Sundeep Bhutoria

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Being in Syria

From Lebanon we drove down to Syria – the land of the ancient civilisations. Syria was another kind of experience. It was really difficult to get a visa and that too a tourist visa as neighbour Iraq was on the boil. I had to use my connections and contacted the Syrian mission in New Delhi a number of times for nearly a month before I got the visa.
On way to Damascus from Beirut we faced problems at the Syrian borders getting clearance. Things were messy with a huge queue, few counters and thorough checking of identities and vehicles. I had a trying time convincing the custom and immigration officers that we were just tourists from India. I had no answer to their question as to what interest we had in touring Syria as non-Muslims. A large number of Muslims visit the world famous Grand Mosque of Damascus aka Umayyad Mosque each year.
Thanks to my local Assembly entry ID card that convinced the officials of my bona fides. That was also the time when Syria was being used as a terrestrial passage to enter Iraq illegally.
I stayed at
 Hotel Sheraton in Damascus and the Hotel arranged a good tour guide for me. Then, Syria was a very conservative country and I heard that even the television programs were controlled by the government. The local people had lots of hopes from their young and dynamic leader who was about to take charge.
We visited the huge
 souk market through which we entered the mosque. The souk was huge and you get everything from crystals to cotton. We saw a group of Pakistani and Bangladeshi tourists, settled in Europe and America, who were there to pay their respect. We also went there. My wife and mother wore a niqab-like cloak with a hood to enter the Mosque. It was mandatory to cover the hair out of sight. 
It was a true picture of faith, respect, history and belief (picture).
We managed to reach the only Indian restaurant (owned by a Syrian businessman) with a lone Indian chef and some other support staff as well. He was at the sight of Indians visiting his restaurant and treated us with fabulous food.
ess bee

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