A Royal Retreat

The magnificence of the forts, the dazzle of the glittering ‘sheesh mahals’ and flamboyant palace-hotels, the rustic beauty of the villages, the inner calmness even in the thick crowds at Ajmer Shareef, the staggering queues of the devout at Pushkar, the clambering of hawkers in the old city and the mouth-watering mithai and food. My recent escapade to Jaipur was visual, soulful and a gourmet treat.

I am in love with Rajasthan. My winter visit of Udaipur (Palaces, Lakes and Memories) this year made me a fan of this State. Udaipur was laid-back and Jaipur is comparatively fast-paced. The action, for tourists especially, is in the old city-also known as the Pink city where all the buildings are painted in pink (a welcoming colour). Needless to say, we spent all our waking hours discovering this part of the city on foot and cycle rickshaws. The famed Hawa Mahal is located here. We jostled past the crowds to go all the way up for some ‘hawa’ (air), but alas! On this particularly sweltering day, there was none. However, the unique architecture of the building and the views of the surrounding monuments from here, made up for the lack of breeze.

Forts and Palaces

Amer Fort and Nahargargh Fort were our ‘must-sees’. Both located about 11 kms from the city on top of a hill are visual marvels. Amer Fort is huge, covering the surrounding hills to protect the town of Amer. Moats, ponds, gardens and a long curving pebbled walkway led us to the palace atop this fort.  The Rajput maharajas and their families lived in this opulent palace with its large open courtyards and the ‘sheesh mahal’ (section made entirely of glass). The Nahargarh Fort located at the edge of the Aravalli hills offered beautiful vistas of Jaipur city from its very interestingly made roof-top. It is said to have been a retreat palace for the Maharajas. The fresco paintings and their many baaris (windows) made for picture-postcard pictures.

We drove up to the Samode village (about 40 kms) which has a magnificent palace converted into a hotel-Samode Palace (What-e-‘Numa). The drive up to this palace traverses through the quaint village where artisans were busy at work in their shops. Blacksmiths were hammering hot iron on their anvils, while families of bangle (lac) makers were busy moulding pieces of designer bangles. They made us some new bangles as well. The palace is beautiful, with guards standing sentry.

Spiritual

Our ziyarat (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) to Ajmer Shareef (135 kms) was a spiritual experience. Even in the midst of the multitudes of people, this resting place of the benevolent saint Moinuddin Chisti (Gharib Nawaz-Benefactor of the poor) had an eerily calming effect on us. We offered a customary chaadar (embroidered sheet) and flowers to the saint’s tomb and the custodian of the Dargah (Dr. Syed Irfan) offered prayers for us. The lyrical sound of the qawwali (Sufi devotional music) outside was divine.

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In the dargah

We took a trip to Pushkar town (Mysticism and the Kumbh) from Ajmer (16 kms) where the only Brahma temple in the world exists. While crowds of people lined to enter the temple, many others, like us, walked to the ghats (series of steps leading to the holy water) where priests performed pujas and did aartis to the chants of shlokas.

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At the ghat

Food

After our spiritual interlude, we were back to discover the rest of Jaipur. We took a food walk by YoTours in the old city and it was a gastronomical adventure of local snack food of kachoris, masala chai, malai kulfis, ghewar,sutarfini and our favourite-different kinds of paan. The Rajasthani food looks simple, but is deviously rich and laden with ghee. The famed vegetarian thaali with daal baati churma and a variety of curries and rotis we could only attempt to eat once. The non-vegetarian delicacy, laal maas, is not to be missed. We had it at ITC’s Rajputana and it was very worth it. We also had Continental and Chinese food at Niros and at Taruveda in the new part of the city.

Shopping

The hawkers and shop owners strike a hard bargain. The city is famous for its blankets, durries and bed sheets. Bandhini prints, bangles, fashion jewellery, footwear, different types of mukhwas (digestive mouth-fresheners) and bhujias (snacks), the roads were teeming with people selling all these and much more. Needless to say, just like my trip to Udaipur,(Palaces, Lakes and Memories) we came away with extra baggage!

