Belgrade Serbia

I went to Serbia in June 2009 – Below are some thoughts on it.

Belgrade Street
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

The End

Bahrain Visit

 

King Fahad Causeway between Saudia & Bahrain
King Fahad Causeway between Saudia & Bahrain

I went to Bahrain for three days (Nov 2009). It is an island with only 1.3 mil people (about 500,000 locals and 700,000 ex-pats). Recently it has been linked to Saudi Arabia through a 26 KM long bridge (supposedly the longest in the world). Actually it is not a bridge but a road built in the sea. There is a small island in the middle which is used for customs & immigration.

Many Saudis come here on the weekend (Thursday & Friday) just for leisure purposes. Everything is available here including alcohol, which is sad really.

As a matter of fact Pakistan (& PIA) is one of the only few Muzlim countries (airlines) where alcohol is officially banned – a matter to be proud of.


 

 

Bahraini Desert
Bahraini Desert

Bahraini land is desert like. There is no much oil or gas here so Bahrain is dependent on Saudi and other rich Gulf states. Population is majority Shia who migrated from nearby Iran many many years back. However they are very poor. Minority sunni are rich as Royal family is also sunni. Rioting is common among shia. Unemployment and the resulting poverty is the main cause. For some bizarre reason Bahrain imports a lot of foreigners from India, Bangladesh, etc etc for labor & household work but do not use locals.

 

 

Qahva & Dates in Bahrain
Qahva & Dates in Bahrain

Weather was really good this time of the year but mostly it is unbearably hot. I enjoyed walking outside. Food was as smashing as it is usually in Middle East. I bought lots of dates & nuts for friends & family, fancy one?

We went to visit a fort near the city. It was looking magnificient in powerful flood lights. Many of its parts are rebuilt. There was a trench all around the outside wall to keep at bay.

 

Bahrain Fort at Night
Bahrain Fort at Night

Tehran

Tehran
Tehran

I visited Tehran, the capital of Islamic republic of Iran for few days in September 2009. It was an exciting experience. Iran is an official Shia state. It is evident from the billboards showing slogans about Ali RA, Fatima RA & family. Talking about billboards, there were very few of them and none had any woman on them.

Today’s Iran is situated in the middle of three M’s namely  Mediterranean, Middle East and Middle (central) Asia. Known as Persia in past, Iran has one of the oldest civilisation dating as back as 4000 BC. Persian empire was once the superpower of the world. Iran is a land of beautiful civilised people, sweet poetic language, rich of art be it poetry, architecture, music or lovely food, you won’t be disappointed.

Iran’s population is about 72 million which includes Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Mazandarani and Gilaki (8%), Kurds (7%) and remaining mix of Turks, Balochis and Arabs. Official language is Persian (Farsi). 90% people are Shia religion, 9% Sunni and rest are a mix of Jews, Christians and Zoroastrian (old religion of Iran). 

It’s political structure is complex.  At the top is the Supreme Leader, selected by the Assembly of Experts, who is Commander-in-Chief of the military and oversees the civilian government. Next is the elected President of Iran, who serves for a maximum of two 4-year terms. Candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council.

Before coming to Iran I had the impression that it is a deeply religious society. The image is shattered now after spending few days here. Most people seem to be uninterested in Islam. Respect for Ramzan (month of fasting) wasn’t there. Many people were eating in public (referring to Tehran, situation would be different in rural areas I guess). Restaurants were closed during day but fast food type places were selling food almost openly right in the middle of city.
 

Tehran by Night

There are only few mosques in Tehran city. You don’t hear azaan, it is probably banned on speaker. I was looking for masjid for jumma prayer and ended up in Valli Asar maidaan, the town centre. The masjd there was locked. But I saw many people going in one direction, mostly in traditional shia black dress. There were extra ordinary security arrangements with police, fire brigade, ambulances present. It can not be an ordinary jumma prayer, I thought. So I didn’t dare going any close. Next day I found out through media that it was the supreme leader Kohmenei addressing in juma prayer at Tehran University campus with the whole government present including Ahmede Nejad.
 
Youth is quite modernized. Boys fashion like west. All girls wear jeans with a tight coat on top, & a symbolic scarf at the back of head, hair dyed in Golden. Islam appears to be enforced by authorities. Society seem superficial, a bit similar to Pakistan. Actually there are a lot of similarities with Pakistan, for example, laungaue (40% similar) food (kebabs, roti, chai, sweets, etc), living and the habits (I mean the bad ones at least!).
 
Besides, people are polite & good looking, especially women. Very few could speak English, and that was broken too. Young like to talk to foreigners. Not me though because they considered my Irani. When I said I am not, they said oh Indian! No I am Pakistani I would notify.
 

Covered Bazaar
Covered Bazaar

Tehran city has old and new parts. Old is like Rawalpindi, narrow, crowded, and new one is green, nicely built & similar to Islamabad. It is surrounded by dry hills. There is good road infrastructure with many flyovers & bridges. But traffic is heavily congested and driving is dangerously dangerous. No one buzzes horn, except an occasional small touch of button. Atmosphere is dry hot during day and cold at night.
 

No foreign credit card (& SIM card) works here except the Iranian. Currency is Riyal, a bus ride cost 2000 Riyals and a few mile taxi journey will set you back by 50,000 Riyals. 1 dollar gets 10,000 Riyals.

PLACES VISITED:

Sa’d Abad Museum Complex

Shah Iran's Bed Room
Shah Iran's Bed Room

Sa’d-Abad palace complex in the north of Tehran is a huge area of peaceful green gardens with 18 palaces most of them housing museums now, previously used by Kings. I visited the Reza Shah (former King) palace there. Wow man, it is a real palace. I have visited palaces in UK, France, Germany etc, but none like this one. It is magnificent (see photos). Reza Shah ruled the country like an owner but left this world miserably. He was backed by Amreeka but when bad days arrive, he escaped from Iran and sought refuge. No one was willing to give him asylum. He tried many countries including Amreeka, & Britain. No one accepted him and eventually he died in exile.

