Standing on the Shoulders of a Dragon

My trip to Switzerland, was all about catching up my friend Allen before he heads back to Shanghai.

Just a normal view in Switzerland

The theme of the last couple of blogs have been friendship and this is the finale of the three (that’s the plan). How to say goodbye to someone you care about, whether to let go and how to stay in touch. Well that’s the plan. I’ll do this while going through my tour of the Swiss-German side of the country.

Having someone to say goodbye to

Before saying goodbye, is it worth it?

Now, I booked this flight out of the UK as soon as I had enough cash to come and see Allen. You see, Allen is my older brother and dear friend. I know this through the times we spent growing up in New Hall, where Allen introduced me to my first real sip of alcohol. Red Star Vodka in a mug. Warm. I had two sips, with my two friends in the year above. Allen and Samko. It was not the first time I had alcohol, that was when I was around 5 and given the wrong drink. This was the first when I decided to have a drink. It was not the last of our drinks together, or just ourselves, but we had a good time. That’s the first mark of a good friend, someone you enjoy being with; hence when Allen told me that he may have to leave, well then I had to go and see him.

AT always the poser

AT (my nickname for Allen), got a massive hug as soon as I saw him, because that’s what I said that I would do, but the reason why I he was getting that hug was more than not seeing him in a while. Allen is one of those people I regard as my emergency contacts. I’ll call him at 4am and ask for help and I’m pretty sure if he picks up, he will help. Not try to, but actually help. This is something that truly matters. I’m sure that anyone on my contact list would try to help, but AT is one (of a few) I’m sure will do everything possible to help me and then follow up to make sure that I’m okay. Does AT feel the same way? I’m pretty sure that we can rely on each other. That’s why he and my very good friends get a massive hug. It’s that bond that you have, knowing that even if things get messy, there’s someone who is willing to help you out. Got someone similar? You got to hold on to them.

AT with the Frisby guns! (Frisby being Mr Crosby’s nickname from Mr Briggs)

How to run off a cliff

Conquering fears

Having some chai to calm the nerves pre-flight

I don’t why, but I have this fear of heights. Yet, I tend to climb any thing high and then stare down questioning what I just did. My aim is to get comfortable with throwing myself off a plane and go skydiving! Easy to say, but I’ve been slowly working on it. Walking around the top of CN tower in Toronto five years ago, to climbing some tall towers across Switzerland and going up some tall towers in Dubai. So, logically running off a cliff is next.

AT taking off. Running less than 30m

Paragliding was amazing. Let me tell you that. The sheer bliss from lack of noise when you’re up and above it all, is something else. It’s instantly addicting. It’s a reminder on how precious our planet is. Plus I got to see Yash Chopra’s Lake from the sky. Ultimately, that’s why I wanted to paraglide in Interlaken. I wanted to see some DDLJ ( Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) and other Yash Chopra locations: sue me!

Above Interlakken
Snow topped mountains in the background

Preserving Future Generations 

The view after the cable car and a brief walk

We continued our running around by heading to Oeschinen Lake and going for a swim. Now, the only way to describe how cold this lake was, is simply to say that my balls shot inside my body as soon as my toes touched the water. It was soo so cold. Instant regret to swim, but I don’t think I would have done it any other way. After the swim we went further ahead with a hike and got some spectacular views of the lake and mountains.

Betrayal! The water was so cold!
Just before I threw him into the water
Back to the serious business of hiking in swimming trunks, while the Swiss Hikers were all in full gear with walking sticks

Further into the mountains

We then moved onto Lauterbrunnen to go stand behind the waterfall, but this meant going back on ourselves for part of the way. The reason, why not and we had a Swiss Passes, so why not use them to the full. We got to the falls, before sunset but it meant we missed our train and had to wait for the last train out of the area and get home after midnight. Spent some time chatting about the day over a beer, how we all suddenly became experts in paragliding and going through pictures. When we returned to Olten we grabbed a pizza, which honestly for such a dump, was great food. Far better than any takeaway places in the UK.

Lauterbrunnen

Do dragons have shoulders?

A farewell requires a bit of strength

Some moments of unplanned synchronisation are beautiful. AT and I planned to leave for Luzern at 9am, but as soon as our alarms went off, we both just thought nah and went back to bed. No words spoken, just a quick glance and we knew that we could sleep a bit more. However this decision meant that we had a day of rushing around ahead!

