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hajj 2014

Click here for Hajj updates

In about fourteen hours, we are about to embark on a journey that is the most important one for every Muslim, insha’Allah.

We received our e-tickets only six hours ago and our passports three hours ago. I was so stressed out I couldn’t sit still in one place. You see, we have been planning to perform Hajj for almost two years now. We wanted to be in a position where we are financially secure because we want our parents to be with us on this trip.

It was a couple of months before Ramadan when we began actively seeking out travel agents.  Masood and I do not have the same nationality which means neither of us can travel from our respective countries together. Due to the huge number of people applying for Hajj, the Saudi government has allotted a certain number of visas per country, and being a national of that country is one of the requirements to be able to apply for Hajj. Fortunately, the United Arab Emirates have a few Hajj quotas for expats like us. However, Hajj from the UAE is extremely expensive. Most of the agents quoted AED 71,000 (or roughly $20,000) per person. But given that we do note really have a choice, we went and asked around extensively, made countless phone calls, and personally visited each and every Hajj agent in Sharjah and Dubai. By Allah’s Grace, we found one such agent who we could afford (still way above our budget but considerably less expensive that the rest) so we went ahead and applied.

The next bump in our road was that locals are prioritized, which is fair enough. So we had to hold our breath and wait for whether or not there were still visas remaining after the locals have applied. We had vaccinations done for meningitis (Saudi requirement), had  the mandatory blood test done, and submitted all the necessary documents right after Ramadan, but it wasn’t until today that we finally have our passports and tickets in our hands.

There was so much uncertainty until today. This is the reason why I haven’t announced the Hajj trip to anyone except for a very few family members. I’ve uttered too many ‘insha’Allah’ these past few weeks because I wasn’t sure whether we’d get the visa or not. It was only today that I made the official phone calls to friends and relatives. Allah has accepted us to perform Hajj, alhumdulillah.

My suitcases are packed and the house is clean (I always make sure the house is neat and tidy before I leave for a trip). Now that I am able to sit down in peace and look at the visa carefully, I am suddenly nervous. This will probably be the one and only Hajj experience that I’ll ever get in my life (Hajj is obligated just once in a person’s lifetime, whenever he or she is financially, physically and mentally able to) and I’m afraid I might mess it up. I am traveling as a guest of Allah and I wish to be more closer to my Creator during and after this journey and I want to return home as a better person.

hajj trip 2014

Several friends have requested that I blog about our Hajj experiences. That, and the fact that I regularly receive numerous emails on my Umrah posts is inspiring me to share my journey with you. While most of my time will be spent in prayer, reflections, and worship, insha’Allah, I’d also like to take a few moments to share photographs and updates with you whenever I could. There won’t be time to blog ‘live’ but I’ll try to post updates on the Facebook page.

Please pray that our Hajj goes smoothly, that we’re able to perform all the rituals as perfectly as we possibly could, and that we remain healthy throughout the trip. I have made a list of names of everyone I know (including my online friends and readers) so that I can make dua for you, insha’Allah. May Allah bless every Muslim with the gift of Hajj.

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8

grand hyatt dubai

IZ (pronounced as ee-zee) is an award-winning high-end Indian restaurant within the Grand Hyatt hotel that serves tandoori cuisine prepared and served at live cooking stations. They have a good selection of seafood, meat and vegetarian Indian food options. Their signature dishes include salmon tikka and murgh makhani.

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Photo by Grand Hyatt Dubai

Parking is a breeze.

The property is very impressive. I have passed by this hotel countless times but never really realized how much work went into making the surrounding area lush with trees. Here’s a look at the parking lot:

parking grand hyatt

But since there is free valet service for guests, you need not worry about parking at all. I was telling Masood I could really get used to valet services. No more driving around the block for hours looking for a parking space and then walking back to the restaurant in 40°C weather.

The restaurant is located just beyond the rainforest, right after you cross the bridge.

grand hyatt rainforest

Yep, and I thought the staff who was giving us directions was kidding! There is indeed a tiny rainforest within the hotel where different types of fish were idly swimming about in lakes with the soothing sound of a waterfall in the background.

rainforest in dubai

While the serving is quite small, the food is delicious and flavorful.

papad

Complimentary papad & fresh vegetables with 6 different types of dips/pickles.

