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Bahrain : The complete guide for visitors and expatriates - A 7-day voyage of discovery
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A 7-day voyage of discovery

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By James Davis » Having now made return visits almost every year since my first photo assignment to Bahrain in 1997, I think I can feel justified in saying that the island is becoming more like my second home!

On my previous visit, I wrote a photo essay about what you could do if you had only one day to explore Bahrain. The feature, titled 'Around the Island in 24 Hours', was very well received, and some of the feedback spurred this new question: What if you had a full week to spend in the country?

With the excellent guidance of my host, publisher and specialist tour operator Ali Mushaima, I put together a new itinerary that featured some of the places from '24 Hours' (though in more detail), plus many more attractions that I hope you will find as interesting as I did.

 

Obviously when you have a week, there is far more opportunity for sightseeing, exploring far-flung sights or even trying out the food at different types of restaurants.

SATURDAY: Delving into history.

Let's start then with my arrival on Friday night in time for Saturday, the first day of the work week in Bahrain. The Manama souk (traditional open market) is busy again after the weekend lull, with people bustling about the place. This morning I decide to go for a more regular breakfast as opposed to the 4am traditional bacha breakfast of boiled sheep's head and legs, which I did last year!

I pick one of the little sidewalk cafes for delicious local yogurt, hot kaboos (traditional bread) made on the spot, eggs and hot sweet tea. Very likely you will, like me, find yourself in conversation with a local Bahraini or even one of the many weekend visiting Saudis showing genuine interest in a non-Arab and wanting assurance that you are enjoying your stay in Bahrain.

I always feel visits to museums are likely to entail plenty of walking, so with a big breakfast under my belt, I decide I am now equipped to explore Bahrain's giant National Museum.

The island's main museum is not far from the city centre and should certainly be on everyone's 'must-see' list. The strikingly handsome building, built in 1988, houses exhibits dating back 4,000 years. It even has an ancient burial mound from about 2800 BC which was actually transferred from its original location in the desert and reassembled in fine detail within the museum.

The museum is divided into several sections, each interesting in their own way. There is one on natural history, another on trade and crafts and yet another on Bahrain's customs and traditions. One excellent exhibit is a reconstruction of a traditional souk as it existed in the 1930s.

I was fortunate enough to get special permission to photograph old Dilmun seals, one of the museum's greatly treasured pieces. The Dilmun civilisation (Bahrain was known as Dilmun in the third millennium BC) is the earliest civilisation on record.

Another fascinating item I enjoyed photographing was the model of an ancient pearl diving dhow showing in fine detail how men used to dive to the seabed using only the most primitive equipment - nose clips to prevent water intake, rocks tied to the feet to act as weights, and a bag to collect oyster shells.

The divers would go down to depths of up to 15 metres. Each diver had a rope around his waist, the end of which was held by his mate on deck. After about a minute underwater the diver would tug on the rope to indicate he was ready to be hauled to the surface. A truly unenviable way to make a living made all the more so because the divers were not paid a wage but were advanced money at the beginning of the diving season.

 

If the pearl harvest was not as good as predicted, they were often unable to pay back the loans thereby getting further into debt each year, which resulted in them being bound to a particular boat owner for life.

There are many other interesting exhibits and if you are a history/culture buff, you could easily spend a day or more to take everything in. By going to the museum on your first day you could decide if you want to put time aside later in the week for a further visits.

I wanted to fit more locations in on Day One so at mid-morning I continued on from the museum to Muharraq Island, which is north of the city and well connected to Manama by modern new bridges. I start off at old Marek Street and its stores selling all kind of spices. I cannot capture those pungent aromas on film, but the displays are absolutely photogenic with their range of colours and the way they are displayed in small jars, large containers or carefully shaped into pyramids side by side. They are so multicoloured in presentation.

