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Hundreds of thousands if not millions of devotees from all over the world visit Bibi Zaynab’s shrine throughout the year to pay their respect to this great lady of Islam.
It is a serenely inspiring place in spite of the constant flow of pilgrims, who then go on to visit other shrines in Damascus, including those of Hazrat Bilal and two wives of the Holy Prophet, Bibi Umm e Salma and Bibi Umm e Habiba. The feeling of going back in time stays with you in large parts of Damascus, as there is a lot of history all around.
But it didn’t matter, for more than the story was the drama Abo Shadi created, with his vocal intonations, piercing eyes, gesticulating hands and overall body language.
Sitting there, soaking in the colourful, mystical ambience, you could well have been in Damascus of a few centuries ago.
It sounded fascinating and we decided that going to this tea-house was a must during our stay in Damascus. Reading out a story from a yellowed book in an ancient dialect even the locals were hard pressed to understand, the storyteller had his jam-packed audience held in rapt attention.
It was obvious that the mixed crowd of Western tourists, Arabs of various nationalities and a fair sprinkling of loyal locals understood the story being told from nothing at all to more than a fair bit, with perhaps no one understanding it all.
Nevertheless this claimed site in Damascus is regularly visited by religious tourists, who are hassled for alms by a local woman, presumably a resident of the flat which has become the thoroughfare to reach the Cave.
The greatest religious site in Damascus is of course the shrine of Bibi Zaynab, the grand-daughter of the Holy Prophet.
The shopkeepers are pleasant and helpful, relying more on gentle persuasion rather than the hard sell.
The actual site on a hill over-looking Damascus is reached with some effort and frankly at the end turns out to be rather disappointing.
For over the Cave and all around it, there is crowded construction, housing low income families.
It is mostly a walking only area with only the rare car of a resident with a special permit allowed to drive in the streets.
Some of the meandering streets are quite narrow, as is typical in a lot of old cities and residents have stretched a metal mesh over the street from side to side, and grown grapevines that in large parts cover the mesh completely.