Friday, March 25, 2011

Man oh Man Oman – what a surprise!

Apologies to Natalie for the pun. What a wonderful surprise! Our visit to Oman, albeit short, was absolutely great. It was the complete antithesis to Mumbai.

Oman is situated on the Arabian Sea – side of the Arabian peninsula. Its neighbors are Yemen to the South West, the United Arab Emirates to the North West and Saudi Arabia to the West. It is an oil rich Muslim Sultanate with a relatively benign leader who has turned the country around from the dark ages since taking over from his father in 1970. Three million people live here of whom 1.9 million are Omanis and 1.1 million are expats (who do the day-to-day jobs). A liter of petrol costs less than a liter of water here – water comes from desalination plants almost entirely. Education is compulsory, healthcare universally available and oil revenues pay for the infrastructure.

Muscat, the capital of Oman has a long history – the countries strategic location made it a major crossroads for trade. Muslim since the First Century it was occupied by the Portuguese who built forts along the coast to defend their possession – these are still very much in evidence wherever you look. They dominated for 150 years but liberation from their rule took place in the 18th century. Since then Oman has been ruled by the Al Said dynasty – the latest of whom is Qaboos bin Said who I referred to earlier. The British occupied here for a while and left their mark but to a far lesser extent that the Portuguese

We were told to wake up early so we could see the sail-in to Muscat Bay and the port – it was a pretty sight. The ocean was glassy and still, the sun was rising behind the mountains – you can see an orange tinge to the sky and the mountain tops were etched against it – just like you see in Vegas on a good day, Lael.

The white structure you see is the emblem of Oman – it represents the container used to burn incense – specifically frankincense – which is native to the area. The view of the city contrasts the old (the 16th century Portuguese forts) and the new buildings that are all white or off-white and have battlements reminiscent of the old fort defenses.

The Sultans yacht was in port – its called the Al Said and is the third largest in the world (#1 for now is Roman Abromovich the Russian oligarch that owns Chelsea FC).

As usual the buses were waiting for those of us who were going on tours – Friday is part of the weekend here so it wasn’t going to be busy in town and prayers were going to be called from the mosques after noon. The drivers were wearing their white robes – very Lawrence / Peter O’Toole

My tour involved a drive through Muscat and included four stops. Firstly, the overwhelming impression of this city and its environs is that it is clean, organized, people look happy and you see absolutely no poor people or beggars. It is wonderful! (again). Second, it is warmish – it’s a dry heat but its up there. In accordance with international protection of workers they have to stop outside work if the temperature exceeds 45 degrees C. – all well and good till I realized that’s 113 degrees F!! then they stop until 4pm or so

Our first tour went to Bait al Adam Museum. This is a museum of Oman’s history – through maps, documents, photos, coins and other paraphernalia beautifully displayed at a private home of the AbdelLatief family. The father made a presentation then handed over to Adam, his son (after whom the museum is named) and then his daughter – each of whom made a word perfect presentation on the relics and history and then helped us to Coffee and dates – that’s Adam and to puchases in the museum shop and that’s Maryam – see how young they are!!!!!!!!

We then went to the Souk at the waterfront. I had the camera and so had the responsibility of taking the pictures. The souk was bustling (but lovely and clean with an aroma of incense) despite, or because of the weekend, and there were lots of goodies to buy. 

It was meticulous. Merle had come only here so we actually bumped into each other – she was all excited about her purchases. I took my pics and sat out on the waterfront all excited loving the sun and the view.

We then went on to Bait al Zubair another museum – this time of the Omani way of life. Once again the exhibits were beautifully done – Mens lives, womens lives, the customs and weaponry etc. No pictures inside but I enjoyed (again) the outside where they had an exhibit of painted Oryxs in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Sultans rule and a great diorama of a village scene from the mountain villages 120Km away. I’m a simple lad – give me toys and a playground with water anytime.

Finally we went to the Sultans palace – which is not where he actually lives but where he conducts business – for a photo op. Here it is – the 1970s building in the shadow of Portuguese forts.

The Omanis are allowed four wives – provided they can afford them – they have to keep them in the style they wish to be accustomed. Sultan Qaboos has none and no kids. This is not good for a dynastic / hereditary ruler. He is much beloved, much revered etc etc and he had published a white paper on the succession process (in 1970) so he clearly has given the consequences long thought.
Just threw that in for fun…………..your guess is as good as mine


  1. Will you be like a wise man and bring home some frankincense or are you just sticking with the gold and myrrh?

  2. First, may I have that red cow in the picture and second, you didn't sell Merle to one of the Omanis as an additional wife, did you???