Ruchira takes us on a tour of the Sultanate of Oman, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
I am footloose by nature. My fondest dream is to go on a world tour before I leave this world. The Middle East or West Asia whatever you may call it, has always fascinated me. That’s because I grew up reading tales from the One Thousand Arabian Nights These crowded my mind with images of sultans, houris, genies camels, vast stretches of desert sands, dotted with date palms and so forth…. So a few years ago, when my sibling was posted out to the Gulf Region (Oman to be precise), I decided to be his guest, once his family had settled down.
On a pleasant autumn evening after a four-hour flight from New Delhi, (with a stopover at Ahmedabad), I landed at Seeb airport in Muscat, capital of the tiny Sultanate of Oman. The country is an erstwhile Portuguese enclave and a former British Protectorate. As I walked out of the terminal building, I was greeted by a fresh, salty sea breeze. The road in front of the airport complex was lined with palm trees. My first glimpse of the Arab world was delightful! Later on my way home, I was struck by the simple, stark beauty of the place. All the buildings including the hi-rises are painted in immaculate white. In bright sunlight, the entire city assumes a clear, spotless look that further enhances its charm.
Muscat is a national capital with a difference. For one, its streets are fairly desolate, during peak business hours on regular weekdays. I suddenly realised that I was the solitary woman for a few hundred metres around. Thankfully, I had a male-escort-cum guide; so everything was fine. Local women are hardly visible; probably they confine themselves to the dozens of swanky cars that zoom past every now and then. However, there are plenty of women visitors to be seen at the various glitzy malls that dot the city. The common sight on the streets is groups of men – clad in long white gowns (dishdashas) teamed with multi-coloured scarves and headgears with tiny check patterns – loitering around, chatting in low voices, or leisurely puffing away at the sheeshas (hubble-bubble).
There are plenty of things to do and see in and around Muscat. There are so many spick and span beaches (unlike the ones back home) dotting the city. Enjoy a swim in the turquoise waters, pick seashells or simply sit and watch the sea waves hurtling down on the sands. It is thrilling to realize that the Arabian Sea in front of you also washes the shores of your native land.
Visit the Grand Mosque a marvel of contemporary architecture. Take a peek at the Sultan’s Grand Palace – the ultimate in opulence. Incidentally, the incumbent ruler maintains very cordial ties with India. This explains the high visibility of expatriates and desi professionals in the tiny Sultanate.
One must visit the Museums of Natural History and Omani Heritage, which showcase the local flora and fauna, besides cultural tradition of the Omanis. While touring the city make sure you visit a few of the souks or traditional marketplaces which virtually transport you to a bygone era. Muttrah Souk is rated as of the oldest in the Arab World.Located close to the city’s harbor its name denotes darkness. It is believed that in earlier times daylight could not penetrate the darkness of its lanes and alleys. Hence the shopkeepers and buyers carried lanterns to find their way around. The market complex has since been modernised.
At the Souks you can pick and choose from gold jewelry, traditional ornaments spices, dates, frankincense to perfumed oils et al. In case you need souvenirs to carry home there are colourful clay pots, paintings, hookahs, pipes, carpets, framed sand pictures, leatherwork and lots more.
Did you know Oman produces the best frankincense in the world? This highly coveted substance has been used in religious rites and rituals since in various civilisations since ancient times. Frankincense is a resin obtained from Boswellia trees that grow profusely in southern parts of Oman.
Oman is a treasure trove of wildlife. Each year hundreds of Green Turtles migrate from the gulf, the Red Sea, and Somalia to lay their eggs on Oman’s shores. If time permits head out to the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz. These are two favourite haunts of the turtles. It is fascinating to watch the clumsy creatures creeping out of the sea in the stillness of the night, clambering further up the beach to dig holes wherein to deposit the eggs. Mission accomplished, they slowly plod back to the sea.
Ideally, you must tweak your itinerary to fit in Salalah a southern city. Lashed by the South West Monsoon that rises from the Arabian Sea each summer, the area is indeed a charming oasis of lush greenery. The coconut palm-fringed beaches, besides plantations of papaya, bananas etc coupled with a bracing climate, makes Salalah a crowd-puller.
Add life to your trip Oman by savouring the multicultural delectable cuisine that is available here.
If you want to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty along with modern facilities, then Oman is the perfect destination for you.
©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh
Photos sourced by the author from the internet.
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