I even had a ride in Shah’s hand made Rolls Royce, still functional, used by tourists. But very costly 50,000 Riyals per ride.

 Grand Bazaar
I visited this old bazaar. It has 10 km of covered shops with several entrances. Bazaar has more than a dozen mosques, several guesthouses, a handful of banks, one church and even a fire station. It is an ideal and cheap place to stock up on almost anything you need. I bought lots of dates, dry nuts & saffron from here.

FOOD:

Iftaar Dinner
Iftaar Dinner

Iranian Food is just excellent. Chelo (rice) kebab is like their national dish. Kebab has many varieties, all very delicious. Dry fruits and nuts is also used commonly. Iran is famous for nuts, dates & of course Saffron (zaafran) commonly used in their diet. Fast is broken with date, soup & tea. Nan breads are similar to Pakistan.

In short it was a wonderful experience to visit Iran, I will surely come back…one day.

Click Here to Read Story of My Second Visit to Tehran

Also, Read Funny Iran Here

Kuwait Kahani

I went to Kuwait last week for a few days. Kuwait is an interesting country:

  • It is one of the smallest countries (area: 20,000 Sq KM, people 3 million), yet one of the richest in the world.
  • It has approximately 5% of the world oil reserves
  • Its 80% population is Kuwaiti and 20% are foreigners whereas labor force is 80% foreigners and 20% Kuwaiti.
  • The land is dry desert that gets very hot in summer,
  • Kuwait borders with Saudia, Iraq and Persian sea.
  • “Kuwait city” is the only main city of Kuwait with about 50% of its population residing here.
  • Kuwait is a part of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). GCC is also referred to as “Arab Gulf states” was formed in 1981.
  • It comprises of 6 countries Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE.
  • UAE further consists of seven states, called emirates, which are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah.
KuwaitCity
Kuwait City

Its culture is somewhat similar to Saudi Arabia, though women seem a bit more ‘liberated’ here in terms of dressing & driving. Imposed culture is very much American due to obvious ties with them. The city is nicely & newly built. Some of it was destroyed by Saddam during the Gulf War. A long road stretching along the beach is the most beautiful with sea on one side & beautiful buildings, trees, flower beds on the other. There are seven roads parallel to it referred to as ring roads though they are not truly rings.

Kuwait towers are the famous monument of the country. The word Kuwait roughly means a castle in the desert. There was an old castle here which is nearly demolished however few remains are still visible. Due to hot climate, shopping malls are the main hanging out place for its people.

City center is full of nice restaurants. Kuwait is a food heaven; you can find all types of cuisine here including Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Italian and American are just few to mention. All big names like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Krispy Kreme, famous coffee shops are present and it is all Halal. As you would have guessed, I made full use of it. I particularly love an Egyptian bread pudding called “Umm Ali”. It is so heavenly desert, can’t explain. I visited one of the restaurants which makes it the best according to a local. I wasn’t disappointed ate this sweet dish more than the main course.

kuwait towers
Kuwait Towers

Not to miss the mention of sheesha session I had with one Syrian colleague Abdul Jaber, sitting outside a restaurant near beach. I asked for apple flavor & Abdul Jaber ordered the waiter to double it – meaning double the tobacco.

Marina Mall, a big shopping center is the main hangout place for youth. You will see flocks of young boys here in the evening, mostly fashioned in western style, smoking and behaving rowdily. Many young girls were following the suit. I could see all big brand names here in the shopping mall.

Surprisingly all immigration officers were female at Kuwaiti airport. On the way back, as usual I checked in at home via internet and printed my own boarding pass. On showing it to the security officer, he enquired what is it? My boarding pass pointing to the word “Boarding Pass” written on it, I replied worriedly. Sorry, show me the proper boarding pass like that one, pointing to another passenger, we don’t accept ordinary paper ones, he answered. So I had to go back to airline counter and get another “the proper” one, narrowly missing the flight. During the process I had to pass through X-ray checking machine 5 times – security was tight.

Umm Ali 1
Umm-e-Ali Dessert

Every air traveler is familiar with the familiar words “this is your captain speaking”. When I entered in the plane at Heathrow, I was a bit surprised to hear “this is you senior flight officer speaking”. He continued, apologies that captain can not speak to you right now as he is stuck in traffic and should be here soon. What? And then after 5 minutes, Mr Captain arrived running hastily with his luggage.

Peak Performance by Faiez Hasan Seyal

 

Faiez Hasan Seyal
Faiez Hasan Seyal

Faiez Hasan Seyal is a behavioral scientist. This gentleman is amazing. He delivers seminars and trainings on self improvement, & is a delight to listen to.

He argues that GOD has created humans as the best of his creation. HE has ordained us with miraculous powers. The only issue is we don’t unleash these. It is only us that limit ourselves, otherwise sky is the limit. Why GOD made angels to bow to us? Because WE are special!

Yes, You are extra special!

Listen to him with an open mind and a belief that YOU too can become the Best of the best. I am sure this lecture will change your life if listened and acted upon. I bet on it.

 

 

Faiez proposes few steps to follow:

 – Visualize: What you want to achieve

Verbalize: Change your circumstances accordingly / create an environment

Action-ize: Act upon what you plan

Prayer-ize: Pray to GOD for your success

Listen to him in his own words: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qeE7AxbDFU&feature=related

 

If can’t find then search by using: Faiez Hasan Seyal – Peak Performance. Please ask your friends to listen to it also.