x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Khan's modest charm

Although some things could be improved in this Sharjah neighbourhood, it is well equipped with facilities, amenities and plenty of places to unwind.

Children, watched over by their house maids, play outside their home while a man herds his goats back to their feeding area.
Children, watched over by their house maids, play outside their home while a man herds his goats back to their feeding area.

Although some things could be improved in this Sharjah neighbourhood, it is well equipped with facilities, amenities and plenty of places to unwind, writes Soumik Mukherjee

On a Saturday morning, Palani Manikkam, along with a group of friends, sits on the fringe of a canal that runs through Al Qasba. With eyes closed, knees folded and arms stretched, they inhale the fresh air for relaxation. After half an hour or so, they take a walk along the promenade.

"There are plenty of places to unwind, says Manikkam, a cleaning supervisor who came to live in the area about three years ago. "Not many areas in Sharjah offer you such an opportunity. The smell of the seawater on a breezy day transports me to my hometown in Kerala."

Al Qasba is a vibrant area in Al Khan where a stone bridge connects two parallel walkways divided by a canal. Shops and restaurants line up the stretch dotted with shade-giving palm trees. At one end of it is Al Khan lagoon, lined by a wide pathway, a pleasant spot for the neighbourhood's residents to relax in.

The area offers much in the way of recreational facilities.

Safaiya Park next to the Arab Cultural Club is a small but popular green space regularly frequented by residents and there's a second park in the adjacent neighbourhood of Al Majaz.

"These places are a lifeline not only for Al Khan residents but all of us Sharjah dwellers," Manikkam says. "You will see people from other neighbourhoods in the emirate flocking to this place. Near the lagoon close to the aquarium, you can spend hours just gazing at the water and the boats."

The aquarium, located in the same complex as the Sharjah Maritime Museum, showcases the rich and diverse marine life of the region. From there, a beach lies just a stone's throw away.

In terms of facilities and amenities, the area is well equipped. It is studded with mosques, shops and malls, cinemas, restaurants, gyms and health centres, clinics, banks and a post office. There are also a handful of schools.

Some things could be improved, however. Many of the streets are narrow and well-laid-out parking spaces are scarce. A lack of pedestrian-friendly access also presents its own problems.

Daniel de Boer, a Dutch national who has lived in the area for the past 25 years, watches a woman pushing a pram along the street, explaining the dangers that residents face in the absence of pavements and underpasses. "To buy groceries at supermarkets such as Anbar Al Madina and Express Carrefour, you need to run for your life across Al Khan Street," he says.

"The Corniche area, Hazana and the locality near the Kuwaiti Hospital are much better and greener," adds de Boer, who works as a safety officer for the Dutch company Lamnalco. "Compared to them, it's a poor-looking neighbourhood. Given a choice, I would avoid this place. Also, many of the buildings are dark inside and you have to keep your lights on all the time."

Arsalan Mohammed, a construction engineer from Lahore, has been living here for the past five years. He shares de Boers's concerns about the busy roads.

"In the absence of pedestrian bridges and underpasses, many people just walk across the Dubai-Sharjah road to visit hypermarkets such as Safeer and Ansar Mall," he says. "That is dangerous and a perfect recipe for disaster. Residents also run across the busy Al Khan Road, not by choice but out of necessity.

"This is not a place that everyone would like," he adds. "In winter, the picture is a bit better than the rest of the seasons. In summer, the hot air throws up a lot of dust."

He also says he's unhappy that the development work that started here a few years ago has stopped. Many of the buildings look old and dilapidated and whatever progress has taken place in the area in the past, the results have been haphazard.

But these are only small concerns. On the whole, says Mohammed, life in Al Khan is good.

"You have problems everywhere. It's still better than Pakistan. This is a multicultural society. It's peaceful and a good place to raise your kids. Although I miss home, I feel safer. It's a good place for middle-class people like us, if you are ready to make some compromises."

The facts

Property prices: Average rentals of one-bedroom Dh25,000, two-bedroom Dh38,000, and three-bedroom Dh47,000

Schools: There are a handful of schools in Al Khan such as Al Khan School and Little Fun Nursery, and plenty are within a 3km radius, including Dubai Carmel School, Pristime Private School, the Central School and Sheffield Private School

Hospitals: Wilson Speciality Hospital is in Al Tawun, adjacent to Al Khan, while NMC Speciality and Zulekha hospitals are close by

Banks: Sharjah Islamic Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank and Mashreq Bank

What resident's say

“I am happy in here. Where is the problem? My son studies in the Central School, which is close by. You have whatever you ask for. They are all within a close proximity. There are many who shudder at the name of Sharjah. Where don’t you have problems? Of course, if you are ready to shell out money, you can live in better places. But to be honest, I am comfortable.” Shafiqul Alam, Pakistan

The biggest advantage of this place is you can avoid the traffic inside Sharjah. It’s also a clean place. With house rents coming down, the place is even more attractive. Avdesh S, India

I haven’t seen much of the emirate as I am new to this place. So I can’t really compare it with other areas. This place may not be as great as many of the places in Dubai. But I have seen people living together in peace. That’s a big thing. You also have plenty of breathing space in a seemingly busy locality. It’s dusty, chaotic, but do you ever realise that you are living in the middle of a desert? Elly Frank Ngobi, Uganda