Category Archives: Travelogue

My first trip to Jordan

It’s been long since I wrote a travelogue about my small trips here and there. This time, I got a chance to go to Jordan for a few days, to Amman. Though not very conducive in terms of weather conditions, but this trip was an eye-opener for me in more than one ways.

My perception about Jordan, before actually reaching there, was that it’s one of those Arab countries that have a lot of oil and there will be number of usual looking Arabs on the streets with the expat Indians and Pakistanis driving all the cabs. Somewhere in the sub-conscious, I also presumed that the weather would also be much similar to what it was in Dubai. Most of these perceptions were torn apart the very moment I landed at Queen Alia International Airport. I had not noticed earlier that it is probably the only country in the Arab world whose airport is not named after the King, but the Queen. My second notion about a large number of expats also got hit hard when a local Jordanian driver was standing at the airport with my name-board, to receive me.

The moment I landed out of the airport, my third notion about the weather got hit very hard by the heavy rain and high-speed winds blowing at nothing lesser than 30kmph. Dressed overly by Dubai standards, with a sweat-shirt on top of a shirt, seemed to be scanty by Jordanian standards. Somehow I got into the car and reached the room. Though the hotel wasn’t something that I’d appreciate much, but I badly needed a blanket to get into. As if this wasn’t enough to prove me wrong, it actually snowed a couple of days after my arrival adding further to my misery.

For most of the stay at Amman, I couldn’t find anyone with a burqa or an abbaya except at the airport, which was very strange for me. But then I read through Amman’s history in one of the Jordan Tourism Board’s booklets which said that Jordan has been home to ancient Roman civilizations and that Christ himself was baptized in Jordan. That’s when I realized that Jordan is very unlike the other Arab countries and has a much diverse history than most of the Arab world. The people there are much friendlier than the Arabs that I’ve seen and heard about.

During this short trip, I could visit only a few places namely Abdoun Circle and Abdoun Mall. I found a couple of nice eating joints at Abdoun Circle and would really like to try the places that I could not. Abdoun Mall wasn’t a mall by any standards, atleast after you’ve seen the malls in Dubai. I’ve heard that there’s a food joint by the name of Jammu Kashmir that serves authentic Indian cousins. Next time, I’ll make it a point to check how authentic are the dishes there.

The most amazing part about the trip that I noticed was that the only thing that seemed to be a common thread among Jordan and the rest of the Arab world are the Hindi movies. Everyone seemed to know Amitabh Bachchan and seemed to be fond of watching Hindi movies every now and then. The moment a local would know that you are an Indian, the reference to Amitabh Bachchan would come in at most second dialogue. That was an unusual discovery to make.

I look forward to my next visit to Jordan, that’s planned in January, when I’ll get a chance to see places like Dead Sea, Baptism Site, Petra and other places in or near Amman.

 

Emirates: No Wow Factor!

For my last trip to India, I thought I should opt for one of the ‘best airlines’ of the region – Emirate. But the experience that I had on this trip left me with an impression of disgust, awe and disappointment over the performance of this supposedly ‘leading airlines’ of the region. Unfortunately, I would say that my experience with Emirates Airlines was ‘Much Below Expectations’.

 To begin with, there are long queues that I had to stand in a long queue to check-in, which is ok. But when I reached the counter, the guy sent me back to some machine asking me to get my Boarding Pass from there before coming to the counter. Surprised at this, I went to the machine and got the boarding pass and finally checked-in my luggage. I must say the T-3 has been built as a grand airport with a huge Duty Free section enough to compete with a shopping mall. That was the only nice part of the entire trip, though. I was told that T-3 doesn’t have any security checks whatsoever and no passenger harassment in that sense, but I clearly remember that I had to show my boarding pass to the highest number of people at this airport than ever. Once into the flight, the seats were so close to each other that I could barely fit inside. To my bad luck, I’d got an aisle seat and everyone had to pass through me to get in or get out which was impossible without me getting off my seat every time. Given all this exercise, I felt a lot thirsty and hence, called for the air hostess. To my surprise, nobody notices that the light above my head was popped up. The air hostesses just passed by and took no notice of the light. It was good 10 minutes before I decided to call one of them, standing nearby to get me a glass of water or fresh lime juice. Nobody came back. After another 5 minutes, I requested another lady to get me a glass of water which was responded by an assurance, but no action. Finally, it was the third air hostess whom I got hold of, after another 5 minutes of the second one and she finally got me a glass of water. That’s the Emirates experience for you, I thought.

