A Visit To Bahrain 2000
WHEN BAHRAIN WAS given its modern Arabic name which literally means "two seas" it was more than its latest reincarnation. To the Caliphs it had been Awal to the Greeks at the time of Alexander the Great Tylos and receding into the early history of Sumeria 5000 years ago Bahrain was Dilmun of 2800 BC the land of eternal life the legendary land of fresh water and the flower of immortality. It is known by so many names the Land of Eternity the Seat of Dilmun even the legendary Garden of Eden.
Enter 5000 years of history. Bahrain is believed to be Dilmun This was also the main harbor and the trade center between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.
The "two seas" of Bahrain are the Gulf itself and the plentiful supply of natural spring water which nourished mariners and gave the island its trading reputation. Thus the mariners of old stopped overnight at Panama which in Arabic means resting place and is the name of the country's capital.
Located right in the center of the Arabian Peninsula Bahrain is the hub of the Middle East's wheel as the telecommunications and financial center of the region.
Presently Bahrain has a new reputation as an outstanding venue for international events of every size; a reputation supported by the First Runner-up Award as the best Destination and Best Venue for hosting Conferences and Incentive Meetings in the Middle East presented at the New York World Travel Awards in 1997. This was the venue of the 29th Asian Skal Assembly that took place June 2nd to 5th this year.
We found that the Skal smiles that greeted us on our arrival we found was only the beginning of our relaxing stay in this most friendly and surprising country where the service was always charming polite and efficient. Those with Thai passports had to pay US$42 for an entry visa that was issued at the airport. Countries of the Commonwealth paid US$15 for a visa due to close ties with Britain since the early 19th century.
The Gulf Hotel is the grand old dame of the city. We had a lovely view of a stately royal residence. Each day we passed the stately Al Khamis Mosque believed to be the oldest Mosque built in 692 A.D. The cuisine which accompanied every Skal event in the modern convention center was second to none. (When we told a taxi driver we were staying at the Gulf Hotel he replied "the food there is always delicious.")
From the bus tour around the royal residences of Bahrain we saw beautifully landscaped gardens with cool clear pools rare plants and exotic fauna; a restful break for the Amir's family who have ruled Bahrain since 1783
The dramatic design of the Sheikh Isa Causeway is the new link between Panama a and Muharraq part of the outstanding network of highways which makes travel round the islands easy and speedy. The spacious Bahrain International Airport located on Maharraq is only a 20 minute drive to the Gulf Hotel.
The first time we exchanged money was a bit of a shock because 1 Dinar is valued at US$3. This was the first time for me to visit a country where I got less local currency for US$.
We found the people went out of their way to make us feel "at home" especially when another taxi driver spoke Thai with us. The old suqs or open markets held many discoveries for our Skalleague group. Shops were piled high with their wares especially spices nuts and dried fruits textiles in gorgeous bright colors; presented in a tradition that has not changed down the centuries.
We wanted to see the dramatically weathered rim rock in the southern desert that we had read about. After enquiring about an island tour at 6 dinar per person we were told our group number was too few to organize the trip.
After an evening at a pool side barbecue we rounded off the night at a lively night spot none other than Hard Rock Cafe. (Chiangmai's Good View is much more lively.) There are many places open to 2 or 3 am for night owls to take in.
Bahrain is a land of contrasts. We travelled back 5000 years in time to awesome historical sights and came face-to-face with modernity within a few minutes drive. The rafters of the restored Riffa Fort cast their shadows creating a mood of peace and tranquility. We visited heritage sites of every kind from a lovingly preserved house of the Amir's Great Grandfather Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa's residence that has been restored and open to the public to the tastefully restored ruins of ancient fortifications and a visit to observe archeological -digs' where Dilmun's history unfolded before us.
Popular with visitors are the ruins of a prehistoric city the 170000 burial mounds in Saar - the world's largest cemetery dating back to 3000 BC Bahrain Fort of 2800 BC the Barbar Temple dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC dedicated to the Goddess of spring water - Enki and the imposing National Museum Heritage Center.
During the day the sand formations are a welcome sight to desert travellers. We stopped at a camel farm owned by the Amir's family. These camel are the offspring of the camels brought to the island in the 1700's. Our guide informed us the Amir was a very generous man and one time offered a woman visiting the camp a young camel to take back to the US. Unfortunately she had to decline the offer. The most impressive scene was a herd of camels we encountered near the mystical phenomenal Tree of Life a 400 - year old tree that stands alone in the desert with no known source of water. On that day the Schemal a northerly Mediterranean wind was blowing and sweeping the fine sand around us. Just knowing this tree had such a long history compared to our own lives of hopefully 80 years gave us a deep appreciation of this sight.
The luxurious new Seef Mall offering many famous international retail brands was where we started our shopping on the first day in Bahrain. We were informed the Seef family were the founders of the world famous Marks & Spencers chain. Typical of malls the food center is located on the top floor. Those hungry for McDonald's Pizza Hut Mrs. Field's cookies and such would not be disappointed. We opted for lamb shishkebab and a dish of pilaf. Four skewers were 1.90 Dinar and a plate of pillar was 1.6 D. The Bt 400 was well worth it for the large portions plus we got 3 pieces of nan and a small salad to round off the delicious meal.
The gold pearls and jewelry for which Bahrain is renowned is very much in evidence. Skalleagues got a hands on experience shucking pearls from oysters during a stop at the Aquatique. Visitors listen to an informative talk about the history of the island's pearl hunting culture then are invited to shuck a dozen oysters for pearls. It's difficult work and a few Skalleagues were successful in finding pearls.
We have fond memories of Bahrain and renewing our friendships with many Skalleagues we meet year after year. In 2001 we're off to Okinawa and another adventure to be shared with Skal friends in a culture so different from Thailand.
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