The World in A Teacup

Think about it. Every culture in the world has some kind of tea they call their own. It’s not just a bunch of tea leaves taken from a tree! There’s thousands of varieties and ways to prepare the drink, all with special cultural significance to their own people. Here’s a few you might not have known or thought about!

Yak Tea

Found in the grass plains of Tibet, this is made with loose black tea, thoughthere seemed to be more of the stalks in this than leaves. Yak milk is then boiled in a pot over a fire, the tea added, then served into rice-bowl sized tea cups. It tastes more of the milk than it does the tea, and is very filling because of it.


Mate

One of South America’s favourite drinks is often passed around and shared. Made from a herbal leaf, it’s crushed up and put into a small pot, and water poured over it. I love the metal straw-crossed-strainer it’s drunk from! If you’ve not seen one yet, have a Google!

mate tea1

Above image courtesey of http://www.annahar.com

Saffron Tea

It is of course common to have herbal teas. However, saffron is such an expensive spice outside of Iran that most people wouldn’t consider putting it in a tea. Saffron is very abundant and relatively cheap in Iran. The tea is a dark orangey colour, and has a wonderful earthy flavour. Iranians love teahouses, and they’re often the places to hangout with friends and family after dark. They serve all sorts of teas, including cinnamon and cardamom teas, which came in a close second and third to saffron! Tea is served in small glass cups, and often served with small cakes – and if you’re up for it, sheesha.

Above: Even in the smallest of Iranian villages, you can still find a teahouse!

Artichoke Tea

In the ex-resort town of Da Lat, Vietnam’s French connection is highlighted in its architecture and food. Butter is used more often in cooking, some wines are grown in the region, and the climate is better for European fruit and vegetables like strawberries and artichokes. It’s here that the unusual artichoke tea can be found, a local speciality that crosses Vietnamese tea culture with French influences.

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Above: The market in Da Lat is one of the few places you can sample artichoke tea.

Masala tea

Perhaps this isn’t unusual, but it is interesting to note how far this way of making tea has travelled! Originating from India, this spiced tea brewed in warmed milk has become the traditional way of making tea in Oman and East Africa, despite the distances. The sweetness and blend of spices can change a little between cultures and families. A delicious way to prove how small the world is!

Russian Samovar

The Samovar is a Russian invention that was spread by their empire throughout Central Asia, and neighbouring countries such as Iran and Turkey. It is essentially a big urn, usually heated by coal. Long before the office kitchenette had hot water instantly available, these samovars were a staple in Russian homes, and were an easy way to boil water quickly and prepare tea.


Above: Russian samovars were imported the world over, including to the Persian Shah. (See large silver samovar on back table.)

Tea with Tea Cake and Tea Ice Cream

I love matcha. Since matcha powder came along, there’s been green tea flavoured everything popping up, from ice cream to KitKats. When you think about it, it’s crazy that tea can be put into so many things, and not just drunk – the humble drink has come a long way, and promoted itself to food! There are a lot of matcha cafes opening up, with matcha powder based drinks and goods for sale. A few of my favourites include matcha and Oreo frappe from a place in Sydney. When in Korea, a friend recommended this place, O Sulloc’s, apparently quite famous for the tea products made on Jejo island. Since I was only in the place once, I went all out: a green tea latte, with green tea ice cream, and green tea cake!

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There are hundreds more of course, but these are a just few of my favourites. Others that caught my attention included insect poo tea (don’t think I could bring myself to drink that!), the luxurious gold coated tea (don’t think I could afford that), chocolate tea (don’t think I won’t try that) and the banana tea which my sister found for me in Sri Lanka. This wonderful drink we call tea is incredibly versatile, and clearly loved worldwide.

Know of any other weird and wonderful tea varieties or ways of brewing? Comment below!

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Crossing the Caspian Sea, From One End of Sanity to Another

It’s the journey, not the destination.” And that, despite the enticing sounds of this slogan branded on our truck Archie II, was a lesson we certainly learned during our Caspian Sea crossing.

We had of course been told this is notoriously changeable. There’s no official timetable for the ferry, it leaves when it’s full. We had to call the ticket office a couple of times to double check what was happening and the likelihood of us needing to have our bags packed and ready to go within an hour. But we knew what we were in for, our guides were used to the haphazard organisational nature of this ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi, and we actually managed to get to the port and through customs in relatively good time, a whole day earlier than we thought. We were ahead of schedule.

