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Sharjah - The Emirati With A Soul

It is a fast emerging hotspot in UAE, and a tourist’s delight. From history, culture to adventure sports - it has it all!

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The third largest out of the seven Emiratis in UAE (United Arab Emirates), Sharjah, has so much to offer that one wonders why it wasn’t on the regular tourist beat until now. More known to the common traveller as a satellite city of Dubai, one visit and you realize it has its own distinct character and rich history. Did you know that archaeologists from across the world have converged to study excavations dating back to the Paleolithic age, some 130,000 years ago, at the Mleiha Archaeological site? Or that the F1 H2O World Championship is in its 18th year running in this fast evolving destination that has managed to retain the traditional while on a modernizing spree.

On a recent visit, I was forced to think aloud while dipping my fluffy pita into a second round of hummus, why would even an avid shopper not happily flock here, as an international standard mall stood facing our hotel boasting of top of the line brands like Berkshire and Pull&Bear.

Our guide Shada, an expat who has made Sharjah her home, took us to the Heart of Sharjah to give us a feel of what the city was like many thousands of years back and its evolution. The location gets you thinking as it is the epicenter and origin of this Emirati. It was here where the first families took up residence in their new stone-built homes. It was here, where the first seeds of tradition were sown. This is also where we met a bubbly Fatima Alsuwaihi who belongs to this area and her pride was palpable as she took us through the alleyways of the historic neighborhoods of Al Sheyoukh and Al Maraija that constitute the main heritage area. While there are museums showcasing the old way of life, there are also old existing shops selling lo and behold everything from oud to carpets. We also chanced upon the first photo studio of Sharjah, “Honeymoon Studios” and close to it, in an old famous Biryani joint hung a photo of their most esteemed guest till date, Sheikha Zayed Bin Soltan Al Nahian, founder of UAE.

Our foray into the past, wound up at a majlis, where the local elderly men gather every afternoon to discuss issues or just bide time reminiscing the past. We felt privileged to be a part of this majlis taking away with us a slice of history.

While we were still heady with stories and sights of the bygone days, it was time to catch our seats at the Formula 1 H20 Grand Prix. It is an international motorboat racing competition for powerboats organised by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) and promoted by H2O Racing. With the zooming catamarans cutting through the water, and multinational onlookers from the packed stands cheering, it was a thrill of another kind. We were lucky to witness Alex Carella, an Italian from the Abu Dhabi team cruise to his fourth world title.

Sharjah is truly culture meets gleam as one encounters the parallel worlds all the time. You will hear the loud auctioning of fish as you cross Al Jubail market and then in just a few meters at the next cross section pass by vrooming luxury sports cars of the likes of Maserati and Lamborghini's racing away on the sun kissed dessert highway.

The call of prayer can be heard from everywhere as you see swarms of worshippers heading to a nearby mosque. There are approximately 600 mosques in Sharjah and each has its own design and unique look. The Al Noor mosque, which is a big draw for tourists bears great resemblance to the Blue mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Standing majestically it opens its doors to tourists at non prayer times and the custodians welcome you with Arabic coffee and dates as you marvel at the tall minarets and the ornamental floral cornices. To see it at night all lit up will delight you some more as you exclaim “Ya Allah”!

To quench your thirst for the dessert life, Mlieha is replete with exquisite red soil sand dunes, fossils and caves from thousands of years ago and the hub of ongoing archaeological programme where there is always something waiting to be discovered. This fascinating site, gives you a recap of human migration in this area, with evidence that proves the spread of humanity from Africa across the Red Sea to the Gulf Peninsula and onward.  Mlieha also offers the chance to take a safari where you get to see the Bedouin habitants, the famous humped fossil rock or spend the night-over camping, experiencing the authentic dessert life. To visit Sharjah and not go to Mlieha would be like going to Agra and not seeing the Taj Mahal.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Shveta Bhagat

The author is a Delhi-based freelance writer

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