 As if this wasn’t enough, the flight had a technical problem – its water pressure refused to work at the last moment and the passengers were told that the engineers were working on it. And here we are, blaming and bashing India to have been working at the last moment to finish the CWG venues. It was amazing to find that the airlines with its own dedicated airport can have delays in the flight by as much as an hour. And that too, when the airlines boasts of its on-time take-offs and uses it as a factor to charge a premium from its customers. And I must clarify that even after this 1-hour delay, the bathrooms were not fixed and the washrooms didn’t have any water to wash hands when you need to.

 That’s not the end. The quality of food was another factor on which I rate Emirates at 1 on a scale of 5. The rajmah chawal served on board was the most pathetic one I’ve had in ages. The chapattis were half baked. Only saving grace was the lime juice and green salad.

 Once I landed in India, I thought maybe it’s just a one-time thing that might happen with anyone. So, I reassured myself that I won’t face a similar situation on my way back to Dubai a few days on. But to my surprise, the experience was no different. The flight took off atleast 40 minutes after the right time. Customer Service was as poor and food was as pathetic as on my last trip. That proved that my initial experience wasn’t a one-time event, it’s a regular feature of ‘The Emirates Experience’.

I must point out here, in the end that I rate Jet Airways as much better airlines than Emirates, especially on this route (Dubai-Delhi). Never again am I going to travel by Emirates, atleast not till the time they have something really worthy to offer.

My adventurous trip to India

The trip that was scheduled to be 9 days long, but destined to be 19 days long was the one that I will not forget very soon in my life. For the last about one year since I’ve been outside of India, it’s always been exciting for me to visit India. People who know me, know how passionate I am about being in India and living a pure Punjabi lifestyle. But destiny has written something else for me.

Anyways, coming straight to the point, my journey to India this time was also as exciting for me as it always had been. I wanted to have as much fun as I could. Visiting Delhi gives me the opportunity to meet up with my most beloved cousin, my brother and my girlfriend (What more can you ask for?) But this time was different. It was an official visit and I was supposed to fly back to Dubai on 8th May. I attended the trainings, had loads of fun at Naukuchiatal on the Out-Bound Training part and made many new friends during the journey. But when I reached airport on 8th to catch my flight back to Dubai, I was not allowed to board the flight. Why? Just like that. The Sardar flight official didn’t like my face, I think. 😉

Actually, the thing was that I didn’t have something called ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) stamp on my passport. For those who don’t know, you need to have this stamp on your passport if you want to travel on Employment Visa, especially to the Middle East. Even after having travelled abroad for three times in last one year, I wasn’t aware about this and nobody even asked me about that. So, obviously I didn’t know. Now, when I was just about to fly, I was being made aware of my passport requirements.  I looked up and down, left and right and wondered what I could do. I couldn’t afford to lose my job just because of this stupid stamp, though that was a very far-fetched thought running in my mind. I called up everyone I knew to check if the ECNR stamp was really so important and so powerful that it can stop me from travelling abroad on employment visa and bringing more foreign currency into the country. Everyone had the same answer – I don’t know. I was asked to head back to the hotel, because in any case it was a Saturday and Indian passport officers have chosen not to work on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, though the flights take off even on those days and people like me could face passport issues on public holidays as well.

