An evening at Savannah Bar

I am traveling back to Baghdad early in the morning after spending more than a month in India with my family. My flight from Delhi airport is at 4:20 a.m. to Baghdad via Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways. I reached Delhi today from Ranchi at around 6:00 p.m. by Air India flight.

My old school friend Aranjit messaged me to meet and so we contacted each other on reaching Delhi after checking in at Hotel Radission Blu Plaza. It’s just across the airport and very close by. It’s convenient to catch flight from this hotel as I could save the traveling time to airport from hotel.

I invited Aranjit to my hotel. He came to the hotel. We then went to Savannah Bar to have some drinks and chat. Savannah Bar is a nice bar with good quality stuff.

We decided in favor of Ballantine’s scotch whisky with some chicken tikkas and crispy fish chillies. Aranjit preferred his whisky with soda while I preferred it on the rocks. We had a cool three round of whisky and nice chats about our lives and politics. It was an excellent evening spent with an old school time friend. It was damn relaxing talking to him. He left for his home after 10:30 p.m.

Thanks to my friend Aranjit I had a wonderful evening.

My birthday 2014

I am on vacation during my birthday after a long time. I am with my family but  we three of us can’t be together on my birthday March 21, 2014 as Babai is in his institute in Gangtok. Jaya & I are undergoing medical checkups and consultations at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in Kolkata.

We visited our son Babai in Gangtok for couple of days and to be together during the auspicious occasion of Holi. We reached Gangtok from Ranchi on March 15, 2014.

To our surprise, Babai arranged a small, nice cake as we reached our hotel to celebrate my birthday. He arranged this as he would not be with me to celebrate my birthday. It was so nice of him.

Thanks Babai. God bless you!

On March 21, Jaya’s friend Rina invited us at their house. After our consultations with the doctor at Apollo Gleaneagles Hospital, we went to their house. On the way, Jaya bought a nice cake from Flury’s at Park Street, Kolkata. Also, Rina’s husband Subhro brought another cake! I cut both the cakes.

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This time, it’s a lot of celebration of my birthday! The cutting of cake was followed by lovely dinner prepared by Rina. Thanks Rina and Subhro for celebrating my birthday.

Dark black after double black

It’s the last day of our two-day seminar in Erbil. In the evening, I was relaxing at the Arbelia Bar in the hotel. I was sipping my second round of Black Label scotch double on the rocks accompanied with some pistachio nuts and potato wafers.

CAM00261Then I received a call from my colleague Ouss asking me to go with him for some walk and food. He was waiting at the hotel lobby. I finished my drinks and joined him. Oday & Bilal also joined us there. We went to Dream City on the Airport Street.

We went in Barista Coffee shop. It’s a cool night. It’s around 10:30 pm.  I opted for hot dark black chocolate drink.

The café is quite nice with some sitting arrangements outside also. Interior is also quite good. We chatted over our drink there.

After an hour we left the café for burgers at Dal’s Burger. Ouss is a great fan of Dal’s Burger. It was past midnight when we reached there. We were the last customers of the day.

CAM00264After having chicken burgers, we returned to hotel. We walked almost half the distance in the chilly night and then took a cab as Oday was feeling too tired to walk anymore. We reached our hotel at 1:30 am.

The Citadel of Erbil

We reached Erbil today for a two-day seminar from Baghdad. In the evening, I went towards the Citadel along with two of my colleagues – Ouss and Oday. The parks and the roads have been beautifully illuminated.

Erbil Citadel or Qala’t Erbil, which is situated dramatically on top of an artificial, 32-meters high earthen mound, and visually dominating the expansive modern city of Erbil, is believed to have been in continuous existence for 7000 years or even more. Thus, it may be regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. The earliest evidence for occupation of the citadel mound dates to the 5th millennium BC, and possibly earlier.

The present name of “Erbil” is derived from the Assyrian word “Arba-Illu” meaning “Four Gods”. The Assyrian city of Erbil was thus a sanctuary for four worshipped gods.  These included Ishtar, the great goddess of love and war, and Assur, the national god of Assyria. The other two gods are not yet known.

In 331 BC, the Achaemenid king Darius lll was defeated by Alexander the Great in Erbil.

Although there are many fortified and military citadels in the world today, there are only a few surviving citadel towns anywhere.   Erbil Citadel is unmatched in the region not only because of its nearly 7000 year history but also because it is a town inhabited by people and not a military structure. The Citadel is today one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites not only in the Middle East but also in the world.

We walked around as there were a lot of decorations and lighting because of New Year celebrations. There’s a huge clock tower in front of the citadel.

We enjoyed hot baked, stewed broad beans in chilly winter night. The temperature at that time was around 3 degrees Celsius.

In such chilly night, next best thing is to sip hot tea. We went to a tea joint by the road. It’s crowded. Also a few people were playing ‘Backgammon’. We had to sit outside on the pavement. There’s no table. There were some plastic chairs and a few stools to keep the tea cups & plates on.

