‘speak no evil’. The underlying theme of this triad were – war and peace, public and private, global and local.

See no evil/ Katara cultural village

See no evil/ Katara cultural village

Hear no evil

Hear no evil

Speak no evil

Speak no evil

From here, we went back to our hotel with our senses full with the sights of the city and the gorgeous food making us drowsy. I took that time to explore the hotel which by far is one of the most beautiful properties I have ever seen.

Sharq village and spa

Sharq village and spa

By dusk, we dressed up for dinner which was at the Torch. We were booked for dinner at the Three Sixty which is a revolving restaurant unlike any other. Located on the 47th floor, the restaurant offers a panoramic view that simply makes your heart skip a beat. The food, needless to say, was top notch. The dinner and the spectacular view was a fitting end to my  wonderful sojourn.

The Torch, Doha

The Torch, Doha

I had to cut short the trip by two days because it was my daughter’s 5th birthday the next day. But a whole day was spent in Doha, exploring the city like I had never done before. I am glad that I took this time out to attend the Qatar Summer Festival for which I have only the Qatar Tourism Authority to thank. On my way back to Bahrain, at the Hamad International Airport, I was mesmerized by the efficiency of the airport. The only bit I was disappointed with was that the duty free section was very minimal. The range and the choice I expected was not available. Maybe with some more time, when the newly opened airport is developed further, more duty free outlets will be available to delight the customers.

Hamad International Airport

Hamad International Airport

{Travel Post} The Doha Diary – Souq Waqif

8 Oct

Here are 3 facts about Qatar, that you may not know:

1. In 2022, the World Cup final will be played in a city in Qatar that does not exist yet – This future city will be called Lusail,

2.Al Jazeera – The satellite known for its controversial reporting is broadcast from Qatar

3.  Every single building in the Doha Skyline is a completely different design from the other and there are about 40 such buildings as per this source.

To me, until a month back, Doha was a place for work; of strict project deadlines, meetings that went on forever and countless hours at the airport. My work as a business consultant took me to Doha for 3 sweet months where, there was only the work-face of Doha that I saw, understood and felt. But a month back, I was invited to see Doha with a fresh pair of eyes, of that of a tourist. The generous folks from the Qatar Tourism Authority invited me and two other bloggers to a 3 day visit to Doha. Of the 3 days, I was able to participate for a day but it was enough to give me the glimpse of the culturally vibrant and modern contemporary world-city that Doha is. I started this post with 3 interesting facts about Qatar just to put into perspective, how strongly Qatar is poised on the growth vector. Before I go into the beautiful stories I experienced in the single day I spent in Doha, I would like to mention a few things that were my biggest takeaway from the trip.

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif

1. Primarily, known more for the work opportunities for immigrants,  Qatar is now shifting its energies towards making it a tourist – friendly nation in the lieu of the 2022 World Cup event;

2. Being a proud Islamic state and the one that really values its cultural integrity, Qatar has spent a lot of time planning and maintaining its cultural hubs such as the Souq Waqif etc.

3. Qatar knows it is a perfect confluence of the east and west and is not afraid to show it. This is very evident from the way its construction industry and other related industries are booming with government support.

The Qatar Tourism Authority ( QTA) made sure we were well taken care of and for that they arranged for us to stay at the most popular address in town. – The Ritz Carlton’s Sharq Village and Spa. Located by the their private beach and overlooking the spectacular Doha skyline, Sharq Village and Spa is luxury, redefined. We were lodged in independent villas with a sea-view which was such a delight to say the least.

Sharq Village and Spa

Sharq Village and Spa

Sharq Village and Spa/ room

Sharq Village and Spa/ room

DSC_0654

Sharq Village and spa

The spectacular Doha Skyline at dusk as photographed from the hotel

The spectacular Doha Skyline at dusk as photographed from the hotel

When you are in such a wonderfully encouraging and comforting environment, it automatically puts you at ease.  The night I landed, on the 15th of September,I met up with the other bloggers – Reem Taufiqi ( Bahraini blogger) and Anamika Arun ( food blogger from Dubai). We were ferried around the town by our enthusiastic guide Mr. Jamal.  The Doha tour was to begin next morning of the 16th of Septemer. That night, I slept like a baby and the next morning, I woke up feeling fresh and happy.

The falcon shop  at souq waqif

The falcon shop at souq waqif

DSC_0504

DSC_0510

We set out on our excursion, after a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop was the Souq Waqif.

Fascinating stories from Souq Waqif:  A souq is a local market place and Doha’s Souq Wafiq  is special because it houses the poshest of restaurants in an Arabian Nights set up. As modern as its restaurants might be, the souq has some intriguing shops such as this Falcon Shop we visited. There is a great interest among Arab nationals to have Falcons as pets. There is a lot of science and money that goes behind having aFalcon as  pet. The shop had a whole line up of Falcons on display for customers to pick and choose. What is more, there were pretty leather and loom accessories that one could buy to adorn these majestic birds.

