5 Souqs In Sharjah You Shouldn’t Miss

Most of us have fingers that itch to spend ‘just a little more’ money to buy ‘yet another something we may barely need’. Today’s post is for all such shopaholics who can’t leave a place without bringing back a part of it with them. I have been writing a series of posts on my trip to Sharjah (read Sharjah at First Sight), and I had to write one just about the souqs – the markets that can keep you busy for hours on end.

Get ready to fill up your shopping bags! (My photo was clicked by Anuradha Goyal! :-) )

Get ready to fill up your shopping bags! (My photo was clicked by Anuradha Goyal! 🙂 )

Know When To Go Shopping

In the Muslim world, religious norms of prayer are strictly followed. They pray 6 times a day, of which 4 are likely to fall between your shopping time. These times are usually around 12:30pm, 4pm, 7pm and 8pm. You’ll see boards that notify customers that the shopkeeper is out for prayer. In fact, on the inaugural night of the Sharjah Light Festival (read Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), the show was paused for 15 minutes to allow for prayer at 7pm. You might have to wait for anytime between 5 and 25 minutes when the prayers are on, and you’ll usually find every store deserted (except for the tourists). Fridays are dedicated to worship, so most shops close early or don’t open at all. Apart from prayer times, there’s also a lunch hour (1-2pm) during which many establishments are shut.

 

Once you have your shopping schedule ready, you can follow my quick and easy guide to splurging your way through this emirate! 😀 I know how most of us are pressed for time, and have only a few hours that we budget for shopping. Therefore, for your convenience, I’ve curated my special list of 5 souqs that will give you a good a flavour of the middle eastern culture while you’re in Sharjah.

#1: Blue Souq (a.k.a. Central Souq)

Blue Souq (or Central Souq) is flanked by a large manicured garden circle.

Blue Souq (or Central Souq) is flanked by a large manicured garden circle.

This is the largest souq in Sharjah, and that’s no secret (unlike Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret). The Blue Souq has a distinct blue roof and dark blue borders along its pastel walls. The marketplace is quite huge, with two wings connected by a bridge and two floors full of middle eastern goodies – artifacts and jewellery made of precious stones, glazed pots made of ceramic and clay, glass-work, especially the decorative lamps, and perfumes.

The Central Souq’s ground floor is full of dazzling gold ornaments, and a few stores dedicated to abayas (the Islamic robe-like outfit which every woman wears over her regular clothes. The floor above has beautiful Persian carpets with intricate handmade designs. Card collectors will find gold-plated playing cards, and a lot of other interesting collectibles here. Chandeliers and lamps hang low from the ceilings of a few shops that showcase the detailed glass-art on the lampshades. Even perfume-collectors have something to look forward to! Emirati perfume, or ittar, has an oil base, which makes it stronger than the regular variety, and a little goes a long way. Ittar is not sprayed, it is dabbed at the pulse points and rubbed for the skin to absorb it well.

#2: Souq Al-Masqoof

Traditional shoes are arranged on the wooden doors of a store at Souq Al-Masqoof

Traditional shoes are arranged on the wooden doors of a store at Souq Al-Masqoof

Located in the old town area of Sharjah, Souq Al-Masqoof reminds one of yesteryear. Everything form its roofs to doorways to walls seem to tell a story from another time. This is where men gather to discuss their business over some tea. Even if you are not much of a shopper, a stroll through its narrow alleys will do you good.

#3: Souq Al-Arsa

Souq Al-Arsa exudes old world charm with its stucco exterior.

Souq Al-Arsa exudes old world charm with its stucco exterior.

The oldest souq in this emirate is at Heart of Sharjah. Souq Al-Arsa has a central square with benches for tired feet that have shopped a lot. Its galleries are full of handicrafts and trinkets from Islamic countries as far as Yemen. Coral necklaces, wooden bracelets, iron daggers – you’ll be surprised at the amount of unusual tchotchkes you can buy here!

I enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee at Al Alrsa Cafe

I enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee at Al Arsa Cafe

I always need to sit down and eat something every time I’m on a shopping spree. Staring me in the eye was the Al Arsa Cafe, with its interiors resembling that of the Irani cafes in India. I hopped in for some Arabic coffee (read Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and sat down to a room full of old men in their traditional attire looking grave in their photoframes.

Clocks, planets, jugs and ropes - a lot of interesting antiques are paraded inside Al Arsa Souq

Clocks, planets, jugs and ropes – a lot of interesting antiques are paraded inside Al Arsa Souq

If you’re a fan of antiques, this is the place to be! Swords, scabbards, clocks, jugs and other interesting vessels in various stages of wear and tear are stocked up at this place. Even old furniture is not hard to find in these little shops.

#4: Souq Sagr

One can smell the aroma of spices from a distance at Souq Sagr.

One can smell the aroma of spices from a distance at Souq Sagr.

