Op-Ed: Sharjah a perfect family holiday destination Special

Posted Feb 6, 2010 by Armstrong Vaz
Sharjah, one of the seven Emirates which constitute the United Arab Emirates, is a place of fascinating contrasts, a distinctive blend of history and modernity with a timeless desert, the combination of the East and West, the old and the new.
Sharjah Maritime Museum and Sharjah Aquarium.
Sharjah Maritime Museum and Sharjah Aquarium.
This sunshine destination offers visitors a unique holiday experience and the opportunity to encounter Arabian hospitality and traditional heritage.
Known in the region as the Cultural Capital, the city has over twenty museums. The emirate has something for everyone, as it is well equipped to cater to the diverse needs of individual travelers, families and groups, an attractive place for leisure, shopping and recreation. If you are looking for a family tourist destination offering visitors the ideal gateway, then Sharjah is definitely worth the visit.
You encounter a living tradition of courtesy and hospitality as you go about visiting the superb facilities for sports, Arabian wildlife, shopping, dining and entertainment.
For some, the tour of the emirate starts from the Cultural Roundabout, where mock-Renaissance buildings housing various museums encircle the roundabout, for others it begins by hitting the road to the Eye of Emirates.
Eye of Emirates, is one of the several must-visit places, set along the banks of a 1,000-metre canal Qanat Al Qasba, and one of the main tourism and entertainment attractions in the UAE.
Designed in the Netherlands by a specialist team, Eye of the Emirates is a giant wheel offering aerial views of the Emirate's Corniche, lagoons and landscape as well as the horizons of the neighbouring Dubai. The 360 degree view transports you to another place and time, as you take in the pleasures of a joy ride that is bound to be entrenched in your memory for days to come. The 60-metre high observatory wheel has 42 cabins and is capable of carrying 336 passengers at any given time.
The air-conditioned cabins take you steadily upwards into the sky, 60 meters high over Sharjah and slides down slowly and back again to catch on the view that you must have missed earlier. The ride appeals to everyone across the age barrier, as age here is not a debilitating factor, if you are looking to have a good time.
Qanat Al Qasba, is a major family and tourist destination offering all kinds of cultural, recreational and entertainment attractions, fine dining with cuisines from around the world, dhow trips and to cap it the musical fountain.
After having a bird’s view of Sharjah, it was time to watch Al Qasba Musical Fountain shows with water dancing to the tune of music. The site was simply enthralling. The Musical Fountain also provides immense pleasure and entertainment to the onlookers who are splashed with surprise and more surprises from time to time.
You don't have to wait till dark for the show to start as there are day shows and evening shows and no two shows are the same.
Officials of Al Qasba say it's their commitment to provide you full entertainment and have no hesitation in saying that it is worth watching visiting the place and perfect setting for family enjoyment.
In the Kids Zone, children can step into a wonderful world of excitement, knowledge and unadulterated fun through a wide range of edutainment activities specially created for children of various age groups.
After having watched the radiant smiles of children playing in Kids Zone, it was time to hit the water front.
A relaxing ride under the stars in a traditional boat is a wonderful way to unwind the journey. And, that is exactly, what Al Qasba has on board its exciting itinerary, as the fun destination makes the most of its waterfront location by offering visitors a tour of the lagoons.
The boat ride offers a panoramic view of the walkways, bridges and some of the cultural attractions and modern skyscrapers of the emirate of Sharjah transporting you into the past and instantly taking you to the future at the same time.
For dining and leisure, Al Qasba is a unique waterfront destination in Sharjah City. With the Eye of the Emirate observation wheel in the background, the lively banks of Al Qasba offer a range of charming restaurants and cafes serving cuisine from around the world. Open to families, business visitors and tourists alike, it combines culture with entertainment and continuously strives to develop leisure activities that highlight Arabic and Islamic heritage.
A visit to Sharjah is not complete without visiting the different museums. The museums span the arts, science, Islam, traditional cultural and lifestyle, archaeology, natural history, historical houses and forts, botany and so much more, people are welcomed into the museums with the aim of providing a learning experience for all ages, in fun filled environment.
We had chance to visit two of them – Sharjah Maritime Museum and Sharjah Aquarium.
There is a mission behind each of the twenty museums one finds in Sharjah.
The mission of the Sharjah Maritime Museum is to preserve and interpret the stories and material evidence of the Emirate’s rich maritime heritage. The museum takes the visitor through a journey on the high seas with Sindbad and his sea routes.
In the museum, you can explore traditional wooden seafaring dhows used for fishing, trading and pearling, each designed according to their use. See genuine Arabian pearls, discover how they were collected, measured and weighed. Admire the powerful wooden pulley blocks used to raise and lower sails and discover the local traditions for catching fish.