Dropped my bag at the hostel early and got some cheap tickets up and down Pilatus. Now, we were not in the best mood to climb a 2,128m mountain, so we took a boat ride around the lake. Grabbed a desperately needed tan, got into a queue, to get a slot for another queue. That queue was for the steepest cog wheel train. A casual 48°. Went up into the azure sky. Only to get a bit peckish. It was such a hard day so far. Went to the hotel grabbed a window seat and chatted with the clouds coming at us.

We moved onto climbing a higher point and grab some photos. Mate, I cannot express how bad some people are at taking photos. Ended up taking some selfies for a decent shot!

Selfie skills on point
Not a bad sight, plus the background is decent

We took the cable down one station, mainly we short of time and also our shoes weren’t built for climbing up or down mountains. We went down one level and then started walking down.

On the way down Pilatus
AT going off road and for what reason, is still unknown

You see that’s all you really need with a good friend. A bit of time to hang and chill. No need to say anything fancy, but just to be able to be yourself. Thus this day of just being with AT was probably the best way to spend our last few hours together. Not doing anything dramatic or rushed, that was the day before, but just having time to chill and chat about life. What we chatted throughout the day? That’s just between us, but I can assure you that it was nothing important.

We ended doing what all good friends do. Grabbing a drink of choice and sitting on the side of the road; just talking about the musings of life.

In the end, the trip with AT ended in the same way that it started: with a hug.

There’s not much else you can do in these moments. We didn’t try and make it perfect, or do a hell of lot planning. We had an idea what we wanted to do together and just did stuff with that in mind. It’s like everything in life. Be honest, have a goal and just do. Don’t hope. Don’t fret if you make a mistake. Just enjoy the moments. Remember any lows, make the highs higher. I’m might be upset to say goodbye to AT, but at least I have someone to be upset about. It’s all about dealing with the expectations.

And before this gets too soppy, I’ve already messaged AT several and he’s helped out when he didn’t even need to get involved. Why? It’s what friends do.

Are you really friends if you don’t break the law together have a picnic together? (though we didn’t have three flavours of crisps)

A final day in Switzerland

Zurich, roaming around and running to work at 4:30am

So, I left Luzern in the morning and headed to Zurich. Went to the Rhine Falls, which were okayish. I mean, they’re no Vic Falls, but still quite interesting. If you don’t have a Swiss Pass it’s not really worth it, but I am comparing it to the best waterfall in the world.

You can get pretty close
Look a rainbow!

I came back, got onto a boat for a tour of the Lake and get an all important sun tan! Now I got bored on a 90 minute boat ride and decided to play my brown card. Essentially I saw an Indian couple with a spare seat. So I sat down, in broken Hindi started a discussion (we switched to a mix of mainly English, Gujarati and Hindi) and then had a lovely chat about life, religion and I helped them plan for the rest of time in Switzerland. You know, just a casual conversation. That’s what we all have to remember. Life is too short to worry about what others think. We can all learn from each other, best way is to be open.

Just cruising a long

I then found a vegetarian restaurant where I had wonderful avocado toast, because if I was going to be ripped off; it should be in style! After explaining to the barman my plans for the rest of the day, what I had done and if he had any advice; he said what I had already done today, was enough for a weekend. Clearly, I am a man on a mission when left to my own devices.

Could have put this up social media
University of Zurich

I decided to headed to the University take a look at some Greek artefacts and then ran across town, went past the closed museum (because it’s Monday!) and headed up to a viewing point. As one does with a fear of heights. After learning the Zurich transit system, I went to what the Swiss considered a hill and climbed the radio tower and had view of the city over 820m!

Only holding on for dear life!

Headed back to the hostel, checked in, went for a walk with one of my roomates and then realised that I had to leave the hostel at 4:49am (gave myself 19mins to get ready). What a quick day. I made it to work and had a pretty productive day.

The water is stunning, though not sure why this photo as a weird edge on the left.

Final thoughts

Explaining the title 

Seeing AT reminded me that we are all standing on someone’s shoulder. We all have friend or that help us reach slightly further than we could do on our own. The dragon, is two parts, first it’s relating to Pilatus having medieval legend relating to dragons having a magical healing properties at the top of the mountains. Secondly, I’m blessed to have friends that not only help me reach a higher place (shoulder), but some take me higher than I could have ever imagined (dragon vs giant). AT is one of my dragons. 

