Home Manama to Muscat 2012 Day 8: Pearls, glorious pearls
Day 8: Pearls, glorious pearls
Written by Sarah Clarke   
Monday, 09 April 2012 18:14


Top, first sight of a RAK cultured pearl and above, a special gift

No visitor to the Gulf region can fail to notice the importance that the pearl has in the psyche of the Arab people.  Not only has it provided a centuries old economic benefit but also it embodies unquantifiable feelings of pride, well being and love that to the (non-Arab) outsider may be harder to fathom.  

To see Nasser Hassan al Qas al Ali, President of the Ahmed Bin Majid museum last Saturday carefully unfold from his wallet a tiny shred of red cloth, bound by an even smaller piece of string, to reveal 4 tiny natural pearls which he gently cradled in his hand, one could immediately sense something else at play, above and beyond their material value.  These were cultural treasures, lovingly held close to his heart, that were to be given as a gift to a dear friend.

Today we spent several hours explore the nature of this relationship to begin to understand the role it plays in the Gulf peoples’ hearts.


Implanting the bead into the oyster

RAK pearl farm 

Our first port of call was the RAK Pearl Farm, a joint venture between RAK Pearls Holding and Japanese partner Daiji Imura from Mie Prefecture, Japan.   Set against the backdrop of the RAK mountains in a sheltered inlet bounded by mangroves, the cultured pearl process begins with the precision work of Lotfi Hassaid who along with his team prepare the oysters to receive an artificial bead made from fresh water oyster shell sourced from Mississippi.   After 1 year in the farm this bead is transformed into the cultured pearl.   Taking the short journey by boat out to two pearl farms, one for oysters without beads, the other for oysters with beads, we were struck by how seamlessly the farms slotted into the local environment; all manner of sea birds perch on the buoys marking the cages, camels stroll by along a spit of sand stretching across the mouth of the inlet and wading birds strut through the mangroves.  

We were delighted when Elhussiny Mashaly, Strategy, Marketing and Sales Promotion manager for RAK Pearls Holding, opened one oyster shell to reveal the gem hidden within.  Our first pearl sighting of the day!   Elhussiny was very proud to talk about the environmental policy of the company which meant that none of the oyster was discarded into the sea as has been the case in the past – part of the innards of the oyster is used for fertilizer, another piece becomes a delicacy in for the company’s Japanese Restaurant and the shell is transformed into wall decoration at their museum. 

Dhayah Fort 

We were treated to a different perspective on the pearl farms when we took the short journey to Dhayah fort, a 16th century battlement set high above the mangroves, some 238 steps up (not for the faint hearted or unfit!).   Burned down by the Bristish in 1819 and restored in April 2001, from here we could see where we had been earlier and how the pearl farms fit into the landscape.  

We were fortunate to get a bird’s eye view of another stretch of the RAK mangroves atop (literally) the recently opened Mangrove Hotel.  Visitors can stroll along more than 2km or corniche in front of the hotel and enjoy the mangroves from a less precarious, yet equally beautiful vantage point.  

Pesto Restaurant

After a delicious lunch at the Italian restaurant Pesto on the corniche, managed by Antonio Levatino on behalf of the Hospitality Group of RAK Tourism, we were taken next door to the RAK Pearls Museum to learn about the fascinating history of natural pearls and the pearling industry in the Gulf region and how this compares with the cultured pearl industry we saw today.  Guided by Fatima we heard about some of the myths surrounding natural pearls – that at one time they were believed to form when moonlight fell from the sky! – and a host of more scientific facts.  Did you know for example that the Japanese cultured pearl process takes 4 years compared with the 1 year RAK method?  

Pearl Museum

As we left the Pearl Museum I glanced in at the museum’s gift shop and a stunning piece of jewelry caught my eye.  It is now hanging around my neck – a single RAK pearl in a tear drop mount, designed by Lia Staehlin.  This beautiful piece seems to capture all that we saw and felt today – a seamless connection between the past and the future.  We should not shed a tear for the change wrought by progress but celebrate the rebirth of this gem that has been and continues to be so important to the people of the region.     

National Museum 

We learned too at the National Museum, our last stop on a fascinating three day tour, that Ras Al Khaimah is more than just another Emirate, it is four things in one – a dramatic seashore and coastal region where pearling and fishing are paramount, a stunning mountain area where agriculture and goat breeding predominate, an oasis which allows for date and palm cultivation and a desert zone where nomadic existence once thrived.  These 4 elements make RAK a destination waiting to be explored.  As RAK tourism’s slogan states: It is a raising emirate!  The Friendship Arabia team recommend you come take a look soon!

Leaving a place where we have made new friends is always hard but our spirits were lifted when we arrived in Oman were we invariably feel at home.  A mere 15 km from the border we were delighted to see a group of Omani fishermen hauling in their catch as the sunset over Musandam, undoubtedly the first of many beautiful sights we will see during our stay.

Omani Fishermen