Jaipur is a royal city. The people are courteous, helpful and surprisingly, humourous. Everyone is a guide here and has their own story to share about the forts and palaces. This city’s unique mix of the old and the new made it a memorable and delightful journey for us.

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At Samode Palace…Until next time…

Location:

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is well-connected by air from metros. It has a good road network and a train station. Ajmer is well-connected to Jaipur by road and train. Pushkar is accessed by road.

Climate:

Average temperature in August is 35 C.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

 

 

 

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Paid. Check.

While having a particularly tough day in college, trying to understand ‘matrices’, ‘integration’ and other such alien terms in my Quantitative Theory class, I got a message on my phone. It’s a salary crediting in my bank account! And it is my first pay check… after 5 long years! I almost whooped in joy and kept smiling gleefully the whole day. 🙂

It is literally the only time that I love ‘numbers’. Even the complex ‘matrices’ did not seem as sinister suddenly 😉

339e331a865e877ec82a20284cfca8a8--happiness-is-humor

The excitement and emotions I went through were the same, just as they were in 2002 when I got my first salary working for the newspaper, Deccan Chronicle. I remember that day, as if it was yesterday. My late grandmother (dadi) and I went and bought a gold finger ring with that money. It is my most cherished possession; I still wear it every day.

The thrill of getting paid is incomparable. In my immensely complex life, it is these small moments that make my days.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

 

 

Back to School

I was never a ‘studious kid’ or a teacher’s pet for all through my formal education days. In fact, like countless other school/college kids, I could not wait to pass, get my degree and get out for ‘good’ from the ‘education cycle’.

I was better at commerce subjects and enjoyed economics while in school. I wanted to study further on those lines, but instead ended up getting an Arts degree. I followed it with a Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism (did exceptionally well too) and then a PG Diploma in Public Relations.

I did all my studies in India except for my course in Public Relations from Deakin University, Melbourne. It was a different experience, especially since I had lived and studied only in India up until then. The walk to my University traversed through the Gardiners creek protected forest reserve which has a small brook flowing through it. Every time I walked to classes, I crossed the small foot bridge with ducks quacking in the cool water below. I had never imagined that I would be studying in a setting as beautiful and idyllic as this. The mode of teaching at that University was ‘assignment orientated’ with just 1 written exam per semester. Ah! What a relief it was to me! No exams to ‘mug-up’ for. 🙂

Anyways, I thought those eventful study years would be the end of my academic pursuits. I consciously forgot about my keenness for business studies, but perhaps sub-consciously, I knew it was still an unfinished business.

Though I thought about it often, but I kept postponing it, mainly as I did not want to get back to the routine education grind. However, I finally decided this year to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). An unlikely conversation with my friend at my work this summer got me inclined to ‘stop sitting on it’ for any longer.

And hence, after a little over a decade of running away from the hallowed hallways of colleges, I find myself back at a study desk. I enrolled this year for an MBA degree from Andhra University at Dr. L.B. College, Visakhapatnam. I like to think of this as a new phase in my life (Phases).

Though it’s still early days and I have only had a few classes, I know that this stint at education will be as eventful as my previous ones. It has its challenges, mainly the daily classes and written exams (I haven’t held a pen for anything longer than signing my signature in a while). Juggling academics with a full time job and a part-time job…it is going to be a hectic next two years of my life. Oh, I almost forgot about the Spanish language course I have applied for this year too.

Few get an opportunity to get back to study. Sometimes it is a relief to know that the only thing I will be stressing about is if I will pass the next subject. Wish me luck for this phase in my life (Phases).

Tamanna S. Mehdi

Makes a Difference

I have recently come across two very different types of organizations, (non-profit) that have left an impression on me. One works in the field of education of children with dyslexia and the other is a donor registry for blood stem cells.

Sprouts

On my visit to Nagpur this summer, I was invited to a very different kind of school. With the ratio of 1:1 for a child to a teacher, this school is unique. Situated on large grounds in a prime property right in the centre of the city, I noticed parents sitting patiently, some talking on the phone, some reading and then some others just idling.  In all their eyes though, I noticed a love for their children- a love that made them bring their children to this special school.

