It is quite easy to plan a trip to certain countries since they offer a prospect of visiting famous landmarks or cultural heritage sites. On the other hand, some states are little known, such as Bahrain.
I landed in the kingdom when I was on my way back home coming from Sri Lanka and my long trip around South East Asia and Oceania.
Not knowing what to do, except visiting the capital, I accepted my Couchsurfer host's offer to join him at his Irish friend’s bachelor party. I was curious to experience how this type of "Western" parties would take place in a Middle Eastern country. I was totally blown away!
It turned out that Bahrain is the party island for its neighboring countries. We visited around eight clubs and pubs, made the bachelor dance with bargirls from different countries, and even saw him throw up right on the street. At one moment, they kicked me out of the club because I had taken a photo of a Saudi drinking whiskey and holding a rosary in his hand. It is not allowed to take pictures inside. One of the most surreal parties I’ve ever seen.
Did you know...
1 Bahrain is actually an archipelago of 33 islands. The largest, on which many of us live, is 55km long by 18km wide and areas such as Sitra and Muharraq are actually separate islands.
2 In Arabic,Bahrayn is the dual form of bahr (sea), so al-Bahrayn means ‘the two seas’.
3 It’s thought by some to be the Garden of Eden due to Eden’s supposed resemblance to the ancient land of Dilmun which many scholars accept to be the area encompassing Bahrain.
4 In addition to freshwater wells, which were once in abundance, there are places in the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water!
Records,awards and firsts
5 The British School of Bahrain holds the world record for the largest simultaneous coin toss. As part of World Maths Day in 2010, 1,117 staff and students took part in the toss which made it into the Guinness Book of Records.
6 Bahrain World Trade Centre is the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design. Each turbine is 29m in diameter and their capacity is 675kw of wind power production. The 240m-tall tower has won several international awards including the LEAF (Leading European Architects’ Forum) award for best use of technology in a large scheme.
7 Bahrain’s flag used to be the largest flag in the world, setting a Guinness world record in 2004 at 169.5m long and 97.1m wide. The five red points signify the five pillars of Islam. The oldest known Bahraini flags were plain red. In 1820, the island signed a treaty with the UK and a white stripe was added to the flag to indicate thetruce. In 1932, a serrated edge was added to distinguish Bahrain’s flag from those of its neighbours. The flag originally had 28 white points, but this was reduced to eight in 1972 and five in 2002.
Politics and religion…sort of
8 A new constitution was introduced in 2002 which provided for an elected parliament and gave women the right to vote.
9 Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa was the first Middle Eastern woman to take over the role of United Nations General Assembly President.
10 Jewish woman Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo is the Bahraini ambassador to the USA. She is the first Jewish person, andthird woman, to be appointed ambassador of Bahrain. She is also the first Jewish ambassador of any Middle Eastern Arab country and the first female Bahraini ambassador to the United States.
11 Bahraini Jews constitute one of the world’s smallest Jewish communities. Bahrain was, at one time, home to as many as 1,500 Jews. Today the community has a synagogue (not operational) and small Jewish cemetery and numbers approximately 37 people.
12 Bahrain’s constitution guarantees religious freedom and there are several churches including St Christopher’s Cathedral (Anglican), Sacred Heart Church (Catholic), The National Evangelical Church, The Bahrain Malayalee Church of South India, St Mary’s Orthodox Church (Indian Orthodox), St Peter’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, The Mar Thoma Church (Kerala-based Christian) and the Saar Fellowship.
13 The Indian community is further served with a number of Hindu religiouscentres including a temple in the souq, said to be between 60 and 100 years old, there are also around five further temples and six Sikh gurudwaras.
14 Alice Thomas Samaan is a prominent Bahraini Christian who’s the kingdom’s ambassador to the UK.
Humans and animals
15According the CIA’s website (yes there is one), the largest age group in Bahrain is 25-54 and there are almost twice as many men, at 461,613, as women, just 241,032 (figures est 2012).
16 More than 330 species of birds have been recorded in the Bahrain archipelago, 26 species of which breed in the country. One globally endangered species, Chlamydotis Undulata, thehoubara bustard, is a regular migrant in the autumn. The many islands and shallow seas are globally important for the breeding of the Socotra cormorant with up to 100,000 pairs recorded over the Hawar islands.
17 18 species of mammals are found on the islands with animals such as gazelles, desert rabbits and hedgehogs common in the wild. There are also 25 recorded species of amphibians and reptiles as well as 21 species of butterflies and 307 species of flora.
18 Marine habitats around the islands are diverse and include extensive sea grass beds and mudflats, patchy coral reefs as well as offshore islands.Sea grass beds are important foraging grounds for some threatened species such as dugongs (sea cows) and the green turtle. In 2003, Bahrain banned the capture of sea cows, marine turtles and dolphins within its territorial waters.
19 The kingdom has five designated protected nature areas, four of them marine environments. The breeding colony of Socotra cormorants on Hawar is the largest in the world and dugong foraging around the archipelago are in thesecond largest concentration outside Australia.
Random facts to impress your pals
20 In 2010 the kingdom was awarded the Golden Lion for the best national participation at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale for ‘reclaim’, an investigation into the decline of the islands’ sea culture, which was the first official national participation of a Gulf state at the event.
21 Bahrain is the home of the US Fifth Fleet which operates out ofNavcent Bahrain in Juffair. Co-operation between the kingdom and the US has historically been strong and Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991.
22 Bahrain was designated as a major non-NATO ally by the George W Bush administration in 2001. MNNA is a designation given by the US government to close allies who have strategic working relationships with US armed forces but are not members of NATO. While the MNNA status does not automatically include a mutual defense pact with the USA, it does confer a variety of military and financial advantages that otherwise are not obtainable by non-NATO countries.
23 The first oil in the Arabian Gulf was discovered in Bahrain in 1932. Oil production has significantly increased to around 150,000 barrels last year – up from 40,000 barrels just a few years ago – to learn more visit the first oil well and the Bapco Oil Museum at the foot of Jebel Dukan.
24 The Qal’at al-Bahrain (theharbour and capital of the ancient land of Dilmun) and the Bahrain Pearling Trail, in Muharraq, were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2005 and 2012, respectively.
25 The 25km King Fahd Causeway joins Bahrain with the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and, yes, it’s possible to drive half way across. It costs about BD2 to go through the toll gate and if you go at sunset the view’s amazing. Don’t worry, you won’t inadvertently land up in the land of (even more) sand, there’s a border crossing half way across at which point you’ll have to turn back unless you’ve got a visa.