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Advice from a caterpillar – The Ancient appeal of Sheesha

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

Immortalized in time by popular fiction like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Hookah pipes have been used since the Mughals in North India in the mid 1500s.

Ironically, despite its health effects, the first hookah is said to have been invented by an Indian physician Irfan Shaikh at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar I. But some texts predate the use of the ‘ḡalyān’ to the court of Shah Ṭahmāsp I almost half a century earlier. Upon conception hookah was smoked initially by the aristocrats of the Persian Empire. A hookah pipe was then used to smoke opium and hashish whereas the water-based pipe that bubbles as the smoke passes through is now used to smoke tobacco.

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The use of hookahs from ancient times in India was not only a custom, but a matter of prestige. Rich and landed classes would smoke hookahs avidly and this spread across Asia quickly, propagated with vigour when the Ottoman Empire came into power in the Balkans.

Hookah or shisha has accumulated many names over the years, ḥuqqahHukić—also known as a Pneumatic Water Pipe, narghile, arghileh, qalyān, or by other names.

Hookah was virtually unknown in Southeast Asia before the later 20th century, yet the popularity among contemporary younger people is now vastly growing. Southeast Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities, BangkokSingaporeHanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, now have various bars and clubs that offer hookahs to patrons.

During the 1960s and 1970s, hookahs were a popular tool for the consumption of various derivations of tobacco, among other things. At parties or small gatherings the hookah hose was passed around with users partaking as they saw fit. Typically, though, open flames were used instead of burning coals.

Flash forward to the present were sheesha smoking has now been accepted like a religion, shisha bars are full of husky voices, exotic smells and pearls of laughter. The millenials have adopted sheesha as a reason to get together, socialize and have a good time. It is no longer solely found in Arabia, it’s now common place world-wide.

Shisha bars have become the modern equivalent of the cigar-and-cognac lounges from the ’30s and ’40s. With its mystic allure and long standing place in history, this highly romanticised pipe is here to stay.

For a taste of this popular phenomenon, visit Grand Cafe Boulevard, near Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai to luxuriate your senses with a stunning view of the acclaimed Burj Khalifa and to immerse yourself in the smells of Arabia.

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