Curtained partitions separated the different classrooms and the walls were brightly coloured and adorned with different learning materials. The school had a sand-pit and a playing room, gym area with props and even a small zoo with different birds.

The biggest USP of this school is that it is completely FREE. Yes, you read right. There are no fees here. Most of the teachers here are volunteers. Remember the iconic movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and how we all instantly connected with the ‘day-dreamer’ Ishaan? That was perhaps the first time that dyslexia was highlighted in India.

Dr. Nisreeen Maimoon, Director and Dr. Sofia H Azad, Professor of Occupational therapy school and centre GMCH, Nagpur run the program at Sprouts. Their mission is to provide a unique centre to our society and it is run by a team of skilled multi-speciality faculty that is efficient in nurturing young minds and enabling them to discover and manifest their inherent skills through an education best suited to them.

The activities at this centre include Occupational therapy, Speech therapy, Special education and Counselling. Considering each student to be a unique entity, they develop individualized educational plans along with sensory-motor therapy and counselling.

Counselling forms a major part of intervention for parents as well as students. They conduct regular workshops at different schools highlighting dyslexia and other learning disabilities and urge teachers as well as parents to recognise problem areas in children as early as possible, so that they can be tutored keeping their special needs in mind.

Dr Maimoon says that learning disabilities and dyslexia cannot be corrected, but they can help a child develop coping skills,  so they can have a normal learning experience at school and can mingle easily in the society.

Some of the famous people who suffered from learning disorders are: Pablo Picasso, Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Mohammed Ali, Magic Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Radcliffe, Steven Spielberg, Justin Timberlake, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, Keira Knightley, singer Cher, TV Chef Jamie Oliver…

It is heart-warming to know that there are selfless people like Dr Maimoon and her team who are highlighting this issue and lending a helping hand to many ‘mis-understood’ children.

Find out if someone you know needs help by answering this simple questionnaire.

questionnaireSprouts Resource and Remedial Centre is run by ‘Sk Asgharali Hasanali Maimoon charitable trust’ and comes under the project for ‘Dyslexia Management’ in the name of Late Mrs. Khadija Maimoon.  Helplines: +91 9823060144/+91 9823320938

Blood Stem Cell Registry

We usually wake up to medical emergencies when something happens to us or to someone close to us. For me, the eye opener was when my dear cousin fell seriously ill. As the case maybe, a mad rush for matching donors or treatment options ensues. And also, instant searches on Google.

As infections and accidents increase, blood banks and organ donation drives have also increased and help in giving a new lease of life to many in need. Blood donation camps are rampant and large numbers of citizens turn up to donate their blood. It is lesser, but same with volunteering for donation of corneas for eyes and registering for other organs.

A not so new, but a lesser known type of donation, is that of BLOOD STEM CELLS. This is used for treating patients with Lymphoma, Thalassemia and Leukaemia. According to data, there is only a 25% chance that a genetic match can be found in one’s own family. This makes, a blood stem cell donor registry that much more valuable as cases of cancer are on the rise and treatment is still limited.

Recently, a blood stem cell donation camp was organized at Waltair Club in my home town, Vizag (Ah Vizaaag!). I am happy to be 1 of the 217 willing donors who registered by giving a cheek swab sample in the hope that I can be a genetic match for someone in need. In case of a suitable match, the donors will be contacted and they can choose to donate by simple out-patient procedures.

Increasing the registry of such facilities works 2 ways- not just for being there for someone, but it also expands our own chances at treatment, if ever need be. Let’s not wait for our own emergencies to wake us up.

Datri Blood Stem Cell Donors Registry: www.datriworld.org

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

Dear Vaaji

“It is hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember”.

It has been exactly a month since the passing away of my dear Vaaji, my paternal grandmother. And there hasn’t been a single day since that I don’t remember her. I have been meaning to write my thoughts about her for a while, but a part of me still can’t believe she has left us for her heavenly abode.