Thought: Why do European dragons need wings and Chinese dragons don’t?

Community Ties

Joining YLS, making friends, a cooking competition and what the future holds

For the uninitiated, YLS stands for Young Lohana Society which is the youth wing of the LCNL (Lohana Community of North London). Now, Lohana is the caste (or Varna if you want to be more classical) that I am born into. Now, this is a bit of a moral quagmire, because today the caste system is part of a system of oppression; even if it is banned and illegal in India. Caste discrimination does not end in India. I have seen it in the UK and in the US; it’s never official, but it definitely exists. So, with the issues of caste that are present, why would I join a society that still discriminates (becoming officially members, not going out and campaigning against others etc) due to caste? First, I don’t have that many Indian friends in the UK, let alone those from the Gujarati community. Secondly, I have not made that many friends over the last year, which is a major failure in my mind. Third, my father was the social secretary (back in the YLA) back in the day and he is still touch with some of the friends he made back in the day.

Caste discrimination does not end in India. I have seen it in the UK and in the US

The first YLS event I attended was drinks around Faringdon and I arrived on time, which meant that I was one of seven people who followed the time on the poster. That was fine, because I was able to socialise longer and get chatting to as many people as possible; before it got absolutely packed. Apparently there were a 150 people at the event and I got to speak to over 50 people. It was a great night and I left early around 1am because I was heading to Southampton for the cricket in the morning (India vs Afghanistan). Did I make any friends at the event? Well no, because no one would (well it’s pretty much impossible to be friends with someone straight away. You can get along really well, but friends is something else). I made loads of acquaintances though, where two (Nekhil and Bhavs) are turning into friend, though there’s hope for a couple more… Just need to increase interaction time with others.

Now, since I did enjoy myself, I decided to go to the next event which was a domestic cricket match. Now, I don’t like cricket; I love it. However, I don’t really give a damn about domestic cricket, let alone a T20 cricket in England which is a part of a tournament that I don’t care about. Put this way, I’m barely someone who barely cares about the Ranjiv Trophy, but I still love the IPL. I went to the match straight from work and got caught in the rain. With the rain and lightning delay, sat down with Bhavs and chatted away with the game in the background. Shared some snacks that I brought over (apparently I was well prepared) and made sure that I had my thepla! Seriously, who goes to cricket without Gujarati snacks? Well apart from everyone else there! Sharing is caring and I got some decent ribbings about the fact that everything had come from India; the khakra went down really well though, as well as the mini thepla.

The oval pre-match and pre-rain…

Seriously, who goes to cricket without Gujarati snacks?

Thepla is a bare minimum!

The last event was the picnic, which was on Sunday. Due to the weather (there’s a pattern with this in England), there was a last minute change of location, but that didn’t really matter to me. We went to a community hall which had a couple of fields which we could use and had a day of fun (from an egg race to a rounders game). Now there was a “bake-off” which I decided to enter, mainly because I wanted to show off my cooking skills and I wanted to learn a new dish. The rules were simple, vegetarian and picnic food. I decided to enter handvo (ondhwa for some) and make a green chutney to go with it. Now, I was actually quite happy that I didn’t know anyone too well at this event; I got to speak to new people, catch up with people whose name already escape me again and towards the end of the day catch up with my Kaka (well one of the seemly hundreds of them. Also yes, I have a couple of Kaka’s that aren’t that much older than myself; with a few younger than myself to boot). I regret not getting any further plans with people from the event, but I’m sure that with a bit of help I can get in touch with some of the people again.

Quick recipe:

Rice flour, chickpea flour and lentil flour mixed together. (100ish grams of each)

Add sour yoghurt (500ml), turmeric powder (1/2 tsp) and chilli powder (1 tsp); plus a dash of oil. Mix . Leave overnight to ferment (or at least 6-8 hours).

Then finely chop dudhi, carrot, courgette and cabbage. Mix together [batter]

Then fry chopped garlic, ginger and onions (more than you think) with mustard seeds, with some coriander powder [vaga]

Pour batter in an oven tray (cupcake holder) which has been oiled. Then pour in the batter, then pour vaga on top.

Place in a preheated oven 180C and cook for 1 hour.

Leave to cool and you’re good to go. Or stuff your mouth and burn it. Both are acceptable.

