Thousands of Bahraini citizens are visiting the Sakhir wilderness area during the winter months to spend quality time camping with family and friends and escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.
"Camping in the Sakhir area is an annual custom for Bahrainis during the winter," said Ali Shaheen, a private sector employee in Bahrain. "Citizens erect tents and recall the lives of their ancestors, many of whom lived the same way. The difference is that camping has become a luxury when in the past it was the primary form of dwelling for many citizens."
The Southern Governorate, the authority responsible for organising the camping area in Sakhir, required citizens to register this year. A new camping registration system was put in place to help ensure the security of campers through safety requirements designed to provide protection for people and installations.
With tents pitched everywhere, the available camping areas are divided into three new categories— a public area, a youth area and a family area. Shaheen believes the current camping season was better organised after the government created the three zones.
"Camping is no longer done with primitive tools as it was in the past," Shaheen said. "Tents have become similar to complete houses. They are now supplied with televisions, satellites and DVD players. Some are even equipped with bathrooms made of plastic and foreign toilets in addition to gas ovens for cooking and other household appliances."
Shaheen said, "The Bahraini government does not charge any taxes on camping except for commercial activity in the wilderness, such as the sale of some camping supplies, recreational services like horse riding, or the sale of food."
According to Farouk Albee, a private sector employee, Sakhir retains a unique flavour that families appreciate.
"The special nature of camping in the Bahrain wilderness is about families gathering in one place, enjoying the cool weather, sitting to chat and share food and drink, and spending recreational time engaged in activities such as volleyball or soccer," Albee said.
"Bahraini families suffered previously from disturbances caused by youth and the large number of loud banshee cars," he said, referring to four-wheel vehicles driven by youths for fun. "The situation has changed as each segment has its own area. Security forces are present around the clock. Now each tent has its own number, similar to residential distribution with defence and emergency services to handle any incidents."
"The notable influx of Bahrainis to the Sakhir camping area exceeded expectations to the extent that it surpassed the number of visitors in commercial malls and tourist facilities in the kingdom," he added, pointing to the flourishing trade in tent rentals.
Tent shop owner Ghassan Shomali said demand has doubled recently in camping shops. "Young people comprise 60% of demand while families comprise the remaining 40%," he said
He explained that young people buy one or two tents while families will purchase four or five tents. Shomali noted the high demand for Pakistani tents "given their reasonable prices for a large segment of citizens".
Shomali praised the Southern Governorate for undertaking a thorough plan this year, putting in place stringent laws that help encourage many people, especially families, to go camping.