Turkey: Cappadocia

Oh hello bucket list destination….!

WhatsApp Image 2019-09-08 at 16.37.46In August 2014 I saw a photo of a cave hotel posted by a traveller called ‘fameisficklefood’ and all I remember thinking is how I had never seen anything quite like it! At that point I had barely travelled and therefore my knowledge and understanding of ‘what’s out there’ was limited. Since the day I saw that photo, I researched the hell out of Cappadocia. I spent ages reading about it, looking at hotels in the area and dreaming of visiting one day. At the time I wasn’t really convinced it would happen but I made a list of places I would like to see and experience.

Our hotel Museum Hotel was an experience on it’s own. It is located in the Uchisar region and feature a terrace with panoramic valley views with a heated outdoor pool.  

It is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever had the pleasure to stay (a close second after our hotel in Thailand)!

Looking back at all the photos from the hotel makes me feel extremely grateful that we were in a position to experience something like it. The hotel was absolutely impeccable. From their service, cleanliness, communication, everything was perfect!

Day 1

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Of course the first thing you think of when you hear the word Cappadocia is ‘hot air balloons’. We started the day off by taking a ride on the hot air balloon. We woke up at crazy o’ clock (around 4am to be precise) as we were going to be picked up around 4.30am. The hot air balloon company collected us from our hotel and took us to a tiny little restaurant for breakfast… which wasn’t anything special.

After rallying at the restaurant, we continued our journey and headed towards the location where we were set to take off from. The experience was amazing, but there weren’t as many hot air balloons around. I think the unstable political situation in Turkey (2016 coup incident in Istanbul and Ankara) definitely had a massive impact on Turkey’s tourism around that time. The locals all commented on how it was unusual for their to be hardly any tourists around.

Roaming around Uchisar

After coming back from the ride, we had the most amazing breakfast ever! As we were the only guests for breakfast that day (absolutely no reflection on the hotel), we took up the option to being served breakfast out on the balcony rather than the dining area. The breakfast spread was such that we had to be served food on two tables in order to accommodate all the crockery!

Ahmed and I have the curse of restiveness when it comes to being on holidays and off we went to explore the local ‘things to do’.

Quad bike tour

Jumping on the quad bikes was never in our plans and actually we were thinking of staying in the hotel and making the most of it. But since neither of us know how to ‘relax’, we both agreed to experience the quad bikes! I am sooo glad we did. I can honestly say that exploring Cappadocia on the quad bikes was a bit of a highlight for me. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. The adrenaline rush was so real!

Day 2

I woke up (and forced Ahmed to wake up) mega early to witness one of the most incredible sunrises covered by the hot air balloons. It felt magical being able to just sit there and take in the beautiful scenery. I think it would be fair to say that whoever visits Cappadocia wakes up early at least one morning to witness this?

Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)

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We decided to hire the car and visit some local places throughout the day. Our first stop was Devrent Valley. For some reason we didn’t really stop here for too long as I think we may have got lost for a little while and ended up driving to our next destination. We it was worth a break and some photo opportunities!

Zelve Open Air Museum

The next stop was probably my favourite part of the day and one that I will definitely not forget any time soon. This cave town was home to one of the largest cave-dwelling communities in the region. Christians and Muslims lived here harmoniously until the 1920’s when the Greek-Orthodox Christians were driven out of Turkey. Muslims continued to live in their Zelve cave homes until 1952 when they were deemed too dangerous to inhabit for structural reasons.

What we liked most about the Zelve Open Air Museum is how freely we were able to explore the different abandoned homes and churches. There were also very few people visiting Zelve at the time, so we were able to roam freely and really imagine what it might have been like to live in this extraordinary homes only a short 65 years ago.

  Pasabag Valley (Monks Valley)

The only memory I have of this place is seeing that lady in the photo on the right. She gave me the most gorgeous smile and waved as I was getting excited about being there. I then waved back and asked her if I could take a photo and she gave me a thumbs up. She seemed so excited that I was taking a photo of her, so I did. I even had a lovely selfie with her that she seemed to be impressed by!

Goreme Open Air Museum

This was another open air museum that we went to. If memory serves me right, we didn’t end up getting the tickets to visit the museum, instead we walked around and enjoyed our surroundings!

Kaymakali Underground City

Derinkuyu Underground City

We ended up visiting two underground cities in Cappadocia during our visit. It was the underground cities that took us by surprise. Even though these were a bit out of the way from Cappadocia, it was worth the visit to see how people had carved out dwellings underground. The concept left us awestruck and we ended up taking a silly amount of pictures. The best thing that we did when visiting them was to book a tour guide who talked us through the history and told us stories about them!

Day 3

Time to say goodbye… to Turkey and to each other.. Until next time!

Dubai

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I have a confession to make. I have never really cared much about visiting Dubai and to be fair, prior to getting married I didn’t really have much knowledge about the Middle East – as you may or may not know from reading my previous blogs.

We got married in April 2015 when I was 25 year old and it was my birthday in June, just a couple of months after the wedding. Just like any girl, especially a sensitive, hopeless romantic who is a proper bollywood ki sauch waaali girl,  I couldn’t help but fantasise and wonder how Ahmed was going to treat me on my birthday. Was he going to bring me flowers? Was he going to take me to some fancy dinner? Will he even remember that it’s my birthday?

After all I had come from a family where I was extremely spoilt and birthdays were always a big thing. This made it extra nerve wrecking. If he does forget my birthday, how will I feel? Being so far away from my friends and family, I already felt lonely and isolated. And with it being Ramadan during my birthday, I didn’t think it would be possible to be out all day exploring. I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to get my hopes up because I would be devastated if my expectations were too high. I didn’t want to be disappointed.

If I remember correctly, Ramadan was due to start 4 or 5 days before my birthday that year.

Ahead of the Holy month of Ramadan starting, it was an uneventful morning when Ahmed woke me up unusually early. As I wasn’t working, the general routine would dictate that I would have stepped out of bed well after Ahmed had gone to work. As I struggled to wake up and had started to rub my eyes, Ahmed announced ‘we’re going to Dubai this evening after work, so pack your bags’. I wish I had a photo of my facial expressions that I could share with you. I couldn’t comprehend what he was talking about. He said he was thinking of telling me in the evening about the trip, a couple of hours before the flight but knew what a control freak I am and decided to give me the full day to pack and get organised.

I spent the entire day panicking and packing. So much excitement and adrenaline, I couldn’t quite believe it. It wasn’t the fact that we were going to Dubai, but the fact that I had absolutely no idea that he had planned it all!

The few hours that Ahmed was at work felt like the longest hours of my life. He eventually came home and we headed  straight to the airport! YEY!

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Seeing this little (read ‘BIG’) bear at Hammad International Airport soon became my favourite sight.

Here are some facts that I found on google about this gorgeous bear:

  • The bear is known as the ‘Untitled Lamp Bear’ and is the creation of  a Swiss artist ‘Urs Fischer’
  • The teddy is made out of bronze and weighs around 18-20 tons and it’s height is 23 feet!

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We flew via Qatar airways and took the ‘bus’ shuttle equivalent of a flight. The journey was only 45 mins long, however, we were served with food and overall an excellent service. This little chicken panini on the right was DIVINE! I’d fly with them again just for the panini!

