A dream holiday on an
WHAT constitutes a dream holiday? A trip to the mountains, valleys, deserts or forests? Or perhaps an exotic destination. An holiday on a small island — neither very near nor too far away from civilisation, with some mix of the elements mentioned — will win hands down.
And, if on the boat trip, you are escorted by somersaulting dolphins, so much the better. And, finally on reaching your goal, you are welcomed by thousands of winged creatures of various hues flapping their wings and singing in unison, before you disembark from the jetty.
Hawar is that exotic destination: the ultimate getaway. Hawar island has won acclaim in recent times from travellers hailing from various countries.
Hawar is an archipelago of 16 islands. Hawar is the largest of them (23 kilometres long and 8 kilometres wide). The word Hawar means ‘baby camel’, so named because the island looks like a smaller version of mainland Bahrain.
I was on my annual
holiday break in Bahrain with my daughter last September. I seized the
opportunity to join an European tourist group heading towards Hawar.
It turned out to be a wonderful decision. The added advantage was that
you could view Bahrain from the seaside.
After being dropped at the jetty point, I caught a boat. It was interesting to see the Manama (capital of Bahrain) skyline recede. In five minutes, Muharraq Fort (famous landmark where Alexander the Great passed by some time in 300 BC) appeared on the left and disappeared before you could fully see it. We passed by the famous Fathi Mosque, an American forces base (from where they had carried out military operation during the Gulf War). Alba aluminum plant, oil refinery of Sitra, Al-Dar islands etc in quick succession.
A little later, I climbed up a couple of stairs and reached the captain’s cabin. His name was Lorenzo Salazar and he was accompanied by Khalid, a Bahrani navigator. The Philipino captain engaged me in pleasant conversation indicating the sea road on the map, and explaining various safety procedures etc.
The sea journey was interesting — we went past dhows anchored offshore and flamingoes feeding on the shoreline in this barren but fairly unspoiled part of the southeast coast. The voyage was a mere 50 minutes to the Hawar islands which is 20 kilometres off the coast of the main island.
As we arrived at the jetty by the hotel, we were welcomed by hordes of birds. Then, we were escorted to the hotel by a 4-wheel sleek transport.
We were bowled over by location of the beautiful hotel on the beach with its Arabic-style latticed balconies and palm trees. Friendly staff greeted us with cool, welcome drinks and we were soon in our spacious and spotlessly clean rooms, overlooking the pool area.
We quickly felt at home after lunch at Sea View Cafe and later we went out to explore the beach area and the facilities which included a swimming pool and a smaller pool for youngsters, a long stretch of sandy beach in a protected lagoon where you can relax or play beach volleyball or watersports like snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking or paddle boating.
There were also bicycles, scooters and beach buggies were available together with facilities for horse riding, tennis, golf, a game room, a children’s outdoor play area and an indoor room for the younger ones. Separate health club facilities for men and women were also available.
I had taken only a day trip at a cost of Bahraini Dinar 7 (roughly Rs 700) which included to and fro boat trip, drink, lunch and relaxation in the hotel on a two-person per room basis, and a few hours to roam around and see the beach front as one pleases. Something you would consider ideal even on shoe-string budget!. My time was up and I was supposed to go back by the evening. My Canadian friends prevailed upon me to extend my stay to coincide with their two-day jaunt which had a handsome offer of a desert party in the evening. The next day I paid the difference and extended my stay on the island.
Having stayed on, I thought of trying my hand at fishing. I persuaded a couple of Canadian friends to join me. Catherine, a French-Canadian teacher from Ottawa on lecture tour to the Gulf, enthusiastically became our leader. After watching little fish nibbling away at our bait for an hour, we finally felt a real tug from what turned out to be a large hamour. Due to our excitement and inexperience, it was the proverbial one that got away with part of the line and the hook, but we had fun relating the story to other guests that evening.
The Hawar islands and their territorial waters were designated a wildlife sanctuary four years ago to preserve wildlife habitat and to protect some of the world’s rarest and endangered species of mammals and birds. Our guide took us to a nature reserve the next day where we saw grazing oryx which were completely unconcerned when we drove close.
The gazelles, in contrast, were very nervous and skittered away to a safe distance. We drove north to the village where the Al Dosari tribe had lived and saw the remains of former homes and an old mosque.
Due to a paucity of time we could not see the Sawad al Janabiyah or ‘the black island’, the nesting place for the world’s largest concentration of socotra cormorants. On Umm Kharura you will discover that the rock cliffs provide an ideal nesting place for the rare sooty falcon and on Rubaz island there are osprey. Flamingoes and caspian tern can also be seen in all these islands.
We had a late lunch in the hotel, relaxed for a while and got ready for the famous evening desert party.
We were escorted to heart of lonely, desolate corner where a tented city with sufficient lights had sprung up. The beat of drums and folk dances enlivened the party. There was a luscious Arabian cuisine with typical local flavours and mouth-watering sweets. Everybody had a camel ride in a small protected area. The toast of the evening was holding a falcon on your arm with all its royal paraphernalia, under the watchful eyes of an Arab keeper. I enthusiastically volunteered to be first in the ‘falcon show’ which encouraged others to follow suit. Thereafter everybody gyrated to drumbeats and rustic sounds.
A little away from the gathering, under a canopy of stars, the sky looked so beautiful in its natural darkness that you gasped at the breathtaking view of the heavens above. The stars up above appeared to be gigantic in size, as if the Almighty had hung huge electric bulbs in the night-carpet of the sky, all because there was no dirt, dust, fog or any iota of pollution in the atmosphere. A small group amongst us savoured the sublime spectacle of walking under the starlit sky in exquisite solitude. One never forgets such a sublime experience.
Before it was too late we all gathered in a large circle for a story session on Hawar. People from Europe, Canada, America, Philippines, Thailand, India etc had come, in addition to residents of the Gulf and West Asian countries. Everyone seemed pleased with the hotel facilities and the calm, tranquil beauty of the island. As to why this island had not become a popular spot earlier, a knowledgeable person shared that though Bahrain had de-facto rights, the legal soverignty over the island had been confirmed by International Court of Justice to Bahrain only in 1998, making the end of a dispute between Qatar and Bahrain that had lasted for a decade.
Thus the development of this small island took place from 1998 onwards. Another story related to a group of half a dozen couples who celebrated their marriage on the island the same year. A Catholic priest was put aboard a hired boat, the hotel resort that had freshly come up was booked for a mega party where the couples took marriage vows. The guests left minus the newly weds who were left behind to enjoy their honeymoon.
But this story takes the cake. A recently wed Indian couple jokingly said that this was the ideal place for honeymooners because they could sing openly the famous song Hum tum ek kamre mein band hon
Aur chabi kho jaye
Everybody laughed uproariously, approving that Hawar was an island of romance of newly weds and lovers.
And, of course, joggers’ paradise, walkers’ heaven and retirees’ baikunth!
The party was over after midnight and we slept comfortably snoring away all the worries of the world till next morning when we took the boat back to Bahrain. We were very pleased to see dolphins and needle fish skimming along the water on their tails, on our return journey as well.
Facts about Hawar
Regular boats (modern and elegant) shuttle between Bahrain and Hawar. A trip takes 50-60 minutes only.
Bahrain is known Gulf destination — Air India and Gulf Air have daily flights from Delhi/Mumbai.
Hawar Resort Hotel has all modern