Some places are a must visit people say, and then there are places I call a must experience. The Sultanate of Oman goes in the later list in my case, thanks to some buddies of mine who made sure I was in awe of that place even before I could visit it! Oman is one of the most geographically diverse nations of Arabia. There was a time when, while watching Aladdin, I used to imagine Agraba to be in Oman; courtesy - my neighbor who had just returned from the land of Sultans. So when asked, ‘How would you experience Oman?’ I had 50 points and no words. Guess when a place leaves you speechless and then gives you a lot of stories, your travel becomes an experience to remember. So in order to get the stories this is what my travel would be like, mostly. (Letting go of the reigns of my imaginary travel fanatic horses for them to run free :D)
1. Omani Agraba – Muttrah
Legend has it that Oman was mistaken to be India by European Travelers and they made Muttrah their main port for trade, back in time. Even today, in spite of the onslaught of modernity, Muttrah seems to be in a time wrap. Muttrah is an antique freak’s and shopper’s paradise. It has the oldest traditional market of west Asia called Muttrah Souq that flaunts an ambience built with Turkish lamps, spices and incenses. You can also see a large part of the city flaunting the old mud houses – similar to the ones shown in Aladdin. But it is not just about the old heritage; Muttrah is also known for its Corniche with lavish yachts and deep blue sea. Sounds like modern Agraba doesn’t it?
2. Wadi Wonders
It won’t be wrong to call Oman the land of Wadis. Oman is known for its Ocher yellow and rust shade mountains hiding aquamarine pools and lush green terraces within them – called as Wadis. From the serpentine Snake Canyon aka Wadi Bimah to the gorgeous Wadi Bani Khalid, from the submerged cave and perennial waterfall of Wadi Shab to the peaceful Wadi Tiwi, the Wadis of Oman are a must visit. The best time to visit Wadis though is the Khareef season till late February as in the other season the heat and the comparatively dry pools steal the main essences of these places. The important thing to remember to travelling to Wadis is four wheel drive, normal vehicles won’t do you any good.
Since I started talking about Khareef, it is obligatory to talk about Salalah. Salalah a lush green area, adorned with beautiful blue shoreline, is the second largest city of the Sultanate of Oman. As it is the birth place of the current Sultan of Oman, Sultan Qaboos Palace is the place in Salalah to begin the city trip with. To let go of the awe of its magnificence a visit to Al Haffa would be the best idea. Other than these places Salalah is known for its heritage archeological site Al Baleed and Mugsail Bay. Bird watchin in Khor Ruri is also a pleasant way to spend the day for nature lovers. This area also treats its visitors with fields of Frankincense. And history lovers, this might interest you - Job’s tomb!
4. Caving in - Jebel Shams and Al hoota Caves
The rugged exquisiteness of Oman is an integral part of its natural beauty and one of its jewels is Jebel Shams. Lush green in summers, snow capped in winters – it is the highest range of Oman. At the foot hills of Jebel Shams is Al Hoota caves – one of the largest cave systems in the world. Although normal visitors can enjoy the sight of limestone stalactites and stalagmites in only the first circuit, the cave system is more than 5km long traversed by underground River which creates 3 large lakes, first of one with 800m length.
5. Desert safari – Wahiba Sands
To visit Oman and not go for a desert safari would be nothing less than a crime. Wahiba Sands offers the best experience of the Arabian Desert. Sand dune rides, Bedouin singers, camps and camels, and cloudless skies with a bright full moon. Gives the picture doesn’t it? When I think of Wahiba Sands, this is what plays in my mind by default –
Arabian nights, like Arabian days
More often than not
Are hotter than hot
In a lot of good ways
Arabian nights, 'neath Arabian moons
A fool off his guard
Could fall and fall hard
Out there on the dunes
6. Oman outside Oman – Musandam
Did you know a part of Oman is in UAE? Musandam is an exclave of Oman and is known for its scenic beauty, glacier-carved coasts and cliffs, greenish blue shoreline, and fjord formations. The castles (Khasab Castle being the main one), dolphins, crystal clear water and city with the traditional environment of the area makes it a must visit when in Oman. This place – also termed as the Norway of the east, is also ideal for scuba diving!
7. Forts Forts and more Forts
I have a weird inclination towards forts due to the Rajasthan lover in me, so how could I let go of the Omani forts - Nizwa fort, Bahla fort and Castle of Jabreen. Unlike Indian forts, these are made of mud and sand and are brilliant examples of Arabic interiors. Also Nizwa is famous for the single largest falaj in Oman.
The historical town of Sur is one of the most well formed natural harbors of Oman. It has some well known castles – the Sunaysilah Fort and the Ras al Hadd Castle, which are not as grand as Jabreen Castle, but are beautiful none the less. Sur is also the best place to go for turtle watching, the turtle beach aka Ras al Hadd being the best site. The view of the azure waters with tiny and huge turtles running around the shore is something you wouldn’t want to miss. And to go to Sur and not have fish or lobsters would be a shame as Sur’s rich marine life is something they are definitely proud of. On the way to Sur is also the demon hole aka Bimmah Sink hole, which is considered are one of the prettiest land sink holes in the world. The locals believe it is created by some meteorite impact but scientifically it is formed due to mineral cave disintegration. Regardless of its formation and origin story, it is a place worth visiting.
9. The heart of the Sultanate – Muscat
Muscat, the largest natural port of the world, is the capital of Oman and the place without which a visit to Oman is null and void. Muscat is a place where we see the traditional merge in harmony with modernization; the harbor of Muscat flaunts the traditional wooden dhows along with the Sultan’s Yatch; the Sultanate roads and hotels are world famous and so are the Grand mosque aka Sultan Qaboos Mosque and the Al-Jalali and Al-Mirani forts. The grand mosque in particular is known for its grandeur, architecture, world’s largest hand woven carpet and a 14 meter tall chandelier that is festooned in the praying hall. Though the whole mosque is not open to women, the mere site of it can leave you speechless.
10. Let’s talk food – Istanboly!
Okay, this might confuse a lot of Omanis as Istanboly is in Muscat, then why make it a separate destination? Well the reason is my friends. They way they talk about the Istanboly Shawarma is as if it comes from some different planet and no matter which Shawarma they eat from which country, they end up comparing it with Istanboly’s product and consider the shawarma as “nowhere close to the delicious Istanboly Shawarma”. So this would be my must eat at destination in Oman.
There are a lot of other places that the sultanate has to explore like the Masirah Island, the fabled lost city or Atlantis of the sands, Queen Sheba’s palace and city ruins and many more; but these 10 top my list of “Experience Oman.” Hopefully, I will get to visit all these places some day and have a lot of Baklava, Omani halwa and Chocolate Dates - Yay to my sweet tooth!