 

It was quite late by the time we arrived in Dubai. The humid air, the noisy hustle and bustle of Dubai was apparent from the minute we landed. There was something quite unique about Dubai as it was so different to Qatar. There were lots of palm trees covered in fairy lights all along the roads, twinkling everywhere. Dubai straight away seemed more liberal and more diverse than Qatar. It was a louder and more flamboyant version of Qatar I felt.

We arrived at this gorgeous Hotel called ‘Manzil Downtown’. Ahmed had already taken me to one of the nicest hotels for our honeymoon, so I’m not going to lie, expectations were high! He had already spoilt me and showed me the best of what we could have so deep down I was hoping that the hotel would be as luxurious and gorgeous as it was in Thailand…. And it was. The hotel was full of character, located only a few minutes walk  away from the famous Burj Khalifa. The rooms and general decor around the hotel was completed to a high standard and the service was impeccable.

Day 1: Mall of Emirates, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

We started the day off by visiting the Mall of Emirates. I didn’t know the first thing about this mall or what kind of shops were inside. Ahmed said that we’d be having lunch at the HALAL ‘CHEESECAKE FACTORY’. The last time I had any experience of indulging in a Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory was back in 2011, 4 years ago! I was over the moon to be spending our lunch eating there! I think you can see the excitement and enthusiasm on the photo. Little did I know that the surprises hadn’t stopped just there….

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Of course I did not know that Dubai has penguins for crying out loud!! Penguins are supposed to be living in cold climates, right? All my life I have loved Penguins. I find them absolutely adorable. How the male penguin proposes to the female penguin, how the male penguin protects the egg, how they look and the way they walk… I love everything about them. Growing up, my mum would always buy me lots of things with Penguins. Ahmed knew that I loved penguins and it was definitely on my bucket list to meet one, one day.

I didn’t think my wish would be coming true for my 26th birthday though. But it did. He made one of my biggest wishes come true. I got to meet, touch and even KISS a penguin. Just writing about this experience fills my hear with joy.

The Gentoo Penguins reside at the Ski Dubai in the Mall of Emirates. The enclosure consists of several areas including a private pool, a top deck area with rocks, and a private holding area.

We then travelled across to the Dubai Mall. Bearing in mind it was something like 48 Degrees outside. We walked and walked everywhere! I had recently stopped buying clothes and was attempting to live a more minimalist lifestyle so I didn’t want to shop as such. We spent most the time window shopping.

As we entered the mall, I was mesmerised to see a gigantic aquarium all around the Mall as I hadn’t seen anything like it. There were so many unusual things and decor that blew me away.

We walked so much that I was getting really tired. I wasn’t used to being in the heat for so long and hadn’t walked much since being in Thailand. I eventually asked Ahmed to stop for a break. We came across ‘Granny’s Waffles’ and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted. We sat down and ordered the most delicious crepe and waffles to date! The crepe was so thin and fresh, and they weren’t shy of spreading lots of nutella. I was in a happy place!

Just as I thought that the evening was approaching, I thought it was time to head back to the hotel. But wait, of course Ahmed wouldn’t plan such an itinerary. I kept asking him why we were hanging around and what we were waiting for. I didn’t realise he was planning on taking me to the WORLD’s highest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

Ahmed had booked some sort of a VIP tour where we were showered with amazing hospitality. We were given refreshments and drinks. The group only consisted of a handful of people and we skipped all the other queues. We made it just in time for the sunset.

After being blown away by the amazing views, sky scrappers and a gorgeous sunset, Ahmed was keen to get back downstairs. I couldn’t understand why. Surely this is it. Surely the surprises are going to end now. But no. We ended up making it just in time for a boat ride along the mall and watched the ‘Magical Dancing Fountains’ from a small boat.

Our views were completely clear. It was romantic and peaceful as we had the best views and I of course had the best company.

We headed back to the hotel and I was overwhelmed, overjoyed and thrilled to say the least. I had just had the most amazing day of my life. I had absolutely no idea that my husband was going to blow me away with all these surprises and bucket list goals!

TMI Info about to be shared!!!!! 

We went back to the hotel and I was extremely sick. I couldn’t sleep due to having severe migraines and pains in my head. This along with S&D, I thought i was going to die. No joke. I had never felt so faint and in agony before in my life. I know it’s TMI (too much information) BUT it’s important. At around 3am, I was almost close to tears and feeling guilty for ruining our perfect day. I was upset that after planning everything to perfection, Ahmed was going to be disappointment that I was so unwell. But he wasn’t. He was more worried about how I was as I even started to cough up blood from being so sick. He then found the nearest pharmacy and got me some tablets. We realised that I had probably had heat stroke due to exhaustion and the heat that I was exposed to.

We decided that the following day we would make sure i stay dehydrated and remain in the shade as much as possible.

Advice & Tip: STAY HYDRATED AT ALL TIMES!!!

Day 2: Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis and Boat ride

I woke up fresh as a daisy, feeling super refreshed and energised even though we had such a horrible night to begin with. Nothing a good shower and breakfast can’t sort out!

We got into a taxi and headed straight to Palm Jumeirah. WOW. The queues were long and there were tonnes of tourists all over the place. Old and young. People from all walks of life, fascinated and amused by the beauty that they were surrounded by. I too had never seen so many different species of the sea life. All different colours, shapes and sizes. It was magical to see! There is a restaurant there where you can have a meal amidst scenery of surpassing loveliness.

After seeing the aquarium, we headed towards a boat ride across Dubai. I had been on many boat rides before, but this one has got to be one of my favourite boat ride experiences ever!! As it was scorching hot, I couldn’t wait for the breeze to hit my face and for the ocean waves to hit me all over.

We were in a boat of around 8 other people. All foreign tourists.

(insert the story about the german speaking of terrorists)

As you can see, the views were incredible. We were lucky as the weather was so clear.

Andddd it is a wrap! This was it. Our very, super quick weekend in Dubai for my 26th Birthday.

After writing this blog-post with the itinerary, I feel inundated with emotions. I actually cannot believe how much organisation and planning Ahmed must have done for this trip to be so perfect. I could never, in a million years have envisaged to have had the most amazing trip with my best friend. I truly feel blessed and grateful to have had the experiences that we did. Truly thankful to Ahmed for being so thoughtful and making my 26th birthday one to remember.

I really don’t think any other birthday’s are going to come close to this one.

This is also where my itchiness for travel began. We had been married for a couple of months and had already explored three countries together. I was desperate to travel more and explore more.

Our next trip abroad was to Saudi when we went for Ummrah. I will be posting that one next, so keep tuned! I am pretty sure you guys will quite enjoy it. It was very personal and emotional to write.

Qatar

 

My Qatari Journey

After spending the most gorgeous few days in Thailand for our honeymoon, it was part 2 of the honeymoon. Well for me at least.

I had never been or seen any place like the Middle East. The lavish lifestyle, the brunching trends and the exaggerated bling was all new to me. Prior to meeting my ‘better’ half, I didn’t even know it existed or where it was on the map (yep, this is true). I had very little, if any understanding or knowledge about Qatar or in fact the Middle Eastern culture. In fact, I had absolutely no desire to travel to Dubai or any of the Middle Eastern countries at that point. And O boy how all of this changed.

