Little more than a year ago, I was in Manama Bahrain for three days (Nov 2009). Pleasant memories of this tiny island visit are still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. Yes, Bahrain is only a tiny bit of an island. See details:
Area: Only 707 sq KM consists of 33 islands. The biggest being the Bahrain which is only about 55 KM by 16 KM.
Religion: 90% Muslims with about 66% Shia and 33% Sunnis.
Language: Official language is Arabic. Farsi (Persian) is also much used as majority population has origins from Iran.
Population: The population of Bahrain is only 1.2 Million (about 0.5 Million locals and 0.7 Million ex-pats).
Rulers: Bahrain is ruled by Al Khalifa royal family since very long. The family is Sunni and originated from Najd area in Saudi Arabia. But majority people are Shia with origins from Iran. Iran has been claiming since 100s of years that Bahrain belongs to her. Britain played a big role during 19th century in bringing the Royal family to power and to keep Iran away. This is the reason behind current & many previous uprisings.
My visit here was short but very exciting. I had a friend living here with family; he happily showed me around and served a nice dinner. We did some shopping at a super market where works the officially humblest car park attendant of the world works, ic oul not meet him, he was off on that day. My shopping list wasn’t long, dates, mithai (sweets), a steam iron with a free “easy-shirt-folding-cardboard” which I managed to pack in my travel pack with great difficulty. Both of these items never worked the way claimed by the exuberant sales boy, actually never worked to be honest. Easy-fold cardboard went for recycling; the steam iron still lies in my cupboard.
Weather in Bahrain is hot & humid except few winter months. The weather was pleasantly mild during my visit though; it was November. So I enjoyed walking outside.
The hotel I stayed in was one of the best I ever stayed. It was not a room but a full suite, with mini-kitchenette, dinning, lounge, bedroom and obviously a shower. My friend told that Saudis visit Bahrain with family, and they prefer such suites.
Our customer meeting went exceptionally good. The local manager was so happy that he invited us for dinner at a supposedly 7 Star hotel. Happily obliging, four of us colleagues joined. We went there just about sunset time. The restaurant was crowded, must be really good I thought! We decided to sit outside. They had created a kind of tropical jungle on one side. The dinner was supposed to be a candle-lit one. It was so dark that it was impossible reading the menu let alone seeing each other. Waiters were carrying small torches in their pockets to help diners read the menu. And the food; it turned out to be awfully tasteless. A disappointing experience over all.
One of our colleagues had travelled straight from China. She was uncontrollably jet-lagged as if drunk. On the way back she sat in the front seat (no she wasn’t driving), and was falling forward on every touch of break. We feared she would break the dashboard, so we reclined her seat. I left the car first at my hotel; she was staying at another place. I didn’t hear of an accident next morning and the car dashboard was fine too! The journey went well I supposed. All that ends well….
We had one full afternoon free and a car with driver to explore the island. Driver being from India, could speak a bit of Hindi/Urdu and a bit of English, decided to start with King Fahad Causeway, the only road link between Bahrain and neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Opened in 1986, it is a 26 KM long bridge on the sea (supposedly the longest in the world). Actually it is not a bridge, rather a road built in the sea. There is a small island in the middle which is used for customs and immigration.
Many Saudis drive to Bahrain using King Fahad causeway on the weekend (Thursday & Friday) just for leisure purposes and avoiding restrictions in Saudia (Read my Visit to Riyadh for more). Everything is available here including alcohol, which is sad really. Saudis are famous here!! for rule-free driving.
We drove through Bahrain Island and reached in the middle of the King Fahad causeway. It was nearly dusk. We went up the observation tower & viewed excellent sunset. It was stunning to see lights coming up all along causeway reaching Saudi land.
Bahraini land is desert like. There is no much oil or gas here so Bahrain is dependent on Saudi and other rich Gulf states. Population is majority Shia who migrated from nearby Iran many many years back. However they are poor. Minority sunni are rich as Royal family is also sunni. Rioting is common among shia. There is unemployment issue also. For some reason Bahrain imports a lot of foreigners from India, Bangladesh, etc etc for labour & household work but do not use locals.
We drove through rural area on the way back. Plan was to visit the famous Fort of Bahrain just outside Manama city. Constructed on a human-built mound, this fort dates long back in history. The area has signs of Persians, Portuguese & British who invaded & lived in this area in same order of time in history. Few parts of the fort looked-as-new, obviously re-built recently. There was a trench all around which would have been filled with water at times, currently used by astray dogs as F1 racecourse. You know I don’t mix with dogs, so I stayed well off track.
The Bahraini cuisine, as I experienced is a mix of more Arab & less Iranian dishes. An addition is use of a lot of Fish since Bahrain is an Island. I made good use of Qavha with dates, and other Arab dishes offered at breakfast and lunch at hotel.