Muslim World Study Tour: Attractions and Impressions

My final thoughts on the one-month Muslim World Study Tour with Assoc Prof Halim Rane of Griffith University…

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Manicured and massive – Putrajaya

In Malaysia, the attractions of Putrajaya are indicative of a general disconnect between those of governmental power and the citizens (it reminded me a lot of Canberra). Anywhere else in the city, besides the main tourist hubs, were small apartments, half-built building blocks, and small-time businesses working hard for success. In Putrajaya was an excess of massive buildings (most looked 10x as big as they needed to be) and new attractions that hadn’t quite settled their roots in. The streets were bare, save for expensive governmental cars and the odd bus. No people occupied street corners and few cafes and signs of life were to be seen. As a city built to take the strain off KL, I felt it didn’t quite have the community heart of a true city, and was more there for show. As far as a tourist attraction goes, things were big but they didn’t really hold a great deal of historic or real worth, and probably wouldn’t be a top tourist destinations for Australians. In fact its size and excess reminded me a lot of a quote by my favourite author, Henry David Thoreau. “Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.”

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Monkey at Batu Caves

My favourite part of KL would definitely have to be the food which I thoroughly enjoyed, as well as going to the Batu Caves as we were finally able to see some greenery and the mountains which were very tall and severe. As far as a tourist attraction goes, it was very poorly maintained (run-down souvineer shops in the caves, peeling paint, rickety handrails, litter everywhere and bare spaces which looked like they once held significance but had long given in to the powers of smooth concrete and easy access), but at least was an opportunity for me to see a something other than big, glistening cities! If you were visiting, you’d probably enjoy the opportunity to see the monkeys.

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Aya Sofya in Istanbul

In Turkey I was taken aback by the history of the place. The feeling of walking through the roman basilica cystern, the sight of the Topkapi Palace, the attention to detail in the cobblestone roadways in the old part of the city… Being in Istanbul was truly impressive and I can easily see why it is the gateway to both Europe and Asia. Because of the depth and breadth of built history, I found it very different to Australia and the attractions we as a country have to offer. My general impression of Turkey is extremely good (this could just be due to my lovely Turkish friends Ceren and Faruk) and I thought it to be a very welcoming society. Considering the experience we had there, I would love to go back to explore further, particularly in the countryside.

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Inside the Alhambra

In Spain I loved the Alhambra, which kept its mysterious charm to itself until you got inside it. A massive complex of red brick, squared-off buildings, the Alhambra revealed itself on the inside to ornately carved stucco in patterns of leaves, fruits and flowers, beautifully carved wooden roofs with inlaid red, gold, blue and green, and painstakingly arranged tiles in geometric patterns. While loving this, the attraction that I most enjoyed was simply roaming the streets of Granada at night time. I was particularly humbled when I gazed towards the stars to see where old residential and religious monoliths met the sky.  I could have stood there gazing for hours. It made me feel that overall, Spain is a country with a depth of history manifesting itself in winding streets, white-washed walls and dry, rolling hills. The Arabic influence, in my mind, was quite strong, and particularly travelling via train I could easily picture myself being transported into another century, another country, another world. While the countryside reminded me of South Australia, Spain really is in another world and I think Australians could easily settle down with comfort in Spain, enjoying large glasses of sangria, endless tapas and the gentle patter of Spanish guitars.

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Walking through the streets in Rabat

If there were one place that blew my mind, it would have been Morocco. It was so different to any other place I have experienced, and it was far more diverse and beautiful than I could have imagined. Although I would recommend steering clear of Casablanca, the incredible marketplaces of Marrakech aren’t to be missed, and the sea-side location of Rabat (though filthy) was a nice break in our long train trips between locations. My favourite part would undoubtedly be Fes-> Sahara -> Fes. My experience was this: We arrived in the green, hilly Fes on my birthday and became quickly ensconced in our inn. We were taken to dinner at Restaurant Dar Hatim (ranked no. 1 on trip advisor) to enjoy a home-cooked meal in the literal home of a beautiful, welcoming family. The next day myself and two friends embarked on the most memorable time of our trip – a 7-8 hour drive down to the Sahara desert.

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Yes. We woke up to this. In the Sahara.

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This is me in Marrakech!

First we passed through the alpine Swedish ski village of Ifrane, we stopped to photograph  and find the wild barbary apes outside Azrou, we drove through snowy highlands remarkably similar to those you would find in Scotland, we burst through rugged mountain ranges to the flat plains leading up to the High Atlas Mountains, we watched donkeys grazing at the side of small streams and rocky hilltops, we passed small bottles of honey being sold on the side of the road on the way into the Ziz Gorges, we saw small oases filled with mint plants and date palm trees, and we watched the most majestic of all sand dunes rise miraculously from flat, black plains. And to top it all off, we road into the Sahara on camels at sunset, camped for a night on the dunes, gazed at the stars while listening to our Berber guide sing to us, and watched the sun rise, revealing an expanse of desert so desolate and quiet, it was just sensational. There was very little that was comparable to what we have in Australia, except for the massive expanse of… earth. I think that is why I liked it so much, and why I think others would too. Asides from being so incredibly different, it was refreshingly ‘homely’ to explore, visit and observe a land so complex and diverse, just like Australia.

If you’ve stuck through to the very end of these posts, I applaud you. Thanks for reading, I’ve now finished my 6th and final post for my assessment! 🙂

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