Sunday, April 28, 2013

QATAR: Camels and Souqs (markets) in the Dollhouse city of Doha

Doha, Qatar… an ultra-modern city erected - from nothing but flat desert sands - by sheer will and a tremendous amount of money. It’s a city without much history or depth.  Doha feels like the MGM movie scene setting… impressive when you look at it but - if you peak around the front – you discover it’s just a pretty façade with nothing of substance behind.
We arrived in Qatar mid-afternoon and – even though Bill opened the Qatar leg at 3 PM – we opted to not leave the hotel that day.  Jordan got very sick on the plane (with roasting fever) so I had the hotel put a cot in my room and put Jordan straight to bed.  I had to wake him several times over the course of the evening and night to give him medicine or have him take a warm bath to control the fever (which came and went and came again ... over and over).  Finally, the next morning – after 14 hours of sleep – he woke up feeling great.  I’m not sure what ailed him to begin with but I’m just so happy it passed.
Saturday morning we headed out to see everything we could of Qatar in one day. Clothing has obviously changed completed. Gone are the beautiful saris. Here only women’s eyes are on display. 

And sometimes not even that. 

Let's be clear: if black is not your color, this is not the country for you.
The men clearly got the better end of this fashion stick with comfortable, thin, white (as opposed to hot black) gowns.  

 Our first expedition was to the Inland Sea (literally a sea or lake-like body of water inland and South of Doha).  Saudi Arabia is on the other side of the water.

To get there we had to go over sand dunes in 4 wheel vehicles and “dune dash” which means that our jeep would come to the edge of a dune cliff and then just slide right over the edge – almost sideways. It was like a scary roller coaster ride. The teens loved it. I was hanging on for dear life: convinced we'd be upside down any moment. 

The drivers actually took air out of their tires before entering the dunes so the tires would grip the sand better. There are stations to replace the air once you leave the Inland Sea. 

Along the way we stopped to ride camels.  After all, one of the recurring challenges to is to ride a Four-Legged-Beastie. So, having done elephants, we now tried our hand at camels.

Here’s Erik Walker: the camel whisperer

Next stop: Souq Waqif (the large market in the center of Doha). 

It is supremely clean (a shock after Nepal) and divided into sections.  Bill loaded us up with things to do at the Souq so we spent much of the afternoon there wandering around. I loved the spice section. 

And the bird section where they were selling brightly colored chicks.

But the most interesting parts of the market:  The Falcon Souq.

Falcon hunting is a popular  – and very expensive – sport in the Middle East.   The birds can cost up to $250,000 and they travel to international competitions in their own plane seat with their handler sitting beside them.  The airline covers the seat with a plastic cloth and installs a wooden bar across the seat handles. The falcon sits there (outside of a cage) free and wearing a hood to blind it so it does not just fly around in the plane. 

Competitive falcons even have their own passport.  And if they get sick… they go to the Falcon Hospital which is far nicer, fancier and better equipped than any human clinic we’ve seen anywhere in SouthEast Asia.  

It’s certainly 16 rungs above the hospital Savannah had to go to during the India rickshaw race in January. At the hospital, the birds can be operated on or have X-Rays

There is a full lab so the birds can have complete and comprehensive blood analysis 

And the bird pharmacy has literally dozens and dozens of different medications.

We also visited the Grand Mosque which was a rude awakening to the second class citizenship of Muslim women.

Women cannot enter through the front door: our entrance is on the side and towards the back.  Women cannot pray in the main prayer hall: our prayer area is on a balcony above the men’s area where you can peek through the holes in the wood and watch the men below.

Women cannot even wash their hands at the same ablution sinks as men.

I felt my inner “I am Woman, Hear me Roar” yelling for an audience even though I recognize that this is their culture and beliefs.
We had to eat a McArabia at McDonald’s (a shawarma type chicken wrap). 

What was clear is that fast food (including all of the saturated fat issues of such food) plagues Qatar the same as it does the U.S. The place was packed. 

A scavenge was to try “Hubbly Bubbly” or flavored tobacco from a water pipe. Jordan’s experience was obviously far better than mine or he was faking better in order to look cool:  

And one of the last scavenges of the night… a sunset boat ride along the Corniche or Doha boardwalk in a Dhow.  Doha is built on a curved bay so the skyline is beautiful from the water. We got to see the lights as they came on after dark to highlight the buildings. 

