Why should you visit the Sultanate of Oman?
Why ever not?
This is the water trail that leads the dolphins, whales and giant turtles from oceans far away, guiding their nesting instincts to the mysterious depths of the Arabian Ocean and the expansive ‘Gulf Coast’ of Oman. The birds come too, migrating in considerable numbers to Oman’s beautiful beaches and mountain springs. They come every year, and so should you, if not as often, then at least once in your lifetime.
Besides, there are those fascinating stories about Sindbad the sailor who passed through here; and if you’re inclined to follow in the pilgrim’s footsteps, they will lead you unerringly to Salalah, to the ancient tomb of the Prophet Ayub (Job in Christianity).
Oman has a longstanding history of sea trade between Zanzibar, Yemen, India and China. Its sea ports attest to this fact. It is a nation that cleaves proudly to the traditions of a rich past, yet confidently embraces all the amenities of a modern future. This is why, it stands on an equal footing today, with all the peace loving and tolerant nations of this world.
Oman, with its capital city Muscat, was recently featured on Lonely Planet’s ‘Best to Travel in 2017’ list – https://www.lonelyplanet.com/ best-in-travel/countries.’ It is easy to see why. Though this country is a fairly new entrant as an extraordinary tourist destination, it effortlessly takes its place among modern countries like Finland and Canada and exotic locations like Ethiopia and Mongolia.
In March this year, it also won the best Arab Tourist destination award at ITB Berlin.
Geographically, Oman is bordered by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, but its landscape is as different from its neighbors as chalk is from cheese. Imposing mountains, rugged rock faces and jagged cliffs surround valleys that in season, are lush with date palms. On a nature walk, you will come across bubbling streams that abruptly burst forth from deep ravines. Nestled in between these panoramic vistas are housing structures of a traditional Oman, its old and distinct Islamic architecture meticulously maintained for future generations.
Amidst the echoes of its magnificent past, lie the modern roads and highways, the impressive five star hotels with their own private beaches, the half a dozen golf courses, the sleek malls and shopping centers – all bearing witness to the rapidly growing economy of the recent years.
At first glance, all this modernity seems to be fighting for prominence with Oman’s carefully preserved past, but very soon you discover that the lines between tradition and modernity have long since blurred, to form a seamless and perfectly balanced landscape.
How safe is Oman for travellers?
This question always takes me by surprise. But, I understand its relevance, in the light of events that are taking place in this country’s territorial vicinity. Notwithstanding the middle-eastern tag that comes with its name, Oman is a country that takes the safety of its tourists very seriously. It has been listed by the World Economic Forum as the world’s 9th safest tourist destination – interesting to note that many European countries fall way behind Oman in this respect.
As an expatriate who has lived in Oman for many years, I can vouch for the high quality of life here, both in terms of diversity and accessibility. An avid traveler myself, I feel proud to call this country my second home.
On landing at Seeb International airport, the first thing you will notice is an atmosphere that is completely devoid of the frenzied touristy activity that is found in most holiday destinations. This is mainly because Oman does not depend on tourism for its economic growth. No hawkers, pickpockets or folks pestering you for tips – the people and surroundings here allow you to enjoy the wonders of nature at a truly relaxed, unhurried pace.
Hospitality is inbred in all Omanis. When you hear an ‘ahlan wa sahlan’ from an Omani, it means he has welcomed you into his country as a guest. The welcome is warm, comes from the heart and has no strings attached to it. As you get to know your Omani friend better (say for 10 more minutes), he will arm you with all the relevant information needed to make your stay in his country as comfortable as possible. If you’re lucky enough to meet him close to his home, he will generously offer you Oman’s famous ‘melt in the mouth’ halwa along with ‘kawha’ or black coffee. The Omanis are a friendly people with strong family values and devoted community bonds.
Women take note
Women’s rights are strongly upheld here. Omani women work in all fields – as nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and yes, many of them hold important positions in politics. Almost all Omani women drive and are active participants in the welfare of their families and the society at large. Omanis (both men and women) study and live in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
If you’re a woman traveling alone, shed any fears you might have about safety. The local male population of this country considers it very impolite to stare at a woman. This comes as downright relief for any woman who has walked the busy streets of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, or the crowded bylanes of Cairo. It is wise however, to respect the moral boundaries of decency in public places and dress conservatively. This need not be a deterrent, as it is something a savvy woman traveller would do anyways.
