I’m sitting next to a wall covered in photos of Umm Kulthoum. From behind her omnipresent sunglasses, she looks down sternly on the crowded teashop, sharing wall space with dozens of other notable personalities from the Middle East. Along the ceiling hang WWI-era rifles, dusty phonographs, and lank flags discolored by years of cigarette smoke. My new friend Omar orders us another round of Karak Chai and resumes his animated explanation of why the pop star Shakira is such a great dancer — he insists it’s because she was born in Bahrain; I learn later she was born in Colombia. While Omar speaks, all sweeping gestures and croaking voice, I take a sip of scalding tea and compose my face, trying not to betray the fact that my heart is lurching wildly, like a drunk trying to skip rope. I take another sip and tell myself it’s just the highly-caffeinated, sugary tea, and not the heart attack my anxiety disorder insists is imminent.
Rebecca Underwood finds out more about the beguiling Kingdom of Bahrain. Soaring above the clouds with Bahrain’s national carrier, my mother and I were cocooned in true comfort and style reclining in Gulf Air’s Falcon Gold seats.
We placed our dining order with the on-board chef and were enchanted with our first experience of Arabian hospitality, and in just over six hours we touched down in the captivating Kingdom of Bahrain. Known as the ‘pearl of the Gulf’, Bahrain was once the world’s leading supplier of natural pearls and is made up of a cluster of thirty-three islands located on the glittering waters of the Persian Gulf. Connected to the north east of Saudi Arabia by means of the 25 kilometre King Fahd Causeway, Bahrain offers visitors an intriguing glimpse into a colourful kaleidoscope of Arabian culture and history.
Kingdom of Bahrain stands out as a friendly, cosmopolitan country with a long history. The ancient land of Bahrain has been known by many names since millennia. Maher Zayan, our local guide mentioned Dilmun, Awal and Tylos as popular among those.Our first visit in capital Manama was to the national museum, where professor Zayan, who had doubled up as a guide, was taking us back to a far off history in proudly introducing his homeland.
Bahrain National Museum on the shores between Manama and Muharraq is a good way to understand the roots of the country. Bahrain’s recorded history dates back to 5000 years. Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) had etched Epic of Gilgamesh in Dilmun alongside the tales of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
This is a place where the new stares the ancient squarely in the face.
The Qal’at al-Bahrain—also known as the Fort of Bahrain—is a cavernous complex of ruins layered one on top of the other. Its cross-sections display some 4,000 years of the island’s history, from the early Dilmun civilization to the Islamic and modern periods. Various invaders, from the Portuguese to the Persians, have also left their traces.
The UNESCO-recognized site sits within walking distance of a large shopping mall and the glass towers of central Manama. It’s a perfect symbol of an ongoing tussle between archaeological heritage and infrastructural development across much of the Gulf.
In this contest, history usually takes second place.
For UAE residents, Bahrain is just an hour away which makes it the ideal destination for a weekend getaway or a mini break of three to four days. We can attest to the fact that three days is essential if you want a balance of downtime with a reasonable amount of sight-seeing. And the best part; you will find the friendliest people here, both local and expats.
1. Qal’at al Bahrain or the Bahrain Fort
Qal’at Al Bahrain was also Qal’at Al Portugal once – when the Portuguese invaded Bahrain and built a defensive fort there. But this site is not just a fort, but an area covered in thousands of years of history dating to as early as 2300 B.C.