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Sharjah – Gateway to the UAE

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SharjahBudget airlines, more flights and connections direct from city to city have changed the concept of holidaying, and honeymooning. Metros hitherto inconvenient to access or totally inaccessible are now not only within reach but cheaper to travel to than domestic locations.

One such destination is Sharjah in the UAE. While Dubai continues to be a high-density route and not within the low budget fares, the launch of airarabai by the Sharjah government has altered the equation; fly to Sharjah and drive down to Dubai just 15-20 minutes away. Airarabai operates from 5 cities in India and their flight from Nagpur was the first foreign airline to touchdown on that airport. Besides Nagpur and Jaipur in North, Kochi, Thiruvanthapuram, and Chennai in South has not only shortened travel time but saved the additional connecting trip to India’s major metro capitals to catch a flight to the gulf. Chennai or Thiruvanthapuram to Sharjah fares start at Rs.3280 if booked early and air surcharge and taxes do not exceed Rs.1800. Last minute bookings are likely to end at a maximum fare of Rs.3800.

Adel Abdullah Ali, CEO of airarabia has this to say about the comfort level service and quality, “We are operating with brand new Airbus 320 aircraft and offering the best in service and safety. Though the aircraft has a capacity of 189 seats the configuration in airarabia is 162 seats, to provide more leg room.” Meals are not provided free, but when you save 30% on tickets passengers could spend 1% of that on food, he feels. “Unlike big airlines where you do not have a choice when you eat and what you eat, on our flights you can choose from over 5 different cuisines,” he adds. He concludes by saying, “Those who have been unable to afford air travel in the past will be enabled to start travelling throughout the region and those who do travel can do so more frequently; benefiting both business and leisure travel.”

Why Sharjah we ask Ms Shalini Rajan, airarabia’s Regional Manager, UAE & Oman.
“Sharjah offers an excellent ambience for tourism, combining the old with the new – ancient monuments and digs with ultra modern malls and infrastructure,” she explains. So let us take a look at what Sharjah can offer.

AirarabiaStart with the travel plans–airarabia offers online booking, but also through travel agents and soon through Reliance web worlds. Even visa applications are processed online and delivered with the ticket as part of its customer friendly service. Staying at Sharjah is no big deal there are over 300 hotels in this tiny kingdom. The roads are free of clutter and the streets and surroundings extraordinarily clean and landscaped with gardens, water bodies and lots of open space. The desert trek on sports utility vehicles offers some exciting drives on the desert and is a major attraction. Shopping has sufficient allure right here, but if not satiated one can still go by road to Dubai the mother of all shopping locations.

Entering Sharjah
Sharjah International Airport is a state-of-the-art facility steeped in safety, comfort and quality that contrasts with its design on traditional Islamic lines. It is just 15 kilometres from the city centre and boasts of a 15 minutes passenger check-in and check out, full communications and postal service and all travel related services within the complex. Huge duty free shopping areas, banks, exchange centres, cafes and restaurants, car rentals and medical facilities. With all this the airport is still undergoing a major four-fold expansion and redevelopment to handle 8 million passengers annually.

Tourist visas are issued for 30 days and can be sponsored even by a hotel or tour operator. 96 hours transit visas are issued for those with a confirmed ticket to proceed to another destination (like Dubai). It is important to choose the correct type of visa; a penalty charge is imposed on visitors who overstay the validity of the visa. Moreover passports are required to have at least six months of validity. For frequent business travellers with regular contacts with reputed companies, multiple entry visas with a six month validity and maximum of 30 days stay are issued for Dhs. 1,000. However expatriate investors with a minimum holding of Dhs.70,000 as a stake in any business or venture in Sharjah can obtain a 3-year validity investor visa on payment of a mere Dhs.300. Once these conditions are met you are ready to enter Sharjah.

From Sharjah Air Arabia flies to over 22 destinations across the region and the airline has introduced a coach service from Dubai and Al Ain to provide economical transportation to and from Sharjah International Airport. Similar service will soon be introduced to other Emirate destinations.

Travelling within Sharjah is facilitated by the good road network in and around this city with its impressive multi-lane highways linking all other UAE capitals. Besides the taxi service the hotels provide private bus service for their guests.