Oman is home to a large expatriate population from Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines), Europe, the United States, and Australia, and this cultural diversity interwoven with Omani hospitality results in an intricate and beautiful myriad of sights, smells, and sounds that is synonymous with the experience that is Oman.
Proselytizing is discouraged but everyone has the right to practice their own religion.
The country’s multiple mosques coexist peacefully alongside several other religious places of worship including two large hindu temples, four prominent catholic churches, a protestant church and many others.
Outdoor Activities in Oman
For the outdoor enthusiast, there are countless mountains to climb and giant turtles to track. Add to this wadi bashing, trekking, diving, camping, sailing and dolphin watching and you will end up with some of the most beautiful screenshots to add to your travel memoirs.
If your travel schedule includes a considerable amount of sightseeing, you need to stay in Oman for a minimum of 10 days. Some experiences you cannot miss are –
The Turtle Reserve – This should be on the top of your ‘must see’ places. Something truly magical about these giant turtles that come here to nest, year after year.
You can watch them laying their eggs and returning back to the sea. (An article I wrote on the Ras Al Hadd turtles appeared in the Oman Today edition a few years ago. A more updated one will be on this blog soon.)
The Wahiba Sands – 4,800 sq. meters of sand dunes, inhabited by Bedouins, where you can camp at night under the blanket of a starry sky.
Dune bashing in a 4WD drive is an added attraction.
Jebel Al-Shams (Mountain of the Sun) – Is Oman’s highest mountain. Blogged about a visit there earlier on: https://wordpress.com/post/traveltoes85.wordpress.com/126
Al-Hoota Cave – Found at the foot of Jebel Al-Shams, this is an underground cave that is 2 million years old. Recently renovated for tourists, it now has an electric train that takes you from the visitor’s center directly inside the cave.
Jebel Al-Akhdar (Green Mountain) – is 2300 mtrs above sea level and has spectacular views. The plateau here is a government protected nature reserve and has a cool climate conducive for the growth of roses, pomegranates, peaches and apricots. The famous rose essence/rose water used in perfumes, traditional medicine and confectionary, is made from these Damask roses.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – Nestled among expansive gardens, this mosque is made of 300,000 tons of sandstone and has impressive Islamic architecture.
Includes a stunning gold plated chandelier that has 600,000 Swarovski crystals. The colorful mosaics, beautiful carpets and detailed handwork are all a visual delight.
Medieval Forts – the Bahla Fort, the Nizwa Fort, the Nakhal Fort and many others – high ingenious structures built at a time, when the people of Oman defended themselves from foreign invaders and local insurgencies.
The Bimah Sink Hole – a natural emerald pool formed by the erosion of rocks. Surrounded by limestone rocks, it’s a great place for swimming.
Beach Paradises – Pristine beaches surrounded with imposing mountains and jagged cliffs can be found all along the lengthy coastline, including at Bandar Al Jissah, Qurum, Ras Al Hadd (also has a pink shell beach), Al-Sawadi, Tiwi (has a Pebble beach) and Yiti.
Many other locations have lagoons and natural springs that make great spots for overnight camping.
The Old Mutrah Souk – A neat labyrinth of enthralling shops where you can buy anything from silk scarves, silver, frankincense, luban, spices and fabrics.
There are countless more places to see in Oman. Some well- known, others less known but just as beautiful. The more you explore, the more chances you will have to stumble upon some hitherto undiscovered lagoon or cave.
How to get there and when
Most international carriers can get you to this beautiful country – Oman Air, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Jet Airways, Air Arabia, Indigo, KLM etc. I have flown Oman Air to the US, Jordan, Egypt and India and find their in-flight service and seat comfort exemplary. Connections for the most part are conveniently spaced as it codeshares with KLM, Garuda Indonesia, Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates – you can get more information at http://www.omanair.com/en/holidays/destinations
The best time to visit Oman is between September and March. The Muscat Festival is held annually every February; an ideal time to visit as hotel rates and ticket fares drop down in mid-January. (More information at http://www.muscat-festival.com/muscat-muncipality.html) April to August are considered summer months with June, July and August being peak summer. Though you can watch Turtles laying their eggs throughout the year, the ideal months for doing so are from July to October.
Undoubtedly Oman believes in sustainable tourism and promotes it. The Oman Tourism Board which is actively involved in the conservation of its environment advertises itself with the self-assured tagline – “Beauty has an address – Oman.”
Nothing could be truer.
(The professional photographs on this blog are courtesy of Deepak Pereira. The world when seen through his camera lens is simply more beautiful.)