The Sultanate of Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula, is traditionally not on top of the list of popular tourist destinations around the world. This interesting country consists of desert terrain, sand dunes inhabited by Bedouins, barren mountain ranges and oases in ancient riverbeds. Oman, the oldest independent state in the Arab world, has extended coastlines along the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. I posed a few questions to a Polish friend who recently visited Oman for the first time, and his answers may convince you to put Oman on your holiday wish list!
Which impressions come to mind when you think about Oman?
First and foremost in my mind is the stifling atmosphere and then the oppressing heat, not familiar to a European. Then mountains – gray mountains, bare mountains with no vegetation and no trees, mountains with historical towers on top. The impressively good highway through the mountains, illuminated at night, and of course, the remarkable – and sharply contrasting – desert and sea views.
What is the weather like in Oman?
One thing you know about Oman, is that the weather is (al)most perfectly predictable! It is always the same: sunny, hot and arid. The summer temperatures are very high, up to 49 C (120 F); the winters are enjoyably moderate. Nights are sultry, it feels as if there is no air to breathe. The rainfall is low, about 100mm (4 inches). Locals say it only rains twice a year..!
How was your trip to Muscat?
We flew together with a large group of tourists on a Swiss flight from Zurich to Muscat, landing in Dubai, where almost all the passengers disembarked. On the further 350km flight to Muscat, it was only our group of five people and another four passengers in a large plane. From the air-conditioned aircraft, a short journey in an air-conditioned bus took us to the air-conditioned terminal building of Muscat. After completing the formalities, the moment of truth came when we left the airport building and stepped outside to find transport to our hotel – into a wall of sweltering heat! The modern highway to our spa resort was illuminated over the entire length of 50 km.
Leaving Muscat behind, is was just us and the Al Hajar Mountains. A tunnel through the barren, russet mountains serves as the entrance to the hotel. The tunnel through the rock is so narrow that it can accommodate only one car at a time. Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa is an oasis of lush greenery, cool transparent pools, the highest quality accommodation … and breath taking views over the ocean.
How did you experience the people of Oman?
Oman has a population of round about four million, with Muscat as the biggest city by far. We experienced the Omanians as peaceful and pleasant. Walking through the streets and the market at night, you will see mostly men. Where they sit in groups, they quietly discuss the affairs of the day. You do not experience any sign of hostility in Oman. Arabic is the official language but tourists get along very well with English.
Name a few outstanding things to do or see in Muscat
The majestic Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is a building with majestic proportions, exquisite finishes and a sacred atmosphere. It is open to the public but we encountered very few foreign visitors. Upon entry there are wash basins for your feet and shelves for the storage of shoes.
The main prayer hall (Musalla) is a marble tiled square with sides of 74 metres. The central dome rises to a height of 50 metres from the floor and the focal point here is an amazing chandelier, with a height of 14 metres and a diameter of 8 metres, and made of Swarovski crystals. All the metal parts are coated with 14 carat gold. The exquisite chandelier weighs a massive 11 tons!
You have to tear your eyes away from the radiant chandelier and look down to admire the famous carpet that fills almost the entire surface of the Musalla. It took 600 Iranian seamstresses and garment workers four years to create this hand-woven masterpiece, with dimensions of 70×60 metres, and a mass of 21 tons, it is currently the second largest carpet in the world.
Separately, there is prayer hall for women. It is smaller, more intimidate, with much smaller chandeliers, also made with Swarovski crystals.
On the mosque grounds women have to cover their heads fully, arms including wrists, and legs including ankles. If you don’t have correct clothing there is a shop at the entrance where the female tourists may purchase beautiful Omani burqas and blend with the rest of the religious visitors.
Great market in Muscat
In contrast to the divine ambience of the Great Mosque, the colourful hustle and bustle of the Great Market creates an enjoyable shopping experience. There is a wide choice of delightful shops inside a very large building with a roof: clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, materials, components of weapons, swords, daggers and knives and a lot of practical things for the household. Shop vendors are nice and smiling with a refreshing non-pushy approach. There is no communication problem as English is universally used.
Diving on the coast of Oman
Along the long coast of Oman, there are many magnificent diving spots. Our most spectacular dive was on the 84 metre long wreck of Munassir, close to Muscat. The wreck, sunk on purpose by the Royal Navy of Oman, is in a very good condition, sits upright on the sandy bottom and is home to schools of snapper and goat fish. If you have a few days to spare, book a trip to Daymaniyat Islands – the conservation area that offers unspoiled diving experiences. Just take your long wetsuit – the water temperature may change during the dive from 30 to 20 degrees without any warning!
Why should I visit Oman?
There are good reasons why I would encourage tourists to visit Oman:
The refined Omanian culture and the modern, culturally authentic and aesthetically pleasing architecture.
The people are friendly and cultivated and they make you feel welcome in their country. Oman instills a great sense of security. The stark and overwhelming, natural surroundings, vastly different from the lakes and forests and green mountains of Europe, made an unforgettable impression on me.
For the seasoned traveler who wants a novel experience, Oman is a super choice!
Celine Renaud is Head of Sales for Leo Trippi.
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