My two favorites on the skyline: the building that appears to be wearing a tea cozy of lace

And the blue criss-cross building (Isn't this a great photo from Rainey? With the blue building and the tea cozy building reflecting in the highrise to the left).

What’s weird?  Most of these buildings are totally empty.  The Qatar Emir is determined to have a skyline that rivals (or beats) other major cities so dozens of skyscrapers were erected in the past decade.  He’s achieved his goal of a cool photo op but the available office space far outpaces the need. It gives Doha the aura of a dolls house or a façade… elegant to look at but nothing of substance underneath. Let’s hope the adage is correct: “if you build it, they will come.”
I loved this food booth in the market…. It obviously sells poultry but the smell of the food was – in fact – “foul.”

 And a great photo of Booth with his “gear.”  

He’s got hand sanitizer, a hat, a camera, 2 heavy duty clips and his passport and money close at hand plus a backpack with rain jackets and flashlights etc. on his back. No-one can ever accuse Booth of not being a boy scout: always prepared. Thank Goodness. Because I can then carry very little.
We now start the European Leg of the trip.  This leg is a Par 5 and is the hardest part since you have to travel with your luggage every step of the way. Luckily I did good this year and did NOT pack a lot.  My suitcase is small and very manageable. I suspect the competitors with large bags will be cursing every extra pound over the next 5 days. We may be out of contact for a few days as we travel along but I’ll post again as soon as I can. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nepal: You Stole My Heart

Every year I choose a favorite country.  It’s usually a tough choice.  It takes careful thought and consideration.  This year I chose Cambodia: even though the two awful, hot, yucky mandatory bus rides through Cambodia took up most of our time there. I chose it because it is hard to compete with Angkor Wat at dawn.  But then we went to Nepal and … cheeky monkey that she is… Nepal stole my heart and the grand prize.  Nepal wins favorite. The last 2 days has been the best of the trip (at least so far). In order to do what we wanted, we had to give up the competition but it was SOOOOO worth it.  It has been a magical few days. And who could possibly care about a competition when you get to share with your 13 year old son the following adventures:

Day 15 PM:  We arrived in Kathmandu mid-afternoon and the ride in from the airport to the hotel was somewhat shocking to several of the competitors.  Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and the standard of living is very low. But – and what is hard to appreciate at first –the filth and the open sewage and the trash and the stench are overpowered by the colors and beauty and grace of this country.  Nepal is easy to hate but impossible to forget if you fall in love with her.  She’s like India: you love her or you hate her.
After Bill opened the leg, we headed straight out to the Thamel district which is where the hikers stay as they prepare to climb Everest (and all of the other mountains around here). It is a crazy, busy, bustling area.  We found a scavenge restaurant (The Thamel House) and ate Newari food while sitting on the floor. 

Then we walked through the markets and streets – mesmerized by the variety and colors of that area – until we found a movie cinema and went to watch a Bollywood movie (And yes.. a major motivation was  because we got 50 points).

DAY 2:  5AM: We got up real early and set off for the Pushapatinath Temple. Under Hindu practices, as soon as possible after your death you must be burned by the side of the river.  But if someone dies overnight, the funeral ceremony is at dawn.  So we were at the Temple - when dawn broke at 5:30 AM - to witness the burning of multiple bodies.  One was a nine year old child which really scarred my heart.  I recognize that our western culture and teachings make the open burning of the dead distinctly uncomfortable for us but that - for the Nepalese - this is their practice and custom.  Nevertheless it was extremely disturbing.
First, the body is brought to the river’s edge in a simple cardboard box. 

The body is removed by the ghat workers (who wear pink rubber gloves) and placed on a simple stretcher. This particular body was naked except for the black underwear.


The body  is then covered with gauze clothe and the male members of the family lay flower garlands on the corpse (the women are not allowed at the Ghats so we had to watch from across the small river while Rainey, Jordan and Oliver got to stand right next to the funeral pyres).  

Next step: the body is placed on  concrete “ghat” (or square platform) atop a pile of wood, covered in wet grass fronds and lit afire.   

