Our Qatar flight from Doha to Muscat, a little over an hour, was comfortable and the landing into Muscat quite beautiful as it’s one of the few Gulf states with towering mountains. Another visa on arrival, Omani Riel 5 each.
We’ve been to southern Oman before, Salalah, some 1000kms south of the city of Muscat and 10hrs by road and although we cruised in we had an interesting day so we were semi prepared for our northern Omani experience.
The locals love their Sultan, who came to power educated in 1970 and changed the course of this country. It’s a tax free country as it’s wealth is from oil, gas and a growing tourism sector. Tourism from India is especially common – Mumbai is only 1h 30 min away and many people travel for weddings and other celebrations.
The traditional Guard at the magnificent Opera
Oman is also famous for copper and marble and although it is desert, it’s certainly not dry, with over 6000 water sources. Although in the north it might rain 1 day per month if they’re lucky, the south has a completely different climate with a rainy monsoon season from April to September.
Agriculture is important to the villages with fruit and veggies and home grown meats. Market life, including the amazing cattle sale we attended held each Friday, is critical to their financial viability.
In Oman men and women have equal rights and women are now more highly educated and in power in many of the major companies. They can also be accepted into the Military and the Police/armed forces. The Omani population is nearly 4.5M with 1.4M living in Muscat, although half of that figure are working expats, mainly from Bangladesh, Southern India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Oman is religion free, worship where and how you like, and education and health is free to all citizens with health being free to expats. The average local salary is around USD24000 per annum with limited costs, and if a citizen borrows from the government bank there is no interest. How about that?
We have learnt that the term Middle East has come from the East India Company in Goa around 1902 when they wanted to distinguish the Far East from the Arabian countries. The Old Town of Muscat has been influenced mainly by the Portuguese, trading between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Gulf.
Oman has the oldest history in the region and there is plenty to see and do. The souks, around 500 fully restored forts and castles, the amazing Royal Opera House (built by the Sultan in just 4 years), a 4×4 journey to the desert and into the mountains and if you fancy, even a visit on a Friday to a tribal village area cattle sale.
Our resort Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa (pic right at the top) is around 45mins from the main centre and is an oasis in the hills that surround Muscat. On the beachfront built to capture amazing sunrise and sunsets, it is truly a beautiful place to spend down time when not out touring. It is 3 hotels in one, and we stayed in the finest, Al Husn.
We have been given quality dishdasha (white male garment) and abbaya (black female garment) & Hijab (scarf worn to cover our hair) so that when we enter the Mosques we are suitably and respectfully attired. That way in the heat we can wear our day clothes that are not to the ankles and wrists and just cover up as needed. They are comfortable but it does prove difficult for Murray to tell me apart from the other ladies in the group!
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is grand indeed, spotlessly clean and an enjoyable experience. Another highlight is our visit to a nearby fishing village Qantab. We were treated to dinner in a typical Omani home with music and dancing from the region. Our host was an Australian who is married to an Omani, and her villa is being painstakingly restored as it’s the oldest villa in the village. The meal was superb, and ironically the lamb was from Australia, probably Tasmania according to our host!
Our exploring lead us to discover that there is a lot to do in and around Muscat. We ventured out to Nizwa, the largest village in the immediate interior with UNESCO listing, and wandered through the souk, a very busy spot on Fridays with live cattle auctions including goats. There is also a bird market, fresh vegetable market and homewares including a day in the month where locals can bring their daggers and weapons and trade and sell.
After our substantial local lunch we ventured by Land Cruisers off road through the spectacular Wadi Banf Awf. Driving as high as 2000m over very rough terrain, it’s rough but fun, there are plenty of tight hairpin turns, steep cliffs and if you have to ‘go’ then it’s behind a rock as there is not much vegetation. The drive wasn’t for the feint hearted or anyone that suffers motion sickness but we were fortunate enough to be the lead 4×4 so it meant we gave all the others the dust, and dust there was… Our lead driver was a skilled drifter driver and he knew what he was doing so that was reassuring!
It’s time to say farewell to Oman and its gracious people, softly spoken and genuine in their interest for us, to fly to Abu Dhabi, where we will spend New Years 2017.
So next up… UAE!