The first night on the ferry was one of our group’s birthdays. Well stocked up with Georgian wine to celebrate, we had a great time settling in! We weren’t so worried that this crossing could take longer than the 16-17 hour sail time, depending on the minds of the officials at the port on the Turkmen side of the border. We’d sleep in, laze around, and surely be in Turkmenbashi by that afternoon, if not the next morning. On the afternoon of the second day, the boredom started to sink in, as we were all furiously reading the books we hadn’t already finished to distract us from the heat. Little did we know we should’ve taken our time, and made those precious leisure activities last for as long as possible. Instead of the overnight sail, and a potential one or two days waiting outside of port for Turkmen customs to clear us for docking, we had a total of more than 120 hours from port to port including customs.


The people on board were an interesting mix. Most were truck drivers, but they came from all over. The main nationalities were Turkish and Ukrainian, but there were Azeri and probably Turkmen as well. There was our group of ten, the truckies and two general passengers on board, as well as the crew. One of these passengers was a quiet Azeri lady, who slept in our cabin. Sadly, as we neither spoke Azeri, Turkmen or Russian, and she no English, we couldn’t get to know her well. She was extremely kind though, and when we explained we were celebrating a birthday (which involved me singing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song), she later quietly offered a gift to the birthday girl. After some very stilted conversation, we found out she lived in Baku and was visiting her mother. She and two others on board were observing Ramadan. The poor woman therefore only had one meal per day, and didn’t appear to have brought anything to do with her, so slept most of the time. As we finally prepared to dock and get off the boat on the fifth day, she sprayed me with her perfume. It was a wonderfully kind gesture, which may have also been a back handed compliment about the smell of everyone’s clothes five days in.

Up on the top deck, where the crew were quartered, there was an empty pool. The first two or three days, this stayed empty. But on the third and fourth day, the crew pumped seawater into it, and enjoyed themselves. At a lucky invitation, myself and a few others were invited to join the crew up on deck. The captain was wearing some very brightly coloured Hawaiian board shorts, pouring shots of vodka and eating watermelon, a complete contrast to his more usual surly demeanour on the control bridge we’d glimpsed through windows. The pool was probably only 2 square meters, but it was deep enough to jump in, feel refreshed, and come up with a big childish grin on my face. The moment my feet hit the water, any trace of cabin fever I might’ve been developing vanished – at least for a while.

A few men on the boat took the forced leisure time as an opportunity to do a little fishing. They took out some lines, tied whatever they had lying around on the end and threw them overboard. They sat around talking and waiting patiently for something to bite, then try to quickly lift up their catch. No rods, just a piece of fishing wire. They caught a few, and then salted and dried them, hanging them up on some spare rope nearby. It was nice to chat and watch them, even if our conversation was extremely limited by several language barriers, but it was a good reminder we could relax and enjoy the amazing inefficiency of the Turkmenbashi port and its customs officers.

Our other stroke of luck was the shower. I think that was a saving grace, and helped a few people keep their wits about them a little longer. The heat was everywhere, every day, especially when we got no breeze when the ferry anchored. Most of us had one set of clothes, enough for the overnight journey and an extra day, and maybe an extra shirt. So when we were all sweating buckets no realised we weren’t likely to be moving for a while, a shower was definitely welcome! Sometimes this ferry has showers, sometimes it doesn’t, and once the door to the shower was locked on a previous journey – think God we had access to it!

The food, we were told, was actually pretty good given stories we’d heard from previous travellers. There was fresh bread every day (though we sometimes had to beat the Ukrainian and Turkish truckers to it), and we usually had soup and pasta for lunch, and rice or pasta with meat for dinner. But by the third day of having a huge pile of plain greasy pasta with the equivalent of half a handful of meat, we were noticing the carb load diet. Perhaps our favourite meal was the breakfast where we were served nothing but stale biscuits and jam, with tea. Strangely, the next two breakfasts were far more hearty, and we still can’t quite work out where that morning’s rations went.

On the fourth day, most people had had enough. We seemed to be talking about leaving and the boat moving at every meal, and hallucinating if we’d heard the sounds of an anchor being hoisted up. Had we gotten closer to that ship, or was it just our imagination? The icing on the cake was when, at about 6 am on the fifth morning, and the ferry had most definitely been moving since 4 am, we were all on deck with fat smiles on our faces at the prospect of moving. We’d be there by breakfast time if all went well.