Both my grandmothers (Nani and Dadi) left no stone unturned in going over-board in showering us, their grandchildren, with unbridled affection, love and support. Both of them exuded with their strong presence a sense of invincibility which I thought would extend till eternity. Losing them both within a span of just 6 months (My Dear Nani) has been a tragic loss.

Even today, I expect to see Vaaji smiling at me, from her seat by the window in the masjid or from her favourite chair in her bedroom. She had a habit of selecting a place to make it her own wherever she stayed and that habit extended to her place in the car as well. Happily I treasure the last few months that she stayed with us and the sight of her favourite spot in our home reminds me of her daily.

Vaaji was born in Nagpur and as a young bride moved to Vizag after her marriage to Mr. Hussain Safi Mehdi, my grand-father. Living in a joint family, as my aunt reminiscences to me-“she was the favourite daughter and sister-in-law of the family”. Always willing and ready to share and give anything she was asked of. She was a pillar of support to my grand-father and to my father, uncle and aunts at all times.

She was a very determined woman. Quiet, but had immense strength and will-power. Her disarming smile carefully hid all her emotional and physical pains. She had a will to live and make the most of her life. She lost her eldest teen aged son whom she doted on, to cancer. But this did not break her. She became even more determined to give the rest of her children the best that she could offer. She herself was a cancer survivor and through her months of recovery, she smiled and bore the pain, never complaining.

She was also fiercely independent, right up till the end. She calmly went about doing her own chores even though she was frail and getting on in years and even helped with prepping vegetables in the kitchen. She would chide my two little naughty nephews, (her great grand-children) when they did not clear up their toys after playing, but would readily pick up after them when they left for their home each evening. I know she did the same for us as well when we were kids.

As most grand-mothers are, she was a fantastic cook and had some interesting multi-cuisine recipes of her own. My dad recalls how his friends loved to eat her version of the French toast (a fusion of sweet and savoury flavours) and they even renamed it ‘Vaaji’s French toast’. She enjoyed reading, and I remember the Manorama magazine subscriptions she looked forward to every month. She was a devout and spiritual person and like my Nani (My Dear Nani) had a progressive and modern outlook to life. She liked the outdoors, loved travelling, especially going on long road-trips. At the drop of a hat she was ready to accompany us on our many long distance road trips all over India. I especially remember as a child, how much I enjoyed the cycle rickshaw rides she took me on every evening.

As in health as in sickness, she was never a burden on anyone. Her spirit for life and her kindness towards everyone was such that even while she was seriously ill, she would ask about our health, and inquire about our day or whether we had eaten on time. She was a humorous and witty person, and despite her discomfort took part in and enjoyed all our chatter when we visited her at the hospital.

She was loved by one and all as was evident by all the well-wishers who came to meet her at the hospital. She was born in a large family and was the eldest of the many siblings she had. When she breathed her last, a few months shy of her 91st birthday, she was surrounded by all her children, grand-children, great grand-children and her sisters.

I miss her at all times, especially during this month of Ramzan, as I daily read the duas she helped me translate many years back. I can vividly remember that day, as if it was only yesterday. May she Rest in Peace and may Allah grant Heaven for my dear Vaaji. Ameen!

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure”.

09Mrs Asma Hussain Mehdi- 21st November 1926 – 10th May, 2017

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

Iraqis

Ancient Iraq (Mesopotamia) and the surrounding areas are known as the Cradle of Civilization. My 2-week enlightening experience of present day Iraq proves what an amazing civilization it would have been and how resilient her people are even now.

People and Atmosphere

I had pre-conceived notions of what Iraq would be like- a war ravaged country with bomb blasts almost every week in their cities. I thought I would see burnt car tyres and road blocks, gun-toting Army men, armoured vehicles on their highways and old cars on their roads. I expected to see bumpy and broken down roads and run-down houses. (All images fuelled by those seen on TV and in newspapers).

But boy! Was I wrong. The places we visited were nothing like I imagined them to be. Right from our air-conditioned Mercedes buses to the many luxury SUVs I noticed on the roads…to the well-maintained buildings we passed by and the hotels we stayed at, everything was near perfect. Their highways were 4-laned, clean and in good condition. Even the narrow lanes, by-lanes and roads in the cities were clean-in fact even their garbage pick-ups were mechanized (very unlike in India).