Now, I won’t be attending the event due to work, but there’s still garba coming up in a few weeks (Navarati is at the end of September, though I’ve already agreed to head to several mandhirs already!), plus I’m sure that I’ll be helping out at one of the sewa events. I should be more active in the charity life and feel that actually volunteering is better than just giving some cash (which I still do). Thus, I might write about that soon.

The chopping board that I won, with a green chutney an award winning green chutney

I still haven’t really dealt with issue of caste. Nor have I mentioned how this relates to creating friendship or what the future holds.

Caste issues

So, what to say about a society that is based on caste. It’s weird, slightly backwards and out of touch. You can’t become an official voting member, unless you are born into the caste or marry a member of the caste. However, that’s just if you take everything at face value. The time I spent at events, no one really mentions caste issues (though that could be an issue for another blog post), rather I met some wonderful people, no jackasses or anyone who I might be unhappy to bump into the streets and grab a cup of chai to catch up with. Some who happen to be Lohana and others who just know someone who is in the caste and society; be it a friend who is a commity member, or someone who wanted to meet up with people of a similar age and background. It’s more samaj than caste, on first glance. Is it a perfect split? No, but then you have to remember that the society is for the community to stay close: know what weddings are going on, who died and when the funeral will take place, religious events and general socials. We don’t have to always bowl alone [a Putman reference to my political science nerds] and if we believe that not having a society is the best way to continue our shared history, then I’m sure that the society will cease. Do I imagined that it will be here in a hundred years? Probably will be, just unrecognisable to us now. You may have noticed that I’ve been mixing them/we/I when referring to the society/community/caste and that’s because I’m still trying to figure out, in my own head, how I should feel. My ancestors have definitely benefitted from the system, which has given me a wonderful life, there is no argument against that. The social justice warrior within me wants to tear the whole thing down, the conservative within wants to protect it for future generations and the social animal part of me enjoys that there is a group of people who I can open up to and they will get everything I say to them (okay most things, seriously still can’t believe that no brought chakri to the cricket…I digress).

It’s weird, slightly backwards and out of touch… that’s just if you take everything at face value

If you only observe from the outside. Like most things, it’s far more nuanced.

Creating friends

Now, I don’t think you make friends instantly. Not unless you happen to be around someone constantly. It’s a bit of slog to be honest. And it’s not always worth it, even if there’s always a lesson to be learnt. That’s why I want to meet more people, so I can learn from their failures. I think that I would call Nekhil and Bhavs friends, but we’ve got 6+ years before we become life long friends (takes seven years of resistance before you give up and just accept that someone is part of your life forever, if I remember correctly). I started playing badminton (though playing with Swaminarayans might be a bit of concern) and even tennis, though I’ve been absent for the last week and next (off to Switzerland, see next blog); I owe this all to Nekhil and Bhavs, for having the bollocks to invite me and I’ve fallen in love with sports all over again (I’m even looking for a touch rugby group to play with because I enjoy running around so much! Let me know if you need an extra player). Back to Nekhil and Bhavs; those two even went out for night in town with me and a couple of mates, though these golden oldies were a several hours behind in the drinks! We had a great time and I even dragged them to my favourite dive bar (if you know, you know). We’ve definitely got a thing going here, but I’m sure that it will last for a good while more.

The future

Now, wwith YLS, I’m sure that I’ll be at more events and there will be more friends to be made. I actually believe that someone from the society will read this and reach out to try and become friends with me! As I said before, everyone want an interesting friend & I’m damn interesting [💁🏾‍♂️] . With the new friends, we just have to wait. Dhire dhire (slowly, slowly). How about old friendships? Like anything, they need TLC (touch, love and care; for the Bird who never knows any acronyms). I don’t buy that you need to wait for someone to reach out to you, because it’s too passive. That doesn’t mean chase everyone, but for those who you really care for and you believe care for you (though if another friend says that they don’t, take a step back and reexamine your relationship), then go make an effort to see them, speak to them and share the love. In practice, it’s hard especially when we have so many people in our lives, so I suggest that you create a list (which is no surprise. See prior poetry) of those who matter. For me, I’m going to Switzerland next week to do exactly this. One of my brothers from another mother, Allen Yuwei Tang may be leaving Europe for the foreseeable future in the next couple of months. So, I have to go see him and give him a hug. Spend some time away from everything else and we’ll just be. You know, when you are with a close friend, calm and relaxed. Well maybe not calm! Planning on conquering my fear of heights, by running of the side of cliff (aka paragliding) and lots of hiking.