The street also has many confectionery and sweet shops, and amongst the tempting delicacies is halwa, a traditional local sweet. It is something like a mixture of Turkish delight and jelly although this doesn't really describe it accurately - you must come and try it for yourself. Halwa is delicious eaten warm at the shop although it can as easily be taken away and eaten cool. It does not need to be refrigerated - it stays for a long time as I can vouch for myself having brought several weeks' worth of supplies back to England!

Just a short walk from the Muharraq souk (market) are two famous traditional houses of Bahrain, Beit Shaikh Isa bin Ali and Beit Siyadi. Beautifully restored, they both have wonderful designs with carved doors and plasterwork. Even the ceilings have been carefully restored using reed and wood which is how they were constructed long before the invention of modern ceilings.

Beit Shaikh Isa bin Ali features a lovely wind tower, the pre-electricity equivalent of the air-conditioner. You can actually experience how it works by sitting underneath and feeling its ability to catch even light winds and cool down the room with its unique method of circulating the air.

Time to go back to the city for lunch, and we decide on La Ventana, a small and very atmospheric Bohemian style restaurant very popular with expatriates and locals alike. It is always bustling at lunchtime - not surprising given the excellent salads, soups, rolls and sandwiches it has on its menu. Certainly a good choice for a relaxing break.

My batteries now recharged, I head for old Manama and the souk for more spices, perfumes, textiles and gold. The items on display at stores in the Gold Souk are a real eye opener. There is a massive variety to choose from and some of the window displays are quite amazing with row upon row of necklaces, earrings, bracelets and more. It's great to see it all lit up at night so we decide to come back after dinner that evening and arranged in advance to do some photography later as well.

Dinner that evening is at Krumz, with English and continental fare, after which it is back to the Gold Souk. The two-storey building has a total of 82 jewellery shops plus a cosy little cafeteria. With so many styles of jewellery to choose from, deciding which items to photograph is not easy. I have always been fascinated by the huge gold necklaces favoured by Arab women and which are much larger than those usually seen in the West. They are highly crafted with ornate patterns and embossing and make constantly interesting close up photographs.

Well, that was a good way to use Day 1! I usually find the first day's activities on any new travel venture result in requiring a good night's sleep, what with the rush to leave England, the flight out etc, so now is the time for a first night's well earned rest.


SUNDAY:  For my second day here, breakfast is at the Ramada Hotel's French restaurant Le Jardin. While it's still early morning, a walk around the old district of Manama is very pleasant in the cooler air and we see one of the old houses preserved with a wind tower as I described yesterday whilst another has a lovely old ornate wooden balcony.

Ali and I then drive out of town to Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which is well worth visiting even if it's a bit early in the trip to buy souvenirs. It's a good idea to look at what is available especially in regard to locally made items including palm weaving, pottery and woodwork.

Close by is Beit Al Jasra, another of Bahrain's historic homes which has been restored to its original condition. This was the birthplace of former Amir Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who was Amir of Bahrain from 1961 to 1999. The house was built in 1907 using coral and gypsum with palm tree trunks used to strengthen the walls.

 

Like other homes from that period, there is a large open courtyard that is accessible from the various small and larger rooms surrounding it. While you cannot actually go inside the rooms, you can see and photograph each room's delicate contents, which are displayed behind protective transparent screens.

Leaving here, we head west to the coast and the 25km King Fahad Causeway, which connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia across the sea. The causeway makes for a very impressive sight, with wide dual carriageways close to the size of a motorway in the UK.

We drive up to the halfway point where there is a big artificial island that houses customs and immigration. Here there are also two tall towers, one of which we go up to take in the superb view across to Bahrain on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. We will return here again one evening to take photographs by night.

 

Although it is a good subject by daylight, it is even more so at dusk when the lights in Bahrain are being turned on whilst still just enough daylight remains to see the detail of the causeway. It is the type of night shot that I am very fond of taking. Using a time exposure with the camera on a tripod, you can get the added interest of all the vehicle lights drawing white lines on the film with their headlights, plus red lines drawn by the tail lights!

 

If you wish to do this from the tower, beware of reflections in the windows you view through - put the camera close to the glass and shield it as best as you can from reflections - not easy but quite possible.