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charminar kabab

Charminar Kabab – lamb rump, figs, malt vinegar, yoghurt, red chili, turmeric & garam masala. I don’t really like red meat, but Masood said this was good. AED 50

salmon tikka

Salmon Tikka – Atlantic salmon, cream, coriander, garlic, yoghurt. This was good. AED 50

tandoori jhinga

Tandoori Jhinga – Prawns, garlic, chili, lemon, carom seeds, mace, ginger. I loved this! Why, oh, why are there only 2 prawns? AED 60

tandoori broccoli

Tandoori Broccoli – Cream, cheese, yoghurt, white pepper. This was so good I want to recreate this at home! AED 20

paneer tikka

Paneer Tikka – Homemade cottage cheese, fenugreek, carom seeds, cream. This is the softest, most delicate paneer I have ever had in Dubai. AED 30

scallops

Alaskan Scallops – Cardamom, cream, black pepper. I’m not a fan of scallops but my colleague says they’re good. AED 50

dal mkhani

Dal Makhani – Slow-cooked black lentils, tomato, garlic. I highly recommend this; so delicious and creamy! AED 45

zeera pulao

Zeera Pulao – Cumin flavored basmati rice. The perfect partner for the creamy dal makhani. AED 40

murgh makhani

Murgh Makhani – Tandoor cooked chicken, cashew nuts, fenugreek, creamy tomato sauce. One of the tastiest murgh makhani I have had in a long time. AED 60

ras malai

Ras Malai – Dumplings made from cottage or riccotta cheese soaked in sweetened, thickened milk delicately flavored with cardamom. AED 40

After years of trying out different Indian restaurants here in Dubai, I have observed that most of the high-end places serve gravy that is too rich and sweet. Whatever I order, the gravy would almost always, quite frustratingly, taste the same.

iZ is an exception, however. Each curry has its distinct flavor. Each tandoori dish brings out the subtle hints of spices in which it was marinated in. I was told the chefs were from Delhi and Punjab. I must say those gentlemen are doing a great job. The staff were all very courteous, attentive, knowledgeable, and prompt.

The hotel lobby is gorgeous.

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I would highly recommend iZ restaurant. Making reservations is encouraged, and if you have any dietary restrictions, they might be happy to oblige. I’m saying this because during lunch when I asked a staff whether they have sugar-free dessert, he told me that had I informed them whilst making the reservation, they would have come up with something.

Hours:
Open 7 days a week
Lunch: 12:30pm to 3:00pm
Dinner: 7:00pm to 11:30pm (until 12:00am on Thursdays and Fridays)
Reservations:
Call +971 4 317 2222
Location:
Grand Hyatt, Oud Mehta, Dubai
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18

london bridge

Oh, the heartache upon learning that my favorite bridge isn’t actually the London Bridge; it’s called the Tower Bridge, a very unimpressive name, if you should ask me. Could someone rename this structure to ‘London Bridge’, please?

Though one of the most famous bridges in the world, the sad truth is that the London Bridge simply does not exist anymore. The real London Bridge is gone, though it didn’t fall down. It has been replaced by something more modern (and it isn’t pretty). I don’t even have my own photograph of the modern London Bridge.

tower bridge london

Regardless, this structure will always remain London Bridge in my heart. Did you know that it took over 50 designs and eight years to find a satisfactory design? No wonder this bridge now tops Great Britain’s list of architectural icons that make up London’s distinctive skyline.

My sister and her husband were our hosts in London. They have a lovely home with a garden at the back. This was a very short trip but one that is very special. I was so excited to see my sister that I had made absolutely no plans to see the city. My brother-in-law had to drag us out of the house to go sightseeing (and I’m so grateful to him for this otherwise I won’t have any photographic proof of having set foot in London).

The weather was just right. We walked, talked a lot, and simply enjoyed the amazing view of the bridge over River Thames. There was even a wedding shoot going on, the bride looking exquisite in her delicate white gown. The groom? Well, I did not notice. Who looks at the groom when the bride’s around?

We then stopped by for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sat outdoors to take in the view while sipping our drink. It was absolutely lovely!

london tower bridge

Posted in London | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments