Small in size but big on history, culture and unique experiences, The Kingdom of Bahrain is a fascinating country and a must-visit destination for 2018.
Just 765sqkm in size, The Kingdom of Bahrain is the smallest country in the Middle East and yet, it packs quite a punch with a surprising mix of top-end accommodation, historic sites, and trendy venues. A beautiful archipelago of 33 shimmering islands in the Arabian Gulf, its rich culture, traditional hospitality, contemporary style and proximity to India beckon you for an immersive travel experience, the kind that no other country in the GCC can offer.
If you thought nothing could rival Indian hospitality, you may want to think again. When you step into a room full of Bahrainis, everyone will stand up to greet you. And the greetings are generally lengthy, involving inquiries about one’s health and family with several rounds of handshakes. Always smiling, extremely accommodating and eager to assist, it is customary for a Bahraini to serve his guests coffee or tea, so trust us when we say that you will feel right at home, with chai breaks, right through the day.
Bahrain is a culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse country where people live freely in a tolerant and all-inclusive environment. Before the discovery of oil, it is known as the Island of Pearls, where ‘pearling’ was one of their biggest economic activities. Much like India, Bahrain’s history goes back to the Stone Age Archaeologists confirmed that this delightful island nation was once home to the lost but extremely illustrious Dilmun Empire (3,200 BC to 330 BC). According to Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions, the Dilmun Empire was the land of the fabled Garden of Eden and is described as ‘paradise’ in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Located on the popular trade route between Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the Indus Valley Civilisation (now in Pakistan), Bahrain-which can loosely be translated into ‘two seas’- was a thriving international port in the Middle East, even at that time. The presence of sweet-water springs under the sea, mingling of the brackish waters of the shallow oyster beds, contributed (and still does) to the color and lustre of Bahraini pearls. The Dilmun Empire was then absorbed entirely by Babylon. In the mid-18th century, the Al-Khalifa family arrived on the scene, and since then it has continued to rule Bahrain, turning it into a place where the past beautifully juxtapositions the present and the culture perfectly blends in with the contemporary, making it a delightful travel destination.
The Big Bahrain Bucket-List
Here’s a list of all you can do while visiting Bahrain:
Travel back in time
With an incredibly rich historical background, Bahrain has a number of heritage sites to give us a glimpse of the past. The Qalat al-Bahrain or The Bahrain Fort is one of the most prominent sites and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ancient Burial Mounds between Hamad Town and A’ali is another noteworthy historic site. And if royal residences are what intrigues you, then you must visit the Sheikh Isa bin Ali House. Bahrain also has a few ancient religious sites. Constructed around 692 AD, the Al-Khamis Mosque is one of the oldest relics of Islam. You will even come across a 200-year old Lord Krishna Temple near the Manama Souk and several churches, cathedrals, and a synagogue- all within a square kilometer radius. History buffs may also visit Bahrain National Museum.
Stalk the artists
Apart from pearls and oil, a fun fact about Bahrain is that it is the art hub of the Middle East. While their love for art is evident in their ancient architecture, pottery, sculptures, and embroidery, the modern Bahraini art movement emerged in the 1950s with its establishment of art and literature club that drew several actors, musicians, and artists to the country who continue to thrive there. To mingle with the artists here, take a stroll down Block 338, a pedestrian quarter in the heart of Manama. Crammed with local and international restaurants, along with art galleries, it will lead you to Al Riwaq. An area dedicated to promoting local contemporary art, it is where you will see the works of several young artists and even interact with them.
You may also want to catch a live performance at the Bahrain National Theatre. Inaugurated in November 2012, under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, it has hosted world-renowned performances by the Orchestra of the 21st Century of Russia, legendary composer Yanni and Spanish opera star Placido Domingo, amongst several others. With 1,001 seats, the auditorium décor seems to draw inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights– the famous book of the Middle Eastern stories. It also has a cafeteria, an outdoor hall that overlooks the sea, and a smaller hall, which is often used for press conferences and small celebrations, accommodating up to 100 people.
Fish for pearls
Bahrain’s main economy, until the discovery of oil in 1932, was pearling. ‘Pearling’ may seem like an unusual word but it beautifully describes the centuries-old trade of this island nation. The older society developed an economic, cultural and social system around the Bahraini pearl that had taken the world by storm (and continues to do so). In fact, Jacques Cartier frequently visited the country in the 1910s to handpick specimens for his jewelry. For a complete lowdown on the pearling trade, visit the Bin Matar House in Muharraq, the erstwhile pearling route, which is now with a UNESCO World Heritage site. But should you want to fish out a few gleaming ones for yourself, then you may visit Pearldiving.bh for more information on how to dive for pearls.
Don’t stop, Just Shop
If you’ve always wanted to stumble into Ali Baba’s cave, then step into the ancient Manama Souk. Here scents, spices, hand-woven carpets, 24K gold jewelry, Bahraini jewelry and exquisite silks vie for your attention, all at once. The Bab Al Bahrain, which means Gateway of Bahrain, marks the main entrance. The ground floor of this structure has several tourists information offices and shops brimming with guidebooks and souvenirs. The Gold Souk is, however, tucked away in a two-story building, off Bab Al Bahrain Avenue. It may help to remember that in the Middle East, anything under 18K is not considered gold. For those who love Bahraini pearls, you can buy them here by the ounce.
Of course, no Arabian country is complete without its malls. While Al Aali Shopping Complex is a sophisticated mall, featuring renowned international and local designer labels, luxury fashion brands and restaurants, Bahrain Dragon City Mall is a massive wholesale and retail shopping arcade that has taken its design cues from Chinese architecture. Yet, Seef Mall and Bahrain City Centre are premier family shopping and entertainment destinations. However, the spanking new Avenues-Bahrain will take your breath away. With ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) roof and most shops, restaurants, and cages offering views of the Bahrain Bay, it creates the illusion of an alfresco setting, while protecting you from the heat.
But Bahrain World Trade Center Towers will blow your mind. Inspired by the badgirs or wind towers, it is built to harness sea breeze for natural air-conditioning. It comprises two 44-storey, the opulent Sheraton Bahrain Hotel, sail-shaped office towers, and the MODA Mall-Bahrain’s only (and the most exclusive) luxury shopping destination, which includes more than 150 high profile retail brands.
Embark on nature adventures
Bahrain also offers enough and more experiences to those who wish to connect with its natural environment. So, escape the cities and visit the Sakhir Desert to experience a traditional Arabic Desert Camp, complete with modern amenities. During the winter season, while you are there, don’t miss out on the Tree of Life. Standing on a hill surrounded by miles of sand, this tree is 400 years old and has lush green leaves. You can even visit the Camel Farm in Janabiya for rides, selfies, and close encounters with baby camels.
However, you cannot go back home without embarking on a pure-bred Arabian horse ride. These stallions have been preserved and bred for over 200 years. But if you want to go Dolphin, Flamingo and Manatee spotting, then take-off on a boat ride to the Hawar Islands. However, if bird watching is more your thing, visit the Azizia Bird kingdom. Housing 70 different species and over 500 birds (including several critically endangered ones) in a massive, carefully controlled ecosystem, it is the perfect place to take the kids to.
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Feel the rush
For the high-octane soul, there’s plenty to do. Let’s just cut to the chase and take you straight to Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) right in the middle of Sakhir Desert. Begin with an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour that starts at the eight-storey Sakhir Tower and indulge yourself in a lap or two on one of the tracks. You may want to stop by at the BIC Pit Shop to pick up souvenirs for adrenaline-junkie friends back at home.
But if you’ve dreamed of being a champion race driver, then rev it up at BIC’s Open Track. However, if speed is not what you need, then Gravity-an indoor skydiving experience in one of the world’s tallest wind tunnels, all of course without a parachute! Trust us, it is a life-changing experience. Water sports enthusiasts can always indulge in scuba diving, water skiing, wakeboarding or kneeboarding, kayaking and kite surfing. But if you really want to up the game, learn jet skiing in Coral Bay or power boating at the Bahrain Yacht Club.
Tie the knot
Bahrain is quickly becoming the “it” destination for Indian weddings. With numerous hotels and stunning venues, spanning from scenic to classic, it is one of the best places to say “I do”. To begin with, visas are easy to obtain, all you have to do is go online. Also, the fly-time between Bahrain and India is just four hours, Gulf Air flies out from six Indian cities and operates eight flights a day, while Air India and Jet Airways have 10 flights a day, connecting both the countries.
Furthermore, Bahrain has a large number of international hotels. To name a few: Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain, Hotel Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa, The Ritz-Carlton, ART Rotana Hotel & Resort, Crown Plaza and Gulf Hotel Bahrain, Sheraton Bahrain Hotel, Al Areen Palace & Spa, Golden Tulip Bahrain, Downtown Rotana, InterContinental Regency Bahrain, Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain, The Domain Hotel and Spa, The Diplomat Radisson BLU Hotel and Residence and Spa, and The Grove Hotel & Conference Centre Bahrain. You can also choose a beachfront villa, book a private atoll or select offbeat venues like Bahrain International Circuit, Capital Club, and The Royal Golf Club.
The good news is that BTEA (Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority) is happy to become a part of the wedding planning process, organizing logistics, venues, suppliers and industry professionals. In 2016, BTEA introduced a new project called Bahrain Island Weddings to promote the country as a wedding, engagement and anniversary destination. Therefore, whether you are looking for a detail-oriented wedding planner, a florist with an imagination, a sweet specialist an Indian bridal couturier, a fashion designer for the groom, a mehendi artist, a honeymoon planner, a jeweler or a photographer, BTEA will bring you the best. They will also manage all government-related logistic. So, if you’re getting married anytime soon, consider hosting your celebrations in the Kingdom of Bahrain. You will thank us for recommending it.
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