Thursday, May 04, 2006

Amman : city of white stones


My distress of arriving in Amman with non arrival of checked in luggage quickly disappeared with the sight of pounding rain, chill climate with temp in single digit. Those who stay in Gulf can understand the pleasure and joy of cloudy weather with rain that fills up parched lungs with heat and sand of desert.

This was my second trip to Jordan. My previous visit was at Dead Sea using Amman as a transit point for an evening dinner and a movie. This time, all my 3 nights 4 days were in downtown Amman at Hotel Regency. This supposedly five star hotel appears impressive at a distance with its neon signs but apart from convenient location and running hot water there was hardly anything that was worth enjoying my stay. My purpose of the visit was to participate at Arab Nephrology Conference at Hotel Le Meridian. Security cordon at all star hotels in Amman are strict and understandably so, with recent bombing at hotel Renaissance. Hotel porch is out of bounds for all vehicles with huge concrete barricades and metal detector gate at the entrance. But I wonder how that could prevent maniac suicide bomber.

Trees in Amman have unique appearance. Most tress elsewhere have drooping leaves fanning out but in Amman it’s the opposite. Here branches of the tress go upwards at 30-45deg angle and so are the leaves with branches almost clinging to the trunk. I wonder if its nature’s way to conserve water because of extreme heat and less available water, the trees in Jordan looks similar to Christmas tree but the other way around. Jordanians are well mannered, affectionate and friendly arabs. Amman has almost one-fourth of Jordanian population of five million, roads are not so wide yet the city is well laid, maintained and clean. With city built on top of string of mountains, it has more underpass than flyovers. At any point, one can see roads going up and down. It doesn’t take long to notice most buildings are in white. It seems there is law that all buildings be built in white tile. Streets in the city are flanked on both sides with small shops interspersed by kebab stalls and tiny cafes along the traffic junction where rich Arabian coffee is sipped in the afternoon sunshine. This mood is well depicted in CNN – sights and sounds.

The conference was inaugurated by Her Highness Princess Basma, sister of Late King Hussein. I listened to her speech and also had an opportunity to shake hands with her when she came to take round at the exhibition booth. Her eloquence in English language and her modesty impressed me. Her zeal and enthusiasm in empowering woman and disabled children through various schemes is commendable. Her website http://www.princessbasma.jo/public_life.html is informative for those who do not know her. She is also goodwill of UNFPA: United Nations Population Fund.

Previous visit, I had a chance to enjoy luxury of Movenpick Resort at Dead Sea, this time it was the turn to dine at some of the finest Italian and Arabic restaurants in Amman . La Cucina in the serene Abdoun residential area and Romero opposite Intercontinental. Both are compact, cozy specialized Italian restaurants. The change from Italian to Arabic came when I had dinner at Al Huwwara – spacious place with rooftop made up of stained glass, in summer the dining area is moved outside. Chairs are rooted to the ground with center round table embedded with embroidered brass plate inside the wooden exterior. Arabic cuisine doesn’t belong to any particular country but has is combination of influence from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Mezza is from Lebanon and Sweet dishes are from Egypt. Flat round bread “Khoubz" taste better in Al Huwara; perhaps this is because it is prepared in traditional style. Most popular dishes in Jordan are "Musakhan" and Shish-tawook". "Musakhan" is chicken, steamed in a sauce of olive oil, onions and pine seeds baked on bread layered with more onions . Lamb is the most popular than Fish. Sish Kabab with pieces of lamb, marinated chicken and patties of minced and spiced lamb meat cooked over a charcoal fire with onions and tomatoes taste great in these Arabic surroundings. Arabic coffee boiled with Hal (Cardamom), and served in tiny cups flows free as a part of the Bedouin hospitality customs.

Cool Temp, cloudy weather, rains combined with sumptuous food with great friends didn’t make me realize of the lost baggage. In fact it gave me an opportunity to go to the local market and shop survival kit till my luggage with clothes arrived next day. My third luggage - exhibition display panel – is yet to be traced even after a month of my arrival back in Dubai. During my three days, Jordan had more rain than it would have for the remaining part of the year, which made everyone happy except European visitors who were looking forward to some sunshine.

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