We make our way back across the causeway in time to see a couple of archaeological sites before lunch. One of these is the Diraz Temple dating back to the Dilmun era. It's quite small and less is known about it than other Dilmun temples. One thing that is known is that it is very, very old - dating back to the second millennium BC.

Time for lunch, which we take in the pleasantly covered courtyard of Mezzaluna restaurant. Then we head out once again, this time to Jidhafs Village and market on the outskirts of Manama. Having visited here before - it is in fact Ali's home village - I feel at home myself because I have yet to visit a more friendly Arab market! It's always a hive of activity with fruit, vegetables and fish in abundance and all very photogenic.

 

What is more, everyone here loves to be photographed which is a real joy because people at work in markets always provide interesting picture material. Whether it's elderly men carrying huge melons or stocks of the incredible variety of small and large fish, one can hardly go wrong with a camera. However even here it's best to ask before making someone a subject of your photography. This has nothing to do with Arab sensitivity; it's just plain common sense.

A while later we are on our way to the village of Karbabad, famous for its handicrafts - especially basket weaving. You will find many beautifully made items here. My favourite is the circular woven mats of all sizes made mainly from split palm fronds and coloured with natural dyes. Together with wall hangings and different sized baskets, there are some great gifts here to take back home.

Not far away, be sure to visit the camel farm in Janabiya. Here in the late afternoon we witnessed the impressive sight of big groups of camels returning from a day's grazing out on the semi desert scrubland. They made great photos as they lined up to drink at the long water troughs. There is nearly always at least one baby camel to be seen as well which needless to say is a delight for children, besides being irresistible to photograph!

Soon it was feeding time for us humans as well and we chose the Primavera at the Ritz Carlton hotel (formerly Le Royal Meridien). This is an excellent Italian restaurant with great views of Bahrain. Later in the evening, we go visiting the nightclubs at some of the other hotels to catch some live music. Almost every hotel in Bahrain features live bands, so it is good to ask around for recommendations before deciding which club to visit.

After a few hours of music, we call it a night - after all, we need to be fresh for the activities planned for Day 3.


MONDAY: From burial mounds to the Tree of Life.

Monday starts with breakfast at Coco's, a coffee shop in Adliya, before we drive out to A'ali village, famous for its pottery traditions. Once again I'm delighted to have a very photogenic subject with pots of many different styles and sizes being created on traditional potter's wheels. Again it's a super place for locally made souvenir items to take home, but be careful of the weight mounting up in your suitcase!

An added bonus during this visit was to meet Jaffer Mohammed Al Shughul, the senior member of the potter's family, whom we posed with at the wheel with his admiring grandchildren looking on.

It's an experience to see and photograph the clay being prepared. This is done by hand, or I should say foot, because the way it is softened is by stamping all over a large wedge of it with bare feet, over and over, until it is pliable. Terrific for close up shots with a difference. The old kilns are still used to fire the pieces and the styles are representative of pottery found at ancient Dilmun sites, so you can be assured that this is a truly traditional place worth visiting.

A'ali village is also where you will find the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. There are literally thousands of ancient burial mounds here, naturally weathered with time. The mounds date back to between 600 AD and 3000 BC. Few are actually intact, their contents having been looted over the centuries. You can study a close-up of a burial mound at the National Museum, as I mentioned earlier, but to appreciate the sheer scale of it, a visit to A'ali is a must.

Our next port of call is Riffa Fort, with its splendid view across the Hunanaiya Valley. Built in 1812, it looks mighty impressive as you approach it, high up on a hill. As you get closer, especially with good sunlight playing on its walls and turrets and a blue sky beyond, there are plenty of camera angles to be found. "

While you are there it's also well worth waiting for the juxtaposition of visitors and people in the foreground to give a true impression of its size. Other great shots are available at night when it looks splendid under strong illuminations, especially at a distance. Again, wait until dusk when there is still some daylight left and with the camera on a tripod you can set a time exposure to record the illuminated walls and still have detail in the hills around plus a dark blue sky before darkness falls.

