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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.