I first visited you when I was barely 2 years old. There was absolutely no memory of you except the thrill of going up and down on your many flyovers.
You were special. Very special, because you brought my first ever stamp on my little blue diary! (Read: passport) And then years later I sat on a plane to visit you again.
I had visited your neighbouring Emirate 3 years ago and I sincerely wished you would show me a traditional side of UAE. And you didn’t disappoint!
I walked through your Souqs and fell in love with the fragrances: of freshly brewed Arabic coffee , of the scentful Itar , of the freshly mixed Henna and of the various spices.
The glitter of your Gold Souq and the old world aura of the Iranian market left me awestruck, while yellow bricked walls on the streets made me time travel and old alleys with carpet sellers and dainty lanterns made me relive Arabian nights.
As I bit into a juicy date and sipped black Arabic coffee , I discovered a new way to drink coffee with natural sweeteners. You made sure I tried each and every kind of date in the Dates market and fall in love with every variety. Then there was the delectable Baklava.
There was an ancient charm that enveloped you. In your Arabic architecture , ubiquitous mosques and heritage museums.
You had rustic wooden doors and windows too! Much to my delight. Most of these tucked away in your fascinating lanes.
In the Sharjah Heritage museum, you took me through age old Emirati traditions, right from a birth of a child to marriage customs and costumes to the death rituals.
I walked past an exemplary display of the heritage of Sharjah with history seeped into each cubicle.
Of traditional Emirati homes, of ancient trade routes, of mystical medicines, vibrant clothing, glittering, intricate jewellery and age old myths.
It gave me a sneak peek into the life of an Emirati and their customs and for a moment I was taken back into a different era.
And if this wasn’t enough, you enthralled me again when I visited the Heart of Sharjah.
Strolling through Al Arssa Souq, Sharjah’s oldest market, I came face to face with shops selling brass ware, wooden antiques, jewellery, clothes and the likes.
I could envision how it would be years ago, these bazaars buzzing with activity!
While I awed at the arches, you silently smiled, waiting patiently for me to enter the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation.
Inside the beige facades, were magnificent ochre corridors, thrilling the architecture lover in me. It was so huge that I could easily spent an entire day learning about Islamic culture, art and the melange of science and faith.
The museum had various sections:
The Abu Bakr Gallery of Islamic Faith:
This gallery held Islamic artefacts and rare historical Quran manuscripts. The pillars of Islam were explained with accounts of the Hajj pilgrimage. The most fascinating exhibit was the Kiswah, the black satin cloth which covers the Kaaba.
The Ibn Al-Haytham Gallery of Science and Technology showcased the blend of faith and science, with Islamic contributions to astronomy, medicine, technology and engineering.
A walk through the Islamic Art Galleries took me through artefacts : pottery, carved wood, textiles of the Islamic world as old as the 7th century.
In each gallery there was something to see, value, appreciate. From art to architecture to history to culture.
The highlight was the Islamic Coins Display and the dome with all the constellations, etched in stone.
While I was busy raving about your traditional side, you acquainted me with the Al Jubail Fish market :a state of the art, modern AC fish market. My first ever visit to a fish market, let alone an AC one.
Astounded at the hygiene, the entire process of bridging the gap between the buyer and the seller enfolded before my eyes as I wondered if this was a market or an administrative building!
I chatted with the local fishermen, watched them in activity as they off loaded fresh fish into trolleys and wheeled it straight into the market.
I saw the clouds darken and hover above as I entered the Sharjah Aquarium.
Here is where ,you brought the kid in me alive. As I saw sharks flit in and out of their homes, a sea turtle swam in front of my eyes and my heart danced in glee.
I walked through tunnels with marine life floating over me, one with the mysterious underwater world, in an urban setting, learning, getting acquainted with marine life on the Arabic coasts.
There wasn’t a must see or must do list in my hand, yet I ended up discovering you in bits and parts. One day the absolutely classic Iranian mosque, the other day the Giant merry go round at Al Qasba.
And of course the spectacular mosques spread across the city.
From the magnificent Al Taqwa mosque at the Al Majaz waterfront to the grandeur of the Al Noor Mosque as it stood majestically overlooking the Corniche, built as a replica of the Blue mosque in Istanbul.
You made me feel safe even at night, where I found the freedom of being able to walk about any worry.
This feeling cannot be described!
There was magic in your sunsets by the Corniche. The waterfront gleamed with golden reflections of the setting sun.
Flocks of birds doing their evening rounds as a lone Dhow boat cruised in the orange waters.
And then the evening Azaan filled the air with magic.
What could be calmer than this scene. The birds returned back home, the sun gave in to twilight and people found solace in prayer at the end of the day?
Dear Sharjah, You had something for everyone, for the devout, for the nature lover, for the history buff, for the art connoisseur and the compulsive shopaholic.
But for me you had vibrant postcards: an array of colours, unexpected brushes of art spilled on the streets and magical moments that proved that Arabian nights wasn’t just a fairy tale I grew up believing in vain.
Here is a video I shot in Sharjah that sums up the magic!
P.S: My trip to Sharjah was sponsored by Sharjah Tourism Authority and Air Arabia, but needless to say the views in this article are my own.