Thursday, July 28, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XVI (Spain and Portugal-I)

On my first visit to Gibraltar in 1993, I had the opportunity of visiting parts of Spain. After completing sight seeing of Gibraltar, my sister suggested that I should visit the historic mosque of Cordoba. She called Angel Carreras, the driver who had picked me up from the Malaga airport and asked him to take me on a day's trip to see the mosque of Cordoba. We started early in the morning and crossed into Spain at the check point.
Usually there are long queues of cars crossing from Spain into Gibraltar and vice versa. There are a large number of workers going either way. We were lucky to get a quick crossing. The road goes along the Spanish coast till Marbella. There are many villas on the Spanish coast owned by people from all over the world. My sister too has a villa on the coast. Marbella is a big beach resort and apart from sunny beaches it has many golf courses. We had a round of Marbella and stopped for some tea in a restaurant. I was surprised to know that Marbella alone has over 80,000 tourist beds! Entire Kashmir valley has less than one fourth of this number! For Spain tourism is really a big industry and the number of tourists is more than 50 million! From Marbella, the road turns north towards the city of Cordoba.
Sometimes the road passes through some mountains and the scenery is excellent. The Great Mosque of Cordoba has interesting history. Initially, it was a Christian Visigoth Church of Saint Vincent part of which was converted into a mosque by the Muslim conquerors of Spain. Thus the Church was divided between Christians and Muslims. After the reconquest of Spain it was again converted into a church in 1236 by King Ferdinand III of Castille. Dr.Muhammad Iqbal, who is considered as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan and its national poet, visited Cordoba and saw the Mosque during his European trip of 1931-32. He requested the authorities to offer Azan at the mosque. Iqbal was greatly moved by the magnificence and solemnity of the Mosque and the deep emotional responses its awe-inspiring sight evoked in him found expression in the immortal poem called "The Mosque of Cordoba". Muslims all over Spain have been campaigning since 2000 for permission to pray but the Vatican has not acceded to their request. However, in spite of the Christian refusal to Muslims to allow prayers in the mosque, to local inhabitants it is still known as Mosque-Cathedral! In April 2010, there was some violence by visiting Muslims who were prevented by guards from offering prayers.
On our return journey we stopped at Angel Carreras house near Marbella. He offered me some Spanish food. It was quite enjoyable. During our travel, I noticed that every time we stopped for some tea etc. Angel would take out his stereo from the car. On my asking him the reason, he said it would be stolen. Such thefts were common in Spain especially in all tourist areas. Mass Tourism apart from giving an economic boost also creates many problems such as commercialisation and criminalisation. Compared to this the problems faced by tourists in Kashmir appear too minor! This was revealed to me during my next trip into Spain. I was advised by my sister to take a trip to Seville which is a very historic and heritage city of Spain. There is a regular daylong coach tour from Gibraltar to Seville. I booked my seat and next morning we started around 7. We took almost half an hour to clear the check point at the Gibraltar-Spanish border. It was a 15-seater coach and we had an English speaking guide. Just after entering Spain we passed through endless vineyards.
There are massive vineyards on both sides of the road. Spain produces lot of wine for export all over the world. Spain has two kinds of roads. First there are normal roads moving through various townships and villages and then there are expressways taking one directly from one important city to the other. Travelling on expressways costs money which has to be paid as road toll. Travelling on normal roads is free! Most of the people prefer to travel on normal roads. There is very less traffic on the expressways. Our coach travelled on normal roads to afford us a means to see the rural life. The guide was giving us description of places on the way. Apart from vineyards, the other most frequent visuals were the huge sign boards announcing bull fights. Bull fight is a national pastime. These reminded me about Ernest Hemingway's novels about Spain. We were passing through the country so aptly and minutely described by him in his books. Just before reaching Seville, our guide made a special announcement. He said that we would be soon reaching Seville and the coach would drop us at the Plaza Espana. We would be free to move round for sight seeing and the coach would pick us up again at the same spot in the afternoon. After this he warned us to be careful while moving in Seville. He told us not to walk on the edge of the foot path as motor cycle borne thieves could snatch the purses. He asked us not to open our purses and take out money in a shop or in public. For this he advised us to visit a public convenience and take out money from the purse inside. There were many other warnings. After listening to him, I felt too scared to move around in Seville. Well, we do not have such a scary situation here in spite of the last two decades of turmoil!
Seville has many places of tourist interest. The Cathedral, one of the biggest in the world, was built on the site of Muslim Seville's main mosque between 1401 and 1507. One highlight of the cathedral's lavish interior is Christopher Columbus' supposed tomb inside the south door. The tower which adjoins the Cathedral is La Giralda. It was the mosque's minaret and dates from the 12th century. One can have panoramic views from it. Alcazar is a fortress from the Muslim-era (dates from AD 913) which served as a hideout of Muslim and Christian royalty for many centuries. Plaza de Espana is one of the country's most spectacular plazas with fountains and mini-canals. Parque de MarĂ­a Luisa which is only a 10 minute walk east of the Cathedral is a nice break from the rush of the town. After finishing our sight seeing we again assembled in the Plaza de Espana and waited for the coach. The return journey was uneventful. In fact, due to heat we started dozing. The south of Spain is quite hot during the day. We reached Gibraltar in the evening around 8 and thus ended my short trip to south of Spain. During my visit to Gibraltar in 1998, I took a trip to Portugal which I will describe in the next episode.

No comments:

Post a Comment