Moving to Qatar was a challenge. A country so unfamiliar, so alien to my usual surroundings. The foreign language, different culture, unusual clothing and not forgetting the scorching heat was everything that I wasn’t used to. Without my friends and family, I truly thought I was going to drown in my loneliness at times. After spending the first few days setting up my little apartment, I realised I had lots of spare time on my hands. Feeling isolated and alienated I wasn’t sure I would ever fall in love with Qatar; and O boy how all of this changed.

I have realised that as goings get tough, the tough don’t get going straight away, they curl up in bed and contemplate their life, sulk and feel sorry for themselves, and eventually build up the will to get tougher. This and the sudden realisation that I can’t even cook pasta or know how to boil an egg suddenly dawned upon me.

It was overwhelming.

There were so many emotions running through me but I didn’t want to share them with anyone, especially not my family because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I wanted to be the strong and independent person my parents raised me to be. I wanted to enjoy what Qatar had to offer. I wanted to make the most of this time and upon reflecting back was a very precious time at the beginning of the new chapter in my life.

It’s so easy to fall into a vicious void of emptiness, but I was not prepared for that to happen. I kept myself busy by praying, cleaning, ironing and cooking but I needed more. I started to look for jobs, went to the communal gym and caught up with friends via all social media apps… as you do! Thank the Lord for technology, right? Hallelujah!

After Ahmed finished work, we would always go out. Somewhere new, somewhere exotic, somewhere fun (for me anyway). The evenings were always a good laugh and something to look forward to.  There was so much to soak in and experience every time we went out. I still remember the warm breeze against my face, my taste buds going crazy over humous, kibbeh and batata harra (mezze from the Lebanese cuisine) as we smoked sheesha in the courtyard of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Or listening to a live orchestra in the gorgeous Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) park, full of people from all around the world.

The weekends brought me the most excitement though. I say ‘weekends’, but it was only the Saturday as my husband worked SIX, YES SIX days a week! Those Saturdays however  are going to stay with me forever. I felt that it was everything and more that we needed as newly weds. We hadn’t spent any time together before the wedding, so this was our chance to get to know one another and to spend quality time together.

I soon started work and that was a complete different story altogether. Employment in the Middle East was a real eye opener for me. I soon came to know that the rosey picture that everyone paints of the Middle East is far from reality. That even I was completely unaware of what really goes on behind the scenes. I soon realised the bitter truth that this is a land where there’s a constant battle. A place where only the fittest can survive. A tragic place where when one begins to feel at home, they’re reminded that they’re merely living in a house which in essence was never theirs. Discrimination. Lack of justice. Inequality. Such immoral acts are experienced by many on a daily if not hourly basis. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in places like Doha. The man who served his employers for 30+ years and raised his entire family in Qatar gets informed that he has 28 days to leave the country. His children struggle with their sense of identity and belonging. That is the reality. That is the story for many migrants in places like Qatar, Dubai or others in the Middle East. I guess it is important to be aware and truly acknowledge people’s sacrifices and not get lost in our own little bubble.

Nonetheless, this is also a place where you will meet the most genuine, caring and sincere human beings. People who are selfless and willing to sacrifice a great deal to help others. Pure hearts, with many stories and tales to tell. All nomads, living without a plan. Travellers with an interesting journey. The Pakistani who was raised in Nigeria and  later moved to Dubai and now Qatar. The Pakistani who has spent her entire life in Qatar but knows this is not home. The Filipino nurse who has left her kids in the Philippines so her kids can study. People who want to give and give without wanting to receive anything, and that to with a smile on their face.

I will never forget what Qatar has given me. How much I grew as a person and how much I developed spiritually and personally. Qatar wasn’t only pleasing to the eye but gave my soul comfort and solace in it’s own unique way. I loved every moment of living there and cannot wait to share some of my favourites places. The places that I will truly treasure forever and places that I urge you visit if you ever get the chance to visit this gorgeous country.

Places to visit

The Doha Corniche 

Everyone will tell you about ‘The Corniche’ when you go to Qatar or talk about Qatar.

The Doha Corniche is a waterfront promenade extending for many kilometers along Doha Bay in the capital city of Doha, Qatar. Perhaps around 15-20 mins from the airport. I’d say majority of the good hotels are around this area too!

This is where the locals hang out for hours on end, spending time with their loved ones. You’ll see people sat there having a picnic, flying a kite, exercising or just watching the world go by. I definitely preferred the latter. I could sit for hours people watching and putting the world to right.

You’d see the ‘Labourers’ at the very top of the corniche, in awe of whats around them. Their tired faces and sun burnt skin. That itself that an experience. Seeing the labourers enjoys the few hours a day that they had free from work. But as you went further down the Corniche, you’d start seeing more family friendly and female friendly places where these working class heroes were not allowed.

Best to visit anytime during the winter months and early evenings in summers (unless it is too humid). Overall a perfect place to spend a couple of hours with a iced coffee or an ice cream in your hand or be it a delicious chicken shawarma wrap.

Cost: FREE

Souq Waqif 

Souq is an Arabic word which means “market”. Souq Waqif is a place full of restaurants, sheesha lounges, spices, golds, perfumes, animals and explicitly traditional garments. It’s architectural design of traditional Qatari style has been preserved over years ago with mazes and undefined geometric pattern as it characterises. The Souq will take you back in time and it will definitely give you an experience like no other if you haven’t been to a place like it before.

Located across the road from the Doha Corniche, it’s very hard to miss the Souq which is always hustling and bustling with laughter and joy. It tends to get very busy during the evenings as all locals and expats decide to finally leave their houses and enjoy some humid air! One can spend hours wandering the alleyways of the Souq, smoking sheesha, shopping or just enjoying a hot/cold drink as people walk on by and soak it all up.

Cost: FREE

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and Park  

MIA is a museum located on one end of the long Corniche in Doha. Once you have aimlessly walked along the Corniche, visited the Souq, it is almost time to visit the gorgeous MIA to watch the most beautiful sunset.

Build in it’s very own unique character, MIA is classy, modern and informative. There are tonnes of facilities inside the 5-storied museum, including temporary and permanent galleries, a gift shop, a library, a cafe, and a restaurant. There are also prayer rooms inside to cater to Muslim visitors.

I remember visiting the MIA park for the very first time when there was an orchestra playing. It was a fun musical evening with musicians from all around the world. MIA is known to have lots of different activities and festivities throughout the year. Be sure to check their website to see what events are taking place when you visit. It gives you a real flavour of the culture and most importantly the diversity that exists in the Country.

http://www.mia.org.qa/en/

Cost: FREE

State Grand Mosque

The state Mosque Qatar is one of the largest mosques in Qatar and is a stunning mosque to visit. It is located a bit further than the Souq, Corniche and MIA, so I recommend that you either hire a car during your stay in Qatar or take a taxi to these places!

At night it lights up and you’re left totally mesmerised as you can see the rest of Doha lit up! The coloured stained glass windows reflect on the white marble floor, that is how sparkly clean and prestige this place is! 

