Sharjah – The cultural city of the Arab world

Sharjah may not be as popular as Dubai, but its charm, greenery and cultural abundance make it a hot tourist destination

Sharjah

Almost always the lesser known places provide a greater holiday. Dubai is a popular tourist destination for shopping and sight-seeing. A convenient destination from Mumbai, it has become the hot favourite holiday spot for Indian tourists wanting to make a short trip on a tight budget. Dubai with all its attractions can be explored in just a few days. However, if you are staying for more than three days in Dubai, visiting Sharjah and Ajman is a good option.

Sharjah is the third largest among the United Arab Emirates. It lies on the North coast, adjacent to Dubai. In addition to Sharjah city which is located on the three mile deep Sukhat [salt] strip along the coast, the Emirate has three provinces on the East coast and two islands. The whole area covers 2600 sq km.

Gift of nature

Sharjah is naturally endowed by the bounty of the sea. It is the only Emirate to have land both on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This is the reason why the seascape of Sharjah dominates its landscape. As you drive through the main road, you can observe the deep waters of the sea providing a soothing background to the heritage as well as modern structures of the city.

Sharjah is just 30 minutes away from Dubai city. Driving past the heavy traffic on Dubai roads, as you enter Sharjah, you feel you have entered a home away from home. As well-developed as Dubai with high-rise buildings and fibre glass complexes dominating its skyline, Sharjah is greener, better spaced out and more artistically laid-out.

Driving past the central square of Sharjah, you will notice beautiful green zones and well-designed parks all around the buildings. The plush structures behind the blue souk [market] with a tall blue domed fountain in between and surrounded by a velvet green garden is a beautiful spot for photographs. Of course, viewing the mosques, monuments and malls of Sharjah you cannot resist taking continuous photographs.

Sharjah, well-endowed by nature, has utilised its natural gifts to develop infrastructure and retain its cultural heritage. The city is modern with multi-lane highway links to all Emirates and also has a good utility system. It has 20 museums, several art galleries, a thriving exhibition centre, and beautifully restored heritage areas - not to mention a world class cricket stadium. No wonder, UNESCO declared Sharjah as the Cultural city of the Arab world in 1998.

Impressive residential complexes have mushroomed all over the city. With house rents in Dubai going up, more and more salaried employees, especially Indians, are moving to Sharjah to settle down. Sharjah provides better accommodation at affordable prices to anyone who makes the city his home. Today, Sharjah can be referred to as the boon city instead of as the poorer cousin of Dubai.

Sights to see

Sharjah has magically transformed itself from a small no-man's land into a modern city with a great infrastructure and amenities. In fact, the settlement of Sharjah dates back to 6000 years when it is believed to have been called "Sarcoa". The population at that time was small and its inhabitants relied on trade, sea-faring, farming, hunting, fishing and pearling. Many of the early settlements were based around the "Falaj" - a man-made underground watercourse.

Sharjah joined the United Arab Emirates on 2nd December, 1971. A year later, after His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi ascended the throne, oil was struck 80 km offshore. In 1974, production of oil began and at its peak produced 35,000 barrels per day. And a few years later, gas condensate was discovered here and drilling started in 1990.

For a tourist, Sharjah has numerous sights to see and lots of activities on the sea to stay occupied. Swimming and diving are few of the water sports that visitors can indulge in while on a holiday here. The beaches of Sharjah, lined with swaying date palms, are ideal places to stroll and inhale the beauty of the sea. You can find tourists lazing around the beach clicking pictures and their children busy building sand castles.

Sharjah retains the old world charm of the Arab world along with possessing the amenities of the new age. Mosques, forts, old bazaars, watch towers and bastakiyas or pigeon shelters dot the city, resounding of Islamic culture. King Faisal mosque of Sharjah is one of the most impressive mosques and the largest one in the Emirates. It stands out majestically with its impressive architectural design. Laid out on three tiers with arched windows and projections, it looks enchanting with its gold-coloured dome and minarets crowning it.

Indian tourists visiting Sharjah make it a point to visit its cricket stadium of world class fame. Viewing the sprawling stadium with an impressive watch tower, you are bound to visualise yourself watching Sachin and Dravid scoring runs and being cheered by the audience in this spacious stadium. Just opposite the stadium is a Bastakiya - a tall wind tower - prominently placed at the junction of the road.

Ajman

Sharjah's natural history museum is one of the best in the Gulf not to mention Al Nabooda House - the museum for cultural heritage. However, the best museum to showcase Arab culture is in Ajman, the smallest of the Emirates laid out on 260 sq km. A short drive from Sharjah, Ajman city is also green and has a languorous appeal. The Ajman creek with dhows or traditional boats plying on it is an idyllic scene.

Farther away, inside the city, is the popular museum of Ajman. Impressive from outside and inside, the museum catches your attention with its mixed facade of a mosque and fort. As you enter the museum and walk past wells, winding stairs and watch towers, you can visualise yourself living in an Arab town of a bygone era. Inside, separate cubicles unfurl the life and pastimes of the inhabitants of the ancient Arab world.

Mall culture

Returning back to Sharjah, you can head towards its numerous restaurants serving Indian and Arab dishes to have a quick meal. Sharjah has many eateries just as in Dubai. So appease your hunger before visiting its malls and bazaars. Sharjah's malls are worth visiting for their architecture as well as for their goods inside.

Sharjah is competing with Dubai in its mall growth. Apart from Al Taawun Mall and Majid Al Futtaim City Centre, it now has the 500,000 sq ft Sahara Centre and the 400,000 sq ft Sharjah Mega Mall. Its Al Majarrah souk is one-of-its-kinds with a 17 m high golden dome. However, its most popular souk is the Blue souk or the central market.

Standing out prominently on the Khaled lagoon with its blue and white arched Islamic design, it is the biggest market in Sharjah. It comprises of two wings connected with tunnels-like overhead bridges. The souk offers 600 air-conditioned shops to discover and an expansive area to stroll around. Here you can shop from electronic goods and jewellery to Persian carpets. To get a feel of ancient Arabian bazaars you can visit the old souk and shop using your bargaining skills.

With development taking place at a swift pace, Sharjah is lined up with posh hotels and mega malls to attract tourists to stop over and enjoy its land and sea views at a far cheaper price than Dubai can ever hope to offer.

Fact File

Location On the North coast, 15 km away from Dubai city
Area 2600 sq km
Population Approx. 700,000
Currency Dirham
To reach By Emirates flights or Air-India from Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai to Dubai. From Dubai 30 mins drive to Sharjah.
Best time to visit November to April

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4 COMMENTS

  1. It’s really a very good artical. I LIKED TWO THINGS VERY MUCH IN THIS ARTICAL. Firstly, it gives a lot of information about SHARJAH. Secondly, it is interesting as well.

  2. You’ve done a good job with article. However, I wish you had provided some more pictures – “A picture says a thousand words”.

  3. Another excellent article though some more photographs would have added value to this travel guide for tourists who wish to know more about Sharjah and Ajman. Pictures always help to enrichen articles of this nature.

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