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Published: April 3rd 2010
Beit Sheikh Isa bin Ali house museum
Bahrain is not a country you would immediately expect to host the Tree of Life, or be mentioned as the location for the Biblical Garden of Eden, yet the Tree is there, in the desert, and Eden? Well there is some mention of Bahrain being called paradise and the abode of Enki, the God of Wisdom and the Sweet Water From under the Sea. Where is it described as being paradise? In the oldest poetic saga in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, an island called Dilmun is described exactly like this. And wouldn't you know it, Dilmun is what Bahrain used to be called a long, long, time ago... Let’s say some 5000 odd years ago. In the Epic, Gilgamesh travels to Dilmun, a paradisiacal island and the dwelling of Utnapishtim and his wife, who have been granted immortality by the Gods after surviving a great flood by building an ark. Gilgamesh is looking for the key to immortality and hopes to get it from Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim refuses initially, saying immortality was with-held from humanity for a reason, but eventually relents. Gilgamesh needs to seek the flower of immortality at the bottom of the sea, which he succeeds in doing
Courtyards and arches inside the museum
by tying rocks to his feet in order to walk under water. Unfortunately for him, after this task he sets the flower at the shore of a lake while he is bathing and it is devoured by a snake, which immediately sheds its skin and gains the vigour of youth, thereby forever depriving men of immortality.
Interestingly enough this story contains several elements later to be used in such well known books as the Bible, the Torah and the Quran. There is paradise, Utnapishtim with his ark, a forbidden flower and a snake. Names where changed, unpronounceable Utnapishtim was replaced by the much easier Noah, the flower turned into a fruit and Dilmun into Eden, the snake remained however, evil as always.
So with a history such as this Bahrain simply must be good! Well, in any case it is a lot better than Qatar (sorry to all you Qataris out there), it is more liberal, it has more to see, and as mentioned it used to be called paradise before somebody decided it was a good idea to turn it into a sandbox. There are several forts, of which Bahrain Fort is the biggest and most impressive,
with some archaeological digs surrounding it that have uncovered remains going back to Dilmuns time. Then there are some scattered and scanty remains of temples, presumably dedicated to Enki, and burial mounds, also from the same period. In Muharraq you can walk the alleyways and discover old palaces and mansions belonging to former sheikhs and pearl merchants, with wind towers and arched doorways. And of course there is the Tree of Life!! Standing majestically in the desert with nothing of comparable size anywhere in the vicinity. It's a big 'ol tree, and rather old so they say. It also is slowly being carved up by generations of youngsters who are inscribing their names in the bark. So soon the Tree of Life might not be so lively anymore, and maybe it will eventually end up as fuel for somebody’s campfire.
Aside from all that, I have had the pleasure of staying with my gregarious and generous host, Bruce, courtesy of the couch surfing community. My accommodation includes such things as tasty meals, a nice and cool swimming pool (especially nice after a hot day of strolling around the dusty streets of Manama), my very own room and free rides
around the country. Yes, maybe Bahrain is still a paradise in some ways.
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