Definitely not a visit I would recommend... near the Saudi bridge it is possible to stop and visit a large camel farm. There are over 600 camels there which belong to the Emir.. We asked what he would do with them, and the answer was simple: nothing. Camels are his passion so he herds them... and occasionally races them. The problem is that they are all individually ties with very little room to move. And if that were not enough, their front legs are ties together so that they can only allowed to take short steps. A very sad life...
Out in the middle of nowhere in the Southern Governorate, it is possible to see the first oil well found in the country - and the attached museum next door should give you all the relevant information, except for the fact that no one knows when it is open. What you can see, however, is a tiny building that back in 1932 when oil was first pumped, was used both as a recruitment office and the place where workers would collect their weekly wages.
The visit was interesting and worth the roughly 30 minutes drive from the City center. Getting there was the most interesting part of the trip, however... through barren desert land rich in gas and oil... there is virtually an oil well next to a gas deposit. next to... (multiply this by the hundreds)...
Qal'at al-Bahrain is better known as Bahrain Fort or Portuguese Fort and it is located outside Manama. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
The fort is huge with walls as high as 12 metres and dating back to 2300 BC. In fact, before the Portuguese gave it its actual shape (in the 14th century), older populations built on this site, including the Dilmun civilization.
Just before you reach the fort you will see some ancient ruins of an old village; if you look closely you will see the little lanes and alleys.
The King Fahd Causeway is the causeway-bridge which links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. Half-way along it there is the official border point but just before there is a parking lot with a panoramic tower and a restaurant in there. We went at sunset and could catch a glimpse of Damman and al Khobar in the distance, which was very nice. However we had expected the panoramic tower and restaurant to be a fancy place for a pre-evening drink... well, the place was empty, self service and basically filthy! No wonder no one drank or ate there. So we just took our pictures and left...
The north-west of the island is, by far, my favourite part of the whole of Bahrain. It's not just because of the small, picturesque villages, but because it is here that you see the best views of seaside life. This part of the country is prized by many, including expats, for the houses with lush gardens, and there is a very exclusive country club that has also gone up here. It is well worth a short drive if you have your own car while in Bahrain, especially if you're looking to get a few pictures of scenes you wouldn't think you'd see in the Gulf.
Al A'li's main mosque is a bit of an anomaly, as it does not have a golden dome, nor does it have any of the tiling that seems to be fairly common for shi'ite mosques. It does have, however, a beautifully turquoise dome, as well the same colour of patterns on the minarets of the mosque. I didn't go into the mosque, and I'm not sure that this particular one is very historical, as there are other ones in the same town that have the typical gold dome.
Al Ali is famous for one particular thing - pottery. One should expect that in a country with a long traditiion of mercantile ventures, and with a lot of dry, dusty areas, that pottery would flourish. Al Ali has some tombs and burial sites where visitors can see the various stages of pottery development, but it also has more than a few modern hucksters seeking to make good off of the town's tradition. Perhaps the most notible part of all of this is the large amphore in the centre of the town. This is also another one of the restive Shi'ite towns of the interior, so don't plan to come here to see the pottery if the country is in another wave of protests.
Dumistan is another one of those restive towns that you are unlikely to visit - unless you go out looking for a restive town. It is located in the dusty interior of Bahrain and is lost amongst the poorer villages that cut off Manama from the more affluent area of Riffa. The town is heavily shiite and was the scene of some pretty violent protests in March. It is still until a police blockade today, but it is possible to get through to see the town. There's not much here, although you will find a mosque with the tell-tale gold down replicating the mosque in Samarra, Iraq. There is also a backroad here through Dumistan to the town of Karzakan, which has a far more impressive mosque. You may need to cut through the town to be able to get to Karzakan, depending on the security situation in the country.