Be Warned: In order to enter the mosque, women MUST be wearing an Abaya. I remember the first time I went and didn’t have an Abaya. An Abaya is essentially a cloak which is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world. The security guard quickly ran inside and advised me that I was not able to enter without an Abaya! Lesson was learnt very quickly and I made sure to carry my Abayah around at all times. But Abayas are provided for visitors at the mosque.

Cost: FREE

Katara Cultural Village 

This place was my FAVOURITE to visit on evenings! I loved walking around Katara for hours and ending the evening with some delicious food. I feel that whoever envisioned Katara had great foresight. The location is perfect for people of all ages and all interests. It is located next to a beach, so lots of sand and sea for those that want to sunbathe and swim. There are also lots of different restaurants with various cuisines.  It also has an amazing amphitheater with a grand and opulent structure.

You can visit the Katara website for more information: http://www.katara.net/en

The best thing to do is to visit just before sunset and enjoy that it’s got to offer!

Cost: FREE

The Pearl 

The Pearl-Qatar is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters! Just like the name says, it looks like a string of pearls from above. It predominantly consists of lots of modern, expensive and luxurious residents. However, locals and tourists also tend to visit ‘The Pearl’ to get a feel of the marina, the yachts and the boats. I never went on the boats, but I have been told that some of the boats can be hired and taken to the corniche and beyond.

It also has lots of restaurants and cafe’s which are affordable and relaxing. If you like spotting cars then this is the place to be: we saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis and a variety of supercars scattered all over the car parks. We usually used to stay for around 2-3 hours, just to go for long walks, cold drinks and yes, people watching! Ok so we’re getting a bit of a theme. I love to people watch!

http://www.thepearlqatar.com/EN/

Cost: FREE

The DESERT! 

I was VERY VERY blessed and lucky that I got to experience dune bashing, sun, sand and sea many times during my stay in Qatar. We had a Jeep which meant that we could easily visit the desert as and when we wished. All it meant was that we needed to take the air out of the tyres before beginning our adventure. Mind you, it is the most tiring day out EVER! You don’t realise, but after hours of driving up and down sand dunes, it can hurt your back and make you sleep like a baby at night.

We also managed to find a specific destination in the desert where we always had the ‘beach’ all to ourselves. YES THAT’S RIGHT. We pinned a specific location where we realised no one ever visited. It meant that we had the entire sea to ourselves. So a dip in the sea followed by a picnic and some soothing music was my version of a ‘perfect moment’.

If you’re just visiting Qatar on holiday, I am certain there are tours that you can book in order to get a similar experience. I am not sure what it consists of, but its worth a quick google or if you want more info, I can ask a friend for you!

Zekreet and Film city

If you want to feel that you just got onto your flying carpet and rolled into the world of Aladdin then here it is. The landscape is so unique and captivating! It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere and you’d definitely not be able to get there without a reliable Sat Nav/ Google maps: although after a few visits you will be a pro at locating it.

Film city can be reached from Doha by following a Doha – Dukhan road (about 90 km) then turn right when you see Zikreet route sign. Again, it is probably best to do this via a tour or hiring a SUV and using your GPS to get around.

We only visited this place once and because we were already aware that there were no Cafes/restaurants in the vicinity of this place, we got some food with us and ate it on the way. I’d advise you to do the same so you’re not starving and dehydrated by the time you get there!

The nearest food places are in Dukhan which is round the corner. You can find a McDonald’s and a small market to cater for most needs.

Villagio Mall, Torch Doha and Aspire Park 

If you have some extra time, the places mentioned above are also worth paying a visit. Villagio Mall makes you feel that you’ve magically arrived in Venice or perhaps a copy cat version of Las Vegas’s Bellagio (not that i have ever been there)! But I have heard that the inspiration was from Bellagio in Vegas. The mall has all the high street shops as well as designer clothing. BUT not just that. Villagio has a cinema, indoor theme park, ice skating and some icestone ice cream, NOM! Perfect way to spend a few hours when the heat outside is unbearable!

Villagio was my favourite place to visit for food. The Steak and Chicken Florentine at ‘The Butcher, Shop and Grill’ or ‘Prawn Dynamite’ from PF Chang are a MUST!

So yeah, if it’s scorching hot outside and you are itching you be out and about, Villagio is a great place to hang out and spend time!

Souq Wakra 

HOW PRETTY AND CUTE?! Obviously I am going to be biased. As we lived in Wakrah, Souq Wakra was not very far for us which meant that we visited this little Souq on a very regular basis. At the time this place was fairly/somewhat underdeveloped I’d say as it was a work in progress. This suited me fine because it meant it was less crowded and more intimate for the people who actually went.

Over the months of visiting, you could see it getting busier and busier. More people were becoming aware of it and traveled all across Qatar to visit. It has a variety of cuisines on the beach front, but my favourite drink was the ‘Caramel Crunch’ from Coffee Beanery. My mouth is watering as I type about it. It was the yummiest cold drink I have ever had and I was pretty addicted to it. Even the employers knew my order, I’m sure!

Last but not least, the hospitality in Qatar is exceptional, especially by the Filipino workers who will always be polite and charming no matter where go. Or at least that was my experience. So if you ever visit Qatar, I urge you to always make an effort with the workers who always have a story to tell and most likely have sacrificed a lot to be serving you.

One of the best things about living in the Middle East is definitely the luxury of being able to travel to so many places. While we lived there, we managed to visit Dubai for my surprise birthday weekend and also went for Ummrah over a weekend!

Stay tuned for the next Blogpost about my surprise weekend away to…….DUBAI followed by my Umrah experience!!

Thailand

When my dream became a reality
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Following my gorgeous wedding, which by the way exceeded all expectations and more, I did not for a second imagine or anticipate that my life could get any better.

But it did.

It was something that I did not expect or even think would happen to me. I knew that my husband was going to take me to a ‘surprise’ honeymoon destination, but I did not envisage that it would blow my mind.

Two days after my wedding it was time to leave my friends and family to go to my honeymoon (or ‘holiday’ as I like to call it) before starting a new life in Qatar. I was not sure what to feel or how to react to this change. But I was excited nevertheless.

My dad was anxious and paranoid to say the least. His little girl, his only girl was leaving his ‘patronage’ to be with another man. My husband tried to keep the location a secret until my dad became restless and asked him where it was that he was taking me. Ahmed, hesitantly told my mum and dad where we were going. My dad’s reaction to this was, excitement as well as nervousness. I could see it all over his face. At this moment in time, I still had no idea where we were going!
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I vividly remember being sat in the CIP lounge at Islamabad Airport; sitting next to the man I have known all my life on one side (my dad) and on the other was the man who I was going to spend the rest of my life (my husband). Sat there was also my beloved late uncle who I called ‘Daddy’. Little did I know that it was going to be the last time I was going to see him. Overwhelmed with emotions, I did not really think about the life ahead or even the next destination. My emotions were taken over by the fact that I was about to spend the rest of my life with someone I had seen a handful of times.

Yep, that’s right. I had an arranged marriage. Maybe that’s something for a separate blog post?