20140108_212015We had two cups of tea there. The tea was excellent. There was street kebab vendor. He was also selling stewed broad beans.

CAM00255Some people were eating the beans stew with Iraqi bread – sumoon.

After that we walked back to our hotel – Erbil International Hotel.

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Bahrain trip

I went to Bahrain on December 9, 2013 on an official trip. My four other colleagues went to Bahrain two days before me. So, I traveled alone to Bahrain. As Gulf Air doesn’t fly on a Monday, so my bank booked me in Qatar Airways via Doha.

Bahrain is a small island country situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is believed to be the site of the ancient land of the Dilmun civilization and later came under the rule of successive Parthian and Sassanid Persian empires. Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris, Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times. It was an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

The flight from Baghdad was in the afternoon so I went to the airport after attending the office until 2:00pm. There’s a nice café – Gate Café at the departure Terminal. I went there to have coffee before boarding the flight.

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Cafe at the departure terminal of Baghdad International airport

I reached Doha. This is my first visit to Doha airport. It’s situated on a very big area. The arrival and departure & transfer terminals are quite far off. The bus that carries the passengers from airplane announces the terminals so that they get down at the right terminals. Also, Qatar Airways have color coded the boarding pass jackets to help the passengers.

Since I had to catch the next flight for Bahrain so I got down at the ‘Departure and Transfer Terminal’. This is the main terminal at Doha and handles all economy class Qatar Airways flights as well as all other airlines using the airport.

Duty Free Shops at Doha International Airport

My next flight for Bahrain was in 2 hours so I spent the time easily walking through the duty-free shops at the terminal. Doha-Manama is a very short distance journey and took around 40 minutes to reach there. On arrival, I am told that my original visa is not deposited with Marhaba. I then contacted the sponsor of the visa and they talked to the Marhaba official. Then they charged me BHD 8 for stamping the visa on my passport. I reached Intercontinental Regency Hotel around 10:20pm. The hotel lobby has been beautifully decorated for forthcoming Christmas season.

Lobby of Hotel InterContinental Regency Bahrain

Decorations for Christmas at the lobby of hotel Intercontinental Regency Bahrain

A model of Santa Claus at the Hotel InterContinental Regency

I just had a chicken sandwich and beer and then went for sleep.

My hotel room had a nice view of a part of the city.

A view from my hotel window at InterContinental Regency Bahrain

Next three days we had official meetings for most of the day. In the afternoon, I used to go for walk alone to explore the neighborhood. There’s a nice Bab Al-Bahrain market nearby plus the old traditional Manama souq.

Bab Al Bahrain

There’s a beautiful Bab Market, but it’s not fully occupied and there’s no crowd although there were two restaurants.

Bab Market, Bahrain

I used to have some snacks or coffee at various restaurants or cafés.

In the evenings, after shower I used to go to the Club lounge for some wine and snacks.

We were also hosted a dinner by our service providers at a nice Italian restaurant – Oliveto.

On the last day, after our final meetings I was casually walking on the road and found an interesting building. I saw a few women came out of a car and entered the building. I also walked into it. It’s the World Trade Center.

World Trade Center towers in Bahrain

The ground floor has many internationally renowned brands’ showrooms plus café too. After going around the shops, I sat down with iced mint condition mocha at Caribou Coffee. It is real chocolate – dark, milk or white – melted into steamed milk and combined with rich espresso and mint flavor, topped with whipped cream.

There was a pianist in the next café playing nice music.

Teeba & Rasha came to the Club lounge to invite me to go with them to City Centre. I finished my wine and went with them. Yesterday was our day of returning. We took 11:10pm flight to Doha. We reached Doha just around midnight. There’s a nine-hour layover in Doha. There’s no transit hotel in Doha airport. We are forced to spend the night stretching partially on chairs. I tweeted about the plight yesterday morning. Qatar Airways suggested me in their reply tweet to use Oryx lounge.

We went to Bahrain International Airport to catch the flight to Doha. The airport is also getting ready for the Christmas.

A decorated Christmas tree at Bahrain International airport

We went to the Oryx lounge. They charge USD 40 per six-hour per person. It’s quite crowded. We somehow managed to find three chairs for us.

In the morning, we went to board the flight as scheduled at 8:10am. The scheduled departure time is 9:00am. The gate opened and we were ushered into a bus and taken to our airplane. We all took our seats and the doors closed as usual. But, the plane was not moving. After around half an hour, the Captain announced that the delay was due to closure of the airport by the air force as they were rehearsing for the Qatari National Day scheduled on day after tomorrow and our plane is at serial number 27 to take-off!! The plane ultimately took off with a delay of around 90 minutes.

As we reached Baghdad airport, it was crowded with pilgrims for Arbaeen from neighboring gulf countries. So, the visa processing and passport control took more than an hour today.

Anyway, it’s all well that ends well. I reached home safe.

Ash soup!

