Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An enchanting dream - Oman

My rucksack was packed tight and a suitcase hung by me closely. My heart was beating loudly and so did my i pod. I was nervous. I never travelled alone before, that too 1,298 miles. The same Mangalore international airport looked interesting and Muscat was, to be precise, 9 hours 35 minutes away. I boarded the 3:10 pm Jet airways 9W 432 to Mumbai and waited for 5 hours 20 minutes in Mumbai to board my 10:10 pm flight to the beautiful city of Muscat.

Scared. Anxious. Happy. Exuberant.

I was on my own for the next ten days in the heavenly land of Oman. My itinerary was well planned, hotel bookings were on time and my friend’s car was waiting with a driver at the airport.
Thanks to the one and half-hours’ time difference; I landed in Muscat the same day, only to catch some late night sleep. Next day was going to be different. I knew it, and I slept peacefully.
My itinerary was categorized based on the different places to visit, and then different activities to be done, and finally, to visit all the different variety of places including sea, desert, caves, valleys, forts and so on.

Day 1: Muscat
Muscat means “Anchorage” and it is an anchor between the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Muscat is the capital city of Oman and known as Oman’s jewel. A true amalgamation of ancient cultural heritage with modern styles and contemporary architecture. Like it is said, be rooted but spread your branches. The roads were wide and flanked by green lawns and trees on either side. 
Muscat is known for Omani architectural mosques, forts, castles, towers, mountains, golden beaches and definitely, sand dunes.  I wanted to see all of them, at least one in each category.


Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque:
The first word came out of my mouth was “wow”. Its breath taking Islamic architecture from across the world and the grand interiors were beyond the vocabulary of any man. My eyes glued to every single detail and mind repeatedly humming, wow, wow and wow. It is so huge that it can accommodate about 6,500 worshippers in the main prayer hall (musalla) and 8,000 worshippers in the outer paved ground. Interestingly, the hand woven carpet in the prayer hall weighs about 21 tons and is the second largest in the world. And, also the chandelier above the prayer hall!


Omanta scuba diving academy:
With the fear of water, I avoided any diving possible. But this trip was to explore myself. Hence, next stop was Omanta. Omanta uses Daymaniyat islands as the primary dive sites. The pristine clear water with numerous aquatic lives was like reliving life all over again.


So after, the divinely experience I decided to hit the beach nearby.

Qurum beach:
Being born in the coastal I wasn't too enthusiastic about visiting a beach. Yet, I had to tick mark all the categories in my itinerary. I watched the sun set and relaxed on shore, listening to the waves and feeling happy about my day in Muscat.


Day 2: Muscat

Muttrah Corniche: 
I took an early morning stroll along the sea front from the fish souk to Riam Park. The lights glittered in the sea water and mountains stood right on my head. The scent of history was reverberating throughout the Corniche. Lots of shopping can also be done along the Corniche; however, I skipped that part. The fishermen were carrying their catches to sell. The entire view around the Corniche was the best of Muscat. Across the road from the fish soju is the Marina hotel which has a coffee shop on the top floor. I sipped my morning coffee after an invigorating walk.


Jalali and Mirani forts:  
The city of Muscat can be viewed through Fort Al Mirani and fort Al Jalali. Both are forts in the harbor of the city. Both being very close to each other, I quickly visited these two forts and looked at the beautiful city of Oman. The blue water and the stone walls signified the historic importance of these forts. After the capture of Muscat in 1552, the ottoman forces built Al Mirani fort, whereas Al Jalali fort was built by the Portuguese to protect the harbor from Ottoman forces in 1580's after Muscat had twice been sacked by them.



After visiting old Muscat, I re-entered the city of Muscat to get a taste of some contemporary entertainment.

Royal Opera House: 
Royal opera house reflects contemporary Omani architecture and has seating arrangement of about 1,100 people. Yes, it is largely built. With great architecture and beautiful interiors, the entire opera house had a different aura. Finally, when the music began I was not only transposed to a different world but also, experienced transcendence. It did feel spiritual as if I was listening to god. The performing artists were exceptional and combining with high quality acoustics made them only better. 



My final visit in Muscat was Al Alam Royal Palace.

Al Alam Royal Palace: 
The entry was restricted but the structure looked like a bride in the evening. The guards lowered the flags around sunset. I took lots of photographs and walked to the water towards west to capture the palace and fort in the background. 


After my two days visit in Muscat, I only wondered how these people build these monuments so beautifully and how do they maintain it so well. By the end, I couldn't decide which place I had liked the most. Everything was painstakingly beautiful.

Day 3: Nizwa

Nizwa is surrounded by mountains on all sides.  The conservative city of Nizwa adds a lot to the Islamic culture. It is one of the oldest cities in Oman and was once a center for trade, education, religion and art. Nizwa is also a center for date growing and it is also famous for donkey market!!!