Time for a refreshing lunch at Riffa Golf Club's excellent upper-level restaurant. There is a fine menu to choose from, plus a great view of the golfers in action on the fairways below. Before this golf course was built, the land used to be mostly desert, and the transformation to this beautiful green course has been nothing short of amazing.

Not too far from here is Bahrain's famous Tree of Life, so naturally this was next on our itinerary. This tree is something quite unique. It stands in solitary splendour in the desert, a fully grown, green-leafed tree, with nothing else but sand for miles around! It is thought the tree is being fed by an underground stream, but that doesn't explain the complete lack of vegetation around it.

The Tree of Life is a popular place to visit for both locals and foreigners, but the lack of adequate signage makes it a little tricky to get to. No matter, you will usually find someone to help you with directions.

From here we take quite a long drive to Sitra on the east coast to call at the harbour, in time to see the traditional style fishing dhows leaving port in late afternoon for the night's fishing. Not many tourists come to see this, but I do recommend it because dhows always make good pictures and to see them all streaming out to sea is worthwhile. As is usual with Bahrainis, there is likely to be no objection from the fishermen to being photographed, many of them even welcome it.

Once again it's been quite a long day's touring, so for a change of evening meal we go back to dine at Sato, Bahrain's finest Japanese restaurant, located in the Gulf Hotel.

After dinner, we head out to visit some of Bahrain's famous carpet shops. You can find rugs of every conceivable size and price, so it could be a difficult choice if you want to take any home, as of course many visitors do. The one I know best is Mutahar Carpets (in Juffair and Adliya). I usually go there each time I visit Bahrain, although it's not to buy carpets so much as to chat with Mutahar, the very friendly owner who always greets me like a welcome friend who has been away too long!

Traditional sweet tea is always on offer and anyway it's sheer pleasure to see the beautiful, brightly coloured carpets he has on sale. The imported Persian silk carpets from Iran are especially breathtaking, although way outside my price range. These carpets are handmade and sometimes take years to complete.



TUESDAY: Bahrain's magnificent mosques, minarets and Quran museum

Already it's Tuesday, Day Four. With the week passing all too swiftly, I decide to have an early breakfast, this time at the small Lebanese restaurant, Zahlawiya. A change to cereal and toast, we have Lebanese bread with cheese, yoghurt and coffee.

Our morning visit is to the Grand Mosque, a definite must for visitors with its particularly Bahraini architecture. The Grand Mosque is topped by the world's largest fibreglass dome. Inside, it is very light, tranquil and quite beautiful with very big archways on all sides, a gigantic circle of suspended lights in the middle and a huge chandelier in its centre.

There is normally no problem about taking photographs so long as you are discreet. To get the full majesty of the interior, you need a very wide angle lens. You will also need a tripod, unless you have fast film. It can be quite frustrating without a wide angle because it's much harder to give the impression of size. All is not lost however if you don't have one, because the outside is also very picturesque. You do need to walk back some distance to include such a large building, especially to keep the very tall minarets in the picture.

The mosque also looks superb by night; it is thoughtfully illuminated in such a way as to bring out the architectural majesty. For a "different" shot, try photographing it in silhouette against the setting sun, you should get some very impressive results.

Since we are in Manama, we decide to stay in the city and explore the other sights. We first drive over to the Beit Al Quran, a rather unique museum as it is dedicated solely to the Quran and to works of art inspired by it. As with other important new Bahraini buildings, the modern architecture is impressively Islamic with walls inscribed with Arabic calligraphy.

 

There are many historical copies of the Quran on display, ranging from the 12th to the 16th century, and they are marvellous works of art in themselves. I had to get special permission to photograph just a couple of them, and the closer I looked at them through the camera the more detailed they seemed to become!

Then it was on to another museum with a difference, the Currency Museum. Located in the Bahrain Monetary Agency building, it houses many ancient coins and rare Islamic currencies. It's time to use the close up lens again to capture the fine detail in just one or two of the vast array of specimens, and naturally special permission is needed for this. On display are items including one of the nine rarest Islamic coins in the world through to all currencies circulated in Bahrain since much earlier times.

