As our Volvo Crossover roared through the desert from Palmyra to Damascus, it felt like a journey from nowhere-to-nowhere, but for the inimitable Baghdad cafe on the Iraq border and its vibrant owner of over 70 years, where a supposedly five minute halt stretched into a charmed half a day.
Very appetizing spinach pies and the stench of burning meat that is supposed to please the gods in heaven, but for sure firing up gastronomic juices for those who relish the taste. Young boys carrying warm pita bread heaped upon their heads, as if it is food for the brain. The spicy Mhammra kept us from getting home sick. The ancientness of Damascus is not just in its sights but mostly in its smells. The strong presence of spices of Indian origin, the ever present perfume of the Islamic world and cobwebs as old as the city itself – all these flavours add up to make the place feel timeless…and bordering on the mystical.
Well, the famous Damascus hammams – we could not give it a slip. Got steam cooked, wire brushed and beaten into (and out of) shape in butcherly fashion, but living the experience of an Indian trader of yore in a hammam which started in 1180 is not an everyday happening. Friendly Mohammad – staff at the hammam – and an avid watcher of Indian cinema, when asked what movies have you seen says, “All of them.”
The history of politics, war and religion written with one pen and the ink of the same colour makes this whole region a place of impossible contradictions. The harshness of the desert has in no way dampened the warmth and hospitable nature of the people that you meet in the streets, souks and restaurants. The country needs a thorough PR makeover in the world.