From BBQ at the disappearing island to off the road thrills, Rupali Dean lists top 10 must-dos in this beautiful archipelago
Bahrain, the thirty three-island archipelago burrowed among Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Arabian Gulf, smoothly manages the contemporary and the medieval…
Make your way through the renowned cheerful and gorgeous Manama Souk in quest of Haji’s Cafe. This is a go to place for incredible, no frills authentic Bahraini breakfast… a festivity of Bahraini home cooking and culture. The Bahraini breakfast is a strong meal encompassing star dishes such as shakshuka, mihyawa, Balaleet and the staple karak tea, quite similar to our masala chai. Balaleet is distinctively Bahraini with sweetened cardamom-infused vermicelli noodles capped with a savoury omelette. With its uncommon pairing of salty with sweet, I have doubts about trying this one. Far from turning off, I am a convert.
Bahrain International Circuit
Absolutely worthy of a visit whether the Formula 1 event is on or not! Take a circuit of the remarkable track where legends from Lewis Hamilton to Jenson Button have raced and even imitate the greats by making use of the go-kart track on site. For an exhilarating off the road thrill I go for the Land Rover Experience. A first of its kind, it offers 3.5 kilometres of unpredictable man-made terrain such as sand, rock, hill and water landscapes. I am a fan!
Tree of Life
What makes The Tree of Life or Shajarat-al-Hayat unique is the secret of its survival. Situated 10 km from Askar and about 3.5 km west from Jaww, this 32-feet tall Prosopis cineraria has been making an apparently incredible living out of dry sand for roughly 400 years. There is no ostensible source of water and other flora for miles around.
Al Fateh mosque
Bahrain’s largest; the mosque at first glance is humble with a fawn brick and stone facade, characteristic of Bahraini monuments. The geometrical patterns, engraved windows, spires and surahs etched in Kufic lettering are understated. But as I enter, I am in awe! The lavishness could be of an extravagant five star hotel lobby. The Scotland-made carpet in the prayer halls, Italian marble flooring; a three and a half tonne Swarovski crystal chandelier from Austria suspended in the main hall; 952 French-made hand-blown glass lamps inside the mosque and the dome … one of the prevalent fibreglass domes in the world. My favourite part is hearing about Islam, only to realise it preaches just like any other…to be God fearing and a good human being.
The nine main halls across six sections capture over five thousand years of Bahrain’s history. What enthral me are the life size dioramas of Bahrain’s daily life, particularly on giving birth, death, wedding customs, clothing, architecture and more. I equally enjoy a cup of coffee at the Darseen café overlooking the ocean at the end of my tour.
One of the most intense bequests of the past is Bahrain’s craggy forts and Bahrain Fort well merits being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Civilisation has valued the dune for epochs and the fort’s museum digs deep into the assets that have been dug up, and those that remain to be excavated, all around the site. Sunset is one of the best times to take a picture of the fort.
Al Jasra Handicraft Centre
Bahrain’s modern art scene is thriving, but so is the local artistic temperament. The Al Jasra Handicraft Centre is where local artisans congregate to make everything ranging the gamut from baskets to traditional musical instruments in trades that have been practised in the country for centuries.
BBQ at the disappearing island
A roughly forty minute boat ride from the Marina would get you to Jarada Island for an amazing Robinson Crusoe experience. The confines of civilisation do not exist and the deserted island can be yours until early evening. Unload your picnic basket, go for the BBQ, be a beach bum, but remember to leave in time before the island disappears…which it does every evening owing to the high tide.
Head to Emmawash for a traditional meal and enjoy scribbling on the walls. Yes, this restaurant not only serves middle eastern fare – go all out for the beef kebab and khuboos bread – but the best part is scribbling on the walls …no fret, they whitewash them every year!
You may be walking through the many souks of Bahrain or through the splendid malls across the country. Manama is a buyer’s delight. Start at the Bab Al-Bahrain Souk, moving on to a thread of elegant yet unforgettable shops that line the streets behind the souk. The City Centre happens to be the largest mall in the country, packed with over 300 select brand outlets and 60 dining destinations and is also home to Carrefour. Drop by at the Dragon city for China-made products arranged in orderly fashion.