Next it was on to perhaps the finest handicraft centre in Manama itself, the Craft Centre. It is entirely run by Bahraini women and is a favourite with visitors. Of course the central location helps but it does have some very exquisite creations, ranging from jewellery, glass, paper, embroidery and crocheted items, which you can see in the actual making by local women.

 

Ali arranged for me to meet Mariam Fakhro who works at the centre and who so kindly provided permission for me to photograph two local women who were actually willing to have their photographs taken whilst at work weaving. Mariam is a much travelled lady who invited us for coffee later in the week to see her collection of artefacts, personal paintings and drawings for which she is well-known on the island.

From the Craft Centre, it was on across the city, southwest to Khamis Mosque, one of the oldest in the Arab world. It is believed to have been built in 692 AD. It is well restored and although mainly a ruin, is excellent for photography with its decorative archways and two lovely minarets. You can actually go up one of the minarets, so long as you don't suffer from a fear of heights. The view makes it well worth it, not only for looking across the landscape but also to survey the neat outlay of the mosque ruins below. You can walk around a tiny, seemingly fragile, but quite safe balcony at the top of the minaret, but my goodness, this is where you need a head for heights. It certainly looks further to the ground than when you were down there looking up!

Once back on safer ground, we take a break for lunch at the Persian Golestan restaurant in Sheraton Hotel, then pay another visit to Muharraq, this time to see the dhow builders at work. It is a treat to see the skilled carpenters shaping the hulls of these traditional craft, even if the dhows are now powered by motor rather than sails. Needless to say, the dhow builders make excellent subjects for photography, whether they are building a new hull or simply, as they are often doing, repairing existing boats pulled up on dry land.

While in Muharraq, we call in to see the Al Oraifi Museum. It is perhaps more of a private art gallery dedicated to the works and collection of artist/owner Rashid Al Oraifi. The museum has well over 100 works of art and sculptures from the Dilmun period. The shop in the museum also sells postcards and prints of Al Oraifi's work.

In Muharraq, we also stop to see and photograph Arad Fort, another fort with interesting walls and turrets. This is another fort that is well illuminated at night, so it's worth seeing then if you don't have time during the day.

Today we are able to take up Mariam Fakhro's invitation to visit her house in Muharraq. She and her husband Abdulla share a wonderfully decorated home, filled with arts and crafts of local origin as well as from her visits abroad. Her own paintings and drawings are also on display, including her collection of hand drawn and/or painted greeting cards, many with typical Islamic themes. One of these I am very proud to have now on display in my lounge at home, Mariam having very kindly given me one of my own choice.

Dinner that night is at Monsoon, a Far Eastern restaurant made to resemble a Buddhist temple. The terraced gardens, exotic Balinese melodies and splendid dishes transport you to an all new world.

As a finale to Tuesday, we tour some of the traditional Arabic shisha cafes which have become very popular with foreigners living in Bahrain too. Patrons play cards, chat and smoke shisha, the ubiquitous version of the hubble-bubble pipe so well known in the Middle East. In recent years shisha has taken off amazingly in popularity. Even more surprising is the fact that women have taken up to smoking shisha in a big way. I have to say the smell of this tobacco is very pleasant, not like the tobacco from cigarettes at all. But perhaps that's not surprising when you realise the tobacco is very mild and flavoured with fruit.

One of the most popular of these shisha places is the Verandah Gallery and Cafe with artworks on display, a covered courtyard and even a separate family area. As with other shisha establishments, all the smoking equipment is provided so even visitors can give shisha a try!


 

WEDNESDAY: A day for the birds and animals on the beautiful beaches of Hawar.

The day starts with breakfast at the Conservatory Cafe before a day with a complete difference. We drive to the east coast of the island, to a jetty where a small but fast passenger boat takes us to the Hawar group of islands, some 30 km away from the mainland.

