Discover Bahrain – the land of pearls
by Hitika Bhan
Monday, January 14, 2019
An archipelago of 33 islands, this beautiful country is famous for the Grand Prix it hosts each year in April. But what most people fail to recognize is that although it is all surrounded by water, most of its habitable land is actually a desert thus making its beaches all the more special. This being the city that I grew up in and lived for 16 years, I can say that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the below-listed experiences over time. Be warned that you’ll fall in love here – with the people, their culture and traditions and most probably, also their cars.
Souq vs Mall
For those who are interested in the traditional and authentic Arabian experience, Bahrain will never fail to amaze you with its souq’s – the Bab Al Bahrain in the heart of Manama (the capital) is just as beautiful to experience as it is to look at and wander its streets. The scent of spices, the fragrances of different oud’s, the unique shisha bottles are so inviting that you’d never want to leave! In the universe that that does not entice you, there are a plethora of malls to go shopping the “regular” way like the City Centre, Seef Mall, Bahrain Mall, Moda Mall (famous for pearl shopping) or Gold City to name a few. Good luck trying to cover these in a single trip!
While you can have the rice-based Figata or Harees in very few places (and boy are they worth it!), it is the khaboos that are the most inviting to me. Imagine the Indian cheese nan. Now imagine an even softer and cheesier version of it. That’s khaboos for you. Though people consider qawah to be the national Bahraini beverage, it’d be a shame to not admit that we’ve fought off the scorching Manama heat by drinking the salty buttermilk called laban.
‘Cause sunlight’s important right? Go explore the Tree of Life which stands in the middle of the desert with no traces of water whatsoever. It’s mystery water source still leaves people amazed. Speaking of water, you could visit the Al Dar islands for a resort vacation which gives you the Maldive vibe right there. To really see the beauty of the culture and its people, you should visit the Grand Mosque in Juffair. The great thing about this guided visit (held every day except Friday) is that they let you know if you are appropriately dressed for the tour. In the event that you’re not, they are kind enough to lend you a hijab or burqa for the women or thobe for the men (optional, if you’d like to experience it – highly recommended though!).
While the temperature can soar up to 45-degree Celsius in July or August, it’s fun-filled water parks more than make up for it – be it Wahoo! Waterpark or Adhari Park or The Lost Paradise of Dilmun. Of course, you need to be appropriately dressed (read swimsuit or burkini for the ladies) to be allowed to enter the park – which means the likes of thong bikinis aren’t permitted. A cool thing here is that they have a special ‘ladies night’ with DJ every Thursday for those women who enjoy their privacy.
Parks and beaches
On a nice sunny afternoon in March, the most perfect thing to do would be water-related activities – snorkelling, pearl diving, scuba diving or jet skiing in the Reef Islands. Even if activities aren’t your thing, you can still have a relaxing time by the water and soak up some sun. For some fun-filled family moments, I’d highly recommend the Budaiya Botanical Garden which is famous for its aromatic flowers and palm trees. If you happen to visit Bahrain in December, not only would you be able to experience the spectacle of the 16th of December (the national day of Bahrain), you would also be able to enjoy the outdoor farmers market that goes on until April.
Bridge and tower
Every country has monuments that they’re proud of and is of somewhat historical significance. Well, for Bahrain it would be the King Fahd Causeway Observation Tower. One can see the beauty of this even before getting to the place. It is especially breathtaking if you witness the sunset on your way there as the bridge leading up to it and has a beautiful view of the blue sea to it and is usually windy. It’s also a place where people snap a lot of pictures. Once you do get to the tower, you can take the elevator up which offers a great view through the ride. If you fancy a meal while you’re up there enjoying a breathtaking view, there are a couple of joints that help you out with your cravings. The great thing about this tower is that you get to peek into Saudi Arabia when you’re 213 ft above ground level. It will be interesting to note that Saudi Arabia has a green replica of the observation tower on their side of the bridge too. You’d just need a valid visa for KSA in order to enter the country.
As is with every country, Bahrain’s past is every bit fascinating as it is beautiful. You can visit the Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh Fort (commonly called the Riffa fort because of it’s location) to draw a mental picture of the past of the current ruling family – the Al Khalifas – with the help of the educational museum that is housed within it. Another interesting historic bit of this country is the Bu Maher Fort which is located in the southern part of one of the island’s that comprises Bahrain – Muharraq. Once here, you can totally visualise this place being used as a fishing harbour many, many years ago.
I feel like it is worth mentioning that while I’ve mentioned only a few places to visit in this list, there are a lot of gems in Bahrain. And, if you’re with the right company, the fun just doubles up!