Sultanate of Oman : The Soul of Arabia
On a warm September evening, almost a decade ago, I landed at Seeb airport in Muscat, capital of Sultanate of Oman. The country is a former Portuguese colony and erstwhile British protectorate.
As I emerged from the terminal building, fresh, salty sea breeze greeted me. The road in front was lined with palm trees. This was my first brush with the Arab World! While on my way home I was struck by the simple, stark beauty of the place. All the buildings and hi-rises around me were painted in white.
In bright sunlight, the entire city assumes a spotless immaculate look that enhances its charm.
Muscat is a national capital with a difference. Its streets are fairly desolate even during peak business hours.Few women are to be seen on the streets; probably they travel in the swanky cars that zoom past.
Instead, you find men clad in milky white dishdashas and multicolored head scarves, loitering around, busy chatting, or leisurely puffing away at hookahs (hubble bubble)
There are plenty of things to do and see in Muscat. First and foremost visit spick and span beaches dotting the city – enjoy a swim in the turquoise waters, collect seashells or simply sit and watch the sea waves hurtling down on the coast. 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 grand palace of the Sultan; visit the museums of Natural History and the Omani heritage which showcase the local flora and fauna, besides cultural traditions of the Omanis. While in Muscat make sure you visit the various Souks (traditional market places) which virtually transport you to a bygone era. Souq Muttrah is possibly one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world.
Located near Muscat harbour, its name denotes darkness. That‘s because in earlier times, daylight could not pierce the darkness of its crowded lanes and stalls. Hence shoppers invariably carried lamps to find their way around. With time, the Souk was renovated and modernized.
Here you can pick and choose from gold jewellery, spices, and frankincense, to perfumed oils, and fresh jasmine flowers. If you are looking for souvenirs there are traditional Omani pots, paintings, hookah pipes, framed daggers, and leatherwork for you to carry home.
Oman produces the best quality of the world famous frankincense. This highly coveted substance has been amply used in religious rites and rituals since ancient times. The frankincense producing trees Boswellia sacra grow in wild profusion in southern parts of Oman.
Oman is a treasure trove of wildlife. Every year droves of sea turtles migrate from the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and Somalia to lay their eggs on Oman’s coastal areas. Head out to Ras Al Hadd, a popular breeding ground for turtles. It is fascinating to see the turtles creeping out of the sea, in the dead of the night, plodding further up the beach to dig holes and lay eggs. Their mission accomplished they slowly clamber back to the sea.
While in Oman remember to visit Salalah a southern city. Lavished by the south west Monsoon that springs from the Arabian Sea each summer, the area is indeed a charming oasis with profuse greenery . The coconut palm fringed beaches and plantations of papaya and plantain, coupled with a cool climate, make Salalah a delightful tourist resort.
Since Oman is a crucible of multiple cultures, one can to find an array of culinary items to suit every palate.