Another travel scam?

HolidayIQ got this email recently…


How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I’m sorry i didn’t inform you
about my trip to Scotland for a program, I’m presently in Scotland and
got mugged at a gun point by some armed robbers on my way to the hotel
where my money and other valuable things were kept including my
passport. I would like you to assist me with a loan of 1620Pounds to
sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the
matter effectively,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist
me with,I’ll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me
know if you can be of any help. I don’t have a phone where i can be

Please let me know immediately.



Immigration officials across the world are all sent to this common, secret school (run, I suspect by particularly virulent commissars of the ex-USSR) where they are taught the essential niceties of their job – a deeply suspicious look & the ability to never ever let the slightest smile (or even a suspicion thereof) escape on to one’s face, being the most important.

Two countries I have visited stand apart in this – Cyprus & Thailand.

The gate-keepers at the Larnaca airport smiled at me (giving me the heebeejeebies, since to the best of my prior knowledge these guys smile only when about to effect a cop) and – I kid you  not – asked about the weather back home.

The guys at Phuket were the best of the lot. Their interaction was as between mature adults. A smile breaking out of a ‘yeah, we know you are here only to have a good time and as soon as your money runs out, you will go away – but we gotta do this…’ look.

I have been to Saudi Arabia too, where I met the guys who took all the prizes at the commissar’s school.

View of Dubai from a helicopter

Anshul & Rashi took their 5 year old up in a helicopter over Dubai. It costs US$ 800 for a 30 minute (max. 5 adults) and they say it is well worth it. Here is some of what they saw. Check it out the next time you are in Dubai.

A Dubai Panorama

The Burj Al Arab & Jumeirah beach Hotel

The Burj Dubai on its way to becoming the world’s tallest building

Cranes over Hotel Atlantis

Click on for a few more photos.

Continue reading

Barasti Bar at the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina

The Barasti bar in Dubai was recently polled by Worlds Best Bars as THE top bar in the world (the photo above is from their site).  And since I run a site that does ratings, for a living, I know the ‘Best” rating is a bit of a cross to bear. For, being labeled the best restaurant or bar or hotel is like getting a reputation in the old wild west as the ‘fastest gun’. Every cow-poke in the west then wants to have a shoot out with you for the chance to win and attain immediate notoriety. Life can get troublesome.

Anyway, my old project finance friend Anshul (whom I hadn’t met in a long time) decided he would treat me to an evening in the Barasti and so we went. It was a really muggy weekend evening. The bar has an inside area and a nice outdoor patio kind of space facing the Arabian Gulf, all of which added up to a lot of space. Since I live in a country where extreme highs of temperature are the norm, I was not fully enticed by the 40-odd degrees outside and decided to stick to the indoors; air-conditioned, you see.

The booze was fair to good and so was the food, although everything generally took a long time to get to the table and seemed pretty expensive. There was live music and Euro cup on TV. Brits and assorted Europeans overflowed from all nooks and crannies. (This is the biggest change I can see in Dubai; the overwhelming & very visible presence of Europeans).

My verdict is – good, nice atmosphere if you ignore the occasional sensation of a hostel reunion, decent food & booze. Certainly worth a visit if you are in Dubai. But, the best bar in the world. Nah…

Click here for all my posts on Food & Drink

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More on Dubai

There has been much ado about planning for urban India in the last few years. My recent visit to Dubai has convinced me that City building is an enterprise that is mostly about Building. Build great physical infrastructure that makes life easy for people and they will come in large numbers to live, work and play. The Rulers of Dubai have worked on this simple premise and you can see a veritable ‘rising from the desert’. You might sniff at its lack of ‘culture’ or its overall sense of the nouveau-riche, but you cannot take away from its success. As an Aussie Dubai-lover told me, there are a large number of hard-working folk here and Dubai gives us a great place to live & work in. He was telling me off for my slightly sneering tone, and well deserved it was. I might or might not want to live in Dubai. But it is undeniably on its way to becoming one of mankind’s success stories of the early 21st century.

Dubai after 15 years

I was last in Dubai before it went beserk, about 15 years ago. As I write this post, sitting at the Jumeriah Beach hotel facing the Burj Al Arab, it is pretty clear that the madness here has some kind of a faintly discernible method. The method is, build fast, build more and build the mostest and they will come. And, so far, it seems to be working. Which beats me. Who in the right sense would want to go to the muggy water’s edge of the Arabian desert that is completely built up like Gurgaon? A lot of people apparently. After all, Gurgaon is at the edge of the Thar desert and the Arabian desert is a BIGGER desert. As usual, Dubai triumphs!