Our hotels had well-appointed rooms and bathrooms with latest fixtures and fittings. Even our towels were freshly laundered and sealed in individual wrappings when we checked-into our hotel rooms (I have not seen this even in 5-star hotels). The hotel staff was attentive and most understood Hindi or English.

I imagined there would be many destitute on the streets especially close to the shrines- but there were hardly any and the rare ones we saw, sat quietly by the side of the road not pestering anyone. (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) I also thought the locals would be wary of foreigners, but this was furthest from the truth. They were welcoming, polite, friendly and loved India, Indians and of course Hindi movies 🙂

There were numerous foods stalls and restaurants-small and big, and they were super hygienic. The aromatic smell of freshly baked breads (multiple types of these), kebabs and shawarmas filled the streets we walked on every day. Iraqis love their tea and numerous vendors sold flavourful Iraqi chai (they would clean each glass with hot water before serving). The buffet at our hotels was unbelievable, especially considering that we were in a country with poor economy. Table full of baklavas and puddings, cheese, salads and mains were served for every meal.

The one other thing that impressed me was the excellent internet bandwidths. The Wi-Fi never failed and there was never a drop in the download speeds. Their economy might be down, but their bandwidths are certainly not.

Masjids

Thousands of people daily visit the shrines of Moulana Ali’s at Najaf and Moulana Hussain’s and Moulana Abbas Alamdar’s at Karbala, and even then they were well- maintained with constant vacuuming, cleaning and renovations. The very many other masjids and historical places that we visited during our trip were also clean with constant maintenance- this despite the fact that this region has been affected with violence and destruction. (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural)

Bazaars

The most colourful and full-of-life souks I have even seen. From knick-knacks to prayer items to yards of material, household items, to gold and silver, and meat, food and bread-everything was sold in narrow,scrupulously clean but interconnected by-lanes. A truly Arabian atmosphere was seen here. Hundreds of people would walk these lanes picking up bargains and in the evenings, supper for their homes.

Almost everyone in my travelling group picked up finger-rings and pendants with semi-precious stones (akik, topaz, sapphire, opals, etc.), colourful head scarves, tasbih (prayer beads), masallahs (prayer mats) and many other souvenirs. The shop-keepers would cheerfully strike bargains, offer free samples of dry-fruits and try to please all customers.

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A vendor selling jewellery

It was lovely walking down their curving streets (even though they were chock-a-block with people), watching the many artefacts on display and taking in the different aromas of food, trays of their local sweets, spices and the crackle of the falafels frying in hot oil.

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An Iraqi man selling bread rolls

Safety

I was never really concerned for my safety though my friends back home were worried. There was frisking at regular intervals and though a tad inconvenient, it kept us all safe. Even we women would walk in the streets throughout the night and no one would bother us. It was in fact ultra safe even for women.

Iraq has natural beauty and a lot of history and I would love to come back to explore. Iraqis are proud of their culture and history. The people of this Cradle of Civilization are welcoming and full of hope despite their many problems. I pray that this land of the Euphrates River eventually attains their lost peace and prosperity.

Travel:

We flew into Najaf, about 100 km from the capital Baghdad. The shrine of Moulana Ali is located here and this city is considered one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam.

We travelled by bus from Najaf to Karbala-a distance of 80 km. Karbala is another very important centre for Islam.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural

I have never before been on a journey with so much hope, as on the one I went on last month. This pilgrimage with my family, friends, relatives and acquaintances was about just that- HOPE. Hope for better spirituality, hope of a better understanding of our roots and hope for a better life.

I rarely have difficulty writing a travelogue, but I am at a loss to describe this tour. This travel also had pretty sights- the meandering Euphrates and Nile Rivers, the hustle-bustle of the colourful Arabian souks, beautiful masjids, towering pyramids and magical and mythical stories. But this tour was about more than that- it was a trip back in Islamic history from about 570 to 680 AD. It consisted of a personal dialogue with God involving feelings that are extremely heart felt but difficult to express in words.

