Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret

“Sharjah” – this name would often conjure up an image of a desert with mosques scattered across its parched terrain. I thought this Arab city would be a quick trip – a short walk by the souqs, a desert safari, and I’d have seen pretty much all that this place has to offer. I would realize on my maiden trip to this emirate how wrong I was in my imagination.

Khor Fakkan - beyond the desert plains

Sharjah – beyond the desert plains

Big Surprises Come in Small Packages

On my third day in Sharjah, the plan was to visit the town of Khor Fakkan. Little has been spoken or written about this place which technically is a part of Sharjah, but geographically surrounded by Fujairah. It was a long road journey which took us through the Hajar range of mountains, and well into the emirate of Fujairah.

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Time-Traveling to the 15th Century

We passed a couple of mosques on our way to Khor Fakkan, but the most striking of all was Al Bidiya – a mosque wrapped in layers of plaster from 1446 AD. This mosque is quite unusual in its architecture as it has four pointed domes – something missing in the modern mosque designs.

We had started ascending the Hajjar Mountains soon enough. And, I knew this when it started to get cold. I wasn’t carrying a jacket as I’d assumed Sharjah would be anything but cold on that sunny afternoon. I did not have the time to hike up those mountains, and I know I’ll have to go back to do just that someday.

We start gaining altitude on the Al Hajar mountains

We start gaining altitude on Al Hajar mountains

Mountain-Top Local Markets

We stopped for a while in a little village to have some Suleimani chai and succulent dates. You will be surprised to know of the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in the Emirates, especially around oases. The fertility of the soil varies here. This land is not all dry and barren. Local markets are also where you can bargain well. The friendly shopkeepers will let you taste some of their dry fruits on display when they know you will be buying. Food aside, you can also find warm kaftans and jackets with middle eastern prints as you stroll through the roadside.

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

Seeing the Arabian Sea

As we drove further, our view changed completely! We were driving along the Gulf of Oman, gulping down the dazzling waves of the Arabian Sea with our eyes. Khor Fakkan (which literally means ‘gulf of jaw’) is the only town in Sharjah which lets you see the Gulf of Oman.

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

A Bite of Luxury at the Oceanic Hotel

Khor Fakkan’s 4 star Oceanic Resort and Spa was the perfect place to put up my feet and take in the view of the turquoise waters of the Khor Fakkan Beach. Even though alcohol is strictly prohibited all across Sharjah, you will miss none of the beach excitement when you can spend your lazy afternoons sipping on some iced tea and gazing into the horizon before you.

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Meandering into Mleiha

A short drive from Khor Fakkan lies the Mleiha Desert. Its sand is distinctive with a touch of orange in the light brown. The Mleiha Archeological Centre is where they study fossils unearthed from this desert. There is a museum here that every kid touring Sharjah must be taken to. It’s quite experiential and informative.

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

Time for Desert Safari

Mleiha is also where you can take a desert safari over the undulating sands. Unlike in Dubai, the experience you have in Sharjah will be more intimate as you won’t have the crowd. This is also a no non-sense desert safari which focuses on nature, and skips the belly dance in the end. Plus, you get to stop at some locations to examine some fossils yourself! (I can already see the paleontologists smiling 😉 )

The smooth sands of Meliha desert are perfect for a safari!

The smooth sands of Mleiha desert are perfect for a safari!

Khor Fakkan and Mleiha may not be Sharjah’s only (open) secrets, but they sure are worth exploring! We often make the mistake of judging a place by the first look or through someone else’s opinion. It is time we went out on our own to discover what popular media won’t tell us. Some secrets are better kept when shared, don’t you think? I’ve let you in on Sharjah’s secret. Won’t you tell me yours?

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Have you also discovered lesser known things about popular places? 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 think Sharjah is all about sand! 🙂

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

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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.