Rising Star Of The Arabian Peninsula: Muskat

From Its Spellbinding Sandstone Buildings To Its Deep Bl Ue Waters And Red Sand Dunes, Muscat, The Capital Of Oman, Is Waiting To Be Discovered By Adventurous Travelers.

While strolling past the waterfront restaurants and cafes along the Corniche, I might easily have thought I was in a Mediterranean coastal town were it not for the ubiquitous youths sporting the traditional white dishdasha. Although it’s winter, the air is tepid, “like lemonade” as we say in Turkey. Not a trace of sand on the streets, sidewalks or gleaming cars.The traffic flows smoothly along and not a horn can be heard honking since all drivers obey the regulations toa fault. For some reason, I’m not surprised when mydriver tells me Oman has been named the cleanest cityin the world after Singapore. Although the Sultan ofOman, Qaboos bin Sair al Said, is a man of vision anda beloved leader, there are some matters on which hewill brook no compromise, and order and cleanlinesstop the list. Omanis who argue loudly or swear in publicare fined. Consequently, holiday makers who come hereseeking sun and sea also enjoy the unexpected pleasureof comfort and serenity in this ancient land. And cultureseekers are met with the true exoticism that has no truckwith artificiality of any kind. After all, what we are talkingabout here is an amazing country ruled by a sultan,a country whose shores form rock formations like theNorwegian fjords - aridity notwithstanding - a country80% covered with desert where Bedouin still roam on thebacks of camels.

A quiet day on the Corniche

Al Jalali Castle once guarded the city

You may come across a silver dagger at the waist of a native!

Although it’s winter, the air is tepid, “like lemonade”

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF SINBAD THE SAILOR
Another way in which the Omanis differ from the other peoples of the Arabian peninsula is that they have distinguished themselves as seamen. Throughout their history they have fought numerous sea battles to protect their sultanate, with the result that Oman today is one of the region’s key players in shipbuilding and construction of the traditional ‘dhow’. Legend has it that intrepid sailor of fable, Sinbad, lived on a
small dhow in the old Omani town of Sohar some 200 kilometers north of Muscat.

OLD MUSCAT
Upon learning this, I decided I too should make my entrance into Muscat by sea. Al Alam, the palace of the sultanate in the white and sand-colored area known as Old Muscat, has already come into view. Built in 1972, the palace was erected smack dab in the middle of the Al Jalali and Al Mirani castles, which were built in the 16th century during the Portuguese occupation and reflect Portuguese architecture. Since visitors are not allowed inside, I content myself with gazing on the palace from afar like the hundreds of other visitors. The gold and turquoise colored entrance is characteristic in shape, but due to its relatively small size the palace as a whole exudes a homey air far from the usual opulence associated with such structures.

The well-kept English gardens where foreign men of state are entertained in an area behind the palace no doubt boasts a view of the castles, which have fended off many a would-be occupier since they were built by the Portuguese. Today when you set sail on the open sea from the east of the city you can catch a brief glimpse of the white tombstones, licked by the azure waves, of the soldiers and members of the royal family who lost their lives defending the homeland.

THE CITY TODAY
Muscat has become a destination on the radar of the international five-star hotel chains that have opened here in the last ten years. Thanks to these brands, which attract their own followers, the city hosts a large number of tourists especially from France, England and Switzerland. These tourism initiatives are one of the key reasons why the United Nations in 2010 named Oman the country that exhibited the most development in forty years. Numerous companies organize desert day safaris to Wahiba Sands, three hours (240 kilometers) from Muscat by car. Here, red sand covers an area 180 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide where you can still see native Bedouin of the Nizari tribe. Made of mud and palm leaves, the houses, called barasti, of the natives, who preserve their nomadic way of life, will accompany you along the way. After setting out across the sand by jeep, be sure to take the opportunity to mix with them when you stop for a break at a green oasis. Their modern and openminded outlook will surprise you.

Most of the natives you will encounter in Oman exhibit the wisdom of peoples who for centuries have sailed the open sea to new horizons. Perhaps this is what lies behind the country’s rapid development.

The Shangri-La Hotel pool is connected to the sea

Winged residents of Le Chedi Hotel     
   
Discovering the city by sea is a special pleasure

Entrance to Sultan Qaboos Mosque

A side view of the Palace of the Sultanate

These tourism initiatives are one of the key reasons why the United Nations in 2010 named Oman the country that exhibited the most development in forty years.

Rooms in the five-star hotels open onto courtyards with palm trees

The dome of Sultan Qaboos Mosque is covered in mosaics

Turkish chefs are responsible for the Middle Eastern cuisine in Muscat

You’ll encounter a lot of camels as you drive through the desert

Joggers and cyclists throng the Corniche at weekends

New golf courses are opening on the edge of the city

MUSCAT GUIDE

ART AND SHOPPING
Muscat’s 120-person Royal Symphony Orchestra is famous. What’s more, you can hear Brazilian pianist Ricardo Castro’s Bahia Orchestra at the Royal Opera House the evening of March 20. Shopping is another activity popular with tourists in the city. Here are two important addresses: Muttrah Souk, a traditional covered bazaar selling silver daggers, pearls, kohl, incense and jewelry, and Al Qurum, a shopping area in the city’s modern district where the malls are located.

The gate of this palace, where official guests are hosted, is one of the city’s symbols. It is not the residence of the sultan.

Qurum Beach
If you want to enjoy the sea air while in the city, take a stroll on this beach and relax under the mangrove trees.

Golf Courses
There are several 9-hole and 18-hole golf clubs not far from the city.

What to Eat?
Muscat boasts some fashionable restaurants serving seafood in the Corniche district. Indian food is also popular here, and a serving of yoghurt helps balance the spicy vegetarian Thali food, which is served in small portions