When it comes to a visit to the UAE, most flock to popular cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, a trip to Sharjah turned out to be a surprise package. The city that's home to thousands of labourers from India and Pakistan, has a rich arts and heritage background, whether in the form of traditional architecture, galleries or museums (16 of them to be precise). Though steeped in tradition, there is no shortage of malls, sports activities like archery and golf, water sports, horse riding and more. Located a 30 to 50 minute drive from Dubai, Sharjah is a more subdued version of its neighbour.
Said to be the largest in the UAE, the University of Sharjah impresses not just because of its lavish campuses but also for the detailed courses offered. While men and women have separate colleges, students can choose from a variety of departments such as medicine, engineering and sciences, arts and humanities, business, fine arts, communication, journalism and law.
Leaving the malls with their international brands aside, experience shopping in Sharjah local style. One can head to the Friday market, which is incidentally open through the week, and bargain over fruits, vegetables, souvenirs and carpets. The Central Souk, that's been around since 1979 offers local apparel, jewellery, perfumes and curios at reduced prices. The structure itself is an architectural marvel with its blue-tiled buildings that beckons even from a distance.
While Sharjah may be dotted with several mosques, a visit to the Al Noor is a must. Built on order of the wife of the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the design has references to classic Turkish Ottoman architecture and is similar to the Blue Mosque in Turkey. A tour guide will not only take you through the history of the mosque but also explain the pillars of Islam.
The Heart of Sharjah is a large-scale restoration project. Expected to be completed by 2025, it plans to repair historical buildings and construct newer ones that comply with traditional Sharjah architecture.
There is no dearth of museums here. The Museum of Islamic Civilization is particularly noteworthy for its extensive six galleries that trace the various arts and crafts of Islam, some coming in as far of as from Iran. Expect to spend a couple of hours browsing through the over 5,000 artifacts on display. A trip to the Maritime museum, shows the traditional wooden seafaring dhows used for fishing and trading.
A visually and musically spectacular show - Clusters Of Light – retraces the story of Prophet Muhammad, right from his birth to his death. The opera-style large-scale production that boasts of a cast of over 200, features many celebrated voices, such as Mohammed Assaf, winner of Arab Idol, and Lotfi Bouchnak among others. While the visual effects were worth a watch, the story was told in Arabic with no English translation making it hard to follow.
A trip to the emirates is not complete without an evening spent at the desert safari. For a taste of adventure, experience dune bashing – an action packed activity that involves driving up and down the vast sand dunes at a high speed. Follow it up with a camel back ride, before settling at one of the safari sites for dinner and a belly dance show. Watching the sun set over the dunes makes for a pretty sight.
A stroll along the Al Qasba is a great way to spend the evening. This stretch alongside the canal has the Eye of the Emirates – a 60 metre high ferris wheel that offers great views of the city, many cafes and restaurants as well as boats and cycles for hire.
The Al Majaz waterfront makes for a perfect dining destination. Before heading for your meal, check out the laser fountain show that's a beautiful sight of colours, water accompanied to soothing music. The open area makes it ideal for adults to soak in the Sharjah skyline.
Getting there: Air Arabia, the national budget airline, offers daily non-stop flights from Mumbai to Sharjah