MuseumSharjah is called the city of Arabian heritage and discovery – with Sharjah museum showcasing the changing environs experienced by the region’s inhabitants since 5000 BC to the present day. Open from 9.00 -13.00 and 17.00 – 20.00 hours, the museum remains closed on Friday and Sunday mornings. There are two main areas devoted to Art and Art Galleries; one is in the Al Shuwaiheen area, while the second area is on the other side of Al Bourj Avenue in Al Sheyoukh , where the Arabic Calligraphy Square and Sharjah Institute of Theatrical arts are located. Over five buildings in this area have been restored to their 18th century status.

Adjacent to the airport is the Antique Automobile Museum, where over 100 models are on display. The Heritage area represents the effort to restore the old city, an effort that commenced in the early 1990s. Formerly the residences of prominent families, these buildings are filled with antiques, artefacts and personal collections relating to the history of the region and depicting home life dating back to over 200 years ago. There is also the Al Mahatah Museum of Aviation – interestingly Sharjah was a stopover for flight from Britain to India, way back in 1932, but passengers were not allowed to enter the city without permission from the Sheikh.

Sharjah FortThe double-storey, Al Hisn or Sharjah Fort was built in 1820 and was formerly the residence of the ruling family. It was renovated in 1996 and is now a display that traces the history of the various stages of development and events that helped shape Sharjah’s history. This is one of the dominant buildings along the edge of the creek.

Adjacent to Souq Al Arsah facing Al Bourj Avenue is the Maritime Museum where one can see the importance of the traditional trades like fishing, pearl diving and trading besides the construction of sea going crafts like dhows and shashahs. Moored opposite the Museum is a beautiful wooden dhow that is open to visitors. The Maritime Museum will soon be moving to a new site on the old town of Al Khan that is being transformed in to a magnificent state-of-the-art park and will also include an aquarium.

The Sharjah Heritage Museum is the best place to explore the heritage and traditions of a vanishing culture and combines six mini exhibitions from folklore costumes and traditional jewellery to philately and coins.

Desert parkOutdoor attractions include the Sharjah Desert Park showcasing the natural history and wildlife. Though only one square kilometre, it encompasses the four venues of Natural History Museum, Botanical Museum, Arabia wildlife Centre and the Children’s Farm. The 30,000 annual visitors that throng this venue suggest this is a popular spot. The wildlife centre is the latest addition of the four and was built in 1999 and rarely spotted creatures like the magnificent Arabian leopard and many other species that are near extinction can be seen here in captivity – though few have survived in the wild. Animals, reptiles, insects and birds from the region inhabitants of the centre, with specimens that you may not encounter elsewhere- the sand cat, camel spiders, Houbara bustard and rock hyrax.

Khaled lagoonLeisure activities offer profound opportunities, both indoor and outdoor. Worthy of mention is the Qanat Al Qasbah or the ‘Venice of Sharjah- a 1000 metre canal linking Khaled Lagoon to Al Khan Lagoon with the adjacent Eye of the Emirates observatory wheel that is 60-metres high. Other attractions in Sharjah are ice skating, diving and snorkelling, camel races, dhow trips and exploring the east coast.  The Wadi trips, often called Wadi bashing involve driving in the Wadi over rocks and boulders. Dune driving is the same thing through heaps of sand dunes.

Shopping is a treat, starting with the Central Souq but spare a lot of time because it is a maze of over 600 shops. If you are wondering what to buy it could be anything from bridal chests to clothes (embroidered garments, Pashmina shawls, leather), crafts or curious. Price of electronic goods, cameras, and mobile phones and computers can be cheaper in the Emirates than elsewhere. The other shopping attractions are: Iranian bazaar, Souq Al Arsah, Gold centre and over a dozen Malls the most prominent being the Crystal Plaza, Al Fardan, Al Taawun Ansar Mall, Sahar Centre, Sharjah City Centre and Sharjah Mega Mall.

There are over 60 hotels, besides apartments and villas where one can stay, and the date palm dots the landscape. UAE has a total area of 83,600 sq. km., (Sharjah itself is 2,600 sq. km.) mostly desert of and is bordered by Oman and Saudi Arabia on the west and north east. The capital of UAE is Abu Dhabi and the time is GMT +4.

Climate: Sub tropical, semi arid with high temperatures and blue skies throughout the year. From November to March average daytime temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius and 15 at night so this is the best time to visit. Rainfall is scanty (13 cms annually) and occurs during this period.

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