As we sat there, all I knew was that the plane was going to Abu Dhabi. Therefore, my only thoughts were that we were going to Dubai. To be honest, Dubai was never really a destination that I had desired to visit. Nonetheless, I was grateful to my husband for organising it and surprising me.

As we got to Abu Dhabi, Ahmed told me we were going to Thailand. At that point in my life, I hadn’t really travelled much so I still was unsure what to expect. Yes, you heard me right… I hadn’t yet explored the world of Instagram and travel bloggers.

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As we arrived in Thailand, I recall a young Pakistani couple getting on the plane. It was almost a reflection of me and my other half. The excitement on their faces seemed familiar. The henna on the newly wedded bride looked similar to my own hands.

The flight to Phuket was uneventful… other than the fact that nearer to the time of landing, the pilot made an announcement for us to peek out the air plane windows as the Phi-Phi Islands could be see. And God were they gorgeous.

Going through passport control at Phuket International Airport was uneventful as well. At least for me it was.

My British passport and I whizzed through passport control without realising that Ahmed had been stopped for further screening. Soon after walking past passport control, I heard someone yell ‘PAAAAKTAAAAAANI PAAAAKITAAANI’.

What was to come was my very own ritual of initiation of having married someone with a Pakistani passport. I don’t mean this as a particularly bad thing; but carrying a Pakistani passport has its own set of caveats and conditions when you travel around (which we will come to in a bit).

When I looked around rather alarmingly to figure out what the ruckus was all about, I realised that the immigration office dealing with Ahmed was waving his arms around, heading towards someone senior I imagine; with Ahmed’s passport in one hand and ushering Ahmed to follow him.

My first reaction was, well, logical: I burst out laughing! Only to realise this was the guy I had got married to!

My stomach did a good few turns and a million thoughts went around in my head. Panic had set in! I was in a foreign country, which a man I had married very recently, with no idea or information about where we were headed… not even carrying my own plane ticket! What if they keep him overnight? What if I have go to the hotel on my own? What I have to go back to Pakistan or back home to the UK? or Abu Dhabi which is where the flight had originated from?

As my mind was doing overtime, I noticed that the other couple were in a similar predicament. However, the guy seemed more aware of the situation and stood next to his new Missus as the immigration was double, triple checking her visa. I looked over at Ahmed who reassuringly smiled back as he had his passport (and other documents) inspected and reinspected. Could this treatment be commonplace?

Ahmed was eventually, maybe 20 mins later, allowed entry. YES! By this point I had already dragged all our luggage off the conveyor belt.

We headed out of the airport and a gush of humid, hot, ‘wet’ air hit me all over. It smelt quite unusual and my first impression was: this appears to be a deprived country!

Ahmed would remind me time and time again how I was acting like someone from the TV series ‘An idiot abroad’. How many of you have seen it?

Oh well, I didn’t care, did I? I was buzzin’!

I looked up and this gorgeous white Mercedes pulled up. I was definitely impressed I must admit. I don’t think if I had ever sat in a Merc before then. As we got on, the driver offered us wet towels to freshen up and then pulled out two cold bottles of water from a small cool box. This alone made me feel a million dollars as I had sweat dripping off my face.

The journey from the airport to the hotel was long. Or at least it felt long. So long that I went through a million emotions of feeling sad, happy, excited, tired, bored. You get the picture, don’t you?

We pulled up at the hotel and were quickly greeted by the most happy people on the face of this planet. Bowing down as they put their hands together welcoming us. The reception room was lavish, bright and charming. As we sat down to check in, they immediately offered us some unusual tea and these gorgeous Jasmine bands for our wrists.

As Ahmed checked in, I looked around the reception room and the TripAdvisor board caught my eye. It was rated as 5* by TripAvdisor and had won a number of awards for being THE BEST hotel in the Phuket area. Once we checked in and all, we were escorted to our very own buggy. I had never been in one of those either, so at this moment, I was completely thrilled.

We rode to our apartment and WOW. I guess the photos below will say it all.

I had tears in my eyes as my heart filled with joy. A tear rolling down my cheek and my stomach going absolutely wild. I genuinely had never expected anything like this in my life and it only got better after it.

Alhamdulillah (“Praise be to Allah”).

I thought I was dreaming. Hallucinating even. But it was real. All of it. As a little girl I grew up dreaming for something like this to happen to me and at that moment in time, my dreams really did become reality!

Day 1: Phi Phi Islands

I woke up to the most amazing breakfast, overlooking our private and gorgeous infinity pool. It was everything and more. The breakfast spread was absolutely mouth watering. The hotel even catered for us to have Halal meat! YUM. NOM.

After breakfast, our ride was waiting outside for us. We were quickly taken to a tiny boat and off we went exploring the Phi Phi Islands. The whole tour was arranged via the hotel, and I have no idea about the cost. However, we (Ahmed) opted for the fast speed boat and we spent the entire day island hopping.

By the way, at this stage, I had no intentions of blogging, or instagramming so the photo quality may be a little poor and I don’t recall all little details as I didn’t plan the itineraries or write down specific notes. Nowadays I try to have things written down as reminders to share with y’all.

Enjoy the pics anyways!

I am not going to lie, this day was very looooong. I was still a little jet lagged from all the travelling and the sea air just knocked me out! It was also really busy as there were tourists in every corner of the islands. Maybe that’s why I don’t even have many pictures from this trip.

I guess maybe that’s why in some ways this holiday was so special. I spent less time taking the most picture perfect photographs and actually enjoyed my time hearing, feeling and experiencing every moment of being there.

We went back to the hotel and luckily the sun hadn’t set yet. We quickly made the most of the infinity pool, sipped some tea, watched the sun go down, witnessed the sky change colour numerous times. It truly was blissful and a moment to remember forever. The kind of picture perfect honeymoon that one dreams of. Well done ‘A’. You did an excellent job. What’s gone wrong now? lol.

Day 2: Safari Tour and Boat trip

I woke up, still in awe of this gorgeous hotel. The sun was shining, the music was playing and as we opened our eyes, we heard a knock on the door. ROOM SERVICE. I laid in bed as Ahmed let them in and helped them lay out the breakfast by the pool. Yep, we had room service for breakfast the entire trip as we wanted to make the most of the infinity pool.

hotel view

We spent the first few hours just hanging around the pool as we waited for a second day of excursions. At this point, to be honest, I still didn’t want to know what we were doing on the day. I was quite enjoying being told on the day where we were going and just to go with it. So I sat back and enjoyed every moment. Quite opposite to how I am now: A CONTROL FREAK!

me before safari

Yep, this is me. Just sitting on the floor, drinking tea.

Anyways! The Safari Tour with the Boat Trip, Yey!

We arrived at this safari place, where we learnt a little about coffee and how they process it. We then continued to find out about what they do with the coconuts. How they grow them, how they make all sorts of things with it. To be honest, this kind of stuff is more something Ahmed enjoys, because I don’t really retain the information well. I mean don’t get me wrong it was good, but part of me was thinking ‘is this it’.

UNTIL…… We got to see some gorgeous elephants. AAAHHH. I have always loved elephants and found them to be so bloody adorable that my heart sank when I saw them for the first time. I’m surprised by this point I didn’t have a cardiac arrest with all the excitement and surprises. We even got to ride an elephant! We fed the elephants! We touched the elephants! It was such a surreal moment.