Too soon. Just twenty minutes later, the boat stopped, yet again. So close yet so far! We then waited for another few hours before finally getting permission to dock.

Going through the Turkmenistan customs at the port was an interesting ordeal. Once the ferry was unloaded of all the trucks, we made our way over to the immigration office. The entry forms weren’t in English, but thankfully we had a local guide to meet us there for this reason. The interrogation we received was definitely unexpected! We knew they were tough on medications, so had all packed our supplies in easy to find places, and carefully thrown out any trace of illegal substances such as codeine. But the officers were far more interested in quizzing us on our lives than they were about what we’d brought into the country. I was asked what my job was, what I studied, why I was coming to Turkmenistan, where I’d travelled to, what did the luggage tag on my bag left over from my last flight say, what was the picture on my passport cover Iand then ‘what is a kangaroo?’), if I was sure I was Australian, was my name Turkish (because apparently my last name should have been Turkish)….all harmless questions, borne purely out of curiosity. They made a token effort to look through my medicine supply, opened my saxophone case (I think they just wanted to look at it), and then I was off. One other member of our group got asked if the backgammon game she’d brought was hers, and surprised all the officers that women might play!
All in all, those 5 days were certainly not what anyone expected. We were extremely glad to be back on land, though I do think it marred our impressions of Turkmenistan a little. Hopefully the Darvaza gas crater makes up for it! We most definitely didn’t’ care about our destination of Turkmenbashi by the end of that fifth day, all we could think about was the crazy journey we’d had to get there.If nothing else, we have many stories to tell.

I am travelling with Dragoman, who specialise in overlanding adventures such as this leg from Tbilisi to Ashgabat. They made the best of the worst situation they could have!

Iran: World’s Friendliest Country?

Above: Iranian teenagers play dodgeball, where the losers get pushed into the fountain.

I’ve heard from so many people that Iran is one of the friendliest countries on Earth. I knew that going in. But I didn’t quite comprehend what that meant until I got there.

Iran is an absolutely gorgeous country. There are stunning landscapes, stretching from the Caspian Sea, to landscaped cities, across to deserts and then up into several mountain ranges. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about the country is its people. There were days where it was honestly difficult not to be stopped by locals wishing to introduce themselves, take photos with us, or to welcome us to their city multiple times a day.

Kerman was one such city. We’d had a few encounters like this earlier in Tehran and Yazd, but the bazaar in Kerman involved several local grandmas coming up to us with their faces beaming smiles. What would normally have taken about 10 minutes for us to walk from one end of the market to another took us about half an hour, because we kept stopping to talk to people.

Only a couple of days into our trip, my glasses broke. The small screw that held them together at each hinge had fallen out somehow and could not be found. I spent most of the day wearing my prescription sun glasses, but when we entered the bazaar, it was too dark for me to see. So I tried to walk around with slanted glasses, only attached to my head on one ear, holding the other side down with my handwhen I could. This particular bazaar had many gold and watch stalls, so I decided to ask if any had a screw the right size.

The second stall I tried, a middle aged man look thoughtfully at the two pieces I presented him, then rummaged around in his tool kit and what appeared to be an odds and ends jar. He selected an old safety pin, then began to bend and cut it into small loop. 15 mins later, my glasses were back on my head, without me needing to hold them. I tried to pay him for his time and ingenuity, but he refused. I thanked him profusely, humbled by his generosity. (Update, 5 months later this ad-hoc repair is still holding up!)


On a bus ride in Tehran, we befriended half the women’s section (the front half of the bus is for women, the back is for men – and the women’s half was much roomier!!). A lady handed a phone to one of our group, and insisted she speak into it. Turns out the lady had called up her friend who spoke English, told her that some foreigners were on the bus, and then within 10 minutes we had an invitation to tea the next day we sadly couldn’t keep. We met a teacher at a college nearby, who introduced us to all her friends of course, and the twenty minute or so bus ride flew by. Meanwhile, the guys were jam packed into the men’s section, standing in the summer heat, while we had plenty of room to move around and chat with our new friends. Turns out segregation has some benefits!

One member of our group very nearly befriended every child in Iran, and gave out several koala toys and kangaroo drawings, to the delight (and sometimes confusion) of many mothers. I think it was the simple act of stopping to pay attention to them that made them smile, as we smiled when teenagers asked us for our photos. We met so many people, and a few of our group even exchanged emails and contacts with some people.

