Oman: The Serene And Beautiful Gem Of The Gulf Region!
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
One of the oldest civilisations on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a beautiful country steeped in history where it is thought that man first appeared after the ice age in about 12,000 B.C. Many fascinating discoveries have also been made about the pre-Islamic past and archaeological sites have been found dating back to the third millennium B.C. showing a definite connection with that cradle of ancient civilisation, Mesopotamia. Since His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said acceded to the throne in July 1970, the country has been transformed from a sleepy Gulf State into one of fine buildings, first class roads, excellent schools and universities, modern well equipped hospitals and so much more that make up today’s modern country. It has also come a long way in opening its doors to tourists from the rather cautious approach in yesteryear. Today this industry is justifiably booming and the current emphasis within the Sultanate is to obtain an even greater share of this highly lucrative market.
The country has a natural variety of attractions with mountain ranges, gentle valleys, deep orange coloured sand dunes, oases, vast deserts as well as endless stretches of golden sand overlooking the Gulf of Oman. All this and more contribute to an exotic journey when visiting this land of “milk and honey.” Under the leadership of the Sultan you will find a well organised, safe and forward thinking State. No wonder the Omanis take such pride in comparing their country with Switzerland for its dedication in being clean and environmentally friendly.
After leaving Seeb International Airport the drive into the capital city of Muscat will tell you a lot about this land. On either side of the road are majestic trees, tropical plants and colourful flowers, as well as ceramics representing specific symbols of national heritage. They include the white Arabian oryx, military emblems and the traditional long-spouted coffee pot.
The capital is a prime example of intelligent and imaginative development blending the ancient and modern so successfully. For hundreds of years Muscat was a walled city but was then replaced by a stone moat, known as Al-Hosn, meaning the fortification. Parts of the original wall still remain and are located adjoining the three main access gates to the city. They are known s the Greater and Lesser Gates and Bab al Matha’eeb. There are also numerous attractive public gardens and beautiful beaches including Yeti, Qurum and Bandar Al-Jissah being the most popular.
Interesting landmarks are the Clock Tower Square, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muttrah Souq and the forts of Al-Jalali and Al-Marani, which flank the imposing Al-Alam Royal Palace, which is one of the most spectacular sights to be seen and is especially imposing when floodlit at night.
Today the capital has many top class hotels to choose from with the gem undoubtedly being the Al Bhustan Palace. Originally built to host the Arab Gulf Summit in 1985, it is set against a dramatic mountain backdrop in an area of 200 acres, which include wonderfully laid out gardens set on high ground with breathtaking views out to sea.
When you walk into the entrance of the hotel it seems to radiate the opulence of a palace and the imposing atrium will surely take your breath away with its sheer brilliance of light and colour. Islamic designs are freely expressed in all the luxurious rooms and suites, all with their own private balconies.
The Al Bhustan is everything and more that one would expect from a luxurious hotel with an imaginatively designed outdoor swimming pool with lavish sun terraces, a fitness centre with massage, sauna and jacuzzi and excellent floodlit tennis amenities. There is a wealth of water sports facilities including windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling and scuba diving.
There is a choice of interesting restaurants to suit every taste as well as a splendid banqueting hall and conference rooms coupled with a wonderful auditorium fully equipped for use as a theatre or concert hall. The Al Bhustan Palace is one of two hotels in the Sultanate managed under the banner of the prestigious Inter-Continental Group.
A three hour drive from Muscat is Nizwa one of the flourishing cities in the interior. The centre has been rebuilt including parts of the ancient souq, one of the most important in the country besides Muttrah, with its amazing display of Bedouin gold and silver jewellery, bracelets, earrings and ornaments for the hair as well as various examples of other finely crafted items. On a Friday, the market really bustles with hordes of vendors laden with dates, fresh fruit and vegetables to sell. It is also the day for the weekly livestock auction and cows, goats, sheep as well as camels are sold to the highest bidders. Just behind the entrance to the souq is the main gateway to the imposing Fort of Nizwa. Its most impressive feature being the huge round tower some 24 metres high with a diameter of 50 metres.
A comparatively short distance from Nizwa is Jabrin, which is well worth visiting just to see the imposing palace situated in the very heart of the village. It has been painstakingly restored with some beautiful hand-painted ceilings in many of the well proportioned rooms.
In the north-eastern region of Shargiya lies the ancient port and seafaring town of Sur, where you can still see the unique dhow fishing vessels being constructed on the waterfront just as they have been since time immemorial. Try and make the effort to rise early from your slumber to see the hardy fishermen returning to the shore with their catch. It is hardly surprising that the legendary sailor Sindbad is believed to have been born here. The town’s Maritime Museum is well worth visiting, charting the history of shipbuilding.
Close to Sur is the breathtakingly beautiful area known as Ras Al Hadd with its splendid cliffs surrounding the coastline. However, its main claim to fame is because it is the breeding place for the large sea turtles, who lay their eggs on the beach from June to August.
Zohar is an interesting city to visit and is recognised as the gateway to the east and is one of the main entry seaports. A new port is under construction which will have the largest oil refinery in the Sultanate.
In days gone by it was the most important city for trade and is renowned for its copper deposits with archaeological evidence pointing to the fact that copper extraction was being carried out over 5,000 ears ago. Today, there are still three copper mines in operation with over 18 million tonnes of copper deposits.
One of the most prominent features in the city is Zohar Castle located alongside some beautiful public parks. There is also a lot of tourist development taking place including a number of luxury hotels, some of which have already been built.
An interesting region is Dhofar, which is about a thousand kilometres from Muscat. It is partly mountainous and partly desert and also has a fine coastline. The main city of this extremely fertile region is Salalah. Here you will be pleasantly surprised to see countryside reminiscent of regions in England with greenery and flowers in profusion. Also to be seen are banana plantations, papaya, mango, tamarind and lemon trees and coconut groves as well as fields of wheat, millet and sugar cane sprawled alongside golden sandy beaches. Here the cattle prosper, fed in winter on sardines which have been dried on the beaches and in such quantities that the sea often smells of sardines!
Salalah was the centre of the frankincense trade in ancient times. Today this aromatic essence is used in the blending of Amouage, one of the world’s most expensive perfumes, which is marketed by exclusive outlets worldwide from the company’s distribution centre in Muscat.
Oman, in the heart of the Middle East, is probably the most politically stable in the whole region and under the guidance of Sultan Qaboos will surely continue to develop as a major tourist attraction for discerning travellers. Its natural beauty is truly spectacular coupled with the warmth, charm and courtesy of the Omanis ensuring that a visit to this exceptional country is an experience never to be forgotten!