Getting a visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was probably the hardest thing to do next than probably the United States of ordinary Indians. However, due to careful preparation under the expert guidance of my travel desk, I finally got one after a wait of one month.
I had learned a lot of negative things about Indians traveling to Saudi Arabia but were rather anxious to be there. The Kingdom was just outside the Iraq war and the US soldiers had already left the country. The oil economy was back to its boom day with a number of infrastructure projects in the pipeline. I travel to Dammam which lies in the northeastern part of the Kingdom and was the base of Americans during the war in Iraq. Getting into Dammam was not easy. I landed in Bahrain which is a hellhead hanging out of the Arabs. After receiving a visa on arrival, I rented a cab to take me over the quayside to Saudi Arabia. Causeway was a smooth drive, although its jam filled with vehicles on Thursday afternoon with people from Dammam rushing towards the amusement.
I went through strict milling on the quayside and transported all prohibited materials such as drugs, alcohol, adult CDs or magazines can lead to serious punishment. I had lost my luggage in the airline transfer in Dubai and was looking for a supply store where I could buy my necessary items. I found them in a store nearby which was just a short walk from my hotel in Al-Kohbar. I did not realize the heat of the place I had been there just during the cold hours of the night. The morning started at 5 oclock and it was already too hot there. People start working by 7 oclock to beat the afternoon heat. The highway was full of all major cars in the world that zoomed past us. I was explained that people could not afford less cars here because they would only be crushed by these great speeds. The lamp posts were plenty of standing aplomb to the flourishing oil economy. The density of the lamp posts in any other developed country would be about one third in Saudi Arabia.
Major construction projects are underway with labor from third world countries. These workers were also seen in air-conditioned gasoline bunks that participated in the big cars. I learned that there are a number of deaths reported as a result of working under such extreme conditions. The official thermometer shown at prominent locations showed the temperature of 50 degrees Celsius! Otherwise, all factories, hotels and houses are centrally air-conditioned to beat the desert heat. Saudi Arabia Aramco is the largest company in the city and a number of American and European expats work there. These expats live in separate colonies where they have their own world. Living there is much easier than staying in the open because of strict religious and governing rules. Muttawa or the police are quite strict in the kingdom. In addition to the law enforcement agency, they also carry cultural policy responsibility. Almost no women are seen in public places or, if seen, they are completely covered from head to toe in traditional cages.
People pray 5 times a day and Muttawa ensures that people are not salmon in performing their tasks. Sometimes corporate meetings are put in place to enable all Muslims to offer prayer at the published time. Food was not a problem and suited the Indian palette. Mughlai was available in the hotels while one could also find Indian eateries. I enjoyed having lunch at a Turkish outdoor seating and could never forget the seekh kebab and Turkish bread. In addition, Macdonalds were always available for rescue. The lunch at Saudi Arabias cafeteria, where we had special access was healthy and quite close to an Indian lunch. Arabic coffee requires special mention in the delicatessen. Remember, the Arabs were the original discoveries of coffee, and only processing and marketing were revolutionized in Europe. Arabic coffee is a very light coffee with cardamom and dates added for taste and sweetening. Gold is the finest in Saudi Arabia both in traditional yellow and exotic white varieties.
People carry a heavy load of gold all over the body. In addition to the traditional market, modern electronic gadgets are readily available on the market. Latest Sony portable models were available on site. Clothing brands from all over the world are in the stores. And Baskin Robbins is ready for rescue to cool off your heels as well! I could realize that I was almost in the middle of the desert when I travel to the airport in Dammam outside the city. A look from the aircrafts window confirmed the fact. Big barricades were provided on the highways, not only to prevent the camel from collapsing into the vehicles but also to prevent the progress of dunes on the roads, thereby blocking it.