Dammit. The elephant behind me even picked up my sun screen and sun glasses that fell out of my bag and onto the ground. This is true. The elephant behind me stopped, used his gorgeous long trunk to pick up my belongings and passed them to me. A moment to remember indeed!

The day ended with a short boat trip. Yes, yes I love boat trips! We had our dinner on the boat and watched the world go by. It was romantic, relaxing and just a really nice way to end the day.

Day 3: Tiger Kingdom, Big Buddha & FANTA-SEA

Another day, another excursion. We decided to head to the ‘Tiger Kingdom’. I had seen lots of photos of people with tigers and thought to myself, wow, how amazing. So off we went. We got a taxi from our hotel to The Tiger Kingdom.

Although I don’t really want to share photos from this trip. I kind of feel obliged to share them as well as sharing my opinions and experiences from visiting this place. As we entered, it was really busy and chaotic. There were tourists everywhere, of all ages and from all over the world. The prices to see the tigers were rather expensive I thought, but went with it. Then we noticed that the prices vary depending on how big or little the tigers are. To get a photo taken with the bigger ones was more cheaper in comparison to the little ones. I guess the little ones look even more ‘grammable’ right? EUGH. I regret this, but I still went with it.

I mean, just look at these poor souls. I feel like I messed up. I shouldn’t have given into the hype and paid for these wild life animals to be tortured and drugged for my benefit. But I did. So did many other people. I remember leaving the cage-like rooms where the tigers were kept and feeling an overwhelming sadness taking over. All of a sudden it hit me. I had just paid towards this cruelty. NEVER AGAIN. I promised myself to tell anyone that I meet not to go to places like these. Because it is just awful. Seeing these beautiful creatures being held against their will and being treated so badly for human satisfaction is not okay.

PLEASE DO NOT DO IT. 

Soon after leaving The Tiger Kingdom, our next stop was to see the Big Buddha. I had never seen a Buddha statue that was this big. I had never been to anywhere like it. As we entered the area, the Big Buddha could be seen from miles away! This giant statue of the big Buddha really did overshadow its surroundings. It was a gorgeous place just to walk around and taking in a different culture, religion and belief to our own. Watching people being engrossed in worshipping and praying.

After feeling hot and tired, we headed back to the hotel, only to be told that we had another exciting place to visit called Fanta-Sea: The ultimate Thai Cultural Park. We were collected by a fancy looking van, with Fanta Sea written all over it. We arrived in a very loud, bright and colourful place. I kind of didn’t know what earth was going on!

As we entered, it looked so gorgeous. It was a huge theme park with a massive stage show, a large buffet restaurant and plenty of shops to tempt people into spending more than just the entry fee. Phuket Fanta-sea opened in 1998 and is certainly one of Phuket’s main tourist attractions.

There is also a popular show at Phuket Fantasea. The theater seats around 3,000 people. There are hundreds of performers in the show. I was not sure what to expect, tacky or impressive? Oh and by the way, you CANNOT take the camera into the show. They WILL take your camera/ phone away if they catch you snapping cool photos for the gram or the blog.

The show lasts over one hour with song and dance from different regions of Thailand woven into a tale of the “Kingdom of Kamala”. There are animals, acrobats, fireworks. I personally enjoyed it although I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!

Day 4: RELAX

Although Ahmed had planned another excursion for day 4, we decided to cancel it. We were tired and exhausted and also wanted to make the most of the beautiful hotel. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, enjoying the views and just getting to know one another even more.

A bit of a disaster happened on the last day. As I was laying by the infinity pool taking selfies of myself to send to my friends, my phone slipped out of my hands and fell into the pool. Uh-Oh. My heart skipped a beat. I think I may have even cried. I screamed for Ahmed to come to my rescue. We called the reception and asked them to bring up some uncooked rice. Baffled, they replied ‘we can cook you Ma’am’. We explained it was a little more urgent than that. We were praying for a miracle and had heard that putting the phone in the uncooked rice will fix everything. With a heavy heart, I put my phone into the bag of rice and said a little prayer! MY ENTIRE LIFE WAS ON THERE!

Dramatic, I know.

But considering I wasn’t going to see my friends or family for the foreseeable future, it really did feel that the reaction was justified.  Or at least I think so!

Anyways, there were positives on that day. We realised that we had the entire beach to ourselves and that the mock-tails drinks were free every day! So we made the most of our time left at the hotel. We laughed, laughed some more.

final night

We stayed in the hotel for our last meal. It was absolutely gorgeous. The Thai Cakes and the Thai Green Curry was to die for. Despite the phone disaster I couldn’t help but smile at what a lovely start to our marriage we had had. It was beyond perfect. It was a dream come true.

Day 5: Flight to Qatar….

And this was it. For all I knew, I was going to be spending the rest of my life in Qatar. With a man I had only spent 7 days with.

The next blogpost will be about Qatar…..! Until then, enjoy, like & comment on this post 🙂 

 

My big Mirpuri Wedding

mirpur wedding

You may be thinking, why ‘my big Mirpuri wedding’. Well it is where both, Ahmed and I come from. Our families, our early years of childhood and the actual wedding all happened in Mirpur. But also because we both feel passionate about being a ‘Mirpuri’, although it isn’t a term that is seen or spoken about in positive light. Especially not in the UK. But actually, I am rather proud to be from Mirpur. Mirpur has given me my identity, a sense of belonging and it is a place that I call home.

All my blogs this year are going to be all about re-living, re-visiting and reminiscing back to the time that made me who I am today. I am going to (hopefully) take you back to 2015 when my life changed for the better, in more than one way. It was a life changing experience for me, spiritually as well as mentally.

I feel it is important for me to share this journey with you mainly because of what someone said to me recently.  They commented on how I had ‘changed’.

Amongst thing that were said were comments like ‘[…] seems like you attention-seek a lot’, ‘in some of your posts or blogs, it’s like you’re pretending or being fake’.

As the newer generation puts it: shots were fired.

Yes, it did upset me. Yes, I was mortified. I took a moment to reassess my situation and reflect on what I was doing. Ahmed, on the other hand, didn’t even give a horses’ backside. The bubble this guy lives in: insane!

But you know what, they were right. I have changed a lot. And I feel I have changed for the better. Before 2015, there were times when I could be quite a negative person. Someone who was always complaining or moaning about one thing or another. Don’t get me wrong, I still go through those phases, like we all do; but there was something deeper and darker about the negativity that I carried with me before 2015. But since then I have been living a life that I could have only dreamt of… I have had experiences that I didn’t even know were possible to experience… I have sprouted confidence that I didn’t know I could gain. 

This is not to say that my life before 2015 wasn’t amazing, because it was. I am blessed to have the world’s most amazing parents. Trust me, my friends and family will vouch for this. They are my best friends and my world. People always spoke about wedding and marriage in such a negative manner, that I always had very little expectations. This was the main reason why I wasn’t too sure of what was to come. I wasn’t aware of how much I would grow and develop in just three years.

