“THE LAND OF PLENTY”
“Beauty has an address” is the tag line of Oman and on a recent trip I discovered just why. The beauty of the place lies in the endless sights of mountains and deserts creating patterns in brown interspersed with well-planned buildings. Interestingly, the
A writer and photographer, Bindu Gopal Rao believes that writing gives her an opportunity to meet people from various elds and explore new places, which makes the journey very fullling.
Starting the Oman tour in the capital city of Muscat, is a great way to experience local culture and food. I start my day by visiting the Grand Mosque, an ornate, large mosque in the heart of the city that is an ode to Islamic architecture and allows nonMuslims to visit the place. I am advised to ensure that I am fully covered and the women in the ofce ensure my head is covered by using my stole to convert into the right headgear! As I enter the interiors I am stunned at the sheer size and my guide tells me
mosque is spread over a whopping 4,16,000 square metres! The ornate interiors have intricate mosaic work, carved wooden doors, beautiful hand woven carpets that cover the entire oor and massive chandeliers. The mosque has separate prayer halls for men and women and is in the middle of well-landscaped lawns and gardens. Interestingly, at the end of the tour, I reach the ofce, where I am served Arabic coffee with dates (a tradition in all places here) and I meet with young women who actually coax me to ask them any question, a clear indication of the fact that the Omani’s have a very open mind. Close to the mosque is the famed Amouage Perfume factory, one of the most highly rated perfumes in Oman in the world. You can take a tour of the factory to see the process that converts fresh owers to the perfume. These are quite pricey because of the fact that they use essential oils of the owers. An inhouse store is the best place to buy these perfumes where you can also pick up a line of exclusive designer leather bags too. While you are here, do take the time to stop by at The Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos, one of his six royal residences. Also, the Al Bustan Palace is now converted as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and also has a private beach. A photo op at Barr Al Jissah, a beautiful cove with beige cliffs gives you some stunning views of the marina with sleek yachts in the pristine blue waters, is something to do too. As dusk sets in, head to the waterfront corniche for a walk alongside the cool waters. Located diagonally opposite is the Mutrah Souq, oldest shopping market in Muscat complete with a labyrinth of stores that sell local souvenirs, clothes, silver jewellery, incense and more. For a history x, stop by at the National Museum or the Bait Al Zubair museum that is smaller but showcases the art and culture of the country quite holistically. Do not forget to catch a show at the state of the art Royal Opera House as well as go dolphin watching at the DMC (Destination Management Company).
Once you have your ll of the city and its buzz, head out to Nizwa, an old town that houses a fort which dates back to the beginning of the 11th century and is a ne example of an earth-lled, stone tower overlaid with traditional cement. The Castle here (Al Husn) was constructed in the 9th century and renovated in 1624. This has several rooms for dwelling other uses and the perimeter wall has a sentry walk for soldiers and loopholes for ring muskets. The Nizwa souk here is a must visit as this is where you will nd a range of dates like the khalas, khunaizi, bunaringah, fardh, mebselli, qashtabaq, khasab,
naghal and qashkantrah. Also, this is the place where you can buy the famed Omani special halwa, Frankincense halwa, saffron halwa, honey halwa, brown sugar halwa, golden halwa,
and gs halwa! The craft souk here has a wonderful collection of terracotta pots and pans too.
Driving through the country side in Oman, throws up many interesting surprises. At one end you see endless date palms, so many, that it is said, the country has over 7.6 million of them, more than the number of people who live here! We also stop by at Falaj-Al-Khatmeen in the Al-Dakhiliyah region which is one of the ve Omani irrigation systems ( Aaj) that is inscribed in
World Heritage List. These are traditional water delivery systems that existed 2,000 years back and are a testament to Omani engineering ingenuity to irrigation, agricultural development, human settlement and traditional management systems. Also, stop at the Al Hoota Caves at the foothills of the Jebel Shams mountain, only cave in the Arabian peninsula where you can see species like the blind sh, that has adapted itself to the dark environment by not just losing its eyes but also part of its scales and pigments! A great way to soak in the sight of the Jabal Shams Mountains is to check into The View located 1,400 metres above sea level that gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire area. Another interesting place is the Wadi Shab in Tiwi part of Sur in Al Sharqiyah that has a pristine water body created with the fresh water cascades from the top of the mountains when it meets the briny sea water on its banks. Hop on to a boat that will take you deep inside or take a hike through the foliage here. The waterfall in the cave here can be accessed with a 40-minute walk and wading through the water. Another location nearby is the Hawiyat Najm Park, Bimmah Sinkhole, a water body with turquoise green waters formed due to the erosion of the limestone rocks around it. The sinkhole base can be reached by walking down a ight of 80 steps and is a favourite with swimmers.
And, just when I was thinking of the many interesting sights here, I found the best part of this trip at the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve. Oman has a coastline that extends over 3,000 kilometres and the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve hosts an average of 30,000 nesting green turtles (Chelonia Mydas) each year. Although the sea turtles spend most of their life in the sea, they nest on land and return to nest on the same beach on which themselves hatched decades earlier. They reach maturity between 37 and 49 years and nesting may occur up to 5 times in a season with intervals of upto 14 days between nesting and 2-3 years between seasons. On an average about 100 eggs are laid in a clutch and they hatch 55-60 days later. At Ras Al Jinz, the peak season for the egg laying is June to September, but for every night throughout the year, at least one turtle emerges from the seas of Oman onto its beaches to lay eggs. As we take an early morning trip to see the young turtles hatch and scramble for life towards the sea as they face the predator sea gulls, it teaches you a thing or two in life lessons too. As the sun rises, the sky turns into magical shades of yellow and orange and soon the sea is lled with a golden glow. I could not have asked for a better sight to end my trip to this Middle Eastern country!