AHLAN WA SAHLAN to Oman, a country of breathtaking natural beauty
Oman is a land of rich history and fascinating culture that dates back well over 5000 years. Modern omani culture still carries many of the traditions of bygone eras. That’s why Oman is often referred as “true Arabia” because its ancient culture has been so preserved.
Souqs are still selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, arms and weapons, in same way as many years back.
CURIOSITY: Featured on both the national flag and the one rial note, the Khanjar, the curved silver dagger, is the nation’s most iconic emblem.
Omani people are considered for being among the world’s most hospitable: a traditional Welcome in the omani house is a strong hot coffee always served with dates and remember…… one cup is not enough…. you must accept at least 3 cups!!!
CURIOSITY: Coffee drinking is part of everyday life in Oman. More spicy than the western blend, this drink is a sign of hospitality, generosity and is always offered to guests. You will find it in all hotels’s halls served in typical Dallahs (coffee pots) together with dates.
Oman spectacular land and seascapes offer many opportunities for adventures in mountains and deserts, canyoning, climbing, dune bashing or mountain biking.
Muscat is Oman’s capital city, described as “Arabia’s jewel”. The city has retained its old-world character with many forts, castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape. Among them a must to visit:
the MUSCAT GRAND MOSQUE:
quietly imposing from the outside, this piece of modern islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. The mosque, with its second-large hand loomed Iranian carpet in the world, can accomodate 20.000 worshippers.
the SULTAN Palace:
a very modest palace, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens, was built over the site of former British Embassy. The palace today is largely used for ceremonial purposes as Sultan Qaboos prefers as his residence a quieter seaside residence.
the MUTRAH Souq:
Located along the Corniche
is a must visit when in Muscat. The Souq is like all traditional Arab markets where you can buy almost everything from antiques to textile, hardware and gold. An experience not to be missed although you have nothing to buy.
In the afternoon you can enjoy a cruise on a dhow from the Yatch Club passing by the Old Muscat Port to Al-Alam palace located between the two portuguese forts of Mirani and Jalali. Make a stop and wait for a spectacular sunset.
CURIOSITY: As described by a great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid-al-Majid
“MUSCAT IS A PORT THE LIKE OF WHICH CANNOT BE FOUND IN THE WHOLE WORLD WHERE THERE IS BUSINESS AND GOOD THINGS THAT CANNOT BE FOUND ELSEWHERE“
Drive towards south Oman, crossing the spectacular Wadi Shab, to reach the town of Sur, an old Port on the Indian Ocean. A quiet seacoast town famous for its Dhows shipyards and presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor.
A long drive thru Wadi Bani Khalid, a spectacular wadi for its natural beauty, takes us to Wahiba Sands a large sand stretch with dunes 100-150 mt high in the shades of color from orange to amber. Enjoy the dune bashing experience with a good skilled driver or, if you prefer, take a camel ride more safe but less emotional. Get up early the next morning and out from you tent you can assist to the stunning sunrise on the desert dunes.
NIZWA also called “Pearl of Islam”: is Oman’s most historic town. This verdant oasis city, it was Oman’s capital during 6th and 7th century. Nizwa Fort, completed in 1650, was the seat of power during the rule of Al YaRuba dynasty. It’s famous also for its 40m tall round tower which is worthwhile climbing to have a fantastic view of date plantations around the town and the Hajar Mountains.
Long drives are never boring in Oman especially if you go thru the spectacular deep Wadi Ghul (better known as Grand Canyon of Arabia) lying alongside, to reach Oman’s highest mountain: JEBEL SHAMS (literally SUN MOUNTAIN) peak at 3075mt. It’s chilly up there but you will be so busy taking photographs to the panorama around you that you’ll soon warm up.
Two hours flight from Muscat and you reach Salalah, the capital city of the Dhofar region in south Oman. Salalah , nestled in the middle of a plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean, is full of myths and legends that date back to biblical times. From the tomb of prophet Ayoub on Jebel Qara, to the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the queen of Sheba. And also in the countryside on the flanks of the jebels grow the Boswellia sacra a tree from which you can obtain the frankincense, best known to Christians as one of the presents to Baby Jesus by the Magi in the Nativity story.
Salalah is also second preferred residence of Sultan Qaboos, infact Salalah is his mother ‘s home town.
The Frankincense Museum of Salalah is considered one of the country’s most important historical museums, a Unesco World Heritage site recognized for its cultural and archeological importance.
CURIOSITY: while talking about Frankincense, let’s spend a word about the MAJMAR: Omani incense burner. Ornately carved, used primarily for burning frankincense, a majmar is also used when a final round of coffee has been served and wafted around guests’ body to signal that it’s time for them to say goodbye!!!! A nice polite way to say “we have enough of you for today”!!!!
But in Salalah you can also take a break and relax in the beautiful beach resorts on the idyllic shores of the Arabian sea on white sandy beaches. Comfortably sit on a beach chair you will hear the gentle lap of the ocean in the warm afternoon breeze sipping a fresh drink.
I left the country with a “luggage” full of beautiful images, emotions, anecdotes and memories, but also with the aromatic wafts of frankincense smoke which pervaded every corner of the country from the traditional souqs to modern hotels.