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Sharjah Souqs

On a day off in February, we decided to see the souqs of Sharjah. In UAE and Oman, souqs are shops that sell traditional and modern items. The souqs are often organized by type- textiles, produce, spices, etc. Haggling is expected and respectful. Only fools (and tourists) pay full price.

During our drive, we saw a man riding a camel across a busy highway. I’m sure drivers around us were annoyed as we slowed to take photos.


Sharjah is an extremely confusing city to get around. The signs tell you what neighborhood a street heads toward instead of what major highway or direction they go- this is really frustrating for anyone who doesn’t have the layout of Sharjah neighborhoods memorized. Luckily we had a Time Out Dubai book with a basic map of Sharjah- enough to get us to the right neighborhood. We arrived at mid-day- not the best time for shopping because many shops are closed- but a great time to find free parking. We parked in a free spot right next to the Central Souq where Jessa was excited to take her shoes off in real grass.

The Central Souq


The central souq is two large, two story buildings, connected by hallways that pass over a road. The second floor is full of more traditional wares- jewelry, silver, old cultural relics, pashmina shawls, and carpets. Most of the shops on the bottom floor sell modern clothes, shoes, and jewelry. The more traditional souqs are captivating- each in their own way.
Some shops are a feast for the eyes- with glowing glass lamps in hundreds of colors.
This souq is packed to the brim with housewares, illuminated by the lamps and lanterns within. We all love to daydream about owning one of the big chandeliers.

Souqs with ancient artifacts transport you to other places and times - times of adventure and intrigue- when the far reaches of the world were still mysterious and the wonders of the world not yet understood. Some of the items here are thousands of years old- or so the shop keeper claims. In this case are coins from 195 BC, ancient Egyptian gold jewelry and Arabian knives. I held a pair of gold and jade earrings supposedly from Ancient Egypt. I wonder if looters stole them from a tomb furnished for the inhabitant’s afterlife.

A display case filled with old knives, coins and jewelry.


Old belt buckles


A beautiful revolver covered in Arabic script. I think this would have been my gun if I was a pirate.


And one of these my sword...


Afghani jewelry on display


One souq we really enjoyed was one full of more modern exotic items. The wares here were just as exotic and traditional, but not ancient and therefore less expensive. Tony found Tibetan prayer bowls he liked. I found brass spyglasses, ship’s helms, heirloom brass compasses and this throttle for a steam boat- just like the throttle on first ferries that ran to Ocracoke from the mainland. It would be awesome to have a throttle like this one at Pamlico Sea Base, or even one of the ships' helms so I asked for prices.


The shop keeper was asking 25,000 dirhams - around $6,800, for the throttle. The helms (ship’s wheel) were going for 600 to 900 dirhams. I could probably talk him down to 400 ($108) or so, but getting it home would be a challenge.
Coffee pots, a diving suit helmet, statues from the far East and traditional hookahs.


Enchanted by the relics within, we left the central souq scheming buy things when we returned.
Hungry, we wandered the streets until we found a Lebanese restaurant where you eat in the traditional way- seated on a carpet floor sharing a communal meal. We bought a variety of dishes and shared.


We hit the streets again to find Old Sharjah- where remnants of the old city remain. The buildings here are low and made from the resources available to those early inhabitants. We walked the narrow passageways and wondered at the construction of the buildings.
Tony and me walking down a lane


Jessa


Old and New Sharjah



A beautiful doorway


The buildings were constructed by stacking chunks of coral like bricks


There are souqs in Old Sharjah- but unfortunately they are only open in the mornings so we missed out on this trip. We looked into the windows of the souqs to see a trove of awesomely cool stuff -like carved ibex horns, giant platters carved with Arabic script, leopard skins and traditional furniture- so we’re planning to go back sometime to check them out.
Our last stop was the animal souq. We parked nearby and followed our noses to the shops. The smell of livestock and hay is detectable from several blocks away and is very conspicuous in the middle of a big developed city.


The sellers were excited to see westerners in their market and were eager to let Jessa and me hold baby goats and lambs.




One local guy bought a sheep. We were shocked and amused when he pulled his car up and the sheep was loaded into the trunk.


Deer were for sale too, although I can’t imagine what purpose they serve.


We strolled by the stalls selling cattle and horses, and then noticed a small goat was out of it’s pen. Jessa and I were inside the stall with the loose goat, Tony and Stephen were outside the stalls walking in the dirt driving lane. We tried to get the attention of the shopkeepers to alert them to the goat. They were preoccupied, and we quickly learned why. As we tried to get their attention, two men came bolting out of the neighboring stall, running full speed and looking over their shoulders. A bull had gotten loose, and he was angry. He chased the men, swinging his horns to and fro at them. One man made a futile attempt to stop it by stepping on the lead rope that dragged behind it. Tony jumped behind a tall metal gate and Stephen behind a car. I watched the bull exit the neighboring stall. I was in the neighboring stall, surrounded by walls and filled with pens of sheep. With nowhere to go, I hoped the bull wouldn’t turn and stood still to not attract attention. My efforts were not rewarded, he turned and ran into my stall. I knew he wouldn’t bother trying to knock a fence down, so I jumped in with the sheep and stood still. What I didn’t know was that Jessa was also in the same stall with me, standing behind me. She didn’t notice his direction change until he was running right toward her. As Tony and Stephen looked on, she frantically looked around for somewhere to go. Seeing me standing with the sheep, she leapt like a deer over the fence and quickly turned back toward the bull, shielding herself with her arms, holding the fence and nearly knocking me over in the process. The bull stayed his course and ran right to the back of the stall down a narrow lane. Unable to turn and unwilling to walk backward, he was stuck. The shopkeepers, Tony and Stephen came out from behind their hiding places and stood at the sheep pen. The Pakistani and Bengali keepers were bent over with laughter. Once they had contained themselves, Tony asked them how much for the two American sheep which set them off laughing again. Jessa and I climbed out of the sheep pen and we headed to the indoor animal souq where all the pets are sold.

We were hit by a wall of stench as we stepped inside. Each vendor has a variety of pets- you’ll often find cats, dogs, fish, parrots, rabbits and mice all in one shop. A few years ago you could find really exotic pets like tigers and leopards here but laws have changed in the past few years and you’ll rarely find such animals in plain sight. The shop keepers here are very willing to put birds on your shoulders and puppies in your arms. Tony and Jessa made friends with a parrot.



Falcons are one of the best selling birds here because of the long standing hunting tradition. Many Emirati men own falcons and train them to hunt. Unlike in the States, here you don’t need to be a licensed falconer to own one.


Now that we knew had the Sharjah souqs figured out, we vowed to bring the rest of the gang to check them out one day.

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