We took the almost month long trip of Umrah to Saudi Arabia, ziyarats (pilgrimages) to Moulana Ali’s Holy shrine in Najaf, and Moulana Hussain’s  and Moulana Abbas Alamdar’s shrines in Karbala in Iraq, (Iraqis) and Cairo, Egypt. For me this past month has been about bonding- bonding with God, bonding with our own selves and bonding with our fellow companions while learning about our spiritual roots.

I feel so privileged to have had a chance to take this trip along with our spiritual head, His Holiness Moulana Amiruddin Malak saheb and his family. The pilgrimage was made easy and more informative due to His knowledge, guidance and His blessed presence with us through out.

Spiritual Bonding-

It is most difficult to describe this. The awe, joy and privilege one feels standing at these Holy places- it is impossible to illustrate. All we could do was bow our heads at Prophet Mohammed’s (SAW) shrine in Masjid-un-Nabawi, Madinah or stare at in awe and respect at the magnificent Kaabah in Mecca. Performing Umrah, praying and meditating in front of this House of God was an exhilarating as well as an over-whelming experience. The abject feeling of sadness while leaving these two cities is perhaps symbolic of how deeply they moved us while we were there.

Travelling to Najaf and Karbala was no less moving. I felt a sense of peace at these places and also felt somewhat unworthy of visiting the final resting places of these great Spiritual heads of Islam. Moulana Ali’s shrine is located in a busy market place, but once you enter the compound, there is so much peace and not a sound from the outside world disturbs the mind- one can sit here meditating for hours without being disturbed. The same is true of the masjids of Moulana Hussain and Moulana Abbas Alamdar at Karbala. (Iraqis)

Social Bonding-

We were a group of about 200 plus people travelling together. Praying together, walking together, eating together with them has been a most pleasurable experience of my life. Many of those travelling along, I only knew by name and if it had not been for this trip, I would have never mingled with them and connected with them at such a close level. As I was also a group coordinator (in-charge of 20 people), I had even better interactions with many of them.

Mingling with people from around the world at Mecca and Madinah, and the locals at Najaf, Karbala (Iraq) and Cairo, whether at the masjids or walking about in their market places, hearing their languages, observing their body language, smelling the different aromas of bread baking and spices, all added to this holy travel opportunity. (Iraqis) Infact, Cairo felt like any Indian city- the warmth of the people towards Indians and the Suzuki Maruti cars reminded us of home every day. We just had to mention that we were Indians, and thanks to the Hindi movies, the people would start chanting ‘Shah Rukh Khan, Shah Rukh Khan…’ and offer us tea and good deals.

Cultural Bonding-

Tracing back our roots and feeling proud of the lineage we come from has to be felt to be believed. Especially in Iraq where the Battle of Karbala took place in the month of Moharram and the month is observed every year throughout the world. Standing on the same grounds that are steeped in history that we had only read about in books was a very emotional and moving experience.

From here, the other history of the Pharaohs and their towering wonders- the Pyramids in Egypt, though in stark contrast, were also an enjoyable eye-opener. Dining on the Nile cruises in chilly winds was another unforgettable experience.

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At the Giza Pyramids, Egypt

As they say, hidden connections are stronger than the obvious ones. Living this array of varied emotions and being a part of this trip is indeed a great honour for me as it must be for all those who took this trip. I thank God and His Holiness Moulana Amiruddin Saheb for making this trip of a lifetime possible for all of us.

Hope anchors the soul.

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All of us at Masjid Kumail, Najaf

Weather:

Madinah and Mecca were getting warmer, but were comfortable in March.

Najaf and Karbala were warm during the day, but evenings and early mornings were cool in March.

Cairo was chilly and windy in March.

Hotels:

Gulnar Taibah, Madinah

Anjum, Mecca

Qasr Aldur, Najaf

Alfajr Albadeea, Karbala

Kempinski Nile, Cairo

Travel Agent:

Ideal Tours and Travels, Nagpur. Phone- 98230 53931

-Tamanna S. Mehdi