Today, our colleague Ibrahim brought some thick soup from his home, cooked by his mother. My colleagues told me it’s Ash soup when I asked its name. The name sounded weird…Ash!! Ash for eating! But looking at the plate I couldn’t find any such matter. They said that it’s an Iranian thick soup. It’s called “Ash”.

I then searched about it on internet. Ash is Farsi for soup. Wikipedia enlightened me. Ash is a part of Iranian cuisine, and it is usually served hot. It is a truly ancient dish of which there are hundreds of different versions.  Depending on the type of ash, it could contain different types of grain, legumes (chickpeas, black-eyed peas, black beans and lentils), vegetables, herbs (parsley, spinach, dill, spring onion ends, coriander, dried mint), onions, oil, meat, garlic, and spices, such as salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron, etc. Depending on the ingredients, Ash can be considered as a full meal.

The food was delicious but quite heavy too, with lots of proteins in it. Thanks Ibrahim and also thanks to his mother for cooking and then sending ‘Ash soup’ for us.

A nice rain holiday

Because of heavy rains yesterday, the Government of Iraq declared a public holiday in Baghdad today. Subhash and I decided to go to Mansour Mall to pass some time and to purchase some items for our household.

At around 4.00 pm, we hired a cab and went to Mansour Mall along with a security person. Because of rains and waterlogging in the city, there was not much rush inside the mall today. We also encountered some waterlogging on the way. The top floor of the mall houses the food plaza and children’s play zone and this floor usually remains very crowded. But today, it was empty. Only a few people were at the food plaza, while a couple of kids were playing in the play zone.

We went to KFC (not to be confused by the acronym – it’s Krunchy Fried Chicken!) and had some fried chickens. We went round the mall. Then we down to the supermarket situated at the basement of the mall. We bought our requirements and a few utensils.

We returned home after having ice creams and with burger meals for our dinner. We spent a cool 4-hour at the mall. We had the burgers and the fries with scotch at home.

It’s a nice holiday spent thanks to rain yesterday.

Keema & Rice

Our colleague Ibrahim today brought keema and rice from his home for us.

Keema is a traditional South Asian meat dish. Originally this word meant minced meat. It is typically minced mutton curry with peas or potatoes although it can be made from almost any meat, can be cooked by stewing or frying, and can be formed into kababs. Keema is also sometimes used as a filling for samosas or naan.

In Iraq, cooking keema during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram is an Ashura ritual and often lasts until Arbaeen, 40 days after the day of the death of Imam Hussein, or the Day of Ashura. Iraqis make keema from chickpeas, meat, tomato paste, spices, salt and dry lemons – known locally as Basra lemons  in large pots and distribute the food to friends and people going in processions to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

Keema was quite tasty and nice. Thanks Ibrahim!

Colleague’s wedding in Baghdad

Mustafa, a young colleague in my department got married today. They arranged the wedding function at the Iraqi Hunting Club, Baghdad.

Ibrahim said that they would reach the club at around 5pm. He called me at 4.50pm to inform me that he had reached. So, we got ready and reached the club at 5.30pm. Mustafa and his wife Sara also reached there then. I met him and congratulated him at the portico.

We went in. It was a bit early as the guests were then just coming in. The main hall was decorated for the wedding ceremony. A few of our colleagues had also arrived by then. We sat on a table. Other guests and colleagues started walking in.

006Mustafa & his wife walked in the hall with some small display of fireworks inside the hall. They danced in the middle for some time. Others joined there. It was followed the ceremonial cutting of cake. The dance continued while the DJ was playing some Arabic songs & music.

Local traditional musicians also came and played some songs & music to which many men & women danced and sang together. Although I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I liked the beats of the music.

The newly married couple then went to the stage, where the bride was put on some gold ornaments by the groom. While we were watching this and talking among ourselves the cake pieces were distributed and then the salad was served.

Photo-session started thereafter. The friends and family members were getting them photographed with the newly married couple. We colleagues from our department also went to the stage to bless the new couple and for a snap with them.

Then the dinner was served. It started with bread and kebabs. Subhash only eats vegetarian foods on Saturdays. So, we took leave from our friends and went out. We went to City Center restaurant in the club premises and had a vegetable pizza and then returned home.

It was nice that Mustafa got married and also this is the first wedding ceremony that I attended in Iraq.

May the God bless the new couple and their married life!

Dinner with Akhtar

Akhtar came back to Baghdad last week. He called me in the afternoon to invite us for a dinner with him at his house. We decided to go to his house at 7ish.

We walked down to his house at 7.15pm. He made quite an elaborate arrangement. We had several rounds of Chivas Regal while watching British PM and the Parliament discussing on Syria. We had papad and some dal sev in the snacks.

At 9.30pm we moved to the dinner table for dinner. He has an Indian cook. He cooked Dal, Subzi, Chicken in white thick gravy and pulao. He also kept a few kuboos. The dinner was nicely cooked and was delicious.

In the dessert, we had kheer. After gossiping for a while, we took his leave and walked back to our house.

Thanks Akhtar for the nice evening, and lovely drinks and dinner.