Suhail likes to hike with his buddy 'K2' and travel to less known destinations for tourism. He writes pictorial reports on both interests.
Calling All Nature Lovers
The immigration officer looked at our passports, stamped it with visitor visa, and said, “Welcome to Bahrain, sir. Enjoy our country.”
This was a friendly greeting that we experienced everywhere in Bahrain. Thanks to my younger brother and his beautiful family living there, we visited this small island country for 11 days in December of 2015 and then again for four days in April 2016, enjoying every bit of it. The added fun was that my other brother and his beautiful family also joined us from the Saudi city of Alkhobar.
We were three brothers and our families reuniting after 11 years, and we had a blast, thanks primarily to the planning of my sister-in-law.
Covering all the touristic destinations of this small country is next to impossible. Therefore, as a nature lover, here are 10 destinations that I recommend other nature lovers make sure they see in this country.
1. Bahrain National Museum
Nature lovers should always start from the museum that exhibits natural features of the region. We started our trip of Bahrain from Bahrain National Museum that has 11 galleries.
The museum possesses a rich collection of Bahrain's ancient archaeological artifacts, and the culture and lifestyle of Bahrain's recent pre-industrial past. Natural History Hall, focusing on the natural environment of Bahrain, was added in 1993. This hall features specimens of Bahrain's plant and animal life. Among the exhibits in the ancient history section is an actual burial mound, which was transported from its site in the desert and reassembled in the museum
2. Qalat Al Bahrain (Manama)
Qal'at al-Bahrain or Fort of Bahrain captured six elements that won our appreciation: (1) It was an ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun civilization that flourished 2500 years ago, and is an archaeological tell (an artificial hill formed over time by successive occupations), (2) a sea tower about 1600 m North-West of the tell, built more recently by the Portuguese, (3) a sea channel through the reef near the sea tower where we were able to observe crabs by the hundreds, (4) distant view of the modern high rises, (5) a museum educating on the archaeological tell and the artifacts, and (6) palm-groves of a nearby village.
The fort is situated in the Northern Governorate, in Al Qalah village district on the northern coast about 5.5 km West of Manama, the present capital of Bahrain.
We started by first visiting the Museum and then walked along the sea channel and across the archaeological site to the fort. From the fort itself and from the pathways along the periphery, a nature lover could take in all the scenery.
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3. Al Dar Island (Southern Bahrain)
We found Al Dar Island to be a hidden treasure in Bahrain. It resembles a Mediterranean beach resort with sparkling waters and offering water based activities like swimming, kayaking, pearl collecting, fishing, scuba diving, boating, etc.
We were pleasantly surprised to see a significant number of waterfowl calling the island home in the warm weather of April.
We also found that the visitors numbers was regulated and therefore, beach was not over-crowded. Good wooden huts, shower facilities and several decent restaurants were available.
My brother had booked the visit to island in advance, which is a requirement. We had to present our passports at the Port Office before embarking on the ferry to Al Dar. The Port Office itself is located in Sitra Fisherman's Port, which is another 20-minute drive from Manama.
4. The Desert—Camping and Ascending a Hill (Southern Bahrain)
My brother had already booked a camp for all of us (eight adults and three kids). Everything at the campsite was well prepared in advance. All we did was board in two SUVs and reach it.
The camp was enclosed in a compound and in accordance with the local traditions, had three large size tents for general sitting area, for women and for men. There was a campfire area where we all sat down in the late evening and got the fire and the games going. But before that, the nature lover in all of us found time to ascend a nearby hill that turned out to be quite a daunting task.
The almost flat top strewn with small pebbles offered views of the surroundings in all directions. The setting of sun kept us captivated. The top also revealed that the whole area must have been under the sea millions of years ago. And even in this sun and wind exposed environment plants had found a niche to grow.
My younger brother and I were eager to see some Rhim (or Sand) Gazelles that reportedly inhabit the desert, but all our attempts to find them went in vain.
Who would know that we would be able to see them (a buck, a doe, and a fawn) taking a mid-day respite from scorching heat of 38 C under the gas pipeline, very close to where we were camped, only four months later.
5. Arad Bay Wildlife Protected Area and Park (Muharraq)
This was an amazing place to observe waterfowls of the mangroves. It is a 3 km circular track that the visitors normally use for jogging and walking.
