Mumbai: Touching down in Oman’s capital, one is greeted by a vista of humble white settlements alongside meandering wadis (water channels), rippling dunes and ornate mosques apart from signs of a bustling city – office and shopping complexes, apartment buildings and community villas. But the Sultanate is also a haven for those who love the outdoors. From its beaches and mountains, heritage forts and souqs, to the long, smooth roads that make driving a pleasure, Oman is a must-visit for every type of traveller.
The Sultanate and its alluring charm manifested in the Bedouins, Grand Canyon, turtles, underwater magic, wadis and glamping options. What’s not to love about Oman?
Located just two-and-a-half hours away from India, it remains a quaint, unexplored and beautiful destination in the Middle East. The Sultanate is connected via direct flights with major Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Goa, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode.
For the true adventure-seeker, Oman can be an endless spell of thrills, from one- day getaways to extended vacations. The country possesses some of the most natural and pristine beaches in the world. The Sea of Oman, Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz lend Oman a 3165 km coastline. This is apart from mountains and deserts.
ATOP ARABIA’S GRAND CANYON
Call it a land of contrasts for that is what Oman essentially is – dominating the list on a trip to Oman, is the Grand Canyon of Arabia, Jabal Shams, offering a different view at every turn to the top. A four-wheel drive helps to make the ascent to the highest mountain, where at 3005 m, temperatures hover around 200 C while the capital, three hours away, endures the scorching summer.
There are hotels where one can spend the night with tents or chalets to choose from but the experience of pitching a tent in the wild and getting a barbecue going offers satisfaction that is unmatched. Adorable mountain goats do stop by, offering good company. Camping on the mountain top can guarantee a breathtaking view of the night sky where shooting stars dart across every so often and sunrise, as the mist lifts, can evoke a humbling silence around the canyon. It has a vertical drop of 2100 m from the summit to the base. If lucky, a visit in the winters could grant you a glimpse of snow on the mountain ranges.
About 170 km away from Muscat is Jabal Akhdar, or Green Mountain, also known as the fruit bowl of Oman, which forms the central section of the Al Hajar mountain range. There’s much to do here from visiting rose water distillery units to picking figs and juniper berries from trees while strolling through the rugged trails and exploring old village ruins.
Luxury resorts like Alila Jabal Akhdar and Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar nestled in between the mountains offer a stunning view of the landscape. The properties are such that they seamlessly blend in with the area.
WAKE UP TO TURTLE HATCHLINGS
If you are a water baby, then head to the coastline as there’s a beach a short drive away from anywhere in the city. Located at the headland of the Arabian Peninsula is another surprise, Ras al Jinz – one of the largest nesting areas for Green Turtles in the Indian Ocean. Turtle nesting tours at Ras al Jinz is an activity that is slowly gaining public attention. There is a turtle sanctuary and an interactive museum with research laboratories. The facility is especially recommended for families, allowing visitors young and old a peek into the lives of these ancient creatures.
During nesting season from June to September, it is worth getting in touch with hotels in the area in advance. The sight of hatchlings coming into the world in the wee hours and scuttling for the sea as the sun rises is a sight to behold. Hatching also happens at night. Local experts lead tours along the beach where one can see the process without disturbing the turtles.
Oman has a profusion of exotic marine life and some of the best dive sites in the world. The waters of the Sultanate are home to countless species of fish and vast stretches of exotic coral reefs so a scuba-diving or snorkelling trip is simply mesmerising.
Some of the most beautiful coral reefs sites of Oman are located in Muscat, Daymaniyat Islands, Bandar Jissah, Bandar Khayran, Fahal Islands, Sharqiya, Barr al Hikman, Masirah Islands, Dhofar, Musandam and Marbadh. The pristine shores have smooth and sandy beaches where you can stick your toe or swim in the crystal clear waters. Some of the best beaches include Finns beach, Ras Al Hadd, Al Sawadi, Bandar Al Jissah and Yiti beach.
AZURE WATERS OF WADIS
Oman’s wadis form an integral part of the country’s environmental system. Among the most pristine is Wadi Bani Khalid, approximately 200 km from the capital, where Omanis come for picnics and a swim. For the more adventurous, it can lead to a journey lasting three days and two nights, all the way to Wadi Tiwi which opens up to lush palm groves. Wadi Shab is also perfect for combining an excursion in the mountains with a camping holiday on the beach. In Oman, any Wadi guarantees a gorgeous view and enticing azure waters that are worth a dip.
MOODS OF THE DESERT
For those who do not want to rough it out, glamping is the way to go in the desert. Apart from a tent with basic facilities, if arrangements are made courtesy a hotel or resort, luxury takes on new meaning with the services of a chef, even music and games if one prefers so as opposed to a private experience.
Experience the mystery and beauty of the desert as shades of orange and brown take over the dunes all through the day. At Sharqiyah Sands, Oman’s longitudinal dunes that sprawl 200 km long and 100 km wide, the ever-changing patterns are a photographer’s delight. Once inaccessible, now a three-lane highway allows a smooth drive that gets one there in less than two hours from the capital. Also known as Wahiba Sands, the only signs of life here are the occasional bedouins one may come across and tourists in four-wheel drives who come to try activities like sand boarding, dune bashing and quad biking. Those who are not too keen on the above said activities, particularly dune-bashing if one is prone to motion sickness, gentler alternatives of fun like camel or horse rides led by bedouins are available.
TAKE HOME OLD-WORLD CHARMS
Once back in the capital, make the most of souvenir shopping at Mutrah Souq, a charming traditional market near the corniche that has aged well. From indigenous varieties of dates to honey and the most delectable saffron-flavoured halwa, handcrafted silver jewellery, woven baskets, mats, tribal weavings and carpets that form a part of the local culture, and replicas of khanjars or the traditional Omani dagger worn by men during formal events in the form of magnets, key chains and wall hangings apart from wooden bookmarks, scarves and shawls, and last but not the least, frankincense, take your time to choose and bargain with merchants there.
The Omanis are an endearing lot and indulgent too. So don’t let anything stop you. Take a leap of faith and make that trip to Oman.