Even when I thought this spate of sudden befriending would come to an end at the airport, just half an hour so so before boarding, a teenaged Tehrani girl sat next to me and immediately started chatting. Her and her father were visiting her family in Germany and Italy, and we got talking about everything from Iran, to accents, to history and career possibilities.


It just goes to show how far a smile can go. Iranians are so open and warm, and are the easiest people to get along with. Despite the presence of some propaganda, Iranians are too busy welcoming everyone to their country to resent foreigners. There’s definitely two sides to the story, despite how Western media reports news sometimes. I have no hesitations about going back at all!

Wilderness, Wadis and White

As the heat sank in, and the sun rose higher in the day, our 4WD wound through the mountains and out to the coast south of Muscat. My guide Badar and I spoke about politics, religion and, most importantly, football. Prior to this trip, that was probably the most I knew about this nation of only four million people – Australia played Oman a few times to qualify for the Asian and World Cups. The scenery along this road was fascinating to me. Flat plains of desert, fenced in by towering bare mountains. It was so strange to me to see these mountains, nothing but rock faces, not a tree and barely even grass in sight. The air in Oman is often hazy with the dust that drifts up into the air from these deserts. 
Part of the reason I chose to visit Oman over staying longer in the Emirates, was that when looking at countries nearby, it was far more traditional than the big glitzy cities of Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The Sultanate has a long history, and was once a vast trading empire that stretched all the way down to Zanzibar in East Africa. It was a great delight when I saw that Muscat was full of more traditionally styled architecture, a result of the province’s building laws that requires houses to fit with the overall asethetic of the city. Buildings must be white or cream, the colour of the traditional men’s dress. Muscat feels Arabian.

The highlight of my short stay there was Wadi Tiwi. Oman has several wadis, which are river beds or gullies in which villages have irrigated spring water from the mountains to create gardens. Seemingly out of nowhere, these wadis are green with date palms, mango trees, banana palms and grasses. Just a few metres higher up from these gardens is more of the same rocky mountains, and beyond that it’s back to harsh sun and dust.


Wadi Shab is generally the more popular in this area, however, it is best to go there in cooler months, where the trek through a cave system to a waterhole is far easier to bare. I wandered through the village, mostly along the falaj system. This is the traditional way that water was irrigated, tapping into the mountain spring water and channeling it down into these gardens. These carefully crafted channels have walls along which it easy to stroll from garden to garden. The houses were simple, people were swimming in the creek, and it was beautifully peaceful.

The heat still snuck in under the shade, and I was bright red by the end of our short walk. Slightly paranoid about getting dehydrated and sunburnt, I rationed my now hot water and doubled my scarf over my head to prevent more UV getting to my face. This was the moment when I realised that hijab was by far the best dress code! My scarf did more to shade my face than a hot and sunscreen could have, and I didn’t take it off for the rest of the day.

Beaches boats and buildings #arabia #Oman #beaches #traveltolearn

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From the wadi, we drove further south. Sur is a coastal port, famed for its shipyards and traditional dhow building. Perhaps it should also be famous for the number of mosques the small city boasts, with minarets and domes being spied barely 100 meters away from the next three. I imagine evening prayer time is a blend of competing prayers blasted from the speakers of each of these mosques.

An old lighthouse took care of the port, under the supervision of several small watchtowers dotting the rocky hills along the river mouth, nice little reminders of the roots and history of the country. In the afternoon heat, few people were on the streets when we arrived, but we got to visit one of the still active shipyards, still making wooden dhows. I picked up a few interesting facts about the shapes of the Omani ships, and how dates were imports part of preventing vitamin deficiency in the sailors. Who knew? Apparently Qatar have actually commissioned the boat builders of Sur to construct several dhows in order to get passengers from cruise ships around the Gulf into Doha’s port, in preparation for the Qatar WorldCup.