I have to go see him and give him a hug

On seeing AT

That’s what to expect in next week’s blog, an update with some views and thoughts on how to deal with the loss of friendship or whatever [supposedly] profound idea that comes to me in the mountains.

Some Reflections On Friendships

I had a couple of interesting chats last week with different friend groups. The main topic, was regarding the longevity of friendships and how over time people just disappear. Involved in their own world and then moving from chatting constantly to weekly, to monthly and then essentially never. They say that’ll meet up and then, when asked to make plans, disappear on short notice: you know, flakers.

Richard said something that we all need to hear time from time: “Sometimes you got let things die.” There is no need to keep in touch with everyone in life, that the effort is not always going to bring in reward and not everyone is going to be there until end.

Well, if you do not know me, I rank my friends. I have a list that is updated every month or so, it’s just a top 100 list.

The reason I decided to talk about friends, was due to going to a funeral. Not just a random funeral, but one of my best friends father died.

Now, I’m no funeral expert, but the speech given by one of the friends was fantastic. It wasn’t a sugar coating, nor was a rip into the man. It was honest and reminded you about the fragility of life; but also how few people you can truly rely on. The friends that stay with you throughout your life are rare and people you need to hold on to.

In this regard, I feel very lucky. My friends are across the globe, I have someone to chat to in most time-zones and catch up with, no matter what time of year. I have my friends that I haven’t spoken to in years, but I’m sure that if I saw them on the street; it would be as though nothing had change and we would pick up wherever we left off. I have my close friends, who I rely on my emotional support on every issues. Finally I have my best friends, the ones that regard as family.

Now how do I know whose who? Well, if you do not know me, I rank my friends. I have a list that is updated every month or so, it’s just a top 100 list. Now I know that this may sound weird to you, but I’ve been doing this since I was around 9 years old. Let’s be honest, we all have list of close friends. However, I guess that most people don’t have actual list like I do. People go up and down the list, some jump right to the top, some never drop below a certain number. It doesn’t matter, as long as you want to talk to them. I have decided over the last few weeks to start making new friends, which I luckily have never struggled to do so. Why? I have my best friends and they’re not going anywhere soon [on the list]. Essentially, some people will come and go; but we gain lessons from people. The more people you know, the more you can learn from their success and mistakes. Plus, I feel as though I lack friends from my own Gujarati community. It’s always good to know people who have similar experiences to talk to… well… let’s say: have similar cultural issues to complain about! Plus, they’ll understand certain things straight away.

“Sometimes you got let things die.”

Richard Osho

How do you make new friends? The simplest answer, is be interesting. What does that actually mean? No-one, that includes you, likes to chat to a person who is boring. You want to make friends, you need to go out into the world and do something. Start playing online games that require cooperation, head into pub and start talking, join a book club…whatever. You’ve got to go and do something that you enjoy, just with other people. Enjoying yourself should be the number priority, because we all want to chat to the person with a massive smile on their face: even the biggest twats.

Now, the new friends I’ve made, will they be by my death bed in the future? I don’t know. I’m sure that my best friends will be there, potentially a family and my close family. Don’t need anything else. However, we don’t progress with just focusing on needs, it’s our desires that push us to do more. I wanted more Gujarati friends, so what did I do? I joined a society and next week I’ll be submitting a dish into the cooking competition. Have I already made some friends? Yes. Will I make more? Of course, because I want more friends.

Poem 5

Friendship

What do we call those blissful days,
When everything we recall is just a haze,
Where every gaff is met with a laugh,
Even if it was daft, there’s no faff.

The mates you join at the pub,
Even if it’s to grabs some grub,
The ones who can jest with zest,
No matter how much rest, it’s always a fest.

Make no mistake,
There’s no limit to intake,
You just have to say hello to a fellow,
And who knows, you might have a mellow bellow.

Life is full of randomness,
That’s why we need those with candidness,
Rather than than those fake snakes,
I have a life with those who partake and keep me awake.

Let me be frank, I do rank.
I might know a ton, but you’ll always be my number one.