In 2015, my life took a drastic turn *dark dark background music*. Although it was planned and I had been planning it since 2013 (which is when I got engaged to my better half), nothing could have prepared me for what was to follow.

The wedding.

Organising an event as grand (read ‘laborious’) as an Asian wedding spanning over two continents and three countries- now that was difficult but we pulled it off so it clearly wasn’t impossible.

I was in England, Ahmed was in Qatar, the wedding was taking place in Mirpur. You see where I am going with this, don’t you?

I was based in England and not only in one town. I was having to travel between Bradford and Newcastle on a weekly basis since I was undertaking my Masters programme in Social Work and keeping up with my part time jobs in the North East over the weekends. As you can imagine, the stress was real, for sure.

Ahmed at the time was living and working in Qatar. He had been there for around 3-4 years and that was where I was going to move to after my wedding. So there was that element to it too! The uncertainty, the known.

And then there was the logistical challenge of moving my possessions from the UK to Qatar. When/where/how do I move my belongings? Will they go to Qatar via Pakistan?Where will they be stored?

Trust me, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. 

As I was visiting Pakistan for my friend’s wedding towards the end of 2014, we decided that it would be a good time to get together and spearhead the wedding shopping. Making full use of my better half’s ‘travel light’ theorem, I had covertly planned to hand over a suitcases full of clothes for him to take back to Qatar!

Well, truth be told: not ‘so’ covertly as I had to make sure he could definitely take it with him. But making it out to be a covert plan sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?

Ahhaa.. That worked perfectly. That was one hurdle completed with ease with all the necessary planning and communication.

 Yep. Communication and planning was absolutely KEY to it all. They always are.

As they say, ‘If you fail to plan, plan to fail’.

I also exploited the opportunity in December 2014 to order my wedding dresses and jewellery. This would not have been possible without my mum’s friend who is well settled and established in Islamabad. With her help and support, we were able to arrange and order everything within a week! 

It wasn’t just the planning and the organising that was difficult. It was all the emotions and the feelings that were being more and more intrenched within me. Being an only child to the most wonderful parents meant that I was would be leaving them. In our society and culture, daughters are seen as an ‘amaanat’, a gift to whoever she gets married to. Their life changes completely. In addition to these feelings, there was that pressure. The pressure of how brilliant this wedding ‘should’ be.

We come from a quite well respected and well known family, and the weddings tend to be a big and extravagant affair. This made me full of anxiety and fear.

It made me question who I was.

It made me think about my insecurities of being an only child and I constantly thought about not having any siblings and how if I had siblings it would have been different, if at all.

At times I wasn’t in a good place. I cried. I cried a lot. But I kept telling myself it was going to be okay. That I have cousins that are like siblings and I’m sure they will do what they can… all they can.

Play some loud, over the top bollywood tune and it kicked off. April 2015, the start of the big Mirpuri wedding.

Glimpse of the Dholki nights

A week before my wedding, lots of my cousins from all over Pakistan and UK started to arrive. The house all of a sudden started to become noisy, cheerful and full of laughter. I can remember being over joyed.

With people going crazy all around me, my uncle, may he rest in peace, pulled me to a side and told me in a ‘by-the-way’ tone that my cousins from Germany wouldn’t be able to make it to the wedding.

I clearly remember this as my first heartache during the wedding days.

‘How could they? Why wouldn’t they?’ I asked myself. The concoction of self pity, selfishness and betrayal that ran through my veins at that moment in time made me aloof to the binary fact that sometimes people have commitments and the world, as much as I wanted it to, did not after all revolve around me.

I was devastated.

Fast forward two days; I am sat outside in the veranda and turn around to see someone who looks quite identical to myself making an entrance – I see my two gorgeous cousins entering the veranda. The Germans had arrived! I re-live that moment every time I think about it. It fills me with joy and happiness and a goofy smile plays on my lips every time I reminisce this memory.

Fast forward another couple of days and I am stood at Islamabad ‘International’ airport to receive the only Caucasian person attending the wedding. Having defied all odds, despite all the stereotypical narrative relating to the security situation in Pakistan (though some of it is not far fetched), Becky decided to be there for me on my wedding. Blown away by the love and warmth from everyone, it all seemed perfect.

A little too good to be true perhaps? But it was!

And when I thought there couldn’t be anymore surprises, I was blown away by the kindness and love that was showered upon me.

My cousin, who I see as an older sister, organised and orchestrated a Dholki (a function where family and close friends get together to sing and dance the late in to the night). The togetherness and contentment at the heart of this little family gathering makes my eyes swell up with tears of joy and thankfulness.

Mayoun

Mayoun – lets call it a hen-do of sorts, and then a bit!

Once I had got all prepped and pampered for the event, I actually felt really good. The dress I wore was specially prepared for the event (like all the other dresses *no surprise there*) by my dearest late uncle and his family. I vividly remember my auntie wanting me to try the clothes on, how brilliantly they fitted me, and her gleaming and joyous face to see me in these clothes.

With my hair professionally styled, light make up and flat shoes (fit for dancing just the way I like it!), I did look pretty spectacular if I may say so myself! And I felt spectacular!

With a lingering thought of an unprecedented future, the looming feeling of having to move away (in a manner of speaking) from everything I knew and cherished; emotions ran high. I had to take a moment every now and then to wipe a deceitful tear that defied the boundaries of my eyes, running down my face when it all got a bit too much.

The skies above seemed to have had resonated with my inconsistent ‘leaky eyes’ and the heavens above opened up.

The thunderstorm that followed wrecked havoc – like, literally! The food was ruined, there was a power cut (as in bijli chali gai!), the stage that had been decorated with flowers and all sorts was in shambles… textbook devastation.

I found myself sat in the basement with Becky, dressed like a princess (Asian princess to be exact), with a few candles lit around me… thinking how much effort everyone had put in to making everything picture perfect for it to be ruined.

Little did I know my late uncle Saeed will have yet another trick up his sleeve. Conscious of the weather, he had organised and pre-booked a venue as a back up just in case!

I mean what a legend! If the elements had willed to ruin it all, my uncle had perceived and preempted to see the night through,

We all ended up going to this hall very last minute, and what followed is my most cherished and memorable time of my wedding. All my nearest and dearest family members were around me, exactly how I had wished and hoped.

From all my fathers’ siblings dancing around me to my cousin Mohsin singing for me, from the craziness that transpired through the night to the contentment that took a hold of my heart, my family and friends had gone above and beyond to make my dreams come true. They did what I cannot imagine many family members doing and then a bit more. At no point during my wedding did I feel like I was alone. For the first time in my life I felt that everyone that was there was an extension of me and who I am as a person.

All the anxieties are fears had vanished, and I was overcome by a warm feeling of self-assurance. I didn’t really care about how I looked or what if my dress didn’t fit, or what people would say. With a heart raging with excitement, I felt shrouded in a strange tranquillity.

Nikkah

Oh and by the way. All this time I hadn’t seen Ahmed since I last met him at the wedding shopping/preps.

In fact he wasn’t even in the country!  

The groom to be arrived on 1st April and on 2nd April we had our Nikkah (the Islamic marriage ceremony).

It was a very emotional time I must add. I hadn’t had much sleep the night before. I laid awake with my close friend all night and even attempted to pray Fajr, but weren’t successful as there was no water in the house – actual third world problems you guys.

I was tired and agitated on the day. After having a sleepless night thinking that I was about to ‘sign my life away’ to be with a guy who I had met a handful of times in person, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it all. Everyone around me seemed upset and tearful, and I could feel that anxiety and nerves around me. I was my father’s only child, my parents only daughter, their world. And I was about to leave them to start my own new life in a foreign country, far away from them.

It was all a bit overwhelming.

The Nikah ceremony went ahead as planned. After asking and confirming Ahmed’s acceptance to marry me, the registrar and witnesses came over to where the females were sat to ask if I accepted the marriage. Terrified of what was to come, with lots of eyes glaring at me and tears rolling down my cheeks, I said ‘Kabool hay’ (I accept) three times (followed by some signatures).

That’s it: legally married!

My dad, well, being dad had said that I could not see Ahmed until we had our Ruksati (when the bride leaves with the groom- may or may not be on a separate day in Asian weddings- our case was the former). But my mum being my mum decided to sneak us both into the garden downstairs to get a couple of professional photos – not that they are very flattering. Nonetheless, at least we have some memories from the day!

The funniest memory from the Nikkah is Ahmed playing games on his phone after signing the Nikkah papers. Who even does that?

Mehndi

On the night of the Nikkah it was my Mehndi. I remember being sat at the salon on my own- the beauticians winding down for the day, turning the lights off and getting ready to leave for the day. In a panic thinking they (my family) had forgotten about me, I rang everyone but no one answered. Eventually, one of my cousins answered and said ‘hain, you’re still at the salon?’. As you can imagine with the desi weddings, sometimes it all gets a little too much and people clearly forgot about the main person (ME!).

Once my cousin realised I wasn’t even at the hall, he did come to collect me.  Crazy!

My beautiful ‘cousin-sisters’ had decorated a street hawker’s cart to perfection. Surrounded by flowers and candles, I once again felt like a queen in her castle. The boys wheeled me in to the wedding hall singing and dancing all around me. I probably looked the worse on this day but I don’t mind because the memories were so perfect. Fromall the photos from my Mehndi, you can see that everyone wanted to be a part of it and to get involved. Not so sophisticated when it comes to wedding photography. Patha nahee how the cameraman managed to get at least some decent photos.

We all know how trendy it is to have ‘synchronised’ wedding dances in Pakistani wedding. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the busy-ness of it all, we didn’t get the chance to choreograph many dances. Regardless, a cousin, who is ‘a serial wedding dancer’ (if there is such a categorisation), took only a couple of nights to teach my cousins and friends a few dances. I don’t think anyone could have guessed that they had prepared these dances in less than two days! They did such a fabulous job that I was smiling like a Cheshire cat throughout!

My philosophy on weddings is simple: what’s the point of getting married if you can’t even enjoy your own wedding. That having said (and to bring things in to perspective),  my phupo (auntie) had to sit me down a couple of time as I kept joining the peeps on the dance floor!

I don’t have many ‘photo shoot’ photos from my Mehndi because of the utter chaos on the day. But hey, no regrets there! The few photos I have and the memories are enough to last me a life time! 

The following evening was Ahmed’s mehndi; and if you want to know more about it, you’ll have to ask him yourself since I wasn’t there.

I was chilling at home, eating junk food.

Baraat & Rukhsati

The ‘actual’ wedding day- this day actually feels like such a blurr.

I genuinely don’t recollect much from this day. The one moment I will never forget is walking up the aisle with my dad, arms linked, walking over a path full of red rose petals and lanterns on the sides. The song that played in the background was Farhan Saeed’s ‘Tu thori dair aur thair ja’.

My mum looked absolutely stunning, held her shit together and didn’t crying. Embracing me with her warm and a comforting smile. I remember kissing her cheek, bursting with happiness.

I wont lie: I don’t remember Ahmed coming over with the Baraat. It felt suffocating with all my family surrounding us and harassing Ahmed and his family for money (desi-wedding problems).  He eventually got to sit next to me and we exchanged rings. Some, ‘read’ lots of random people, came and sat next to us and got photos taken.

And that was that.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to my family.

There were tears. Floods of tears even though in the back of my mind I was paranoid about ruining my make up.

I will not put you through the misery of seeing the traumatic photos of the ruksati. The ruksati that took place around 12am. This was before the 10 pm deadline for concluding events was implemented in Mirpur.

Following the ruksati, we went to Ahmed’s paternal house to carry out the standard ‘rasams’. I still remember drinking some coke and realising that was the only thing that I had drank pretty much all day. In the midst of the wedding hulchul, I don’t think I had any food all day!!

Can’t say the same for my better half; let’s leave it at that!

Feeling tired, yet excited, we were told that we needed to go to the studio for our photo shoot. It must have been around 3am by the time we got to the studio. Imagine how knackered we must have been. Awkward poses and tired eyes, yet gleaming faces. WE DID IT! But it wasn’t over yet, lol!

Walima

Last but not the least day, Walima, or what I call the after wedding party.

Some thing I had never seen in Asian wear, well not in Mirpur anyway, was a white bridal dress for a walima ceremony, and I wanted something different. Which is why I ended up getting a gorgeous white dress that I had brought from England.

Ahmed wore a morning suit and a cravat, because again, that’s something I had never seen anyone wear at a walima. Walking up yet another aisle with my best friend by my side and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out loud’ playing in the background was everything I could have ever asked for.

Our wedding song still gives my a lump in the throat.

It was a more relaxed and chilled out day, although I am still mad that my family were oh so typically late for the function!! I got to see all of mine and Ahmed’s friends and family. Lots of smiles, hugs and (obviously) photographs were taken! 

The only thing I would change about this day was the photographer Ahmed hired. He took some horrendous photographs, where half of the photos were completely out of focus and over exposed. But we won’t fret about that. It’s all about the memories, right?

On reflection, looking at these photos I think my wedding was pretty damn special. I had all my nearest and dearest with me. People had travelled from different continents to be there… to be a part of my big day… hang on, my big week! And that is something I will forever be grateful for.

The love and joy that all the people attending my wedding brought to me was incredible. This is something I will never ever forget till the rest of my days. And I can’t honestly say that my wedding wouldn’t have been the same even without one of them (they know who they are!)

So if any of you could actually be bothered to read my blogpost (far cry!), I love you. I love you more than you know and I will be forever in debt to everything you did for me.

The End, or was it just the beginning….

We didn’t stay around in Pakistan for too long as the day after we flew off to my ‘surprise’ honeymoon.  To be honest, as much as I come across as an extrovert, the thought of dressing up and going for ‘dawats’ was too daunting. I couldn’t bare being the ‘newly weds’ and meeting lots of people for days on end. Not being nasty, but it is something that I find uncomfortable.

Back to the honeymoon/ holiday/ vacation what ever you want to call it.

I, hand on my heart had no idea where we were going. I was all packed to go to our ‘destination’ and then to my new life in Qatar: a place I had never heard of or been to before in my life. Completely oblivious to how my life was about to change…!

Be sure to come back for the tales from the honeymoon. I am sure you will like it!