The foodies and cooks reading my blog must be waiting to hear about the spices and local produce of UAE. I’ve saved the best for the last! 🙂 Close to Souq Al Arsa, Souq Sagr has a lot of stores that sell local dates and a plethora of condiments. Take your pick of lavender, dried rose petals, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and more from these shops that let you taste their dates before you buy them.

#5: Souq Al Jubail

Souq Al Jubail is Sharjah’s largest market for fresh produce. It is located on the coast and has 4 sections for fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. There is a large circular courtyard at the centre where at 5pm every day, the fishermen bring in their catch, straight from the sea (one can see their boats docked outside) and start haggling with traders to sell their fish. This is quite a spectacle to watch! Their sections for dry fruits was where I went for a lot of free tasting of dates, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachio and raisins, and also bought bagfuls of dates from various regions. Dates are cheaper in Dubai, but if you aren’t planning to visit there, get your fill from this souq in Sharjah.

You can't leave the UAE without buying dry fruits!

You can’t leave the UAE without buying dry fruits!

Are you a shopping-pro who’d like to share some tips?

Do you know more places to shop in Sharjah?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the shopaholics you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Onboard Air Arabia’s A320

I’m not a fan of late night flights, but there is little you can do to control the time you fly out of your home city (Mumbai in my case)  when you wish to arrive at your destination in the morning. I still remember my first flight to Goa over two decades ago, when I was only 4 and my sister, 2. I had thrown up just before the landing, and all the passengers had to leap over the puddle of vomit on the aisle. Those days of free unlimited candies and poor cabin pressure management are long gone. Cut to the present, and one can get an exclusive first class suite and a pre-booked slot for a shower cabin up in the air!

This post, however, is not to highlight the milestones the airline industry has crossed, but to tell you about my in-flight experience on Air Arabia.

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

A Look At Air Arabia’s Hub – Sharjah

The Sharjah airport is nothing to write home about. But this cost-effective hub means the planes landing and taking off from here will have to pay them less, and in turn, your flight tickets will be more affordable (hopefully). Being a low-cost carrier, Air Arabia has no exclusive lounge at this airport. The airport itself is like a fish market, full of commotion and little regard for queues. The staff seems reluctant to help. At the boarding gates, the ladies in charge behave like school teachers trying to tame an unruly class. After a couple of hours at the airport, it is finally time for me to board my plane.

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

The Experience Onboard

Our A320 was a nifty aircraft, and I thought my seat in the economy class was fine. I asked for a cup of tea to relax for the next few hours that I’d be airborne. It must have worked, because I slept well. I always carry my eye mask and inflatable neck pillow to catch up on my sleep, which I never seem to get enough of (even on vacations). I was was in Sharjah to cover the light festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), and I did too much in too little time.

I pick what I'll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I pick what I’ll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I usually prep my mind to sleep by reading the in-flight magazine and waiting for the plane to go quiet. I previously wrote about my onward trip to Sharjah (read – Flying with Air Arabia), but on my return trip, the excitement had worn off as I wasn’t looking forward to going back to office and continuing with the long hours of work (usual at the investment bank). The air hostess soon cheered me up by getting me some dinner.

Time for Food! 🙂

My vegetable biryani arrives with coconut chutney on the side.

My vegetable biryani arrives with some raita on the side.

My early morning snack on my onward journey was a couple of dosa rolls with a filling of potato and chutney on the side. On my return journey to Mumbai, I had vegetable biryani with some raita. I thought the food was quite appetizing, even if a little too spicy for my palate. The portions were good too. They say that the way to a person’s heart is through her stomach. The rest of my flight seemed smooth after the meal, and the airline’s timing again was perfect! Here’s a selfie from my arrival in Sharjah (the smile is thanks to a full stomach 😉 ):-

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Flying with Air Arabia

It is past 2 in the night. My brain is only half awake. I cannot quite remember how I dragged my sleep-deprived body out of the waiting chair in front the boarding gate for my Air Arabia flight. I blinked through the aisle of this Airbus A320, found my window seat, took off my sneakers, pulled on my eye-mask and got ready to sleep through my 3 hour flight from Mumbai to Sharjah.

Air Arabia's Airbus A320 - the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Air Arabia’s Airbus A320 – the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Because Kids Do It Better!

I was woken suddenly by a bunch of babbling children reminding me to fasten my seat-belt and keep my seat-back upright. Air Arabia’s in-flight safety video is the cutest one I’ve ever watched! I’ve flown with this airline to Moscow before (read – Glimpses of Moscow – A Photo Essay), and I quite enjoyed watching the same clip. I think you should watch it too! 🙂

You Cannot Fly Without Reading At Least One Magazine!

It is hard to fall back into deep sleep once you’ve been woken. I shrugged at my situation and decided to skim through Nawras – Air Arabia’s in-flight magazine. ‘Nawras’ literally means ‘seagull’ in Arabic. The name is so apt for a publication aboard a plane! That month’s edition had stories from the places where Air Arabia flies. You may also want to read about my first impressions of Sharjah – Air Arabia’s hub.

