Friday, September 19, 2014

Jeddah: Discovering a mega-city Part 1

This post is a special one as I attempt to describe this amazing city to my readers. My first visit to Jeddah was within a few days of my arrival in the Kingdom nearly 35 months ago. I went there to meet and stay with my cousin Juzer, who is here since 20+ years (as I write this today). His wife Maimuna and his son Abi Talib joined him and making me feel at home as they escorted me to Makkah to perform my first Umrah (read about it here). I stayed with them for three nights, and during the day, I went out on my own to see the coastline on the Red Sea. My first impressions of Jeddah were that it was a really big city, perhaps as big as Mumbai, and similar to Mumbai in many ways, as, like my own Mumbai, it, too, is vertically aligned, stretching out vertically for more than 75 km with the airport at the northern end; it, too, has a humid, warm climate; it, too, is a happening city of its country; it, too, has sea on its western coast, and, like Mumbai, offers a lot of sporting activities for the sea-loving person; it, too, has several malls, eating joints, fast-food chains, etc. and so on.

 However, while there are resemblances, there are several differences too. Being part of a closed-culture country, Jeddah lacks the vibrancy that Mumbai (or, for that matter, any other mega-city in India or any of the other developed countries of the world) offers. You won't see colourful women on the streets, just the ubiquitous black burkha (known as the abaya in the Arabian world) - I can never forget the sea of black in the Food Court at the Red Sea Mall during a visit to this huge, huge mall that I made in 2013. 

What Jeddah gains over Mumbai, however, is its grand scale. The roads are really wide and well-planned. Most roads have service roads and are highways by nature. Speeds of cars may go well above 100 kmph in the mornings, though, in the evenings, the traffic comes to a crawl, and may even get jammed on weekends. What you see is all kinds of cars ... the most expensive cars are not a rarity in Jeddah. I have seen Lamborghinis, the most luxurious Mercs, Subarus, Audis, stretch limos, and what not. People here are rich, and I mean, really rich.

Next, I must mention that each visit of mine has led me to different areas of Jeddah, and each time, I have stayed in new places. This may seem to be paradoxical to my usual way of touring, where I go back to the same old hotel each time (such as at Taif), but the fun is of discovering more and more places in Jeddah. Thus, so far, I have stayed in over half a dozen different places. The best is difficult to define, since most hotels offer the same fare, but the best in terms of location and convenience, for me, was the Imtiaaz Hotel at Al Naseem street - where I stayed last week when I had gone to attend my MRCPCH Clinical Training course. It lacked luxury, as it was their worst located room, but it had all the usual comforts, and I can't complain since it was offered to me at half their usual rates of SR 200 - i.e. at SR 100 per night. There were plenty of nearby food joints, it was just 5-8 minutes away from my course venue at the King Abdul Aziz University Hospital, and all the amenities were functional. The most luxurious was the place I stayed in about 3 weeks ago, when I went to Jeddah for my DHA exams. This was the Deyouf al-Wattan hotel in Al Rawdah. The rate was SR 200 per night, and the room had a lovely, well-equipped kitchen (which, however, being alone, I never used), plus all the usual fare in a well-appointed studio.

Which takes me back to my visit with Dr. Narendra in 2012. We went by SAPTCO bus, and stayed in a place that was just minutes away from the bus stand. This was the Hotel Janoob, and while the room was compact and had no amenities except for the AC and the fan, the convenience of this place was its proximity to several malls in the Corniche area. It was a pleasure to navigate the various malls and do a lot of window-shopping that time.

The Mall area near the hotel Janoob

Another view of the Malls area

The prices of this chicken have hardly increased over the last nearly 3 years ... now it is SR 12 per plate.

The poor-man's flea market with filth similar to that in Indian cities

The back view from my room in Hotel Janoob, 2012

The most popular fast-food chain in KSA where you sometimes need to wait for an hour to have your parcel handed over to you.

Let me end here, and I will describe a bit more about the landscapes and street furniture of Jeddah in my next post.

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