My dream is to explore and hike in the Saudi desert. Al Hali district, the empty district. It began with Oriental studies when I did research on St. John Philby, a British geographer and Arabist who was recruited for intelligence to make connections with the Saud family and local tribes ahead of World War I. Philby was the first Westerner to cross the al-Khali quarter and the Yard of Death Yard area. This time I’m on my way to Bahrain. The plane makes its way over Samaria, the Jordan Valley, the Kingdom of Jordan and then begins to cross the Saudi desert. From above you can see covetousness, red rock mountains, canyons and modern agriculture.
But Saudi Arabia will wait. This time I’m on my way to the bay pearl. Bahrain. An island state of 760 square kilometers with about 1.7 million inhabitants. Bahrain is in fact the only island nation in the Persian Gulf. At the same time there is a 25-kilometer bridge that connects it to the Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia.
The island is mostly flat and in the center one mountain and one tree. Jabal Duhan rises to a total height of 134 meters. Most Bahraini will indicate its height on foot (440 feet) because it sounds much higher than it really is. Humor of people who live in a very flat place. The tree of life is a species of obscure tree that was brought to Bahrain from Australia a few hundred years ago. The tree stands in the center of a huge area of oil wells and huge metal grasshoppers that extract oil from the ground. No one yet understands how this huge tree survives in such a dry and deserted area in the heart of such a polluting oil industry. The Bahraini greatly preserve the tree and it has become a kind of attraction for locals and tourists. It’s not that there are no more trees in Bahrain.
On most of the island, especially its southern part looks like an arid and empty desert. Archaeological excavations on the island show that Bahrain was once the center of dilemma culture. Magnificent civilization from the Bronze Age (third millennium BCE to 500 BCE). Dilmon was an important trading center between the eastern Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia to the Hindu Valley in India. Pearls were probably an important part of Dilmon’s wealth. Dozens of burial sites, village remains and dilapidated public buildings can be found throughout the island. Then came the Persians, Islam and the Islamic dynasties, the Portuguese, the Omani, a dynasty to Khalifa who ruled the island to this day and the British were here for quite some time. Everyone seems to have come because of the pearls. Even the Cartier family made it all the way from Paris to Bahrain to purchase pearls. There were years when Bahrain was responsible for eighty percent of the world pearl trade. The edge of the pearls set out with the Dao ships for a few days into the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. Dive to a depth of up to 18 feet or 20 feet on dishes to cook the oysters with the precious pearls. I visited the Museum of Bahrain to learn about the history of dilemma culture and the development of the pearl trade in Bahrain. The museum is built on the seafront and from there you can sail to the old town of Muharraq and to the beginning of the “Pearl Road” – a wonderful UNESCO project inaugurated in 2012 and restoring ancient buildings belonging to families who traded in pearls. The cruise lasts about ten minutes and allows for a great view of the skyline of Manama, the new and modern capital of Bahrain. The most prominent buildings are the “4 Seasons” hotel built in the shape of the letter H and also the twin towers of the World Trade Center with their wind turbines. But this is not Dubai yet. This is Dubai about 10 years ago. It’s time to take a walk here before it all becomes skyscrapers, alienating and artificial like in Dubai.
The boat is moored next to the tower of the ancient Portuguese fortress you hit in it Mahir. The Bahrain flag flies at the top of the tower. The flag is red with five white triangles representing the five principles of Islam. From the beach and the fortress begins a walking route of about three and a half kilometers inside the city of Muharraq. The trajectory is marked by pillars topped by a plastic ball representing a pearl. I follow the pillars and thus wander through alleys, courtyards, ancient buildings that are undergoing renovation and squares. On the way I meet local Bahraini who exchange greetings with them in Arabic, buy pitas at a local bakery and take pictures. I’m the only tourist here. The Bahraini are nice and welcoming. They are all Muslims. Most of them are Shiites. Shiites are present here everywhere even though the government is of the Sunni Khalifa dynasty. In the Shiite cemetery, hundreds of black flags flutter over the gravestones. There is nothing more salty than the Shiite tear.
In the large square of Muharraq I enter a candy store of the Schweiter family. The family’s roots in Basra in Iraq and from there brought the tradition of preparing the Bahraini “halwa”. A kind of sweet caramel gel spread with the addition of spices such as saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves with the addition of nuts or peanuts. At first it was candy as an energy food for divers going down to ripen the pearls and later it became a traditional Bahraini candy.
From here I continued to Bab al Bahrain. The entrance gate to the market of Manama. Many stores offer basically the same thing. Spices, gold, textiles and toys. After a short stroll I arrive at the synagogue of the Jews of Bahrain. A small community of about forty Jews. I meet Avraham Nono, the head of the synagogue community. Community roots in Iraq and Iran. The community at its peak numbered several hundred people who were mainly engaged in trade in the market adjacent to the synagogue. Most of them left after the establishment of the State of Israel. At the same time, one of the members of the community, Huda Nono, served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States. Huda Nono is a cousin of Abraham Nono. It seems that Muslims, Jews and Christians live quite harmoniously in Bahrain.
In the evening the young people go out to the 338th district of Manama. A magical combination of colorful buildings, restaurants, cafes and boutique shops. Serve a traditional Bahrain food dish alongside trendy gourmet food. A bit like Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Along the road are cars with Saudi license plates. Many Saudis come to Bahrain to drink alcohol, shop and meet women. I stayed at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel. In the lobby are olive trees that look completely real. I did not understand the connection of olive trees to the Bahrain desert. After all, there are no olive trees here. I asked the hotel manager. He explained that the trunk is indeed real of an olive tree. The branches, leaves and olives are artificial and made of silk. Everything can be done with money. It does not always buy good taste.
The next day I went out to the fortress of Bahrain, hit to Bahrain next to a great beach. Next to the Portuguese fortress are the remains of a Dilmoni settlement and an agricultural village called Al Kelat. From the top of the fort I notice a herd of black goats coming out of the village and making its way towards the sea. In the background are the glittering skyscrapers in the sun of Manama. A perfect combination for me.
Map of Bahrain:
Source: כתבות – מסע אחר by www.masa.co.il.
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