And the amazing part was that I couldn’t get this stamp done from anywhere else than the place where my passport was issued from which happens to be Amritsar in my case. That was going to be another dreadful experience that I never thought about. I decided to travel home (Faridkot) the same day, pick up my address proof and other certificate copies and leave for Amritsar, early in the morning (4:00 am is too early). My plan was to get the stamping done and the catch the early morning flight (2:40 am is too late to be called too early) to Dubai. But as I said, that was not my fate. After standing in long queue for almost an hour outside the office, in scorching heat of Amritsar, I was allowed to enter the office where again there was a long queue and amazingly, the counter had not yet started working, though it was way past 9:00 am. There I realized for the first time, why people didn’t want to have Indian Passports at all, or even if they had the bad luck to have one, why didn’t they want to get it renewed and instead chose to be citizens of some other country.

Finally, after two and a half hours, when I got to see the face of the person behind the counter, she turned down my application saying that she needs original 10th std. certificate to verify my Date of Birth. I was perplexed by her statement. All through these years, I was told that Passport is the ultimate proof of my identity. Nothing held above this proof. And now this aunty, in her early 50s, was telling me that 10th standard certificate was more authentic than the passport. I tried explaining it to her, showed her my original Employment Visa and my original appointment letter as a Business Consultant (which certainly can’t be given to a person who isn’t 10th standard pass) but my arguments fell on deaf ears. The worst part was that all my original certificates were kept in Dubai and there was no way that I could get them before 3-4 days. But due to pressure by the people standing behind me, I had to leave the queue – sad, disheartened and worried. I reached everyone I could – PA to Passport Officer, Relationship Manager, agents – everyone, but of no use.

In that state of mind, I decided to come back to Delhi and try some other options. I called in the scanned copies of my Income Tax Returns, passbook pages etc etc. I travelled overnight sitting straight on the last seat of PRTC bus, couldn’t sleep for the whole night and reached Gurgaon office early in the morning. The travel desk at my company told me the next day that they’d talked to some agent and he’ll guide me to get a PoE (Protector of Emigrants) stamp which is a temporary provision if you want to fly abroad. And I was happy that this could be done from Delhi itself, because, I don’t know why, I believed that the Delhi Passport Office would be in better condition than Amritsar. After all, Delhi is a metropolitan city and is the capital of our country. So, I went to the PoE office in Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Road, armed with all the copies of my documents, original visa and original appointment letter. But still, fate had something else written for me. PoE office told me that they needed original appointment letter attested by the Indian Embassy in Dubai. And he specifically mentioned that a “fax will not do, we need it in original.” I was angry and worried at the same time. I called up my Dubai office and they asked me to wait till the next day when they’d go and confirm it from Indian Embassy in Dubai. As the luck had it, the India Embassy needed original Employment Visa to attest the appointment letter and the process would’ve taken 4-5 working days which meant I’d b stuck in India for atleast one and a half more weeks. So, it was a complete deadlock.

Finally, it was agreed that my office drawer in Dubai would be broken, my certificates would be taken out and couriered and I’d get the ECNR done from Amritsar. And there I was – on next Saturday (exactly one week later), in the same train, traversing the same route to Faridkot, getting up again early in the morning on Monday with a hope to get things done, standing in the same queue at Amritsar Passport Office. But this time, they didn’t have an excuse to reject my application. But what made me even angrier was that the person on the counter didn’t even look at the certificate carefully. He just glanced over it and that’s it. I was too exhausted to react to this. Now, I was happy that I’ll get the stamped passport by evening and will catch the morning flight to Dubai. But…

But the tickets on Air India Express (only flight from Amritsar to Dubai) had to be booked atleast 24 hours before flying which I did not, because I didn’t trust Indian bureaucracy  and wasn’t sure whether the stamping will be done or not. So, when one govt system finally worked, the other had me in its jaws. Anyways, I again took the same PRTC bus back to Delhi, got my tickets done for next day on the same Jet Airways flight that I was supposed to catch 10 days back. And I finally reached Dubai. Safely.

The trip, with so much of turns and twists and new discoveries, will be afresh in my memory for long long time. I’m worried now about getting my passport renewed from the same authorities, though there’s still 5 years to go.

