I was time-traveling last month when I sat on the Air Arabia flight to Sharjah in the wee hours of the morning. Flying to this emirate did not just mean winding back my body-clock by 90 minutes, but preparing my senses to witness the striking contrast between the modern metropolis polished by technology and the historical quarters washed by time. Before I could get under the skin of UAE, my eyes captured what distinctly stood out in this city.
The Emirati patriotism in an island of its own
The national flag of United Arab Emirates is hoisted on a tall white pole at the centre of the Flag Island. This flag pole is incidentally the 7th tallest in the world! I caught this panoramic view of the island from the window of my hotel room.
Antiques in sepia at the Blue Souq
Before my jet-lagged body could get any rest, I strolled over, the very afternoon I had reached Sharjah, to the nearest marketplace – the Central Souq, fondly known as the Blue Souq, after the ink blue finishing on the tortilla coloured walls of the building. Souq, in Arabic, means marketplace. I noticed, however, that most souqs are elaborately decked up exhibition centres. If you are a retrophiliac, you will revel in wandering through the countless shops that display Persian brass-ware, Turkish ceramics or Mesopotamian paintings reproduced on carpets larger than the carpet area of your apartment. I had to make my peace with window shopping for my pockets were not very deep.
A dream in the dusk
In the month of February, the afternoons may be a little too warm for comfort, but the evenings more than make up for it. A leisurely walk along Al Majaz waterfront gave me gorgeous views of the setting sun. If you are a runner (as I am 🙂 ), you should pack in your sneakers to run the entire stretch around the lagoon. When the sun just begins to set, start from Al Noor mosque, which draws its architectural inspiration from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and make your way through the Al Nakheel oasis and cross over to the other side of the Khalid Lake until you reach the tall buildings, which by now will glitter against the stark black night.
Hajar’s call to hike
I expected Sharjah to be all desert and plains. It surprised me first with its lagoon. But it literally took my breath away with its mountains! The mountain-lover in me could not sleep a wink when she learnt she would be visiting Al Hajar mountains the next day. The rocky giant is inviting enough for a hike. Visibility here is uncertain though. Sandstorms are quite common when you are in the Arabian peninsula.
Rejuvenation at a beach retreat
If you are a trekker, you will agree that the pleasures of a deep tissue massage are underrated. When your back is tired from carrying your rucksack, and your feet ache to get out of those shoes, your best friend is that masseuse who will knock you unconscious with the technique of her hands. At the Oceanic Khorfakkan Resort & Spa, it’s not just the muscles, but also the eyes that relax, for the parlours look out to the Hajar range and offer visual elation in abundance.
Dining with all your senses
My lunch at Khorfakkan was set at Al Murjan – the capacious restaurant at Oceanic which serves cuisines from around the world. All through my Sharjah trip, I would fill my plate with assorted Arabic dips, irrespective of the other cuisines that made their way into my meals. At Al Murjan, specifically, I had a memorable dining experience as I ate by the Gulf of Oman. Delighting also my ears was the live music that a Spanish duo put up that afternoon. I regretted not bringing my dancing shoes, for they sang my all time salsa favourites by Gypsy Kings.
Desert safari minus the crowd
Perhaps the best thing about Sharjah is that it doesn’t have Dubai’s crowd. When my guide, Romell, from the Sharjah Tourism Board told me we’d go dune bashing, I was expecting a typical touristy ride with a zillion cars dotting the desert, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the Meliha Desert relatively empty. We also made a couple of stops to examine some fossils which the archaeological department has been monitoring for a while.
Sharjah’s night life
Being the cultural capital of the Emirates, Sharjah takes its duty to uphold the Islamic values very seriously. Alcohol is strictly banned at public places and hotels here. So is smoking. Even though you can buy hookahs at the souqs, you cannot smoke unless you do it inside the precinct of your house. So, if you prefer a family-friendly vacation or wish to go on a detox from your alcohol-filled weekends, Sharjah is the place to be! You cannot go clubbing here, but you will discover how to enjoy a beautiful night at Al Qasba, especially if you visit during the Light Festival.
It is easy to hide in the Heart of Sharjah
Souq Al Arsa is known to be one of the oldest markets in this emirate. I enjoy looking at pretty things, even if I know I will never own them. This gives me unbridled joy in idly walking in and out of every single alley, admiring the colourful display of jootis, lampshades, kaftans and spices that are meticulously placed to make me stare at them a little longer.
No, they are not shy!
The world that lives outside the hijab often makes the mistake of assuming Muslim women are reticent and obfuscated against their will. It is only when I spoke to abaya-clad, sheila-wrapped ladies in Sharjah that this veil of misconception was lifted from my eyes. These women consciously decide to conceal their beauty from the opposite gender, so they can focus on things that are more important – such as praying, getting an education, obeying their parents and forming strong bonds of friendship with their female friends. I often think we should learn the art of being single from Islamic girls.
For more pictures, follow my daily micro blogs on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/oindrilade/.
You can also find inspiration from my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/OindrilaGoesFootloose/.
I am on Twitter too! 🙂 https://twitter.com/OindrilaDe.
Have you ever been to Sharjah? Did you notice something I didn’t? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below!
Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.