It is said that a Falcon needs to forget their previous owners otherwise they won’t accept the new ones. For that, they are made to wear eye patches covering both their eyes for 20 days which ensures they have no memories of the previous owner. The other reason why they have eye patches and are restrained by chains on their claws is they get overwhelmed when people come to the shop to buy them and risk flying and hurting themselves. Somewhere, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them. Apparently, there seems to be a lot of preference for white Falcons from Russia and the bidders bid for amounts as high as  QAR 70,000 ( approx $ 19,220). What is more astonishing was that, there was a hospital for falcons! Not birds. Not animals.. but falcons alone. They had specialists who solved falcon ailments which goes on to show how much these birds are revered by the locals.

D2The Souq has its own police galloping around on their horses in traditional uniforms to keep up with the traditional flavour of the place. The Souq is a vibrant place with vendors selling different types of wares starting from Turkish lamps, to tiles, to clothes, shoes, bags, spices to name a few.

DSC_0524

D13

Biryani spice

Biryani spice

souq waqif

There is a story behind why it is called the Souq Waqif. It has been in existence for the past 100 years or more and since those days, they had a traffic policeman directing traffic in the souq, standing on his feet, the whole day long. Waqif – that translates to ‘standing’ is what gives the souq its name. Quite fascinating how places get their names!

DSC_0526All these men you see in the picture are waiting for shoppers to come by to shop so that they can ferry their wares in these trolleys much like in the Memsahib era. No young man is allowed to take this job which these elderly gentlemen do, ensuring that this means of livelihood is not taken away from them.

D3

Architecture in the souq

Turkish lamps hanging from traditional ceilings; The Fanar- lighthouse

Turkish lamps hanging from traditional ceilings; The Fanar- lighthouse

While Jamal (our guide) kept us busy with all the beautiful anecdotes relating to the souq, he rounded us up to the AlDama Council in Souq Waqif . Dama that is played by two players was brought to Qatar from Turkey. It has taken the place of a traditional indoor board game which is now being promoted by the Government in their attempt to revive the popularity of  the game and encourage youngsters to take it up. Anybody can drop by the AlDama Council and play for free. I had quite a lovely time defeating my opponent who was an elderly Qatari gentleman.

Dama - board game

Dama – board game

DSC_0546

DSC_0547

After the board game adventure, we travelled a bit around the souq, admiring the ornate doors, the rustic buildings, the pristine blue skies and trying once in a while to forget how hot it was.

We were then taken to meet the most incredible man ever – Saad Ismail – the oldest pearl diver in Qatar

D7

This septuagenarian, has seen and done it all. He has been touted the strongest man in Doha and a man incapable of feeling pain. He has tested his physical endurance by lying down on broken glass pieces and has deep dived into the sea with minimal equipment in the search of the most exotic pearls. He has met the Kings and the Queens of many lands and gifted them exquisite pearl ornaments as mementos. When you see him, you know Ismail has truly lived a full life that many of us can only dream of.

D8

Visiting the souq can be an eye- opener and an experience, I won’t forget in a hurry. There were many things, that I wanted to explore and take pictures if we weren’t so short of time. It was amazing to see how beautifully everything was preserved, restored and created to ensure that the souq’s sanctity was maintained. The first part of the day was spent reveling at the cultural history of Qatar. My sojourn in Doha was just beginning to get exciting when we headed next to Katara Village for lunch and an afternoon full of art and photography appreciation. But for that you will have to wait for my next post.

I have been getting on..

26 Apr

.. and getting myself into more things than I can manage. This year has been very exciting but its not all hunky dory. Everyday there is something new that life throws at me but I am not complaining. The last 3-4 months have weathered me well. Lessons have been learnt but I have been getting on. The most amazing bit that has happened in all this chaos and confusion is clarity of thought has emerged. A pristine clarity of thought which is not only such a relief but also great for bolstering my shaky confidence.

In the coming months a lot would have changed in my life and I pray to God it should be for the best.

(source: google image search)

(source: google image search)

In the meantime I have a few interesting updates to share.

1. I went to my bestie’s (Namit ) wedding in Mumbai and it was so much fun dressing up, getting henna done,  dancing and meeting people. The bride looked absolutely stunning with all the elaborate jewellery and garments. If you have been following me on instagram, you’d know! If you haven’t been, here’s your chance @sliceofmylyfe

Image-1 (1)

 

photo (36)

 

2. Mimi made me this lovely mother’s day gift which I cannot get over

mimi gift

 

3. Attended a social media workshop for professionals conduct by the Social Media Club of Bahrain ( @SMCBahrain on twitter). Here I learnt about how important it is to project a consistent brand image throughout. The speaker, Ernesto Verdugo also emphasized on the various social media tools and tricks to use to make life easy.

 

photo (37)

 

 

4. My baby can make her own cake!

photo (39)

 

5. Couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a arts and crafts exhibition. It was conducted my La Creation who host series of workshops for anybody who is interested in learning crafts like quilting, painting, baking and such. In a place like Bahrain where if you are new to the island it can get quite lonely. Groups such as this are such a wonderful way to get in touch with the community whilst being creative. This exhibition was a treasure cove of hand made lovelies such dream catchers, necklaces, household decoration pieces, trinkets, quilts, paintings and what not! Here, I share with you some pictures from the event.

photo (32)

 

photo (29)

photo (30)

photo (31)

 

The next post, I shall share a wonderfully healthy oats and egg white uttapam recipe which I love so much! Until then, have a good week ahead people!