Once the burning is complete, the ashes are pushed into the river to eventually float down to the Ganges. Men and boys stand in the river digging through the sludge in hope of finding gold teeth or wedding bands or anything of value that survived the fire. It was an amazing experience for the three teens and sparked from interesting conversation.

7:00 AM: We boarded a small plane (one seat either side of an aisle) and flew out over the Himalayan mountains to circle Everest.  

The pilot told us that the weather had been overcast and cloudy for most of the past few weeks but we brought luck with us and the sky was clear and bright blue. The snow sparkled. 

I like the shape of the Gauri Shankar mountain the best (a mountain considered too sacred to allow any climbers on it).

10:45 AM:  We boarded another plane for Chitwan National Park, a large nature reserve.  We landed almost two hours away from our home for the night: Tiger Tops.  I have been lucky enough to go to Tiger Tops twice before: once as a teenager and once, 6 years ago, with the Great Escape group.  However, in the past year, much has changed. The Nepali government shut down the main Tiger Tops facility (the rooms that were built in the trees). The only remaining part is the Tharu village lodge.  Having never been there, I did not know what to expect…. but it ended up being AMAZING. 
We got to feed the elephants their “sandwiches” which are supplemental grains wrapped in dry hay. They love them and come right up to you to get the sandwiches out of your hands. 3386 – 3393 – 3399

We also got to bathe them in the river and ride out on safari (for 2 ½ hours) on their backs.  

We got to be within a few yards with some black rhinos.  Amazing. 

At one point we came into a clearing to find a large  rhino in a Mexican Standoff / Staring Contest with Rainey and Madeline’s elephant. The elephant won. 

There was a potential tiger sighting but whatever feline animal we saw was running fast and we did not get a clear view. We returned to the camp at dusk for a dance show, great dinner and early bed.

DAY 3: 6AM:  We started Day 3 with a ride in an ox drawn cart to the river.

At the river, we boarded  wooden canoes and paddled down river to see the fishermen casting their nets at dawn. 

We disembarked at a river rock beach where the striations in the pebbles made you want to pick up each rock individually and examine them.

And - for the grand finale to an amazing leg - we met up with two other teams in the airport who were heading  for Everest base camp.  Their helicopter could fit ONE more person and I let Jordan take the spot. So Jordan  flew up into the Himalayans.. sitting right to the pilot... on a helicopter - Landed at base camp - got to see teams heading out to tackle Everest. WOW... What an amazing experience.

YES .. that is my son standing at the rock column of base camp with Everest behind him. How many 13 year olds can say that they've done that?

1PM - Check-In:  While Jordan did Everest base camp, Rainey and I spent the afternoon back in  Kathmandu doing a bunch of scavenges before check-in. My favorites were:
(a) Visiting the Palace Museum... which is a tour of the somewhat dismal, very dated palace of the former King (where every piece of furniture looks like it is straight from a 1970s TV set).  

But the  interesting part  was that we had to find the "murder room."  I am so globally ignorant that I did not even remember that - in 2001 - the Crown Prince of Nepal - while drunk - took an M16 and slaughtered his entire family (the King, the Queen, his brothers and sisters) before turning the gun on himself.  The living quarters wing - where the massacre occurred - has been demolished and a garden built in its place. Since the Crown Prince died, no-one has ever figured out exactly why he did it. 
(b) Taking a walk in the Garden of Dreams: an incredible garden complex filled with Westerners lying around in the sun and having a drink at the elegant cafe.

(c) We also visited approximately 6,234 temples / stupas / wats / holy places / spaces for worship ... of every kind and description.  And we spun  the prayer wheels and rang the bells and lit the candles in each ... so we are now thoroughly filled with good luck.

NEXT LEG:  We are now in Doha, Qatar having landed a few hours ago.  This is a new country for me (Yeah).  It's hard to imagine a greater juxstaposition. In just a few hours we went from  one of the poorest countries (Nepal) to one of the wealthiest (Qatar).  And it shows every aspect of the culture, architecture.... you name it.
Unfortunately Jordan got sick today (high fever, bad headache) and he feels awful.  So we have stayed in the hotel all afternoon trying to get him better. Fingers crossed he's mended by tomorrow so we can get out and see some of the country.


blog stats
catalog outlet store