The previous day, we had had a chance meeting in Manama with an Australian expatriate, Howard King, who is a devout conservationist, especially with regard to Hawar Islands. For me, the bird life was the main purpose of going out to the islands and Howard was delighted to escort us there for the best views of the wild birds for which the islands are famous.

On our arrival, Howard took us on a smaller boat, necessary to negotiate the waters that can be very shallow around the main island. We were treated to the wonderfully impressive sight of hundreds of black cormorants, flying in tight formation close to us. We sat still in the boat, watching the birds flying back to their island roosts after a day's fishing at sea.

Although the light was unfortunately cloudy for our visit, so making photography difficult, it was an astonishing sight especially when followed by our landing on the part of the island a little later to walk close to the breeding and roost area. They were gathered literally in their thousands, a sea of black on a large sandy expanse. I feel really fortunate to witness this sight as the shallow waters make this part of the island not generally accessible to tourists.

On Hawar there is one main hotel with excellent facilities, and our lunch is a delicious buffet. We have time in the afternoon to see the animals on the island, including the Arabian Oryx, native to this part of the world. The animals seem well looked after and are very photogenic. They are allowed to roam freely and so look quite natural in their semi-desert location.

This location is perhaps more advantageous for photography than Al Areen Wildlife Park, which I describe later, but obviously you need time to spare during your trip. Certainly it's a day with a difference and there is some reluctance to leave this desert island style location for the hustle and bustle of Bahrain again!



THURSDAY: A seafood feast, and a sunset treat for the senses at the harbour.

Already it's Thursday, day 6. After breakfast, we head out to Bahrain Fort, the biggest and most spectacular of Bahrain's forts. A wonderful job has been done in restoration work here and I never fail to be impressed by its mighty walls, moat and formidable turrets.

 

It's been interesting to visit at least three times over the past few years to see the progress made and once again I have to say it is a "must see" on anybody's list. Of course it's great for photography too. You can find some great angles all around the fort, at different times of day as well, with the changing shadows and lighting effects especially in early morning or later afternoon when the sun is not too high. That makes it definitely one for the photographer's "must-take" list as well!

Not far from the fort is Barbar Temple, an excavated complex dating back to the third millennium BC. Not far from Barbar is the textile weaving village of Bani Jamra. Famous for its cloth weavers, the looms are very unusual in that the weaver sits in a small hollowed out area inside a shack drawing the yarn into the loom from a wooden post 8 to 10 metres away. It is excellent for photographs although flash will likely be required. This is no problem for the locals who are well used to visitors.

We head off from here to Adliya, to visit Akram Al Samaei, the son of Yemeni silver merchant Ahmed who we met in Yemen earlier in the year. Akram has his own silver shop in Bahrain, Shibam Silver, which has some exquisite traditional Yemeni jewellery that you will not find elsewhere on the island.

From here we drive back to the east coast for lunch at The Fish Market at Al Bandar Hotel. This has to be one of the best seafood restaurants on the island. Like me you will probably want to photograph the amazing display of seafood on the counter before you sit down to enjoy the feast. That excellent meal warrants a little relaxation at the hotel, which is a beach and boating resort. After a welcome swim, we head off again to Manama, this time for a sunset and to see the dhows leaving from Manama harbour. It's a similar scene to the dhows leaving from Sitra, but made more dramatic as they sail off into a dusk coloured sky.

Ali arranges for us to take a small boat from the harbour, allowing us to photograph the scene from sea level, beneath the bridge between the city and Muharraq.

Dinner that night is at Lanterns, an Indian restaurant, before we head for the nightclubs. Since it is my last but one day here, it makes sense to have a late night out tonight rather than tomorrow when a good night's sleep will be needed before the flight home the following day.

 

There are plenty of bars, discos and clubs to choose from in Bahrain, and the disco I know best is Barnaby Joe's or, as it's usually known, BJ's. It's very popular with the young folk of the island and the crowd is a complete mix of locals, expats and visitors. I must admit to being of an age now where discos are more for a brief visit than staying on all night long, especially with the volume turned well up as it usually is! I leave the place a little earlier than most as I don't want to be too tired for Friday, my final day on the island.



