Sunday, July 30, 2006

Syria 2005 - Night View of Damascus

On the evening of 29th May 2005, I was stunned at the top of Jebel Qassioun, a 1200m-high mountain towering northwest of Damascus - the capital of Syria - surrounded by exhuberant locals (and almost no tourists), in front of the spectacular night view of Damascus (above).

(If you don't think the above photo is beautiful, then it is my fault - as it was very cold at the top of the mountain, all the photos I took were blurred. Check out this photo by Abenaa instead.)

The manager of the guesthouse where I was staying told me that the night view of Damascus from the summit of Mount Qassioun was the only place he liked in Damascus.

Locals came here with their family members or friends. They brought a pot of tea with a portable stove or narghile (the Middle Eastern water pipe for smoking), spending a relaxed evening with a fantastic view. Even girls became adventurous - this was the only place I was approached by a young Syrian girl. Remember Syria is a rather conservative Islamic country. The sense of euphoria abounded.

Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon (2nd edition, p.76) quotes a legend of the Prophet Mohammed - when he, on a journey from Mecca, looked down from the Mount Qassioun on Damascus, he refused to visit the city because he wanted to enter paradise only once.

What's different from night views of Western or East Asian cities is the myriads of green lights. Mosques in Syria are lit up with the color of green at night. And Damascus is vast without high-rise buildings. As a result, it was as if I had seen an ocean of jewellery.

When you have an opportunity to visit Damascus, never ever miss this view.

Travel Tips:
1. There is no public transport from the city centre to Mount Qassioun. Hail a taxi. As most taxi drivers in Damascus don't speak English or even read alphabets, ask a member of staff at your hotel to write down the name of Mount Qassioun in Arabic letters on a piece of paper and show it to the taxi driver.
2. It's colder at the top of the mountain. Grab a jacket or something to wear.
3. There are several retaurants with a panoramic view of Damascus. Some are incredibly tacky, though.
4. Catching a taxi on the way back is quite difficult. (It took me half an hour to catch one.) You can ask the taxi driver to wait for, say, half an hour at the top of the mountain. But I'm sure that you don't want to leave only after half an hour or so. So it's a dilemma.

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