June 12 -18, 2019
Gulf Weekly Letters

Right from the word ‘go and pack’ to the prospect of discovering a whole new country to finally getting that ‘immigration stamp’ on the passport, I love everything about new journeys.

I travel with no expectations and take everything just as it comes.

Recently, I travelled to Bahrain and was pleasantly surprised to learn about the historical burial mounds, the history of Dilmun, pearl trading, local food and Bahraini culture.

In my entire life, I would have never thought of learning to dive to find a pearl for myself, but in Bahrain, I really wanted to do it.

The encounter with huge burial mounds in A’ali village and the importance of pottery for burials was like turning the pages of an entirely new chapter in the history book.

Of course, there is much more to Bahrain but the culinary spirit of the country won my heart. It was both, impressive and contagious.

The variety of choices and the popularity of the traditional dishes was heartwarming. In the times, when people hardly have time to grab a bite on their way to work, I really loved the fact that the Bahrainis invest time in elaborate and traditional breakfast spreads.

Before my trip, a few people had tried to belittle Bahrain as yet another country in the Middle East but I was eager to travel to make my own first observations and impressions of this island nation.

And, I am glad I did that.

I always appreciate the fact when the immigration officer welcomes me with a smile in a foreign land and, trust me, I had a very friendly start at Bahrain International Airport.

On my way to the hotel, I remember noticing the cleanliness, the state-of-the art infrastructure, contemporary tall structures around Bahrain Bay and the twin towers of World Trade Centre.

In the next few days of my stay, I realised that that was just one small slice of life in Bahrain, the traditional and soulful side existed and thrived in the alleys of the pearling town of Muharraq, the galleries of the National Museum, the heritage buildings which talked about the importance of this city in maritime trade routes, the kaleidoscopic souq and the beautiful sunsets and weekend getaways.   

To start with, my visit to the Qal’at al-Bahrain, the UNESCO world heritage site, was quite a revelation. The ancient fort is not only one of the most valuable assets of the country, it actually made me sit up and sincerely read about the significant findings made by the archaeologists around Dilmun dynasty, Tylos and the Islamic period. 

I have to agree that the National Museum is definitely the best that I have seen in the Middle East and the half-way drive on the King Fahd Causeway that leads to Saudi Arabia was very refreshing.

By now, I had got a slight idea about Manama, the capital city, there was definitely much more.

From the point I entered till I left it, the pearling path trail in Muharraq kept me amused and curious. It definitely needs more than a half day.

The very popular Bahrain International Circuit is an engineering feat and its adrenaline-pumping activities provide for an adventurous detox in the vicinity of the desert.

The Block 338 was about food, drink, culture, nightlife, community, happiness and young people, I liked some of the artwork on the walls there. It was deep and attractive.

Bahrain may be making its way to modernisation but it is still much calmer and peaceful than its neighbors.

It has its own character from the subtle balance that it maintains between modern and traditional. The small, pretty lanes, tucked behind the souq, the vibrant perfume shops, the old cafes, the old library, the wooden houses, the mosque – everything that makes this neighborhood is typical of Bahraini style.

I found the old capital of Muharraq most attractive. I am super glad that I had a chance to make the impromptu visits to the pottery workshops of A’ali village and the Shri Krishna temple in Manama Souq. The interactions at the temple really helped me see and acknowledge the much-talked about liberal side of Bahrain. And, in true meaning, it complements the tourism tagline, ‘Bahrain, ours and yours’.

The familiar call outs in the souq to buy perfumes and taste the Bahraini halwa still ring in my ears. Of all the meals that I ate, the breakfast at Saffron by Jenna, the lunch at Villa Mamas and the dinner at Al Abraaj stood out for me.

Well, although Indian biryani still remains to be my comfort food, I am extremely glad that I have developed a special liking for Lamb Ouzi!

While most of the places I explored were entirely foreign, not once but many a times I felt the comfort of familiarity in Bahrain. I did not get a chance to see the ‘Tree of Life’, but I would love to return for it.

Last but not the least, I loved that building of Arcapita Group. It really impressed me and I would have loved to go inside one day.

Manjulika Pramod, a freelancer writer from New Delhi, who blogs at www.manjulikapramod.com

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