Budaiya is the main town on the north-west side of the island. It has a larger commercial area, as well as some maritime facilities and a number of a larger resort-style houses that are occupied by Bahrainis and by expats. It also has some beautiful beaches that are used primarily for fishing. I came out here just at about dusk, which is probably the most interesting time to come. Plan to get a glimpse of the sun setting on the waters of the Gulf and you too will find a reason to love rural Bahrain.
I've visited Diraz a few times now, sometimes for work and sometimes because I find the north-west side of the island to be the most beautiful part of Bahrain. The town of Diraz is not all that special, though, and, apart of the mosque, does not contain much worth photographing. Nevertheless, it is an interesting place to understand the source of unrest in this small country, as it provides a stark contrast to the wealthier areas around Budaiya and the capital Manama. I would advise, though, that visitors avoid the town during times of political turbulence.
Diraz is a restive town on the north-western side of the island that is largely Shi'ite. The main mosque in the town is largely influenced by the religious architecture and design of Iran, Iraq and the Levant - a trait that seems to be quite prevalent among the Shi'ite villages across the country. I did not go inside the actual mosque, as it was not open at the time that I visited the town. Nevertheless, the intricately designed tiles are a beautiful contrast to the plain patterns and lines of the usual sunni mosques on the island.
Not surprisingly for an island in the middle of the Arabian Sea, Bahrain has some beautiful beaches, both on the main island and on the outlying islands.
Al Jazayer is one of the nicest beaches on the mainland with the archetypal golden sands and azure waters. Not far from Zallaq, it’s fairly easy to reach and if you explore a bit further round the coast, you’ll find numerous quiet coves away from the crowds.
Alternatively, you can catch a boat to lovely Al Dar Island which is popular for watersports, snorkelling, swimming and fishing and holds regular beach barbecues. There are also pristine beaches on the Hawar Islands where there’s a large hotel and resort complex.
Though a small country, Bahrain is blessed with abundant wildlife on land as well as in the sea.
Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve, established by the Crown Prince in 1975 to protect and breed endangered species, is open to visitors who can drive through the park and see rare creatures such as Arabian oryx and Persian gazelle. There are also numerous varieties of plantlife and trees in the park, carefully planned to maintain the delicate eco-system. The park is near Zallaq. Open: Sat-Thu 08h00-16h00; Fri 14h00-16h00. Admission: BHD1, adults; BHD0.50, children. Tel: +973 836-116.
At the Dolphin Park located near the Manama Corniche, dolphins and sea lions perform four shows a day. Though less conservation-minded than Al Areen, this is a popular destination for tourists, especially for those with children. One of the highlights is a programme allowing visitors to swim with these highly intelligent creatures, with special free “swim with the dolphins” opportunities for disabled people.
There are numerous opportunities for diving and snorkelling in the Arabian Sea where you can explore the beautiful coral reefs and wrecks that surround the islands.
Indo-Pacific species such as clown fish, turtles, rays, lion fish, grouper, snapper, crayfish and even whale sharks abound. Dugongs (sea cows) can be seen feeding on the sea grass in the southern waters of Bahrain during the cooler winter months. Conditions are excellent for exploring the country’s aquatic life with clear, warm waters most of the year round and of course, a beautiful climate.
Scuba and snorkelling education, equipment and excursions are available to an international standard through various dive centres. Try PADI 5 Star Dive Centre Aquatique (Tel: +973 271-780), located in Manama.
If you fancy doing a spot of fishing while you’re here, regular local catches include tuna, mackerel, trevally and even barracuda.
The most famous feature of Sheikh Isa’s house is its early version of air-conditioning in the form of a wind tower which funnels cool breezes into the rooms below and allows hot air to escape from above.
Great grandfather to the current Emir, Sheikh Isa ruled from 1869 until 1932 and his house is typical of upper class homes of the period. Beit Sheikh Isa, Muharraq.
Open: Sat-Tue 08h00-14h00; Wed-Thu 09h00-18h00; Fri 15h00-18h00. Admission: BHD0.20.