Off the beaten path
The earliest recorded references to Bahrain date back to the third millennium BC, when it was known as Dilmun. An entire 100 by 150 metre village from the Dilmun era is presently being excavated, with the digs revealing breathtaking secrets of that period. The digs at Saar have proved the existence of a very organised lifestyle, with well-ordered roads, proper houses, workshops and a central marketplace.
For anyone even faintly interested in ancient civilisations, the site of the digs will be a hugely fascinating experience.
Three temples, built one on top of the other, are providing vital clues to religious rites in the Dilmun era. All three temples, constructed during the third and second millenniums, were dedicated to Enki, the god of wisdom and sweet water. Legend has it that Enki lived in a subterranean palace covered in silver and lapis lazuli, near a fresh water lake.
Go out and have a barbeque under a tent in the desert. Its a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The 25km-long King Fahad Causeway links Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and is one of the longest bridges between two countries in the world.
Most visitors will need a visa to actually cross into Saudi Arabia, but dont let that stop you from driving down the causeway up to the midway point. Its an enjoyable drive across the waters, especially if you plan the trip between mid-morning and early evening when the traffic is light.
An added bonus for driving across the King Fahad Causeway is the tower restaurant at the midway point between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It offers excellent refreshment, but even better is the spectacular view it affords across the seas to both countries.
The highest point in Bahrain is a mere 134 metres above sea level. Called Jebel Dukhan (Mountain of Smoke) because of the haze which frequently surrounds it on humid days, it nevertheless commands fine views and is a popular picnic spot.
Arab World Tours (tel 9637737) offers special photo tours of Bahrain, where a professional photographer joins you as a guide, showing you the sights, providing picture tips and also making sure you arent missing from your holiday photos. Other unusual tours available are fishing trips, camel rides, sailing expeditions and desert camps (see below).
Conveniences like television and air conditioning are taken for granted today, but it was not so long ago that Bahrain was more accustomed to a desert lifestyle. Some tour companies, including Arab World Tours (tel 9637737), now offer a chance to explore what life was like in those days with an evening at a traditional desert camp. Starting at sundown, the camp lasts well into the early hours of the morning. Bahrain Explored (tel 211477) also arranges parties under a Bedouin tent in the desert.
Many houses in the old quarter of Manama and Muharraq still have wind towers, a traditional method of air-conditioning in the days before electricity. The towers rise five or six metres above the house, are open on all four sides and are designed to catch the slightest wind and channel it down into the rooms, giving a cooling effect.
Bahrains current and former capitals Manama and Muharraq are joined by causeway, but the two islands could hardly be more different.
While Manamas skyline reveals the contours of a 21st century city, Muharraq still retains an old-world feel and charm. The old winding lanes, wooden-shuttered homes, carved doors, stained glass windows, ancient windtowers and the aroma of essence and spices all contribute to the feeling of time standing still.
Where else in the world will you find a museum dedicated to oil? Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf where oil was struck (way back in 1932), and the museum allows you to trace the discovery of what has become the regions best-known export. Exhibits at the museum include drilling equipment, photographs and a working model of an oil rig. Nearby is the famous (and aptly named) Oil Well No. 1, now almost a museum piece itself.
Notwithstanding Bahrains small size, there are a lot of attractions for nature lovers. No fewer than 300 species of birds have been recorded in Bahrain, including the rare sooty falcon, and the worlds largest Socotra Cormorant breeding colony. Ecotours specialist AlReem (tel 710868) has special travel packages for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts that you might want to check out.
With Bahrain gaining in popularity as a tourist destination, many tour operators have begun offering package deals with charter flights and hotel stay. Check with your travel agent, there are some real bargains to be had!