We stopped at a beach on the way back to stretch our legs at my request. I can’t see the ocean and not dip my feet in! Badar informed me that camping is very popular all over Oman, and we could see evidence of a few bins for campsites and fisherman. Surprisingly, the water was quite warm, a result of the currents throughout the Gulf. A swim would have been the perfect way to end the day, but I’d not brought swimmers with me that day. Now I know for next time, if I get back.
I travelled with Panorama Travel Oman, who managed to organise a trip less than 12 hours before we left, and even had an adapted itinerary for me. I was extremely impressed with their efficiency and service. Many thanks to Badar and Fatima! http://www.panorama.co.om/

Deserts and Diesel

The first thing I noticed about the desert out here is that it was different. Of course it makes sense, that should have been obvious, but I think it was the subtlety that I noticed most. I know what a desert looks like of course, but I hadn’t realised just how much my perception of what this would look and feel like was shaped by what already knew in Australia. The dunes weren’t the shapes I thought they’d be, much stouter than the ones behind beaches on the east coast, and there were a lot more of them. The desert grasses were still there, but they weren’t as high as spinifex, and there seemed to be less shrubs. The sand changed colour as we moved to different places. It started off a more yellow colour near the city, then gradually became more red and orange. Up close, I noticed the dunes were made up of layers of colours, probably changing every day as the winds blew different grains over each other. There were reds, blacks, yellows and greys.

I’d never seen sand dunes move before though. The patterns in the sand were made by gusts of wind, blowing a few thousand grains over each time, and you could actually see it happening in places. It was fascinating to watch! The dunes are changing minute to minute, every day of every year

Desert safaris are famous in major cities around the gulf, and one of the major tourist attractions. Apparently there are about 150 companies offering safaris out of Dubai alone. Most safaris are operated in groups, and we see several other 4WD envoys in the distance from most of our photo stops. Worryingly, every vehicle is fitted with a cage roll inside the car – although ours had a leather covering, so as not to ruin the interior style! Our driver laughs it off, saying its mandatory safety requirements, and that he’s so good at what he does he’s “better than Emirates airline.” The skill of the drivers is something else, which you truly appreciate when the sand is spinning out in clouds from under the tyres, doing Tokyo–drift style moves to control the car across the dunes. Each day, they need to alter their route, and manage to remember they way across the dunes with few stable landmarks. We’re reminded of this when one car in front of us nose dives a little into the sand, making its front wheel stuck, and needed to be pulled out by rope by the other drivers.


In a way, I think a desert safari also sums up Dubai quite nicely. There were people, there were cars, there were electricity lines and there were buildings, always off somewhere to the right of a camera shot. The desert had been tamed somewhat by the people who lived here. One of the world’s major cities was just an hour away to the east, and then about an hour to the west the desert ended at the foot of the Hatta mountains. Despite the harshness of the desert, it seemed to be manageable; a fun sight-see afternoon activity in air conditioned cars to avoid the 37 degree heat, the back to Dubai’s metropolis of grandiose architecture immediately afterwards.

I can’t imagine that in Australia. I can’t imagine this kind of city ever springing up in the red centre, or the Simpson desert. I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else in the world really. Beaches and islands made to look like the palm trees, ice rinks and aquariums inside huge shopping malls, and the things made large for the sake of laying claim to being the biggest in the world. It’s worth seeing such a spectacle, but it’s almost too bizarre to understand

The Forgotten Kingdom

 

It fascinates me the way that some parts of history are ‘lost’ in the popular narrative. There are a variety of reasons of course, but even those reasons are constantly changing and evolving, reshaping what greater society pays attention to, and what we collectively ignore.

“Fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard.” —Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Champa is one such example. Once, Champa was one of the prominent kingdoms of Southeast Asia. They were well known for their skill in ship building. They had great connections with kingdoms worldwide, so much so that even Shakespeare referenced them. Despite the famous art and inscriptions all over Cambodia’s Angkor depicting the various clashes with the Cham, most tourists leave the Khmer temples and monuments with several photographs of a battle scene and no memory of who was fighting whom.

The Cham occupied most of what is now southern Vietnam. After decades of being sandwiched between the Viet and Khmer kingdoms, they were eventually overtaken by the Vietnamese. However, there are still many Cham structures in Vietnam. Pictured above are the towers near Phan Thiet. Interestingly, right next to these towers, a Vietnamese Buddhist monastery has been built. It was a noticeable irony when we visited these towers, the chanting of the monks ringing out across the site where the old Hindu monuments were crumbling away.

The best display of Cham buildings are those at My Son, just outside of Hoi An. The average traveller doesn’t even know that they are there, just twenty minutes away by car. These structures were severely damaged by US bombing raids during the war, but are still considered the best remaining examples of Cham architecture.

Feature image taken in Phan Thiet province, just outside of Mui Ne, images directlly above taken at My Son temple complex.