We were the odd people out as we were observing waterfowl. Due to the migrant population of winters, the waters were teeming with waterfowl – flamingos, western reef herons, Eurasian curlews, common redshanks, common sandpipers, intermediate egrets, so on and so forth. On and around the tracks, adjoining grassy fields, and trees, we could observe Eurasian collared doves, rock doves, red vented bulbuls and white cheeked bulbuls.
Since it got chilly mid-way of our trip, we flocked to a local tea shop and had cardamom tea to give our bodies a welcome respite and something to warm up on.
6. The Tree of Life (Southern Bahrain)
Back to our winter trip, when our attempts to find Sand Gazelles failed, at least I was more than satisfied when we took a detour and visited The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat), which is an approximately 400 year-old, 9.75 m (32 ft) high Prosopis cineraria tree.
The tree stands on top of a 7.6 m (25 ft) high sandy tell that formed around a 500-year-old fortress. Since October 2010, archaeologists have unearthed pottery and other artifacts in the vicinity of the tree, some of which may date back to the Dilmun civilization.
In order to get to the Tree, we started from the Visitor Centre close to the road. It is designed to provide a protective circular fence that protects the tree from the traffic on the road. When we visited the Visitor Centre it showcased some archaeological artifacts, which were uncovered on site and photographic exhibits.
The walk from the Visitor Centre to the Tree is easy and breezy. How does this Tree obtain water for growth remains a mystery but one can guess that there is an underground fresh water aquifer close by.
7. Al Areen Wildlife Park (Southern Bahrain)
The first things we noted about this zoo were its cleanliness and landscaping. The entrance opens up to family friendly pathways and ponds populated by waterfowl. Due to the friendly atmosphere and abundance of nutritional food, local wild birds like Eurasian collared dove, crested larks, red vented bulbuls, white cheeked bulbuls, cattle egrets, etc. also frequent the park.
The zoo has a fairly decent population of wild animals. Many animals like Egyptian vulture, Saker falcon, Arabian wolves, Oryx, dromedaries, Saluki dogs (yes, unfortunately, they have kept a few of them in clean pens), etc. native to Gulf countries.
You can buy tickets for boarding buses that do a drive around a special large section with a 15 minute break at ponds where several species of waterfowl are kept. This is a trip that any nature lover will like, but a note of caution is in order here: Don’t expect professionalism of a European or North American (USA/Canada) operations, especially toward the end of the day.
8. Shaikh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh Fort (Southern Bahrain)
I found this fort to be an absolute masterpiece of architectural beauty and picturesque location. Sitting on top of a hill, the fort and the almost vertical cliffs overlooking the valley down below sent some chills down the spines and provided stunningly enchanting views at the same time.
The external and internal architectural design of the well maintained fort was impressive. At dusk, the setting of sun against a mosque located in the distant planes provided an ideal finishing touch to this trip.
9. Saar Archaeological Site (Burial Mounds)—Northern Bahrain
My brother, son, and a niece hiked to the burial grounds. On the way, crested larks, beetles, and a wary feral dog amused us. We also saw a hole where a snake had laid its eggs. But the show was stolen by a pair of Namaqua doves. Smallest of the dove family, these birds were busy pecking at seeds of some wild plants.
At Saar (named after the closest modern village), burial mounds dating back to the Dilmun and the Umm an-Nar Civilizations of and later eras, can be observed. The Dilmun Civilization has been found to be trading with Mesopotamian and Indus Valley Civilizations 2500 years ago.
10. The Camel Farm (Northern Bahrain)
My two brothers, son, and two nieces went to see the Camel Farm on the King Fahad Causeway. There were camels everywhere, but there is no activity other than watching the great animals either hobbled or in their pens.
Well, of course, we took lots of pictures and the birder in me was able to take shots of a cattle egret and a feral pigeon by the camels, both proving that they are very adaptable birds. The entrance to farm is free and one can use its pathways to do brisk walking every day, if you want to.
Where to Stay and What to Eat?
Bahrain is a very well developed country with a number of hotels ranging from two to five stars. Also, there are a number of restaurants and international franchises that cater to the local population and the tourists.
One such place for traditional Bahrain breakfast is Emmawash, where we were personally welcomed by the owner Abdullah Isa Al Aradi. He also presented us with a book listing 100 destinations in Bahrain to visit.
Please see the video below.