FRIDAY: Up close and personal with Arabia's famous falcons and race horses.

 

It's a luxurious brunch on my last day at one of Bahrain's top hotels, the Ritz Carlton, which until last year was known as Le Meridien. A superb location, you are sure to be tempted by the huge inviting pool or the specially constructed sandy beach.

We head off after brunch to Al Areen Wildlife Park, 20 km south of Manama, in an area of semi desert. Most of the animals are fenced into individual large areas, and to see them you have to take the park's special bus, which drives around the whole area. It is not that easy to take good pictures because unfortunately (although understandably) you are not allowed out of the bus en route as this would alarm the animals.

 

As is usual with wildlife, they will often be quite indifferent to a moving vehicle, but if a human steps out of that vehicle, that's quite a different matter and animals usually sense danger! This is a good tip to remember when photographing animals or even bird life.

Anyway, the wildlife at Al Areen is well worth seeing, especially as they include the Arabian Oryx, which is nearly extinct in the wild. There are also Persian gazelle, springbok, impala as well as ostriches, camels and smaller animals such as porcupine

By special arrangement, Ali and I are able to pay a special visit to the Falcon Centre, which is attached to the park but not generally open to the public. Here they look after sick or injured falcons whose owners bring them in from all around and even from other countries.

 

I am allowed to take some close-up photographs outdoors, but had to do it quickly because it was a hot day and the birds needed to be kept cool. The falcons are indeed beautiful and elegant birds and having one or two owners available to be holding their birds was an extra bonus for me as I had long wanted to obtain such special shots.

From Al Areen, we drive further into the desert to see Bahrain's Oil Museum. Few countries in the world I'm sure will have such a museum, but it's interesting to remember that Bahrain was in fact the first country in the Gulf where oil was discovered, back in 1932.

The museum allows you to trace the discovery of what has become the region's best known export and you can see exhibits of drilling equipment, a working model of an oil rig and historical photographs. Close by is the appropriately named Oil Well No. 1, still working and almost a museum piece itself! It's quite small but has interesting old pipes and gauges so it's good to take photographs especially as you will be able to show your friends that you have pictures of the very first one.

We head back to town for lunch, after which it's a more relaxing last afternoon spent at the horse races in the town of Sakhir. This was fun for me because it's not a sport I usually follow. Once again, with Ali's help, we obtain permission to go near the racetrack for an opportunity to take close-up photos of the horses in high-speed action as they leave the starting gate and again at the finish. It's a wonderful experience and it's a good opportunity to give the auto-follow focus technology on my Canon EOS 3 a real test. This camera, apart from having auto focus, also compensates for fast moving subjects coming straight towards the camera. I must say it passed with flying colours!

It's my final evening, and we dine at the Le Jardin restaurant at the Ramada Hotel, after which it's the all-important shopping and sightseeing tour of the huge new malls which are springing up all around Manama. If I was forced to choose between shopping in the old souks or the new malls, I guess I'd pick the souks. That's because I'm a photographer and find those little streets and shops so attractive visually, as well as displaying many things that you probably wouldn't see in most European shops.

However, it must be said the huge new mall complexes are also very interesting visually in their modern way and my goodness, there is hardly anything that you cannot buy! Again these malls are further subjects for my camera, but with the larger format camera that I prefer for this work, together with tripod and flash, special permission is needed beforehand. So if you want to try serious photography of some of the awe-inspiring architecture don't forget to ask first.

So there we are, a week in Bahrain and certainly little time to get bored! I can absolutely recommend this friendly country to anyone looking for a destination with a difference. The word friendly almost defines the Bahraini people, who are always ready to chat, show genuine interest in wanting to know more about you, and guide you if you need directions somewhere.

Don't forget your camera, or simply buy one at duty-free when you arrive. Film of course is no problem, being readily available in this part of the world.