AS

My Fujairah Trip: 11th August 2009

Finally, my last days in UAE had arrived. Contrary to the usual, there wasn’t even a hint of nostalgia in those days. The reasons could’ve been many – I was sure about coming back to Dubai at some point in time, I didn’t feel attached to Dubai at all or I was still going to spend my time with the same set of people. But the truth remained that I didn’t feel anything that people usually feel at the time of leaving a place where they’ve spent some of the most useful time of their lives.

(If at any point of time you feel that the story is too long, skip the following 3 paragraphs.)

Anyways, we decided to roam about UAE to the max before we actually left it, atleast for some time. We – me, Chib, Raghuvir and Ali – planned to visit one of the most beautiful places in UAE, Fujairah. (Fujairah is one of the seven emirates of UAE that gets a lot of revenues from tourism.) Somehow, a car was arranged whose AC actually worked and we set our sails off for Fujairah, on the path told to us by a “wise-man”. Passing through the deserts of the Sahara, we saw the camels, the sand and the sheikhs, all en route. Then came the unexpected guests of the day, the mountains. They were big and huge and long and we loved them.

Desert SafariFujairah Beach

In the end, we finally reached our destination – the Fujairah beach. As a Bollywood song says, “manzil se behtar lagne lage hain raaste…”, we felt the same after reaching Fujairah. The way to reach Fujairah was so very beautiful that the beach seemed just-another-place and we didn’t feel like having a dip in the ocean, there. So, we decided to move on in our journey.

The camelsFujairah Beach

We reached an old mosque, Al Bidya Mosque – the 15th century mosque that was made of mud and has stood the test of the times. The serenity of the place was worth visiting once in the lifetime. It was calm like an ocean. The watch towers that stood atop the mosque were even more beautiful. They gave us a full view of the ocean on one side and the date farms on the other.

Al Bidiya MosqueWith maulana

Then we went to another beach where we were frightened by the crabs running everywhere. Chib and Raghav especially, were very alarmed and didn’t go even near the water. Our journey back to Dubai had already begun when we were on crossroads (literally) to take a left turn to the Masafi hills or go straight to Dubai.

And that’s where the twist happened. They say that the destiny is controlled by some super-natural power who some people call as God. That day something similar happened. If you noticed, I never mentioned that we stopped anywhere for food and that was precisely the truth. We didn’t have anything for food since morning and were feeling really hungry. But we decided to see the masafi hills and then return to Dubai. But after moving around 2 kilometers left, we realized that the mountains were no different from the ones that we saw on our way to Fujairah. So, we took a U-turn back to Dubai.

Pathani Roti

After 10-15 minutes when our hunger reached close to a starving stage, we saw a pathan cooking a huge roti on a drum. With not even a thought to have a piece, we just stopped to take some pictures of that roti. The pathan turned very happy when we approached him and was glad to have us click some pictures of him and his grand roti. We were just about to move when he offered, “roti khayega nahi?” (Won’t you have the bread?) Out of courtesy, we refused to have some, but his face turned sad and he said, “achchha nahi laga?” (Didn’t you like it?) We couldn’t stand his face and he tore off a large part of his roti and shared it with us. Amazingly, that small share from the piece of roti made my hunger just disappear.

Tasty stuff

We couldn’t believe what had happened to us just a while ago. Four people – 3 Indians and a Pakistani – met in Dubai, went on a trip to Fujairah, returned via Dibbi, reached just in time to see an unknown pathan cooking a roti and have it to contend ourselves. We were amazed and astonished. And we thought whether that supernatural power had sent us all to this place just because someone owed some small thing to us and this was his last chance to pay us back. Or maybe He wanted us four to be indebted by this pathan’s soul for coming births as a part of the bigger plan.

Anything could be the reason but one thing’s for sure: “daane daane pe likkha hai khane wale ka naam.” (Every grain is destined to be eaten by the person whose name it bears.) And Ali bhayi had to say, “mera safar safal ho gaya.” (My journey has been successful.) J

AS