My trip to India

The preamble

Yeah, my MUN days lead to the sub-heading….onto the show

Well, I guess I should wish everyone a happy new year first. Or should I wait for Chinese New Year? By the way Erik (yes, just to Erik), when’s Taiwanese New Year? Jokes aside, I literally stayed up for around ten minutes for the initial fireworks and then called it a night.

So, after my flyby trip to London, I returned to Dubai for a week of work and then off to India. I’ll start off by explaining my reasoning for going back to India, then I’ll move onto my daily life in Mumbai for the next week, then my week in Gujrat and then my final week in Mumbai. I’m going to write it as three separate blog posts (one for each week). Let’s get started!

Having tea that is hallucinogenic, let’s just say me and Alex got wavy
Saw Yasmin giving a speech to the current MUN-ers at Essex (forgot who is on the right 🤷‍♂️)

Back to choosing India

I chose to go to India, rather than join the rest of the family for a few reasons. Firstly, I missed India, which is odd considering that I don’t have that much affinity to the sub-continent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Gujju who would follow the Indian Cricket to the ends of the earth. I am practicing Hindu, a full vegetarian (if the Gujrati did not make it obvious) who eats Indian food almost every day. I’m addicted to chai. I’ll happily go to a Hindi film or run to see the latest Rajnikanth film. I have one grandmother from the country, let alone my infinite number of Masis and Kakas in the country. But, I only consider myself Indian in certain aspects. I’m pretty sure that this has to do with me being a third-culture kid, as I chose what part of cultures I like. I prefer to say that I’m African over Indian, because my childhood was on the continent and my parents and the rest of my grandparents are from East Africa. Sometimes I like to say I’m British, because I’m obsessed with tea (see what I did there). Also, because London is my home as well, as well as being the greatest city on Earth (no bias whatsoever). This doesn’t really answer why I was missing India, not really sure what I’ve pointed out other than me being me, but I was missing India… I don’t know what else to say about that.

I’m a Gujju who would follow the Indian Cricket to the ends of the earth


Secondly, I wanted to go to the Jalaram Mandhir in Virpur. So, this has been on my bucket list for years. Essentially Jalaram Bapa is my favourite saint and his mandhir in Virpur doesn’t take any donation, yet continues to feed people every day! Last year, we (as the nuclear family) made it to the outside walls, but there were so many people we had to choose between praying or catching our flight. Well, we picked the flight…I guess I had unfinished business!

Thirdly, I wanted to see my family. I’m not going to lie, my niece Raaisha was the number #1 person I wanted to meet. I had already flown to couple of countries to see her and she was never there! I also wanted to spend some time with my family in Porbander, meet some of my Kakas and Faibas for the first time in Ahmedabad. Plus there were plenty of Masis in Mumbai to catch up with; while not being married off! 😅

Fourthly, I wanted to see the Unity Statue. Mainly because most of my friends hate Modi, so I thought the best way to mock them would be to go see the statue and dab with it in the background! Spoiler alert! There weren’t any tickets available! Seriously, who is trying to see this bloody statue. Guess I’ll have to head back to see it.

Fifthly, I wanted to eat some proper Indian food

Finally; I wanted to buy some Indo-western clothes. I just had no intentions of paying Western prices.

A dumb mug shot

Here’s a dumb photo I took the day I got a haircut before I left. Why? Why the hell not, I’m sure there’s meme out there

Pomegranates

My Trip to Baku

Straight to work

When I first started writing this piece, I was on my way back to Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Baku and all I can think about is when shall I go back.

Coming into Dubai

The city is full of amazing restaurants, great bars and has a rich history. That’s before you even meet anyone. There’s that saying that it’s not what you say,but how you make them feel, well the Azeri people make you feel like home royalty.

Personally,the best thing was catching up with one of my best friends and seeing his family. I cannot express in words how amazing it was to see Adil!

Adil having a candid photo

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. When I first landed in Baku, I had issues at the border control when the immigration officer looked at my passport and then me. She asked where I was born, and I responded with London. This was not a great idea, as it actual says [the actual place, I’m not dumb enough to put my passport info online] and how that is in London. Breezed through everything else and was standing in arrivals looking for my ride (Adil had organised me a cab). Well this guy didn’t think I’ll be out then, and I had to go looking for him. After eventually finding him (and his terrible MR HANIK sign) got into the car and headed into the city! Now things didn’t look great when I looked at the wing mirror and saw a cracked wing mirror, which said that things were distorted due to the mirror. But on the drive in, let me say that new Bravo supermarket looks great! Bravo is where Adil works, in case you were wondering why I gave the shout out.