For centuries, Sharjah has been an important seaport for trade and commerce in the Gulf region, thanks to its strategic location between the East and the West.
A visit to the Maritime museum explains why the first settlers chose to settle down in this part of the world over 6,000 years ago, and how the sea has played a key role in Sharjah’s development, and how the first settlers of the city relied on trade, seafaring , farming , hunting and pearling.
Next on the tour itinerary was Sharjah Aquarium, its mission is to encourage the people of the Emirate of Sharjah and all its visitors to cherish and conserve the beauty and wealth of the oceans
Here one can submerge himself in the colourful, rich and diverse undersea world that is home to a variety of marine life native to the seas around us.
With over 250 species, there is so much to see from the smallest clown fish and delicate seahorses to moray eels, rays and reef sharks. A journey underwater and one discovers everything from the larger ocean creatures to the smaller marine life to be found in the rock pools, coral reefs, lagoons and mangroves.
Both the maritime and Aquarium museums have been built in 2008 in the old are of Al Khan which has been transformed into the magnificent state-of-the-art park.
Sharjah Archaeology Museum, Sharjah Science Museum, Al Mahatta Musuem, Sharjah Discovery Centre, Sharjah Heritage Museum, Al Eslah School Museum, Sharjah Desert Park, Sharjah Natural History Museum, Sharjah Botanical Museum, Sharjah Art Museum and Sharjah Calligraphy Museum are some of the important museums in Sharjah.
And, as it was time to hit the road back to Doha, we stepped into Souq Al Bahar, to follow the spice trail. This old bazaar runs alongside the Sharjah Creek close to the Iranian Mosque and traditionally traded in clothes and gold, for a glimpse of another way of life or to immerse yourself in a more traditional atmosphere, explore the narrow alleys, the stores and stalls offering an assortment of products: spices, seasonings and herbs, Arabic perfumes and oils, frankincense and intense burners, henna, clothes and textiles, abayas and dishdashas, metal trunks, sheesha (water pipe) and favoured tobaccos.
In Souq Al Arsah (also called Souq Al Masqoof), nicknamed the charcoal souq, this market is one of the oldest souqs in the UAE. In the early l900s this was the meeting place for the Bedouins and their camels, where charcoal from the desert was traded against rice and materials brought by the seafaring merchants. Stroll through the peaceful and air-conditioned alleys designed along the Pines of an old bazaar, with hanging lanterns, solid wooden doors arid beautiful coral walls. The roof of the soup is covered with wooden poles and arish (woven palm leaves), fashioned in the traditional manner. This is the ‘Heart of old Sharjah’ where men still sit and chat, where vendors sell Gulf antiques, silver jewellery, shells, palm fibre baskets, handicrafts curios.
With numerous sports facilities available in Sharjah, it is the Sharjah Water Festival which brings home a lot of thrills and excitement and which shines in the crown of achievements for Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority headed by Chairman Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qassimi.
Held annually towards the end of the year, the festival held around the scenic Al Buheirah Corniche, this free of charge spectacle, offers cultural and festive sights – the aqua fantasia, hot air balloons, fireworks, water skiing, displays, shows and fun competitions. The festival ends with the UIM sanctioned F1 World Powerboat Championship.
Sharjah also has several beaches, on both coasts where you can make the most of the fabulous weather. Al Khan Beach, Al Khan Lagoon and the Corniche Beach are the ‘easy to reach’ in-town locations. On the East Coast, with its impressively steep, rocky mountains, you will find scenic bays lined with golden sand beaches and clear blue water, renowned for water sports, snorkelling and diving.
If dhows have become extinct in the Goan waters, here in Sharjah, we had a chance to admire the graceful dhows’ that can be seen moored alongside Sharjah Creek. Historically used as warships and traditionally powered by sail, dhows are still used today for fishing and trading. Dhows can be hired from three areas on the Al Buheirah Corniche for trips around Khaled Lagoon, or from Qanat Al Qasba for a tour around Al Khan Lagoon.
And if you are beer drinker than the neighbouring emirate of Ajman is not dry, and the border is in the middle of Sharjah city. The Emirate, Thirty years ago, while Dubai was still not much more than a trading port, Sharjah was at the forefront of tourism development. But Sheikh al-Qasimi had a change of heart and decided that western influences were not what he wanted for his people. Sharjah became a dry state, with strict Sharia laws, which extend to western hotels.
It was time of us to say goodbye to the emirate, which means rising sun in Arabic and head back to our base on the Air Arabia flight. Air Arabia is the low cost airline in the region providing reliable, economical and efficient air travel enabling people in the region to travel more frequently, whether for business or leisure, Air Arabia now flies to over 35 destinations in the region.