Nizwa fort:  
Nizwa fort was built around 1650 and is considered to be the largest fortification in Oman. Nizwa fort speaks highly of Oman customs and trade. From the top, a breath taking view of Nizwa with the Friday mosque in the foreground is visible. Inside the fort there are small rooms and a prison and a date store. On the upper floor rooms are the Imam's living quarters. 


Nizma Souq: 
Nizwa Souq is known for its distinguished handicrafts and souvenirs which are not found elsewhere. Rich in its ancient culture, the sand coloured buildings crowded the market area. There were produce stalls, butchers, date shops, hardware stores, jewelry, pottery, gun shops mainly for hunting and also, khanjars.. But one thing came as a surprise that there were no women in the market apart from tourists. According to their tradition, women are supposed to cook and take care of children. While men do the shopping including the vegetables. So these men for sure know the “atta ka bhav” (price of wheat flour) unlike my husband!!!


Falaj: 
Aflaj (plural) is underground aqueduct which ensures water supply for large scale agriculture in the dry land environment. Nizwa is built around a Falaj which is in use even till date. The source of Falaj is groundwater found in subsoil or valleys. 


Day 4: Bahla

The next day, we drove towards Bahla. Driver was speeding up via route 21 and it took 40 minutes to reach one more culturally inherit land. Bahla is famous for its fort and pottery making.

Bahla fort: 
This is situated at the foot of the Jebel Akhdar highlands in Oman. The old Bahla fort with its 12 km (seven miles) wall is the oldest fort in Oman and third largest wall in the world. The area rounded by the wall is called Oasis. However, the mud walls built on stone foundations are collapsing and so, UNESCO has taken special measures in preventing world’s one of the oldest heritage. 


Pottery making factory: 
If you want to shop for potteries then Bahla is your destination. It feels the potteries are fresh from oven. These people use the traditional pottery making methods using furnaces and chimneys. 


Finally, I visited Jabreen castle which is few miles away from Bahla.

Jabreen castle: 
This was built in 1670 for Imam Bil'arab when he switched the capital from Nizwa to Jabrin. He is buried here in one of the rooms on the ground floor. The rooms were cooler as it was designed to channel cool air around Imam’s living area. There are several rooms in Jabreen castle. Like the Nizwa fort even Jabreen castle has a prison and a date store. Adding on, there is a great view of the surrounding date plantations from the battlements on the top.


I retired early that day as I was extremely tired and sleep took over me instantly.

Day 5: Wahiba Sands

Wahiba Sands also known as Sharqiya Sands is a region of desert in Oman. The region is named for the Wahiba tribe. I had dedicated my day 5 completely to Wahiba Sands to enjoy every single bit of sand dunes and amazing stunts and stay there over night. The camp which was booked for me looked decent, basic and just suitable for my stay. Almost 40 kms inside a desert was itself worth an experience. I often complained about not seeing a desert and there I was amid the ocean of sands. Sea is about 140 kms away from Wahiba sands. There was vegetation on the desert which was least expected out of me. Huge golden sand dunes were spread across and an SUV was waiting for me to take on a ride. I was extremely excited like a small kid, jumping around. But once the ride started I started screaming too. It was literally crazy and by that, I mean everyone must do it. The driver seemed very experienced and SUV was floating in sand at an angle of 70 degrees. I had goose bumps!!! 



After the thrilling ride, I walked around the desert. My next attempt was camel ride. Now I was scared. I just didn't want to do it. Yet, forced myself in to experiencing something new and to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a rock and roll ride for me but I kept communicating with the camel to keep me safe. Finally, by the end of the day I started missing my husband looking at other couples. The place looked enchanting, with sands slightly faded in colour, with lights twinkling, moonlight spreading the romantic aura in the desert. 



I ate my dinner alone, thinking about my husband but I had five more days to explore. So, sleep was indeed my best friend. 

Day 6: Jebel Akhdar

Jebel Akhdar is at the heart of the Al Hajar Mountain range. Jebel Akhdar means the green mountain. As the climate is moist (though it is mostly desert) shrubs and trees are grown there and also, terrace farming is supported. Hence, it is called as “the green mountain”. Pomegranate, Apricot, Peach and Walnut are grown there and it is also famous for rose water extraction.  “Jebel Shams” is around 3,000 metres above sea level and it is not only the highest point in Jebel Akhdar but also in Oman.

When I reached the foot of Jebel Akhdar 4X4 was waiting for me along with company. Two of my friends from Muscat had decided to join me to escape from the hot weather. The sides of the mountains were carved for terrace farming and the winding roads led us to the top of the mountain. It took us almost four hours to reach the top. We passed several villages, plantations and farms. We stopped at several points and clicked numerous pictures and walked till our legs were tired. The best part of Jebel Akhdar is its cool and fresh breeze. When the summer was relentlessly torturing me throughout the journey, Jebel Akhdar felt like oasis in the desert. Hence, I wanted to stay there as long as I could. The views were extremely serene and beautiful from Diana’s point.