…the first thing I had to do was give my friend a hug!

Seeing one’s friend

Got to Port Baku Mall, which I can only describe as a high-end mall, which is definitely out of reach of most people, let alone those in Baku. However, this was where I first saw Adil (after heading into the Mall to grab some cash to pay the cabdriver). He looked at me, with those “what an idiot” eyes, saying that cabbie told me to wait (in Azeri); though in my defence he kept saying money in English! However, the first thing I had to do was give my friend a hug! Now Adil and I haven’t seen each other since my master’s at UCL and boy that was a long time ago! We have been in touch via the group’s [only for those in the know] WhatsApp chat and a call here and there. So, we are aware of the general status’s one’s life. However,there’s something special when I meet an old friend, especially those from the boarding house, it’s as though nothing has changed; we could have been mucking about in the grounds and the conversation just flowed as though we had been chatting every day for the last few weeks.

Everything was fresh…

After Adil finished work, we headed into the country side to go to Adil’s family home and to have dinner with his Dad and uncles in a restaurant. Now this was the first real challenge, food. As a vegetarian, Adil was concerned with what I could eat, as almost everything local had meat in it. I had already tried a green qutab at Baku Café (it’s amazing, got to learn how to make it). Adil’s Dad produces meat, so obviously we had a bit of banter with me just stopping being a vegetarian for a few days. What he ordered me was something else. Let me just start by saying that there is something special in only eating seasonal food. Everything is fresh! None of this rubbish of all year-round fruit and vegetables. The cucumbers, tarragon, aubergines… everything was amazing! The pilaf I had was essentially a pilau with fresh aubergines with a different spice mixture! It was great! The cheeses, the breads, salad were all great! We washed it down with a local fruit juice concoction, which honestly tasted like Vimto, and a few…okay several shots of vodka! Headed to the family home for tea and a freshly baked cake from Adil’s grandmother! A top-class lemon meringue. It’s true no matter where you are, grandmothers are always make the best food. After a night tour of the home, headed in for the night.

The Family Yard

Adil and I both overslept, but it was good night’s rest which we would need given on what we had planned for the day. What followed was breakfast of pancakes, fresh bread, cheeses, jam, honey, more qutabs and copious amounts of black tea. Sidenote here, but apparently it’s the national drink of Azerbaijan.

The Temple Site

After saying my thanks to the family, we headed off to a temple. Now, I know what you are thinking; temples in Azerbaijan? But yes and even more shockingly it was used by Hindu’s on the silk route, due to the continuous gas fires there! The site is about 2000 years old, which was originally a Farsi site. Definitely worth checking out! Unfortunately, but obviously, the French had ruined the temple when it was buried several centuries later when looking for oil. Putains! So,lots of the materials are now lost, but thankfully the government is slowly restoring the site and trying to uncover the past.

The Eternal Fire
Me and Adil!

We then headed into old town and to go see the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the Meydan Tower. Loads to see and what’s wonderful is the juxtaposition of being in this ancient part of the city and seeing the modern architecture all around you in the distance. Even though the tower’s purpose is still in debate, it lies in the heart of this amazing city. If you are looking for your next profile picture, with a bit of planning, I’m sure that you’ll have a new hit here!

After, we walked along the promenade and just caught up. Seeing the outside of all the museums that I’ll have to come back and visit on my next trip. Before nightfell, we went to the war memorial to pay our dues and take in the view over the city.

The Flame Towers lit up in the national flag

Later on,after going home and dropping our stuff off, into the city for the French Bistro to meet Adil’s mate and grab a quick bite before going out. Food was good, but not that many options for a vegetarian. But what I did eat was good! We then headed to The Room for a night of drinking and chilling. The Azeri wine I started with was a lovely red, but as the night when on we moved onto shots and beers! That’s all you are going to get out of me, but I must say that people Adil spends time with are great. All kind hearted and definitely know how to have a good time!

[Adil’s friends are] All kind hearted and definitely know how to have a good time!


An Azeri Breakfast before a mad dash to the airport

The next was just breakfast and a rush to the airport (via the shops for a gift from Adil’s family). It was unreal how quickly time has passed by, from the time I left Dubai and arrived back was a blink of an eye! The land of fire definitely left a fire in my heart to return!