There’s a strange confluence of the information that we have access to and that which we are exposed to. In this day and age, we have no excuse but the sheer overwhelming wealth of knowledge at our fingertips; ignorance seems almost lazy once it’s put in perspective. And yet, if you did not know to take a taxi ride for just twenty minutes outside of the tourist hub Hoi An, the average traveller could easily spend their given three days shopping at the famous tailors, or relaxing on a riverboat ride that doesn’t go quite far enough south to reach the My Son sanctuary. As archaeology in Vietnam and the wider Southeast Asian area has boomed in the last century, the access to information about lesser known sites has certainly increased and become available in several languages, but it has taken a lot more time for this to filter down into the tourism industry. Even now, when the Northeast of Vietnam is famed for it’s hilltribe trekking experiences with ethnic minorities – as are northern Thailand, Burma and Laos – people (travellers included) do not associate these nations with being multicultural on a day to day basis. Our ideas of modern geography are so entrenched that it has perhaps allowed us to forget that states rise and fall, and that borders can shift between battles.

I often wonder in these changing times of globalisation if the general narrative of history is widening or closing. With more and more visitors travelling to Vietnam each year, are these lesser known sites becoming more exposed, and their cultural heritages coming fully out into the open? Will the trends on Facebook and hashtags on Instagram lead more people to seek out these monuments, or just cement them in the ‘exotic other’ category where only seasoned travellers avoiding tourist hot spots will visit? Or will they be appreciated visually and not historically, as more and more visitors travel by photo?

 

The Better Question Is ‘Why Not?’

So, the countdown is on! In just a few weeks, I’ll be getting on a plane to start my next big adventure, and I couldn’t be more excited!

A lot of people are surprised when I mention some of the countries I’ll be travelling to (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and more), and question why I would want to go there. In my own research for this trip over the years, I’ve read other articles and blogs whose writers have been met with the same confused reaction. “But where is that? What’s there to see? Why??”  Well, I believe the better question is always ‘Why not?’ But here’s a little recount of the moment I decided to commit.

I’ve always been interested in ‘lost’ civilisations, particularly those that we don’t hear much about. (See my post on Champa here.) The kinds of empires that were important and influential, but somehow lost out to Rome and Greece in their prominence in history textbooks – well, in English language ones at least! Mesopotamia, Persia, Champa, Chenla, Assyria, the Mongol empire, Pagan, or the middle Indian kingdoms; I never had the chance to be aware of much more than their names or their mere existence, and one or two interesting facts at best. I always knew there was more out there, and was always intrigued by this area of the world, purely because I knew so little about it. Through my university studies, I knew a little of the fabled Silk Road, the legendary route that connected Asia with Europe for centuries. Marco Polo first made it famous in European circles in the eleventh century, and for the last few years the idea of travelling it myself had been on my radar.

Back in 2014, I visited Malaysia. I’d heard a few good reviews of the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur, and after first being introduced to Islamic calligraphy by a friend studying art history, I paid the taxi fare to take in some culture (a decision also swayed by the appeal of air conditioning in the humid weather).

The moment I walked in, I was in raptures. The exterior of the building was beautiful enough, but the inside was immaculate, and the domed ceilings covered in intricate patterns and lined with gold detailing were exquisite. I first fell in love with the architecture, and then the exhibits themselves. It was everything I knew I’d missed out on: from Chinese style ink brush calligraphy adapted to Koran verses, to medieval Turkish art, to North African motifs, or the explanation of different architectural styles across borders and eras. It was a celebration of all the different cultures across the globe that had been influenced by Islam, and the difference ways that it had been brought about. It was really the first time I’d ever been exposed to any sort of Islamic history at all, let alone to see such a vast array of Islamic art in all its forms.

Towards the end of the exhibit, there were scale models of some of the great Islamic buildings in the world. I was sold. The holy site of Mecca, Al Aqsa in Israel, Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Turkey’s Blue Mosque, the Taj Mahal and the Great Mosque in Xi’An. I decided, in that room, that I wanted to see as many as I could. The Silk Road was already on my ‘to do’ list, but it was suddenly bumped up to the top.

I hope that everyone will some day learn about all these different periods of time, the hundreds of different cultures spanning all continents and the different roles that religion (and not just Islam) has played in the every day lives of so many. In this current climate where Islamaphobia runs high, I think this museum truly takes leaps to combat that. To say that the Muslim community is diverse would be an understatement, and I hope that more people choose to educate themselves about it.

The Islamic Arts Museum also has an online gallery exhibit section. Explore their architecture exhibit without the plane tickets here http://www.iamm.org.my/vr/