Mumbai through #Instagram pictures

23 Mar

I don’t usually fall in love with places like I do with people. With people, I am easily impressed and I instantly like anybody and everybody at the very first meeting because I genuinely think everybody is just as wonderful. But with places I am a bit of a skeptic. I look at any new place through the glass of a cynic. I take a lot of time to see the beauty of a city’s /country’s buildings, its roads, its waters and its skies. It takes me a terrible amount of time to unravel and enjoy the beauty of the place unless its just unquestionably beautiful like Edinburgh or Paris. While I am open to cultural experiences, I am always on my guard as well. One can always argue that people maketh the place but in my head these are two different elements.

Very frankly, I never liked Mumbai because I found it was too fast.  Fast is such a relative term really. Now I understand. But as a 22 year old when I last visited Mumbai, I was overwhelmed by the number of people, their sense of urgency, the sight of the mad rush in the local trains and the muggy weather. I wanted to get away from Mumbai as soon as I could. Fast forward, 2014 and am back in the city for work and that is a transformation story I am going to tell in my post today.

Everything is affected by relativity. I have lived in Delhi, some time in Cochin, in Birmingham and on and off in other cities around the world for work. So when a certain “Mumbaite” comes to me raving about his /her ‘Maximum city’, I make a face. An unhealthy debate ensues about Delhi Vs Mumbai and ends inconclusively. In my 15 years of adult life, I have learnt to value certain characteristics of a city more than others. What makes a place livable and hence likable?

1. Safety

2. Easy access to places that we frequent on a daily basis

3. Quality and options for a thriving social life

Somewhere I had made up my mind about Mumbai.

My recent trip about Mumbai changed my perception. I enjoyed the sights, the sounds,the energy and the pulse of Mumbai. Ofcourse, I avoided the local trains and the other avoidable facets of the city’s personality. I even avoided the usual touristy things to do except for the lure of street shopping at Colaba. I dove deep into the life of the city which happened both by chance and by design.

Street shopping at Colaba, a quick drink at cafe mondegar,  peek into cafe Leopold and blissful coffee and cookie at the Star bucks at the Taj

Street shopping at Colaba, a quick drink at cafe mondegar, peek into cafe Leopold

Mandeep enjoying  her blissful coffee drink and cookie at the Star bucks at the Taj

Mandeep enjoying her blissful coffee drink and cookie at the Star bucks at the Taj

What I loved about Mumbai:

1. Work ensured that I met the most enterprising of individuals who were informal as they were professional. Nobody wasted anybody’s time and everybody aimed to extract maximum value from the time expended. I found this extremely impressive and comforting.

2. This city knows how to have fun. Almost every evening I headed out for dinner and to try out some interesting places. Each night was a new experience and every place was packed. Nobody was in a hurry to get back home though it was a weekday!!

3. The ‘concept’ restaurants in Mumbai are an experience. We had a chance to celebrate International Women’s Day at a restaurant called ” Haibao” which promised a shabu shabu experience – a Japanese dish wherein the different kinds of vegetables, meats, fish and other seafood are dropped into boiling broth (which is at the table itself) and cooked in front of the diners.  It was delicious as it was satisfying.

The Shabu Shabu experience at Haibao, Juhu

The Shabu Shabu experience at Haibao, Juhu

4. Yoga house was yet another cafe that I fell in love with. I would love for Bahrain to have something like this where you can just go and relax with your coffee served with jaggery, quiona salad and detox juices. No processed food is served here which includes sugar. I was completely bowled over by the ambiance and sense of harmony the cafe had to offer.

Yoga house was an experience

Yoga house was an experience

5. The most amazing bit about Mumbai was that I found it safe to travel alone or with friends at any hour of the night.  I had the shocking experience of walking past the crowd of the most drunk people and there weren’t any mishaps or cat calls. It was like I had almost expected it and was prepared to mentally ignore it and to my shock it did not happen. People were doing their own thing. More drunk people recommended one food outlet over the other. I haven’t experienced this much freedom for women walking down the roads in a long, long time. And I looked around to see so many more women just going about their stuff even as late at 1 or 2 am at night.  Hats off Mumbai for creating a culture  and environment so safe for women.

6. Mumbai experience was deepened in afterthought. After a long time I was by myself, responsible only for my own self. That was rare and somehow freeing. The sense of anonymity that Mumbai provided helped me be myself. I could easily shed my heavy cloak of self consciousness and enjoyed myself like I didn’t care. That feeling of anonymity can be addictive because even after days of coming back to Bahrain, I craved for it.

These were my reasons for loving a city that I once despised. Life is funny like that. The more severely stubborn we become about something, it has its way of bringing everything back full circle. I hope you enjoy Mumbai as I did albeit through the Instagram images. For most parts it was a great trip because Mandeep planned it so for me. A huge fraction of my transformation journey was possible only because of her – because she showed me that face of Mumbai that she intuitively knew I would enjoy.

%d bloggers like this: