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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A week past, and for a week ahead

I write this on a Saturday, the usual off-day in KSA, and at approximately noon-time. I am quite satisfied with the progress of my application to end my service here, for reasons that I cannot make public here. I have had a great time here in Saudi Arabia. Three years of my service ended in mid-November 2014, but I could not terminate my contract at that time as I needed to work here for at least another year. However, on coming back here from my India vacation, I have chosen to resign from here and plan to leave as soon as possible to be with my family in India. 

In the past week, I started my resignation process by first drafting a request letter at the Muderiya with my ex-Medical Director Dr. Shehab, who works in the mutaaba department (which investigates complaints from patients). He wrote out my letter in Arabic. With this letter, I went to my hospital director Mr. Ahmed Farah, who read the letter and immediately agreed on my request. A few days later, armed with this letter and a few formal papers that I got from the HR department of my hospital, I returned to the Muderiya, and after romping through different areas of the directorate, I finally submitted my papers to the relevant person, and returned the same evening to the hospital.

The next day, news arrived that I would be serving a substitute duty in Zalm for a whole week beginning the coming Sunday. Well, I tried to refuse this, as I thought the Muderiya might need my help the next week - and perhaps the Director of Health Affairs of Taif might want to speak with me and try and dissuade me from resigning. (There is a shortage of doctors in the Kingdom, but in Taif to a maximum extent.) However, the medical director and his assistant Mr. Mutaib called me to their office and asked me to go to Zalm, and gently reminded me to be on the good side of the Muderiya, or my resignation process could "get" delayed.

Hence, I acquiesced. I will go to Zalm tomorrow. In the meantime, I am busy packing my things ... I have already nearly finished packing my books, and half of my eatable stuff. Clothes and utensils from the kitchen are yet to be packed. Also, I am trying to negotiate with people who might want to buy off my furniture, appliances, etc. And, of course, my car. Let us see what happens ...

Thank you for reading this specially relevant installment of my blog.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Back in the Kingdom

From the 4th of the month of February until the 15th, my family and I spent quality time vacationing in Rajasthan. After my return, some circumstances forced me to delay my return to the kingdom by 5 days, but now, I am happy to inform everyone that I am finally back in Saudi Arabia. However, this time I have special news to share ... viz. that my results of the final MRCPCH exams were announced online yesterday, and I have passed! 

I also wish to share that I am here to apply for a premature exit as the home circumstances have changed. Let us see how this procedure goes.

Yesterday night, or rather today, early in the morning, my Saudia airplane touched down at King Abdul Aziz International Airport at Jeddah. From here, I travelled in a private taxi to Taif, reaching there at half-past four in the morning. I checked in at the usual Hotel Ahle Saif, and rested here. As I write this, it is nearly time for afternoon tea. Let us see how this day goes.

Thank you for reading this entry, which, perhaps, has nothing exciting to share.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rajasthan 2015 - Feb 5th - Day 2: Jaipur Sight-seeing I

We began our drive-back from Ranthambore to Jaipur the next morning. Before we left, we took a good breakfast in the dining hall of the Tiger Machan. Our driver came by at half past eight, and presently, we were on the road back to Jaipur. The road to Jaipur from Ranthambore is pretty straightforward, as it goes over NH 62, also known as Sawai Mansingh Road all the way from Jaipur for several miles.

On the way, we stopped (and not just today, but pretty much on all travelling days) at a road-side canteen to have tea and biscuits. We reached Jaipur around 12.30 p.m. Instead of proceeding to our hotel, we began Jaipur sight-seeing from today itself. The itinerary was to go to Amer and see its famous fort and palace today, but as it transpired, we realised that it would be futile to go to Amer today as the elephant rides from the base of Amer fort to its top are closed after noon each day. Hence, we decided to visit the other attractions of Jaipur today.

We began with a visit to the famous HAWA MAHAL - the five-storeyed palace of an erstwhile king that symbolises Jaipur as nothing else. This is a magnificent structure that looks like a cardboard cut-out from the outside, but expands into a huge building once you enter it from a non-specific gateway that is situated inside a niche next to a garments shop. We hired a guide, who, as it turned out, also knew French and Russian. He would regale Hannah with his French, and after we had finished, we found him entertaining a Russian female with a native Russian song.

The palace itself has five floors, each signifying something different. As you ascend upwards (there are ramps and long passages to climb up, and stairs only occasionally), the rooms become slightly smaller, until, at the very top, you see spires, domes and small rooms with look-outs for the Jaipuri royal women. We learned that Hawa Mahal was meant only for the royal females, who, in those times, had to stay behind walls, and reveal nothing of themselves. They were allowed to "look out" of small face-windows, of which there were tens on each floor. Here are some pics we took.







After this, we went to visit to the CITY PALACE. This is a private palace owned by the present king of Jaipur. He loans out the grounds to the people at large to conduct their weddings, so, when we arrived there, preparations were on for a new wedding for that evening. It was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary people's wedding, but something exclusive - for some billionaire family. The mandap was huge; floral decorations alone would have cost lakhs of rupees, since they were mostly made from imported flowers. 

Outside the main gate
This is the portion you enter once you go in
This is 1 of the two silver pots the ex-king filled with Ganga-jal and took with him to London in the 1960s
Floral decorations for an evening wedding

After this, when we entered the palace proper, there was a stiff camera fee, so we passed. Whenever we had the chance, we took pictures with our mobiles. It was a good palace, no doubt. There have been additions made to it by successive kings over the past 400 or more years. However, the present king still lives here in one of the large wings of the palace. 

My Trip Advisor on Jaipur

Rajasthan 2015 - Feb 4th: Day 1: Mumbai - Jaipur Airport - Ranthambore

We had an early flight (0550 hours) from the Mumbai domestic terminal, and we arrived in Jaipur at a little after 0700 hours. It was a good, though a no-frills flight from Go Air. Our baggage was a bit overweight (4 kg, in fact), but they allowed us to go through. The airport at Jaipur is a small one, with just one baggage retrieval carousel. We got our bags pretty soon, and when we emerged outside, our travel driver, one Mr. Jitu (Jitendra Singh Rajawar) was waiting for us with his Toyota Innova. He is a humble, very nice and useful man, and would be the driver to choose if one wants to travel inside Rajasthan as well as in the places around this state, and if one wants, I can happily share his telephone numbers with them. He drives a company car, though, so you would have to negotiate with his company to get him to be your driver. 

His car was always spic and span. Although it is a relatively new car, you know what happens when the driver chooses not to keep the vehicle clean. Well, Jitu is a real oddball when it comes to maintaining himself and his car. Always dressed in neat clothes, he is athletic too, and walks or runs 6-7 km daily! His demeanour is HUMILITY itself; even that day, he stood with a placard bearing my name, but once I had waved at him to acknowledge his presence, he dropped the placard and folded both his hands in the umiversal gesture of bowing with a "Namaste". He quickly brought his car to the gate and we boarded all our pieces of luggage. The seating was 6 + driver, and while Nishrin occupied one of the middle row seats and Inas likewise, Hannah migrated to the back and I, next to the driver. While some bags were loaded on the top-carrier, many of the small bags fit nicely next to the rear seat. Thus, we left Jaipur airport. Our destination for the day: a direct drive to Ranthambore.

RANTHAMBORE

We checked into a tent-based accommodation at Ranthambore. This place is called Tiger Machan, and it is located just a few km away from the main gate of the National Park. We settled in, Nishrin and I in one tent, and the kids in an adjoining one (Tent nos. 2 and 3), and after some relaxation, we roamed around the grounds, played a bit of badminton, and so on, until we were called for lunch in the dining hall. The lunch was a simple affair of well-cooked food with one chicken item and the rest vegetarian ones. Shortly, we were called to be informed that the "canter", a 20-seater open vehicle that would take us on a Tiger Safari into the park had already arrived, and could we please go there and board it. So, we went. The canter is a strange open-ceilinged vehicle that allows tourists to sit on 2 by 2 seats. It tumbles and rumbles as it drives over rough roads. But it is the ideal safe vehicle from which one should watch big cats and other dangerous animals. 

RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK

Located 160 km from Jaipur and within 10-12 km from Sawai Madhopur town, Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in India. A quick reading at Wikipedia will give many more details. We purchased tickets for the Tiger Safari (each ticket costing 750 rupees) - from the hotel's manager-cum-owner Mr. Shailendra Singh. Thus, when the canter arrived, we were ready!










After entering the park's tiger reserve, anticipation climbed steadily on us spotting tigers. Our guide, a rustic middle-aged man, composed us by claiming that with him at the helm, we would certainly see tigers. He, however, laid down some rules on tiger-spotting, such as maintaining silence, not throwing food or other things at animals, etc. He also assured camera enthusiasts such as I that he would give us good opportunities to shoot - but we should learn to be patient, and be ready to click at a moment's notice. Sure, said I. Our canter moved on.

After a drive past a lake that had several species of waders and ducks, the guide took us deeper into the deciduous forest, until we came to a spot where there were several jeeps and a few other canters parked. Across a small valley and on the opposite hill lazed a young tiger! The next few pictures are of a documentary nature, as I did not have the very long zoom to capture that one very distinctly. However, it was obvious that the tiger was enjoying an afternoon siesta. As we kept clicking, the canter moved up a little, and we saw yet another young one lazing below the first one, the two being separated by hardly 50 meters. Our appetite was whetted even more, and the guide promised us that he would show us more. 








These, then, were the two off-spring of the mother who we might see later on the tour. As we moved on, we saw other citizens of the forest, such as Nil-gai, Sambar, Chittal, Wild-boars, and several birds, the most prominent among them - the ones who stayed with us right from the main gate up until the end - were the Rufous Tree-pies.





We also saw open-billed storks, the red-wattled lapwings, the darter bird,  and the cormorants as also Sheldon ducks and the Indian Crocodile (maggar).








Just as we were turning a bend in the road, there was an uncharacteristic flutter in the grass around us. A few chittal who must have been grazing there emerged and leapt away from the grass, as did several pea-fowl who must have been grazing inside the grass. A roar sounded momentarily, and we knew a tiger was hunting!

The female tiger who emerged from the grass seemed to completely ignore us as it walked past us, and several other jeeps and canters, only to quietly re-enter the long grass where it walked excellently camouflaged.






After this, we tried to re-locate it, found it sleeping inside the tall grass, and waited for her to awaken, but she never did, and so we returned to the main gate at around 6:30 p.m.

We then returned to our camp-site, where we were entertained by some locals who sang, played music and danced for us for about an hour. Lastly, we went back to the dining hall to eat our dinner. By half-past eight, we had returned to our tents, and we went to sleep by ten o'clock that night.












Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rajasthan Trip 2015 - Feb 4th to 15th: Overview

After a long wait, our family finally went on a round trip to the most exciting location within India: Rajasthan! As readers would know, Rajasthan is known for its abiding culture, its colourful, rich heritage, and its palaces and forts. In fact, most tourists from within India and abroad rate Rajasthan as the no. 1 state in terms of the pleasure and excitement it offers to all classes of tourists (barring beach enthusiasts). The main attractions of this state are:


  1. It has many historical places dating back to the first millennium A.C.E. 
  2. The historically rich heritage consists of everything from places, palaces, forts, clothing, culture, food and grooming to cosmetics, decor, traditions and their use of camels in the desert areas for a wide variety of actions. Certainly, without all these things, Rajasthan would have nothing great to offer to tourists. There is but one hill-station (Mt. Abu), no beaches, no mountains, no large rivers, not much in the way of adventure sports, and so on. 
  3. It has many wild-life reserves and sanctuaries. Its much celebrated spots include the Ranthambore Tiger Park and the Keoladeo Wildlife Reserve (better known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary). 
  4. Being mainly a Hindu-religion area, it has a major Muslim religious place, viz. Ajmer, visited by Muslims and even more non-Muslims, as it has a "dargah" of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (Moinuddin Chishti).
We booked our own flights - onward to Jaipur with Go Air, and return via Ahmedabad with Jet Konnect. We then booked the entire journey and hotels with M/s Creative Holidays India, with whom we have earlier done Egypt as well as Sikkim. The point person there was a certain Bhumika Jain, who is a pleasant-mannered girl who coordinated with me as well as with the others in the family to give us a memorable holiday. When I requested her team to give me something special, she arranged to upgrade our stay at many of the places, esp. Jaipur, Jaisalmer and even Udaipur (although a few places weren't so great, but more of that later.)

We left Mumbai on the early morning of the 4th, and returned in the evening of the 15th of February 2015. The next several posts will describe the holiday in more detail. 

Thank you for visiting. Read the next installment HERE.