It’s the last ball of the match and the entire stadium is on its feet clapping and chanting. The batsman anxiously looks up to the sky and prays. The bowler starts running toward the wicket. He wants to bowl a Yorker but ends up delivering a waist-high full-toss. The ball is mercilessly hammered out of the boundary line and into the crowd.
It’s a six! The match is over.
Overnight, Javed Miandad becomes a hero in Pakistan, and Chetan Sharma a villain in India.
Even after 22 years, this Sharjah Cricket match between arch-rivals India and Pakistan is discussed with the same fervor as the day it happened. And, more often than not, Sharjah and cricket are spoken in the same breath.
But there’s far more to Sharjah than a decades-old cricket rivalry.
When I first visited the captivating city, I didn’t know much about Sharjah beyond this story, and I had no clue why it is often called “the pearl of the gulf.” But soon after I arrived in the largest emirate of UAE, I was mesmerized by its culture, archaeology, and sense of adventure.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore the emirate yourself, here are a few reasons why it’s known as “the pearl of the gulf.”
From the bustling streets in the heart of Sharjah to the ancient archaeological sites deep in the desert, Sharjah is an embodiment of the cultural diversity and varied history of the land. It’s no surprise that UNESCO declared Sharjah the Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998, and the capital of Islamic culture in 2014.
Museums, Mosques, and Monuments
The museums of Sharjah quietly retell the stories of the city’s past. With 22 museums documenting all aspects of life, the emirate is known for its historical documentation. One of the most noteworthy is the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, which sheds light on the growth of Islam through 5,000 exquisite and extremely rare artifacts.
The city is also filled with mosques, which are not just places of worship but treasure troves of valuable insights about Islamic life and culture. Though I was a little apprehensive before visiting the Al Noor Mosque, my doubts were put to rest as soon as I entered the tranquil environs of the palatial hall covered in crystalline chandeliers. With 600 mosques in the city open to the public, there’s plenty to see and explore.
As Sharjah is the cultural custodian of the UAE, it’s also home to innumerable monuments and heritage sites that document all aspects of Emirati life, from the dawn of Islamic civilization to modern-day aviation. While there are many great places to visit, my personal favorite is the Sharjah Al Hisn Fort, a two-story traditional rock, coral, and adobe fortification located in the center of the city.
The Heart of the City
While walking through the long, winding alleyways of Sharjah, it’s clear that the emirate is committed to preserving and restoring its heritage. Planned over a 15-year period, the Heart of Sharjah is a cultural heritage site that is being restored to reflect what the city was like in the 1950s. It seeks to revitalize the district as a vibrant, cultural destination by uncovering its glorious past. If you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to interact with some of the Emiratis who lived through that time and hear their stories over a cup of brewed Chai Karak at the site.
Archaeology and Adventure
Alongside a guide, I ventured deep into the desert of Sharjah to uncover the secrets of the region’s ancient Bedouin culture and the early settlement that was established millions of years ago. The exhibits, interactive displays, artifacts, and information points at the Mleiha Archaeological Centre brought the region’s historical and archaeological antiquity to life in a striking way. Aside from its historical relevance, Mleiha is also a perfect adventure playground, with plenty of Land Cruisers, red sand dunes, and towering fossilized rock formations.
The East Coast
Sharjah is the only emirate in the UAE that stretches along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Thanks to the 7th-century discovery of unusually pale-pink pearls in the seas off the coast of Sharjah, the emirate grew extremely wealthy. Divers once braved shark- and jellyfish-infested waters in hopes of surfacing with pearl-filled oysters. With a range of mountains and mangroves to sandy white bays and clear-blue waters, the eastern coast of the UAE is one of the most beautiful.
Even if you’re not a shopaholic, you can’t say no to shopping in Sharjah. From sprawling malls to traditional souks, the options are endless. If you’re not sure where to start, head to Central Souq, Souk Al Arsah, Souk Al Bahar, and Souq Al Shanasiyah — all of which offer quality goods at unbeatable prices.
Sharjah is a foodie’s paradise. From Turkish to Arabic, Lebanese, Asian, Italian, Iranian, Indian, and Moroccan cuisine, Sharjah spoils both travelers and locals with its eateries. In line with the city’s family-friendly reputation, chefs often go out of their way to take care of food allergies or other dietary restrictions. My personal recommendations include Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba, and the fare along Al Meena Street and in the Muweilah area.
If you think being in an emirate that’s brimming with culture and archaeological discovery is boring, think again. Sharjah completely blew me away with both its indoor and outdoor activities. Explore the Butterfly Garden at Al Noor Island, watch a world championship Formula 1 powerboat race at Al Majaz Waterfront, ride the Sharjah Eye at Al Qasba, or stroll along Al Khan Beach — no matter how you decided to spend your time, it will be far from dull.
The best time to visit Sharjah is during festival season, when the desert transforms into a celebration ground where all ranks and nationalities come together. Noteworthy celebrations include Sharjah Light Festival (held in February), Sharjah Arts Biennial (held in March), Sharjah Heritage Days (held in April), Sharjah Ramadan Festival (held from May to June), and the Sharjah Shopping fairs (held in January and August), though you can explore more of the emirate’s festival offerings here.
Although Sharjah has a lot to offer within its bounds, its location makes it a prime departure point for excursions to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Mleiha.
With so much going on in Sharjah, it isn’t wrong to conclude that Sharjah truly is the “pearl of the gulf.” See — so much more than cricket.