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Bateel Skycraper

 

Omani Adventures

Omani Adventures

Issue 9 Jan / Feb 2005

If you want a holiday with a difference then Oman provides a variety of landscapes which are waiting to be discovered.

I am not sure how to begin describing what I think might be the most beautiful country in the world. Walking on incredibly picturesque beaches in Sur, with relaxing waves lapping at my feet or going for a walk through sub-tropical jungles and forests south of Oman in Salalah, the natural environment in Oman is exceedingly diverse and highly compelling. But it is not simply natural sights that Oman has to offer but also a highly interesting history covering Omani life, people, rulers and civilisations across many centuries. With Oman being at one point in its history a colonial country, its people and culture are a medley of the various countries it colonized or tried to colonise as well as of the countries it trades with (Iran, India, Pakistan).

Oman is simply fascinating. It is advanced technologically enough to offer its citizens and visitors what are now considered to be essential modern services (internet, public transport etc) but has remained true to its rich cultural heritage. Going to Oman, you must visit the three most significant cities; Muscat (the capital), Sur and Salalah – Oman’s second city. Each of these cities is unique and each has its own specific features.

Being a country that has been fought over by different tribes and civilisations, Oman has its fair share of forts and military ruins. Muscat itself has three impressive forts that really must be visited. Unfortunately you will have to try and glean as much information as possible from sources other than the Omani tourist guides because their descriptions are rather to limited with regards describing aspects of the fort and places to go and eat afterwards. There is also a museum that comes in highly rated and is really a source of pride for many Omanis. Muscat is a colourful place, but to enjoy it fully you need to find local people. Try to hang around local houses and see if you can bump into a local wedding. Omanis are very welcoming people and if you are invited, it’s a real treat.

A place that is definitely worth a visit is the Grand Mosque. An absolutely magnificent architectural extravaganza with sprawling halls, mighty pillars and awesome roofs. Walk inside the inner circle of this mosque, and like me your feet will begin to walk, your eyes will wander and under the complete spell of this creation you will forget your bodily co-ordination and hit a wall/tourist/local. If there is one place that Oman should be remembered for, it is this mosque. The detailed Qur’anic engravings and the carefully chosen glass tiles around the domes all contribute perfectly to creating a powerful and provocative aura that affects all who enter.

Muscat also has its local souks. Haggling is really the way to do things and if you aren’t prepared to haggle then be prepared to pay a hefty price. Of particular interest to ladies visiting Oman must be the intensely coloured local costumes. Omani women wear very richly patterned and brightly coloured long flowing gowns. Of varying prices, they are an ideal gift, as are the skillfully made silver handled daggers (khanjar sing) that Oman is well known for. With Portugal having colonised Oman for well over a century, look closely into some of the products on sale and you might bag yourself a trinket left over from an undiscerning Portuguese sailor.

With regards to food, Omani food is a rich mix of Indian, various Arab and Portuguese dishes. Curry, biryani and roast fish are all common to Oman and with the slight difference in spicing and the addition of native ingredients such as frankincense. It’s incredibly delicious! Always try to eat out in local, less snazzy places…the food is far nicer (albeit less presentable) and a lot cheaper. Using your hands will impress some of the locals too!

What you will find throughout your time in the souks, the restaurants and in Oman generally is that Omanis are very friendly and welcoming people. If you are like me and have no problems speaking to total strangers, use this to your advantage and get to know their culture. English is widely used in Oman and very few locals would not answer your questions.

What you will find throughout your time in the souks, the restaurants and in Oman generally is that Omanis are very friendly and welcoming people. If you are like me and have no problems speaking to total strangers, use this to your advantage and get to know their culture. English is widely used in Oman and very few locals would not answer your questions.

If Muscat feels rather too hot and dry, only a short drive away is Sur. Drive around a bit, away from all the dhows and the fishermen, and you can discover sky blue seas and the most exceptional beaches. Rather than sand, the beach is covered with tiny multi-coloured shells that gleam and glitter when held up to the sun. They give the beach a kind of pinkish/reddish tint and also tingle against your feet as you walk. Sitting on that beach is a pleasure in itself and long hours can pass by without you even noticing. Sur also contains Sur University College and a Marine Museum.

The real experience, however for the first-timer, and one that I would have never dreamed of finding in the Middle East, was the incredibly wet, green and vibrant Dhufar region which has Salalah as its main city. On the way to Salalah and just on its outskirts are the trees that were responsible for Arabia’s Latin name: Arabia Felix (fragrant Arabia). Frankincense tree groves are everywhere and if you can, try to get close to one of them. Frankincense not only has an amazing smell but Omanis and other Arabs use it in their cooking too. Seeing the process of how it is taken from a tree is rather fascinating.

Salalah during the autumn is like walking in a gigantic tropical greenhouse. It is humid, wet and chock-full of life. There are fascinating geyser-type natural fountains on its coast. Whilst walking around awe struck at the natural surroundings you will wonder if you are in fact in the “dry” Middle East!




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