Wed, 06 December 2023
Muharraq has long been known for being a cultural hub in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This month, Farah Baig went on a walking tour through the city with Khalid Al-Mushari, who was recently certified by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Bahrain’s rich culture, heritage and traditions were experienced firsthand.
The city of Muharraq has a rich and storied history, having been the epicentre of Bahrain’s bustling pearling industry in the early days. In fact, Muharraq’s spectacular Pearling Path, which encompasses 330,000sqm, is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its historic significance in the Kingdom.
With Bahrain’s National Day soon approaching, it only felt natural to traverse the Pearling Path and experience it through the eyes of Khalid Al-Mushari, the Bahraini behind Trip Advisor’s #1 Walking Tour in Bahrain. So, with my most comfortable walking shoes on, I eagerly joined Khalid for a long walk discovering the many historical houses, winding streets, stunning architecture and even unique food while Khalid shared his story and several interesting facts about this beautiful Kingdom.
With Khalid we discovered several sites and attractions restored and developed by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA). He explains that the Pearling Path includes three oyster beds, 17 buildings and the seafront Bu Maher Fortress, each having played a significant role in Bahrain’s pearling trade.
While sitting on the rooftop of a unique bookstore in Souq Al Qayssareyah, offering stunning views of Muharraq, Khalid explains: “I chose Muharraq as my focus because I believe it’s the source of all things Bahrain, culturally and economically. It was Bahrain’s first city and capital up to the year 1923, according to most sources, and really has a stellar cultural value. if you want to trace anything in Bahrain to its original state, it will always come back to Muharraq.”
As the evening progressed, we discovered the Mohammed bin Faris House for Vocal Music, Nukhidhah House, and even picturesque gardens unique to Muharraq. “Muharraq used to be extremely green and these gardens used to provide an area for pearl divers to meet and get some respite following their return. Muharraq and Bahrain, in general, used to be very green, a fact that is demonstrated by one of Muharraq’s sites which houses several trees that thrive in Bahrain’s climate,” he explains.
During the tour we discovered the role of the various aspects of the pearl trade, including the role of the captain, the process of diving and even its trade. That being said, aside from the historical aspect we enjoyed delicious food that have either grown to be favourites about residents, or are steeped in culture. This included Aloo Basheer’s hot samboosas, khubus jibin (cheese bread) hot out the oven, and, of course, cups of qahwa (coffee) and dates.
“If I had to mention my top three foods, I’d say mahyawa, which is Bahrain’s fish sauce that locals and expats love; Bahraini tikka, whether beef or chicken; and Dhai Puri, which isn’t Bahraini but quite popular here,” he laughs.
“It’s the number one walking tour for a reason,” says Khalid with a smile. “It was important to me to introduce people to the Kingdom’s architecture, music, food, art, customs and heritage. I’d advise anyone visiting or living in Bahrain to walk through Muharraq and discover it with me.”
WHO IS KHALID?
While chatting away with Khalid, you can’t help but be inspired by his pride in Bahrain’s culture, but he admits that he wasn’t always as well-versed in the subject. “I used to be an English teacher and actually lived and taught in countries across South America and parts of Asia. It was through this experience that I had actually discovered that my knowledge was lacking when it came to cultural aspects of Bahrain,” says Khalid.
“My students would ask me ‘What is out there to do there in Bahrain when it comes to culture?’ and I’d always be ashamed when asked that question as I had not done anything cultural before. So, I promised myself that, when I’d return to Bahrain, I would explore its culture and all of its historical sites,” he narrates.
Khalid not only discovered these sites but vowed to share his new-found knowledge with as many people as possible. “When I returned in 2019, I went everywhere and indulged myself in my culture, my identity as an Arab… I’m so proud of it now and naturally decided to become a tour guide,” he says.
This proved to be a turning point for Khalid who was recently certified by the UNWTO for a course organised by The World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations and Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA). “I was really honoured to have been selected according to my experience as a tour guide. I learnt a lot and thank my professors and Ministry of Tourism for supporting me in this journey because my passion is to show people how culturally diverse Bahrain is,” he says.
“Every country that I travelled to or lived in introduced me to different languages and ways of living, allowing me to discover aspects of myself which I would never know if I lived my whole life in Bahrain. My international experience allowed me to discover aspects of myself and encouraged me to appreciate Bahrain’s culture more,” he says.
According to Khalid, most travellers instantly consider Dubai when thinking of the Middle East. “They never think about Bahrain as a tourist destination,” he says.
“If one were to plan a short visit here, they could focus on select historical sites to experience our culture. I would recommend they definitely visit Muharraq, but also Bahrain Fort – which used to be the Dilmun Capital once upon a time – and the National Museum,” he adds.
Khalid believes that the development of additional transportation could be the key to supporting Bahrain’s tourism sector. “If we take care of our public transportation and we add metros, public taxis and buses, I think there is potential for more tourists to come to Bahrain and explore it freely,” he explains.
As we wrapped up three blissful hours of strolling in Muharraq, Khalid enthusiastically says: “I’ve seen that when people visit or move to Bahrain, they are pleasantly surprised by just how open-minded Bahrainis are and how welcoming our culture is. I strongly believe that in that sense Bahrain is a hidden gem, and I welcome people from around the region and across the world to come and experience how culturally rich and welcoming Bahrainis are. Come and explore Bahrain!”
You can find the Muharraq Cultural Walking Tour on Trip Advisor or contact Khalid on Instagram through the handle @relaxingwave.