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Food and Beverage

Before I could doze off again, the flight attendant brought me my pre-ordered meal of masala dosa and tea. Now, Air Arabia is a low-cost carrier, and its fare does not cover any in-flight meal. But you can buy your grub onboard or online. I really wasn’t hungry as this was way past my dinner time and too early for breakfast. But I never say “no” to food.

Time for some midnight snacking!

Time for some midnight snacking!

We Reached On Time!

I looked out my window, hoping to catch 40 winks before the landing, but I could already see signs of civilization, glittering to signal I should lace up my shoes and fold up my tray table. Sigh! But I perked up, remembering why I was in this emirate – to attend the Sharjah Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival).

Bird's-eye view of Sharjah - just before we land

Bird’s-eye view of Sharjah – just before we land

Have you flown with Air Arabia before? I’d like to know your feedback in the comments below!

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures and stories from my travels! Please spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who are looking for pocket-friendly airlines to fly to the UAE! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival

Winters in Sharjah are special. Not just because the weather is pleasant, but also because Sharjah’s famed light festival is celebrated in that season. With the onset of February, I flew over to this emirate to witness the celebrations which not a lot of tourists are aware of. I’ve brought back pictures and videos for you to enjoy vicariously! 🙂

When water shines and light rains

When water shines and light rains

When to Visit

This 2017, the Sharjah Light Festival was held from 2nd to 11th Feb across 14 locations. Each evening, the drama would unfold after the sun went down. I was fortunate to have good seats before the crowd would normally gather. It helps to get to the spots early, so you can position your cameras and have a clear view.

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall - before the show begins

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall – before the show begins

Opening Ceremony

On our first evening, we waited at the University City Hall’s open air amphitheatre for the inaugural show to commence. The heavens had other plans, however! It started pouring, and we had to pack up our camera kits. We did manage to see the scientific marvel the next day. I’ve made a timelapse for you to see a bit of the projection-work in a jiffy:-

Al Noor in the Night

One night, I took a walk around the Khalid Lagoon (read: Sharjah at First Sight) to watch the beautiful Noor mosque lit up in an array of colours. The work of light on this building was so smooth, that the facade appeared to be painted. The paintings would not be still, though. The patterns changed dynamically. Before my mind could feast on one, a new design was laid up before my eyes.

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Where Parks are Golden

Sharjah knows how to build up the tempo to the main attractions during this fest. Even the sprawling gardens become a part of the light festival when they hold tunnels of coloured lights for kids (and adults who are kids at heart 😉 ) to saunter through. The tunnels I crossed zigzagged about the palm trees, making them glow as well.

Light Falls on the Waterfront

Al Majaz is one area you cannot miss when you’re in Sharjah! The promenade along the waterfront makes for a refreshing walk. It’s wonderfully breezy here, and incredibly magical once the skyline is bedecked in jewels of light. The still waters look ethereal as they softly reflect the gleaming towers.

Al Majaz waterfront is silent before the show begins

Al Majaz waterfront is silent in anticipation of the spectacle

Music, Fountains and Lights

The light and water show in front of Al Majaz was perhaps the highlight of my SLF experience! Here’s some footage from my film:-

En Route to Al Qasba

Qanat Al Qasba – the mosque which draws its architectural inspiration from one of the mosques in Oman, is another building of note. It was a sight to behold at night! Its minarets were swathed in golden hues, with emerald at the top. The rest of the building looked a patchwork of ruby and sapphire as the light effects brought colours to this masjid.

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

The Story Unfolds at Al Qasba Canal

I stayed till very late at Al Qasba canal. From the bridge, I watched with wonder as the history of Sharjah was told through light and sound works on the buildings on either side of the canal. If you are here during the day, take a boat ride through the lagoons.

Al Qasba waterfront at night

Al Qasba waterfront at night

I know many who complain about the lack of a nightlife in Sharjah. Well, “nightlife” is honestly how you define it. If you are not into drinking and clubbing, this emirate has a soulful display of light-artwork across the city to keep you intoxicated with enchantment!

It all begins when the sun goes down ;-)

It all begins when the sun goes down 😉

Have you been to any light festivals around the world that you’d like to share? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Sharjah at First Sight

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 Emirati tricolour flutters in the flag island

The Emirati tricolour flutters in the flag island

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

Teapots of yore, forevermore.

Teapots of yore, forevermore.

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

Sharjah's skyline glitters in the auburn evening

Sharjah’s skyline glitters in the auburn evening

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

Hajar Mountains separate the sky from the desert

Hajar Mountains separate the sky from the desert

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

Massage for the body, mountains for the soul! ;-)

Massage for the body, mountains for the soul! 😉

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 

Food you can eat with your eyes

Food you can eat with your eyes

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

Dune bashing in the undulating Meliha Desert

Dune bashing in the undulating Meliha Desert

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

The Eye of the Emirates shines all night

The Eye of the Emirates shines all night

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 

The old world charm of the souqs is worth window shopping

The old world charm of the souqs is worth window shopping

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!

We're different, yet all the same!

We’re different, yet all the same!

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.

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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.