(Sergiopolis in Syria)

For me, History, Food and Nature are the most seductive elements of travel. And the middle-east provides a fascinating mix of all three. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I consider Lebanon one of those dream places to visit, mostly because of this lovely book by Colin Thubron. In the book, Thubron explores the history and culture of a pretty ancient land while walking across its pastoral landscape. Another interesting book that traces a historical thread of the middle east is ‘From the Holy Mountain’ by William Dalrymple. The book is only one I have read that brings out the ‘eastern’ roots of Christianity through its exploration of Syrian Christianity. Funnily enough, the book also solved an old doubt I had pertaining to odd christian names in Kerala, such as ‘Kuriakose’. For more on that, check out these posts.

And while on the subject of of the middle-east, here are my posts on middle eastern food.

And here is a post on my experience of Saudi Arabia, a country I wish everyone would go to (if they were allowed in!).

(Picture of peter & Paul, who are said to have set up the Patriarchate of Antioch. It is said that Antioch is the first city where ‘Christians’ were referred to as such. The Bishop of Antioch is called the Patriarch of Antioch)



As I move around in the world, I am struck anew by the variety of neighbourhoods I have lived in. Human scale being what it is, it is the little neighbourhoods that you live in or work in that matters – irrespective of whether you live in one of the most populated cities of the world or in one of the more remote little towns. The other interesting thing I notice is that my recollection of a place is forever tinged by my emotional state at that time.

Take Connaught Place in New Delhi for instance. I was young, single, thought I was in love, had a job that gave me a relatively relaxed time & a few Rupees in my pocket. To me, Connaught Place & its environs is still about lazy afternoons, pottering down Janpath, eating cutlets at Bankura next to the Cottage Industries Emporium, occasionally living dangerously with a cold coffee at D’Pauls and regularly catching plays at the NSD or Shriram centre. Continues to be my idea of bliss.

Or take downtown Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where I worked for 6 months about 15 years ago. My recollections of this place are of the extremely hot sun, the regular calls of the muzzein, the steel & chrome facades of the office blocks and of a huge mall filled with shops, eateries and vast echoing hallways without people. Surreal.

Or Prabhadevi in Mumbai where my young family spent a couple of years. Facing the sea on a llth floor flat with lots of space, conventional wisdom suggested I had pretty much reached home-nirvana in Mumbai. But, I never got to like it. The awful dirt at the beach was a huge put-off. So was the idea that my little kids had to stand in a queue at Shivaji Park to get on to a swing (a queue for kids to get on a swing!). So, inspite of the world’s best seafood & very nice people, Mumbai could not hold me for long.

Other interesting neighbourhoods I lived or worked in include Chanakyapuri, Vasant Kunj & Greater Kailash in New Delhi, Perth Road in Dundee, Scotland, Lavelle Road in Bangalore, Jawahar Nagar in Trivandrum, Valmiki Nagar facing the raw power of the waves off the Bay of Bengal in Chennai & many more..

Middle-east food

Here is a video of a Fattoush – a lebanese salad

A few days ago, Kunal Vijaykar’s show on TimesNow showed a Parsi family making an Iranian mutton dish called Khoresh Badenjan. We tried it out last night. Turned out to be very good – the trick, like in almost all middle-east food is in getting good mutton. And Ali has a good eye for mutton. So, it turned out great.

Mesopotamia, Persia, Euphrates, Tigris, Egypt – the middle east has had no dearth of ancient civilizations. And food is most certainly one of the region’s great contributions to world civilisation.

One of those lingering memories of my life is of a simple turkish dish in a small eating-house in a city called Al-khobar in Saudi Arabia. A plate of lightly roasted chicken served on a fresh platter of mixed herbs – I can smell the divine aroma after 15 years.

The land of Astarte & Adonis

LEBANON. Like most other people, the first sign of this word makes me want to dive to the floor and scan desperately for the nearest bomb shelter. After all the “disturbing images” we have seen over a lifetime, it is difficult to associate this land with anything other than strife & bloodshed. But Colin Thubron in his wonderful book “The Hills of Adonis”, writes about an ancient and fertile land which is not just bucolic but is in many ways a crucible of civilisation. Continue reading

Christian bye-pass, across the Rub-al-khali

(An unlikely video of Saudi Arabia – scuba diving in the Red Sea, Jeddah)

I lived in Saudi Arabia for six months in early nineties and am I thankful to fate for that. Tourists rarely go to Saudi Arabia – the only outsiders (reluctantly) allowed in to Saudi Arabia are expat workers. As one such, I landed in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Continue reading