Zahra, the gorgeous Brit-school-educated, hijab-clad guide is the perfect example of the ever-changing, never changing Bahrain. Her exotic Arabian eyes below her headscarf survey all kinds of travellers in her coach – she has special surprises planned for families, honeymooning couples, business travellers—even a bunch of vegetarian women!
Everyone’s first discovery here is that Bahrain is no wannabe Emirates country —it is too confident in its own identity—a tiny kingdom of 33 islands floating on the Arabian Gulf.
“Bahrain is amongst the safest cities in Arab countries, even the world, for women”, Zahra loves to say. It is amongst the most liberated Arab nations too: women can vote, they can choose to wear Macy’s head scarves over their long Gucci knit-dress, and like Zahra, even drive back alone confidently to her supportive parents’ home, if late-night guiding sometimes goes past midnight.
Manama: a Las Vegas in the Gulf
Quite a change from the conservative Saudi Arabia right across the Gulf. Manama is a kind of Las Vegas that’s a quick 25 km drive down the King Fahad Causeway, connecting Saudis to Bahrain. You’ll see excited groups of Saudi girls trying on cosmetics at the plush City Centre Mall or Seef Mall; no manic crowds as in Bahrain’s swanky neighbours, yet all the big shopping thrills women expect on holiday.
Bahraini food, glorious food
Foodie travellers can’t have enough of the local fare: and often wonder, will there be any meal that scores over that traditional breakfast at Haji’s Cafe? It’s the ‘secret’ even guests in posh hotels forgo their free breakfast for— eggs cooked in sensational new ways, melt-in-the mouth red fava beans, and an endless supply of buttery-soft khubz (flat-bread) hot off the rustic mud kiln.
In majestic forts, in resplendent museums, in heritage walks—you’ll hear stories of Dilmun (Bahrain’s ancient name) as a hub of trade in pearls and spices 5000 years ago, and how rooted this country is in its history. This makes for more archaeological curiosities, legends, and spectacular sound-light shows–the stuff that adds colour and romance to a destination. A major wonder site that cannot be missed is the mystical, magical Tree of Life, a lone tree flourishing mid-desert, despite no known water source whatsoever. Give it a warm hug; ancient folklore ensures you will surely return to Bahrain!
The more gold-inclined in your group can shop in Manama Gold City souk for Bahrain’s famed pearls; while the cooking-crazy can wander a street away at the Bab el-Bahrain Souk, picking up unusual local spices, like sun dried lemons to enhance a rice dish—this will be your secret ingredient at your next pot-luck invitation.
Go roaring on bikes into the desert
Rev up your monster quad bikes, ladies, for some exhilarating rides—they look mean and awesome, but are as safe as a giant tricycle! Enjoy Arabic sing-alongs around bonfires, with simple desert fare—while adventurous ones can try something much more thrilling than the standard dune-bashing: Landrover ‘roller-coaster’ rides, close to Bahrain Formula 1 Circuit. International names in racing scorch the tracks to victory here—see if that fits into your schedule!
A thriving art scene—and nightlife
Zahra often watches her guests run amok delightedly in the upscale eclectic neighbourhood of Adilya, filled with quirky cafes, whimsical art, surprises at every street corner and foods from all over the world. Alcohol may be an expensive indulgence here, but doesn’t seem to bother the lively group of celebrating Brits, who visit every night. Bahrain is considered the top-ranking place in the world for expats to live and work, so much so they out-number the local population.
Bahrain’s new drive to lure the world comes with this pithy tagline: ‘Ours. Yours.’ Everything we have is yours to enjoy – an offering delivered with a deep sense of pride. Zahra often rounds off her tours by teaching a little ditty, a Bahraini farewell that wishes you to come back soon: “Eedkom mubaraak asakoom min ewadaah.” And you could well be chanting it too, as a Gulf holiday often gets to be very addictive!
Spectacular Food, Pristine Beaches, Easy Shopping. And a charged Nightlife.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque that welcomes all faiths to worship in peace
Bahrain National Museum with life-like tableaux of art and history
Bahrain Fort Sound and Light: spectacular show of Bahrain heritage
Tree of Life in mid-desert: hug this 400-year-old miracle, to return to Bahrain!
Manama Souks for spices, gold, ethnic handicrafts, malls for bargain shopping
Quad-bike desert riding (and every April, Formula 1 thrills at Bahrain Grand Prix)
Traditional Breakfast at Haji’s Café
Unusual Bahraini specialities like khushari, at Alabraaj Restaurant
Gourmet food from trucks at Marassi Beach’s Sunset carnivals
Indians require only an eVisa which costs 29 Bahrain dinars, and takes 3 to 5 days to process.
Gulf Air flies directly to Bahrain from Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Mumbai, Delhi