Finally, we decided to walk towards Jebel Shams. The route comprises of slopes and summits and when we thought the road ended it lead us to another slope and thus walking ended only when we reached the mountain top. The major attraction of Jebel Shams is its rocky promontories and steep gorges. There is also a large pool of water called “Wadi Al Nakhr”.  Falcon’s view made our eyes relax with the stunning panorama of the landscapes. It was worth the sight.



We were exhausted and decided to rest for the rest of the evening enjoying the cool weather, eating our packed food and chit chatting. The day ended on a happy and less lonely note!!!

Day 7 to 10: Salalah:

People had informed me Oman trip would be incomplete without Salalah. So once again on my own with a loyal driver I started my journey towards the beautiful Greenland of Salalah.




Day 7:

Though flights are available from Muscat, I decided to take a road trip from Nizwa (where I had stayed) to Salalah covering 882 kms and spending an entire day in the car clicking pictures and relaxing. Salalah is also a dry area like Muscat but due to Indian monsoons it turns in to a green heaven. Thankfully I was there right on time!!!

Day 8:

Salalah being famous for frankincense, I decided to first visit frankincense museum. The frankincense which is brought to baby Jesus in Nazareth is assumed to be from Salalah as the tree that produces it, the Boswellia Sacra, grows nowhere else. 

Museum of the Frankincense Land: 
This museum wasn't too big. I had limited time in hand and lots of things to cover. Within two hours a detailed tour was done. The museum is divided in to two exhibition halls - Maritime Hall and Historical Hall. Both these halls are organized in an enchanting way with lots of models and information regarding Frankincense trade. Photography was prohibited. 


Adjacent to Museum is the ancient port of Al-Baleed. All the ruins are carefully preserved and labeled. It is the first archaeological museum I ever visited and was touched by the story it unfolds. The former port, used to be surrounded by a trench and a defensive wall with gates in the west, south and east sides. At the western end of the site you can clearly make out the remains of the large court mosque. Originally there were 148 pillars, which were laid in rows of four, surrounding an inner courtyard. Al-Baleed is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 



Marneef cave:  
This is 47 kms from Salalah situated next to Al Mughasayl beach. When I reached there, something more than a cave was waiting for me. An impressive sea coast view, with fascinating blowholes (first time in my life) and the mountain just above the marneef cave makes it all worth the visit. However, I was expecting more from the cave but I was thrilled by the first sight of blowholes. I walked up hill and the scene was picture perfect. White sand sea, with blowholes like mini fountains made my day. 





Day 9:

Earth gravity controversy: 
I was too intrigued by this topic and had done my homework right, before my trip to Oman. This was one of the main reasons I had decided to stay for long in Salalah. We took the road from Salalah to Mirbat, drove about 60 Kms and near the sign board that read "11 Km Mirbat" & "63 Km Salalah" we took a left and about half a km drive I felt supernatural. There were no sign boards but my driver knew where to stop the car and change the gear to neutral. Without any accelerator, car started moving up the road against gravitational force. More like I was on a sci-fi movie. It was one of the best experiences in Oman.

Wadi Darbat: 
Salalah is famous for its greenery and wadis with sub-tropical palm trees, lush waterfalls and alluring mountain vistas. A river flows through here to the sea at Khor Rawri. I wanted to spend an entire day there. After looking at the deserted cities for so long, my eyes were bright with green. It was simply gorgeous. Apart from waterfalls, lakes there were some beautiful caves. Many cave chambers with old stalactites and stalagmites. At the end of the Wadi, there is a cave which is considered to be the largest natural cave in Oman. I was just speechless looking at the natural beauty that Oman was offering me. I sat silently soaked in the beauty of nature. 





Day 10:

My flight to Muscat was scheduled at 1 pm. So I decided to enter the Salalah Gardens mall and did some shopping (which I dislike) and left for airport.


Finally when I reached Muscat I was sad that the trip had ended but there was so much to see. Ten days’ time is too less to explore Oman. I badly wanted to visit Masirah Island, Musandam peninsula, Sur, Ibra, and Muscat geosites and many more. I was waiting to board my flight to India when the tired body was taken over by sleep.

I heard someone screaming, “Wake up, wake up. Why are you sleeping here?”

Oh god! Did I miss my flight?

Nah! I was at home and my husband was waking me up. The tour guide books were open, Laptop was showing pictures of Oman, lots of scribbled papers were scattered and I was sleeping amid the mess.
So was I dreaming all along or had I just returned from Oman? 

P.S: All the photos were downloaded from different sources via google.

For more details about Oman please check their tourism website : http://www.omantourism.gov.om/


This post was written as a part of IndiBlogger contest in association with the Ministry of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman.