The island nation of Bahrain, meaning “two seas,” seamlessly blends present with the past. As you delve beneath the surface, the layers unveil a country entrenched in the historical tapestry of the ancient Dilmun empire, boasting a rich legacy in the Gulf’s pearling tradition, a multifaceted atmosphere seamlessly interwoven with modernity.
Bahrain, often a hidden gem awaiting exploration, allows visitors to savour its essence without the typical tourist hustle. This appeals to travelers, including Indians, for both short and extended getaways. Notably, Bahrain is conveniently located just a short flight from India, offering easy travel with good connectivity from various airlines and cities, hinting at a surge in tourism numbers from India in the coming years.
Excuses to visit Bahrain? Picture the vibrant souqs, the azure embrace of the archipelago’s blue waters, and the culinary delights of Karak tea and Machboos. Envision the mysteries of Bahrain’s past unfurling in museums, streets adorned with resplendent 24-carat gold shops, the grandeur of Al-Fateh Mosque, the charm of having a BBQ picnic on a vanishing island, and the pinnacle of F1-inspired adventure – all encapsulated in a single destination.
My recent sojourn to Bahrain was one trip that actually helped me check off numerous items from my bucket list. As you embark on planning your journey to Bahrain, here are some recommended must-do experiences that I took back as treasured memories:
Manama Souq: A treasury of culture
Navigating the bustling alleys of Manama Souq felt like stepping into a timeless bazaar where traditions come alive and the art of bargaining seamlessly integrates you into the local rhythm. Local souvenirs beckoned from every corner, each item a cultural memento. From the aromatic Bakhoor to the heady fragrances of Itar, and the richness of saffron, exotic spices and Arabic coffee, each product was a piece of Bahrain’s soul to take home.
We even tried the varieties of signature Bahraini Halwa made with cornflour, rosewater, saffron, cardamom and generous amounts of nuts. A standout experience for us was savouring a falafel paired with Karak tea – a convenient yet absolutely worthwhile grab-and-go meal.
Bahrain Fort: A living ode to the past
Standing sentinel on the shores of Bahrain is the UNESCO heritage site, Bahrain Fort, a living testament to over 4,000 years of history. With its layered excavations, the fort reveals the footprints of the Dilmun civilisation. The fort has been undergoing extensive archaeological excavations. Amidst the ruins, we traversed the remnants of ancient markets, dwellings, and a mosque, each echoing the whispers of a bygone era. The fort not only narrates Bahrain’s history, easily narrated through the guided tours but also offers panoramic views of the surrounding sea, providing a poignant connection between past and present and lots of opportunities to click the pictures with the best backdrop. Don’t miss out on a short horse riding session at sunset – a picturesque moment you’d want to carry back as a cherished memory.
Bahrain International Circuit: Speed & Splendour
Venturing to the Bahrain International Circuit, our senses were ignited by the roar of engines and the scent of burning rubber. One of the first venues for Formula 1 races in the Middle East, this circuit is renowned for its challenging layout, complete with lengthy straights and technical corners, including one thoughtfully designed by the racing legend Michael Schumacher. Complemented by world-class facilities, the circuit is designed to accommodate large crowds and also hosts concerts, corporate gatherings, and local festivals, further cementing its standing as a multifaceted destination in the region.
Beyond offering us a real thrill of go-karting, we were also granted special access to the VIP tower. From this regal vantage point, where the royal family witnesses races unfold, we marveled at Bahrain’s steadfast dedication to achieving sporting excellence.
Jarada Island & the pearl diving in between
Our journey took an ethereal turn as we set foot on Jarada Island, a fleeting masterpiece of nature. This disappearing island, embraced by the azure waters, revealed a hidden world beneath the surface. The island’s magic extended when we had an awesome island BBQ feast, all prepared by an 18-year old local chef. Furthermore, kayaking and other water activities allowed us to explore the island’s edges, blurring the lines between adventure and tranquility.
We also engaged in pearl snorkeling, while we were told about the legacy of Bahrain’s once-thriving pearl trade. The rich maritime history of Bahrain is intricately woven with the pearl diving tradition, where skilled divers would plunge into the azure waters to retrieve these gems. We were extremely fortunate to discover a few smaller ones to bring back as keepsakes!
Soaring amidst controlled winds at “Gravity”
Gravity, an indoor skydiving hub in Bahrain, added a new dimension to our adventure. Amidst controlled winds, we experienced the sensation of freefall, a surreal dance with gravity itself. The facility’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel provided an exhilarating taste of skydiving without leaping from an airplane, making it an accessible thrill for all. Beyond the adrenaline-pumping experience, what sets Gravity apart is its friendly and professional staff.
Our journey would be incomplete without savoring Bahrain’s culinary jewels. Machboos, Bahrain’s signature dish captivated our taste buds with its aromatic blend of spices, rice, and succulent meats. Falafel, a crispy delight, added a touch of Middle Eastern charm to our culinary journey and now, one of my favourite go-to snacks when in Bahrain. The warmth of Karak tea, infused with spices became a comforting companion throughout our trip. A heartfelt thanks to our wonderful tour guide, Eman, who went the extra mile to get us fresh, homemade Karak, alleviating the fatigue from our full day of extensive touring.
Also, don’t miss out on Haji’s Cafe, located near Manama Souq, offering freshly cooked meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Established in 1950 and now managed by Zuhair Haji, this culinary gem is a time capsule of tradition. With its delightful al fresco setting, unpretentious charm, and the warm, happy welcome from owner Zuhair, it makes for a must-visit.
Take back a souvenir from A’ali Pottery
Nestled in the pottery-centric village of A’ali, this establishment serves as a testament to the artistry and heritage deeply rooted in the region. As you meander through the shop, observe the deft hands of skilled artisans, including Mohammad Bashir Ahmed & Mohammad Latif Ahmad from Pakistan, shaping clay into intricate forms. This meticulous craft preserves a legacy spanning generations.
A’ali Pottery specialises in a diverse array of ceramic creations, ranging from practical household items to intricately designed decorative pieces and intricate motifs, all embodying the distinctive aesthetics of Bahraini craftsmanship. An enriching aspect of the visit is the chance to interact with these artisans, delving into their time-honored techniques and understanding the cultural significance embedded in each masterpiece.
As I had bid farewell to this beautiful country, the warmth of its people and the echoes of history lingered in my heart. Bahrain, with its multifaceted allure, had not just welcomed me; it had become a chapter in my travel chronicles, a story of discovery and connection etched in the sands of time; so much so that I am lured to visit again and this time on an extended trip with the family.